The oft-wrong and perpetually-biased New York Times recently (14 Jan 16) ran an article entitled “Anglican Church Disciplines U.S. Episcopals Over Gay Marriages.” The article both misunderstands Christianity and misrepresents the “discipline” laid out by the Anglican Communion (neither of which is necessarily surprising from the NYT). These are two things that I’d like to address now – particularly after the last post I wrote (“Multiculturalism, Diversity and A Christian Worldview”) in which I laid out the importance of focus on God over the extraneous, worldly details.
First, I should probably confirm that I am not an Anglican or an Episcopalian. I doubt that I would agree with them completely on doctrinal or organizational issues. However, since the Anglican Communion looks to Christ for salvation, and unreservedly recognizes the Bible as the word of God, I still believe that I have a vested interest in how they conduct themselves on matters of essential doctrine. I especially believe this considering the way in which their actions and beliefs (and unity) affect how Christ’s body is perceived by the world we want to evangelize and save.
Second, let’s define some terms and concepts to enable the clarity of this conversation. “Anglican” refers to those people who subscribe to the Anglican doctrines as defined corporately over the centuries of the church’s existence and as the majority of its adherents understand the scriptures. Anglicans do believe in Sola Scriptura, though they also have a shared liturgy which goes back to at least 1662. Anglicans use the term “Anglican Communion” to describe the way each Anglican geographic fellowship (called “Primates” – and led by an “Archbishop”) is accepted by each other into unity and mutual partnership for the glorification of Jesus Christ and the evangelization of the world (read more at AnglicanChurch.net). “The Episcopal Church” is the recognized Primate of the United States.
What has caused the recent schism within the Anglican Communion to take place – as partially described in the New York Times article – is the consecration of an openly-gay bishop by the Episcopal Church in 2003. This has since been aggravated by The Episcopal Church’s change of their Canon to redefine marriage to include homosexual unions. This unilateral change by The Episcopal Church was impetus for most of the other Primates in the Anglican Communion to begin questioning the authenticity of Episcopalian doctrinal stability. In order to address this issue as a body, the Archbishop of Canterbury (referred to as “first among equals” within the Anglican Communion) called a deliberative conference of Primates for the week of 11-15 January 2016 in order to bring the entire fellowship back to unity.
Of foremost importance to note is that the purpose of the meeting of the Primates was to “[demonstrate] the commitment of all the Primates to continue the life of the Communion with neither victor nor vanquished” (primates2016.org). In other words, the intent of the conference was to unify the Communion of churches without harm; not to “bring pain [to Episcopal members]” as the Archbishop of The Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, accused and the NYT dutifully reported.
The Primates voted to suspend The Episcopal Church for three years (until the next conference of Primates). During this three year period The Episcopal Church will “no longer represent [the Anglican Communion] on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity” (para. 7, primates2016.org).
Therefore, the delineation between the intention of the Primates’ conference being to unify the Communion without harm and “[bringing] pain [to Episcopal members],” is absolutely key in how the “discipline” or “suspension” of fellowship is viewed. This is also the point at which the NYT’s account breaks down significantly. The real issue is not just the individual doctrines on homosexuality and marriage, but instead the very foundation of the Communion’s theology itself … namely, the Bible.
To be honest, considering the fact that the NYT is a secular publication, I’m not that surprised that they don’t understand that doctrinal purity is the underlying concern. How can they when they dispute the benefits of faith itself? But I certainly would expect the hundreds of bishops within The Episcopal Church to know. More than that, I would expect the “Archbishop” Michael Curry to know what the true issue is. However, if we even faintly pay attention to the way in which human nature works, we know that we all have a remarkable ability to rationalize our way into completely illogical positions when what we WANT to believe clashes with what we KNOW to be true.
I would be very surprised if Michael Curry entered ministry with the desire for power or popularity. If he had, he probably would’ve gone the Joel O’Steen route instead – no structure to the liturgy, no confining doctrine, nothing beyond his own will and intellect (not to suggest O’Steen has any intellect – we’ve been searching for a while and it’s yet to be found). But Curry entered the ministry with The Episcopal Church and was consecrated after receiving doctrinal training regarding the use of a Bible which states unequivocally:
Because of [their exchanging the truth about God for a lie], God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Romans 1:26f
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9f
“’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” Jesus speaking about marriage being between one man and one woman in Mark 10:6
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable. Leviticus 18:22
These passages are not obscure. They aren’t hidden amidst “larger” theological concerns. They aren’t written in some strange and incomprehensible Bible Code. The language and implications are plain and clear and, when once read and known, can only be disregarded by a willfulness of the heart. Michael Curry and the other Episcopal bishops MUST have read these passages at some point in their education and ministry. This therefore means that the only options they have available to explain their doctrinal position on homosexuality and homosexual “marriage” are: 1) that the Bible is not the inerrant word of God; 2) that the Bible was right when it was written, but that morality has changed and made the Biblical instruction irrelevant; or 3) that the Bible does not mean what it says.
