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What does grace demand?

Primates2016In the discussion about my explanation of the Primates’ Meeting, James Byron (a regular commentator on this blog, who comes from quite a different theological position from me) puts his finger on what is at the heart of the matter:

The press portray this split as being about sex, when in reality, it’s about authority and revelation, and sexuality is just the presenting issue.

This agrees with something I have said quite often. What matters in the current debate about sexuality has less to do with the consequences of any decision, and more to do with the presuppositions that you need to make to want to change the Church’s current teaching. This is well illustrated by Martyn Percy’s second article in Modern Church.

As with his previous article, Martyn takes some breath-taking theological short-cuts on the way to making his (as a result self-evident) conclusion.

As baptised members of their churches, living their Christian lives faithfully, and love lives lawfully, [lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians] will have full citizenship in heaven with their fellow Christians.

This statement completely short-circuits the theological work that needs to be done (and is one of the central issues in the Shared Conversations): do same-sex sexual unions constitute faithful Christian living, i.e. is this a pattern of life, ‘created and hallowed by God that all should honour’? Martyn writes as though the answer here is clear and needs no further discussion or rehearsal. He then goes on to talk about people ‘being treated equally in heaven’ and its implications that all should be ‘treated equally’ now.

As appealing as this sounds, it simply does not match up with a NT theology of salvation and sanctification. On several occasions, Jesus talks of those who are ‘great in the kingdom of God/heaven’, not as a description of ‘degrees of saved-ness’ but in order to differentiate those things that are of greatest importance, both now and then. Paul has a similar vision of differentiation in talking about the value of ministry in 1 Cor 3.10–15. We should each ‘build with care’, since ‘fire will test the quality of each person’s work’ (1 Cor 3.10, 13). I find this a sobering, humbling and encouraging verse, since I know people who have probably ‘built’ much better than I have—and it seems to matter. One of the repeated mantras in the debate on sexuality is that ‘we should not discriminate’—yet the NT constantly invites us to discriminate carefully between what is holy and what is not, what is ‘true, noble, right, pure and lovely’ and what is not (Phil 4.8).


But this theological mistake is not as serious as the one that follows. Martyn goes on to reflect on his radio debate with Chris Sugden:

Yet a minority of Conservative Evangelicals appear to believe that lesbian, gay and bisexual Christians can only be in heaven if they are celibate on earth.  The reasoning being that you might forfeit your salvation if you haven’t repented of your behaviour (rather than orientation).  In other words, you do have to (partly) earn your salvation.  It is not by grace alone. God’s love is re-cast as conditional; dependent upon good behaviour.

The equation that Martyn makes here is that being saved by grace means that behaviour does not matter. If we think grace demands a response of changed living in order to have its effect, we are not being true to the gospel. He claims the theological high ground by identifying with the great father of the church, Augustine, against the heretic Pelagius. (It is always interesting to see the way heretics of the past provide us with useful polemical justification.) His mistake here is illustrated simply by the saying attributed to Augustine: ‘Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you’ which does indeed suggest that our response matters. In fact, Martyn’s understanding of grace does not come from Augustine, but I think arises from nineteenth-century liberal Protestantism, suggesting as it does that God’s grace doesn’t effect any change in us. The same idea was expressed succinctly in a post by Andrew Lightbown. He mocks ‘GAFCON and their admirers’ using similar language to that of Martyn Percy:

Salvation it seems is about conduct, works and perceptions of morality and not about faith, grace and mercy.


91zlHM+udtLTo see the problem with the mockery, we need to go back further than Augustine to Saint Paul himself. John Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity in Durham, has just released the first of a two-part magnum opus on Paul’s understanding of grace, Paul and the Gift. As he explains to Wes Hill, a former Durham research student, Paul transforms first-century understandings of gift, exchange and indebtedness to communicate the radically unconditioned nature of God’s grace:

Paul talks about Christ as the gift of God, the grace of God. What is striking about this is that this gift is given without regard to the worth of the people who receive it. God doesn’t give discriminately to seemingly fitting recipients. He gives without regard to their social, gender, or ethnic worth. Nothing about them makes them worthy of this gift. To deny any match between God’s gifts and the worth of recipients was, in Paul’s day, a theologically dangerous idea. It made God seem arbitrary and unfair. It meant that grace was unpredictable and that the world might become disordered. And this view of grace breaks all sorts of social norms and expectations. The gift of Christ is larger than it should be. It is undeserved forgiveness.

As Barclay goes on to argue, this idea led to the early Christian communities being remarkable social melting pots, in particular breaking down the divide between Jew and Gentile as an ethnic distinction. This radical inclusion should also mark the church today, and for the same reasons.

But, says Barclay, if grace is unconditioned (in the sense that you do not need to be worthy to receive it), it is not unconditional.

