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"The Gathering Storm" By Robin Guinness

“THE GATHERING STORM”

REFLECTIONS ON THE SAME SEX BLESSING CONTROVERSY

by Robin Guinness

A work in progress.

2nd March 2004 Commemoration Day of John Wesley, Preacher. 1791.
Charles Wesley, Poet 1788

The Nature of the controversy

At heart the same sex blessing controversy is a theological issue,
not an issue of life-style. It is an issue of belief before it is an
issue of behaviour.

The doctrine at issue is the doctrine of creation. In particular
what is at issue is who and what God has created man / woman to be.
In Genesis 1:26 God said “Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness.” In Genesis 1:27 scripture states “So God created man in
his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he
created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, be
fruitful and multiply.”

Man / Woman has been created in the image and likeness of God the
creator. We bear the image of God in a variety of ways, as spiritual
beings, rational beings, moral beings, aesthetic beings, etc.
However the only elaboration in the creation narrative as to what
“image of God” means is in terms of our sexuality. “Male and female
created he them.” And in terms of the expression of that sexuality
“Be fruitful and multiply”

There are two things about the nature of God that are suggested in
the creation narrative. The first is that he creates, and the second
is that within his being there is unity and diversity. “Let us make
man in our image and after our likeness” “Image” and “likeness” are
in the singular, “us” and “our” are in the plural. In the fullness
of the Biblical revelation the clue that we are given here in the
creation narrative is able to be seen as a reference to God’s triune
nature. The triune nature speaks of the unity and diversity, the
complementarity, correspondence and completeness within the three
persons of the Trinity.

This understanding of two aspects of the nature of God as revealed in
the creation narrative becomes the foundation for our understanding
of human sexuality as created in the image of God. The fulfillment
of our sexuality is in terms of the complementarity between male and
female. This is reiterated in the command “Be fruitful and multiply”
This command also confirms that God has made man / woman to be like
him in terms of his ability to create. Male and Female together
reflect the image of God. It is in the complementarity of male and
female that God is reflected. Dr Glen Taylor calls this “A
participation in the relationality of the triune God” Taylor also
notes the essential connection between “the economies of difference
and mutual dependence” and the blessing: heterosexuality is “the
vehicle through which the blessing will come.”

The creation narrative thus gives us absolutely no foundation
whatsoever to formulate any understanding of the fulfillment of our
sexuality in terms of same sex unions. Such a suggestion runs
directly counter to the complementarity and the the blessing of
creativity at the heart of our sexual identity which is in the
likeness of our triune creator God..

Genesis 2 builds on the foundation laid in Genesis 1. Genesis 2
introduces the institution of marriage, and thereby endorses the
understanding of human sexuality quarried from Genesis 1.. John
Stott has a very clear exposition of Genesis 2 in his book, “Same Sex
Partnerships ? A Christian Perspective” Stott draws attention to
three realities identified in Genesis 2: first the human need for
companionship, secondly the divine provision to meet that need, and
thirdly the resulting institution of marriage. Stott draws attention
to the fact that Jesus endorsed the Old Testament definition of
marriage (Matthew 19:6) By way of summary Stott identifies three
truths that Jesus affirmed. 1) Heterosexual gender is a divine
creation. 2) Heterosexual marriage is a divine institution 3)
Heterosexual fidelity is the divine intention.

In these two chapters of Genesis we have set forth with absolute
clarity the Magna Charta of human sexuality. There is no suggestion
that a man or a woman’s ontological need for “the other”can in fact
be fulfilled by sexual intimacy or union with another of his or her
kind. Not only is such a suggestion never entertained, it is
categorically ruled out by virtue of our created nature as beings
made in the image of God. In the mystery of the Holy Trinity we do
not have two fathers and a son, or two sons and a Holy Spirit, we
have Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and therein lies the DNA of human
sexuality.

