Saturday, 4 June 2011

DURHAM PROMOTION NO CAUSE FOR EVANGELICAL JUBILATION

The appointment of the current Dean of Liverpool Cathedral, the Very Revd Justin Welby, as the new Bishop of Durham looks on the face of it like a significant boost for Anglican orthodoxy. But evangelical jubilation needs to be tempered by sober and indeed humble reflections by all of us who call ourselves orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England.

Justin Welby's preferment to a senior bishopric would seem to support Church Commissioner the Revd Stephen Trott's view, articulated recently at a Reform regional consultation, that the balance of the House of Bishops is now tipping in a more orthodox direction.

Prior to ordination when he worked for the oil industry, Mr Welby, 55, had a very sound spiritual background as a member of Holy Trinity Brompton, the evangelical charismatic flagship church in central London, and also as a leader in the more conservative evangelical Iwerne Minster ministry to England's top private schools.

There are no concrete signs in the conduct of Mr Welby's ordained ministry so far that he has forsaken the biblical convictions of his youth on Christian faith and morals. So working with the Anglican charitable assumption one can take it that the Bishop of Liverpool’s presidential address at diocesan synod last year put him in a very awkward position.

According to Liverpool diocese’s own website, Bishop Jones ‘proposed that we can move “towards allowing a variety of ethical conviction about people of the same gender loving each other fully” and that he believes “the day is coming when Christians who equally profoundly disagree about the consonancy of same gender love within the discipleship of Christ will in spite of their disagreement drink openly from the same cup of salvation”.’

What should Mr Welby have done in response to this astonishing statement that righteousness and wickedness can happily co-habit in the visible Church of the Lord Jesus Christ? Publicly repudiated the statement by his diocesan bishop?

That would certainly have been a commendable and courageous response given the gravity of Bishop Jones's departure from biblical authority. But had Mr Welby done so what is the likelihood that he would have been appointed a diocesan bishop?

Cranmer's Curate would be the last person to suggest that such a response would be easy. For any of us frontline clergy publicly to declare that our bishop has departed from sound doctrine puts us in a very difficult situation.

And that situation is going to get more difficult. Ministry reviews are now compulsory for clergy moving onto the new Common Tenure arrangement. A Bible-believing Anglican minister who refused to participate in a ministry review with a bishop he considered to be a false teacher would put himself in the territory of the Clergy Discipline Measure.

The Liverpool affair prompts the sobering thought that Mr Welby’s preferment to the third most prominent See in the Church of England is very far from being a cause for triumphalism about the inside strategy for Anglican Evangelicals.

10 comments:

  1. Hi Julian. thanks for linking to my post, however it is an entirely personal response rather than an attempt to speak for evangelicals in general. As you know, this is not a subject where Anglican evangelicals speak with one voice anyway. The "inside strategy" does not mean a great deal to me, indeed in many ways I would rather have a liberal Bishop who allows mission-centred parishes to flourish than a conservative one who manages the Diocese poorly and fails to encourage evangelism and church growth (there have been examples of both).
    I just find Justin Welby's CV interesting, and see that he has the potential to be an effective advocate for the gospel in the pubic sphere, which is what we need most from our Bishops. Whether he is or not, time will tell.

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  2. I find the suggestion that a clergyperson under Common Tenure should refuse to take part in a ministerial development review because he believes his Bishop is a "false teacher" breathtakingly arrogant. Does that same clergyperson expect to have every part of their doctrine and faith inspected by their bishop? Of course not. Are bishops fallible? Of course they are. Does any of them have a monopoly on the truth? Of course not. And does any other clergy person have such a monolpoly? No.

    Why is it that when the question involves sex, and epxecially homosexuality, bits of the church tie themselves in knots about doctrine? Maybe the same parts of the church should get as upset about people losing their homes due to global warming, or people starving to death due to corporate greed and the inability of the west to manage its trade and its economies. Didn't Jesus say something about feeding the hungry and healing the sick? I didn't hear him saying a great deal about persecuting the homosexuals.

    Come on - let's allow God's grace to work in all those called to ministry, whether they are "sound" according to one particular evangelica tradition or not.

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  3. Julian, two quick thoughts:

    (1) Are we in favour of "triumphalism" in any case? (as per your last sentence)

    and

    (2) If indeed there are "no concrete signs in the conduct of Mr Welby's ordained ministry so far that he has forsaken the biblical convictions of his youth on Christian faith and morals" then should we not refrain from rushing to judge? We do not know what he may or may not have said in response to the Bp of Liverpool last year - in fact wouldn't it be true to say we have no real idea at all whether he raised this in private, or indeed whether he may or may not have preached / said anything publicly about it, unless we have access to all he has said or done on all this?

