The Anglican Communion throughout the world upholds the biblical teaching on Same Sex Marriage (i.e. that it does not exist because marriage is between a man and a woman). The meeting of the Anglican primates at the beginning of this year was quite clear and they backed it up with promises of discipline for any Anglican communion which went against its ruling. This was no Church of Scotland style, ‘we believe in traditional marriage but we will allow our ministers to go against that teaching’. Of course the mainly white liberal Anglicans who have the view that they are the progressives and who regard the mainly black/Asian southern Anglicans as backward regressives , proclaimed their defiance. The latest ‘communion’ to do so is the Scottish Episcopal Church at its meeting last week, which took ‘the first step’ towards allowing SSM in its churches, by a vote of 97:33 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-36498967
What does all this mean?
The Scottish Episcopal Church is, as the name suggests the Scottish version of the Church of England. Despite the common perception that it is the “English’ church it is not. It does however have an identity problem – in the 2011 census only 8,000 people claimed that they were Scottish Episcopalian, another 20,000 claimed they were just Anglican and some 60,000 claimed they were Church of England. The most reliable statistic is the 2014 return by the SEC that stated there were 34,000 members of all ages. I suspect that in terms of actual attendance there are less than 10,000 in an Anglican church in Scotland on a Sunday…The Scottish Episcopalian church is, like most mainstream churches in Scotland, in a steep decline. This decision, if it is carried through, will only increase that decline.
Bishop David Chillingworth, although a keen supporter of this ‘liberalisation’ is aware of the difficulties it will bring and in a most fascinating article in the Herald last week, expressed his main concerns. He knows how serious the matter is. To change canon law and redefine marriage and go against the Scripture, the tradition of the church and the rest of the Anglican Communion is a step that should not be taken lightly. But it appears that the Bishop’s primary concern is none of these things but rather to prevent evangelicals and traditionalists leaving. “That is why the major challenge facing our leadership is that of preserving the unity of our church.”
Others of course will frame it in different terms. As Chillingworth states “Some see the full inclusion of LGBT people as a matter of justice. Jesus was a person always open to those excluded by others – the lepers, the adulterous woman, tax collector and sinners. Would he not have been also open to LGBT people?”. The Bishop himself holds that view so why does he want to appease those who are apparently for such injustice? I note in passing the passive/aggressive way he frames the argument. Apparently if you are not for SSM then you are not inclusive, for justice, welcoming and Christlike. Which leaves the good Bishop and others in the somewhat awkward position of accusing Jesus of being exclusive, unjust, unwelcoming and not like himself! This happens of course because they believe in their own personal Jesus – not the Christ of the Bible, not the Christ of the historic creeds of the Church, and not the Christ of the Anglican confessions.
Indeed in a fascinating blog from Kevin Holdsworth, provost of Glasgow Cathedral, he admitted that this was a move away from being a confessional church. http://thurible.net/2016/06/11/scottish-episcopalians-do-it-together/
What was fascinating in this blog was the repeated emphasis on being together. Why the focus on this? Kevin Holdsworth is a militant who argues that any church or charity that does not accept SSM should have their charitable tax status removed, so why go all soft and cuddly on this one? The answer is simple…the SEC are in terminal decline and desperately need the few growing churches they have, which are largely the evangelical ones, to remain. If St P’s and G’s in Edinburgh, St Thomas’s (Edinburgh), St Mungos (Edinburgh), Westhill (Aberdeen) and St Silas’s (Glasgow) were to leave then the SEC would lose major sources of finance and people. And so the liberals want to have their cake and eat it.
They put forward their apostate teaching and then play the ‘unity/love/diversity’ card. The sad thing is that I am pretty sure it will work. It is possible that the two thirds majority required in 2017 might not happen, but only if the rest of the church are convinced that the evangelicals and the few Anglo-Catholics will walk away if it does, or that the Anglicans down south will go along with sanctions imposed by the world wide Anglican communion(but given the St Columba agreement between the C of S and the C of S who have just made the same decision, this seems unlikely). The evangelicals will be played like suckers and I suspect that most will just go along with the game – as has happened in the Church of Scotland. The Scottish Episcopal Church, like the Church of Scotland, will betray the Gospel and hammer another nail into the coffin of the Church in Scotland, with evangelicals standing on the sidelines, wringing their hands and hoping that one day there might be a revival.
