The Tragedy and the Bigger Picture: General Synod 2023


The behaviour of the Archbishop of Canterbury in recent months has been nothing short of scandalous. Not only has he betrayed his ordination vows, as the delegates at GAFCON in Kigali earlier this year recognised, but he has recklessly pursued an agenda contrary to the Scriptures and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ despite urgent and repeated warnings from the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide not to do so. In this he has been supported by the Archbishop of York. The Archbishop will have a higher Judge than the rank and file of the Church of England, the GAFCON and Global South movements, and even future chroniclers of the history of the church to answer to for this, and, quite frankly, who would want to be in his shoes (James 3:1; Matthew 18:16; Hebrews 13:17)? 

 The bigger question now, though, is not how can Justin Welby recover from this (short of wholesale repentance I cannot see how he can) but how do faithful men and women within the Church of England continue to pursue the goal of re-evangelising the United Kingdom in the wake of what he, the Archbishop of York, and collectively the House of Bishops have done? This is, after all, the urgent need of the moment. Men and women all over Britain are heading blithely into judgment while ignoring or ridiculing or even openly defying the only one who can save them. How can we sit by and just watch that happen while we fight among ourselves? 

 It is very hard not to dissolve into a flood of tears as this all plays out in England. We on this side of the world owe so much to the English church and to its evangelical wing in particular. We have been brought to faith, nourished in faith, grounded for a lifetime of ministry in faith, by the faithful ministries of men like Whitfield, Simeon, Ryle, Stott and Packer (and many others of course) and to watch much lesser men squander that inheritance brings great grief. When we remember the Reformation martyrs, and the courage of generation after generation of their heirs, we have great cause to thank God and great cause to weep over what is happening now. 

 So what is the way ahead? Who am I to tell my English brothers and sisters what they should do? It is up to them now, the faithful remnant within the Church of England joining cause with those who over recent years have left for refuge elsewhere, to find the way to put the things that matter most back at the centre of the agenda. We need to do that here too, of course. We can all let the heartache at God’s word being trampled by those charged with preaching it and defending it distract us from the victory of Christ, the urgency of his call to faith and repentance, and the clear, gracious yet insistent preaching of the gospel and its implications. But we cannot afford to do so.

 When we stop talking about Jesus, we stop talking about the gospel. When we stop loving his word, we stop loving his people and the world over which he wept. So let’s not fall into that trap, even as we respond in tears to what has been done by the leadership (so-called) of the Church of England. Let’s get back to the core truths and hold on to them even more tightly. Our world is lost because we have sought to determine for ourselves what is right and what is wrong without reference to God, let alone in humble obedience to him. The only hope for every man and woman is the Saviour who came among us to exhaust the judgment we deserve and triumph over every consequence of our sin (John 3:16). In his generosity he calls on all to “come to me” and to “find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:28–30). But it is only those who do come to him in faith, abandoning the empty, disappointing allegiances of their life without him, and taking hold of the rescue only he can provide, who will be saved (Rom. 10:9, 13). Most wonderful of all, he promised “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). 

 So what has happened is scandalous and the last day will unmask its perverse folly. But what lies ahead is a magnificent challenge. This is still the age of gospel proclamation. It is only when the gospel of the kingdom has been “proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to the nations” that the end will come (Matt. 24:14). The sheer brilliance of that gospel will not be seen if, for whatever reason, we soft-pedal on the truths our world finds unpalatable. So our excitement at the challenge must be matched by a courage not to budge even a millimetre from the truth taught in Scripture. Nevertheless, I dare to dream of a new reformation, not just in the Church of England, but in churches throughout the world.