Into this Imago Dei framework fit all other Biblical references to
human sexuality, and without it they can not be understood. Only in
this context can the Biblical prohibition of homosexual activity as
being contrary to man / woman’s nature (Romans 1:26,27) be
understood.

A church that teaches that the fulfillment of our sexuality is to be
found in same sex unions has either to deny the triune nature of God,
or it has to deny that we are created in the image of God. It is
difficult to imagine how any dialogue on this issue could be fruitful
unless it grapples with this theological and doctrinal issue.

To make such a forthright statement is not in any way to deny the
struggle and agony of our homosexually oriented brothers and sisters.
Their suffering is real and calls for continual compassionate
sensitivity. It is however impossible to build a theology of
sexuality on their or anyone else’s experience. Theology, by
definition, is the Word of God. It is with this that we have to
start, and understand and interpret our experience in its light.

A primary or a secondary issue?

Primary issues are to do with the person of Jesus Christ and His work
of salvation. Secondary issues are all other issues.

However, can we really separate sin and salvation? How can we
either understand or enjoy the fullness of God’s salvation in Jesus
Christ if we do not know what the sin is for which Christ has died
and from which he is able to set us free?

Can we really separate salvation from sanctification? If we do not
know what the life is to which God calls us to live, how can we seek
his sanctifying power to live that life?

Can we really separate salvation from creation, for if Christ died to
restore us to what God has originally created us to be, how can we
enter into that new creation if we do not understand who we are by
virtue of that original creation?

The same sex blessing issue might appear initially to be a secondary
issue, but upon closer examination it is difficult to avoid the
conclusion that by being tied so inextricably to primary issues it is
in fact a primary issue.

A few of the implications of becoming a Same Sex Blessing church.

A church that teaches that the fulfillment of our sexuality is to be
found in same sex unions has a lot of work to do. It will need to re-
write large sections of its Christian education curriculum.

Such a church would need to introduce to children before they enter
their teen years the teaching that our sexuality can be fulfilled
either through same sex or opposite sex life long unions, so as to
help our children avoid growing up “prejudiced”.

Such a church would need to give some guidelines on same sex dating
and to provide teaching to help young people discover whether they
should be heading for a same sex or an opposite sex life long union.

Funds would be needed at a national church level and at the diocesan
level to provide for the creation of these new Christian education
audio visual resources. There would be funds needed for the salaries
of appropriately qualified children and youth program co-ordinators,
and doubtless there would be travelling expenses. Of course funds
from our parish apportionment are already being used to re-educate us
into being a Same Sex Blessing Church, not least in financing a
diocesan synod where the Archbishop makes it very clear in which
direction he wants the church to be moving.

When writing to the Church in Ephesus the Apostle Paul instructed
“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose
them.” (Ephesians 5:11) It is hard to avoid the conclusion that by
paying our full diocesan apportionment, under the present
circumstances, we are in fact taking a very significant part in the
unfruitful works of darkness. Even if provision were made for
Alternate Episcopal Oversight, churches that opted to take advantage
of that provision would still have to grapple with how to be obedient
to the injunction of Ephesians 5:11.

The search for Biblical precedents in determining our future
relationship with the diocese and the national church.

As soon as we begin to search the scriptures for guidance and
precedents that might give us instruction as to how to respond to
contemporary issues, we are face to face with two tasks. The first is
the task of exegesis and the second is the task of hermeneutics.
Exegesis comes from a Greek word and means “to lead out”. It has to
do with discovering the original intended meaning of a passage of
scripture for the original recipients. Hermeneutics is a Greek word
and means “to interpret.” It has to do with “seeking contemporary
relevance of ancient texts” (Fee and Stuart “How To Read the Bible
for All Its Worth” published by Scripture Union 1994. p.25.) Fee and
Stuart continue (p.26) “A text cannot mean what it never meant (to
the original readers). Or to put it in a positive way, the true
meaning of the biblical text for us is what God originally intended
it to mean when it was first spoken.” In understanding the meaning
of a text of scripture we have to understand its historical and
literary context. In seeking to apply the text to our own situation
today we have to ask the question “In what ways is our situation
like, and in what ways is our situation unlike the situation of the
original recipients?” Another important hermenutical principle is
that we can never so interpret a passage of Scripture as to answer
the kind of questions that it had never occurred to the people of the
original context to ask.

