In my first essay, I looked at the portions of the Jerusalem Declaration that expound Gafcon’s understanding of the nature of the church. In this essay, I focus on clause 13, which calls for church discipline, and how that fits into Gafcon’s understanding of unity and diversity within Anglicanism.
The Jerusalem Declaration contains fourteen clauses. Thirteen of them are affirmations of basic Christian doctrines: the Gospel, the Bible, the Creeds and Councils, the Articles, Prayer Book and Ordinal, marriage, stewardship, mission, church unity, and Jesus coming in glory. One of them, clause 13, is a downer. It reads:
13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.
I was talking recently with a friend from the Church of England about why more Evangelicals there had not openly supported the Gafcon movement. He began by saying how positive he and his colleagues were about the Assemblies in 2008, 2013 and 2018 and also about the Jerusalem Declaration as a fine confession of biblical faith.
I paused and then asked: “Does that positivity include clause 13?” Well, no, he admitted, clause 13 is something of a stumbling block for many Evangelicals. Indeed it was the main reason several Evangelical bishops decided not to attend Gafcon in Jerusalem last year (attendees were asked to affirm the Jerusalem Declaration).
So this question arose from our discussion: Should Gafcon excise clause 13, or is there a way of interpreting it which is not a stumbling block to conflicted Evangelicals? I promised my English friend that I would think about this question.
I have already argued that in principle the Jerusalem Declaration can be amended by adding a clause, so it necessarily follows that it can be amended by excising a clause. I shall be arguing below why clause 13 is not a lapse into negativity but is the salt of discipline that makes the affirmations of doctrine “edible,” i.e., credible and effective in a catholic and apostolic church and the Anglican Communion in particular.
The Ecumenical Framework of Clause 13
Clause 13 concludes a cluster of three clauses on the unity of the church. It is preceded by clauses 11 and 12, which read:
11. We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.
12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.
Clause 11 reflects Jesus’ “ecumenical” prayer for His flock “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). Gafcon is claiming here not to be sectarian; indeed all its statements and actions have been addressed to the wider church and in particular to the Instruments of Unity, represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury. (This “open statement of the truth” [2 Corinthians 4:2] is, in fact, in stark contrast with Canterbury’s studied refusal to engage with Gafcon’s contentions.)
The reference to recognizing the orders and jurisdiction of orthodox Anglicans is the positive side of the coin of which clause 13 is the flip side. In the Jerusalem Statement, Gafcon is clearly wishing to promote unity among orthodox Anglicans when it says:
We urge the Primates’ Council to authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations and to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith.
There is, however, a tension built into the Statement, as it goes on to state:
We recognise the desirability of territorial jurisdiction for provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion, except in those areas where churches and leaders are denying the orthodox faith or are preventing its spread, and in a few areas for which overlapping jurisdictions are beneficial for historical or cultural reasons.
Gafcon is envisioning a visible church with discrete geographical boundaries. But what about individual clergy or congregations that approve the principles of the Jerusalem Declaration but choose, for whatever reason, to remain in heterodox dioceses or provinces, even if a Gafcon alternative is available? As I read it, clause 11 is offering moral support to these confessors, but there is an implicit warning that to remain attached to a diseased member of the body, to say “I or we personally dissent from the false teaching of my diocese or province” is an unstable place to stand. This stance begs the question “What happens after you die or move on?”; or “What happens when the revisionists require you to uphold their doctrine and practice?” The current case of Bishop Love and the “Communion Partners” in the Episcopal Church USA comes to mind. Those in the Church of England who think they have a triple or quadrupal lock on orthodoxy should take note.
Clause 12 focuses on unity and diversity within the Anglican tradition. It begins by recognizing the great variety of church cultures in the far-flung regions of the Communion. The Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) placed this variety under the aegis of the historic episcopate, “locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.”
Diversity is not only a matter of national and tribal customs but also of theological differences. In Africa, for instance, churches founded by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) and Church Missionary Society (CMS) have a very different churchmanship, though both have also been strongly affected by their African national setting; yet Gafcon has included churches from both traditions.
By using the terms “orthodox” and “secondary matters,” clauses 11 and 12 mark out a generous space for Anglicans to agree to disagree. The distinction between biblical essentials and “indifferent matters” (adiaphora) is characteristically Anglican (see Article XX). In The Way, the Truth and the Life (pages 34-40), Gafcon’s Theological Resource Group delineated a three-stream typology of Anglican orthodoxy: Evangelical, Catholic and Charismatic, exercised in a spirit of liberality.
True liberality has its limits, as set down in Scripture and the tradition of the Church. The Lambeth Conferences muddled through differences of churchmanship and reactions to modernity for about a century. The advent of the Sexual Revolution in the West, however, presented a new challenge to the unity of the Communion with the promotion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. At the Lambeth Conference in 1998, a vast majority of bishops, led by those from the Global South, stated that homosexual practice was “incompatible with Scripture” and could not be advised (Resolution I.10).
