This address was recently given by a priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church to a gathering of clergy and lay people in one of the more remote areas of Scotland. Many will share these reflections of deep theological and practical concern about the proposed change to Canon 31 (relating to marriage and human sexuality).
[…] It all started back in 2007, when Reverends Matthew and Ann Kennedy made the difficult decision, alongside dozens of other congregations, to leave The Episcopal Church (TEC) due to the latter’s departure from orthodox biblical Christianity.
TEC did not take kindly to this defection.
Gafcon UK are aware that Jesmond Parish Church have for some years been in a form of impaired communion with the Bishop of Newcastle, and have developed a special relationship with REACH-SA (formerly CESA).
Over the past few years, several clergy have been ordained by REACH Bishops to serve in the Jesmond church network and in one other part of England.
The leadership of Jesmond church have for some time been speaking publicly about the need for new missionary Bishops in Western nations who can oversee new Anglican ministries in the Celtic model. The reasoning can be found in the statement from the 2017 Jesmond Conference, here.
Gafcon UK have been informed of the latest developments but cannot comment further at this stage.
[See here for the Primates' Communique, released on 30th April 2017].
GAFCON UK would like to thank the GAFCON Primates for their courageous spiritual leadership, consisting of clear re-statement of the essentials of the faith, and practical action to take forward the mission of global Anglicanism in the 21st century.
We appreciate the way in which the Communique both looks back – to the witness of those who brought about the Reformation of the Church in the 16th century; and looks forward – to the exciting vision of multicultural and united Anglicanism which will be celebrated at the third GAFCON conference in Jerusalem, 2018.
The statement also reminds us of the serious suffering experienced in many parts of the world, where Anglicans minister sacrificially with only a fraction of the necessary resources, yet they remain faithful, trusting in God to provide. As affluent Westerners we repent of our complacency and lack of compassion, and commit ourselves to partnering more intentionally to support the church where it serves in contexts of desperate need.
The Primates go on to talk about the challenges in the Global North, “the increasing influence of materialism, secularism, and the loss of moral foundations” which are “spiritually dangerous”. We recognize the need to repent of our participation in a weak version of the Christian faith which has too often failed to point out these dangers or even made accommodation with them.
This accommodation and ‘cultural captivity’ is seen in the failure by many Anglican leaders in the UK to hold to the key principles of Holy Scripture as speaking clearly to God’s will for human flourishing, and of requiring unequivocal obedience whatever the cost. It is shown, for example, in unwillingness to be clear about the uniqueness of Jesus and the authority of the Bible, and rejection of clear biblical teaching God’s gift of sex and marriage, and of celibate singleness.
This has contributed to the increasing concern that many faithful clergy and lay people in the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church in Wales feel about the revisionist trajectory of these churches. As the Communique points out clearly, some Anglicans are already outside of these structures and need Episcopal oversight; others may do so soon.
So we warmly welcome the decision of the Primates to consecrate a missionary Bishop who will fulfil this function. We appreciate the way GAFCON has recognized that this intervention is giving global support to one of a number of initiatives being taken by biblically orthodox Anglicans in Britain; others include the work being done to strengthen the Free Church of England. Meanwhile the Primates have generously expressed respect for and continued warm fellowship with those who for the moment are choosing to remain within the official structures and contend for orthodox biblical faith there, while warning that inaction in the face of revisionist pressure is not a faithful option.
We understand that more will be revealed about the plans for the consecration in due course. We commit ourselves to prayer about this and invite all who hold to the historic and trustworthy teaching of our faith to join us.
“GAFCON is enabling the Anglican Communion to be fit for God’s purposes in the twenty-first century. We are uniting Anglicans around the world in faithful witness to Jesus Christ and recovering Biblical truth where it has been compromised. There is much still to do, but we give great thanks to God for his grace at work among us.”
Archbishop Nicholas Okoh - GAFCON Chairman
In this letter, GAFCON Chairman Nicholas Okoh addresses the recent call of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York for "radical inclusion"in the Church of England, and urges faithful Anglicans to remember those suffering in South Sudan and northern Nigeria.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have said, in a statement from 16th February:
we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.
Responses from Bishops
In his Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod on Saturday 11th March 2017, the Bishop of Chelmsford has given one of the clearest indications yet of the next stage of major change in the Church of England’s approach to sexual ethics. Referring to the Archbishops’ call for “a radical new Christian inclusion”, he says:
"LGBTI+ people are welcome in the churches of the Chelmsford diocese… we want to listen to them and work with them so as to find appropriate ways of expressing their love – for it is not good for human beings to be alone – in permanent, faithful, stable relationships…there is no reason why prayers of thanksgiving for these relationships – perhaps a Eucharist – cannot be offered."
The Bishop of Manchester complains about the argument of conservatives, which “asserts that until the law and the canons change, wider teaching is fixed”. He calls this “the logic of logjam.” Instead, he proposes “much more than ‘maximum freedom’”, and “the possibility of exploring our prayers, our discipline, our outreach, our ministry and our teaching, and doing so with the expectation that things are going to look significantly different afterwards.”
