Following on from my Evangelicals Now article on why I believe (as a dissenter) Evangelicals should quit the Church of England, I asked someone who is not confessionally Anglican to write why he thought it legitimate for Evangelicals to stay within the CofE. You can read that here. After that, a former Church of England minister who left the CofE explained why he thinks others should also leave. You can read that here. Yesterday, a serving Anglican minister told us why he thinks remaining is important and why he thinks others should stay. You can read that article here. Today, an academic theologian shares a short video and post on why he believes faithful Anglicans should leave the Church of England.
This is a guest video and post by Dr Frederik Mulder who runs Evangelical Platform. Views expressed in this video and the following post are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of this blog.
This written description is a shortened and slightly reworked summary of the attached video and should be read in conjunction with it.
Like most mainline Protestant churches, the CoE is struggling with the issue of same-sex unions or marriage. They recently published their 468-page tome, “LIVING IN LOVE AND FAITH” (LLF), and we have already seen diverse responses. Currently, there is one issue I feel compelled to discuss with conservative evangelicals:
At what point are we complicit in error when we participate in conversations at Synod, at deanery meetings and conversations with liberals? Put differently, at what point are we actually compromising the faith and doing something that the Lord Jesus Christ and Scripture commands us not to do?
In March 2017, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, made the extraordinary claim that conservative Christians who follow Jesus’ teaching on marriage between a man and women, who reject same-sex unions, is not only seen as immoral by our culture, but they are actually causing missiological damage. They are causing harm. His precise words were:
It would be particularly foolish for us to ignore the missiological damage that is done when [same-sex partnerships] which is held to be morally normative and desirable by much of society … is deemed morally unacceptable by the Church … I am not sure the church has ever before had to face the challenge of being seen as immoral by the culture in which it is set.
In 2019 Cottrell was appointed Archbishop of York, the second most senior position in the Church of England, and heartily welcomed by Archbishop Justin Welby. In December 2018, the House of Bishops (including longstanding evangelicals) approved a new pastoral guidance that broadened the existing rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith to provide a rich and generous space for trans people to celebrate their transition in public.
The appointment of Archbishop Cottrell represents, probably, a significant new phase in the CoE as is evident from the warm-hearted public conversations between him and Archbishop Welby. In one such conversation, on 17 December 2019, Cottrell said:
There’s been a text from Scripture that’s been running around my head for the last few weeks, which is, Jesus sent them out in pairs. I think we in the Church of England need to reflect on that a lot more. All ministry is meant to be partnership.
Dr Lee Gatiss is currently director of Church Society, probably the largest umbrella organisation for conservatives and evangelicals whose mission is to transform and reform the CoE from the inside. In his initial response to LLF, among other things, Lee said,
At a meeting I was at with various contributors to the LLF material, a bishop said that we need to keep looking at God’s word on this subject, because “obviously we have not done a good enough job yet.” We need to climb down from our positions and listen to each other, she said, hold our convictions provisionally, and keep learning. This sounds nice, and it is obviously a good thing to look at God’s word. But I was reminded of Paul telling Timothy that some people will be always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7). It is a characteristic of false teachers to always give us chewing gum in place of food.
Of course, claiming it is “a characteristic of false teachers to always give us chewing gum in place of food” is quite a striking phrase. But what we need to notice is the first sentence: “At a meeting I was at with various contributors to the LLF material, a bishop said …”. This is crucial because it is obvious that there must have been some LGBTQI activists and Bishops who already approve same-sex unions at this meeting (as the 2018 approval of a transgender liturgy by all the Bishops demonstrates). Lee actively participated in a meeting with these Bishops who are openly accommodating error and sin in the church; something the Lord Jesus Christ tells us not to do after hardening of hearts following earlier warnings (cf. e.g. Matt 18:15-17; in Paul, e.g. 1 Cor 5:9-11).
In Fight Valiantly! Contending for the Faith in the Bible and in the Church of England, his most elaborate and recent engagement with these issues, Lee provides us with creative and innovative ideas that can help us disassociate from error. In addition to such proposals as denying liberals a platform where possible, not attending denominational services with false teachers who remain undisciplined, not paying money into a diocesan pot, Lee also suggests:
It may mean only attending the business parts of a deanery meeting, and not attending spiritual or social events where we might give a false impression by being seen officially to mix or eat with those who claim to be Christians but are denying the gospel by their teaching and lifestyle (1 Corinthians 5).
Thus, Lee acknowledges that we must separate from those who openly teach error.
We could explore several books in the New Testament covering this issue, but for the purpose of this conversation, Paul’s first letter to Timothy is sufficient.
In 1 Tim 1:9-11 Paul mentions sins such as sexual immorality and those practicing homosexuality which is “contrary to sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God”. Thus, allowing these sins in the church, and even more so among Bishops and vicars, would be against sound doctrine for Paul.
In 1 Tim 4:1-7 Paul famously says:
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons… Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales.
In 1 Tim 6:11 Paul goes further, commanding Timothy to flee false doctrines and error: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness”. In his book, Lee is particularly good on gentleness, love and endurance and we can all agree with him and respect him for that. We must get our tone right as Paul writes to Timothy elsewhere (cf. 1 Tim 4:12; 5:1 etc).
In conclusion, 1 Tim 6:20 is key for our conversation, specifically for conservatives in mainline denominations where the liberals have taken over and/or where liberals teach error. Paul says to Timothy:
Guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing departed from the faith.
The Lord Jesus Christ tells us to turn away from such things, not attending meetings and Synods where those who teach these false doctrines have basically taken over the conversations. He tells us to turn away from it. If we do not do that; we will cause the sheep to stumble. If we do not turn around, if we do not separate ourselves from this, we will cause little lambs to be devoured by wolves (cf. John 10:1-14).
Christian friend, if you are wrestling with your conscience, can I plead with you, for the sake of Christ and your flock, for the love of Christ and the Gospel, not to compromise but to separate from those who are teaching these errors. Turn away from those meetings and Synods and join healthy churches. Indeed, reflecting on change, ecclesiastical restructuring and/or realignment, in January 2008 J.I. Packer said: “Idolizing the church, after all, betrays its Lord”. Of course, there are no perfect churches, but there are churches who are not debating this error.
May the Lord strengthen you; may you have the conviction not to look to your own identity and culture (cf. Phil 3:4-21), but the Scriptures first. There is life outside of mainline churches who have compromised the Gospel, abandoned Scripture, and is abandoning their flock by remaining.
Frederik Mulder website: https://evangelicalplatform.com/en/