I am taking a quick break from writing up about the philosophy of quantum physics, to discuss an emerging issue in my own church, and to offer a few thoughts.
As readers may or may not know, I was born and raised in the Church of England, but have come to accept the doctrines of the Anglican Church, mainly because I understand that, of all the movements that came out of the reformation, Protestant and Catholic, the doctrines contained in the thirty nine articles and book of common prayer (being built on the Old and New Testaments and the writings of the early Church) come closest to representing the belief and practice of the apostolic church, and what by force of reason necessarily follows from those beliefs. They discard from the Western tradition those things which ought to be discarded, and keep those things which ought to be kept with a genuinely ancient origin. When pushed to put a label on myself, I describe myself as a Christian theist first of all, or as belonging to the catholic wing of Anglican classical evangelicalism if I need to be more specific. (By "Catholic wing" I mean that there is a breadth of views within Anglican evangelicalism concerning the sacraments and the ancient and medieval traditions, and I hold a higher view of the sacraments and consider the ancient and medieval traditions more important than many evangelicals, but not as high or as important as the genuine anglo-catholics.) Obviously, I expect many of my readers to disagree that evangelical Anglicanism is the best representation available of catholic and apostolic Christianity, but that's a debate for another time.
But if you are not a member of the Church of England, then don't think that this is not relevant for you. The broader issues I am addressing here will almost certainly mirror movements which have affected your Church, are affecting your Church, or will do so in a few decades. For example, we are about twenty years "behind" the Episcopal Church in the US, and (I reckon) about twenty years "ahead" of the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholics: you have the chance to stop this, but you need to act now and decisively or you will find yourselves in the same position we are.
The Church of England is traditionally divided into three wings. Obviously this picture is too simplistic, and one can have intermediate positions between the three poles, but there is the evangelical wing which looks to the principles of the reformation and the Biblical text as its primary and only infallible authority, the anglo-Catholic wing, which looks back to the historical continuity of the Church of England with the Roman Catholic Church, and the "broad" or liberal wing which looks to adapt its beliefs to be what it regards as attractive to modern culture and philosophy. There are also those who sit between the three wings. I will describe the evangelicals and anglo-Catholics together as the apostolic wing of the Church, as both (in their own way) attempt to found their beliefs on apostolic teaching and practice first and foremost, with the disagreement mainly being what that teaching implies for doctrines such as the sacraments, invocation of the saints, holy orders, and justification and sanctification. Important topics, but tiny in comparison to the gulf between them and the liberals.
Many also those who adopt labels which do not adequately describe their position. I cannot regard anyone as anglo-catholic who accepts women's ordination; but there are people who call themselves anglo-catholic who have been influenced by liberal philosophy. I cannot regard anyone as evangelical who denies some form of Biblical inerrancy; but there are some who call themselves evangelical who compromise with the liberal criticism of the Biblical text. The reason why people do this, I think, is that they started out in a particular place, but have gradually drifted away. Liberalism is not attractive to modern society, and does not in general win converts from outside the Church. Its inherent contradictions are too much of a barrier for the convinced atheist or agnostic, and it has nothing to offer them. Instead, liberalism is parasitic on the evangelical or catholic wings of the Church. People are converted to those wings, but only to a superficial degree, are influenced by the culture or modern "scholarship" or a desire to conform, and lacking the tools and education to combat those pressures, gradually drift away. This is why those churches which have expelled their evangelical and catholic wings are gradually dying off -- quite literally dying off.
Modern culture (at least among the academic and political elite) is obviously moving towards critical theory approaches at the moment, and in particular attempts to vindicate the sexual revolution. So that is where the liberals are going. For some time, there has been a push to normalise the recognition and blessing of same-sex sexual relationships. This process was given the name "living in love and faith," and is just reaching its climax at the moment.
Last February, the general synod of the Church of England passed a motion authorising the House of Bishops to proceed with developing prayers of blessing of same-sex sexual relationships, alongside new pastoral guidance and notions of "pastoral reassurance" to comfort those who don't like the direction the Church is going. This motion was overwhelmingly supported by the Bishops, and had small majorities in the houses of clergy and laity. The goal was to bring the prayers and guidance back to synod in November to start the process of formal approval. There were numerous proposed amendments to the motion. All but one of these were vetoed by the Bishops. That one exception added the clause:
[This synod endorses] the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.
Judging by their response, I imagine that the Bishops have spending the time since that debate regretting that they let that amendment through. It is now the end of October, and last Friday (as I start writing this), the house of Bishops published what they have come up with for the November synod. In summary, they have used their authority to commend various prayers to be added to existing Church services (morning prayer, Holy Communion, etc.), started the process to approve standalone services (which will take several years, and require two thirds majorities in each of the houses which as things stand right now they are not going to get), and are still working on the pastoral guidance and pastoral reassurance. They have just presented early drafts of both of those documents. There is a motion basically asking the synod to allow them to continue their work in the direction they are proposing. The papers contain a number of summaries of the Bishop's proposals, the draft prayers, pastoral guidance, and pastoral reassurance themselves, and an attempt to provide a theological basis for what they are proposing.
I should say up front that my own respect for our arch-bishops, and all but about a dozen of our bishops, is about as low as it can get. The papers presented for synod has only served to reinforce my opinion of their (lack of) intellectual ability. I have never seen anything from them (again, with a only a handful of exceptions, whose numbers are dwindling year by year) that indicates that they even understand the Christian gospel let alone are capable of articulating it. To a nation that desperately needs evangelising, that is a damning comment to make. Certainly they are not able to argue coherently for a particular position. This is fine: as an Anglican, my faith is centred in Christ and the doctrine of the Church expressed in the Old and New Testaments and the classic formularies, not the people who currently occupy the Church hierarchy. As such, I had low expectations for these papers, and in that regard the Bishops did not disappoint.
I should say at the outset that there are three contradictory extremes in the Church at the moment (with obviously a lot of people either ignoring the issue or trying to maintain a position between the three poles -- even if that position is contradictory). A lot of people argue as though there are only two extremes, but that is mistaken.
- The apostolic view, that same-sex sexual activity is inherently against God's purposes for mankind, and thus ought to be repented of and cannot be blessed. To support or practice such activity is hateful of both God and the people involved.
