WHEN archbishops begin to think like Humpty Dumpty we know the Church is in trouble. In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass we read, ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
The Church of England in its latest report, Love Matters, commissioned by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and published last month, puts forward a vision of the future based on what it terms ‘love in action’, and for the archbishops love means something other than what it means in the Bible. It means ‘neither more nor less’ than acceptance and affirmation of that which the Bible terms sin.
Speak the Truth in Love
The ‘love in action’ proposed by the archbishops certainly does not include speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). In Scripture truth and love go hand in hand and should never be separated. If we speak the truth without love, we are harsh and ungracious and fall far short of the example of Christ Jesus. If we act in a supposedly ‘loving’ manner without basing what we say and do on the truth, we betray Christ and confirm the other person in their error.
On numerous occasions Jesus spoke uncomfortable truths on love. He confronted the rich young ruler about his attachment to his wealth (Mark 10:17-27), and he spoke to the woman by the well about her sexual behaviour (John 4:1-26), with fruitful results (John 4:39-42).
Is it love in action if we accept without question those lifestyle choices which have done so much damage to individuals and society as valid expressions of our humanity? Or is it love in action if instead we affirm those biblical principles and virtues taught by the Church for two millennia and which have benefited untold numbers of individuals and society?
The gospel taught in this report is a form of therapeutic Christianity. The individual is seen as the focus of all things, and whatever living arrangement we have and which makes us feel good at the time is to be accepted and affirmed.
The closest the report comes to defining love is in the foreword by the two archbishops. For them love is relational, ‘Love is what must bind us together’. This is taken up in the body of the report where we are told love is ‘a commitment to give to – and promote the flourishing of – another person’.
According to the archbishops this is why God the Son became incarnate: ‘God so loved the world that he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to live among us, to demonstrate a radical new way of relating to one another’. This is diametrically opposed to what the Bible teaches: that Jesus Christ came to live among us to show us a radical new way of relating to God and to open up that way by His sacrifice on the cross.
Instead of honouring God by living a life of obedience to his Word the report rejects God’s teaching in Scripture. The report does go so far as to state that the monogamous relationship between one man and one woman must be supported. It even states that marriage may well be seen as desirable to attaining this end. However, what is actually supported is life-long commitment, and the report accepts that there are many types of relationship in which this life-long commitment can be evidenced. Thus for a Church of England report backed by the two most senior clerics in the denomination, marriage as defined in Scripture can be useful but is not the only acceptable way of living together.
The first danger of this report is that it affirms the spirit of the age with all the harm that brings. A simple example of the weakness and harm of marriage alternatives is that although touted as a valid alternative to marriage cohabitation is far from ideal. Twenty-seven per cent of couples who were cohabiting when their child was born will have separated by the time the child is five, as opposed to 9 per cent of married couples.
The report’s greatest harm is that it is destructive of the Christian faith. It not only leaves people in weak and damaged relationships, it denies them the possibility of redemption. By affirming people where they are, it closes the door to offering them something better. It leaves people in their God-denying situation and refuses to point them to a way out and the possibility of a better life now and in the future.
For the church not only to endorse ways of life which go contrary to Scripture, but to attempt to affirm and bolster them, places the Church of England at odds with God. The church is called to shine a light in the darkness, not to tell people that the darkness is fine. Jesus loved individuals, so He told them the truth and pointed them to a better way. That is still the task of the church today.
This article appears on A Grain of Sand and is republished by kind permission.