The Diocese of Hereford has included the following motion for its Synod meeting of 4th March:
‘That this Synod requests the House of Bishops to commend under Canon B4 an Order of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Partnership or Same-Sex Marriage, indicative of no departure from the doctrine of the Church of England on any essential matter, and furnished with ample safeguards that no parish should be obliged to host, nor minister conduct, such a service.’
[Although this motion was withdrawn before the Synod, after procedural errors were pointed out].
Previously the Bishop of Hereford had declared in a January ad clerum, before the Synod vote,
my own position as one who wants to affirm same sex relationships while seeing marriage itself as being by definition between a man and a woman. In other words, as the Report puts it, “Interpreting the existing framework to permit maximum freedom within it, without changes to the law or the doctrine of the Church.”
The Bishop of Portsmouth has issued a Statement in which he says this:
I'm committed to using the maximum freedom, which was encouraged by all the bishops in their report, to welcome and affirm everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, nationality or any of the ways in which people can be so hurtfully differentiated. I’ll be exploring how this inclusion can be supported in our diocese including some guidance to clergy and lay leaders.
The Bishop of Bradwell (Suffragan of Chelmsford) says, after a moving account of living with untreatable cancer in a letter to clergy, says:
More time does need to be given to a well-founded theology of relationship, friendship and marriage which I hope will lead in time to a full acceptance of same sex marriages in the Church of England. That will take time. However, that should not hold us back in the immediate from proper recognition through prayers, blessing, celebration and affirmation of all that is good and wholesome in a wide variety of relationships including stable, faithful, committed and God given same sex relationships.
The Bishop of Selby (Suffragan of York) gives his view:
we need to explore a more creative way ahead for faithful human relationships rather than remaining where we are or simply offering maximum freedom within the present settlement. To do this will involve a major re-engagement with and renewal of Anglican anthropology…I do feel that our tradition has the resources to bless other relationships of love, longevity and depth.
Other Bishops will no doubt make similar statements in due course, and excerpts will be posted in updated versions of this briefing.
We can assume that these Bishops are responding to a signal from the Archbishops, indicating a move towards official acceptance and affirmation of same sex relationships, within the boundaries of the Canons which at the moment do not make provision for same sex marriage. Technically, Canon Law does not allow for a change in teaching and practice which implies the Church’s approval of same sex relationships, as the original GS2055 Report made clear. However unless this teaching and practice is enforced, in terms of discipline for those who transgress it, it is meaningless.
Senior leaders who contradict the clear teaching of the Bible and the Church, and/or who enter into same sex marriages or publicly celebrate them, should be a problem to the Church in the same way that any blatant violation of the norms of any organisation by its office holders are a problem. However the Archbishops have explicitly said that
"No person is a problem, or an issue. People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’, there are simply people.”
This can reasonably be interpreted as saying that no action will be taken against any Bishops or clergy who openly contradict Christian doctrine and/or who violate its canons in the area of sexual ethics.
The response from conservatives
But what of those for whom this new reality of “radical inclusion” is a false innovation, running counter to the universal Church's understanding of the Gospel? There will be those who are prepared to accept the removal of boundaries in terms of belief and behaviour in the wider church, as long as they themselves are free to continue orthodox faith and practice in their local churches and networks. They will not be seen as a “problem” as long as they do not challenge the new thinking publicly. But already there are an increasing number who, because of historic biblical convictions, find themselves in impaired communion with their Bishop if he or she has publicly moved away from apostolic Christian teaching at a foundational level.
GAFCON UK stands with such clergy and lay people, who accept item 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration:
We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and turn to the Lord.
We are maintaining good relationships with confessing Anglicans who are looking for a solution providing protection for the orthodox within the Church of England.
We are also actively working with those for whom in conscience this is no longer an option, who are looking for alternative Episcopal oversight and ultimately, a new way of being Anglican in Britain; part of global Anglican orthodoxy under the ultimate authority of the word of God, not a human institution, place or leader.
Further reading. Some good articles critiquing the Archbishops’ statement from a conservative perspective can be found here:
The tragic cruelty of “radical inclusion”, from ACNA
Dear Archbishops, what is “a radical new inclusion”?, by David Baker, Christian Today
An Anglican understanding of inclusion, by Martin Davie, Reflections of an Anglican Theologian
The historical basis for policy of ‘radical inclusion’ in the C of E, satire by Melvin Tinker, Anglican Ink
It’s time for the Church of England to lay down the law on marriage, by Andrea Minichiello Williams, Telegraph
The confusion created by the General Synod vote on 15th February makes abundantly clear that a new vision is now needed of what Anglican Christianity in England can and should be.