- The liberal view, that same-sex sexual activity is good in certain circumstances, and thus ought to be recognised and blessed in the Church, and as such to oppose it is hateful of God and gay people.
- The "Why can't we all get along?" view, which states that both views are permissible in the Church, it isn't a matter of great importance or an essential doctrine of the Church, and that we should just learn to live with each other. Church unity is more important than disagreements like this. This is the perspective pushed by the Bishops, and it is thus the position that they ought to be trying to justify in this report.
It should be stated that the proposals would not satisfy either the orthodox or liberal wings of the church. I expect the liberals to get behind them nonetheless, as they are at least, for them, a step in the right direction. For the orthodox, these prayers represent a crossing the red line which (rightly or wrongly) was drawn back in the 1990s, and I hope that we have the courage to stick with those convictions.
I cannot discuss everything in the paper, so I will pick out a few of what I think are the more obvious problems.
When is faithfulness a virtue?
The amendment to the original motion that the prayers would not contradict the doctrine of the Church placed the Bishops with a quandary. They wanted to proceed (being mainly liberal or "why can't we all get along" themselves), but to do so would be to clearing contradict the doctrine of the Church. So they came up with a classic Anglican fudge. We can't bless the relationships themselves, but we can bless what is good in those relationships. This is repeated numerous times in the document in various forms:
iv. The PLF acknowledge and respect the doctrine of marriage. They bear witness to the norm of Holy Matrimony by affirming very clear goods that bear a family resemblance to the goods of marriage: stability, faithfulness, exclusive, lifelong commitment, fruitfulness, mutual nurture and work for the flourishing of each partner and all those with whom a couple comes into contact.
22. In considering those questions, we have had careful regard to the theological rationale for the making of pastoral provision which includes the following:
- that it is not intended to change the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage;
- that the Church’s teaching on sexual activity is regarded as part of that doctrine;
- that the PLF are intended to recognise and respect that doctrine;
- that the PLF affirm the goods in same-sex relationships, including stability, faithfulness, exclusive, lifelong commitment etc.;
- that the PLF say nothing about sex but many same-sex couples will be in active sexual relationships.
1.2.3 The PLF make no assumptions with regards to sexual intimacy. Instead they seek to encourage the relationship as a whole to display virtues of stability, faithfulness, loyalty and exclusivity and to seek God's help in growing in those.
Preparation for any couple, in any case, should include a discussion of the type of Christian virtues that they are committing to develop within their relationship, such as stability and faithfulness within a monogamous lifestyle.
If we are not changing the doctrine of the Church regarding marriage, then the space we are exploring is the space for a genuine, careful pastoral response: the kind of response that genuinely rejoices at the goods that we can see in same-sex relationships – faithfulness, stability, fruitfulness, love, faith, grace – and keeps looking for where God is at work, and how we may respond faithfully to God’s call to holiness in the fashioning of our lives, rather than focus primarily on identifying the absence of virtue, or good, in others.
Obviously there is a common theme in these paragraphs. There are slight differences from one paragraph to another, and different virtues listed, but a distinctly common theme.
The question I want to ask is whether faithfulness, stability, etc. are always a good. In other words, are they goods in themselves, or only good within certain contexts. The fear is that the Bishops are falling to the is/ought fallacy (where one jumps from saying that because something is in a certain way that it ought to be in that way); saying that just because they see something in same-sex relationships which mimics virtues of marriage, then that something ought to be regarded as good in that context as well.
Let's talk about faithfulness. To be faithful means partly that you keep you promises, and partly a loyalty to someone or something or some cause. It is clear that to be faithful in some contexts is good. It is repeatedly commended in the Biblical text, e.g. Galatians 5:22. But when we dig a little deeper, we find that the faithful man is frequently commended in scripture, but only in a handful of contexts.
- God's faithfulness to his people, i.e. in keeping His side of the covenant promises. (e.g. Psalm 26:3, Isaiah 16:5, Romans 3:3, and many others)
- The faithfulness of a Christian or Jew to God, i.e. in keeping with his part of the covenant, or following some particular mission. (e.g. Numbers 12:7, 1 Kings 3:6, Mattew 24:45, and many others)
- The faithfulness of a master to a servant or relation (e.g. Genesis 24:29, Proverbs 25:13, and others)
But is faithfulness always good? What about faithfulness to the worship of Baal, or Molech? Ahab and Jezebel were (among others) faithful to Baal; they are not commended for it. Or Jephthah, who rashly promised to sacrifice his daughter, and was faithful to that promise. Was that faithfulness good? To be faithful to some sinful context is clearly not in line with God's will for us, and thus not a good or virtue. Faithfulness in (traditional male-female) marriage is not directly discussed in scripture (albeit see Malachi 2:14 which makes faithlessness in marriage a vice), but it can be seen as a good because it benefits the marriage, and marriage is stated to be a good. So faithfulness in a same sex sexual relationship would be a virtue if that sort of relationship was good, but would be vicious if that relationship is against God's will. So by allowing the blessing of the faithfulness of the relationship, the Bishops are implicitly implying that the relationship in itself is good. To be faithful to a relationship which God regards as sinful is to be faithless to God, and thus break the primary context by which faithfulness is seen as a virtue in the Biblical text.
Obviously, one's opinions on these matters will depend on whether one thinks that same-sex sexual relationships are good or not. There are two positions one can reasonably take: that the relationships are good, and faithfulness within them is a virtue. Or that the relations are evil, and that faithfulness to the commitments that established them is is a vice. What one cannot reasonably do is regard the faithfulness as a virtue and the relationship one is faithful to as a vice. As such, it is clearly wrong to say that blessing the faithfulness that arises from the relationship, but not the relationship itself, is not a change of doctrine in the Church of England, because it implies that the relationship is good.
Or we could discuss stability. Can this be a virtue? Proverbs 28:2 commends the stability of a nation when it avoids transgression. Isaiah 33:6 commends the stability of society when people fear God. Colossians 1:23 commends those who are stable in the faith and avoid swerving off. 2 Peter 3:17 condemns those who lose their stability by breaking with God's law. Obviously, stability in some circumstances is a good. In particular, stability is good if it means remaining constant to God's law.
