The Church of England have published the Living in Love and Faith project. You can find out about what it is here. It is likely to be a major turning point for the Church of England and a watershed moment in its direction on biblical orthodoxy.
No sooner than the project was published, I noted the calls to pray for our brethren who are seeking to defend biblical orthodoxy in the CofE. And, to be sure, we should be praying for our brothers and sisters. What, exactly, we ought to be praying for them might be up for discussion, but pray for them we certainly should.
But some have gone further and not only insisted that we pray for our brothers and sisters in the Church of England, but that we ought to actively encourage them and we certainly shouldn’t criticise their choices. Some insist that it is hard to be in the Church of England (a point I don’t doubt) and so others should bear with them. Others are adamant that if we can’t be encouraging and affirm the decision to remain, we minimally shouldn’t say anything at all. It is, interestingly, a line of reasoning borrowed from those within their own communion who are currently asking them to affirm things they struggle to recognise as excellent too and to which their answer has always been ‘no’, so I’m not quite sure why the logic suddenly does apply in respect to decisions and position they do want affirming by others who don’t share their view.
Already, we are seeing claims that the Church of England may change its doctrine on by 2022. Obviously, there is nothing concrete about that and most, I suspect, will not do anything until such is confirmed. But the Living in Love and Faith project does not augur well. One does not tend to place, centre stage, those whose position actively undercuts the considered doctrine of the church if one isn’t intending to at least move somewhat on one’s position. It is, frankly, a bizarre move to platform- as part of a major project – those who would deny official church doctrine. That can only be part of a move to rethink it. Even those who have happily denied the resurrection within the church were not welcomed into projects where their heresy was fronted and given a platform as part of a ‘listening exercise’ for everyone to learn from each other. Generally, it has been ignored. That positions which undermine the official doctrine of the church are now being fronted does not appear to make for a happy trajectory.
Once again, Evangelicals find themselves in a difficult spot. For all the talk of understanding and encouragement, I think there are some other serious questions that need asking and answering honestly.
Firstly, is involving ourselves in a ‘listening exercise’ that holds up two positions legitimising both views? When the whole thing is being fronted by the archbishops, giving it an air of authority and significance that they have been quite keen to play up, is it not legitimising the process – suggesting that both views can and should be validly heard – simply by being involved?
Second, given that the bishops themselves are fronting this project and taking ownership of it, how do we justify our submission to those selfsame bishops?
Third, the calls to be encouraging at this time seem somewhat misplaced. I can think of no other scenario in which heresy is being openly peddled in which we would encourage people to be encouraging to those who want to remain in fellowship under those circumstances. I fully recognise that there are some tough, painful and costly decisions that may need to be made, but I cannot understand why Evangelical Anglicans would expect those of us who evidently think they should have left years ago for reasons worse than the presenting ones to encourage them to remain now.
Fourth, since when did it become wrong to criticise heterodoxy and to encourage those who would be in fellowship with it to remove themselves? What do we make of Eph 5:1-14 that tells us not so much as to speak of some of these things that some are intent on dragging us into speaking about them in formal fellowship? What are we to make of the passages that tell us to have nothing to do with those who peddle false teaching or who openly deny the faith (cf. 2 Thess 3:6; 1 Cor 15:33; 2 Tim 3:5, etc, etc)? Does remaining under such people, staying within the same communion with others and engaging in ‘listening exercises’ together with them fall foul of these things?
Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, will there ever be a line that cannot be crossed on which Evangelicals say ‘enough’? Certainly, Packer, Stott and others made some of these issues the line. Those of us from outside have considered the line to have been crossed long before now on far more serious issues. But is there a line? If this isn’t it, legitimising errant views at the highest echelons being as it is led by the archbishops, where is it? Is there a point at which our claims to contend are seen to be hollow?
I know my Anglican friends will view these questions badly. I don’t intend them to be. It seems to me (sincerely) that they do, indeed, need our encouragement. But I don’t think encouragement should necessarily take the form of affirming every decision, whatever it is. Those who are genuinely seeking to be faithful to Christ need to ask, seriously, what faithfulness means in practice and whether it can be attained from where they are. We should certainly want to encourage faithfulness and that inevitably means some difficult questions need to be asked.