In GAFCON UK’s initial response to the Bishops’ Report GS2055, we recognised that the House of Bishops’ proposal to retain the current position on sexuality and marriage was unstable and inadequate. Reflecting divisions among the Bishops themselves, the document timidly relied upon legal definitions and “constructive ambiguity.” It missed the opportunity to explain briefly and clearly the historic, biblical understanding of sexuality, singleness and marriage and the benefits for human flourishing and witness to God’s plan of salvation.
Trying to avoid ‘taking sides’ in the debate, the document inevitably failed to reconcile diametrically opposing theological understandings. It even attempted to spiritualise this conflict as if it were a form of creative diversity mysteriously pointing to the Kingdom of God.
This is why we did not share the optimism of some that an orthodox view of marriage would prevail in the proposed ‘teaching document.’ The committee responsible for such a document would have been composed of representatives of both sides in the debate, resulting either in impasse, further theological muddle and confusion or, as occurred with the Pilling Report, majority and minority views.
As the Synod debate was introduced, Bishops made clear that the proposed retention of the historic teaching of marriage, or the ban on liturgical blessings of same sex relationships, was not a ‘stake in the ground’ beyond which the church will not move. To the contrary the Bishops saw it merely as a description of where the church is at the moment from where we would then ‘move forward’. This was a clear encouragement to innovations led by the loudest voices.
Our view was that orthodox believers could have no confidence either in the Report or in the process it was intended to initiate. Whichever way the vote went, there would be no happy outcome. The Church of England now finds itself in disarray.
Despite it being clear that the Canons and official teachings of the Church remain the same and changing them will not receive sufficient Synodical support, the campaigners for the LGBT ideology will no doubt continue and increase their public violations of Christian doctrine and ethics. They know full well that Bishops, with their diminished authority, will often feel unable to apply proper control and discipline. In some dioceses they may even be encouraged to push the limits, taking the ambiguity of the Archbishop of Canterbury's words "radical inclusion" as license to further move from God’s direction, rather than maintain obedience to His Word. Orthodox Anglicans across the country will be increasingly dismayed and confused by this.
After the very expensive ‘holding operation’ of the Shared Conversations and the production of GS2055, the inevitable crisis in the C of E is now upon us; one that cannot be covered up by more platitudes about reconciliation and unity.
There is a better way. We would like to suggest seven principles to guide orthodox Anglicans as they start to envision and plan for a better church future:
- Confessional. A true church cannot include everyone without boundaries. While only God knows the human heart, Christian community must define itself by identifying with and confessing certain key tenets of the faith, and rejecting others as incompatible. This may be costly if it runs counter to expediency in a fractured church and ideological pressures in society, but it is necessary for apostolic authenticity and spiritual health.
- Episcopal. We are Anglican, and so we value and uphold the ideal of a godly, faith-defending episcopacy. We long for Bishops in the Church of England to fulfill this function, and we look with admiration at examples of such leadership in other parts of the Anglican Communion.
- Global. We are not just a network of independent local churches – we are and wish to remain part of a global Communion. The mutual benefits for spiritual growth, learning and mission of such a global fellowship are incalculable, and need to be intentionally enabled and nurtured. Given the failure of the traditional Anglican “Instruments of Communion”, the global Gafcon movement, gathered around the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration, is the best viable means of achieving this.
- Charismatic. We are a community of the Holy Spirit. We believe that God is alive and at work today, calling us to be in relationship with him in worship and prayer, enabling, challenging, giving supernatural gifts for ministry, and discernment and courage where necessary to bear with suffering and to stand for justice and truth.
- Catholic. We appreciate the deep roots of our Anglican tradition dating back not just to the Reformation, but to the godly disciples of the medieval period, the courageous missionaries to pagan Europe in the dark ages, the Fathers of the early church. Our Anglican liturgy and our varieties of practice in worship and the sacraments sustain us spiritually and unite us in faith.
- Evangelical and Reformed. We uphold the biblical principles of justification by faith alone, and the primary authority of Scripture alone in determining doctrine and ethics. While we seek to serve and uplift humanity in a variety of ways, especially where there is deep physical suffering, we see forgiveness of sin and relationship with God through Jesus as the primary need of all people. So evangelism is more than ‘welcome’ and not the same as ‘inclusion’; it involves calling people to repent, turn to Christ, and live the new life he enables.
- Pastoral. As a community of sinners and including those suffering from physical, mental and spiritual damage, we need the regular forgiveness of the Lord, his healing touch, and his gracious word. While some are set apart for special pastoral responsibilities, all believers are called to minister to one another and to those outside the community of faith with love and concern, though sometimes with firmness and correction as we are all liable to stray. Our churches should be fellowships of mutual support and encouragement, and also of transformation, as the Gospel involves the blind seeing, the deaf hearing and the lame walking.
As Gafcon UK we are committed to working with our partners in Britain and across the world to help build a movement in which these principles will be acted out, to the glory of God. Why not join us?
