A Future Church of England: Being Missional with Respect to Women Bishops and Homosexuality

So the Pilling report is out and is suggesting the possibility of blessing same-sex partnerships in the Church of England and the General Synod has voted for a proposal on Women Bishops.  Lots of people will draw lots of links, but I have been thinking about one in particular.  Both proposals are often argued for on the basis of mission.  I.e. we must have women bishops and bless same-sex relationships because it is good for the mission of the church, stops it being out of step and looking weird.

Conservative Evangelicals, such as myself, naturally turn to the Bible and argue that by falling short of God's standards for the church it undermines the mission.  But I want to consider the argument a little differently.  The missional argument takes a rather one-dimensional view of our society.  I minister in Muslim-majority parishes, where, if I understand it correctly, the majority would oppose gay marriage and women in religious leadership would at least be a significant issue.

For the Church of England to be missional in my community, I suspect it would need to take a strong line against same-sex relationships and probably against female religious leaders.  I.e. the Church of England is doing little to help me be missional in my ministry.

I don't know what answer those who propose the missional argument would give, but surely it would return to the issue of whether the decision is right or not.  I.e. the pragmatic argument of being missional is actually a consequence of a theological/doctrinal decision.  So that's where the debate really lies.

In a recent review of Tim Keller's book Centre Church by Jonathan Leeman, he raised the fact that faithfulness comes before being missional.  I think that is the key to the arguments here.  We act the way we do in mission because of the message we have.

That's why these arguments so expose the the divisions in the Church of England.  They expose the core of what we believe.  Perhaps for all its history the Church of England has tried to pretend that deep-seated theological arguments didn't really exist within it.  Here we find they do.  Perhaps the most fundamental thing here is the attitude to the source and authority of our faith.  Are we Bible people, i.e. people who believe that we live under the Lordship of Christ by submitting to his totally reliable word, the Bible, or do we look elsewhere (our culture, reason, or church perhaps) for that authority?

I think that argument has been playing out for decades in the Church of England (if not centuries).  Ironically, the Canons of the Church of England seem clearly on the conservative side:

The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.
And yet the trajectory of the Church of England seems to be the opposite.

I don't know the outcomes of these trajectories.  Will the conservatives be forced out?  Will the suggestions of Pilling be defeated?  How will women bishops work?  But I do know that despite all this Jesus says:

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matthew 16:18 NET) 

Comments

  1. The people behind the pilling report probably think you shouldn't do mission to Muslims in case it 'spoils community relations'

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    Replies
    1. Well it has to be said that is not an unusual view within the CoE Dave. Nice to hear from you!

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