But is stability always a good? Clearly not. A Baal-worshipper can be stable in his belief and circumstances, but that stability is then a vice, as it prevents him from repenting and turning to Yahweh. Someone can be stable, and perfectly happy, in a state of repeated sin, but that stability is a vice because it stands in the way of repentance and the knowledge and love of God. Stability is a virtue if it keeps us obedient to God. It is a vice if it keeps us in rebellion against God. The argument entirely parallels the discussion of faithfulness above. Marital stability is not specifically commended in scripture, but it is far from unreasonable to infer that a marriage ought to be stable. But can we extend that to a same-sex sexual relationship? Only if that relationship is in itself inherently good, i.e. in line with God's creational purposes for human sexuality. To bless the stability of the relationship is to implicitly say that the relationship is good, and whether one ought to be doing this or not it is a change in the doctrine of the Church.
The virtue of love is also mentioned as a virtue of same sex relationships which can be blessed. I need not do a survey of all the places Bible commends love, except to cite the definition in Romans 12:9:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
A genuine love (as in the virtue of agape or caritas) is then the desire for goodness in itself. The situation is confused because the English language equivocates over the word love, and it contains numerous different meanings. Agape love is always a virtue, and the highest virtue. Different senses of the word, such as the love of a profession, or friendship, or romantic love, are only good in the correct context. They are only good if the thing that is loved promotes either ours or a common good. If the thing that is loved is either some form of sin itself, or if it encourages or reinforces sin or leads one to be unnecessarily exposed to temptation, then that love is not good. We are called to love (agape) our neighbour. That can presumably be extended to loving our neighbour's wife. If we were to commit the fallacy of equivocation and confuse the two senses of love, then that would seem like a commendation of adultery. But adulterous romantic love is not a virtue. This example shows that the different meanings of love, other than agape itself, are only goods in some contexts. So saying that the love that arises from a same-sex sexual relationships is something to be blessed assumes that a same-sex sexual relationship is a context in which the particular form of love that is to be blessed is virtuous. Whether we are referring to the desire for goodness or a romantic love, the commendation presupposes that the relationship is in itself, including its sexual aspect, good, and does not present the temptation to sin. Obviously the current doctrine of the Church states that the relationship is not good, being a mockery of God's purposes for human sexuality. There are two ways you can run with this, but what you cannot do is say that the love is good (by blessing it) but the relationship itself is bad (as implied by current doctrine). So one cannot pretend that blessing the (romantic) love in a same-sex sexual relationship is not a change in doctrine. And if there is agape love in such a relationship, then, given the Church's apostolic doctrines on sexuality, it would seek to end the relationship because the relationship itself provides a constant temptation to sin.
And, of course, we are reliably informed that if we love God then we will obey His commandments, with the obvious corollary that if we disobey the commandments then we don't love God. So if same-sex sexual activity is against the commandments of God, then to practice it is to hate God and break the sense of love most highly commended in the Bible. It is impossible to grow into holiness (in this respect) while part of such a relationship. If, that is, the current doctrine of the Church on sexuality is correct.
I could go on with the other virtues in the list, but I think I have adequately made my point. The bishops tried to avoid their dilemma of trying to both bless and not bless the relationships at the same time, by saying that they would bless certain aspects of the relationship but not affirm the relationships themselves. But this position is inconsistent. You can either say that the current doctrine is wrong, or you can argue that it is unimportant (which is also to say that the doctrine is wrong), or you can say that it is correct and not go ahead with these blessings, but there is no middle position. Thus the Bishops have failed in their endeavours.
This clear assumption, that the virtues listed are good in themselves and not merely good in the right contexts, is not justified anywhere in the papers, and not in the "theological rationale," where it is simply repeated without proof.
And I should remind the Bishops that they cannot assume that faithfulness, stability or romantic love in the context of a same-sex sexual relationship is good just because it happens or through an analogy with other sorts of relationships. That is just to commit the is/ought fallacy, which is best avoided. It requires a rigorous justification, either from (preferably) Biblical command or (if that is not available) the scholastic natural law tradition arguing from the tendencies and purposes that define rational animals. All other approaches, as has well been shown by the secular philosophers, violate the naturalistic fallacy or the is/ought fallacy (usually both) and thus cannot be used to justify a change in Church doctrine.
Doctrine or essential doctrine
The next fiddle the Bishops made was to try to turn the word "doctrine" into "essential doctrine."
7. Given where we are, an argument is being made for a theological rationale of 'pastoral provision in a time of uncertainty'. This is based on the trajectory of pastoral provision which already exists within our Church and tradition, which does not change doctrine in any essential matter but changes our practical pastoral response and the way we relate within the Church and outwards to the world.
7. We have considered carefully the requirement in Canon B5 that "all variations in forms of service and all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter".
17. We have also been advised that it would be difficult to say that making the PLF available for same-sex couples without there being an assumption as to their sexual relationships was not indicative of any departure from the Church's doctrine. Existing pastoral statements of the House of Bishops (issued in 2005, 2014 and 2019) state that because some same-sex couples will be "living consistently with the teaching of the Church, others not", it would "not be right to produce an authorised public liturgy in connection with the registering of [civil partnerships/same-sex marriages] and "that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who [register a civil partnership/enter a same sex marriage]". If the PLF are to be available for same-sex couples without there being an assumption as to their sexual relationships, there would have been a change in the Church’s formal position on what its doctrine of marriage, and the place of sex within it, did and did not preclude in terms of public worship. Such a change might indicate a departure from the previous understanding that the Church’s teaching precluded public worship being offered for a same sex couple who were or might be in a sexually active relationship.
18. If that is so, it is necessary to go on to consider whether that departure would be indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England "in any essential matter".
19. The words "in any essential matter" were included in the draft Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure as introduced in the General Synod (and are now contained in the 1974 Measure as enacted). On considering a proposal that those words be omitted from the draft Measure on the basis that they "seemed otiose and it would be difficult to decide what matters were essential", the Revision Committee for the Measure ultimately decided to retain them on the following basis: If they were omitted it became equally difficult to determine what issues were or were not contrary to or indicative of any departure from the doctrine of the Church of England. The words "in any essential matter" ensured that there was a proper degree of flexibility so that new insights into doctrine compatible with the general Anglican approach could be reflected in forms of worship and decisions of the Synod.