GAFCON UK welcomes the publication of the OneBodyOneFaith statement “A time to build”.
The statement is admirably clear in its wholesale abandonment of any pretence that OneBodyOneFaith has any respect for Biblical authority or any interest in the wellbeing of global Anglicanism.
While “A time to build” suggests that it seeks “theological diversity” it in fact requires that the whole Church worldwide submit to a view that God has not spoken clearly in his Word about the nature of humanity and human sexuality.
The authors of the statement suggest that they are wiser than 4,000 years of Biblical revelation, 2,000 years of Christian theology and the overwhelming majority of Christians down the ages and around the world.
We note with a degree of amazement that OneBodyOneFaith’s attempt to discredit GAFCON, which represents the majority of the world’s Anglicans, relies entirely on an ad hominem attack which entirely misrepresents the position of a Primate whom the authors have never had the pleasure of meeting. We trust that the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion will use his comments to General Synod tomorrow to distance himself from the manifest nonsense asserted by OBOF concerning Archbishop Okoh, Primate of Nigeria.
It is a remarkable thing that a tiny English campaign group sees fit to be so disrespectful to the Godly leader of a vibrant, growing Church of many millions. As we hope OBOF is aware, at the present time, rather than criticism the Church of Nigeria desperately needs our prayers given the price many are paying for their commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
GAFCONUK is content to contrast the hubris and divisiveness of the leadership of OBOF and with the humble and clear leadership of Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of Nigeria. As well as being Chairman of GAFCON, he is also Vice-Chair of the Global South movement, representing the large majority of Anglicans worldwide, standing for unity under a shared confessional basis of faith, and committed to serving Christ in contexts much more challenging than anything seen in this country.
The members of the GAFCONUK Task Force wish to put on record their immense gratitude to God for His provision of the servant-hearted leadership of ++Okoh, the GAFCON Primates and their bishops. Our own renewed commitment to Anglicanism is in no small measure due to the refreshment derived from re-experiencing episcopal leadership which is unequivocally Biblical both in character and in action. The growing strength of GAFCON both numerically and organisationally bears elegant testimony to Archbishop Okoh as a worthy successor to Archbishop Akinola and Archbishop Wabukala.
On Wednesday 15th February the General Synod of the Church of England will debate whether to “Take Note” of GS2055. Whatever the outcome of the vote we anticipate that the debate will reveal serious divisions within the Church of England, with voices of revisionism louder and more confident than orthodoxy. Unless the House of Bishops has the collective will to reassert the historic biblical understanding of marriage and publicly explain it, a trajectory that takes the Church ever further way from its own foundation documents seems inevitable. The ever growing number of orthodox Anglicans abandoned by the Church of England as is embraces secularism in the futile pursuit of popularity will find a warm welcome in the global, confessionally Anglican fellowship which is GAFCON.
GAFCON UK is grateful that with this statement, the Church of England has ruled out any intention to change its teaching on marriage. The Bishops have taken seriously the views of the global Anglican Communion and the need to maintain consistency with historic and apostolic teaching, while admitting the serious differences in interpretation of this deposit.
We appreciate the witness of those who have upheld the biblical teaching of the Church during the discussions of the House of Bishops and the Reflection Group.
We agree that all Church of England congregations should provide a generous welcome to every person, and to treat all with respect and love regardless of sexual orientation, relationship history and ideology, providing pastoral care and godly guidance for all who seek it. It is our earnest prayer that the Good News of forgiveness of sin, empowering of the Holy Spirit, and fulfilment through a relationship with Jesus Christ lived in obedience to his Word, will be made available to all through the ministry of our churches.
The Report as a whole requires a much fuller response than we can give here. However we do not have confidence that this document will guarantee the maintenance of orthodoxy within the Church of England for the future. We need to express our serious reservations about the many ambiguities in the text relating to how we as Anglicans understand truth and goodness, sin and salvation, and how we should carry out pastoral and liturgical practice.
We see the document as giving a rationale for maintaining the current position, but along with many faithful Anglicans in England we believe that the current position is not at all satisfactory, as it involves a lack of clarity about our message, openness to revisionist theology and practice, and further conflict within the church. We do not agree that the holding of contradictory views in the same church while avoiding rancour and separation is somehow a sign of the Kingdom of God (para 8). We are concerned that the emphasis on freedom given to clergy in terms of pastoral practice, and the possibility of further revision to the church’s teaching in future, will do nothing to prevent a trajectory which aligns with the ethics of contemporary culture rather than the challenging but life-giving teaching of the Bible.
The prayer for Bishops at the beginning of their service of consecration says this:
ALMIGHTY God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy holy Apostles many excellent gifts, and didst charge them to feed thy flock: Give grace, we beseech thee, to all Bishops, the Pastors of thy Church, that they may diligently preach thy Word, and duly administer the godly discipline thereof… (Ordinal, Book of Common Prayer).
