Comment: Andrea Minichiello Williams is a conservative evangelical member of the Church of England’s General Synod and CEO of Christian Concern.
In whatever way Wednesday’s vote in synod is spun, the real issue is not about same sex marriage but about the authority of the Bible in the Church of England.
The effect of the vote is that there is no change in doctrine or practice. Marriage remains, as it has for all Christendom, a life-long union between a man and a woman.
This moment presents a great opportunity for the House of Bishops to embrace that truth and to act to upholding it firmly within the church disciplining those that would seek to abandon the authority of the Bible, and whose actions will eventually bring down the Church by actively denying that truth.
The Bishops’ Report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships was in danger of weakening the Church’s teaching.
It sought to hold together two positions that are irreconcilable – the orthodox position holding to the teaching of Jesus Christ and his authority and the alternative position which seeks to revise his teaching and dismantle true marriage for the whole of society by insisting on acceptance of same sex marriage.
Jesus and his appointed apostles were very clear on marriage.
People in society expect the Church to believe and teach the Bible. What other authority does the Church have given that Jesus Christ himself put his stamp of authority on it?
Moreover, God’s people are called to be ‘set apart’ and clergy are to be examples to their people. Jesus and his appointed apostles were very clear on marriage and on disciplining those who persist in rebelling against him within the church.
A crucial fault line in Church of England politics today is that it has permitted people who openly defy the teaching of Jesus into positions of authority and influence. Male clergy who declare to synod their ‘marriages’ to men are applauded rather than rebuked, in spite of the fact that this is directly contrary to the Church’s teaching.
By contrast, when the Apostle Paul heard of a specific case of persistent sexual immorality in Corinth involving a person who claimed to be a Christian believer he acted decisively, urging that this person be immediately excommunicated. There is no stomach for such discipline today.
The Church can’t call right what its sole source of authority calls wrong.
What would Paul have said to the Bishop of Liverpool, an active LGBT campaigner who took to the floor of synod and pleaded with members to take note of the report because the language within it affirmed homosexual relationships?
The bishop said “Our explanation of maximum freedom will take us to places where we have not previously gone.” This indicated clearly the direction of travel he intended to take.
Repentance and forgiveness
I had wrestled long and hard about whether to ‘take note’ of the report. I was pleased that the Bishops had upheld the doctrine but realised as the debate progressed that the LBGT lobby would not stop until they got their way of full approval in the Church. The Church can’t call right what its sole source of authority calls wrong.
In closing the debate the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “To deal with that disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.
“This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual…the way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.”
Of course, it is right to recognise that we are made in the image of God. But we are left with the question what does radical inclusion mean? Jesus Christ dealt with all people, regardless of their sin, but he always moved to call us to repent of our sin, whatever the sin, and accept his forgiveness through his death on the cross.
This is the real radical inclusion of Jesus Christ’s message. Christians are people who believe that Jesus is Lord and that he knows what is best for us. He says that those who love him will do what he commands, without counting the cost.
I believe today is a great moment of opportunity for the Church of England. The schism has been laid bare. God’s people are looking for the bishops to lead with clarity and authority.
The Church of England has a cherished place in the life of our nation.
The Church of England has a cherished place in the life of our nation and its duty is to speak to government and the people of the hope that is found in following Jesus and his words.
Will the Church flourish as it holds out God’s way of life, and liberty, or will it wither and die, because it capitulates and seeks the approval of the world more than the love of God?
Providentially this vote means that the Church’s teaching on marriage is secure. The House of Bishops declared there to be no appetite amongst them for changing the Church’s official view. Now all we need is for them to follow through by uphold the teaching and disciplining those that brazenly seek to defy it.
Jesus Christ proclaimed that marriage is between a man and a woman. It is Him we follow.
An abridged version of this article appeared in The Daily Telegraph