One thing worse than Sam Smith’s performance at the Grammys is the revisionist Bishops in the Church of England who are this week gaslighting both the sheep under their care and deceiving the general public.
Presumably, Sam Smith thinks that dressing up in a satan costume and performing a song called ‘unholy’ is making some kind of loud and shocking creative statement. Perhaps someone could tell him, he’s doing nothing more than copying a longish line of musicians. It is all rather boorish, except that mimicking the very personification of evil isn’t a particularly bright idea.
Over in old England land, ecclesiastical leaders have taken up that ancient inquisition of the Devil, by suggesting, “Did God really say?”
What have they done?
The Bishops in the Church of England wrote and issued a paper whereby they intend to introduce same-sex blessings services. They are not proposing same-sex weddings (at this stage), but wantng same sex blessing ceremonies. In other words, this change amounts to formally recognising same-sex relationships as a moral and God accepted good and that churches ought to offer services of prayer and blessing for these couples. Not every bishop agrees with the document, but clearly, there is sufficient consensus for its publication and presentation to General Synod for serious consideration.
In what can only be described as a dishonest riff, some Anglican leaders are insisting that the church’s doctrine on marriage isn’t changing…quite literally as they call for changes to the church’s understanding of sex and marriage. The same hypocrisy is being offered up by The Australian Law Reform Commission, albeit a legal entourage rather than a church one. Their recent submission to the Federal Government calls for religious schools to lose their freedom to practice traditional views of sexuality. For example, they are recommending legislation that allows Christian schools to teach a Christian view of sex and marriage, but they may also be required to teach alternate views. They will lose the right to employ staff on the basis of religious convictions. In other words, we’ll tolerate your religion so long as you tell and permit today’s sexology. That’s not compromise, it’s forced capitulation. That’s not co-existing with two unbridgeable views, that’s crossing over and demanding change.
This General Synod is happening on the other side of the world and in a Christian denomination that is different to my own, so why take interest in this debate? This particular case is important for several reasons: 1. I have many friends who pastor or who are members of churches in the Church of England. 2. The very public stature of this denomination (part through age and part through connections to the State) will garner significant media and public attention. 3. The Church of England is part of the worldwide Anglican communion which accounts for 10s million of believers, including Australia. 4. The same revisionist agenda playing out in the Church of England is present here in Australia, including among Baptists.
The flavour of the month is self-expression. In every sphere of life we are told that autonomy and self determination is an absolute, and questioning this ‘reality’ is the gravest of sins. From TikTok to the Bishop of York, the sermon proclaims that an individual’s sexual preferences and gender identity is the most fundamental aspect of reality…with a dash of God apparently giving approval. While this religious message will arouse a clap from the culture’s elites, notice how it doesn’t bring people to the cross or persuade them to follow Jesus and join a local church. What’s the point of Christianity if it does little more than mirror the culture’s messaging?
Numerous British MPs have responded to the House of Bishops’ recommendations and are demanding even more change. The Guardian reports,
“The repeal of a century-old act of parliament that allows the Church of England to govern itself is among options being considered by MPs frustrated at the church’s continued refusal to offer marriage equality to same-sex couples.”
…“If synod does not make greater progress than is contained in the bishops’ recommendations, I think parliament would take this matter very seriously,” said Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP and former cabinet minister.
…On Thursday, Bryant asked Penny Mordaunt, leader of the Commons, to “allow time for legislation to push the Church of England into allowing same-sex marriages to be conducted by parishes and clergy who want to do so, if synod does not act.” Equality campaigners suggested that Mordaunt’s reply – “I know this is an issue that many members of this house will wish to pursue” – left the door open for legislative action.
While the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has come out and said that he keeping the unity of the church is more important than remaining as the establishment church, he risks losing both.
Tim Keller recently wrote in The Atlantic,
“A church must conserve historic Christian teaching. If a church simply adopts the beliefs of the culture, it will die, because it has nothing unique to offer.”
That is true for churches in America and England and Australia
The irony of the revisionist message is that assimilation with the dominant culture’s doctrine doesn’t grow the church. The Churches less likely to decline and most likely to grow are those that hold to classical (yes, evangelical) beliefs, including on human sexuality and marriage. As one recent study found, in the Church of England the largest churches with the most young people are those that teach the traditional view of marriage.
There is something quite perturbing at work among the Bishops of England. I understand the nature of love and wanting to love others, and I even get how we might make the misstep of thinking that love requires acceptance. Of course, that isn’t true. Love requires disagreement at times. There are occasions when true love is required to say no.
As I have noted many times in recent years, the people who often most struggle through these conversations are godly men and women who talk about their own personal experiences with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, and who believe and are committed to God’s vision. They believe that a person’s deepest identity, whether single or married, is found in Jesus Christ. They are convinced that sex outside marriage is sinful. They hold that the most profound security and joy and contentment comes from knowing Jesus. They are right! When the church or its leaders cave into the sexual molasses of the day, we are mistreating and betraying these brothers and sisters.
Should the Church of England lose its official status in the land it will not have lost anything. Of course, you would say that Murray, you are Baptist after all! That is true, but any church that wants to get into bed with State rather than remaining Facebook friends is likely to wake up one morning with a hangover. Take a look at the orthodox church in Russia or the way some churches embed themselves in the United States with the Republican party or the Democrat party.
Like the insatiable appetite of Henry VIII, our cultural overlords will as quickly court you one day and send you to the Tower the next. To quote Jesus, you ‘lose your soul’ and society still thinks you’re an irrelevant silly group of people who dress up in funny clothes.
Few in churches are demanding an unchangeable sterile presence, as though wooden pews and particular clothes and the KJV is the way to do church today. We may consider our style and sense of presentation. After all, we want to communicate unchanging truths in understandable ways. However, one of the Bible’s basic and consistent messages is that biblical orthodoxy doesn’t make Christianity irrelevant to Melbourne or Sydney, London and Durham. To paraphrase from the Bible passage that I’m preaching this coming Sunday. It’s like a light shining into a dark place.
When the Apostle Paul told a young Timothy, ‘Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers’, he didn’t mean, adapt and change Christian teaching and life according to what is socially acceptable. The Bible’s vision for human sexuality was radical and counter cultural in the First Century and it remains so in the 21st Century. The Gospel offers what we need and cannot find in all the mountains and rivers and cities of the world: forgiveness, redemption and hope.
The light that appeared in the world 2000 years ago is described by John the disciple of Jesus as ‘grace and truth’. If the Lord Jesus is grace and truth, and we believe him, then his church will become a community of people who are defined by and filled with this grace and truth. Not choosing one or the other, not preferencing one or the other, but holding onto both because grace and truth belong together and cannot exist without the other. Sadly, there are some churches that think holding to truth means bashing people into submission; they are also in the wrong and need to repent. But we don’t fix one issue (finding grace) by removing the other critical component, truth. There is nothing loving about a church that blesses sexual unions outside monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.
We living in Australia, should take note of how this Synod plays out and learn important lessons about how we should and should not proceed in our denominations. More importantly, we Christians living in Australia might like to pray for this Synod and ask the Father for his mercy, for repentance and for churches to uphold sound doctrine and godliness, for the sake of the people of England and the glory of God.