What is proposed?
I read two significant articles in April 2017. The first was in The Mail on Sunday. It came from its paper's Religion Correspondent, Jonathan Petre. The headline was, African threat to 'plant' bishop in UK to defy Welby on gay Christians. It said the following:
"Conservative Anglican archbishops from Africa and Asia are plotting to create a new 'missionary' bishop to lead traditionalists in the UK – after warning that the Church of England is becoming too liberal on homosexuality … Archbishop Welby alarmed conservatives in February by issuing a letter softening his stance on homosexuality. In the letter, written with his counterpart in York, John Sentamu, he called for a 'radical new inclusion' for gays and a '21st Century understanding' of sexuality - apparently paving the way for the first formal services to celebrate gay couples.
The Archbishop of Nigeria, Nicholas Okoh, who chairs the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) group of conservative archbishops, said the 'distressing' letter had 'downgraded the historic and biblical mind of the Church'. Even more alarming for GAFCON leaders, however, is that the liberal Scottish Episcopal Church is expected to become the first Anglican body in the UK to approve full-scale gay marriage at its annual synod in June.
At least seven GAFCON archbishops, who represent a vast swathe of the world's Anglicans, will be at the five-day meeting starting tomorrow in Lagos, together with UK clergy. Although several options will be discussed, the most dramatic would involve African archbishops consecrating a new bishop who could then be 'parachuted' into the UK to minister to traditional parishes. Church of England leaders will see this as a highly unwelcome parallel Anglican Church set up without the permission of Archbishop Welby. It is thought the most likely candidate to become the first such bishop is Canon Andrew Lines, who runs the mission organisation Crosslinks in South London and who is already the chair of GAFCON UK."
That was written on 23 April 2017. On 30 April the GAFCON Archbishops "replied" via a Communique from the Primates Council to its members and supporters as follows:
"During our meeting, we considered how best to respond to the voice of faithful Anglicans in some parts of the Global North who are in need of biblically faithful episcopal leadership. Of immediate concern is the reality that on 8th June 2017 the Scottish Episcopal Church is likely to formalize their rejection of Jesus' teaching on marriage. If this were to happen, faithful Anglicans in Scotland will need appropriate pastoral care. In addition, within England there are churches that have, for reasons of conscience, been planted outside of the Church of England by the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE). These churches are growing, and are in need of episcopal leadership. Therefore, we have decided to consecrate a missionary bishop who will be tasked with providing episcopal leadership for those who are outside the structures of any Anglican province, especially in Europe … We believe that the complexity of the current situation in Europe does not admit of a single solution. Faithful Christians may be called to different courses of action."
Why is it proposed?
The second article I read, again at the end of April, was in the journal First Things. It was from the current May 2017 edition and included a section on bishops. It asked the question: "Why do our bishops lead in such ecclesiastically unhealthy ways?" It then gave four reasons.
"First, many of them were theologically and morally formed during earlier days of British Christendom, before secular forces in the culture became dominant. During those days, the church and the culture mostly got along. If they did not, the church simply tried to catch up to the culture. The church and her leaders were seldom at odds with the culture and its leaders.
Second, there are theological reasons for inept episcopal leadership. Liberal Protestantism's God, the 'God without wrath' who 'brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross' (as H. Richard Niebuhr put it) - has trouble saying 'No!' to anything except the racism, sexism, and other isms denounced by progressives. So do bishops who worship this God. As you might guess, these bishops believe this God is all - and I mean all! - about the grace of acceptance.
Third, some key bishops are progressive in their moral theology, or at least they have progressive sympathies. They have clearly taken sides in the current church struggle; they do all they can to support the progressive cause; and they are all too willing to intimidate the more evangelical and orthodox bishops on the Council of Bishops.
And, fourth, more than a few bishops lead in this way because of an articulated, or assumed, organizational calculation. This is what they figure: If they play the middle in this disagreement in their church, if they "reach out" to the progressives and the moderates and the traditionalists, if they try to please as many Anglicans as possible, if they create as many moral choices as possible for clergy and laity in the church, if they offend as few Anglicans as possible, if they work hard to "accommodate diversity," if they talk incessantly about the "unity" of the church (without substantive reference to doctrine, scripture, or truth), then they and their ministries will hold the Church of England together. Instead, their goal of accommodation is leading to a slow, continual erosion of the church."
But that was not written about our bishops in the Church of England. It was written by Paul Stallsworth, an American United Methodist pastor and about Methodist bishops. I just changed the word American to British in the first reason, and United Methodist and United Methodist Church to Anglican and Church of England in the fourth reason. However, as the cap fits, it can be worn! Certainly seeking "good disagreement" between the moral and the immoral, the current Church of England bishops' policy, finds a place in that fourth reason. In the world, of course, we need to work at "good disagreement" as we seek to help people come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. But in the Church it is a very different thing. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5.9-13:
"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people - not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler - not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. 'Purge the evil person from among you.'"
You obviously cannot have a bishop teaching that greed, idolatry, reviling, being a drunkard or swindling requires "facilitated conversations" to lead to "good disagreement" in the Church between those not guilty and those "guilty of greed or an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler". So why should those "guilty of sexual immorality" be an exception?
How do I respond to the GAFCON Primates? First, I thank them for proposing to consecrate one bishop as we need three such bishops. It will help orthodox Anglican church growth (with weekly only 1.5% of the population now in C of E churches). Consecrating a man such as Andy Lines, supposing the guess is right, will help meet the main need of the churches they specify - the ordaining of other men for ministry and helping with governance issues. I would, then, advise them to secure the consecration of Andy by bishops from churches like ACNA (the Anglican Church of North America) or REACH SA (the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa). These are both good Anglican churches that have valid clerical orders but are technically not "in communion" with the Church of England. This, actually, can help Andy's identity remain in the Church of England, and not set up a "parallel Anglican Church". So it can help with reforming the Church of England, particularly if he is required to declare his commitment to Church of England Canon A5, the C of E Canon of Canons. This says: "the doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal."