“Awake from your sleep, church militant, and do not compromise one inch of God’s truth and practice.”
Yesterday the Church of England’s House of Bishops delivered their report giving recommendations to Synod on a way forward in resolving the present turmoil in the church over human sexuality. As I read through the document I got the distinct feeling that the Church of England leadership is pulling a page out of Pope Francis’ “Art of the Deal” playbook. Both parties are holding two contradictory claims: 1. Church teaching remains the same, and 2. Church practice changes.
If you’ve kept up with Church of Rome news, you know they had Synods on the Family (2014 & 2015) where the issue of communion for the irregularly married was discussed, and which culminated in a new, authoritative teaching document, Amoris Laetitia (the joy of love) last year. In Amoris Laetitia it is claimed that the doctrine on communion for the irregularly married remains the same, while in practice it can be contravened under certain circumstances. This is stunning in its audacity.
Many keen observers of the Church of Rome have commented on the genius of Pope Francis to bring about fundamental change in a church that claims it never changes. Most signs from the Pope and leaders of the synods leading up to the presentation of Amoris Laetitia convinced the traditionalists that orthodoxy would remain protected. “The teaching cannot change,” everyone said, so in good faith the traditionalists were comforted.
Even the initial reactions to Amoris Laetitia were that orthodoxy was up-held, since it did not explicitly change the teaching of the church. In the days and weeks that followed, Amoris Laetitia’s fine print was unpacked, and imagine the surprise when it was discovered that it advocated the violation of orthodoxy (in a footnote, of all places)! The traditionalists now either remain faithful to the Pope and their theology of the papacy (and “walk together” despite their differences, as Archbishop Welby exhorts Anglicans to do) or faithful to God through their theology of communion (and rebel against the Pope). The damage is now done: from Argentina to Malta, Bishops have advised their clergy that the irregularly married may receive communion.
Compare that to Church of England developments in the last three years. A process of discussing the teaching on sexuality occurred from 2014 to 2016, called “shared conversations.” At the conclusion of these discussions, a new teaching document will be created. The recommendation received yesterday from the House of Bishops is stunning in its claim that the teaching document will not change the doctrine or canon on marriage, but in practice clergy are to permit maximum approach to violation (“Interpreting the existing law and guidance to permit maximum freedom within it, without changes to the law, or the doctrine of the Church”, para. 22).
I have watched with dismay the reaction of the orthodox in the Church of England, celebrating the House of Bishops’ recommendations as a victory. This has echoes of how the orthodox in the Church of Rome reacted to the Synod discussions and initially reacted to Amoris Laetitia.
It is a War
The Scriptures teach us that the church on earth is at war with the devil and his demons. The church is to be militant, committed to the mission Christ gave it, even to the death. We often forget this, lulled into complacency by sweet words of promised bliss from the enemy. It’s the garden all over again. Awake from your sleep, church militant, and do not compromise one inch of God’s truth and practice.
Beware the Greeks bearing gifts.