A letter to the editor of the Church of England Newspaper from the Bishops of Maidstone and Blackburn
We write as former members of the Reflection Group who worked on the House of Bishops’ Report to the General Synod, GS 2055.
The majority of the recent Synod voted to take note of the Report. It was the decision to allow a vote by Houses, that led to the defeat of the motion by a tiny majority in the House of Clergy. From our point of view, the paper represented a genuine attempt to encourage us all to continue to walk together as further work is done to explore how to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching on marriage while demonstrating loving pastoral care to all.
The vote at General Synod was not a vote to change either the Church’s teaching on marriage or its liturgy. However, the debate did reveal just how many are willing to work for this to happen. Those who seek to promote and support such a change have been highly voluble since then and have given the impression that anything less will not be acceptable.
However, Canon A5 makes it clear that the Church’s doctrine is based squarely on the Bible’s teaching. We remain completely unpersuaded that there is any Biblical warrant for the Church to change its doctrine of marriage or its view that God’s good purposes for human flourishing mean that all sexual relations outside marriage are contrary to God’s will.
This is not a matter of being divisive or unwelcoming. It is about preserving the place and authority of God’s Word in his Church. In this year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we do well to recall the rediscovery and reintroduction of the Bible in the sixteenth century to the beliefs and practices of the Church, re-forming the people of God according to His Word.
We look forward to considering a new teaching document from the House of Bishops on marriage and relationships – not least because the promotion of marriage as the church understands it, is such an urgent need in society. However, we are very concerned that the recent General Synod debate will generate the development of pastoral practice that is completely at odds with Scripture and we plead with the proponents of change not to impair their communion with those who support the Church’s current teaching. The result will be increasing division among us.
In the meantime, we encourage parishes to continue to have confidence in Scripture as the accepted Anglican basis for godly unity, to uphold the Church’s doctrine on marriage and relationships, to express fellowship with like-minded Anglicans worldwide, to continue in fruitful evangelistic work, and to pray that the Church will be an increasingly effective witness to Jesus Christ as the Saviour of all.
The Rt Rev Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn
The Rt Rev Rod Thomas, Bishop of Maidstone
The letter appears in the 10 March 2016 issue of the Church of England Newspaper.
Art: St Peter preaching in the presence of St Mark (Fra. Angelico Basilica di San Marco, Florence, Italy 1433)