Doctrinal decisions of church councils from the early church to the present have been accompanied by disciplinary measures (canons), ranging from local admonitions to church-wide inhibitions to ultimate excommunication. When the Episcopal Church refused to conform to Lambeth Resolution I.10, the Instruments of Unity faced the challenge of disciplining a member province. In response two Anglican Primates in 2001 offered a proposal of careful but necessary steps of Communion discipline titled To Mend the Net. The failure of Canterbury to act on this proposal led ineluctably to GAFCON 2008 (see Essay 4 of my book) .
The 2008 Jerusalem Statement opens with a prophetic indictment, based on three “facts” about the state of the Communion:
- The first fact is the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different ‘gospel’ (cf. Galatians 1:6-8) which is contrary to the apostolic gospel.
- The second fact is the declaration by provincial bodies in the Global South that they are out of communion with bishops and churches that promote this false gospel.
- The third fact is the manifest failure of the Communion Instruments to exercise discipline in the face of overt heterodoxy.
As I see it, clauses 11 and 12 lay out the constructive framework of Anglican Communion polity, while Clause 13 addresses the necessary discipline which that polity needs to be credible. These three clauses, along with the whole Declaration, are a reforming instrument caused by the particular crisis in which the Anglican Communion has found itself over the past twenty years.
The Genesis of Clause 13
I was a member of the Gafcon Statement group in 2008. I honestly do not remember who contributed what to the final Declaration, but I was certainly a supporter, if not the proposer, of clause 13. Twice before I had seen the failure of sound doctrine without the right use of discipline in the Episcopal Church USA.
In 1996, a church court (seven bishops) had tried the case of Bishop Walter Righter, who had knowingly ordained a practicing homosexual in contradiction to the official teaching of the Episcopal Church, teaching which at that time agreed with Scripture and the universal tradition of the church. I had written two briefs (here and here) for the “Presenters,” arguing that by this act Bishop Righter had violated his vow of “holding and teaching” the church’s faith. The bishop-judges disagreed 7-1 and acquitted Righter, arguing that only a breach of “core doctrine,” which they defined in terms of the historic Creeds, could have disciplinary consequences – and even an open denier of the Creeds like Bishop John Spong could get around that condition by humming the Creed with his fingers crossed. This decision cleared the way for the Episcopal leadership to introduce, risk-free, same-sex blessings and then same-sex marriage, which they have proceeded to do. The refusal to uphold their own disciplinary canons led to a change of doctrine, which in turn has led to new canons. Today all dioceses in the Episcopal Church are required to offer same-sex marriage, and any bishop who defies them will be promptly inhibited and threatened with deposition.
This was my first encounter with the failure of discipline; the second followed shortly thereafter. Immediately after the Righter verdict was announced, conservatives gathered to form the American Anglican Council (AAC) to teach the faith and to warn against the drift in the Church. At our organizational board meeting, we agreed on a set of doctrinal affirmations called “A Place to Stand, A Call to Mission.” All were agreed until we got to the disciplinary clause. Some of us proposed the following language:
When teachings and practices contrary to Scripture and to this orthodox Anglican perspective are permitted within the Church – or even authorized by conventions or synods – we, in obedience to God, will disassociate ourselves from those specific teachings and practices and from those who advocate them and will resist them in every way possible.
The bishops on the AAC board demurred at this point and insisted on omitting the highlighted phrase. They realized the ecclesiological ramifications of such a statement and the likely disciplinary consequences to themselves that would follow. For the same reason, they were unwilling to come to the aid of clergy and people in “front-line” congregations in hostile dioceses seeking alternative oversight. Their timidity led non-episcopal leaders to conclude that the AAC was toothless in the critical years after Lambeth 1998, and these leaders organized alternative groupings that led ultimately to the birth of the Anglican Church in North America. (The episcopal bench eventually coalesced into the “Communion Partners,” who remain in the Episcopal Church. The AAC itself has taken a different direction since then.)
I am citing this background simply to say that clause 13 did not emerge out of a vacuum but from the costly church battle in North America which was then exported into the entire Communion after Lambeth 1998.
Who Is Clause 13 Addressing?
It is important at this point to identify whom it is that clause 13 is addressing. By using the word “authority” along with “churches” and “leaders,” clause 13 is aimed not at the sheep of Christ’s flock but at the shepherds.
In Matthew chapter 18 we find a model of Jesus’ teaching on pastoral care. The chapter begins with Jesus’ commending child-like faith among His people (verses 1-4). Church leaders must welcome and care for even the weakest, errant believer in the flock as if it were Jesus Himself (verse 5; Matthew 25:40). The gentle nature of the sheep calls for vigilance among the pastors because the church is sent out among wolves, within and without. So Jesus follows this appeal with a stern warning to the same leaders in verse 6: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Jesus targets the same leaders in the Sermon on the Mount when He says:
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
These warnings are addressed to the “key” leaders (verse 18), who will become the overseers and guardians of the apostolic church, a role that is incorporated into Anglican ordination vows.