Whatever passages of scripture are deemed to have a bearing on any
aspect of the Same Sex Blessing controversy, these passages have to
be examined using the exegetical and hermeneutical tools and
questions that have been referred to above. We do this in conjunction
with prayer that the Holy Spirit will show us what bearing (if any)
they have on our situation today.

One passage that might have a bearing on the issue of “splitting the
church” is 1 Kings chapters 11 and 12, (and chapter 9:1-9) the
account of how God divided the united kingdom of Solomon after
Rehaboam had succeeded him as king, and split it between Rehaboam who
was left with two tribes, and Jeroboam who was given ten tribes. This
was essentially a judgement on Soloman “who did what was evil in the
sight of the Lord, and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his
father had done” (1 Kings 11:6) It was the arrogant and foolish
response of the newly enthroned king Rehaboam to the people, that
precipitated the revolt that led to the division of the kingdom.
Scripture states at this point “It was a turn of affairs brought
about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word.” (12:15) It is
interesting that God promised to bless Jeroboam who had instigated
the rebellion against the lawful king and seized the ten tribes, on
condition that he walk in the ways of the Lord. “If you will harken
to all that I command you, and will walk in my ways, and do what is
right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as David
my servant did, I will be with you and I will build you a sure house,
as I built for David, and I will give Israel to you.” (11:38) The
tragedy was that Jeroboam did not thereafter walk in the ways of the
Lord. It would seem at the very least, from this passage, that
organisational unity among the people of God is not a particularly
high priority on God’s agenda.

An Old Testament passage that may or may not have a bearing on the
issue of continuing to pay our full diocesan apportionment is the
book of Malachi, particularly the statement in chapter three verse
ten “bring the full tithes into the storehouse.” The issue here was
the fear and lack of trust by the people of God in a time of poor
harvests and scarcity of food, that if they gave away a tenth of
their food supplies to the temple priests and Levites as the law
required, they would not have enough left for themselves. In
response to this fear God commanded “bring the full tithe into my
storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” God added His
promise “I will ... open the windows of heaven for you and pour down
for you an overwhelming blessing. I will rebuke the devourer for
you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil.” (v. 11)
At that time God in his graciousness did not want the priests and
Levites to starve even though they were acting corruptly.
Incidentally, the issue at stake never was “We should not give our
tithe because the priests and Levites are corrupt.” The issue was
rather “If we give our tithe we won’t have enough for ourselves.“
The issue before us is “If the time comes when the money that we give
to the diocese for the maintenance of ministry and mission in our
churches is used to spread false teaching and to promote false
practice, should we with hold a portion of that funding?” The
hermeneutical question that arises is “Is there sufficient congruence
between our situation and the situation addressed by the prophet
Malachi for us to apply the injunction of Malachi 3:10 to ourselves
today?” I am not convinced that there is. There are of course
questions relating to the consequences of our withholding funds, and
to the alternate use to which those funds might be put that may
have to be addressed.

The prayer of Jesus recorded in John 17, particularly verses 20-23,
addresses the issue of unity among the disciples of Jesus with him in
his earthly ministry and among those disciples “who believe in me
through their word”. This prayer included the petition “ that they
may all be one, even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that
they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast
sent me.” It is difficult to find anything to do with the
organisational unity of the church in this passage. The nature of
the unity that Jesus has in and with the Father is a relational unity
of truth and love. It could even be argued that three or four
smaller churches that did not have organisational unity, but which
did have a unity of truth and love with each other and with the Lord,
would be closer to Jesus’ ideal than one large church that did have
organisational unity but did not have a unity of truth and love. It
is also salutary to ask the question as to whether the world is more
likely to come to believe that the Father has sent the Son into the
world when faced by the organisational unity of the church or by a
unity of truth and love.

