The result of today’s Synod debate on Living in Love and Faith was not unexpected. Those who had been doing the Synodical maths had been warning that a version of the motion put forward by the House of Bishops would probably go through by a very small majority, and they were right.
However nothing in the nine hours of debate that took place on the Prayers of Love and Faith proposals provided any rational justification for this outcome. It still remains the case that what the majority of the House of Bishops support, and what they will now go on to implement, fails to satisfy the requirements of the motion passed by Synod in February and the requirements of Canon law. This is because it is indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England since it goes against the Church’s unchanged doctrines on marriage, sexual ethics, and the need for sin to be met with a call to repentance, confession, absolution and amendment of life. Even more fundamentally, by so doing it also departs from the teaching of Scripture and the entire teaching of the Church Catholic since the time of the apostles.
‘It also seems an absolute certainty that the Bishops will compound their departure from the doctrine of the Church of England, Scripture and the Church Catholic by permitting those who are in same-sex marriages and/or same-sex sexual relationships to be ordained in spite of the fact that their way of life does not provide what the Ordinal calls ‘wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ.’
All this being the case, tonight is a night for grieving and lamentation among God’s people.
‘O God, the heathen have come into thy inheritance;
they have defiled thy holy temple;
they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.’ (Psalm 79:1)
However, lamentation can never be the end of the matter. The Psalms also say:
‘Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favour is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.’ (Psalm 30:5)
And the reason that we can be certain that joy will come someday, somehow, after the night of sorrow, the reason we can sing with total conviction ‘Deep in my heart I do believe, that we shall overcome some day’ is because Jesus has promised to build his Church and Jesus always keeps his promises.
This was a point made by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the sermon reproduced below, a sermon which he preached on 23 July 1933, at a time when the German Protestant churches were facing an even greater disaster than the one the Church of England is now facing. The German church elections held that day gave a sweeping majority to the Nazi supporting ‘German Christians,’ an event which all the efforts of Bonhoeffer and other faithful Christians had been unable to prevent and in the face of that fact Bonhoeffer was still able to affirm ‘The city of God is built on a firm foundation.’ Amen and Amen.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Church Election Sermon 23 July 1933 (translation in Dietrich Bonhoeffer, No Rusty Swords, Fontana, 1970, pp. 208-213)
SERMON TEXT: Matt. 16:13-18
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
If it were left to us, we would rather avoid the decisions which are now forced upon us; if it were left to us, we would rather not allow ourselves to be caught up in this church struggle; if it were left to us, we would rather not have to insist upon the rightness of our cause and we would so willingly avoid the terrible danger of exalting ourselves over others; if it were left to us, we would retire today rather than tomorrow into private life and leave all the struggle and the pride to others. And yet-thank God-it has not been left to us.
Instead, in God’s wisdom, everything is going exactly as we would rather not have it go. We are called upon to make a decision from which we cannot escape. We must be content, wherever we are, to face the accusation of being self-righteous, to be suspected of acting and speaking as though we were proud and superior to others. Nothing shall be made easy for us. We are confronted by a decision, and a difference of opinion. For this reason, if we are honest with ourselves, we will not try to disguise the true meaning of the church election today. In the midst of the creakings and groanings of a crumbling and tottering church structure, which has been shaken to its very foundations, we hear in this text the promise of the eternal church, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; of the church founded on a rock, Christ has built and which he continues to build throughout all time.
Where is this church? Where do we find it? Where do we hear its voice? Come all you who ask in seriousness, all you who are abandoned and left alone, we will go back to the Holy Scriptures, we will go and look for the church together. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
Read it all at Reflections of an Anglican Theologian