Outrage is one of the few certainties of our age. At times there is a good reason for anger, sometimes it’s misguided, and sometimes it’s a rhetorical weapon used for avoiding sensible discourse and argument. And yes, for third parties watching on it can be difficult to discern what is what.
Predictable parts of the media and progressive Christians are today fuming at Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop because he believes Anglicans should be Anglican.
The line that has particularly infuriated people is this,
“My own view is that if people wish to change the doctrine of our church, they should start a new church or join a church more aligned to their views – but do not ruin the Anglican Church by abandoning the plain teaching of Scripture. Please leave us.
“We have far too much work to do in evangelising Australia to be distracted by the constant pressure to change our doctrine in order to satisfy the lusts and pleasures of the world.”
Robyn Whitaker of Pilgrim Theological College tweeted in response,
There’s a redefinition of “Anglican” here that is terrifying and must be utterly rejected. Christianity has always tolerated a range of views. What is being advocated by @abpdavies is a fundamentalist cult.
First of all, Glenn Davies hasn’t redefined Anglican. He is doing what he’s supposed to do, namely upholding Anglican doctrine and practice, and calling out those who are creating fracture by introducing unAnglican ideas. Indeed, it is worth noting that at the very same event where Archbishop Davies gave this address, the Synod prayed for Jay Behan, a newly appointed Bishop over a new group of churches in New Zealand who have been forced to leave the Anglican Church of NZ because it has turned away from Anglican doctrine.
Whitaker’s use of language here is designed to paint Sydney Anglicans into a religious box where all fanatics and right-wing dangerous religious people belong. The reality is very different. Sydney Anglicans belong to mainstream and historic Christian faith which is practised by many other denominations in this country and across the world. You may not like or agree with the Sydney Anglican Diocese but calling them a cult is intellectually and morally disingenuous. Whitaker suggests “Christianity has always tolerated a range of views.”. No, and yes. Christians throughout history have agreed on some things being tertiary, but many other beliefs and practices are primary, and agree on these is necessary for continued unity and fellowship. Despite her implication, Anglicanism (as with Christianity) isn’t an endless spectrum of alternate theologies, as though I can believe whatever I want about God and call myself Anglican. Anglicanism consists of concrete beliefs and practices, which include the 39 Articles, and more important, beliefs and practices that are grounded in the Bible. As Melbourne’s Ridley College (an Anglican college) recently, stated,
“We are convinced that the biblical vision for human sexuality is clear. We also believe that it is beautiful, and that God’s commands are for our good as well as for his glory. The traditional path may be a hard one to travel, but it is the one we are called to take.”
It is interesting to note in light of her tweet that Whitaker’s own denomination (the Uniting Church), is squeezing out evangelicals who hold to the classical view of marriage. An example of this was reported in The Australian last week.
Jarrod McKenna also tweeted,
“It’s Jesus’ church. You don’t get to ask those you disagree with to leave”
Yes, it is Jesus’ Church, and that’s the point. The Lord Jesus Christ establishes and defines the Church, not us. So when people come along and declare that they no longer agree with Jesus, it is incumbent upon Churches to point this out and call them to repent. Should they decline and persist in holding to erring ideas, they ought to leave. Glenn Davies is simply acknowledging the Bible’s own processes on this matter, and it also makes sense. I should add, there is a difference between someone wrestling with the Bible’s teaching and someone who rejects the Bible’s teaching. There is an important distinction between someone struggling with doubt as they come to terms with biblical ethics and someone with knowledge deciding to say no. There is a difference between a person who is exploring the faith and a leader who has decided that no longer adhere to church doctrine.*
For example, if a member of a sporting club decides that they no longer hold to the values of the club, it is a matter of integrity that they move elsewhere. If a member of a cricket club insists that they no longer want to play cricket, but instead want to redefine the club as a lacrosse society, the right thing to do is for them to move to a sporting club that plays lacrosse.
Last month I wrote the growing schism in the Anglican Communion and argued at the time, “Of what use is a doctrinal statement if churches can freely ignore or reject articles without consequence? Of what benefit is a definition of marriage if churches and pastors can circumvent the rules and pursue alternate avenues without disciplinary procedures both defined and enacted? These clergy and churches have either broken fellowship or they have not.”
The Anglican Archbishop of Sydney is acting with pastoral awareness of the churches and is using commonsense.
If an Anglican no longer holds to Anglican beliefs and practices, they can no longer be described as Anglican in any meaningful way and so it’s a matter of integrity that one stops pretending to be so. If a football player changes clubs, it is inappropriate for them to wear the jumper of their previous club. Be honest about it and go support the team you’re now playing for.
I understand why some people don’t like what Glenn Davies has said. Some people may not agree with his views, but he is being consistent with the teaching and practice of Anglicanism (and indeed with that of Christian denominations around the world). As a leader of that Diocese, he has the responsibility under God to “encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9), “to contend for the faith” (Jude 3), and “to keep watch over the flock” (Acts 20).
What especially grieves me amidst this ongoing issue is not only the way progressives publicly misconstrue the true nature of mainstream Christian Churches but the fact that they also misconstrue to everyday Aussies the good news of Jesus Christ. The Gospel doesn’t affirm 21st Century sexual ethics, it is offers something better, more astonishing and good.
If I may defer to Ridley College once more,
“We acknowledge that homosexuality is a difficult topic to discuss. This is not because the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality is especially unclear, but because its implications are so deeply personal. We are Bible scholars, but we are also people. All of us have wrestled with God’s teaching on marriage on a personal level as it relates to those we love – our children, our friends, those we pastor – and indeed to our own lives.
“We rejoice with the many gay, lesbian and same-sex attracted men and women in our churches who love Jesus and are quietly committed to following him on this path, trusting him with their whole lives even, and perhaps especially, with their sex lives. The church as a whole can learn much from their example about what following Jesus looks like as we await his return. Jesus calls us to give up our lives, take up our cross, and follow him no matter the cost. If, for some of us, life has become a little too comfortable, a little too much like the world, incurring too little a cost, then we might look to these celibate gay, lesbian and same-sex attracted saints whose lives can serve as a living, breathing sermon, an example to follow, and a reminder not only of the cost of following Jesus but also that he is worth giving up anything to follow.“
*It should be noted that the Archbishop’s comments were directed toward bishops and clergy of the Anglican Church. This is a distinction that the media is overlooking