It continues to be our prayer that the bishops of the Church of England would indeed return to the standards set out in the Ordinal. Meanwhile GAFCON UK will continue its work of setting out a vision for biblically faithful Anglicanism inspired by the example of our global partners with whom we share the same unambiguous confession of faith. Where, however, in weeks and months to come, Episcopal leadership in our land appears to be absent, or actively permitting changes to the church’s teaching and practice, GAFCONUK stands ready to respond to calls to establish necessary alternative spiritual guidance and oversight from those who find themselves in impaired communion with their Bishops over this issue.
THE GAFCONUK TASK FORCE
Canon Andy Lines
Mrs Lorna Ashworth
Mr Dan Leafe
Revd James Paice
Revd Andrew Symes
I welcome the Report of the Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality upholding of the doctrine set out in Canon B30. It is to be noted that this Canon is not just about marriage being between a man and a woman but also about its lifelong nature, the birth and the nurture of children and the ‘hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affection’. This cannot go hand in hand with wanting to make pastoral provision for public prayer for those in others kinds of relationships.
I miss any treatment of a biblical anthropology in the document and, even more, of the detailed work both of biblical scholars and by the Church of England of the biblical material as set out, for example, in Some Issues with Human Sexuality (Church House Publishing, 2003). Although Scripture, tradition and reason are mentioned as a ‘classic Anglican triad’ the primacy of Scripture is not affirmed. Instead, the report, mistakenly, invokes ‘provisionality’ in theology, although Lambeth Conferences have done this only in relationship to ecclesiology.
We are told repeatedly that pastoral provision for same-sex couples is required, that those in committed relationships should be affirmed and that guidance should be issued for clergy to ‘shape prayers’ for those entering same-sex relationships. How will such prayers be different from public liturgy and how will they relate to the marriage service and the Church’s teaching on marriage? The precedent and parallel of the Service of Prayer and Dedication for the divorced entering a further marriage is tellingly invoked. All of us know how this has led to further marriage in church becoming common-place, whatever the original intention may have been.
The Report, again and again, tells us that clergy will have to uphold the teaching of Canon B30 in their own lives. But the point of this, in the Ordinal and in Canon C26, is so that they may be examples to their people. What value will this have if lay people are permitted to depart from Canon B30’s teaching on marriage and the clergy are given guidance on how to officiate at such departures?
The report tells us in several places that the Church’s teaching has to be related to a fast-changing cultural context but makes no value judgements about the desirability of such change nor to the principles of development which should guide our engagement with culture.
In the useful Annex on legal issues, option 8Cii and 13d need to be watched closely as they could lead to the Church permitting the celebration of any relationship if it is not understood as ‘holy matrimony’ in the sense of Canon B30. The latter would, of course, be limited, to heterosexual couples eligible to marry.
The thrust of the report seems very much to be that there should be no change in doctrine but that there should be a change in pastoral provision and in the public prayer for those entering same-sex unions. The question is, of course, when does ‘usual practice’ become teaching, especially when provision is made for public prayer. As Anglicans and other Christians say, ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’. The biblically orthodox members of General Synod will do well to affirm Lambeth 1:10, both in its declaration of God’s love and the Church’s care for those who experience same-sex attraction and in its refusal to provide for the sanctioning of unions which do not reflect God’s design for human beings as set out in Genesis 1 and 2 and Our Lord’s teaching in Mark 10 and parallels.
[From Christian Today] ...Rev James Paice, a member of the GAFCON UK Taskforce, said he along with other Anglicans in the generally more conservative global south, "are appalled at the lack of discipline by the Scottish Episcopal Church at this continued syncretism and confusion over mission."
Paice's open letter follows outrage from conservative Anglicans and comes after a similar call for punishment by the conservative former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali.
"The authorities of the Scottish Episcopal Church should immediately repudiate this ill-advised invitation," he said in a statement.
He also called for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, publicly to distance the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion from the event.
An interview with the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, was recently published as an article in the Church of Ireland Gazette…. GAFCON, says the Archbishop, is not a movement of the Holy Spirit because it insists on its own way, causing division, rather than accepting that the church will never be perfect and being willing to work within the existing structures. [Peter Jensen evaluates these claims].
As 2017AD begins, let us not forget that the way we measure time itself bears witness to Jesus Christ as Lord of history. The era in which we live began with his birth and it will end with his return. As global political and economic instability increases and the challenges of terrorism, hunger and environmental breakdown stubbornly persist, we weep with those who weep, but it is also our great duty and joy to be entrusted with the message of God’s love so wonderfully revealed in Jesus Christ for lost people and a broken world...The GAFCON movement has a vital role to play in this task.
We are grateful to God for the gracious, unsolicited affirmation of the recent activities of GAFCON UK given by Archbishop Okoh, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council.
