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"We Cannot Bless what is contrary to God's revealed will": Former Bishop of Maidstone

"We Cannot Bless what is contrary to God's revealed will": Former Bishop of Maidstone
Without proper provision, some will lose heart; some will leave the Church of England; and some will work at sustaining a differentiated ministry which leaves dioceses fractured.

January 27, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters,

I thought I should follow up last week's letter about the post-LLF proposals from the House of Bishops because of all that has been written since, and in the light of a recent residential meeting of the CEEC Council. First, I am conscious of the question put by my good friend Lee Gatiss in a recent blog about the position of evangelical bishops. I want to start therefore by reassuring you that in the College of Bishops I voted against the draft material on which the views of General Synod are now being sought, and I remain opposed to it.

After the College meeting ended, I felt both grief and shame. My firm desire is that all who treasure the Church's existing position on marriage, including bishops, will vote against the motion which the House of Bishops is putting to Synod.

The reasons for this are threefold:

1. Marriage, as traditionally understood, is integral to the Christian faith There have been suggestions that the traditional, Biblical, understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman for life, is not 'credal' and therefore can be treated as 'adiaphora' (ie. we can agree to disagree). However, this understanding of marriage is both a source of revelation in Scripture and a means of grace. In terms of revelation, we read that marriage was given by God in creation (it is a creation 'ordinance'); it lies at the heart of what the Old Testament teaches about the covenant love of God (expressed perhaps most tellingly in Hosea); it is presented to us as a way of describing our relationship with Christ as a result of his atoning work on the Cross (eg Ephesians 5: 22-33); and it provides the imagery for our eschatological hope in Revelation.

Marriage is also a means of grace. It is a 'common' grace in that whether or not people are followers of Christ, unless they have the gift of singleness, they can profit from this good gift of God. Although I very much welcome the fact that officially at least, no change in the doctrine of marriage has been proposed, it is disturbing to read in the Bishops' introductory letter that 'we have not found sufficient consensus to propose a change in doctrine at the present time'. The idea that we might at some stage in the future sideline these wonderful Biblical truths is very distressing.

2. We should not lead people away from the Bible's teaching The material on 'blessing' is presented not as 'approval' of particular relationships but as representing a desire for God to bless people at significant times in their lives. The nuances here are designed to avoid alienation of those who take very different views on these matters in the Church.

However, there is absolutely no doubt that the popular understanding will be that same-sex relationships are being blessed. Last week's 'Sunday Programme' on Radio 4 provides evidence of that. The fact is that even if these are prayers 'for blessing' rather than 'of blessing' of people involved in same-sex relationships, the context is entirely that of their relationships. It would thus be entirely natural for people to reach the conclusion that intimate same-sex relationships were being blessed. This means that if these prayers were to be commended by the House of Bishops, it would be leading people away from the Bible's teaching -- and therefore away from the revealed will of God (eg 1 Corinthians 6).

We should not mislead people into believing that we can ask God to bless those things that He has revealed are contrary to His will.

3. The fundamental nature of our disagreement can only be resolved by positive provision There is no provision in the material for properly respecting the consciences of those who take very different views within the Church. The documents are clear about the depth of our disagreement, but by failing to recognise this through structural provision (sometimes described as 'differentiation'), they will leave those clergy and congregations which support the Church's current teaching in extremely exposed positions where there will be nothing to protect them against charges of homophobia; nothing to recognise their understanding of New Testament teaching about how fellowship should or should not be expressed; and nothing that protects their position in the long term.

Without proper provision, some will lose heart; some will leave the Church of England; and some will work at sustaining a differentiated ministry which leaves dioceses fractured. The better way would be to make positive provision which doesn't force people into adversarial relationships and which enables us to share within the Church of England all that we can. It will be clear from what I have said that I have much sympathy with those who believe that a red line has been crossed and that action to demonstrate our rejection of the apparent direction of travel is now necessary.

However, alongside this, I do hope we will work at remaining united by supporting the work of CEEC.

It is uniting evangelicals across the Church of England and also taking a very clear stance both on this controversial material and on the need for positive structural provision now to be put in place. Undertaking this work effectively requires active support in DEFs and through the financial support we may be able to provide. The House of Bishops meets on Monday; please pray for our evangelical bishops to take a united stand.

The General Synod will begin on the following Monday; please pray for our General Synod representatives as they voice their opposition to the motion. The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

Rod Thomas
Formerly Bishop of Maidstone

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