Dear Friends,

I was in Jerusalem June 14-23rd to be a part of the Global Anglican Futures Gathering (GAFCON). Here are some of my reflections:

I shared last week about how the Gospel has implications. It is important to remember that the implications are not the Gospel. The Gospel is the Gospel. But the Gospel has implications. One thing the GAFCON helped bring out was that the Gospel has both common implications and contextual or particular implications. Sadly throughout history, we Christians have mistaken the two. We need to continually read and listen deeply to God’s word to understand the Gospel and the common and contextual implications of the Gospel. We especially need to do this cross-culturally and cross-temporally, in other words across time. GAFCON was a wonderful example of “the church” reading the bible together cross-culturally in the context of worship and community, to be clearer about the Gospel and its common and contextual implications.

First of all, some of the common implications were made clear. GAFCON also modelled how to think about visible churches, whether local, regional or national, that claim that a common implication of the Gospel is, at best, contextual. Both a casual and a deep reading of the Bible and a study of how the Bible has been interpreted throughout history, shows that there are certain core beliefs about sexuality that are common. At GAFCON, Christians from cultures where polygamy is the historic cultural belief met with Christians from very different cultures including cultures where lifelong monogamous marriage has been rejected as the cultural norm. Together we agreed that there is a consensual core biblical teaching. God created human beings male and female, man and woman. Monogamous heterosexual marriage is part of God’s original and ongoing plan for the human race. Sexual knowing and sexual stimulation is reserved for those in heterosexual marriage. Those not in heterosexual marriage are called to abstinence. Seeking to live and think in this manner is a common implication of the Gospel.

So what does it mean when a church after deliberation and study decides that a common, core implication is at best contextual? Well there are two general options which must be patiently and charitably examined. One option is that the church is just confused, and needs to be patiently shown the truth from the Bible. The other option is the sadder and harder option. The move to remove a common/core implication is a sign that the Gospel itself has been abandoned and the visible church now holds to a different Gospel and a different religion. This option still needs to be dealt with patiently and charitably. We still need to make clear the Gospel and its common and contextual implications. But if the visible church, that has removed a common implication of the Gospel, digs in its heels and refuses to change, the sad conclusion must be reached that though the name “Christian” is still claimed, this visible church is no longer one which holds to the Gospel. Institutional discipline will always have to follow, in the hope of repentance.

GAFCON is part of a 20 year process of patient listening, charitably examination and teaching, addressed to the First World Anglican Churches. Especially the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church USA. Discipline is deepening.