Luther was anxious about any language of obligation or obedience if it implied trying to win favor with God. As a result, some Protestants believe it’s inappropriate for God to expect something in return, because it would somehow work against grace. They believe a gift should be given without any expectation of return. However, that can lead to notions of cheap grace—that God gives to us and doesn’t care about what we do. On the other hand, the Calvinist and, in different ways, the Methodist–Wesleyan traditions have rightly understood that the gift of God in Christ is based on conditions, in a sense. While there is no prior worth for receiving the gift, God indeed expects something in return. Paul expects those who receive the Spirit to be transformed by the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit. As he puts it, we are under grace, which can legitimately lead to obedience, even obligation. (emphasis mine)


Lest we think that this is a particular preoccupation of poor old Paul, who hasn’t quite managed to let go of his Pharisaic roots, a quick rehearsal of the story of Scripture will confirm this twin focus of grace as unconditioned, but not unconditional.

  • God creates the world, and humanity, out of sheer gift. But as part of that creation, God enjoins humanity, made in his image, to rule in his stead, not least by being fruitful and multiplying. When placed in the garden, the adam is given all the things that he needs to flourish—including boundaries around what he may and may not eat.
  • When God calls Abraham, he does so not because of Abraham’s merit, but out of gift, so that Abraham becomes the archetype of the graced life. And yet he is called on a costly journey, leaving his home for a promised yet unknown land, and has to learn—at cost—what it is to walk by faith, trusting God for his promise.
  • When God calls his people out of slavery to freedom in the promised land, that freedom is shaped by a set of commands that begin with a reminder of God’s gracious deliverance.
  • When God rescues his people from exile, he reminds them that they have been rescued by the Holy One of Israel, and the return is accompanied by a rediscovery of the ‘Law’ that was given in the desert.

So it is not all that surprising that, when Jesus comes announcing the presence of God’s reign amongst his people (the ‘kingdom of God’), he immediately calls for—and here is the paradox—a response of repentance for those who would receive this free gift of grace. The invitation of grace offered in Jesus is at one and the same time an invitation to a life of costly obedience—if it wasn’t, why would so many (including his closest disciples) have struggled to come to terms with it? It is there in the gospels; it is there in Paul; it is there in the letter of James; it is there in the book of Revelation. When the risen Christ comes to his people in the seven cities of Asia, his judgement of every single one of them is based on the fact that ‘I know your works‘. In other words, has this free gift of grace actually made a visible difference in your life together?

To agree with Martyn Percy on sexuality (and Andrew Lightbown’s succinct summary) it is not a question of debating one or two obscure proof texts, nor debating the niceties of Greek or Hebrew grammar. Rather, you need to disregard a central theme, running through all of Scripture, regarding the essence of God’s way of dealing with humanity—that grace, though unmerited, does indeed make demands. As James Byron said quite rightly, sexuality is just the presenting issue; the real question is about authority and revelation and the nature of God’s grace.


This has been confirmed by other conversations I have had this week. Here are the arguments put to me on why the Church of England has got it wrong on sexuality:

  1. If Jesus was alive ‘in the flesh’ today, he would affirm same-sex sexual unions as equivalent to marriage. Why did he not do so in the gospels? Because part of his ‘self emptying’ (Phil 2.7) meant he was subject to the social norms of his day, and did not question them. This means that Jesus’ own teaching is not a reliable guide for us, and it raises serious questions about whether it makes any sense to think of Jesus as ‘the Word made flesh’.
  2. It is simply impossible to know what either Jesus or Paul meant, and it is arrogance to suppose we can know anything from the New Testament. As humble as this might appear, the problem is that is supposes not our own humility, but God’s inadequacy in communicating his intention for our lives in Scripture. It becomes God-spluttered, rather than God-breathed.
  3. The only valid ethical measure of Christian action is whether it does ‘harm’, and there should be no other consideration. Such an approach abandons the notion of principles (deontology) or character (virtue ethics) and reduces everything to a situation ethic—one in which we can perfectly measure all consequences of our actions.

Each of these positions is based on a valid observation. For example, we do need to take seriously that Jesus was a first-century Jew, that there is some challenge and debate about making sense of Scripture, that ethical positions that appear to harm need questioning. But each of these elevates their own concern as the determining issue, and shapes everything else around it.


None of this in itself settles the ethical question in hand—the question which Martyn Percy simply skips over—of whether those in same-sex sexual unions are ‘living faithfully’. But it does show why Martyn Percy’s position is so deeply flawed. Accordingly to his theology, Jesus did not offer his blood of the new covenant (since covenants involve obligations) but the blood of a new free-for-all. Martyn replaces Paul’s great ‘Therefore…’ in Romans 12.1 with a ‘so what?’ That is why the Primates discussion is not really about sexuality, but about something far more important than that.