Another New Testament passage that warrants the most careful study is
1 Corinthians 5:9-13.with special reference to verse 11, “I wrote to
you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he
is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler,
drunkard, or robber – not even to eat with such a one.” This is one
of the passages on which the argument advocating separation because
of “broken communion”, is based. This argument affirms that we are
forbidden to break the bread of Communion with one who has put
himself out of fellowship with the Lord, until there is repentance.
If this “one” is a bishop then the consequences for those “under his
authority” are very serious. This passage has added pertinence to us
as we reflect that the Same Sex Union Blessing controversy is
essentially an issue of idolatry. It is an instance of the Church
falling down before the contemporary idols of political correctness,
the privatization of values, and undifferentiated tolerance.

In the letters to the seven churches in Revelation there are words of
warning and judgement. Ephesus (2:5) “I will come to you and remove
your lampstand from its place unless you repent”. Pergamum (2:16)
“Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them
with the sword of my mouth.”. Thyatira (2:21) “I gave her time to
repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will
throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will
throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings; and I
will strike her children dead..” Sardis (3:3) “Repent. If you will
not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what
hour I will come to you.” Philadelphia (3:9) “Behold, I will make
those of the Synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not,
but lie – behold I will make them come and bow down before your feet,
and learn that I have loved you.” Laodicea (3:16) “Because you are
lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”

Lot was warned to flee from Sodom as it came under God’s judgement
(Genesis 19:12-29), God warned Noah and his family to flee from the
judgement that he was bringing on the world (Genesis 6), Jesus
warned his disciples to flee from Jerusalem as it came under God’s
judgement (Luke 21:20-24) Could the time come when God will call his
people to flee from an institution that may have ceased to be a
church, whose lamp stand God has removed from its place, and which
has come under the judgement of God?

The search for historical precedents in determining our future
relationship with the diocese and the national church.

In the Reformation the emergence of the Protestant church took place
in different ways in different countries. In Germany Martin Luther
was expelled from the Church of Rome. In England Thomas Cranmer
found himself independent of the Church of Rome in large part because
of a political decision by King Henry VIII. With John Calvin it was
different again. ”His final break with the Roman Catholic Church
appears to have taken place in 1533 after a religious experience in
which he believed he had received a mission to restore the Church to
its original purity.” (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church:
Calvin, John.)

On May 19th 1662 a Parliament of Charles II in England passed the Act
of Uniformity. This Act required all ministers of religion to use
only the Book of Common Prayer in worship, to be ordained by a
bishop, and to subscribe to the thirty-nine articles. One fifth of
all the Christian Ministers in the country declined to conform. . On
August 24th Bartholomew’s Day two thousand men left their churches
their livelihood and their homes “going forth on a high enterprise of
faith rather than violate conscience by denying their conviction as
to the true nature of the Church and the ministry.” (Dr G Campbell
Morgan : The Westminster Pulpit 1912) This was the beginning of the
Non-Conformist movement and Non-Conformist churches in England from
which came such an abundant harvest in the centuries that followed.

In 1668 in England eight bishops and 400 clergy declined to take the
Oath of Allegiance to William and Mary. They were all deprived of
their livings. Within a hundred years their separate identity had
all but vanished.

John and Charles Wesley remained members of the Church of England
until their lives end. However in 1768 a Methodist Chapel was opened
in New York. The needs of this new field induced John Wesley to
ordain Dr Thomas Coke a Welshman as Superintendent or Bishop, and
also instructed Coke to ordain Francis Asbury in the Americas as his
colleague. Within five years of the death of John Wesley The
Conference authorized Methodist preachers in their Preaching Houses
(later “chapels”) to administer the sacraments of Baptism and Holy
Communion. The subsequent mission and ministry of the Methodist
Church throughout the world has had an enormous influence for good
throughout the ensuing centuries.

