Last week I wrote to Biblically faithful Anglican bishops who are considering attending the upcoming 2020 Lambeth Conference of Bishops. The upcoming Lambeth Conference of Bishops is one of the four existing “Instruments” or global structures of the Anglican Communion and is compromised and becoming dysfunctional, as the 2016 Communique from the Global South Conference observed:
“The prolonged failure to resolve disputes over faith and order in our Communion exposes the Communion’s ecclesial deficit, which was highlighted in the Windsor Continuation Group Report (2008).
28. This deficit is evident in the inability of existing Communion instruments to discern truth and error and take binding ecclesiastical action. The instruments have been found wanting in their ability to discipline those leaders who have abandoned the biblical and historic faith. To make matters worse, the instruments have failed to check the marginalization of Anglicans in heterodox Provinces who are faithful, and in some cases have even sanctioned or deposed them. The instruments have also sent conflicting signals on issues of discipline which confuse the whole Body and weaken our confidence in them.
“… for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
29. The instruments are therefore unable to sustain the common life and unity of the Anglican Churches worldwide, especially in an increasingly connected and globalising world, where different ideas and lifestyles are quickly disseminated through social media. This undermines the mission of the Church in today’s world.” (emphasis added)
Sadly, nothing has changed since 2016. In fact, the crisis of false teaching (the Gospel deficit) and the lack of discipline (the ecclesial deficit) has grown worse. As I noted last week, the very definition of the “Communion of Anglican Churches” has been diminished to a mere creature of history, sociology and secular values associated with alternative dispute resolution. Therefore, biblically faithful Bishops who choose to attend Lambeth 2020 will have no common ground to stand on with regards to the authority of the Holy Scriptures over the Church. In their faithfulness, their voice will be treated (somewhat) respectfully by established authorities who do not share their convictions. In the end, faithful Bishops can expect the Archbishop of Canterbury and those organizing the 2020 Lambeth Conference to appeal to the secular values of dispute resolution—“good disagreement” and “indaba”—that will continue to result in decisions that promote both the gospel deficit and the ecclesial deficit among the Communion of Anglican Churches.
The faithful bishops who attend Lambeth will probably be shepherded by Anglican Communion Office “minders” to various huddles and gatherings apart from their fellow Biblically faithful bishops. In past conferences, their comments have been mysteriously omitted from official reports leaving no opportunity for dissent. They were also shepherded to a “photo-op” with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other bishops. If you are a Biblically faithful bishop present at Lambeth 2020, your smiling presence in the conference photograph will be taken as your unconditional public approval of what is expected to be the reversal of Resolution 1.10 (1998), the Biblical standard among Anglicans on the clarity and authority of the Bible as it speaks to matters of human sexuality, marriage, Holy Orders and leadership standards within the Church.
Dear Bishops, what else can you expect on the agenda of the Lambeth 2020 Conference of Bishops?
The Anglican Communion Office Strategic Plan and the Redefinition of Anglican Identity
Last week, I pointed out that in the Anglican Communion Office Strategic Plan 2019-2025 (December 2018 Consultation Draft) the Anglican Communion Office (ACO) promises to serve the Communion—including its Bishops and dioceses—with the “Christ like values” of hospitality, humility, respect and openness “to all points of view”—including, presumably, such false teaching that contradicts the plain and grammatical reading of the Scriptures! The ACO selectively omits such Christ-like values as holiness of life, obedience and faithfulness to God’s word, speaking truth to sexual brokenness, and lovingly demonstrating the power of God to set people free from all manner of sin, sickness and brokenness.
In addition, the Strategic Plan 2019-2025 identifies as its third “Strategic Objective” the following definition of “Anglican identity”:
“The ACO will support the Instruments and Commissions of the Communion in defining and explaining Anglican Identity in the context of its long history of living as a community in unity and diversity…”
Please note that there is no reference or even acknowledgement of the Scriptures, the Creeds or the Anglican formularies (The Thirty-Nine Articles, The Book of Common Prayer 1662 and its Ordinal) as providing the authoritative limits within which such Anglican diversity is practiced.
