Anglican Perspectives

Imputing the best motives

Phil Ashey

By Canon Phil Ashey

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”  Jeremiah 17:9-10 NIV

Jesus said “The good man brings good things out of the good stored in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”  Luke 6:45 NIV

“…But in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  Phil. 2:3 NIV

Dear brothers and Sisters in Christ,

What is in the heart of ++Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury?  How can you and I know that we can trust his leadership of the Anglican Communion?
I have just listened to an outstanding sermon from the Rt. Rev. Steven Breedlove, PEARUSA, who spoke yesterday at our Renewal of Ordination Vows for the Anglican Diocese of the South.  +Steve pointed out that our Epistle for the day, Philippians 2:5-11 (Christ’s supreme example of humility), is at the nexus between a plea for the unity of the church (Phil. 2:1-4) and the mission of the church (Phil 2:12-17).  He cited J. Lesslie Newbigin’s ‘The Gospel in a Pluralist Society’ in saying that Paul points to the self-emptying humiliation of Jesus Christ as the key to holding Christian unity and Christian mission together. Only Jesus Christ who “considered not equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself,” taking upon himself the lowliness of our human nature and becoming obedient unto death for our sakes, can at once unite us and send us out on mission.  In fact, in our pluralist Western societies we will allow God’s kingdom, the range of his effective will, to break in precisely when we follow Christ’s example of service– when we serve the least, the last and the lost on our knees with towel and basin.

For that reason I am encouraged by the sermon ++Justin Welby preached at his enthronement.  As Canon Chris Sugden writes in today’s letter from the UK,

“In his sermon, Archbishop Welby used the word risk three times, the word courage eight times, and Jesus or Christ twenty four times.  His text was “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid” from Jesus’ call to Peter to walk on water. Immediately he said “Uniquely in all of human history, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the one who as living love liberates holy courage”… He was clear and confident about the contribution of the Christian faith to public life in Britain.  “For more than a thousand years this country has to one degree or another sought to recognise that Jesus is the Son of God; by the ordering of its society, by its laws, by its sense of community… Slaves were freed, Factory Acts passed, and the NHS and social care established through Christ-liberated courage….”

Bravo!  The Anglican Communion needs a strong voice and a strong leader to turn us back to Jesus Christ and the faith once delivered to the saints.  It is precisely this faith that has been undermined and challenged by the unilateral actions of North American leaders from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) by, among other things, consecrating actively practicing homosexual and lesbian bishops and authorizing same-sex blessings – contrary to the Bible, apostolic and catholic teaching, and the teaching of the Anglican Communion on human sexuality, marriage and holy orders (Lambeth Resolution 1.10 1998).

Please, and for the thousandth time, this is not about homophobia in the church.  It is about how a fatal compromise coming from an unbiblical view of human nature contaminates and ultimately destroys faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of all and in the faith once delivered to the saints.  That fatal compromise by the leadership of TEC and the ACoC, and their embrace of rank heresy –   denying Jesus as the only way to the Father, denying the divinity and uniqueness of Jesus Christ, denying the Resurrection, denying heaven and hell, denying the authority of Holy Scripture, and denying Biblical standards for human sexuality – has been meticulously documented in our Report to the Primates of the Anglican Communion.   This report also includes the heresies of the current Presiding Bishop, in her own words– an analysis that demonstrates her affirmation of the classic heresies of Pelagianism, Marcionism, Pluralism, Universalism and Gnosticism.

I hope Archbishop Welby will look into this evidence and see that it is not random and isolated, but pervasive in the leadership of TEC and the ACoC. As others have noted, the great doctrines of our faith are not hermetically sealed from each other.  An unbiblical doctrine of human nature and sexuality will ultimately lead to an unbiblical view of who Jesus Christ really is.  One compromise on the authority of the Bible over all of our life leads to another, and another, and another– until Biblical faith is completely eviscerated.
But in the spirit of Jesus Christ, in the spirit of Philippians 2:3  which invites us to impute the best possible motives to others, let us impute the best possible motives to Archbishop Welby.  Let us assume that he wants to return the Anglican Communion to the centrality of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of all.  Let us assume he wants to find ways to “detoxify” the conflicts in the Communion over doctrinal issues without compromising the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority of the Bible over every area of our life, as well as the historic Creeds and the Councils of the Church.  Let us assume he is in full agreement with the Jerusalem Declaration.  Let us assume that he will continue to defend traditional marriage.  Let us assume that he will try to restore faith and order to the Anglican Communion by applying some form of discipline (unlike his predecessor) to errant and heretical leaders.

Still, there are several things which cause concern.  And let me say that it is very easy to misread, misunderstand, and impute the worst possible motives from our communications with others in the church.  It happens at every level of church life!  I am indebted to +John Guernsey who taught me to take a step back and ask a question which can help us stay in the spirit of Phil. 2:3, and not impute the worst motives in error.  The question is this:

“Help me understand WHY you said or did______.”

So if I could ask Archbishop Welby that question in the spirit of Phil. 2:3, here are the questions I would ask:

Help me understand why other North Americans, including the Presiding Bishop of TEC and the Primate of the ACoC, the Rector of Truro, and others were invited to your enthronement – but not the Archbishop of the ACNA? What signal does that send to the members of the ACNA and to the leadership of the GAFCON Anglican Churches, who represent a majority of Anglicans in the worldwide Communion, and who recognize the ACNA?

Help me understand why there has been, apparently, no meaningful engagement with the leadership of the ACNA, given that they are one of the parties to the “Anglican wars?”  Clearly you are engaging publicly with the leaders of TEC and ACoC.  How does the lack of engagement with the leadership of ACNA square with the processes of “reconciliation-as-detoxification?”

I believe those questions can be asked with sincerity, and in the spirit of Philippians 2:3.  Until they are answered, in the words of Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney,  “We will test him, as we do everyone in that position, in accordance with what we understand the Bible teaches.”

When Archbishop Welby recalled the nation in his sermon to the role the Church played in freeing slaves, he was also recalling the example of that great Anglican William Wilberforce.  William Wilberforce began his crusade against slavery in the face of almost impossible opposition.  He faced political powers and structures utterly compromised by the profits from the slave trade.  He faced personal attacks and ridicule for years.  But his leadership never waivered in the face of those attacks.  He persevered with grace and determination– courage empowered by faith in Jesus Christ– through vote after vote until Parliament voted to abolish the slave trade.

That is exactly the courage empowered by faith in Jesus Christ that Archbishop Welby called the nation, the Church of England, and indeed the Anglican Communion to embrace in the days ahead.  In the spirit of Philippians 2:3, it must be the faith-empowered courage he is calling himself to embrace, like Wilberforce, in the face of almost impossible challenges to hold the Anglican Communion together without compromising Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of all.  Such courage needs company.  One place he can surely find such company is in the counsel of the GAFCON Primates, who wrote to him before they departed:

“We greet you on this day of celebration and assure you and your family of our prayers for your future ministry.

We are grateful for this opportunity to worship in Canterbury Cathedral and be reminded of our historic faith that is grounded in the revealed Word of God.

We encourage you to stay true to the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ and as you do we will stand with you for the sake of Christ.”

May we continue to pray for Archbishop Welby and his family, for courage empowered by faith in Christ Jesus, and for good and godly counselors to stand with him in that courage all along the way.

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