21 evangelical bishops in the Church of England have written an open letter to the Church of England Newspaper urging their fellow Anglican bishops around the world to attend the Lambeth Conference. The signatories include NT Wright, Bishop of Durham, but not bishops Nazir-Ali of Rochester or Benn of Lewes – nor for that matter Broadbent of Willesden, as far as I know the only bishop so far to comment on this blog (but I have no idea of Broadbent’s position on this issue).
I have not actually seen the open letter, which is not in the CEN’s free online daily edition. But I have read the CEN report as republished by Anglican Mainstream and others, with extracts from the letter. In one of these the bishops write:
We urge you therefore to take the long route, waiting for God to work through the processes that are already in train and praying for him to work his purposes in us and through us together.
That is, they are asking their fellow conservatives in the worldwide Anglican communion to abandon their boycott, which they at least implicitly consider a short cut, and take a long route via the Lambeth Conference.
But the problem with taking long routes is that they don’t always lead to the intended destination. This one is at least starting off in what a direction which seems completely opposite to the one which the evangelical bishops want to go to. That does not in itself make it a bad route. But the human guide along this route, Archbishop Rowan Williams, seems to be confused over the final destination, and many are pushing him to choose one which is quite different from what the 21 have in mind. This combination of a wrong starting direction, divided opinions over the destination and a confused guide tend to suggest to me that there is little chance that the long route will ever reach its destination – or if it does, it will be as long and pass through as many dangers as the Odyssey.
In these circumstances it is certainly very tempting to take a short cut which, it is claimed, leads straight to the destination. The evangelical bishops’ argument against this is an interesting one. Effectively it is that because not everyone will take the short cut it is divisive for anyone to do so. Well, of course those who are looking for a different destination will not take the short cut. But the 21 bishops warn that abandoning the Windsor process, taking the short cut,
would inevitably split apart those who share an equally high regard for Scriptures and for the historic faith of the Church.
Well, who is causing the split among the orthodox here? Is it the bishops who are not going to Lambeth, or the 21, a much smaller number, who are saying that they should go? While numbers or temporal priority are not decisive in such things, it does seem to be the larger group of the orthodox who are not going to Lambeth and they made their position clear first. So who is being divisive?
I can only applaud the 21 bishops’ desire to wait for God to work. And I am sure that he can work through the Lambeth conference. But he would have to perform a major miracle for this long route to get to the required destination in the foreseeable future. It is all very well expecting miracles. If these bishops have genuine faith for such a miracle, based on what God has said to them about his intentions, then I cannot quarrel with them. But if they are simply presuming that God will continue to bless the Anglican Communion because he has done so before, and regardless of how far into apostasy certain sections of it descend, then that is just presumption. And if “waiting for God to work” is simply pious words from people who have lost much of their faith that God will actually do anything except through their own efforts supposedly for him, then this is sheer hypocrisy.
I would like to challenge these bishops, evangelicals in a church with a heritage in the Reformation: do they believe that it is ever right to split away from a large church body over matters of doctrine and practice? If not, why are they not Roman Catholics, having rejected the schism of the Reformation? And if they do believe this, how far would the Anglican Communion have to move away from the truth of God’s word before they would consider leaving it?
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 7:13-14 (TNIV)
I think the various bishops need to take on board this principle. The route via Lambeth may be long but it is also broad and, we read, at least 70% of the bishops are taking it. But it seems to me that it will lead to destruction, at least of the churches whose leaders follow it. Perhaps it is the narrower and less popular road that will lead to renewed life for the church.