In the next bullet point, The Strategic Plan further pledges,
“The ACO will support the development of an understanding of Communion that recognizes the place of diversity, and that finds ways to live with difference and acknowledge and respect different interpretations of Scripture and tradition.”
Again, this redefinition assumes (1) an abandonment of the Biblical confession of faith that we find in our Anglican formularies, (2) that the Bible cannot be read in a plain and grammatical sense that is authoritative for all, and therefore (3) that there are no limits to Anglican diversity. Dear Bishops, how do you square this program of redefinition of Anglican identity with the Fundamental Declarations in your own constitution and canons, both provincial and diocesan?
The Strategic Plan goes on to hint at what and whom may be driving the redefinition of Anglican identity when it concedes that, “Provincial Contributions [to the ACO] have been dominated by two Provinces providing 67% of the total [income]” and identified “Risk 403,” “Concentration of income from small number of provinces with vulnerability to loss of support from a significant Province.”
Does anyone want to hazard a guess who that “significant Province” is and the support they may be threatening to withdraw if things don’t go their way? (Hint: It’s not the Anglican Church in North America).
The Strategic Plan concedes that shared leadership and governance by the existing Instruments of Communion “has the potential to lead to confusion and ambiguity,”—an understatement of the last thirty years if ever there was one. But its proposed solution is even more likely to diminish Anglican conciliar governance by locating it in an ever-diminishing circle:
“This plan therefore invites consideration of whether the structure and governance arrangements of the Anglican Communion should be reviewed. It is suggested that, if desired, this could be undertaken following the Lambeth Conference 2020 by a Joint Meeting of Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council (which has not had a Joint Meeting since 1993).”
Please remember that it was the 2016 Anglican Consultative Council (Zambia) that challenged the authority of the 2016 Primates gathering to discipline The Episcopal Church USA and defiantly permitted TEC to participate in the legislative processes of ACC-16. This proposal, which will almost certainly be among the documents shaping the Lambeth 2020 Conference, further diminishes the unique and historic role of Bishops in guarding the faith, order, doctrine and discipline of the Church—a principle which is firmly recognized among the Communion of Anglican Churches.
Dear bishops, do you wish to be a party to the weakening of your own Biblical, historic role as guardians of the faith? What would the Apostle Paul say about this?
People have corrupted the Church with false teaching that has even invaded public worship (2 Tim. 3:2-5)
If we can imagine Paul as a “senior Bishop” writing to Timothy a “younger Bishop,” listen to his words:
“People will be lovers of themselves…lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of Godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” (emphasis added)
In these three verses, Paul employs no fewer than 19 expressions to describe people—including leaders within the Church—who are leading people astray. As John Stott observes, “four of the 19 expressions are compounded with ‘love’ (phil- ) suggesting that what is fundamentally wrong with these people is that their love is misdirected.” This is a very timely and relevant description of those who promote teaching in the Anglican Communion that is contrary to the clarity and authority of the Bible– with misdirected love for justice and inclusion above the loving truth and power of God that suffuses the Gospel that we find in the Scriptures. This is the Gospel that Thomas Cranmer and other Anglican Reformers rediscovered in the Reformation—a gospel which promises new birth and freedom from self-centeredness by turning us from “self to unself,” says Stott in The Message of 2 Timothy, “a real reorientation of mind and conduct, and which makes us fundamentally God-centered instead of self-centered” (at p. 86).
Dear bishops, as you consider the assumptions underlying the Lambeth Conference 2020 and the Strategic Plan 2019-2025, are you facing a form of Godliness that denies its power?
No wonder the Apostle Paul says “have nothing to do with them.” Paul is not talking here about people outside the church who are caught up in sin and brokenness. Jesus himself was the friend of publicans and sinners! No, Paul is talking about people within the Church who promote a false gospel. As Stott observes:
“Paul means rather that within the church, for he has been giving a description of a kind of ‘heathen Christianity’. Timothy was to have nothing to do with what might be called ‘religious sinners.’ Indeed, one could go further. Anybody whom the Book of Common Prayer terms ‘an open and notorious evil liver’ should be disciplined, and, if he remains unrepentant, excommunicated (cf. I Cor. 5:5, 13).” (at p. 88)
And yet this is precisely what has failed in Anglican Communion leadership in the last 30 years. This is the heart of the “ecclesial deficit,” the inability of the Instruments, including the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, to confront “religious sinners,” to apply discipline, and to excommunicate them when they are defiant and unrepentant. When these Instruments, these “councils of the Church,” are incapable of saying “no” to false teaching, and only capable of saying “yes” as the Strategic Plan provides, all hope of discipline is lost.
