Jesus lights the way in the darkness
I have already outlined the rather dystopian nature of the current situation the Church of England finds itself in here. I have also outlined why I believe clergy should not leave their posts here. So what then could be a way forward? This is the question to which I will attempt an answer.
In all things when trying to find a solution it is worth asking how others previously approached similar problems. For those of us in the Church of England we must look back to our founding documents and that is what I will do, starting with the 39 articles. Article XX states “It is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written”. Yet in seeking to bless same-sex relationships what the article says the Church can not lawfully do is exactly what the bishops intend to do. This is despite the canon B5 stating “All variations in forms of service and all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.” The Bishops have opted to simply declare that they have not done this but this does not change the fact they have. From this it should be clear that the recent actions of the bishops are anti-canonical.
A First Step
So what direction might the 39 articles provide?
Well Article XXVI states:
“It appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.”
This article clearly envisions a disciplinary process being brought whereby “evil Ministers” might be deposed.
The Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 sets out the current means of discipline for clergy in the Church of England.
14 Offences under the Measure.
(1)Proceedings may be instituted under this Measure against any of the persons specified in section seventeen thereof charging—
(a)an offence against the laws ecclesiastical involving matters of doctrine, ritual or ceremonial;
18 Mode of instituting proceedings.
(1)Proceedings charging an offence under this Measure shall be instituted in the case of an archbishop or a bishop by way of complaint laid before the registrar of the relevant province and in the case of a priest or deacon by way of complaint laid before the registrar of any diocese in which the accused held or holds preferment or in which he resided or resides at the date when the alleged offence was committed or at the date of such complaint.
20 Persons by whom proceedings against an archbishop or bishop may be instituted.
Proceedings against an archbishop or a bishop may be instituted by the following persons, that is to say:—
(a)in the case of an archbishop:—
(i)save in respect of any act or omission in relation to his duties as diocesan by not less than two of his comprovincial diocesan bishops; or
(ii)save in respect of any act or omission in relation to his duties as metropolitan by not less than ten persons of whom not less than five are incumbents in the diocese of the accused and not less than five are lay members of the diocesan synod of such diocese; or
(b)in the case of a diocesan bishop other than an archbishop:—
(i)by an authorised complainant; or
(ii)by not less than ten persons of whom not less than five are incumbents in the diocese of the accused and not less than five are lay members of the diocesan synod of such diocese
This is our means of redress as Anglicans when those in authority are acting wickedly. For Orthodox Anglicans continued presence in the Church of England to have any integrity this process must be used and continue to be used until all “evil ministers” are deposed as article XXVI envisions. This will be a drawn out process as the Act states:
(3) In proceedings under this Measure no censure more severe than monition shall be imposed unless the Court is satisfied that the accused has already been admonished on a previous occasion in respect of another offence of the same or substantially the same nature.
The big problem here is that even when “Evil Ministers” are unrepentant, the maximum sanction still remains monition. It is only after using the disciplinary process for a second time that a deposition is made possible and even here the acts provision of multiple steps starting with rebuke, then monition, then suspension, then inhibition, and lastly deprivation (deposition) make this unlikely. Even with success in the Courts Ecclesiastical it may take a very long time before the aforesaid “Evil Minister” is deposed. To say this process is inefficient is a bit of an understatement, a more accurate description would be that it actively undermines discipline to the point of rendering it ineffective.
We are left with this important question: Seeing as any disciplinary process will take quite some time (and even then may not be successful) what are we to do in the mean time?
There are multiple things to consider:
- Do clergy need to obey the bishop?
- Are heterodox bishops sacraments valid?
- And if they are should we continue to receive them?
- In the absence of an Orthodox bishop in a Diocese
o Who will pastor the pastors?
o Who will lead the church in mission?
Obedience to the Bishop
As we think the question of obedience it is useful to look at the oath contained in the ordinal (another founding document) made by the clergy.
“I, A B, do swear by Almighty God that I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Lord Bishop of C and his successors in all things lawful and honest: So help me God.”
The oath is made in regards to what is lawful and honest; as the actions of the Bishops are anti-canonical and unbiblical they need not be followed.
This is not the first time the bishop have given such instructions. For example during the pandemic they gave instructions to give communion in one kind even though article XXX forbids this. This instruction should have been disregarded and need not have been obeyed as it was anti-canonical. As in the above case so too in regards to any new guidance or encouragement to use these new prayers: as they are evidently anti-canonical and unbiblical they need not be obeyed. In fact its imperative that these instructions are disobeyed for not to do so would be to break the vow that clergy make at their ordination:
Will you faithfully minister the doctrine and sacraments of Christ as the Church of England has received them, so that the people committed to your charge may be defended against error and flourish in the faith?
Ordinands: By the help of God, I will.
