Taking “sweet counsel” together: Lambeth Edition

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On 28 December 2018 [the Feast of the Holy Innocents], the Anglican Diocese of Toronto announced, with attached photo (Bishop Robertson [left], Bishop Susan Bell [center] and Mr. Sharma [right]):

The Diocese of Toronto congratulates Bishop Kevin Robertson and Mr. Mohan Sharma, who were married today at St. James Cathedral in the presence of their two children, their families and many friends, including Archbishop Colin Johnson and Bishop Andrew Asbil.

(Bishop Kevin and Mohan, who have been a couple since 2009, had their relationship blessed in 2016 according to the Pastoral Guidelines of the Diocese of Toronto and are now married under the marriage provision of the same guidelines.)

We wish them much joy in their marriage. [END]

This event could be a deal-breaker for the upcoming Lambeth Conference in 2020. And should be! Here’s why.

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The Joy of Fellowship

Christian fellowship (koinonia) is essentially a matter of personal relationship with God, grounded in the love of the Father and the Son through the Spirit. This relationship is both individual – the Christian being united with God through faith in Jesus Christ – and corporate – Christians being united with each other in Christ’s Body the Church through the water of baptism and in the Spirit of Truth.

On the night before His death, Jesus prayed for his apostles, minus Judas (John 17:12). He then proceeded to pray for the future apostolic Church spread throughout the world in space and time.

“I do not ask for these only [the apostles], but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

It’s amazing! Jesus prayed for us, for our church, for our communion of churches, two thousand years ago. In the words of the Gospel hymn: “What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

The Responsibility of Fellowship

Being the church is not only a joy, it is a responsibility, for the laity and particularly for the ordained. In his farewell address at Ephesus, St. Paul warned the gathered elders in these terms:

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. (Acts 20:27-31)

True fellowship, Paul says, requires true doctrine (“counsel”) and true discipline (“admonition”) administered by true pastors, because there is an enemy prowling from without and pretending from within the church (cf. 1 John 2:19). The Bible is clear from beginning to end in showing that the greater temptations to God’s people come from within because they come in disguise (2 Corinthians 11:14). There will always be a wolf at the gate; the question is whether the gatekeepers have fallen asleep and left it open. Because clergy and bishops have a natural collegiality meeting in council, it is a great grief when they turn a blind eye to enemies in their midst. Here is the Psalmist’s complaint:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me – then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me – then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng. (Psalm 55:12-14)

Paul himself had to deal with a breakdown in discipline where a prominent member of the Corinthian Church was found sleeping with his mother-in-law and the leaders had turned a blind eye. To them he said:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (1 Corinthians 5:9-12)

Paul’s concern here is not primarily with the sin of the “so-called brother” (he hopes that discipline will bring him to his senses) but with the pastors and the public reputation of the Church. Paul is not squeamish about the reality of human weakness and vice, but he is adamant that the Church be a pure Bride and avoid “notorious” vices that would besmirch its witness to the pagan world. This concern is the basis for the Anglican Prayer Book rubric authorizing the priest to discipline “notorious [i.e. publicly known] evil-livers.”

The problem of notorious immorality includes not just individual sin but corporate heresy, not just false practice but false teaching. Jesus Himself directs this challenge to the pastors in a cardinal chapter on church order (Matthew 18): “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6; cf. 5:19).

GAFCON 2018 Appeals to the Archbishop of Canterbury

In 2018 nearly 2,000 Anglicans gathered in Jerusalem for the third Global Anglican Future Conference. In the “Letter to the Churches,” the assembly rehearsed the perilous situation of the Anglican Communion due to twenty years of heretical teaching and failed discipline, citing specifically St. Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders. The Conference “respectfully urged” the Archbishop of Canterbury:

–to invite as full members to Lambeth 2020 bishops of the Province of the Anglican Church in North America and the Province of the Anglican Church in Brazil

and

–not to invite bishops of those Provinces which have endorsed by word or deed sexual practices which are in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture and Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, unless they have repented of their actions and reversed their decisions.

And it continued:

In the event that this does not occur, we urge Gafcon members to decline the invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the Instruments of Communion.

