Anglican Perspectives

The Apostle Paul and Lambeth 2020

Last week, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll issued a “Challenge to Orthodox [Anglican] Bishops” who are contemplating attending the Lambeth Conference of Bishops:

“My brothers, are you planning to attend the Lambeth Conference next year? If so, what kind of council do you perceive it to be? If the Conference is claiming to be an “Instrument of the Anglican Communion,” what do you understand the word “communion” to mean? Do you agree with its claim that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Communion Office have the exclusive “branding rights” to declare who is Anglican and who is not, as was announced by the Primates in October 2017? Do you agree that Bishop Gene Robinson and Bishop Kevin Robertson and those who facilitated them are authentic Anglicans, whereas Archbishop Foley Beach and Archbishop Miguel Uchoa are heading up some other Christian denomination?

“Let me ask you a personal question – because true fellowship is personal and a church council, while it has a formal role, is a body of brothers (and sisters) united in “making the good confession” of our Lord Jesus Christ. For those of you who are members of the Gafcon and Global South movements, how can you sit in council in Jerusalem or Cairo and enjoy sweet fellowship with brothers who have been expelled from their churches, sued out of their properties, defrocked from their ministries, and then turn around and sit at table in Canterbury with bishops of the Episcopal Church, Anglican Church of Canada, and others who have disowned these brothers?”

The Diocese of Toronto’s Bishop Kevin Robertson and Mr. Mohan Sharma were married by Bishop Susan Bell of the Diocese of Niagara on December 28, 2018.

Yesterday, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh (Nigeria), Chairman of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, cited the celebration of a “marriage” performed by a Bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) of an assisting Bishop and his “partner,” in the cathedral (see above), and the virtual certainty that they will be welcomed “in good standing” by the Archbishop of Canterbury and others to the Lambeth 2020 Conference of Bishops, and added  his “Warning” to Dr. Noll’s:

“I strongly commend Professor Stephen Noll’s article ‘Taking Sweet Council Together’ in which he shows how true Christian fellowship is not only a joy, but also a responsibility and must be based on true doctrine. Without that discipline, the Church is prey to the ‘fierce wolves’ St Paul warns the Ephesian elders to beware of, even those who arise from within the Church and speak ‘twisted things’ (Acts 20:29, 30).

“With great sadness we therefore have to conclude that the Lambeth Conference of 2020 will itself be an obstacle to the gospel by embracing teaching and a pattern of life which are profoundly at odds with the biblical witness and the apostolic Christianity through the ages.”

I believe that there may yet be some Biblically faithful Bishops in the Anglican Communion who intend to go to the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 2020 to object to false teaching and make a witness to the truth of the Gospel. I have listened to Bishops—especially those newly consecrated who have not attended these Communion wide meetings—who sincerely believe that they can make a difference by taking a stand at these gatherings which are organized and directed by Canterbury, with “minders” from the Anglican Communion Office already assigned to these faithful bishops who intend to come, and with generous funding by The Episcopal Church and others who promote the very teaching contrary to the Gospel that we see pictured above.

Based on what I have observed at such official Communion wide meetings, there’s more I could say. But instead, let me suggest what a senior “Bishop” (the Apostle Paul) would almost certainly say to a younger “Bishop” (Timothy) in this situation.

“But mark this, there will be terrible times in the last days”. 2 Tim. 3:1

Anglicans are facing a terrible crisis—a choice which the Anglican “status quo” refuses to address.

Anglican followers of Jesus Christ are living in the last days. Christ brought the last days with him when he came, and those days will end when he comes again in glory. In the meantime, opposition to the truth of the Gospel remains a permanent characteristic of this age. As John Stott observes in his commentary om 2 Timothy, Paul uses the word “terrible” (chalepos) to describe these times we are in—a word in the classical Greek which was used of both wild animals and the raging sea. “Painful and perilous” are the times the Church must face “for men will be lovers of themselves…” (2 Tim. 3:2).  As Stott observes,

“Paul goes on immediately to tell us why this is so: For men will be… It is important to grasp that it is men who are responsible for the menacing seasons which the church has to bear, fallen men, evil men, men whose nature is perverted, whose behavior is self-centered and godless, whose mind is hostile to God and his law (cf. Rom. 8:7), and who spread evil, heresy and dead religion in the church”[1]

Dear Bishops, do these seem like overly harsh words for those who wish to take sweet counsel with you? Yet in this context, is not Paul addressing this emphatic warning to younger Timothy precisely because he is facing people who are leaders in the church who have spread and continue to spread false teaching?

One of the documents that is likely to shape the 2020 Lambeth Conference of Bishops is the Anglican Communion Office Strategic Plan to serve the Anglican Communion 2019-2025 (Consultation Draft December 2018). In this document, under the heading “What the Anglican Communion is,” the Anglican Communion is defined as a global “family of churches” whose very name “Anglican’ (from the Latin anglicana meaning ‘English’) is shaped by the history of the Church of England.

In the same vein, the Strategic Plan goes on to state that the Anglican Communion is “founded on friendship, respect and a common life,” with the Anglican Communion Office “responsive to all voices and opinions within the Communion, ensuring that they are heard, understood and valued (emphasis added).”  Apparently, this “hearing, understanding and valuing” at the heart of the definition of the Communion includes teaching on human sexuality, marriage and holy orders that is blatantly contrary to the Bible.

But that’s not all, dear Bishops. In the last bullet point under “How the ACO [Anglican Communion Office] supports the Anglican Communion,” the ACO proclaims that it will serve “Filled with Christ-like values, specifically: Respect, Trust, Hospitality, Humility and Openness.”

Whatever happened to the Christ-like values that are omitted from this list—including holiness of life, obedience and faithfulness to God’s word, speaking truth to sexual brokenness, and lovingly demonstrating the power of God to set people free from all manner of sin, sickness and brokenness?

Please note that in this Strategic Plan the very definition of the Communion of Anglican Churches begins with history, sociology, “respect and openness” to ALL points of view (including false teaching and practice), rather than the Bible. The definition of “Communion” in this Strategic Plan is reinforced by stunning silence about the crisis of false teaching (the Gospel deficit) and an equally stunning omission of Christ’s character and holiness that does not fit with the narrative of “Respect and Openness.”

Dear Bishops, what ground do you have to make your stand for the truth of the Gospel with other Bishops when you will have no common ground on which to make your stand—no consensus from the Anglican authorities behind this document, and the 2020 Lambeth Conference, that the Communion of Anglican Churches is first and always subject to and a creature of the Scriptures, God’s authoritative word?

Next week:  More from Bishop Paul to Bishop Timothy:

– People have corrupted the Church with false teaching that has even invaded public worship (2 Tim. 3:2-5)

– There is NO authority within these failed and diminished “councils” to say NO to false teaching, nor to take any discipline against those spreading it (2 Tim. 4:3-5)

– “Have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim. 3:6)

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President and CEO of the American Anglican Council. 




[1] Stott, John R.W.  The Message of 2 Timothy: Guard the Gospel (Downers Grove IL: Inter-Varsity press, 1973) at 83.

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