Rumble in Essex

It seems that the rumblings within the C of E are beginning to result in observable action. The thing that’s funny about this though is this: how is it possible to be out of communion with someone who is nominally over you in the Lord and still be in the same organisation. I don’t really understand the epicopal system, but if you don’t accept your bishop, shouldn’t you just leave?

Ho hum, those funny Anglicans…

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Rumble in Essex

9 thoughts on “Rumble in Essex

  1. John says:

    The root of the word “excommunication” is “out of communion”. So, by saying that they are out of communion with their bishop (duly appointed and ordained), these clergy are excommunicating themselves.

    It’s very sad, and I still don’t see why this single issue (homosexuality) has become the touchstone by which all orthodoxy is judged. I mean, this didn’t happen over the debates in past decades about the virgin
    birth, or the bodily resurrection, or even the existence of God!

    Why has our time become so radically intolerant of divergent opinions?

    pax et bonum

  2. Stephen says:

    Hi John,

    these clergy are excommunicating themselves.

    I’ll take your word for it. As you may guess, I am not an anglican.

    It’s very sad, and I still don’t see why this single issue (homosexuality) has become the touchstone by which all orthodoxy is judged. I mean, this didn’t happen over the debates in past decades about the virgin birth, or the bodily resurrection, or even the existence of God!

    It just happens to be the issue of the day. I suppose in a large organisation like the AC you have to pick your battles. Anyway, I do seem to remember a fuss about the views of David Jenkins, the former Bish of Durham in the 80s. Does that count? However, as a non-anglican I too look to the CoE with a fair degree of dismay that there has been so little action on these other issues!

    Why has our time become so radically intolerant of divergent opinions?
    For evangelicals it is a matter of fidelity to objective standards. It is simply agreeing with God’s standard when he says that certain practices are sin. What else can we do but be intolerant of sin, any sin, my sin? God is. That’s why we need a Saviour.

    (Of course identifying sin is quite a different matter from helping brothers and sisters pastorally to deal with it.)

  3. John says:

    I’m not much of an anglican myself – I merely happen to attend an anglican church 🙂

    My problem with this is why is this the issue of the day for the church? Why is it this issue above all else that seems to control whether someone is seen as Christian? Why this one small aspect of sexual ethics, about which Jesus was unarguably silent and the NT itself says very little about, rather than the issues about which Jesus and the NT writers did talk – justice, money, gossip, love?

    Other issues have raised hackles in the churches (as you said, there was quite a stink over the Bishop of Durham in the 80s) but there was nothing like the furore that’s now happening. Churches are splitting, speakers are anathematising one another, denominations are in danger of breaking apart. What happened to “by this shall all men know that you are my disciples – that you love one another”?

    As for “evangelicals” and “objective standards”, there are two problems right there. There is no such thing as “evangelical doctrine” – it is and always has been a broad movement, and there is profound disagreement within evangelicalism on this and many other issues. I, myself, am proud of my evangelical roots and in many ways am still evangelical in my theology. Also, “objective standards” still need defining. Indeed, there is little disagreement about the need for Christians to adhere to high standards – the argument is more about what those standards are!

    Finally, “intolerance of sin”. I don’t think for a second that we are called to be intolerant of sin in the sense you seem to mean. God isn’t – God rejects no one, loves all that God made and wants to lose no person. And yet there is still the issue of why *this* sin is the one we should be intolerant of, when we happily worship alongside the greedy, the gluttonous, the proud, the selfish, the gossip, the fraudster… I would far rather be found to be too loving and accepting of my brothers and sisters than to be too judgemental and harsh.

    I am not my brother’s judge; it is for God alone to judge. Up to a point, I must share my vision of God, but I must listen to my brother just as I want him to listen to me. But, beyond a certain point, sharing changes to browbeating, which is neither loving nor productive. If someone honestly believes that their behaviour is consistent with a Christian life and continues to show fruit in the rest of their life, it is not for me to say exactly how and when God should work in someone’s life – even if I sincerely believe that their actions are wrong. I must simply not be involved in those actions myself; I need not and must not try to separate the Body of Christ into parts.

    Basically, I do not believe that homosexuality is the one sin above all others that disqualifies someone from being Christian, even if they are in a sexually active relationship. It’s not even one of the most important sins that someone can commit, because it harms no one but themselves. Actually, I’m not even convinced that is is a sin – there’s certainly wiggle room, at least!

    Anyhow, this is rather long and almost a post in its own right! Sorry about that 🙂

    pax et bonum

  4. Stephen says:

    John,
    You can’t extract Jesus’ teaching from the rest of scripture and set him against it. Clearly Jesus was speaking in a context controlled and governed by Mosaic law (and a whole load of other Pharisaic accretions). This law, given to God’s chosen people, shows them their sexual ethics. Jesus affirmation, indeed deepening affirmation, of the command not to commit adultery and to maintain faithful sexual relationships within monogamous heterosexual marriage in the Sermon on the Mount stands as an affirmation of the prohibitions against homosexual sexual activity. What those who want to approve gay sex need to show is that Jesus explicitly condoned it. I think you will find he did not.

