No doubt some will ask what business I, as a Presbyterian minister, have in making suggestions for the Church of England. The answer is threefold: first, the C of E remains dear to me, being the church of my birth and upbringing, and where my father, grandfather and great-grandfather all served as presbyters, and my own departure from it twenty years ago was a matter of great grief for me. Second, because as the established church of the nation (for good or ill), what happens to it will effect all of the Christians of this country in important ways. The blessing of immorality by those claiming the name of Christ will make life far harder for those who wish to remain faithful to him. And third, because the Church of Christ is one, and the welfare of one part is the concern of all. We could add to these the observation that there is a small benefit to the perspective which comes from standing outside of it. So I hope my suggestions will not be dismissed as irrelevant.
The House of Bishops has today published prayers of blessing for same-sex partnerships. They have chosen to bless with a high hand what God has condemned, and set their own wisdom and beliefs, and the values of an idolatrous culture, above the word of God and the entirety of the Christian tradition. Not only this, but they have lied about the fact that they have done so. Taking the orthodox in their own denomination (and in all others) for fools, they have declared that their blessing on the violation of the marriage ordinance is no change to the doctrine of marriage, covering what they have done with all the guile of a five-year-old with crumbs round his mouth promising he’s not touched the biscuits while trying to hold the half-empty tin behind his back. Or perhaps more appositely (and biblically), a wife declaring her faithfulness to her cuckolded husband while her underwear lies strewn on the floor and her lover lies next to her in the bed with the sheets pulled hurriedly over his head.
But God is not mocked, and those who remain faithful to him cannot allow this charade to go on any longer. Those entrusted with episcopal authority have misused it in the most grievous manner.
There is a reason for the seventh commandment: the violation of the marriage ordinance, in whatever form, is deeply damaging to countless people. It opens up women to abuse, children to abandonment, the old to loneliness and lack of care, the young to immense emotional pain. The Greater Love declaration, of which I was a co-author, sets out these things in detail. God has condemned sexual immorality because it defaces, debases, and damages those made in his image and all those around them. That is why the Lord is an avenger in these things (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
But even if the bishops cannot see these harms (as a number of them have declared), they are not thereby absolved from responsibility for what they have done. For God’s word is crystal clear on the matter from beginning to end, from the marriage of the first Adam to his wife in Genesis 2 to the marriage of the last Adam to his in Revelation 21-22. Our understanding may fail, but our obedience to God does not thereby become optional.
When a bishop has openly not only endorsed heresy but commended and blessed immorality, he has violated his vows to such an extent that he can no longer be considered to be in office. In a healthy church there are mechanisms for removing him; but when heterodoxy has captured the institutions of the church to the extent that now seems to be the case, this almost certainly cannot be done through the normal channels of clergy discipline. Meanwhile, the method of pleading with heterodox bishops to change, or discipline themselves, has failed for decades now. Still worse is the stratagem of asking such bishops to allow alternative oversight for the orthodox; faithfulness does not look to the permission of the faithless to remain faithful. Submission of any form to those blessing wickedness and defying the ordinances of God must now end.
So then, what are the orthodox in the Church of England to do? It may surprise some that I am not going to call for secession. Of course, those who leave for other denominations will find a warm welcome from brothers and sisters, and may be surprised by how good Church life can be on the outside! For those not fully convinced that a single geographically-based episcopacy is biblically mandated, that is probably the best thing to do. But for convinced episcopalians, I know that is unattractive. In which case, I suggest, only one option remains.
A Synod of the orthodox must be formed, requiring for membership subscription to the Christian doctrine of marriage, plainly set out in the C of E’s liturgies (the Book of Common Prayer most of all, as the definition of Anglican doctrine), and crucially a repudiation of all departures from it. Who will form this, or how, is not for me to say! Nor will I comment on what may or may not be possible at the existing General Synod, something I know little about. Once formed, this Synod needs to do the following.
First, it must make use of the Church’s classic mechanism for putting an end to declension from the catholic (in the proper sense of that word) faith: the anathema. It must say, with the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1:8-9, that if anyone should preach a gospel other than the one which the apostles preached, let him be anathema; and it must declare that a gospel which blesses sexual immorality, that is, any departure from chastity, abstinence outside the marriage of one man and one woman, to be such a different gospel, coming under the curse of Christ. We must be clear: the Pride ideology is a different gospel, and the inverse of the true one. Instead of freedom from the power of sin, by the atoning work of Christ, to serve God and obey his commands in the power of the Spirit, it offers freedom from the law of God, by the permission of a fictitious christ and an unholy spirit, to find salvation in the indulgence of sin. If anyone should believe that gospel, showing it by declaring blessings on sexual immorality, let him be anathema. That is what must be declared.
Then, second, it must make use of the church’s God-given mechanism for church discipline: excommunication. It must solemnly declare excommunicate those bishops who have publicly stated their support for the redefinition of marriage and the blessing of same-sex, or unmarried opposite-sex relationships. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but this must include the two incumbent Archbishops, who have presided over this most recent decision and shown their position by their public declarations. The fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury has said he will not use these prayers of blessing is irrelevant; he has commended them and presented them to the church for its use.
And third, it must consecrate new bishops in their place, from amongst the orthodox clergy. Having done so, new vows must be made by clergy to their new incumbent bishops, indicating a total repudiation of the authority of the excommunicate one. Redirecting financial contributions would help to make this clear.
Of course, this would in practice set up parallel bishops in many diocese, and archbishops too. So be it; this has happened before, notably in the Arian controversy. In the long run it is the orthodox who prevailed in the past, and will by God’s grace do so again, for God honours those who honour him. And in the meantime it would demonstrate that the Church of England is God’s church, who will not be mocked, and his people will remain faithful to their Lord Jesus Christ, whatever the cost. It would mean that orthodox churches have orthodox bishops whom they can serve under. And it would end the terrible implication, a reality in the Church of England for so long, that the holiness of the church, the substance of the gospel, and the purity of Christian people, are matters indifferent.