Any of these three options is completely antithetical to Christianity itself because any of them leaves the Bible as nothing more than a fun-to-read book of fables with no more guidance for life than is found in The Odyssey. The Christian claim that the Bible is trustworthy can be, and has been, proven through scientific and historical means. But the Christian claim that the Bible is the word of God – and therefore contains the words of life – can only be proven experientially (i.e. by the way it changes one’s life); meaning that this belief is uniquely Christian; to the point that one must ask, “Why would anyone want to follow a faith in which he disputes the authenticity of its holy scriptures?”
Similarly one could ask, “Why would anyone who believed that the Bible is the word of God not do what it says will lead to eternal life?” or, “Why would one who believed that the Bible is the inspired word of God then try to undermine its instruction or value?” Which then leads us to a very critical question (indeed the same question which the Primates discussed in their meeting): If The Episcopal Church has changed their doctrines to include something which clearly is anti-biblical, how can their doctrine on the Bible itself be correct? And, correspondingly, how can their faith be real?
I believe that the Primates would have begun from this line of questioning (or ended up there, at the very least) as they attempted to restore unity to their Communion. The debate would not have started with, “Let’s throw those sinners out of our fellowship. All in favor, say, ‘Aye!’” It would have begun with, “Do you realize what your actions say about your theology?” and “Do you realize that your theology is dangerously and fundamentally wrong and will lead people into sin?”
After all, within the Primates’ own press release regarding the suspension itself, they declared, “[The unilateral actions of The Episcopal Church] further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us.” They then went on to say, “It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us …” (paras. 6 and 7, primates2016.org). In other words, the actions of those who have renounced the infallibility of the word of God have placed distance which cannot be denied between them and the Communion as a whole.
To sum this whole scenario up: one group within a Christian body has decided to disregard biblical truth. This disregard for truth has exposed itself through heretical teachings which, if accepted and acted upon by people, lead them to hell. This heresy has created separation between the heretics and the truth-seekers. The truth-seekers therefore know that they must cut ties to either show the heretics the severity of the consequences of their actions/beliefs (hoping to lead them to repentance), or to keep the truth-seekers’ own theology pure.
With all of that in mind I have to ask you as a reader: Is it the Anglican Communion who has suspended fellowship with The Episcopal Church or is it the other way around? One seeks unity through the gospel, the other unity with the world. One seeks unity in Christ, the other unity in sin. One seeks approval from God, the other approval from the New York Times.
This lesson also can be posed to all believers in this way: Is what you believe in line with what the Bible says? If not, why not? Is it because you WANT to believe something else to be true? If so, why? Is it to be in line with what culture says is correct? Or, could it be because it will lead you to some modicum of comfort in the sin in which you walk?
Or, as Paul put it in Romans 3:3f, “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: ‘So that You may be proved right when You speak and prevail when You judge.’” Incidentally, that quote Paul made was from Psalm 51, in which David, in confessing his sin with Bathsheba (something he obviously did not want to admit) said, “For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so You are right in your verdict and justified when You judge [me]” (vv. 3f).
Our sins truly are always there before us. When illuminated and laid bare by the pure light of the righteousness of God, it can be pretty painful to acknowledge them. But casting a shadow over them with a blinder we’ve created through our own willful disregard isn’t going to make them go away. Nor will willful disregard lead to greater clarity in a world full of misdirection and misinformation. Only repentance and the blood of Jesus Christ can scrub the sin away so that we can, like a mirror, reflect His glory and grace to the world. Something which MUST be the main goal of the individual Christian as well as the body of Christ as a whole.
AnglicanChurch.net. A Letter From Archbishop Beach on the Upcoming Primates Gathering. AnglicanChurch.net; 2016. http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/1161
Goodstein, Laurie and De Freytas-Tamura, Kimiko. Anglican Church Disciplines U.S. Episcopals Over Gay Marriages. New York Times, 14 Jan 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/15/world/europe/anglican-archbishops-sanction-us-episcopal-church-over-gay-marriages.html?_r=1
Primates2016.org. News from Primates 2016. Primates2016.org; 14 Jan 2016. http://www.primates2016.org/articles/2016/01/14/statement-primates-2016/