Saturday, 15 March 2008

Sydney bishops not attending Lambeth: understanding what's happening

Sydney Anglican bishops are not attending the Anglican bishops' conference at Lambeth later this year.

There will be lots of useful stuff said about this, but it is unlikely that you will get a clearer explanation of what Sydney is doing, from Sydney's perspective, than the ones given at the briefing here.

In it, Phillip Jensen says:

There is little in the New Testament to encourage Christians to split or divide. In fact we are
warned against the divisive person. The works of the flesh include “rivalries, dissensions, divisions,” (Galatians 5:20). So in the context of foolish controversies dissensions and quarrels God says: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful;
he is self-condemned.” (Titus 3.10-11).


But this treatment of the divisive person raises a paradox for us. For we are to divide from the divisive person.

These observations are merely an extract from the introductory comments. There is plenty more there to consider, and it will repay careful study for those with an interest in the issue. In particular, Phillip considers many of the New Testament passages that deal with controversy, tolerance and false teaching.

Phillip concludes:

I would urge those bishops who believe that unrepentant active homosexuality is wrong not to compromise their own beliefs, the scriptures, the church of God and the holiness of Christ.

If they have already accepted the invitation they should repent and apologise. It is not good to go back on your word. But you should not have given it in the first place. And to reinforce your error of judgement by attending is to make the same mistake as Herod when he executed John the Baptist. Such faithfulness to your word and promise is perverse rationalisation for continued wrongdoing.

To those bishops who go to Lambeth knowing that unrepentant homosexual activity is wrong - your profession of evangelical credentials will always be tarnished. You cannot expect God's people to trust you as you pick and choose which parts of the Bible apply to others and apply to you.

Actions have divisive effects. You are now put under incredible pressure to act on an issue that is not your own choosing. But you cannot avoid the consequences of your action. Attending is to fellowship with false teachers in their wicked work. It cannot help but diminish faithful Christians' confidence in you as a leader. To believe otherwise is a further
illustration of the naivety which leads you to attend.

The pragmatic arguments of needing to be there to uphold orthodoxy do not wash. By being there you are denying and undermining orthodoxy. You are demonstrating that the issue does not ultimately matter and that these men are the true bishops of the church.

The American bishops believe they are right and wish to change the rest of the church into accepting homosexuality. There is not the slightest indication that they are coming to Lambeth to listen to what the orthodox have to say. This is not the first round of a debate—it has been going on for years. They are not ignorant of alternative viewpoints. They came
last time for the final debate and they lost. They come this time with an action that they refuse to repent of. The American bishops did not listen last time they will not listen this time.

That the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited them only shows his colours. He is on record as agreeing with the American action in principle. Orthodox bishops attending is not going to change the outcome of Lambeth; just legitimise fellowshipping with false teachers or more accurately declare that their teaching is not false.

For our own diocese we need to explain the issues clearly so people will rejoice with thankfulness to God that we are led by Godly bishops who put obedience to the word of God ahead of worldly popularity. It would also be very encouraging to them to be flooded with letters and emails of appreciation at this difficult time.

Strong words indeed. To attend Lambeth is to legitimize fellowship with false teachers—American bishops who insist that homosexual practice must on gospel grounds be accepted as in keeping with Christian love; and Rowan Williams, who by word and action endorses the principles the American bishops are holding to.

Whether or not we see more orthodox bishops decide to take action remains to be seen. Anglicanism does not have a good track record in producing decisive bishops. But I'm thankful to God that some who aren't bishops, such as Phillip, are able to speak with courage and clarity about these things.


Dominic said...

Dear Gordon,

I found it helpful to listen to Phillip's talk online not just read it.

It's strange how there are things that come out in the verbal presentation that you can miss in the written one.

I thought it was a really good overview of the Biblical material (and helped me in a completely unrelated issue I am thinking through).

About 50 mins in he gets to the application of Biblical material specifically relating to Lambeth.

Cheers, Dominic

(ps I don't know if they had question time on Friday - they didn't have a question time in the online version).

Michael Kellahan said...

There was no question time
They did video it as well but I'm not sure who'll post it
Mark Thomson was very helpful on explaining what is different about this crisis - why it is evangelicals must act - given that there has never been a golden age for evangelicals in Anglican church

Anonymous said...

I wonder if here will do for Q and A Dominic, because the talk leaves one or two obvious questions.

1) If separation from false teachers is a reason not to go to Lambeth, are Sydney Bishops to be condemned for going to the last Lambeth which was attended by, for example, John Spong?
Surely a Bishop like Spomg who has ahad an active teaching ministry against the gospel like Spong bigger problem than a bishop who might be in error over homosexuality, but who might have an orthodox view of the cross?