Validity of the Sacraments
It is important to recognise that there has been some variance of understanding in relation to this issue in the Church Catholic. Churches in the East have tended towards viewing the sacraments as invalid when carried out by heretics and schismatics whereas in the west there has been a tendency in these circumstances to view them as valid though irregular when done with the same intent as the Church.
Article XXVI reads:
Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.
The article is not so much interested in answering this one way or another but rather in giving a solution to a real life problem. The article says that we can be confident that though deposition should be sought whilst “evil ministers” are in post the recipient can be confident that sacraments they receive from them are indeed valid, they are “effectual”. Once the aforementioned “evil ministers” have been deposed it is implicit that sacraments should no longer be received from them. I believe there are good biblical grounds for this approach.
Receiving the Sacraments
In Paul’s letter to the Galatians we read of the dispute between Paul and Peter. Here Paul tells the Galatians how he “opposed him [Peter] to his face, because he stood condemned” and that he did so “in front of them all”. It seems that in the end Peter accepted this rebuke as he stopped insisting on gentiles following Jewish customs as we can see by what happened at the council in Jerusalem. Here under a similar circumstance the Church recognised that Paul’s position on the matter (Freedom in Christ) was the one congruent with the gospel, as Peter himself affirmed at the council giving testimony to how God had revealed this to him. The example here provides for us a biblical model. The biblical data does not suggest a separation from Peter, much less a dismissal of his apostolic ministry during the dispute but rather it suggests that Peter was rebuked and repented, yet had he not done so then the decision at the council would have placed him and his teaching outside that of the Church.
I believe that it is possible and may in fact be good to receive the sacraments from bishops undergoing discipline. It may be good because it would give an opportunity for Orthodox Anglicans to publicly rebuke them. It’s my suggestion that Orthodox Anglicans should continue to invite Bishops to confirm members but should inform them they will be rebuked during the service. It is important in doing this that we remember that members are catechised in the faith by the local clergy and not the bishop, and that the bishop acts in his office in confirming them in the life of the Church Catholic, not the Church of England and even less so into whichever warped version of it the Bishop may be a proponent of.
I have provided here an example of a rebuke that could be used during a service:
In obedience to God’s Holy Writ I A,B admonish you C for having departed from the faithful ministration of the doctrine and sacraments of Christ as the Church of England has received them. I call to you as a brother/sister in Christ and as a fellow presbyter/priest to turn back to God, I urge you not to depart from the way of life. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Like the false prophets in day of Jeremiah you “strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil”, “to those who despise the word of the Lord” you say ‘“It shall be well with you” and to “everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart” you say “No disaster shall come upon you”. You bless what God rejects, and reject what God blesses. God has set forth in his word that Holy Matrimony is the place for sexual union between a man and a woman; it is God’s ordained place “for the procreation of children” and “a remedy against sin” as the Book of Common Prayer attests. Yet you want to bless this very sin, the sin of sexual union outside the state of marriage, and so you reject the state of marriage which God has ordained and blessed. In doing so you reject the Word of God and renounce the declaration you made at your ordination; by your own words you condemn yourself. If you continue to reject God’s word then the time will soon come when the Lord will no longer permit his people to be associated with you, you will reap what you sow, as you reject God so too God will reject you. As God’s ambassador I implore you be reconciled with God.
Paul says in relation to Christian leaders “As for those who persist in sin rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” And so this is what we should do.
It is of course more than possible that a bishop may refuse to visit and in doing so reveal themselves not to be shepherds at all but hired hands willing to quickly give up the care of the sheep that had been entrusted to them.
For all those with bishops who are undergoing discipline there will be an impaired relationship. To give but a few examples:
- A heterodox will not be providing teaching resources that support their clergy to teach the faith
- A heterodox bishop will not share the concerns of their clergy and so they will not be able to join together in prayer as neither will be able to say amen
- Clergy who are wrestling with their sinful nature, and doing battle putting it to death will not have the support and prayers of their bishop as they do so
- Clergy will not be defended publicly when they are attacked for preaching the gospel in its entirety
- In some cases congregations will be abandoned by their bishops
The above situation is no small thing and there is need for an interim system of pastoral oversight. The bishops do not look like they are going to put any formal mechanism for this in place and while some bishops may allow churches to come under the oversight of other bishops many will not. Looking to the Archbishops to rectify this situations is unlikely to be productive and so clergy and congregations will have little support within the formal structures of the Church of England. Pastoral oversight will therefore need to be sought against the grain if not the letter of canon law.
