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.