The motion that the house of Bishops was responding to required them to not change the doctrine, regardless of whether it was in "an essential matter" or not. The legal advice the Bishops received made it clear that these prayers are a departure from the doctrine of the Church, and they openly state that in the paper. To get around that, the Bishops have turned to the canons of the Church, which do include the phrase "in an essential matter".
In the Bishop's judgement, their proposal does not violate that weaker rule. They claim that the justification for this is set out in their theological rationale section. I will discuss this section below, but I want to make two points first.
Firstly, regardless of whether they are breaking the canons, the Bishops have admitted that they have violated the synod motion which justified their work because that did not distinguish between doctrine and "essential doctrine." This puts their work in violation of synod, and makes it null and void.
Secondly, the objection referenced in the citation above is obvious and important: how do we distinguish between doctrine and essential doctrine? The review committee responded to this by saying that the notion of doctrine is itself rather fuzzy. The sources of doctrine of the Church of England are defined by canon A5.
The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.
The Book of Common prayer, Ordinal, Thirty-nine Articles and homilies commended within them are perfectly clear. People obviously dispute over the interpretation of the Holy scriptures, although in the particular matter in question the interpretation has not been dispute until recent times. Where there is doubt we are asked to turn to ancient Fathers of the Church. Again, there is clarity. On the particular subject in question, attempts to reinterpret the relevant Biblical texts have repeatedly been shown to have failed. If the texts are unclear, why was that never noticed, including by those in the culture they were written, until people were motivated by non-Christian arguments to oppose that teaching? The supplementary arguments from Natural Law or the teachings of the church fathers are usually ignored. On this matter, the doctrine of the Church, if it sticks to its principles, is abundantly clear. One can reject it (although how one in good conscience remain part of a Church which in its formularies demands that the doctrine is accepted is beyond me), but one cannot reasonably deny what the doctrine is. The people who are promoting this change in themselves are rather cavalier in their approach to the Anglican formularies (as is witnessed in the theological rationale section of the report). So there is some fuzziness in the doctrine of the Church (in particular in matters not considered until after the reformation -- and sexual immorality is not included in that exception) but it is limited, and doesn't provide enough scope for the sort of changes the Bishops are proposing. The problem isn't that the doctrine of the Church isn't clear enough. The problem is that too many people in the Church, and in particular too many Bishops, don't like that doctrine and want to disobey it.
But when we come to the distinction between "doctrine" and "essential doctrine" there is no definition to guide us in the canons. If there is vagueness in "doctrine", then adding the word "essential" serves to make it far worse. Without a clear and unambiguous definition of the word "essential" this distinction is meaningless.
So do the general synod papers provide a definition of essential? One would have thought that it would be rather important to its argument to make that clear. There is just one paragraph which might contain such a definition, although it is not clear that this is the position advocated for by the Bishops, and there is certainly no attempt to justify the definition.
Yet we have to be honest, and acknowledge that this long period of discernment has not taken us to a consensus. There are those among us who continue to hold to the teaching of the Church on marriage, sexual intimacy and sexuality that we share with many other churches ecumenically and across the world, and would not want to see change; there are those who long for change, because they have prayerfully come to the conclusion, following study of Scripture and tradition, that it would be right to change our teaching on marriage and sexuality to include same-sex couples; and there are many who are not entirely sure, and would locate themselves on different parts of the spectrum. For some, it is a disagreement that seriously impairs communion; for others, it is a secondary matter, because it does not touch essential beliefs as reflected in the creeds. As individuals, and as sub-groups within the Church, we disagree.
(Note how those who want change apparently pray and study scripture and tradition; while those who don't are represented as merely holding onto the current teaching. Given that the whole evangelical and anglo-catholic ethos is based on scripture, tradition and prayer, and the liberal ethos in adapting to secular culture and undermining scripture, this characterisation seems to have things the wrong way round.)
It is not clear the Bishops are advocating the definition of "essential beliefs" as "those reflected in the creeds." If they are, then this is clearly inadequate. The creeds were written to address the various controversies of the early church: gnosticism, Arianism, and so on. They only address those matters which touch on those disputes. The thirty-nine articles, similarly, only address those matters which were in dispute at the time of the reformation, alongside re-affirming agreed doctrines concerning the Trinity and Christology. So while everything in the creeds is essential, it is foolish to say that they define all that is essential. Take, for example, Galatians chapter 1.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Clearly Paul considered the matter that disturbed the Galatians to be essential. What was this dispute about? Read on, and we find that it related to the party that argued that gentile believers should keep to the Jewish commandments of circumcision and the dietary laws. Beneath this lies the gospel of salvation through grace by faith, i.e. that we are not saved from sin and the wrath of God by keeping the commandments but only through the grace of God. Albeit that a saving faith will nonetheless desire to keep the moral code and avoid sin -- and repeated, deliberate and unrepentant sin is a sign that one does not have a true and proper faith in God. Is this issue in the creeds? No. Admittedly, the thirty-nine articles do touch on the issues around faith, grace, justification and good works, as they were important at the time of the reformation, but they are not included in the proposed definition. For that matter, clearly the Church of England accepts those beliefs that separate it from Rome as essential matters (otherwise we would not have broken away, and changed the form of worship), and yet the two Churches are in perfect agreement over the creeds.
If the creeds are merely a necessary but not sufficient expression of what counts as essential doctrine, then the Bishops have the responsibility to provide a clear definition. So what counts as essential? I would say that at the very least everything that pertains to the central point of the gospel, namely our salvation from sin and its consequent separation from God, is essential doctrine. And, bearing in mind 1 Corinthians 6,
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
The issue under dispute is included in the essential matters. Clearly the theological liberals would dispute the natural and historical interpretation of this passage (although their arguments have always been exceptionally dubious and easy to refute). But it is foolish to decree that the change in doctrine is not an essential matter without begging the question against the orthodox. There is no argument in the paper that the changes in doctrine should not be considered essential, no justification of an understanding of what is meant as "essential", and no response to the obvious counter-arguments.
Acting in a time of uncertainty?
