My article on what happened last week with the Australian Anglicans in Christian Today was quite short. Here is a longer and more detailed analysis from the Australian Presbyterian.
Bishops Betray Christ – But There is Hope
It was an interesting headline in the Australian: ‘Conservatives crushed in Anglican same sex marriage vote’. Reading the headline gave the impression that the ‘progressives’ had overwhelmingly won the vote in the Australian Anglican general Synod. But that was not the case. The ‘crushing’ described the feeling of the biblical Anglicans who had been betrayed by their own bishops – despite their being overwhelming support for the Christian position in the Synod.
It is interesting to note how the secular media have reported the Synod. The same journalist who called those who held to a biblical position ‘conservative’, also labelled the ‘progressives’ as ‘the moderate’ clergy. I would question both labels. In seeking to uphold Christ’s teaching on marriage in the face of a society which has rejected it, biblical Christians are the real radicals. In seeking to remove Christ’s teaching from the church the progressives are the extremists. Nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of their progressive sexual ideology. We should point out that they are not ‘progressive’, because in reality their position is one of ‘regression – a regression to the pre-Christian days of Greco-Roman paganism. For the rest of this article, I will use the term ‘Biblical Christians’ to refer to those who hold to the teaching of the Bible, and ‘Regressives’ for those seek to regress to pre-Christian thinking.
The simple story of what went on with the Synod is that the following motion was brought to the Synod by the Sydney diocese.
“The solemnisation of a marriage between a same-sex couple is contrary to the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.
Any rite or ceremony that purports to bless a same-sex marriage is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.”
This is the position of the Anglican church. It should not have been difficult to affirm. The early signs were good. There were a number of amendments in support of SSM. All were defeated by roughly the same number – 90 to 150. But then came the masterstroke of the Regressives. Instead of a simple vote – they moved to call the vote by the three houses – laity, clergy and bishops. The laity voted 63-47 for the motion. The clergy 70-39. And the bishops 10-12 with two abstentions. And so, despite the majority of the Synod being for the Christian position, the bishops prevented it passing. No wonder so many of the delegates felt betrayed. They had wasted time debating a motion which the bishops had made sure would not pass.
There was then a second motion from Bishop Michael Stead; ““The General Synod states that it continues to hold the historical view that unchastity means sexual intimacy outside a marriage relationship, (which is) defined in the Book of Common Prayer as the union of one man and one woman, in accordance with Jesus’ teaching about marriage in Matt 19:4-5.”
The laity voted 62-48 in favour. The clergy 59-39. And the bishops 12-11. The bishops are certainly confused – because their decision on the second motion directly contradicts their decision on the first. How the bishops could vote for the one but not the other is beyond mortal man to determine!
The following day Archbishop Kanishka Raffel (note: I have been told that, contrary to what was reported, it was Phil Colgan from Sydney and Fiona Maclean from Melbourne) presented this petition, which was passed:
“Noting with regret that on 11 May 2022, despite clear support from the majority of General Synod (including majorities in the Houses of Laity and Clergy), the majority of the House of Bishops voted against Motion 20.3 “Statements as to the Faith, Ritual, Ceremonial or Discipline of this Church made under Section 4 of the Constitution”,
the petitioners humbly pray that Synod commits to praying that all Members of the House of Bishops would clearly affirm and be united in their support for the teaching of Christ concerning marriage and the principles of marriage reflected in the Book of Common Prayer.”
Where does this leave the Anglican church in Australia? In a confused and divided state.
The behaviour of the bishops was reprehensible. Ignoring the clear will of the Church, and more importantly, the clear teaching of the Scripture, they deliberately put the Anglican Church into a confused and divided state so that they could continue to proclaim their heresies.
The ending of the pretence of unity (despite lots of fine sounding words) means that those regressive dioceses who are out of step with the Scriptures, will now be more confident in embracing the sexual philosophies of this age. They know that they cannot be dealt with.
However, the results of the elections to the standing committee of the General Synod showed that the biblical Christians are now in almost complete control of the Church.
But they need to be careful. Generally, the regressives prefer bureaucracy and they seem to have an infinite patience. They will continue to chip away at the orthodox and gradually wear them down. Our Anglican brothers and sisters should learn from the experience of the Church of Scotland. It followed the same pattern. Each year the General Assembly would affirm the biblical teaching on marriage – and each year the Regressives would ignore that decision. They would talk about ‘constrained difference’, ‘unity’, ‘graciousness’. How many times would we hear the words ‘there was a lovely spirit in the Assembly’, whilst they continued to undermine, plot and gradually take control. Eventually it was the evangelicals who were out-manoeuvred, out-thought, and completely defeated. There were committees where evangelicals were always represented, but never a majority. And always the mantra was of ‘graciousness’.
There was even the same confusion in the bishops. In 2016 for example, the General Assembly voted to allow ministers to be in a same sex marriage, but at the same time stated that this did not “compromise the church’s traditional view of marriage as between one man and one woman”! The road to Hell is paved with such absurd contradictions. Now we have moved to the situation where this year the Church of Scotland General Assembly will vote in favour of churches being able to conduct same sex marriages. And it will come with all the usual caveats – no one will be compelled, we will permit gracious disagreement etc. Note however the normal pattern – what is first permitted, will later become declarative.
The Anglican Church in Australia is in a somewhat different position. The majority of the delegates are professing biblical Christians. But they need to be aware that, as we saw last week – “We need clarity and boldness – not politics and compromise” – https://ap.org.au/2022/05/08/the-attack-on-sydney-anglicanism%ef%bf%bc/
“A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9). It is not our place to judge those outside the Church, we leave that to the Lord. But it is our responsibility to judge those within (1 Corinthians 5:12). No matter how many motions we pass, and how many gracious debates we have – it will all be pointless if there is no church discipline. The reformers were surely right to list discipline as a mark of the true church. Without it, the writing is on the wall for the Anglicans in Australia. They will be doomed to follow the same downward spiral as the Anglicans in England, Scotland, the US and Canada.
Each must be persuaded in his own eyes – but I suspect that now is not the time for biblical Christians to leave the Anglican church – especially if their local church and diocese is much more biblical. But neither should we be complacent. 1 Corinthians 5:13 tells us that we are to expel the wicked from amongst us. Jesus tells his church that he holds it against them if they tolerate a false prophetess (Revelation 2:20). Biblical Christians must ensure that they do not support in any way – whether by finance, people or association – those who are opposed to the teaching of Christ.
Meanwhile the unity of believers is more important than ever. Those who are outside the Anglican church should plead, not that their Anglican brothers and sisters would come to join them, but rather that the Lord would prosper them and revive and renew the Anglican Church.. We seek the unity and peace of Israel (Ps 122).