Don’t jump off the mother ship — there’s work to do

by
04 August 2017

Evangelicals must stay in the C of E and contend for their convictions, says Rachel Marszalek

REPORTS that the conservative Evangelical lifeboat was about to pull away from the Church of England mother ship raised the comment “Just two words — AT LAST!” on Twitter (News, 28 July). Some, it seemed, wanted to wave these Anglicans off at the shore-line. I want them to stay.

Whether the life-boat that these friends propose jumping into is watertight is a concern I have. That a launch is premature is a conclusion to which I have come. What remaining firmly aboard the mother ship must entail, I will explore.

Alternative episcopal oversight, though missional in aim and dynamic in worship, is nevertheless problematic, if the Anglican Church in North America’s consecration of Andy Lines is anything to go by (News, 7 July). It draws Evangelical Anglicans away from the C of E and fails to recognise the ministry of ordained Anglican Evangelical incumbents such as myself.

My ministry could not flourish under such oversight. Women ministering as lead pastors to their mixed gender congregations would contravene that “matter of church order”, which, in the mother-Church, the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, believes “we can agree to disagree” about. Without Bishops in alternative structures advancing an open mind on this issue, however, women in leadership might remain theoretically adiaphora (a second-order issue), whilst seeing a very real curtailment on their ministry in practice. I can find no alternative to the C of E’s episcopal framework in which to flourish.

 

STEPS being taken by my friends, as a preliminary to the voyage away, are those I cannot in conscience support. If God uses marriage as a parable for the relationship between Christ and the Church, he speaks just as powerfully and purposefully about our finances. As I save to go abroad on holiday, which I have really had to do this year, I do not fail to feed my family in the mean time. I cannot imagine withholding the Parish Share. On the contrary, we have increased our share this year despite austerity. My friends must starve God’s church of neither their pounds nor their presence.

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It is the latter which gives me the greater frustration. Any voyage abroad is premature. It is like leaving without your suitcase. Hope is still at home. Our doctrine has not changed. A two-thirds majority in all three houses of General Synod calling for a substantive change in doctrine is unlikely with the current make-up of the House of Bishops. But if some of my conservative Evangelical friends leave, they will speed the liberal trajectory by their very absence.

So, remaining within the C of E must entail our Evangelical bishops committing themselves afresh to defending the Church’s teaching on sexuality. The Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Richard Jackson, opened his talk at the New Wine Summer Conference last month on “Is there a future for the Church of England?” by saying: “Bishops are like bidets, no one quite knows what they are for, but when you have one, it certainly raises the tone.” Humour notwithstanding, we do know what Bishops are for. As the service for the consecration of a Bishop states, they are to be “guardians of the faith of the apostles . . . proclaim the gospel boldly . . . refute error, and . . . hand on entire the faith that is entrusted.”

Evangelical bishops must raise their heads above the parapet and redefine unity in terms of our unity in Christ. It is a unity with boundaries which pertain to fidelity and chastity in marriage and singleness. Bishop Jackson, who described the last General Synod as “a theological train crash . . . of conflicting pain narratives”, hopes, as I do, that the Bishops will guard the deposit. He believes that Bishops are called to “make some definitive statements’’.

 

ONE of these definitive statements will be the teaching document released in 2020 (News, 30 June) in which, Bishop Jackson said, “we are going to go back to scripture . . . reflecting on the best theological, biblical, and historical scholarship to come to some conclusions on that basis [without dismissing] the very real experiences of people”, with one important caveat. His caveat is that “we have to make decisions on the basis of biblical theology, not on the basis purely of listening to people’s experiences”.

Bishops are the teachers of the church and are not to be, as J.C. Ryle feared “milk-and-water” Bishops: “colourless Bishop(s) without any opinions at all.” Although I disagree with the theological approach advanced by the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, at least he is not colourless, his rainbow flag flies high. I want to see Evangelical Bishops as enthusiastically championing a traditional stance on marriage.

So, we are to remain in the mother-ship, pay our parish shares, teach the faith, care for souls and bodies, and make it clear why the Church should not change its doctrine or practice in regard to marriage. We are always more effective when we contend together for the faith, and if there was a crucial time to do this, it surely is now.

 

The Revd Rachel Marszalek is Vicar of All Saints, Ealing, and general secretary of Fulcrum.

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