‘The authority of the Bible must not be superseded’

The debate on sexuality within the Church of England actually centres on the authority of the Bible, which “must not be superseded”, one of its senior clergyman has said.

Writing in the Church Times, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, outlined what he regards as the main arguments being put forward to challenge the Bible’s teaching on sex and marriage.

Dismissing them each in turn, he said the Bible must remain the Church’s one true authority if Christians are to “maintain a faithful witness to Jesus Christ and the gospel”.


Revd Henderson noted that one frequent appeal for change is often framed in terms of the “responsibility to show love, welcome and compassion to all, regardless of their sexual identity”.

“This powerful voice of experience is, however, becoming a more important driver and authority than scripture itself in our ethical decision-making”, he said.

According to Revd Henderson, another argument is that it is “unreasonable to ask for celibacy outside of heterosexual marriage”.

“The call to deny ourselves and take up our cross”, he added, “is not popular these days, even though we often pray in our liturgy that we may be sent out as a living sacrifice for his praise and glory. But this is the call of Jesus.”

Salt and light

Outlining a third argument, the Bishop said some members of the Church of England express a “concern to remain connected with our culture for the sake of mission”.

the Christian community has never been called to popularity

Rt Revd JulianHenderson

But he stressed that the “Christian community has never been called to popularity” and that the “gospel is an offence because of its call for repentance, and because of its focus on what Jesus has done for us that we could not do for ourselves”.

Quoting the words of Jesus, he said: “Woe to you, if all people speak well of you” (Luke 6:26), and noted that the disciples were called “to be different, to stand out, to be salt and light”.

Revd Henderson concluded: “This current debate is, therefore, not so much about sexuality as the place, interpretation, and application of the Bible in our life as a Church. Its authority must not be superseded by pastoral, anthropological, and missional arguments, if we are to maintain a faithful witness to Jesus Christ and the gospel, in this generation and for those who follow”.

Shared Conversations

The Bishop was writing as the Church of England’s General Synod undertakes what it is calling ‘Shared Conversations’, on its understanding of sexuality. The Synod is meeting in York between 8 and 12 July.