The rather badly named theological rationale appendix (it is in practice neither a rationale, as it does not argue for its conclusions, nor theological, as it does not build on scripture or ancient writers or the philosophy of religion) poses the question about what the Church should do in a time of uncertainty about the way it should take. The reason for this uncertainty is that there is a clear split in the Church between the apostolic wing (whether evangelical or anglo-catholic) and the liberals. The Bishops, who predominately range from compromised to very liberal, with only a few exceptions, clearly want to move ahead with same-sex sexual blessings, but most of all they want to keep the Church organisationally united. They do not want either side to break away. So they are proceeding, but cautiously.
There are many different possible responses to living in a time of collective uncertainty. We could do nothing, because that keeps us in the place we have inhabited for many years, and a place that some identify as a place of certainty. Not to change is not a neutral option, because it would be deeply hurtful for those who have hoped, and prayed, and shared their story over many years, while they seek to live faithfully. It would also risk being seen as ignoring the commitment we have made as a church to repent from homophobia and the way LGBTQI+ Christians have been treated in the past, and to seek better ways of relating to one another, regardless of which theological and ecclesial tradition we belong to. We could, equally, try to force change through, but that would not respect the strong misgivings of large parts of the Body, or the reality of our collective uncertainty as to the way ahead. This place of an absence of consensus is deeply painful for all in the Church, though not in the same way, or to the same depth. This space is one that inevitably generates fear, anxiety, grief, and other strong emotions.
Yet the space within which the Synod has agreed to move is that of a motion for change, but without changing doctrine. The question before us therefore is, what is the most generous, compassionate and gracious space we can create at this point, within which as many people in the church can find ways of growing in love, in faith and in relationships with one another? This place would be one of continuing discernment and conversation, of continuing to seek the mind of Christ together, rather than a place of frozen conflict and disagreement.
If we are not changing the doctrine of the Church regarding marriage, then the space we are exploring is the space for a genuine, careful pastoral response: the kind of response that genuinely rejoices at the goods that we can see in same-sex relationships – faithfulness, stability, fruitfulness, love, faith, grace – and keeps looking for where God is at work, and how we may respond faithfully to God's call to holiness in the fashioning of our lives, rather than focus primarily on identifying the absence of virtue, or good, in others. Such a response would express itself differently in different parts of the Church, and would be a possibility, not a requirement; it would leave space for discernment and the exercise of conscience for individuals and communities. This space would also rest on the recognition that the entire Body is trying to find ways of living faithfully to the Gospel, and where disagreement does not lead to disrespect or accusations of not being fellow Christians.
This is, of course, just meaningless waffle (fitting in with the rest of this appendix). There is no argument or logical flow to this, no clear statement of the underlying premises, or logic to how they are moved on. No addressing of counter-arguments. It is just one unproved assertion following another.
So what is the correct action in a time of uncertainty? The obvious answer is to not act until there is certainty, or a way forward everyone can agree to, unless you are compelled to. To act or speak when there is clear uncertainty invariably leads to mistakes. This is particularly true for the Church. We look back to Jesus and the apostles as the source of our doctrine and practice. For the Christian, Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God. To say that you know better than the apostolic deposit is thus to claim to know better than God. It is to try to make yourself Lord of Jesus, instead of submitting to Jesus as Lord of you. This is an inversion of Christianity. Does that mean that tradition should never be challenged? No, just as Jesus challenged the traditions of the Pharisees. If the traditions are of human origin and introduced later into the Church, and are contrary to the apostolic deposit then we are right to question them. But to deviate from tradition, particularly one which has been held unanimously from the times of the apostles until recent times, requires certainty that it is the right thing to do. Our generation has a much more distant knowledge of God than the apostles, and those who immediately followed them, and as such is far more likely than them to have made a mistake.
The Bishops offer two responses to this. Firstly, that it is not a neutral position. Secondly, that the Church in the motion that it passed did promise to make some sort of change, albeit one that does not change the doctrine of the Church. To the latter point, the Bishops have admitted that the change they make changes the doctrine of the Church. And clearly an evangelical or anglo-catholic would not accept that there is no essential change to doctrine just because the Bishops assert that. To the first point, the change the bishops are making themselves is not neutral. As I stated, there are three positions in the current disagreement -- the apostolic position, the position that follows secular culture, and the position that it is not really something of importance. The Bishops are advocating for that third position, one that both of the other sides would reject. But they do so without expressly admitting that it is a third position. They are trying to enforce this view on the church. For example, in the draft pastoral guidance, they require a minister who themselves refuses to perform the prayers to direct people to others who will. But for the apostolic wing of the Church, this is unacceptable: for them, it is to participate, even indirectly, in evil, and to direct people away from Christ.
I note that in this section I have not heeded the Bishop's advice that disagreement does not "lead to disrespect or accusations of not being fellow Christians." I make no apologies for that. We have the example of Jesus, of John the Baptist, of the prophets: none of them were tame in their language towards their opponents. Or we can look to the great scholars of the faith: the Fathers, Athanasius, Augustine, the reformers (and counter-reformers). None of them were afraid to call out their opponents. When someone so clearly and obviously swerves from the gospel it is hateful not to warn them. I appreciate that the liberals are trying to live out their religion honestly according to their conscience. As are the apostolic Christians. Both sides view this matter as hugely important. The Bishops, by arguing that it is not important, are disrespecting them.
Is there a way forward that gives both sides space? Yes, the provincial solution proposed by the Church of England Evangelical council (based on earlier proposals from the anglo-catholics in a previous debate). Each side would have their own province, and be able to go on their own way. The Bishops have dismissed this out of hand. They stated that they would think about delegated episcopal oversight, but are obviously reluctant to even go that far. And why would we be surprised by that? The provincial solution is one in which everyone benefits except the Bishops themselves. The liberals and apostolic Christians will be able to live out their beliefs with minimal disruption and free from the debate within the Church. God will then prosper whichever side is faithful to His standards.
Pastoral response, of course, meaningless without an underlying doctrine. After all, there are multiple ways in which one could respond; it is doctrine which determines which one we take.