2) Is it wise to codemn the Bishops who will be at GAFCON, but who also plan to be at Lambeth as tainted?

any takers?

John Sandeman

Michael Kellahan said...

What bishop who took part in the ordination of an unrepentant practicing homosexual to the episcopate could possibly have an orthodox view of the cross? The same Anglican liberalism that dismisses a biblical and orthodox teaching on sin (of whatever kind - here it is practicing homosexuality) also dismisses the biblical and orthodox position on the atonement. So it is no surprise that Spong writes of ordaining a homoxual priest or that Jeffrey John dismisses penal substitutionary atonement.
The comparison with Lambeth in '98 isn't right. There, an evangelical ABC helped the Conference come to an orthodox resolution on sexuality - one that has since been flouted by American Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans. The agenda they bring to this Lambeth is revisionist and illiberal and desgned to aid the persecution of faithful leaders within their dioceses. How can you have a listening process, afternoon tea, let alone the Lords Supper with someone who wants to remove David Short, seize church property, allow gay marriages and ordinations etc
Is it wise to condemn bishops attending both as tainted? I'm sure Phillips words were very carefully chosen. What he has done by saying this is to draw a line - I'm sure it will make people stop and think just that little bit harder before they cross that line or think whether a line should be drawn there or somewhere else. It will certainly get conversations like this happening that wouldn't if his words were drowned in ecclesiastical fudging and qualifications.
This really is a sad day and a sad moment but one we can't avoid

Anonymous said...

You narrowed my comment by asking if a bishop could take part in the ordination of a gay bishop and have an orthodox view of the cross.
I instanced the possibility that there could be a bishop mistaken about homosexuality and have an orthodox view of the cross.
The change in wording makes a difference. There were 18 TEC bishops that took part in the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson. There were (from memory) about 67 who voted that his ordination could go ahead. The argument that the vote would certify that New Hampshire had followed the election rules rather than endorse the idea of a gay bishop was put by the "centrist" faction led by Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia.
It is entirely possible that some of these 39 have an orthodox view of the cross - take Bishop Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina as an example. He voted both support of the Lambeth 98 motion on Homosexuality and in favour of approving the consecration of Bishop Robinson in 2003.
I don't know if that seems strange to you, it certainly does to me. But I don't think Bishops (or ministers) come in two neat piles of liberal and Conservative. Some are just weird, and people certainly manage to hold two contradictory positions at once - i think Bishop Henderson is one.
But i digress. The main point of my post was to ask; why THIS issue? There's been plenty of heresy in anglicanism before (and Dr Mark Thompson's talk gives heaps of evidence of it). Some of it about extremely significant issues, with the nature of the atonement high on the list.
Or to put it another way: why go to the Australian General Synod (which has members that signed the anti-lambeth 1:10 statement) and not Lambeth? Why avoid false teachers at Canterbury University and not in Canberra?
I am not arguing against GAFCON. I happen to support it. But there are aspects of the talks where a Q and A session might have been useful - or maybe not.

John Sandeman

Michael Kellahan said...

Morning church calls but a couple of quick thoughts...
What's the difference between Lambeth and General Synod? Lambeth is a conference with moral force that has been looked to as one of the instruments of unity in the communion. By attending it we give it greater moral force. General Synod would not see itself in such lofty terms although it actually carries more legistlative power over Australian Anglicans. We therefore need to play our part in General Synod. Even at General Synod there have been instances of Sydney reps participating in Synod but absenting themselves from Lords SUpper because of the kind if unity and fellowship it suggests. Doubtless some evangelicals will take the same approach at Lambeth.
I agree with your description of the 'Centrist' position as strange. Bishops need to lead the church in a way that is clear - I think they need to be clearer on where they stand on this issue and doubtless both sides of the debate would agree with that. I think the much harder case is for the evangelical bishop who thinks going to Lambeth will be a means of arguing the case. Here Phillip's argument is pragmatic, political, and wise - no one will be listening to this argument, the process has failed already, your attendance will be used to legitimize Lambeth and its resolutions and to dismiss GAFCON. If all the evangelicals were to boycott as Phillip is urging then the position would be clearer and the moral force of Lambeth weakened.
Why this issue? I wish it wasn't this issue but it is. It has become the touchstone for a liberal gospel that denies the uniquness of Christ and the need for repentance and faith in him. Thats why I think the issues of atonement and human sexuality are linked - Romans 1 makes the same kind of connection. It is already a difficult position to put in the culture we're in, and doubtless the heat will just increase for those not going to Lambeth.
And yes, a question time would have been helpful.
Another question would be - if we are concerned about not being united with false teachers can evangelicals comfortably sit down at GAFCON with Anglo-Catholics? Presumably neither is too enthusiastic about the other's understanding of the atonement?