Archbishop Okoh’s Pastoral Letter of 6th December 2016 makes clear that, despite attempts from some in the Church of England leadership both to obfuscate the real situation on the ground in the Church, and to undermine the significance of Lambeth Conference Resolution I.10, the GAFCON Primates are in no doubt either as to the breakdown of discipline in the Church of England or as to the standards for human sexuality that the majority of the Communion expect the Church of England to uphold.
2017 will be the anniversary of two significant decisions of the General Synod of the Church of England. It will be the thirtieth anniversary of the almost unanimous vote of Synod to approve what became known as the “Higton Motion”, a clear declaration of the historic, apostolic teaching of the Church on sex and marriage. 2017 will also be the tenth anniversary of the affirmation by the General Synod (GS Misc 843B) that the Church of England is to:
(a) commend continuing efforts to prevent the diversity of opinion about human sexuality creating further division and impaired fellowship within the Church of England and the Anglican Communion;
(b) recognize that such efforts would not be advanced by doing anything that could be perceived as the Church of England qualifying its commitment to the entirety of the relevant Lambeth Conference Resolutions (1978: 10; 1988: 64; 1998: 1.10);
(c) welcome the opportunities offered by these Lambeth resolutions, including for the Church of England to engage in an open, full and godly dialogue about human sexuality; and
(d) affirm that homosexual orientation in itself is no bar to a faithful Christian life or to full participation in lay and ordained ministry in the Church and acknowledge the importance of lesbian and gay members of the Church of England participating in the listening process as full members of the church.
Those two Motions, reflecting accurately, as they do, the teaching of Holy Scripture, are authoritative and remain the position of the Church of England. Given the extensive “listening process” that has been conducted, not least for the compilation of the Pilling Report and in the nationwide and Synodical “Shared Conversations”, any attempt to suggest otherwise would simply be to ignore the express will of the General Synod and thereby to significantly undermine Synodical Government in the Church. Likewise, if the substance of those Motions are to be revisited, the same should be done expressly and only in open debate on the floor of Synod and in conjunction with the rest of the Communion. Both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion deserve such clarity of approach.
The GAFCON UK Task Group also give thanks to God that Archbishop Greg Venables, well known to us in England, will once again be a member of the GAFCON Primates Council. He is an Archbishop of great experience and courage and GAFCON UK looks forward to being able to access his counsel.
The role of the Task Group will be reviewed in the New Year. In the meantime we intend to continue to build the supporter base of GAFCON UK across the full spectrum of orthodox Anglicans in the UK and to add a number of key individuals to the already established Panel of Reference.
 The debate can be downloaded in full here:
https://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/general-synod/reports-of-proceedings.aspx , Feb 2007, RF073, p197-227
As the season of Advent begins, I am calling on all of us who belong to the GAFCON movement to make this a time when we focus our prayer and our giving on the great work God has called us to do.
At the heart of our mission is the task of restoring the Bible to its rightful place at the centre of the Anglican Communion and if we really believe its message, then everything we do will be shaped by the promise of Christ’s glorious, personal and universal return as Saviour, Judge and Lord. In an uncertain world, this is certain...
...So we must be ready and prepared, understanding the times, just as the Apostle Paul urges the Christians in Rome when he writes: ‘the hour has come for you to wake out of sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed’ (Romans 13:11).
At this critical point in the life of the Communion, we need your full support. Will it return to the ancient paths or sleepwalk into fatal compromise? By the grace of God, GAFCON is a movement of spiritual awakening in a Communion standing at the crossroads.
To: Mr William Nye, Secretary General, Archbishops’ Council, Church House, Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3AZ
From: Revd David Holloway, Vicar of Jesmond, Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4DJ
27 November 2016
Dear Mr Nye,
I write this open letter to you following your open letter to Revd Canon Andrew Lines, the chairman of the GAFCON UK Task Force. Your letter alleged that a GAFCON briefing paper is “significantly misleading”. The briefing was regarding irregular homosexual activities in the Church of England. In support of its criticism of named Church of England bishops and clergy, the briefing referred to a resolution of a former Lambeth Conference. You wrote to “correct some of the erroneous assertions” in the paper. However, the supposed correction included the following statement:
“The teaching of the Church of England on matters relating to same-sex practice and unions is, and remains, as set out in the document issued by the Church's House of Bishops in 1991 Issues in Human Sexuality. That document pre-dates the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and is consistent with the resolution 1:10 of the Conference.”
This was to correct any assumption that the Lambeth Conference 1998 Resolution 1:10 could be said to determine the teaching of the Church of England. You are quite right. It has no binding force on the Church of England. Its effect is institutional, moral and spiritual. But the briefing paper never claimed this was “the teaching of the Church of England”. It was claimed to be “the authoritative teaching of the Anglican Communion on sexuality”. Certainly that particular resolution, 1:10, would reflect the view of the majority of Anglicans in the Communion, and not just in the GAFCON provinces but also in the “Global South”. Be that as it may, I fear you are wrong to suggest that “the teaching of the Church of England” in this matter of sexuality is that set out in the Bishops’ 1991 document.