Trajectories in pastoral provision
The next argument the Bishops make is that the Church's practice has changed over time in response to changing circumstances and needs. It starts by stating the traditional position:
Like all doctrine, the doctrine of marriage is practical, at once declaring testimony to God’s ways and providing shape and guidance for life. It enables God’s people to offer support for a form of intimate society by which God blesses its participants and wider society and helps shape a way of holy living within the Body of Christ. By living and teaching in accordance with its guidance, the people of God seek to bear witness to the triune God’s gracious goodness as our creator, God’s transforming grace as our Redeemer and the hope of God’s kingdom. The Book of Common Prayer attests to Holy Matrimony within the context of this divine economy as a lifelong covenant of a man and a woman, instituted by God in creation, adorned by Jesus Christ and signifying his mystical union with the Church. In particular, it was instituted for the procreation and godly education of children, as a remedy against sin and for the loving mutual society, help and comfort of the couple. It thus teaches that this way of life is the proper context for sexual intercourse, within the bonds of that faithfulness, mutuality and generativity. The Church is called by God to proclaim the Christian faith 'afresh in each generation'. History changes the contexts in which the Church proclaims and lives the Good News. Changed contexts shift the webs of meaning within which the Church's doctrines are put to use, so that faithfulness requires renewed interpretation and attentive pastoral application of the faith as the Church has received it. Such renewal is reflected in the Church's liturgy and teaching in this area as in others.
The book of common prayer is the Church of England's official liturgy. It went through several revisions during the reformation, and then an additional minor revision at the time of the restoration of the monarchy. That 1662 version is the current one. It was based on the old Latin liturgy, with such changes as were necessary to reflect reformed doctrine. In my view, it is a masterpiece of theology. It does, however, have the flaw that it is written in sixteenth century English, which is difficult for many people coming into the Church to understand. In the 1970s, the Church rightly recognised that it needed an updated liturgy to supplement the BCP. That led first to the Alternative Service Book, and then to the current Common Worship. The problem with these works is that they were not put together particularly well. They were not "translations" of the older liturgy, but to a large extent a re-write. The theology was weakened considerably -- where before it was clear, now it is vague -- and the marriage service is a particularly clear example of that. However, the BCP still remains the official standard of doctrine.
Note how the paragraph above states that the changing context we find ourselves in requires a renewed interpretation of the Christian faith. That doesn't follow. Interpretation is associated with extracting meaning. A renewed interpretation means changing the understanding of the Christian faith. Now, we are to proclaim the Christian faith afresh to each generation. But if we change the meaning of what we proclaim, then it is no longer the Christian faith we are teaching, but something else that merges Christianity with our own imagination. The changing context means that we need to change the presentation of the message, but not the underlying message. It means that we would have to move different questions and challenges from the periphery to the main focus of our preaching; it does not mean that the answers to those questions are changed. When we work pastorally, we need to adapt our presentation to meet the people we encounter, but the goal is still to lead them to the same place, to Jesus and the apostolic faith. To do otherwise would be to teach heresy rather than Christianity.
The appendix mentions shifts in divorce and remarriage and contraception, noting that there have been significant shifts in church doctrine. Contraception is not mentioned in the Biblical text, so that is not really comparable to the current situation. Opposition to contraception comes from reasons drawn from natural law ethics. I happen to think that those reasons are very strong and would advocate for them; but given the Church's basis in scripture I think it fair that it leaves the matter to private conscience.
[On marriage] with respect to possible pastoral provision (marriage was no longer indissoluble, so that divorce was possible as a pastoral accommodation, but marriage was still understood to be 'lifelong', therefore it was deemed that the doctrine was not actually changed). Remarriage after divorce is an example of how a doctrine may remain essentially unchanged, while our pastoral response changes.
The Biblical text is clear on remarriage after divorce, and the commandment comes from Jesus Himself. It is only to be permitted in the case of unchastity, or (according to Paul) if an unbelieving partner desires to separate. Note the contradiction in the above passage: marriage is both no longer indissoluble, but it still remains lifelong. If it dissolves, except through death, then it is by definition not lifelong. This is thus a good example of the doublethink that the Bishops are trying to achieve, but not an example of good practice. It is simply dishonest to claim that the doctrine has not changed when it clearly has. But the apostolic wing of the church can live with this, because Jesus did give that one exception to the permanence of marriage, so the new presentation can be interpreted in a way consistent with apostolic doctrine, even if it also allows the liberals to make the wrong emphasis and subvert the doctrine of the Church.
The text then moves onto more subtle ways in which the church has changed its practice, without changing its doctrine.
The clearest change is the move away from the primacy of procreation and increasingly making room for the expression of sexuality as a good within the relationship which strengthens it and enables mutual pleasure. This is reflected in liturgical change, with the move from the BCP’s rather terse perspective on sex, to Common Worship’s talk of 'the delight and tenderness of sexual union'. It is matched by changing advice on contraception.
The church of England's doctrine is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, not Common Worship. The Book of Common Prayer's emphasis on procreation in marriage is, of course, wholly Biblical.
Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. (Malachi 3:14-15)
There are other passages which make the same point: a primary purpose for which God established marriage is the procreation of children. Common worship does not contradict the Book of Common Prayer on this point; it just does not say it so clearly and forcibly.
The idea of a 'remedy for sin' (BCP) is dropped altogether in Common Worship, and children are mentioned only after emphasising the material and relational aspects of marriage. The change has been welcomed by many; and it says something positive and liberating about sexuality.
The protection from fornication in the Book of Common Prayer is once again taken directly from the pages of the Bible.
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2)
So, as stated, the Common Worship marriage service considerably weakens the theology. And that weakening has been welcomed by many; but just because they have welcomed it does not mean that they were right to welcome it. But Common Worship does not contradict the Biblical doctrine, so the apostolic Christians could still live with it. And it does not change the doctrine of the Church, which is still represented by the book of common prayer.
What the appendix is trying to argue here is that the Church has changed its doctrine in these matters, so it should be free to change its doctrine in the matter of blessing same-sex relationships.
But this does not follow. Firstly, the previous changes did not represent a change in doctrine. The doctrine was sidelined and hidden (and in the case of remarriage dishonestly so), but not denied. The current change, however, is however a direct contradiction of the previous doctrine. After all, the BCP argues that marriage is a protection against fornication, which shows that fornication is an evil. Being drawn from scripture, the fornication referred to in the BCP is a reference to the Jewish sexual code, including its prohibition against same-sex sexual activity. Now, the response might be that the prayers are not blessing same sex sexual activity, but only the stability of the relationships that might contain such activity, but they are speaking in a clear context where there is a risk of fornication: to not condemn it or demand repentance as part of the prayers is to give tacit approval to it.
