In 2002, The Anglican Diocese of New Westminster, Canada, passed a motion to allow its ministers to conduct blessings of same-sex civil unions. In protest, a number of members of the Synod declared themselves out of communion with the bishop and the synod. One of those who separated themselves was the Anglican theologian, J. I. Packer.
While this happened almost 20 years ago on the other side of the world, many will recognise echoes with the current situation in the Anglican denomination in Australia. In case you have missed it, there is currently a debate within our denomination about whether the blessing of same-sex civil marriages is permissible within the Anglican denomination.
At its most fundamental level, this is not primarily a debate about same-sex marriage, or even human sexuality, but about the way in which God reveals himself and his purposes. There are, notes Packer, fundamentally two positions that challenge each other. One view holds the Bible as the authority which interprets experience. The other reverses this, holding that experience has the ultimate authority, and these then interpret Scripture. Packer expands:
One is the historic Christian belief that through the prophets, the incarnate Son, the apostles, and the writers of canonical Scripture as a body, God has used human language to tell us definitively and transculturally about his ways, his works, his will, and his worship. Furthermore, this revealed truth is grasped by letting the Bible interpret itself to us from within, in the knowledge that the way into God’s mind is through that of the writers. Through them, the Holy Spirit who inspired them teaches the church. Finally, one mark of sound biblical insights is that they do not run counter to anything else in the canon. . . .
The second view applies to Christianity the Enlightenment’s trust in human reason, along with the fashionable evolutionary assumption that the present is wiser than the past. It concludes that the world has the wisdom, and the church must play intellectual catch-up in each generation in order to survive. From this standpoint, everything in the Bible becomes relative to the church’s evolving insights, which themselves are relative to society’s continuing development (nothing stands still), and the Holy Spirit’s teaching ministry is to help the faithful see where Bible doctrine shows the cultural limitations of the ancient world and needs adjustment in light of latter-day experience (encounters, interactions, perplexities, states of mind and emotion, and so on). Same-sex unions are one example. This view is scarcely 50 years old, though its antecedents go back much further.
What does this mean for us? Let me draw out a few points.
Let me state up front that Trinity Church Brighton, and the Trinity Network as a whole, are committed to uphold the traditional Anglican (and we would argue, Biblical) position.
Firstly, we need to recognise that the current debate is just the latest theatre of the much conflict around larger issue of the authority of Holy Scripture. Within the Australian Anglican denomination, this debate has been ongoing for a long times (although around a number of different issues). It is not something new. Ultimately, it is a challenge to the authority of God’s word, the Bible.
Secondly, if the blessing of same-sex civil marriages were formally adopted it would represent a move away from orthodox Anglican theology. Article 20 (of the 39 Articles of Religion, our statement of doctrine) states “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another.” In other words, the ultimate authority lies with the Bible and not the church.
Thirdly, if the Anglican denomination nationally, or the Adelaide Anglican Diocese locally, formally adopted a position contrary to Scripture, it will become necessary for churches like ours to formally separate from them. This is an incredibly significant step and would not be taken lightly, but if the denomination legislated practices contrary to Scripture there would be no choice but to leave. For us at Trinity Church Brighton little would change. However, many of our brothers and sisters throughout the Anglican denomination could pay a higher price for holding faithfully to God’s word.
Lastly (and firstly), pray. Pray that God would grant repentance to those who reject the authority of his word. Pray that he would grant grace, patience and strength to those who hold firm. Pray for the debate that will go on around this issue, that it would be respectful and gracious. Pray for a resolution to this issue that will bring honour to God, commend Christ to those who have yet to put their trust in him, and grow his church in his love.
(Elements of this letter were sourced from the online article – https://www.crossway.org/articles/when-j-i-packer-walked-out/)
Pastor | Trinity Church Brighton
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