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primates 2016



Recently, on one of my overseas trips, I had the chance to sit down with one of the members of the Anglican Communion Task Force. It was obvious that they were sincerely motivated by compassion when they made the comment about their meetings, “The heart of God is bleeding over the fighting in the Church.”

In the context of the conversation we were having, it was obviously a comment meant to set our focus on conflict and bring conviction upon those who have strongly held positions—those who are not able to play nicely and get along. I wasn’t surprised. It is a common tactic of those who consider themselves to be moderate to try to describe the crisis in the Anglican Communion as being the result of tensions between two extremes. The construct goes something like this:

One side of the conflict is the fault of radicals who have trampled structures and moved ahead “without proper consultation.” The “Moderates” who cast things in this manner usually also say something affirming of the motives of the “Progressives,” such as, “Of course we know that even if they are misguided and have upset things by moving too fast or maybe going too far, Progressives are motivated by a desire to love and affirm people ‘where they are.’”  

When the same “Moderate” speaks about the “Conservatives,” it goes something like this, “The problem is not simply the position that is held, but it is the way in which it is carried out that is the problem…it is judgmental and simply not loving.” 

The heart of the Moderate position is that if the movements of Progressives can be wrapped in velvet and the Conservatives can be convinced to speak gently, smile, and compromise, then we can all hang together. Those who are not willing to make a small compromise and be flexible enough to embrace diversity and move forward are the real problem—the ones who are creating the crisis. 

primates 2016When the Primates met in January of this year, it was clear that the vast majority of them wanted some form of discipline imposed on the Episcopal Church. The understanding many had after the meeting was that some sort of an accountability group would be set up to monitor the situation and see if the Episcopal Church would change course. If they would do so, then everyone agreed that there could be a future together. There was a three-year time frame given in which the Episcopal Church was not to participate in matters of Polity, Doctrine, or Ecumenical Affairs. Many assumed that the Task Force would be given ‘referee penalty flags and whistles’ so they could mark non-compliance from the Episcopal Church. 

Following shortly after the Primates gathering in January, the Anglican Consultative Council met in Lusaka. At that meeting, though no one from the Episcopal Church ran for office, the TEC delegation participated fully in discussions, making motions, seconding motions, and even in voting in the lumped-together motion to approve all the resolutions. That hardly looks like withdrawing from deliberations. To make matters worse, the TEC delegates to the ACC (and some others) trumpeted loudly their disdain of the Primates decision, claiming that the Primates did not have any substantive authority over the ACC. 

In the conversation I was having with the Task Force member, it was impossible to miss the implicit criticism of my position, clearly lumping me in the other polarizing force in the Communion. 

Picking up on the comment that “the heart of God is bleeding over the fighting in the Church,” I said, “I think that the heart of God is being pierced, and it is being pierced by sin.” (N.B. The “piercing” of God’s heart is managed in the Cross of Christ, where He works out redemption. Because sin has been dealt with for all who accept its remedy, God is at peace even in the midst of a time when there are people who sin. The doctrine is called “The Divine Blessedness.” It means that God is happy and fulfilled. He has neither bad days nor depression, even over sin. Sin has been dealt with in the Atonement.) 

marriage biblical

“Here is my question,” I went on. “Do you think that the Bible presents that it is possible to maintain such a belief or practice that it can result in a person being separated from the redeeming love of Jesus Christ? Isn’t the Bible clear that among things that can separate people from Christ is sexual intimacy outside marriage? Of course, there are other things as well, but right now, we are in a position in which parts of the church are attempting to overturn thousands of years of adherence to God’s revelation about sexuality, and they are attempting to bless those very activities. It’s not just that God draws an arbitrary line and says some things are OK and others are not. God’s standards are in place because life within His boundaries brings blessings. Life and behavior outside those boundaries have terrible consequences. Relationships with same-sex sexual intimacy exhibit instability far worse than heterosexual marriages. Recent research has (once again) affirmed previous findings of dramatically higher incidences of suicide, infidelity, domestic violence, and predatory behavior among those active in same-sex, sexually active relationships than are found in the general population. ”  

“Then,” I said, “Is it kindness, is it loving, for me to stay silent and not issue a warning to someone who is engaged in belief or practice that will result in their being separated from Christ?” 

Rather than a verbal answer, I got a shocked look back and a face that was white and drained. 

I will certainly grant that there have been times when those who hold conservative Biblical positions are less than winsome in describing what the Bible says. The Church, however, has a great responsibility to speak the truth, and to do so in love. We cannot stay silent, especially in the face of a situation whereby some leaders in the Church are leading people away from Christ. To my mind, there is absolutely nothing worse than the Church, which is meant to be the Ark of salvation, being an instrument of deceit and leading people away from Christ to Hell. 




1. of or relating to progress

2. proceeding or progressing by steps or degrees

3. favouring or promoting politicalor social reform through government action, or even revolution, to improve the lot of the majority: a progressive policy

Progressive policies are supposed to bring good. If the consequence of an action is that people go to Hell, whatever short-term celebration those policies might bring, the important concern is where the people will end up. While we cannot be certain that every one of them will be separated from Christ for all eternity, is it worth the chance? 

Next week, there is a Global South meeting. It will certainly be looking at the landscape of the Communion and what a coalition of Biblically faithful Provinces should do about it. Whereas some Provinces of the Global South are open to the Progressive agenda, most see it through a Biblical lens and do not accept that new direction. I expect to see broad agreement between GAFCON Provinces and the Biblically-minded Provinces of the Global South that are not yet part of GAFCON. Out of that agreement will come wonderful Gospel ministry—things we can preach, teach, do, and share that are gracious and spiritually fruitful, and that do not lead people away from Christ.