You may – or may not – have heard something about a meeting of archbishops from across the world in Canterbury last week. If you haven’t, then this isn’t too surprising. Main media outlets have been reducing their coverage of religious events over the years, and they simply fail to understand why anyone would be interested in the affairs of the Anglican church. There have been some reports however, but even then the content of these reports has frequently been misleading. Somehow, it seems, the archbishops of the Anglican church have decided gay sex is wrong and allowed homophobia to continue unchallenged.
Except they haven’t. Take some time to look at the actual words of the statement issued last Thursday, which you can read here. The real issue concerned how to respond to the branch of the Anglican Church in the USA, called The Episcopalian Church (TEC) which decided to authorise same-sex marriages in its churches and so depart from the traditional view of marriage held by the rest of the Anglican churches across the world.
Put like that, you may wonder why any media outlet would want to cover the meeting, and indeed this is hardly the stuff of front-page headlines. But for us as Christians it is an extremely important issue.
Let me explain: sometimes when you ask someone about their faith, you get the reply, “I would like to think that…”. This is because faith is so often seen as a matter of individual choice. So according to this line of thinking, you take the bits of the faith that you find comfortable (for example, that God is love or that heaven is real) and you leave out the bits of faith that you find more difficult (for example, that God is judge or that hell is real).
But if we really understood what faith in Jesus Christ means, we would soon realise we are not at liberty to take a pic’n’mix approach to what we believe. The Bible and the historical councils of the church have laid down certain truths which generations of believers have held as definitive and necessary for salvation. Read what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, for example, or think about the words we use when we say the creeds. These are not items on an Internet shopping order we can select at our leisure. Our faith is a whole package, and we either have to hold on to all of it, or not at all.
And what the meeting in the Canterbury affirmed last week is that: The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. In other words, marriage is part of the package we have to accept as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. I don’t have the time now to go into all the reasons why this is so, but this explains why the archbishops in Canterbury decided to discipline The Episcopal Church. The issue in question was not about gay sex or the pastoral care of those with same-sex attractions. It was about what to do with a church whose synod decided to dispense with one of the fundamentals of the whole package of the Christian faith.
That action was taken and that the meeting achieved unity in its actions is in itself a remarkable answer to prayer. No-one knows what long term effect the Primates’ Statement will have but for those faithful Anglicans around the world who have been longing for the church to move back towards its Biblical roots, last Thursday’s statement was an important first step. What the next steps will be, the Lord alone knows. But we need to pray for all those who were present at the meeting and above all for our Archbishop, Justin Welby, who needs more than ever the grace of God to fulfil the task given to Him.