The teaching of the Church of England as such, without much doubt, remains that of the General Synod resolution following a debate in 1987. This was initiated by the Revd Tony Higton. However, the Synod rejected Mr Higton’s motion. Instead, it passed by 403 votes to 8 the Bishops’ motion, introduced by the then Bishop of Chester, amending Mr Higton’s. The Bishops’ motion read as follows:
“That this Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships is a response to, and expression of, God’s love for each one of us, and in particular affirms:
1. that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship;
2. that fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
3. that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
4. that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, including sexual morality; and that holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders.”
It is true that General Councils, and therefore, subordinate Councils and Synods, and so General Synods “may err” (Article 21 of the 39). But as that 1987 Bishops’ motion was fully consistent with Canon A5, the criterion for doctrine according to the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974, it provides for the Church of England its doctrine, or teaching, on sexuality. According to a motion passed in the July 1997 General Synod, the 1991 Issues in Human Sexuality has the support of the Synod as an aid to “prayerful study”: it is “not the last word on the subject”. Indeed, being just that was the original intention of the 1991 document (see its Preface). It cannot, therefore, be said to be “the teaching of the Church of England on matters relating to same-sex practice and unions” as the Bishops’ 1987 motion can.
It also needs to be noted that the doctrinal primacy of the Bishops’ 1987 motion was subsequently announced by the Archbishop of Canterbury who had signed off the 1991 document; and that was the legal advice. Of course, the 1991 Issues in Human Sexuality, while being uneven as many such statements are, contains most helpful material. For example, Section 2.29 is a brilliant summary of the biblical teaching on sexual relationships:
“There is … in Scripture an evolving convergence on the ideal of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual union as the setting intended by God for the proper development of men and women as sexual beings. Sexual activity of any kind outside marriage comes to be seen as sinful, and homosexual practice as especially dishonourable.”
It is a fact that every bishop and priest/presbyter in the Church of England is bound “with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word” (BCP Ordinal). Surely, therefore, Canon Andy Lines and the GAFCON UK Task Force should be thanked, rather than opposed, in all their efforts to help the Church at large be true to its apostolic faith, and its clergy true to their canonical duty.
Earlier this year I was speaking with an English friend concerned about the direction of the Church of England. “Where do we draw the line?” he asked. “That’s easy,” I replied: “It’s called Lambeth Resolution I.10.”
The 1998 Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality has been and remains the Rubicon for the Anglican Communion. Those who step over that line will have divorced themselves from biblical Christianity, from historic Anglicanism, and from the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide. Several provinces of the Communion have already taken that step. It appears that the Mother Church is about to follow.
I was present at the 1998 Lambeth Conference where the Resolution was passed, and I published an analysis of its text and significance. It was approved overwhelmingly by the bishops of the Communion, including the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, but was rejected immediately thereafter by the majority of bishops in the Episcopal Church USA. The rejection led to nearly two decades of strife within the Communion which continues to this day.
The open letter to Canon Andy Lines of GAFCON UK from the Secretary-General of the Archbishops’ Council is very significant. It can be taken as the official position of the C of E leadership. Helpfully, the letter moves away from matters of tone and motive which tend to dominate discussion and gets to the real issue, namely, what is, or should be, the teaching of the worldwide Church on sexual ethics, and how do we apply this in the Church of England?
Underlying the letter is an institutional mentality which does not locate ecclesial authority with the unchanging Scriptural principles of apostolic Christianity, as affirmed by the global Church. Rather it puts confidence in legal process, with the effect that what is not ‘legally binding’ can be disregarded or relegated to the respected status of a historical curiosity. More than ever, GAFCON UK with its clear confessional grounding in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration has a vital role to play in our current context.
THE GLOBAL ANGLICAN CONFLICT OVER SEXUAL MORALITY: AIRBRUSHED OUT?
The letter does not acknowledge at all the fractious recent history of the worldwide Anglican Communion since the Lambeth Conference of 1998. (George Conger has written a reflection on his own involvement in the formation of that document here ).
In short, Lambeth I:10 represented the mind of the Communion on the interpretation of Scripture concerning a key pastoral and missiological issue, and on how Anglicans can continue to have fellowship together. The majority of Anglicans rejoiced; in USA and Canada, however, the leadership did not accept the Resolution. The ensuing process aligned TEC and ACoC with Western cultural trends in undermining Judaeo-Christian sexual morality, which is so vital to cohesion in society and individual flourishing.
In the years that followed, the fabric of the Anglican Communion was torn, because of the attitude of a few members that they had no obligation to abide by the will of the group or the clear teaching of Scripture. There were years of agony as meeting after meeting of Primates failed to resolve the crisis of broken fellowship.