    Having said all that, he may have hopelessly compromised - but there is no evidence for this at the moment is there?

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  4. Thank you David. Yes I agree we're not in favour of triumphalism but rejoicing is right when appropriate.

    Re your point 2, the minutes of the Liverpool diocesan synod would give an indication as to who repudiated Bishop Jones's statement and upheld the teaching of the Bible.

    Certainly for a dean publicly to clash with his diocesan at synod would be very unusual and would be widely reported.

    I hope I can say this humbly but I honestly believe that a public statement by a diocesan bishop at a synod to the effect that it is acceptable for professing Christians to disobey the commands of Christ in the Holy Scriptures would call for a public repudiation by any member of the synod.

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  5. Just further on 'triumphalism'. I remembering going to an evangelical Anglican leaders' conference in the '90s where there was considerable triumphalism about the growing number of evangelical bishops & archdeacons etc. Indeed the newly consecrated Bishop Jones (then suffragan of Hull) was one of the speakers.

    But much of this promotion seems to have taken place in the shadow of Martyn Lloyd Jones's warning in his famous clash with John Stott in '60s about the danger of evangelical compromise.

    I believe he was wrong to suggest that evangelicals should leave the Church of England but careerist compromise is a real danger for us evangelicals in the Church of England.

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  6. I hope I can say this humbly but I honestly believe that a public statement by a diocesan bishop at a synod to the effect that it is acceptable for professing Christians to disobey the commands of Christ in the Holy Scriptures would call for a public repudiation by any member of the synod.

    Well, first of all, Christ has nothing to say on the subject of homosexuality in Holy Scripture. Leviticus and Paul do, but Christ does not.

    But as for clear commands of Christ in Scripture, the command to eschew violence, not to resist, and to love your enemy is very clear, and this has not prevented bishops in the Church of England (including evangelicals) from sanctioning war.

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  7. Thank you Mr Chesterton for your comment.
    Christ did address the subject of homosexuality through his chosen Apostle Paul to whom he appeared personally on the road to Damascus. To say that Christ did not address the subject is to drive a wedge between Christ and his Apostles.

    You are absolutely right in your suggestion that not just evangelicals have sanctioned war. The late Dr Robert Runcie, a theologically liberal Archbishop of the Church of England, believed the first Gulf War was just. Indeed, he had fought gallantly against fascism in World War II.

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  8. Adrian: if you think reproving sin is a species of 'persecution' then it's clearly your own psyche that's tied up in knots. It may be cathartic for you to declare any personal interest that may be distorting your thinking.

    Tim: as well as endorsing Julian's response above, I would add that Jesus (a) teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman, and (b) outlaws sex outside that union. It's really not hard to join the dots.

    On the other hand, Jesus' teaching on non-resistance is anything but one-sided: see Luke 22:36,38. Why did he never say to a centurion, "Go and sin no more"? But he did to a sexual sinner.

    I mention this because you implied that Jesus was more concerned about "non-resistance" than sexual purity. The above example shows precisely the opposite.

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  9. First, Jesus did not 'teach' that marriage is between a man and a woman. That was not the question he was asked to address. The question he was asked to address was the permissibility of divorce, not the permissibility of gay marriage (Divorce, by the way, is an issue on which evangelicals seem to have developed much more flexibility than on homosexuality. Maybe it's because there are more divorced Christians than gay Christians).

    Second, if Jesus' command for his disciples to pack their swords and his comment that two swords were 'enough' was intended to be a literal command to his disciples to defend themselves with swords (presumably in response to persecution), then why do we never read of them doing so in Acts, even when they were violently attacked? Why, just a few hours later, does Jesus command Peter to put away his sword because all who take the sword will die by the sword?

    Thirdly, if we are going to take the argument from silence ('Jesus never said to a centurion "Go and sin no more") as conclusive, I also note that although he is recorded as being followed by tax collectors and prostitutes he is never recorded as telling a prostitute to give up her trade. And if you respond by saying that his commands about sexual purity should surely be extended to mean that prostitutes have to leave their trade, then I would reply that if this is the case, then surely his commands to love our enemies and not to resist and evildoer should be extended to mean that soldiers should leave their trade too.

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  10. Durham website quoting The Times at http://www.durham.anglican.org/news-and-events/news-article.aspx?id=197:

    "On other issues he is still circumspect. Like most senior churchmen, he is heartily sick of the endless debate on sexuality, though he condcedes that it has become a lightning rod revealing deeper splits. “It is really all about how power and authority are exercised in the Church. And here there are widely diverging positions.” Although his instincts are liberal, he finds the vituperation on both sides unacceptable."

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