The call of Dr Martin Lloyd Jones from Westminster Chapel in 1966 to
evangelicals within the Church of England to join him and other
evangelicals in forming a separate evangelical Church in England
needs to be studied. This call was graciously declined by Dr John
Stott, Dr J.I. Packer, and others. In the approximately 40 years
since this historic decision the evangelical movement in the Church
of England has had a transforming influence within that church.

The above examples are only a very small sampling of historical
research that needs to be done as we continue to seek God’s wisdom
through the way that he has led his people in past centuries. .

Three observations could be made in the light of these historical
precedents. The first is that God, in his infinite mercy and grace
continued working, albeit gradually, slowly and partially in the
corrupt institutions that groups and individuals felt compelled to
leave. The second observation is that the new life that was birthed
in the new institutions that came into existence through the costly
obedience of those who followed the leading of God’s Spirit in the
historical circumstances of their own day, could not have come forth
within the old institutions. This new life can be seen in terms of
holy living, reaching the lost, and the transformation of society.
In the third place it is salutary to recognize that in time the new
institutions wrestled with some of the same and similar challenges to
Biblical faithfulness and vibrant Spirit filled life that had plagued
the institutions from which they had come.

One of the principal differences between the more distant historical
precedents and the situation that pertains today is the existence now
of a self conscious, vocal, active, global Anglican Communion with an
increasingly influential leadership from the global south. This was
in part anticipated by those who framed the foundation document of
the Anglican Church of Canada, the Solemn Declaration of 1893. This
declaration, found in the front of the Book of Common Prayer,
affirms:

“We declare this church to be, and desire that it shall continue, in
full communion with the Church of England throughout the world, as an
integral portion of the One Body of Christ composed of Churches
which, united under the One Divine Head and in the fellowship of the
One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, hold the One Faith revealed
in Holy Writ, and defined in the Creeds as maintained in the
undivided primitive Church and in the undisputed Ecumenical
Councils”. “And we are determined by the help of God to hold and
maintain the Doctrine, Sacraments, and Discipline of Christ as the
Lord hath commanded in his Holy Word, and as the Church of England
hath received and set forth the same in The Book of Common Prayer.”

The founding fathers of the Anglican Church of Canada affirmed first
and foremost “We declare this church to be, and desire it to
continue, in full communion with the Church of England throughout the
world.” Little did the bishops, clergy and laity realize, gathered
at Trinity College, Toronto in September1893 for the first national
synod, what massive significance these words would have for orthodox
Canadian Anglicans nearly one and a quarter centuries later. How
immensely reassuring to know that God the Holy Spirit, by so guiding
our founding fathers, has built into the very definition of what the
Anglican Church of Canada is, a commitment to remain in “full
communion” with the world-wide Anglican Communion.

Would this not mean that any parish or diocese that chooses to step
out of fellowship with the global Anglican Communion, has forfeited
its right to be a part of the Anglican Church of Canada.?

Parishes and dioceses, as vessels of the church of God, must chose
their direction and determine how to set their sails, as we head
across uncharted waters into the gathering storm. Our compass is
surely the glorious and Solemn Declaration, pointing as it does to
“Christ as the Lord” and to the “Word of God” “As containing all
things necessary to salvation.” Our continued faithfulness to it is
therefore our highest priority and our greatest safeguard in the
Anglican Church of Canada today.

Dedication

This article is dedicated to Paul Carter, Simon Chin, Dan Gifford, Ed
Hird, Stephen Leung, Neil Mancor, Barclay Mayo, Dawn McDonald, Silas
Ng, Felix Orji, Jim Packer, David Short, James Wagner, Trevor
Walters, Mike Stewart, and others in recognition of their costly and
courageous witness. .

The Rev. Robin Guinness is Associate Pastor of Little Trinity Church
in Toronto, Ontario.

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