“I would urge those bishops who believe that unrepentant active homosexuality is wrong not to compromise their own beliefs, the scriptures, the church of God and the holiness of Christ. If they have already accepted the invitation they should repent and apologise. It is not good to go back on your word. But you should not have given it in the first place. And
to reinforce your error of judgement by attending is to make the same mistake as Herod when he executed John the Baptist. Such faithfulness to your word and promise is perverse rationalisation for continued wrongdoing.
To those bishops who go to Lambeth knowing that unrepentant homosexual activity is wrong - your profession of evangelical credentials will always be tarnished. You cannot expect God's people to trust you as you pick and choose which parts of the Bible apply to others and apply to you.
Actions have divisive effects. You are now put under incredible pressure to act on an issue that is not your own choosing. But you cannot avoid the consequences of your action. Attending is to fellowship with false teachers in their wicked work. It cannot help but diminish faithful Christians' confidence in you as a leader. To believe otherwise is a further illustration of the naivety, which leads you to attend.”
These are strong words by Dean Philip Jensen (Sydney), at the conclusion of a paper on the Limits of Fellowship. They come after an extensive Bible study on false teaching. I do not think I can fault the general argument here, that false teachers should not be fellowshipped with. I could not, for example, share in eucharistic fellowship with a member of the Jehovah’s Witness, or offer the eucharist to a Hindu. I could enter into dialogue with a Jehovah’s Witness and a Hindu, but I could not share the pulpit with either in the context of an authorised service of worship.
But I do fault these words: “To those bishops who go to Lambeth knowing that unrepentant homosexual activity is wrong - your profession of evangelical credentials will always be tarnished. You cannot expect God's people to trust you as you pick and choose which parts of the Bible apply to others and apply to you.” And I do fault the particular judgement that presupposes Philip Jensen’s anti-Lambeth line, false teacher bishops will be present therefore true teacher bishops should not be, namely that the TEC bishops confirming the election and taking part in the consecration of Gene Robinson are false teachers. They may be false teachers. Clearly a number of Anglicans think they are. As a matter of fact I am one of those.
But these American bishops do not think they themselves are false teachers, and a number of Anglicans within TEC and beyond either agree with them or have resolved to make no judgement for the time being, while considering all sides of the matter. Further, the Communion as a corporate body has not yet made the decision that they are false teachers.
At first sight Lambeth 1.10 (1998) declares the true teaching of the Anglican Communion on unrepentant homosexual activity. But at second sight this resolution, on any supposition of fair legal dealing, needs strengthening in at least two ways before we could say that the Communion has decided they are false teachers: (i) spelling out what actions or statements would constitute ‘false teaching’ measured against this resolution; (ii) confirmation of the resolution in 2008 after ten further years of reflection and debate.
Thus it is quite fair and proper for evangelical bishops of the belief that unrepentant homosexual activity is wrong to participate at Lambeth 2008. If there is any tarnishing of reputation around Lambeth – and I humbly suggest there is none because there is so much scrutiny these days of episcopal imperfections in understanding of Bible and canons that all are liable to be found faulty – it should not be on those who attend Lambeth. Bishops should go to Lambeth in order to see what progress can be made on settling the matter of what is true teaching and what is false teaching according to the theology of the Anglican Communion. When the council of the early church met to sort out disputes (and indeed pretty much every other council since) it included all sorts of teachers, some of whom, if they did not toe the line of the conclusions of the council would become false teachers. But the council did not prejudge who was true and false until it met (Acts 15).
Only when we have settled once and for all as a Communion what is true and what is false might any one warn evangelical bishops about the danger of their reputations being tarnished. And as for this grim warning, “You cannot expect God's people to trust you as you pick and choose which parts of the Bible apply to others and apply to you” – please take me to the bishop who does not do this. How wonderful to serve under her or him. And how tough that bishop must be on clergy in their jurisdiction who seek remarriage after a divorce.