    As far as asking why it is the big issue, I can only speculate. I suspect it is like asking why that straw broke the camel’s back. It’s a daft question, really, but in the context of decline over a number of issues, it makes sense. it is the cumulative effect we are seeing.

    I agree that nowadays ‘evangelicalism’ is so broad as to be virtually meaningless. I’m almost on the point of disowning the label. Though I don’t want to get into this, in essence it consists of a commitment to the Bible as the word of God an therefore the ultimate authority. It is a reformational idea which stands against sacredotalism.

    I don’t know why you think the standards are unclear. They are perfectly clear – in the Bible. But I suspect you are confused by the exegetical wriggling that is going on amongst the theological liberals. Why can’t they be honest and accept, with the likes of the gay politician Matthew Paris, that the Bible is quite clear – homosexual practice is condemned. Why can’t they just say “I don’t accept the Bible’s teaching” and be done with it!

  5. John says:

    OK – a few points here. First, on Jesus and the Law. No one (AFAIK) contends that the OT law applies to Christians. We all disregard that law all the time (cleanshaven men wearing poly-cotton shirts and eating bacon sandwiches). So, there is an issue of whether we can pick particular laws from the Mosaic code as still applying in their legal sense – and, if so, *why*? If the Law does not apply then we have to ask the much more difficult question of how we behave in a Christian manner. To answer this question, we do have to balance these OT prohibitions and NT allusions against the wider principles set out in the NT. We did this with slavery, the position of women in society and many other issues. Perhaps now is when we are doing this with homosexuality? The answer is not clear yet, I would say, but the debate is genuine. It isn’t an evangelical/liberal debate, nor a Bible/culture debate. The issue cuts through all of these categories. As for needing an explicit condoning of homosexuality from Jesus, sorry, but I can’t accept that. We didn’t need that when we overturned slavery, gave women rights or any of those things. We applied the principles Jesus *did* teach to our situation and found that we needed to change.

    Second, as I’ve said, I value my own evangelical background. But the issue isn’t as simple as “evangelical” versus “liberal”. It’s not even as simple as “academic” versus “real life”. It comes down to whether we treat the Bible as something it was never meant to be (a rigid rulebook) or as a compilation of diverse styles of writing created over a period of many hundreds of years. I have no problem with people saying that they believe that that homosexual activity is a sin, but to say that the Bible clearly teaches this to Christians is simply to ignore centuries of faithful scholarship from all sides of the church. Even if this *is* the answer, it has to be derived carefully from a balancing of the various texts and readings. There are many good evangelicals who believe that the Bible does *not* condemn homosexuality. That does not make them any less Christian, or even less Evangelical. It merely means that they have exercised their God-given brains to try and understand God’s purposes. That people come to different answers is no surprise. But, as Christians, we must surely treat one another with love and respect, even when we differ?

    Finally, there are indeed many moral standards set out in the Bible. But we flout almost all of them daily. Women go without hats or scarves, men have long hair (well, not you or me, but some do!), women teach in church, fathers fail to beat their children, the list goes on. And yet, somehow, this doesn’t matter as long as we aren’t gay. That one rule is somehow timeless, when the rest is accepted as culturally determined. Could it not be that we are ourselves being controlled by our culture when we assess the acceptability of homosexuality – whichever side of the argument we find ourselves on? That argument cuts both ways! And so it cannot actually be used by either side.

    I totally agree that the burden of proof lies on the side of those who want the church to change its mind. But simply to dismiss the argument without examining it seriously does no one any good. Looking at someone else’s position at the very least gives me more insight into my own. Even if I don’t change my mind, I at least know my own mind more clearly. And we don’t have to dismiss *all* of someone else’s arguments to fail to be convinced by them; we can accept that they make a case, just that it’s not one we personally find convincing. Mutual respect is better than fighting; love better than hate.

    pax et bonum

  6. Stephen says:

    Traditional evangelicalism sees a three-fold division of the law:
    1) civil, that which governs the national life of Israel
    2) ceremonial, the cultic practices which convey the grace of God through the OT system of religion, a system of images and shadows the reality of which is found in Christ
    3) The moral law.

    This division is found in all the old evangelical confessions (Westminster, London Baptist, Savoy Declaration). 1) and 2) no longer apply with the coming of Christ. (Indeed, one could argue that Paul’s main beef with the Galatians was the desire to continually apply 1) amongst the new Christians, but that’s another story…)

    What remains is the moral law, the 10 Commandments. It’s deep spirituality is expounded by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount i.e. it is not to be applied superficially. Paul picks this up in Romans 8 where he sees the law being fulfilled in us – by the power of the Spirit. IOW we want to do the law. This is simply a fulfilment of OT prophecy regarding the New Covenant in Jer 31:33, Ezek 36:26,27.

