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The Archbishops of Canterbury and York hath no jurisdiction here

The Alliance’s letter begs the question of whether the Church of England has reached its Ash Wednesday moment. The words of the Cranmer echo down the ages:

“BRETHREN, in the primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.”[1]

Has the present situation led the orthodox to a point of identifying themselves with the words of another Archbishop Justin who on behalf of the GSFA stated “the leadership role played by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the revisionist path adopted by the General Synod renders the GSFA unable to recognise the present incumbent”[2]. Has the Church of England reached a point where its orthodox leaders are ready to call their fellow Bishops, Priests and Deacons to repentance so that “their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord”[3]?

The Bishop of Oxford has written to the Alliance leaders to remind them how thus far three times they have done nothing to correct notorious sinners. The Church has just had its Petertide ordinations and so it seems rather fitting to remember that 3 times Peter denied Christ, but that Jesus was merciful and so when Peter repented three times Jesus reaffirmed his call to care for the flock. The Bishop reminds the Alliance leaders that blessings of same-sex ‘marriages’ have already been happening, that “for more than 30 years”[4] the Church of England has left it to the conscience of each layperson whether or not it is okay to be sexually active outside of marriage, and in characterising changes to clergy discipline as “simply to remove the requirement for such clergy to receive a formal rebuke”[5] when they enter into a same-sex marriage he makes clear such formal rebukes are performative and without substance.

In Together in Love and Faith the same Bishop having acknowledged that “Romans 1:26-27 is part of Paul’s analysis of the human condition without Christ. Same-sex expression, activity and desire is cited as one of the consequences of human sin, which at its heart is rooted in idolatry and turning away from God”[6] goes on to ask “Has our understanding of same-sex desire and attraction changed significantly because of advances in science, social science and culture, such that we would now offer a more nuanced interpretation for gender and same-gender relations?” and answers “In my view that case can be made and, in the light of that increased and better understanding, justifies a careful revision to the doctrine and teaching of the Church.”[7] Article 20 makes very clear that he and the Bishops who’ve answered likewise hath no authority for “it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another”. By his own mouth he has condemned himself and shown himself to be a wolf and not a shepherd. It is high time for the orthodox Bishops in the Church of England to stand together to defend the flock.

Throughout the process so far, I have taken comfort in the fact that the Church of England’s canons have not changed but this gives me little comfort anymore. The law in England is clear that “no regulation under any Canon made under the said section 1(1) [the Church’s general right to order its own liturgy] nor any approval, amendment, continuance or discontinuance of a form of service by the General Synod under any such Canon shall have effect unless the regulation, the form of service or the amendment, continuance or discontinuance of a form of service, as the case may be, has been finally approved by the General Synod with such a majority as aforesaid [two-thirds] in each House thereof.”[8] In other words the bishops know their actions so far in approving the Prayers of Love and Faith have no standing in law. This begs the question why the bishops are repeatedly bringing votes that have no legal effect? The reason I believe is to build in the eyes of the public and the laity an understanding that the teaching and liturgy of the Church have changed. In other words, the bishops are being intentionally scandalous. All the synod votes including the one in the coming synod are simply acts of self-justification by the bishops who are appealing to the popular vote to silence their consciences over the fact they are acting in a way contrary to the canons and the Scriptures. Such self-deception is utter foolishness for on the day of judgement it is not general synod nor the public who will judge but God himself.

We do not live in normal times but rather ones of lawlessness and scandal and it is difficult to know how to proceed. As Thomas Aquinas (1225-1774) wrote, “For a war to be just, three things are necessary”: sovereign authority, just cause, and right intention”[9]. Let’s be clear to set up an alternative province is in ecclesial terms not a friendly act but rather one of usurping the authority of the bishops with which that province overlaps and therefore I think it not extreme to compare it to an act of war. In an episcopally led church those who have sovereign authority are the Diocesan Bishops for it is they who have “a special responsibility and authority as the chief pastor, minister and teacher of the diocese, a governor and guardian of discipline in the diocese”[10]. Therefore, any action to set up a new province must be led by Diocesan Bishops for it to have any legitimacy. The next thing that would be needed is a just cause. In the face of the spiritual tyranny under which these Diocese suffer where God’s law is replaced with the human precepts of the Bishop in question in such a way as to endanger the salvation of the clergy and laity under their care it seems to me that there is a just cause for such an action in order to protect the innocent. Lastly what is needed is a good intention and it is here that I have my biggest concern for the “implication of the right intent requirement: if it is just to fight a war, it is just to fight that war to win it… not for the sake of chest-thumping… to not try to do so… is to hold the violated goods in contempt”[11]. Do the writers of the Alliance letter believe they have a fighting chance of achieving their aims? Do they believe they will be able to carve out a new province under which to safeguard the orthodox which they would be willing to aggressively expand until either those remaining within the Provinces of Canterbury and York repent or they are swallowed up whole by such a new province? The goods violated here are right doctrine essential to salvation and so this war if it is to be waged has the highest good of all in mind – the salvation of souls and so must not be waged lightly.

If there is a council of Diocesan Bishops who are willing to stand up and be counted to try and rescue the Church of England from the wolves who are devouring the sheep then so long as their plan is clear and hope for success reasonable I believe every orthodox Anglican in this country owes them their allegiance. If there is no council of bishops ready to act then the Alliance’s letter was the height of foolishness, but, I hope and pray that is not the case. Let me be clear no half-in half-out arrangement will do for in accepting such an arrangement orthodox bishops will not offer any clear leadership and the people will still be misled – nothing but a proper province will do. “If a trumpet does not clearly sound the advance when it is intended, or the retreat when it is meant, the trumpet is useless, the soldiers not knowing what to do.”[12]

My heartfelt plea is twofold:

Firstly, that all the orthodox bishops would submit themselves to God in prayer and be lifted up in prayer by all of us too.

Secondly, that all the orthodox Anglicans in England would ready themselves so that should the trumpet sound they would not be found sleeping but ready and prepared to fight the good fight so that many might be saved.

[1] The Service of Commination, BCP 1662

[3] The Service of Commination, BCP 1662

[6] Bishop of Oxford, Together in Love and Faith, p33.

[7] Bishop of Oxford, Together in Love and Faith, p34.


[9] Marc Livecche ‘Just War’ in Protestant Social Teaching: An Introduction, (Davenant Press, 2022) p64.


[11] Marc Livecche ‘Just War’ in Protestant Social Teaching: An Introduction, (Davenant Press, 2022) p77.

[12] Bishop Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers commenting on 1 Corinthians 14:8

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