The one possibility of a renewed and reformed confessional Anglican Church happening is if the offer from Gafcon is taken up. Gafcon (the Global Anglican Futures Conference) is the conservative Anglican body that is seeking to preserve biblical doctrine within the Anglican Church. http://gafcon.org/ They wrote the following invitation to their brothers and sisters in Scotland:
We are saddened and appalled that the Scottish Episcopal Church will next week debate amending it’s Canon C31, so as to adopt a wholly unbiblical approach to human sexual relationships. To so amend the canon would sever the church from the teaching of Christ and His Apostles, and also the considered and expressed conviction of the vast majority of the bishops of the Anglican Communion at Lambeth 1998, which was reinforced by the Anglican Primates Gathering only months ago. We stand with you and pray for you as you resist this unhelpful and dangerous innovation. Should the church decide to follow the revisionist approach, disobey the clear teaching of Scripture, and thus cause a break with orthodox Christian teaching, the Gafcon UK Panel of Bishops offers to provide alternative episcopal oversight, and thereby you recognition as faithful Anglicans by the worldwide Gafcon movement, which represent the majority of Anglicans world wide. We remind the Scottish Episcopal Church of the cautionary words of Jude that unbiblical standards in sexual ethics “….deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”. This is an issue over which the Scottish Episcopal Church is dividing the church, and we will stand united with faithful Anglicans in Scotland seeking to uphold the plain doctrinal and moral teaching of the Holy Scriptures.
Warmly in Christ, The Rt Rev John Ellison, The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, The Rt Rev Wallace Benn, and TheRt Rev Ken Barham, on behalf of the Panel of Bishops, Gafcon UKThe Rev Paul Perkin, The Rev Michael Ovey, on behalf of the Exec Committee, Gafcon UKThe Rev Canon Andy Lines, Mr. Dan Leafe on behalf of the Anglican Mission in England
Where does this leave us all? I love the Anglican Church. I use the Book of Common Prayer every day, listen to great Anglican teachers, and encourage any of our people who move to England to attend if possible some of the many great Anglican bible teaching churches. The decline and apostasy of the SEC gives me no pleasure at all, and I hope and pray that it will be turned around. Is that a vague hope? Perhaps the rot is in too deep?
What can be done? In an ideal world all biblical Christians would just get together in the one true church, but that isn’t the world we live in. What we need to do is recognise that all believers of whatever denomination are the one true church, and then we need to find ways of working together. In the US they have the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Maybe we need the same thing in Scotland. I suspect that the reasons that evangelical Anglicans won’t leave the SEC are the same that some evangelicals in the C of S have not left – they can’t take their congregations and they feel there is no alternative. Let me offer our Anglican brothers and sisters help from the Free Church. We don’t expect you to come and join us (although you would be very welcome! And we have really benefited from those Anglicans who have), but we could work together. If we were to do some lateral thinking we could even offer ‘episcopal’ oversight to any Anglican churches wanting to ‘come out’ and not be isolated! In reality I suspect that the more likely outcome is a Gafcon type arrangement, where we could support and help the Anglicans who receive episcopal oversight from Gafcon. An alliance of the Free Church and Confessing Scottish Episcopalians/Anglicans could be a powerful force for the kingdom….Lets talk…and pray…and act….
One thing that Bishop Chillingworth wrote I do agree with – So this is an important moment for our church. It is not just about whether we can find agreement, it is about whether what we do is within our understanding of our faith. “ The understanding of the faith is crucial. Is it to be the biblical Christ-centred faith of the 39 Articles or the unbiblical man-centred faith of the Liberals? In one sense this is very like the EU referendum. We are being offered two options – one is to leave but the other is not to stay in an unchanged organization – it is to remain in an organization which is changing so much that it becomes in reality a new one. If, as expected, the SEC votes to change the canon on marriage, the Scottish Episcopal Church as it was (part of the worldwide Anglican communion and the historic Anglican chuch) will no longer exist. Those who stay within are in effect joining a new organization – one that could hardly be called a Church of Jesus Christ. Maybe its time to decide where our loyalty lies?