Paul anticipates the very question that begs answering—“How did we come to this place?”
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
Since 2002, when the Diocese of New Westminster (Canada) authorized rites for the blessing of same sex unions, and The Episcopal Church elected and consecrated a partnered homosexual as a bishop of the Church, a multitude of Anglican teachers have been permitted free rein to turn ears away from sound doctrine and truth to error. For almost 20 years Anglican bishops and other leaders, synods and whole provinces have promoted teaching that contradicts the plain reading of the Bible. Typically, this false teaching has been around issues of human sexuality, marriage and holy orders. But in the process, the clarity and authority of the Bible has been upended and cast into doubt. This teaching has been pervasive, relentless, unrepentant and “prophetically disobedient.” It is accelerating and being exported to your provinces and dioceses by money and organizations from the West.
If you are still unaware or unconvinced of these facts and what is at stake, you can find it documented in “Beyond the Breaking Point—The Loss of Conciliarism in Principle and Practice within Anglican Governance” in Anglican Conciliarism (Anglican House, 2017).
If you’re still not convinced that the crisis of false teaching and lack of discipline is accelerating, just consider what has happened in the last three weeks
- In January, Kevin Robertson, a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada, married his same-sex partner. In February, the Archbishop of Canterbury invited him to Lambeth Palace, along with other new Anglican bishops.
- The Episcopal Church Diocese of Maine elected as Bishop a partnered homosexual. His consecration is expected to take place before Lambeth 2020 and no doubt he too will be invited
- In his most recent letter, the Bishop of Bangor (Wales) reveals he now believes that same-sex couples should be able to marry in the church.
- Three candidates have been announced for the new Bishop of Glasgow. One, Kelvin Holdsworth, is an LGBT campaigner and has allowed a reading from the Quran which said, “Jesus is not the son of God,” in the cathedral.
Of course, some say it’s really not that bad. Consider one of the planners of the Lambeth 2020 Conference, the Archbishop of Cape Town South Africa, who said in this interview with the Anglican New Service:
“As said in Sepedi [the language of Northern Sotho]: one bangle doesn’t ring, two bangles will make a beautiful noise. So we are never alone in this journey.
“Whether you agree with where the communion is, whether you don’t agree, come and express your difference in this beautiful space which is a gift from God. Don’t just stay at home and say ‘I’m not going’.
“We want to hear that voice. It’s not a conference of like-minded people; it is a conference of Anglicans. I mean, for God’s sake, Anglicans, from our inceptions, we’ve always had push and pull. So push and pull should not be a distraction, but it should be celebrated.”
Dear bishops, would the Apostle Paul have said to Timothy, “For God’s sake Timothy, have some push and pull with these false teachers. Celebrate your differences!”
Of course, there’s a deeper problem with the Archbishop’s statement. He minimizes the relentless, unrepentant and accelerated false teaching and lack of discipline over the last 20 years as mere “push and pull.”
Dear bishops, at what point does such obfuscation and minimization of the facts cross the line into deception?
This week, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to the primates suggesting a season of repentance and prayer across the Communion to coincide with Lent 2020, and in preparation for Lambeth 2020.
May I offer a suggestion? Why wait. Why not demonstrate genuine repentance now?
- By the Archbishop of Canterbury reaffirming Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) as a precondition for being invited to and participating in Lambeth 2020;
- By withdrawing invitations to bishops who have violated Lambeth I.10 (1998) until they have publicly repented of their actions; and
- By inviting the archbishops and bishops of ACNA and Brazil to participate on the basis of their affirmation of Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998)
Until that happens, dear bishops, what should you do?
May I humbly suggest you follow the admonition of the Apostle Paul: Have nothing to do with them.
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is President & CEO of the American Anglican Council.