Secondly, it supposes that the previous changes were good and correct. I would argue that they are not. In the modern world we might need to explain why there should be a focus on children, or why we need an avenue for lawful sexual activity (and why activity outside that avenue is unlawful); but to drop the statements altogether, and instead accept the misplaced priorities of the current age, is not helping anyone come to Christ. We are, as a Church, called to be a watchman to society; to warn them when danger is approaching. To fail to sound the trumpet as the enemy approaches is to place the blood of our people on our own head.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, to argue that one thing needs to change does not say anything about whether something else should also change. At best, it states that a change is possible. But it does not show that this change is possible; even less so that this change is desirable.
Then there is this section here:
Finally, the increasing recognition of the goods of same-sex relationships is paralleled by an increasing recognition of the goods of faithful non-married sexual relationships. We see this in two major teaching documents.
The 1999 Marriage: A Teaching Document states,
The social and emotional steps by which couples come to enter marriage are often complicated, and some finally think about lifelong commitment only when they are already living together. This route of approaching marriage is exposed to uncertainties and tensions and is not to be recommended. But it was not uncommon in earlier periods of history, and the important thing is simply that the point of commitment should be reached. (p. 3)
Later, it also addresses couples directly:
But it may be, in fact, that you have resolved the question of your future between yourselves already, that you are quite certain of your lasting commitment to each other, and are living naturally together among your friends as husband and wife. Even so, the Church would encourage you to make the public stand that is implied in your way of life, expressing your promises to one another and praying together, as others pray with you, for God’ s assistance. In any case, the strength of your relationship and its potential for service to the community depend upon your enjoying a full and confident relationship with God and his people. (p.9).
This is a hugely nuanced and careful exposition, which makes space for real life, and for the fact that people are on a journey of discipleship, so that they do not start out embodying an ideal (and, arguably, even those who marry at the start of their relationships do not embody the ideal either – all couples move and ask for God to help them grow towards holiness and fullness of life).
Men and Women in Marriage, 2013, goes further:
In pastoral responses a degree of flexibility may be called for in finding ways to express the Church’s teaching practically. In affirming its belief in marriage as the form the Creator has given us for intimate and permanent relationship of a man and a woman, the Church does not treat questions of what is possible in hard circumstances or exceptional conditions as simply closed. They require pastoral wisdom.
This, again, makes pastoral accommodation or provision possible, or, in other words, makes it possible to respond to and work with, the reality of people's lives, rather than try and operate on an ideal plane only. The ideal is maintained, but it is something to work towards and hold alongside pastoral wisdom, compassion and walking with realities that often defy possibilities of ideals.
These documents do not do what the Bishop's need. They affirm the ideal of the Church position, recognise that people fall short of that ideal, and present ways in which the Church can lead people from where they now are to where they ought to be. That is very different from the current move to change the ideal to reflect where people now are.
The appendix then goes on to say that the doctrine of marriage is clear but its boundaries are porous. If the doctrine is clear then its boundaries are not porous. It is only when something is unclear that there is uncertainty around the edges.
The document talks about a trajectory in the church's teaching, as sees this as the next step in that trajectory. But this does not mean that the Church ought to take that step. Firstly (as I believe) the trajectory they have identified might be heading in the wrong direction (i.e. away from Christ and the love of God and neighbour); if so the correct response of the Church is to reverse its previous steps, before it crosses the precipice it is now tottering on. Secondly, as every scientist knows, extrapolation is dangerous. Without a clear theoretical guidance, you don't know which function to use as a basis for your extrapolation. Blind extrapolation leads you to the wrong place. Thirdly, you need to know where to stop the extrapolation. You don't want to go beyond the data point you are aiming at and again reach the wrong conclusion.
Then there is the larger point that they have tried to establish this trajectory by selectively quoting from past documents. If we can selectively quote, then I can just as easily find citations which would indicate a trajectory in the opposite direction. They have failed to pay attention to the constant refrain in those documents; that the underlying doctrine of the Church has always been expressed with at least some degree of clarity. What they have done is interpret these documents in one particular way, but they have done so by omitting details which speak against their case, and they have not shown that their way is the only way to interpret the history.
And, of course, there is the more general point that arguing about trajectories in the Church's teaching is precisely the wrong way to do theology. Christianity looks back to Jesus and the apostles, and tries to mimic as closely as possible the doctrine and practice of the apostolic Church, with only the presentation of that doctrine changing to meet contemporary needs. There is no guarantee that a trajectory in theological language is correct just because it has been happening. In fact, inasmuch as a trajectory from the ideal is always away from that ideal, the existence of such a trajectory is evidence that the Church is falling into heresy. Just because something is observed does not mean that it ought to be so. You cannot argue from the observation of a trajectory that that trajectory ought to be followed. And it certainly does not justify taking the next step on that road, which is unrelated to the previous steps.
For some, this will be far too little. Others, on the other hand, will argue that the presence of sexual activity in these relationships undermines the goods that we see. This disagreement is the reason why it has been decided not to change doctrine, and only a more limited pastoral response is being offered.
Yes, you are changing doctrine: you admitted it earlier in the report.
I do not intend to go over the entire report in detail. The section following the one I have just discussed discerns a trajectory in recent church documents concerning same-sex relationships, and has the same flaws. Section 3 argues (albeit not in these words) that the Church should erase the word "not" from Romans 12:2, and conform to the patterns of the world. It then shows that the Bishops have also had Romans 6 torn out of their Bibles, as they argue that the doctrine of grace means that we should be accepting of others even as they are in error. I have no idea what they mean by grace in this section, but it is not the unmerited forgiveness without surrendering the moral standard taught in the Bible. It then argues for pastoral provision based on Jesus holding a vision of life in all its fullness as an outcome of outrageous grace and acceptance -- which drastically oversimplifies Jesus' message which is primarily a call to repentance and avoidance of sin. It cites approvingly the recent unfortunate words of the Bishop of Rome. There is an overview on blessing, some of which is actually reasonably good.
