This Week at General Synod

This is an important and possibly decisive week for the Church of England in which the issue of ‘same sex marriage’ is being debated at General Synod.

I am a traditionalist here and I’ve made my own position very clear on this at the highest level but I have preferred not to speak out publicly. I’ve always seen my calling as a preacher of the good news to those outside the church, rather than as a prophet to those inside it. Equally, another area that I have avoided involvement in is that of the ministry of my son Ben. He aspires to be his own man or, perhaps better, God’s man.

I am known for being gentle and cheerful, yet I have my limits and I’m afraid today they have been spectacularly breached. Ben was speaking at General Synod, doing no more than justifying the historic position of the Church of England and, indeed, of the majority of churches within the Anglican Communion and asking the question, ‘What measures are in place if bishops fail to believe, teach or uphold doctrine?’ Now, I should say that I’m not concerned about defending Ben; he is perfectly capable of standing up for himself, and that is a good and pertinent question.

The question was met with a response from no less than the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, who, I remind you, is the second most senior cleric in the Church of England. Normally, the speech of senior Anglican clerics overflows with bland politeness, seeks to reassure questioners that their views are being heard and offers some measure of a reasoned answer. Today, all this was forgotten and what we got instead, with remarkable frankness, were the archbishop’s own views. There was no answer to the question posed, although the superior and frankly condescending tone adopted clearly implied that the rank of archbishop put you above accountability on doctrinal matters.

The archbishop then drifted into a remarkable passage in which he alluded to the notion of the 19th-century cleric John Henry Newman (later Cardinal Newman), that it was the duty of bishops ‘to explore what is sometimes called the development of doctrine’, and to see in the acorn, the oak tree that it might be. There was a failure to point out even the merest hint of any kind of acorn, however tiny, in the rich soil of the New Testament that might eventually sprout into the revisionist oak of marriage for all. Indeed, with a boldness that was breath-taking, the archbishop even suggested that the ‘developments’ that were being proposed on marriage were somehow parallel to the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.

By all means watch the video and draw your own conclusions

I was left with two thoughts. First, it was very revealing that the archbishop quoted Newman, conveniently overlooking the fact that, after trying and failing to bend the doctrines of the Church of England, Newman eventually left for Rome. The second was the sad fact that there was no attempt whatsoever to present any sort of biblical response. In fact, the only time he mentioned the New Testament was in a remarkably cheap jibe at the end to the effect that Ben really ought to go and read the New Testament. Well, I can assure the archbishop that Ben has read the New Testament. In fact, I would not be at all surprised that, reminded of acorns and seeds, he was not thinking of our Lord’s parable in Matthew 13:36-43 of the wheat field sown with weeds by the devil. The fact is not everything that is planted deserves to come to fruition, and it is precisely the responsibility of bishops, and even archbishops, to do their best to ensure that the fields of the Lord produce a good crop for him. I’m afraid what seems to be proposed this week and defended by the archbishop is not the sowing of acorns but rather deadly weeds. I can only pray that God may have mercy on his church.

Written by: Revd Canon J.John

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