Jesus goes on to describe a disciplinary process for a straying sheep, which begins privately and proceeds publicly to the “church” only if the sinner refuses to repent (verses 15-18). And even after declaring exclusion, Jesus makes clear, the church should receive back a penitent “seventy times seven times” (verse 22).
Clause 13 is speaking from shepherds to shepherds, which explains why it is so stern and its implications so grave. Yet even here we recognize that churches and their leaders are fallible. Churches and bishops can err and have erred in teaching and practice. The Gafcon movement is calling the Communion leadership to repent and is praying that God will grant it grace to do so for the sake of Christ’s Body the Church. Sadly but not surprisingly, the only response from Canterbury to Gafcon’s call, eleven years on, has been silence.
Word and Deed: True Walking Together
There has been a lot of empty talk about “walking together” leading up to the 2020 Lambeth Conference. For incarnational Christianity, word and deed walk together (James 1:22). Discipline necessarily accompanies doctrine, whether in governing the family, the state, or the church. “Him we proclaim,” St. Paul says, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Warning and teaching – “sound doctrine” and “the right use of ecclesiastical discipline” are marks of the true church, according to the Anglican Homily for Whitsunday (2nd part).
So the question raised by clause 13 is: are the practices that have arisen in the West of homosexual practice, same-sex partnerships, and same-sex marriage so important that they would cause a division (schism) in the church? Or could this be a secondary matter where the church could look away? Or could it even be that the church has misunderstood the biblical teaching about sexuality for 2000 years and that this teaching itself was culturally conditioned or just plain wrong?
Two decades ago, I set myself a thought experiment: begin with the Bible’s teaching on marriage, its natural design, and the Prayer Book rite of matrimony, and ask whether marriage can be reconfigured to include faithful, monogamous, life-long same-sex unions. My conclusion was negative, because the “two sexes, one flesh” character of marriage is built in to its physical and spiritual DNA by God Himself. This being the case, the Church cannot bless an unreality. It also means that same-sex civil partners, however much they are affirmed as “living in love and faith,” are not married in God’s eyes and fall under the apostolic warnings to those who engage in immoral practices (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:5).
The Church of England leadership seems to want to cut a compromise and say that same-sex marriage is not possible but same-sex partnerships can be blessed and accepted in the church. This half-way house will not stand. We know it cannot stand logically because sex and marriage go together. We also know it cannot stand experientially because secular and church bodies that have begun with that compromise have always ended up with “marriage equality.”
Anglicans like to quote lex orandi lex credendi, “the law of praying becomes the law of believing.” The theological Left has another law: call it lex agendi lex credendi, “the law of practice becomes the new orthodoxy.” Richard John Neuhaus rather famously called this the law of optional orthodoxy: “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” Church progressives are counting on this law coming to pass in England as well. We have seen this law at work with regard to women’s ordination, which began as a matter of “open reception” in the 1990s and within twenty years has become a canonical requirement.
It is certain folly to compromise where irreconcilable principles are opposed. The compromisers stand, like Neville Chamberlain, waving a piece of paper while the “social justice warriors” complete their takeover of the church. This should not be surprising, for even wrong doctrine requires discipline.
Some Questions for the Dubious
So I come back to the question asked by my English friend about Gafcon and clause 13. I suppose it is clear that I do not think Gafcon should excise clause 13 from the Jerusalem Declaration. Indeed I believe this clause is critical to Gafcon’s prophetic vocation in the Anglican Communion.
That said, I would like to engage those conservatives, especially in the Church of England, who think clause 13 poses an obstacle to their participation in Gafcon. Does the obstacle have to do with the polity of the Established Church or with its power and prestige? Are there theological responses to the arguments I have set forth? Perhaps I have missed them, but I would like to hear a response, since Gafcon’s statements have been routinely ignored rather than answered.
There is a second set of questions I would ask. If one were to accept the premise that conservatives need to “differentiate” themselves from those who are promoting false doctrine and practice, is there a way that clause 13 could be understood in a way that did not require leaving the Church of England? Is there a way conservative leaders can publicly “reject the authority” of false teachers without expelling them or being expelled by them? Is there any reason, for instance, that conservative bishops in the Church of England must attend Lambeth 2020? Could they not make a strong witness by joining with those in the Global South who are staying away out of conscience?
My final set of questions is forward-looking. What does the future hold for orthodox Anglicans in England? Is there some way that Gafcon, with its understanding of doctrine and discipline, could play a part in that future?
Help me out. I would like to know.
Cover Photo: Gafcon Bishops in Jerusalem 2008 (Gafcon)