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80 Responses to What does grace demand?

  1. James Byron January 11, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    Glad I was on the money there, Ian! 🙂

    “Accordingly to [Percy’s] theology, Jesus did not offer his blood of the new covenant (since covenants involve obligations) but the blood of a new free-for-all.”

    Ouch. But you’re not wrong. In fact, however blunt the comment may be, it’s justified, and succinctly nails the implications of Percy’s line of thinking.

    This points to why evangelicals have managed to resist sustained cultural pressure to change: they tend to produce far more rigorous and coherent arguments than advocates of the affirmating position. Why? Percy’s comment about poetry gives the answer. Evangelicalism, rooted as it is in the authority of the Bible, is used to interpreting and applying scripture. That leads to disciplined thought: poetry leads to feelings reigning supreme. Feels good? Do it. That’s the polar opposite of Christianity, which expects the regenerative work of the Spirit to lead to change, change that can often lead to a hard road. God’s path isn’t supposed to be easy.

    The affirming camp has got to up its game, stop equivocating and evading, and produce rigorous theology of its own. Until it does, it’ll lose, and deservedly so.

    • Andrew January 12, 2016 at 9:27 am #

      Hear, hear, James! Like you I’m saddened that Martyn Percy’s arguments are at risk of becoming the default arguments for an affirming position. There are such rigorously theological, biblical resources and arguments at our disposal – we need to do a better job of getting this these out there!

      • James Byron January 12, 2016 at 11:10 am #

        Agreed, Andrew.

        From a liberal perspective, I find the unreasonableness of the traditional teaching combined with a “by their fruits” test compelling. However internally-coherent traditional teaching is, if it works only in the abstract, it’s not incarnational.

        Facing hardship for a clear good is one thing, whether it’s fighting tyranny, or working in blastzones of urban deprivation; LGBT people, by contrast, are subjected to abject misery for no discernible purpose. Yes, some find contentment in celibacy, or in hetrosexual marriage, but for many gay people, peace only when, after decades of attempting to follow church teaching, they at last embrace their sexuality.

        From an evangelical perspective, there’s equally powerful arguments that focus on the proper interpretation of scripture, although they probably need more finessing. Change will, I suspect, only come to most protestant churches when these gain traction in the evangelical mainstream.

  2. Peter Carrell January 11, 2016 at 8:52 am #

    Brilliant. Thank you, Ian!

  3. Jeremy Pemberton January 11, 2016 at 8:56 am #

    Dear Ian,

    What an extraordinary post. I wondered if the title was ironic – then I realised it wasn’t.

    I would offer two comments:
    Grace is, by its nature, undemanding. That is how much God loves the world. As John V Taylor once wrote:
    “God had chosen in eternity to take upon himself the risk and the cost of creating this kind of world. As a precondition of creation he took upon himself the judgment and death of the sinner. Being forgiven is therefore a more primary condition for us than being a sinner.”

    I don’t believe that Martyn Percy is saying that how people live does not matter for an instant. But the apprehension of God’s unmerited and one-sided grace (see it at work in Scripture from Genesis 15 onwards, I suggest) is what captivates, inspires and transforms people. Not being told that Grace makes demands – it doesn’t.

    Living faithfully. Should we not perhaps attempt to look and see what are the fruit of the lives and relationships we are concerned about? Is that not a dominical way of looking at people and how we can evaluate their lives? Is the fruit good fruit? Is community resourced, are neighbours cared for? If so, how can we call the relationships not good? And if what motivates people in those relationships to live in that way is the person and call of Jesus Christ, are they not then being faithful to him?

    You can answer the questions if you like, to my mind they are all rhetorical.

    Happy New Year!

    • Ian Paul January 11, 2016 at 9:21 am #

      Jeremy, thank you for being gracious enough (!) to comment. I think your observations do highlight the very wide differences in view here.

      ‘Grace is, by its nature, undemanding.’ Since Jesus is the very expression of God’s grace, I think you would therefore have to also conclude ‘Jesus is undemanding.’ Never mind every single day of my experience, I find it very hard to read more than a chapter of any gospel to find this a wholly implausible statement.

      ‘That is how much God loves the world.’ I hear in this comment an allusion to John 3.16. I don’t think it is a coincidence that, canonically, John immediately goes on from this to talk about the judgement that has come on the basis of whether people receive this grace (as he does in John 1), and that, liturgically, we immediately go on to confess our sins. If grace made no demands, why would we need to do this?

      if grace makes no demands, then we must be universalists. And that is how deep the theological divide goes.

      I am glad you felt there was irony in my title. It was intended. If you think it untrue, then ultimately you need to take on John Barclay’s reading of Paul—and I would go on, you need to take on (and disagree with) Paul and Jesus’ exposition of grace.