In relation to confirmation orthodox church members may need to be confirmed in another church in another Diocese with an orthodox bishop. Whether the bishop presiding belongs to the Church of England, the Free Church of England or the Anglican Mission in England is irrelevant as confirmation isn’t into a particular branch of the Church but the Church Catholic. The Church of England recognises as much in that it does not require those from Roman Catholic and Orthodox backgrounds to be confirmed on joining the Church of England. This whilst being rather taxing in terms of logistics may have hidden blessings by strengthening the ties of orthodox believers across the nation and across jurisdictions. It also has the benefit of not breaking canon law as there will be no visiting bishop needing permission to officiate.
In regards to wider support for the clergy it would be sensible for their to be set up a cross-jurisdictional association of orthodox bishops of both evangelical and Anglo-catholic persuasions from across the Church of England, the Free Church of England and the Anglican Mission in England and could include bishop who are retired alongside those in post. This association would provide support in the following ways:
- Teaching resources to equip clergy and congregation to teach the faith
- Direct pastoral care of clergy including prayer support
- Organisation of regional meetings of like minded clergy to provide fellowship
- A public defence of clergy who are under attack for proclaiming the gospel
None of this would breach canon law but it should hopefully go somewhere to providing a pastor for the pastors.
I personally have written a short summary of Christian teaching on sex, singleness of marriage which is available here that I hope might be of use to orthodox clergy looking for resources they can recommend to their congregations or as a springboard to develop their own teaching in this area.
It almost goes without saying that it cannot be right for orthodox Christian to fund the promotion of heresy. In Diocese where heresy is being promoted orthodox churches should seek to cover their own expenses and where they more than do so through their current parish share set this extra money aside to support the costs of like minded churches. It might be that evangelicals give to organisations such as the Church Society or CPAS and anglo-catholics to others, to which is not clear to me, I am aware of organisations such as the additional curates society and the society for the maintenance of the faith that provide funds for anglo-catholic clergy but not of whether they hold to an orthodox stance on sexuality.
In terms of church planting the ReNew conference should become a useful vehicle for evangelicals as it includes both Free Church of England and Church of England churches. As Free Church of England orders are recognised by the Church of England it is possible for clergy to move across jurisdictions as missional needs require. It is my hope that a similar conference might be set up to enable the planting of orthodox anglo-catholic churches too.
There is a potential problem in terms of ministry in that orthodox candidates may struggle to progress in the Church of England discernment process. Candidates may be asked to sign up to the new pastoral guidance and so commit themselves to support the error the Church of England is being led into which is something those who are orthodox will not be able to assent to. That Free Church of England orders are ““recognised and accepted” by the Church of England under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967” enables ““overlap” (including episcopal ministrations)”. It is my hope that should it become impossible for orthodox candidates to progress in the Church of England that the Free Church of England will step into the breach as they have done in the case of Calvin Robinson. Whether this is necessary or in the case that it is whether it is viable remains to be seen, but, orthodox anglicans within the Church of England should be entering into discussions before this eventuality comes about. It is vital that the Church of England is not strangled from within by Bishops making it impossible for orthodox anglicans to progress, thus, starving the church of shepherds to shepherd the flock.
In order to enable the appointment of incumbents that are orthodox in faith and practice some parishes may need to reconsider local arrangements where they are part of a multi-parish benefice with a mixed churchmanship. In multi-parish benefices the ability to exercise patronage to ensure the continuation of godly ministry in the parish is curtailed. The work of the sorts of societies aforementioned that support with the provision of clergy and act as patrons will become increasingly important during this time so that churches can continue to be served by godly clergy.
It is my hope that GAFCON and the GSFA will continue to recognise and welcome the ministry of those churches and clergy within the Church of England who are taking action to remain faithful to God’s Word whilst not abandoning the Church of England. A particularly helpful sign of this would be for Bishops who speak into this situation to greet and encourage orthodox brothers and sisters in the Church of England whilst condemning the actions of the Church at the large thus visibly recognising the difference between the faithful remnant and the church at large. Orthodox Anglicans within the Church of England should make a real effort to prioritise attending gatherings with other Orthodox Anglicans around the globe so that they may be strengthened by them.
We believe in a God who does the impossible, who brings life from death. Things are difficult right now and the future is not certain but in the midst of the storms we must remember that we follow the one who has authority ver the wind and the waves. Throughout our struggles we must look to God in prayer.
I leave you with this rather fitting prayer on the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul:
O God, by the preaching of your apostle Paul you have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, we may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
 Ian Paul has written a brilliant article here (https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/what-are-the-bishops-saying-and-doing-in-response-to-the-end-of-llf/) which goes into this in more detail. Galatians 2:11,14 NIV Acts 15 Galatians 6:1 Jeremiah 23:14,17 1 Timothy 5:20 ESV Anglican Ecclesiology and the Gospel: Renewing a Vision, Chapter 16: The Free Church of England, the Present Crisis and Beyond by Bishop John Fenwick, 2016 Book of Common Prayer (2019), Collects of the Christian Year, Anglican Church in North America, 2019