Six months later, Justin Welby had not replied to or even acknowledged this request. In December 2018, he proceeded to send invitations to “all active bishops in the Communion and their spouses” to the Lambeth Conference in 2020. The invitations did not go out to bishops of the Anglican Church in North America and Anglican Church in Brazil. They did go out to bishops in the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada including, so it seems, Bishop Kevin Robertson of Toronto and Mr. Sharma, the newlyweds mentioned above.

The Scandal in Toronto

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the photo of the Toronto “marriage” says it all. Anyone who is not appalled at the idea of a bishop of the church of God being married to a same-sex partner, officiated by another bishop and with the Primate present in the congregation to congratulate him, is not walking in the light.

Bishop Robertson’s marriage is a scandal, just as was the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson in 2003. (I note that Gene Robinson, though retired, continues to be active, preaching at a same-sex wedding of 24 couples in a Dallas Episcopal Church on 19 January 2019.)

But let us remember that the scandal involves not only the manner of life of a shepherd of the church but the false teaching of those who have approved that manner of life. This false teaching on human sexuality has been upheld and promoted by the respective Primate and nearly all the bishops of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. These are the teachers our Lord refers to when He says in the Sermon on the Mount:

Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)

All those who have consented to and participated and rejoiced in the clear violation of God’s institution of holy matrimony, as affirmed by Jesus Christ Himself, are blind guides and hirelings, who do not regard the true Shepherd or His sheep.

These hirelings will be smiling in the Lambeth Conference photo, and, according to the Chairman of the “Design Group,” God will be smiling with them. Hmm! Our God is not a smiley God (cf. Psalm 2:4).

“The Stakes Are Very High”

I am not the only observer commenting on the scandalous implications of Justin Welby’s invitations to Lambeth. Andrew Goddard, who has been a promoter of the Windsor Process and Anglican Communion Covenant, is horrified by Archbishop Welby’s overturning the precedent of inviting only diocesan bishops, especially since the two notorious same-sex partnered bishops, Robertson and Mary Glasspool, are not diocesans.

Dr. Goddard fears that Canterbury has made a tragic mistake and undone the work of his predecessor. Whether this is so, Archbishop Welby has certainly “moved on” in his vision for the Conference. He wants to gather all Anglican bishops accredited by  him, to roll out the “Living in Love and Faith” report, which will claim that there are a variety of biblical, theological, historical, and sociological views of sexuality and marriage, and to announce a consensus to “walk together” with “good disagreement.” For this reason he wants the widest spectrum of “lifestyles” present, including Bishops Robertson and Glasspool, alongside a large contingent of Global South bishops, while allowing the hardliners in Gafcon to walk apart.

Reviewing the Gafcon Letter to the Churches and the “Sixth Trumpet” communiqué from the Global South Anglican Network calling on Canterbury to uphold the Church’s teaching, Andrew Goddard concludes with this dire warning for Lambeth 2020:

Were …  hundreds of invited bishops to refuse to attend, it will mean that (with the next Conference not due until 2028 or 2030) there will be at least 30 years without a global gathering of Anglican bishops at a Lambeth Conference as developed between 1867 and 1998. This means that the stakes are now very high. Such a prolonged failure to gather Anglican bishops “to safeguard, and take counsel for, the well-being of the Anglican Communion” risks Lambeth 2020 marking the end of the Lambeth Conference as in any sense an effective Instrument of Communion…

While I am sympathetic with Dr. Goddard’s concern, I think he misses the point. The “prolonged failure” is in fact a system failure, and God has gone ahead in reforming His church through the Gafcon and Global South movements, which have picked up the historic mantle which the Lambeth establishment laid down after 1998.

A Challenge to Orthodox Anglican 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?

St. John sums up the Gospel fellowship in this way:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship (koinonia) with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 John 1:5-6).

My brothers, will you walk together in the light of God with your fellow believers and take sweet counsel in the Spirit of Truth? Or will you let them down and say one thing and do another, “double-minded men, unstable in all your ways” (James 1:8)? The future of the Anglican tradition and mission hangs in the balance.