Acts 15 and Shared Conversations

I'm reading David Jackman's Understanding the Church at the moment and finding it very stimulating.  One of his chapters is on the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, which he entitles "Solving Problems and Moving Forward." In it he applies the situation in Acts 15 to conflict in churches. He has 5 good principles at the end of the chapter, which in summary are:

  1. Open, frank discussion is necessary (vv.2, 4, 6, 12).
  2. Remove personal prejudices (James' Jewish background) and instead look for guidance it what God has done in people's lives (vv.7-11).
  3. Test everything against Scripture (vv.14-18).
  4. Refuse to compromise the gospel (vv.2, 11, 19).
  5. Respect other's scruples on non-primary areas.
It struck me as interesting in the light of the conversations on sexuality in the Church of England. They would appear to be fairly strong on principles 1 and 2, but very weak on principles 3-5.

The discussions appear to be fairly open and frank - although I suppose you could argue they are only open to those who've been invited.  Certainly there seems to be an effort to look to people lives.  The big problem is that there is not an agreed view of Scripture and its authority (principle 3).  That's not to say that Scripture is completely uninvolved, just to say that actually principle 2 seems to trump principle 3 in these discussions rather than the other way around.  But here's the issue, without the authority of Scripture, who's to determine whether people's experiences are from God or not?  And without the authority of Scripture, how will we ensure the gospel is not compromised?  And without the authority of Scripture how do we determine what are primary and non-primary areas?

This seems to me to be the key problem, because there is no agreed authority, there will only be disagreement.  Furthermore, because this is disagreement on what many ( I think on both sides) see as central to the gospel and primary, this disagreement will be pretty hard to describe as good, as the Archbishop of Canterbury hopes.

It seems likely conservatives like me will lose the conversation (in that it will happen and then the synod will ratify gay relationships).  The reason we'll lose it, is because the process undermines the absolute authority of Scripture, despite the Church of England's long declared position of coming under that authority (the Canons and the Formularies).  It's worth saying that the reason that position has been undermined is that we have had decades of bishops and clergy who have systematically sought to undermine that authority having paid lip-service to it at their ordinations, without any consequences.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (James 3:1 ESV)


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