Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Philip Jensen is wrong

“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.


Bill said...
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Anonymous said...

Hello Bill

I do not think I am much more hopeful than you about where all this might lead, but I see Lambeth as 'one last chance'.

Would it be a stalemate if all GAFCON bishops turn up at Lambeth? I would like to think not, but I see conservatives losing any votes if the GAFCON bishops stay away.

I understand the Sydney decision, and certainly acknowledge individual bishops or groups of bishops making a judgement call about 'false teaching' and consequently deciding to withdraw fellowship.

To go on from that stance to call into question the judgement of fellow evangelicals who assess the situation regarding Lambeth differently is quite a call to make. The language Philip Jensen uses about those evangelical bishops who will go to Lambeth does little to enhance fellowship between evangelical Anglicans outside of Sydney and those within Sydney.

Bill said...

(deleted in error from above - now reinserted without change)

I would agree with your point if I thought that:

a. There is a possibility that either the DNWC/TEC bishops of Canada and America may yet be persuaded of their error, or those who continue to uphold the 2,000 year understanding of the meaning of 1 Cor 6:9 will realign with the progressive view of the DNWC/TEC, or 

b. There is a procedural need to make it clear one way or another by meeting as in Acts 15.

My understanding is that this has already been thoroughly worked through by all the parties, and with the assistance of modern communications the Acts 15 precedent has been fully satisfied.

I support the decision of ADS not to attend for three reasons:

1. It is clear to me that there is an unbiblical, progressive agenda held by DNWC/TEC of which the decision to appoint practising gay bishops is merely a symptom.

2. From the perspective of the secular media a stalemate between GAFCON and DNWC/TEC representatives at Lambeth would communicate confusion, when really the positions and consequences are very clear.

3. There is an urgent need to move on and tend the sheep. Lambeth would add expense and delay. GAFCON will provide leadership for biblical Anglicans.

I applaud and support Archbishop Peter Jensen and the ADS for the decisive, sensitive and loving leadership they have shown.

Bill said...

Yes, Peter, possibly, but is there not a danger that efforts to conciliate will obscure the seriousness of the apostasy? My view is that too many Anglicans under poor, even deceptive leadership, are adopting the secular mind. The media feeds this as well. We become so dulled by the fine points of theology, so distracted by busy lives, that we simply prefer to go with the flow. At least Phillips Jensen’s confronting remarks cause need to polarize. If we’re so disinterested in living in Christ that we fall in behind the progressives because we don’t like his style, then there’s not much hope for us anyway.

It makes it so much easier to get along in the world without being singled out for criticism. But we’re called to be different, even though it will cost us. If it had not been for the willingness of Augustine, Tyndale, Cramner and many others being willing to hold to biblical truth where would we be now?

Anonymous said...

I agree, Bill, that conciliation can avoid confronting the seriousness of apostasy etc. But it is difficult to confront apostasy when the apostates are in Kent and the confronters are in Judea!

I certainly hope that no evangelical bishop going to Lambeth will be satisfied with some compromising verbiage compatible with secularism as the outcome.

I acknowledge that the holding of GAFCON is a means of confronting current issues in the Communion. It is not, however, the only means available at this time.

Stephen said...

Well, I won't be going to Lambeth, so there.