The bridegroom is coming for his bride. Our teaching and our lives must reflect that.
“…we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church”.
Following the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith process, two senior Bishops (at the time of writing – see News page) have, with the support of other bishops, publicly and formally declared their wish to see the historic, bible-based understanding of the church about sex and marriage revised significantly, in favour of approving and celebrating same sex relationships.
There isn’t space here to go over all the usual arguments against such proposals. It’s assumed that the readers of this editorial will know the evidence from Scripture and ‘natural law’ which have been rehearsed again and again over the years. The position of Gafcon GBE is that these bishops are wrong, and the College of Bishops should not advise Synod to vote for change, because, as it says in Article 8 of the Jerusalem Declaration:
We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female, and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place of sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.
The clear articulation of the biblical and historic Christian view of sex and marriage by the Gafcon clause should be set against false teaching on the subject, not on personalities. It is the false teaching which has “torn the fabric of the [Anglican] Communion”, which is dividing churches up and down the land. And the next question to ask is surely: why? Just as the surveyor looks below ground level to understand the cracks in the tower, and the farmer goes upstream to find out what has poisoned the sheep, so we need to understand clearly what has caused this erroneous new teaching to take hold to such an extent that senior church leaders can commend it confidently without fear of reprisal, and in doing so, give a steer to the governance of the church and the morality of the nation.
In most cases, false teaching is not something which is found only in the church, but reflects the worldview of the society outside the church. Ideas now taken for granted in society about sexual morality and about how I see myself as a human being come from secular humanist and neo-pagan worldviews – in fact the Bishop of Oxford admits as much, when he says that the church must change in order not to be out of step with those worldviews.
The commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration in its introduction briefly describes some elements of this contemporary Western way of thinking. It does not name individuals, but says:
A significant number of senior leaders in the Anglican Communion have been shaped, influenced and even trapped by this culture…they have allowed the influence of this culture to intimidate them and in the face of this pressure…some have gone so far as to discern the activity of the Holy Spirit in the drives of this culture and its expressions in people’s lives, against the plain and express teaching of Scripture.
Again, recognising that beneath the visible iceberg of a bishop’s personal view is an enormous and dangerous block of ideas with sharp edges, the Gafcon commentary says:
“…the present day controversy over sexuality is intimately related to current Western thought, concerning the development and experience of identity, personhood and agency…in affirming the teachings from Scripture, the Church must offer a different view…”
There is now a “different view”, in fact two or more fundamentally irreconcileable visions of what we mean by God, humanity, salvation and how to live, not just between the church and the world, but within the same church. What are we to do with that? The Living in Love and Faith project is an example of one answer: we say such difference doesn’t matter, in fact it is an example of diversity which is enriching and which tells the world about solving conflict together in faith.
Another answer is to follow article 8 of the JD. Submit to God’s “unchangeable standard”, repent of failures to maintain it, and support one another in our discipleship, whether married or single, because it’s hard, but ultimately rewarding! God’s pattern for marriage reflects the sweep of history on the cosmic level: his intention is union of himself with humanity. At Advent we remember how Christ comes as Saviour to deal with our unfaithfulness which causes separation; he will come again as the bridegroom to claim his bride.
Those who align with Gafcon in Europe are trying to work out what commitment to this biblical orthodoxy means in practice in terms of how we relate to particular church institutions and authorities. and much patience and understanding is needed in this process.