But thankfully, in 2008, a courageous group of Primates gathered a group of Anglicans from all over the world (including England) to meet in Jerusalem, to have fellowship, worship and listening to God’s word together, to recommit to the joint enterprise of reaching the world for Christ and serving its people. This was GAFCON, not a breakaway Anglican Communion, but representing the majority of the Communion; not seeking to undermine or rebel against authority but to restore proper authority to the church, the word of God rather than an institution. GAFCON, now firmly in partnership with the Global South movement, is continuing its task of renewing the Anglican Communion.
The letter issued by the Church of England ignores this recent history of departure from orthodoxy, global schism and restoration which is inseparable from any discussion of Lambeth I:10 and Anglican debates on sexual ethics. At best it can be seen as an ‘England-centric’ viewpoint; others may have good cause to see evidence of disregard for the fellowship and leadership of the global Anglican Communion.
THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND DOCTRINE OF SEXUALITY: ‘NO CHANGE’, BUT OPEN TO REINTERPRETATION IN PRACTICE?
Likewise, will Anglicans worldwide who hold to the historic, orthodox teaching on sexual ethics be reassured that this standard and practice will be maintained in the Church of England? To be sure, the letter sets out the legal situation regarding marriage and civil partnerships, and says there is “no formal proposal” to change the church’s teaching, which the majority and clergy and laity “have adhered to” (note past tense). But having downplayed the significance of Lambeth I:10 and rejected the possibility that its precepts can be violated because it has no legal authority, it does not say how the Church of England intends to maintain and commend the Christian doctrines of sex and marriage to the nation.
Instead, it gives bullet points (not referenced, but presumably coming from the Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance document of February 2014) which are extremely ambiguous and open to a number of different interpretations.
First, because clergy in civil partnerships are not legally married, this therefore apparently has “no bearing on the doctrine of marriage”. Technically true, but if clergy in civil partnerships are part of a psychological societal and congregational process of acceptance of same sex relationships, their presence will certainly influence the popular understanding of marriage away from what the Church has historically taught. Where does that leave the Church’s “doctrine of marriage”? A museum piece, perhaps, especially if it may not be supported by Lambeth I:10 but only a reference to the much longer and less accessible “Issues in Human Sexuality”?
Secondly, “clergy and laity are entitled to argue for changes to teaching and practice”. Again, of course we have freedom of speech! But this seems to open the door to the widespread promotion of any view, even an irresponsible disregard for core doctrines, which include marriage. This provision was no doubt originally intended to allow for a free exchange of views during the ‘Shared Conversation’ process. Its effect now will be again to undermine any idea of clear universally agreed teaching in which we can have confidence.
Thirdly, the letter says “prayers of support on a pastoral basis for people in same-sex relationships” are permitted in churches. This is very misleading: in its original context (The Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance of 2014) such private prayers were clearly distinguished from public ‘prayers of blessing’ which are explicitly not permitted. Without this clear distinction, public services of celebration of same sex relationships could be carried out under the guidelines of ‘pastoral prayer’ - and indeed such services are being carried out as the GAFCON document on Lambeth I:10 violations shows.
On one hand, then, the Church of England has an official doctrine of sex and marriage based on the wonderful fruitful biblical vision of godly celibate singleness, man and woman sacrificially committed to each other exclusively for life, a family of mum, dad and kids; power for living it out, forgiveness for all (ie the 100%) who fall short. But in practice the Church is extremely diffident about explaining or commending this vision, not just because it knows that many in the ranks of its own leadership don’t believe in it, but because it is more afraid of unpopularity from the secular British establishment and Twitter mobs than it is concerned about fellowship with the worldwide church or doing what is right before God.
So rather than changing the doctrine, the Church puts it on the shelf, and allows other beliefs and practices to take hold. The church officially believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, but Bishops can argue for same sex marriage, and clergy can conduct a ceremony which looks to all intents and purposes like the blessing of a same sex relationship, and it’s ‘within the guidelines’. If the line is crossed into same sex marriage, with laity it doesn’t matter; clergy have a private chat with the Bishop because discipline is a matter for them – they are not accountable to the worldwide church. In a postmodern world people are increasingly unconcerned about these contradictions.
The question to ask, then, is not “what will happen if the Church of England crosses the line and accepts same sex relationships”. It has already crossed that line in practice if not in the increasingly irrelevant official doctrine. The question is, what will the faithful do?
Let’s take a step back for a moment from the sharp public exchange between the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council and GAFCON UK, and ask: what kind of Church do we want as Anglicans? Do we want our spiritual and moral guidance to come from bureaucratic interpretations of church law, or from the biblical revelation about humanity in relation to one another and God? Is our vision of the church narrowly confined to what we hope will be acceptable to the metropolitan elites in modern secular England, diffidently offering uncertainties as we continue our numerical decline? Or are we more excited by the reality of being part of a global Anglican future, a worldwide fellowship of disciples from almost every nation, tribe and tongue, confidently affirming the apostolic deposit of faith despite the cost, and encouraging one another to live it out with mutual accountability?