    All this serves as background to the point that I would like to make, that the preservation of marriage, between a man and a woman, remains the sole environment in which sexual activity may occur. The prohibition of adultery ensures this.

    Now, this is merely a sketchy outline – much more could be said. But it is quite a different approach from the one you want to make. You seem to want to compare this issue with others and conclude along the lines of “if that is OK, surely this is OK”. Can I urge you to avoid the temptation to argue like this? Such relativism is common in modern political debate. But it never really deals with the issue in its own terms.

    On your second point, I don’t believe that the bible is a ‘rigid rule book’ in the way you suggest. It is a revelation telling us what we are to believe about God. Yes, it has moral implications, and the bible tells us what they are. But it is how we know God and his ways.

    I’m not sure what “centuries of faithful scholarship” you are referring to. Defence of homosexual practice is a recent innovation, I think. To me recent scholarship consists of trying to persuade us that the bible doesn’t really mean what it says. As I said, why don’t they just say “I don’t accept it” and be done with it?

    Love and respect? No problems there. I have no time for people on my side of the argument who rant. It behoves us all to be humble before God, recognising we are all sinners, flouting God’s law every day/hour/moment, but casting ourselves on the mercy he shows in Christ.

  7. John says:

    Dividing the law means that we have to decide what belongs in which category. Much that appears “moral” to us is actually part of the cleanliness laws. What I’m saying is that the issue isn’t as simple as such a division makes out – there isn’t a part of the Bible that says “here is moral law”, another that says “here is civil law” and another that says “here is ceremonial law”. The division is one of interpretation – and so the division is open to question.

    I would not at all want to say that “because this is OK then that must also be OK”. I’m making a slightly different point – if we can dispense with parts of the law, on what basis do we retain other parts? Simply saying “this part is moral, that part isn’t” doesn’t actually answer this question, because we need to establish *why* certain parts are deemed to be “moral”. There is a difference between relativism and seeking to understand the roots of our morality, and asking whether those roots are in the right places.

    Also, when I was referring to “centuries of scholarship”, I wasn’t talking about homosexuality directly – as you said, it’s a recent issue. Rather, I am talking about *how* we read the Bible. We can no longer ignore the effects of local culture on how we understand the text, we have a far richer knowledge of the way different texts allude to one another and derive from one another, and we have a clearer picture of when, why and how the various books were written and compiled.

    pax et bonum

  8. Stephen says:

    Hi John,
    I’ve been unwell over the last few days, so sorry for the delay in response. And besides, in good post-modern style, I’m getting restless for something new and exciting :-^) so this will be my last comment. Thanks for the interaction. Feel free to have the last word, if you like.

    The thing about the three-fold division of the law is that it is not divisible in a verse-by-verse fashion. You know, if you take your scissors and snip out each of the Mosaic laws from the bible, you can then put them into one of three bowls named “Moral”, “Civil” or “Ceremonial”. It’s not the way it works. There are strong overlaps. The moral law underpins both the civil and the ceremonial. One could argue that the civil is an application of the law to the elect nation of Israel. The civil and ceremonial overlap because the system of worship is a strong part of the national identity of Israel.

    But I think to understand the permanence of the law you have to come to terms with Jesus’ words in Matt. 5:18:

    For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. (NKJV)

    Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom, the reality of which Israel foreshadowed. He came to be the true means of removing the guilt and power of sin, which the ceremonial system foreshadowed, in his death and resurrection. But what remains for the new empowered lives of people who put their faith in Christ is the moral law.

    This why Paul is clear that the law is fulfilled in us (Rom 8:3,4). You cannot be unchanged when you trust Christ. Yes, he takes us as we are, but he never leaves us the same. Salvation is not salvation without this change.

    On your last paragraph, I agree that culture has an effect on how we read the text of scripture. However, what are we then to do? You either simply accept the fact say, “how I read it is what is important” or “what it means to me is what is all that matters” without really thinking about whether the culture has had a good or bad effect. Or do we say, “This is how the culture is affecting me, and therefore this may influence how I read scripture. But is it really what God intended me to hear?”

    I am a strong believer in the grammatico-historical method of understanding scripture. This, together with an honest understanding of our own biases and prejudices, which will be influenced by culture, should lead everyone to a true understanding of what God is saying to us.

    Then comes the difficult bit: obedience to God.

  9. John says:

    OK – one small last word. 🙂

    Many thanks for an interesting discussion. I suspect that we can both agree that Christians should read the Bible both carefully and faithfully, and that there will be legitimate differences of interpretation, as well as mistakes. Provided that we all always act lovingly towards our brothers and sisters, we should be able to live together, even if we don’t always agree!

    And I hope you get well soon!

    pax et bonum

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