The Status Quo Is The Only Option

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Following the last meeting of the College of Bishops to consider the next steps in the Living in Love and Faith process, it was reported that there was general agreement that simply restating the existing ban on same-sex marriages or blessings in church was not an option.

Sadly, I agree. It will not be enough merely to restate the ban. Clearly there are large numbers of people in the church, in General Synod, and even in the College of Bishops, who will need to have the biblical and theological basis of the ban explained to them. They will need what the Living in Love and Faith resources have consistently failed to provide: teaching about the historic, orthodox position of the church, as evidenced in Scripture, and outlined in the formularies of the Church of England itself.

This is what we must be praying for the bishops next week. Out of that meeting will come whatever proposals are to be brought to Synod in February. This won’t be the final form of any motion with all the legal i’s dotted and t’s crossed. It is most likely to be a series of exploratory motions, testing the mind of Synod, seeing what they might be able to get through and what will cause most outcry. We have a strong evangelical presence at Synod, especially in the House of Laity, but also in the House of Clergy. It is unlikely that any motion requiring a two-thirds majority would pass.

But we should be praying for more than that. A blocking minority in Synod is a good thing. A far better thing would be bishops who take seriously their calling to build up the church:

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13

That is what all pastors are for, and it is certainly what bishops should be for: to build up the body of Christ so that we all reach unity and knowledge and maturity. It is not their role to simply listen to what (a tiny minority of) the church thinks and reflect that back. It is not their role to listen to what the unbelieving world thinks and adopt the same position in the church. It is their role to equip us, to teach us, to bring us to unity and knowledge and maturity.

And yet it is shocking how little theology has been done in this whole process. Bishop Stephen Croft’s recent publication, Together in Love and Faith, is a good example of this. The chapter on ‘The Case for Change’ includes sections on ‘Listening to the Pain’, ‘Faithful, stable, long-term same-sex relationships’, ‘Our culture’s moral view of the Church’s present policy’, and a concluding section on the changes he wishes to see: blessing of same-sex relationships; freedom for clergy to have whatever relationship they want, and to be able to enter same-sex civil marriage; and same-sex church marriage. Despite an occasional Bible reference, this is not a biblical or theological case. Croft’s argument is based on experience and secular culture.  The following chapter does ask whether these changes would be consistent with Scripture, but note that this is a secondary question, not part of his case for making the change. His approach to Scripture is, therefore:

“…all of my pastoral instincts point to finding a way of interpreting the Scriptures that allows for greater love and support, tolerance and the blessing of [LGBTQ+] partnerships, even where this interpretation seems, at first sight, to be in conflict with some of the obvious interpretations of key biblical passages” (p27-28).

Quite.

Here’s what will happen if the Church of England adopts Croft’s changes: she will have her lampstand removed. She will have adopted a false gospel in which sin is no longer sin and need not be repented of. She will divide, she will crumble and she will fall. Christ will continue to build his church, but the Church of England will no longer be his church because she will no longer be teaching his gospel. Is this the option the bishops want to bring to the table?

Read it all at the Church Society