However, the text primarily argues from past Church documents. These documents do not define the doctrine of the Church. We are Anglicans, not Roman Catholics. We do not accept the infallibility of the magisteria; only the inerrancy of scripture, and that the Anglican formularies reflect scripture. The documents (at least as interpreted in these papers) are a witness of how the Church of England has gradually fallen away over the past decades, and as such should make us less and not more reverent towards this latest document.
There are several clear omissions. Firstly, any actual reasoning or evidence to support its main contentions, such as that this does not represent a change in essential doctrine, or that the attributes it is trying to bless are actually good in that context. Secondly, there is a lack of logical structure to the argument. The whole tone of this is insipid. Catchphrases and speaking points strung together, with no indication of how they are connected together. It is even worse than Heidegger, and that's saying quite a lot.
But, most importantly, there is no argumentation from the Biblical text. The doctrine of the Church of England is primarily rooted in the Old and New Testaments. To attempt to make a theological case without having those texts as a foundation is to not do theology at all. The Bible is mentioned in places, but not treated well. Ten pages pass in the theological rationale before we reach the first mention of the Bible. It claims that the latest church teaching shows that 1 Corinthians 5 or Matthew 18:15 don't apply and we should not attempt to rebuke our brothers or isolate ourselves from them if they are guilty of immorality. So it is taking (out of context) human tradition to attempt to overturn the word of God. It then suggests that we are in a 1 Corinthians 8 situation, without any argument demonstrating that is the case, and ignoring that in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 Paul is offering three arguments to affirm the apostolic prohibition on eating food offered to idols, against the Corinthian Church which wanted to weaken it; so even if it is applicable it is hardly supportive of what the Bishops are trying to do. Note that 1 Corinthians 5 which the Bishops dismiss (by offering arguments aimed at Matthew 18) is directly addressing the topic of sexual immorality, and thus relevant to the matter at hand, while 1 Corinthians 8 is on a different topic entirely.
Indeed, it is worth looking at Matthew 18:15 in more detail.
15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
It is clear why the Bishops would seek to address this passage. It is one of the passages in the New Testament which states the opposite of their position. The Bishop's position is that organisational unity is more important than sharp doctrinal disagreement in this matter. Whatever happens, the Bishops are arguing, we should not treat each other as Gentiles or tax collectors, both outcasts in that society. Jesus, on the other hand, states that there are circumstances where one ought to make that separation. Namely where there is unrepentant sin, and a stubborn refusal to repent and accept correction. For both the apostolic Christians and liberals in the Church, that is the position we are facing; both sides believe that the other side is holding onto a position of clear sin where they refuse to listen to correction. The Bishop's response to this passage is not to argue that the circumstances are different and it doesn't apply, which might be acceptable if it is coherently argued. Instead, they say that a previous Church report stated that both sides are acting with integrity, and that should be respected. In the language of this report both sides have reached their positions through careful study and prayer. They then go on to argue that if you acknowledge that we can permit a divergence of views, and both positions are held with integrity, then we should not characterise them as wilful sin. And therefore we are not in the point of division described in Matthew 18. This, of course, contradicts the Church statements which the Bishops use to justify this argument. which made it clear that although the views in favour of same-sex sexual activity were sincerely held, they were still wrong. Is it reasonable to suggest that the sinful brother in Matthew 18 did not hold onto his views with integrity, and after careful study and prayer? He stands by them when confronted by a small group and then the Church: he would not do that if he did not genuinely believe that he was in the right. But the Church still has to make a judgement and cast him out. In other words respecting that someone has come to their position with integrity is not a reason to refrain from condemning those beliefs if they are against Church doctrine; and not a reason to not go through with verse 17. The Bishop's response, then, simply does not answer the charge that their own position disobeys this command from Jesus.
In the section on grace, there are a few allusions to Jesus' teaching, but out of context and with no connection to the argument of the passage. The next paragraph again alludes to the New Testament, but again out of context, and drawing the opposite conclusion to what the New Testament passages in question teaches. It is precisely because we should pursue Christ-likeness that the Church should not proceed with these prayers, which from the apostolic perspective lead people into the captivity of sin and away from Christ.
In the section on pastoral provision, it mentions the Patriarchs and Kings, and Jesus, but only in passing and with no genuine analysis or exposition (and, again, mention of Jesus' acceptance without referencing the call to repentance and holiness, or God's sanctification -- missing the central part of the gospel). It refers to Jesus not abolishing but fulfilling the laws and the prophets as an example of not putting law and grace into opposition; but Jesus there is speaking of something very different: his personal fulfilment of the Old Testament law through His perfect life and the cross.
It is only in the opening parts of the section on blessing that we find something approaching a reasonable interaction with scripture, although even here the discussion is very superficial. But, of course, the rationale does not then build on that analysis, but retreats to the standard pattern of jumping to conclusions which are opposite to the Biblical mandate, or at least beg the question against the apostolic Christians. It does not show from the understanding of blessing derived from the Biblical passages that it is appropriate to bless various aspects of a same-sex sexually active relationship.
The Bible in this appendix is thus used rarely, and where it is referenced it is used very poor. It quotes the Bishop of Rome more extensively than it does the Bible; for an Anglican that is entirely the wrong way round. When it does cite the Biblical text (with the exception of the treatment of blessing), it does not do so to draw an argument out of the text, but it cites it out of context and in a manner which offers nothing to the flow of the argument. It is just there as a token.
That the Bishops who wrote this document treat the Bible like this is not a surprise: one only has to listen to their sermons (especially in comparison with the great expositionary preachers) to know how little the bulk of the Bishops in the Church respect the text. But it is still a disgrace that this is the best they have to offer to justify their innovation. If anything, this appendix is so poorly argued that it bolsters the case that the prayers of love and faith is a step in the wrong direction.
In short, the current Bishops of the Church of England, with the exception of the twelve who have dissented from this paper, are simply an embarrassment to the Church, and to Christ. The mistakes they make are so basic that it is unbelievable that they think that anyone would take their work seriously. It doesn't take much analysis to show their errors: all one has to do is insert the definitions of the terms they use, and then work out the implications of what they are saying. Sadly, they are likely to get their way, and the seemingly unstoppable decline of the Church of England will continue.
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