The Bishops of the Church of England have spoken. In response to the Pilling Report recommendation that clergy and Parochial Church Councils (PCC’s) may “publicly mark” a civil partnership within the church, the bishops wrote:
“We accept the recommendation of the Pilling Report that the subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations, ecumenically, across the Anglican Communion and at national and diocesan level and that this should continue to involve profound reflection on the interpretation and application of Scripture. These conversations should set the discussion of sexuality within the wider context of human flourishing…”
The bishops also stated:
“…we are clear that the Church of England’s pastoral and liturgical practice remains unchanged during this process of facilitated conversation.
“No change to the Church of England’s teaching on marriage is proposed or envisaged. The House of Bishops will be meeting next month to consider its approach when same sex marriage becomes lawful in England in March…”
Does this mean that there won’t be any blessings of gay couples in the Church of England? Does this represent the bishops decisively rejecting these unbiblical innovations (pending facilitated conversations)? In all likelihood, no. I’m reminded of the saying, “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Remember, the leadership of The Episcopal Church here in North America made exactly the same commitment with regards to the “official” teaching on marriage while at the same time permitting such blessings to take place–unofficially–in increasing numbers until there was no turning back. Traditional bishops in the Church of England ought to consider this and ask themselves: is there any reason whatsoever that the same will not happen in the Church of England?
Along with this, orthodox bishops should consider the well-trod path of facilitated conversations:
1. The bishops said: “These conversations should set the discussion of sexuality within the wider context of human flourishing.” But “human flourishing” is NOT the context in which any such conversations should take place. The context for any conversations affecting the whole church is framed by the question, “what serves the common good of the Church?” Jesus defined that common good in his great prayer in John 17; That all people “may know you [Father] the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3), that his disciples “may be one as we [Father and Son] are one” (17:11), that the love the father has for the Son may be in the church and that Christ himself would be in us (17:26). It is, in short, that deeper unity for which Christ himself prayed, so that the church may proclaim Christ alone as Lord and Saviour of all. “Human flourishing” is yet another revision of the standard for measuring what the church does.
2. When the very context of such “facilitated conversations” is misplaced, the results surely will be. This is precisely what Archbishops Drexel Gomez and Maurice Sinclair predicted in 2001 in To Mend the Net when they described the fatal flaw of facilitated conversations AFTER innovations have been allowed to disrupt the spiritual unity of the church without any consequences:
“the way the ‘process of reception’ is presented and set up for consideration has, practically speaking, only one or two possible results, eventual acceptance of the innovation or a never-ending period of reception.” (63) To Mend the Net.
This is the heart of the new religion of relational reconciliation. It is as if “reconciliation” is some kind of common good or end in itself. Facilitated conversations (aka “Indaba”) can have only two possible results: eventual acceptance of the innovations, or a never-ending process of facilitated conversations, until all resistance is vanquished.
3. The very recommendation of facilitated conversations across the Communion betrays an unwillingness to acknowledge the plain authority of the Bible as it speaks to human sexuality, marriage and the qualifications for ministry. The proponents of innovations in each of these areas– TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada since 2003 (with respect to same sex blessings and consecrations of partnered same-sex persons as bishops), and now the Church of England with regards to both blessing civil partnerships and permitting such partnered clergy to be eligible for the episcopate– have had ample opportunity to make their case. Time and again, they have failed to show how these innovations are in keeping with the Bible or the uninterrupted teaching authority and tradition of the Church.
For over 10 years, such “conversations” within the Instruments of Communion have simply enabled TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada to project false teaching and confusion across the Communion without any consequences. And now, I am sad to say, it appears that the bishops of the Church of England propose to follow the example set by TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada.
Culture changes. God’s word never changes. Cultures and contexts can and do err. God’s word does not. It is a tragedy that TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada have decided to “indaba” themselves to death rather than speak prophetically and lovingly to Western culture with the transforming love of Jesus Christ. It is an even greater tragedy that the bishops of the Church of England should now propose to join them in projecting confusion and error through “facilitated conversations” across the Anglican Communion.