      • Andrew January 12, 2016 at 9:48 am #

        Ian, I notice you have avoided answering Jeremy’s questions, which relate to the personal experience of faithful gay and lesbian Christians, and the fruit of their discipleship. This I feel is common in your writing: you avoid engaging with the actual lived experience of gay and lesbian Christians.

        So, how would you answer Jeremy? There are gay and lesbian people who would consider themselves recipients of transformative grace through faith in Christ, and who have seen their lives transformed by opening themselves to this grace, but who simultaneously have felt called to ‘pour out’ their lives in faithful love (including sexual love) to someone of the same sex. How would you respond to them? On what grounds can you dismiss their experience of grace and the Spirit as irrelevant to our interpretation of Scripture?

    • David Shepherd January 12, 2016 at 7:16 am #

      As Ian explained: ‘Such an approach abandons the notion of principles (deontology) or character (virtue ethics) and reduces everything to a situation ethic—one in which we can perfectly measure all consequences of our actions.’

      And here’s perfect example: ‘Is community resourced, are neighbours cared for?’ So, it’s on the basis of this ‘fruit’ that PSF same-sex sexual relationships are considered to be consonant with the gospel.

      So, on what basis should Islam, Judaism or Hinduism be considered inconsistent with the gospel when their followers also display the ‘fruit’ of resourcing community and caring for neighbours? Are their religious differences with Christianity merely adiaphorous?

      You can answer these questions, if you like, but, as you say, to my mind they’re all rhetorical!

      • Pete J January 12, 2016 at 7:36 am #

        Im sure there are good things about Islam Judaism and Hinduism. Im sure they have things in common with Christianity, but ultimately they are not about Jesus. I am not one of those Christians who goes around telling God who he may or may not save, but – from scripture – belief in Jesus does at least seem to have an impact on salvation…and ultimately he is the source of the grace given us.

        • David Shepherd January 12, 2016 at 10:33 am #

          Pete J,

          The point I’m making is that if fruit, as described by Jeremy, is the determinative evidence of grace, we could dismiss the distinguishing belief from scripture that you’ve highlighted.

          Liberal Christians are no more inclined than conservatives to believe that the either fruit of resourced community, or public-spiritedness, or the confession that Jesus is indeed God’s messiah amply demonstrate the sort of moral transformation that scripture describes as being effect through God’s grace.

          • Pete J January 12, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

            I don’t see him suggesting that faith in Jesus isnt important?

          • David Shepherd January 12, 2016 at 11:33 pm #

            Pete J,

            Jeremy did not have to suggest that faith was unimportant.

            He simply highlighted what he considered to be determinative evidence of grace (as did Andrew) by describing the resourcing of community and neighbourly care as fruit.

            Andrew goes further by asserting that the ‘lived experience’ of whole-heartedl mutual sexual commitment is ipso facto ample evidence of grace, such that the onus is on Ian to demonstrate why it should be considered otherwise.

            The ‘evidence’ proffererd is little more than churchmanship, community-mindedness and mutual sacrifice to each other.

            What has that to do with the costlier sacrifice of our post-Fall predispositions to the will of God?

          • Pete J January 13, 2016 at 6:48 am #

            Im not sure he is saying that is fruit of grace. Ive never heard of fruit of grace before and so am not entirely sure of what that might mean!

            Any consequences might be thought of as “fruit” and if fruit is good then it is good so Im not really sure why you are disagreeing with him.

          • David Shepherd January 13, 2016 at 7:42 am #

            Pete J,

            It’s really not that difficult..

            Scripture describes the Holy Spirit as the ‘Spirit of grace’ (Hebrews) and St. Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians.

            Fruit is simply the discernible outcome, result or effect of the Spirit of grace.

            Jeremy asserted that we should evaluate that LGBT churchgoers are living faithfully by looking at their involvement in community resourcing and neighbourly care. As I explained, (and I won’t waste time trying again), these outcomes, results, effects per se are not determining evidence of grace.

            That’s the part of Jeremy’s comment with which I take issue, since the holiness involves far more than this as effected by the Spirit of grace.

          • Pete J January 13, 2016 at 4:51 pm #

            Oh if you are saying that good fruit is not evidence that gay relationships are good then I disagree.

            If you are saying that God fruit is not proof that gay relationships are good then I agree, but I suspect JP also agrees with this.

            The bible commends us to study fruit to discern what is good or bad so it seems odd that you should be unhappy with this?

          • David Shepherd January 13, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

            Pete J,

            For the last time, I am saying that, while JP only mentioned community resourcing and neighbourly care, those are not sufficient evidence of grace in the life of believers.

            In Galatians, St. Paul describes a far wider range of virtues which comprise the fruit of the Spirit, contrasting them with the works of the flesh.

            So, there’s little point in highlighting that LGBT church members exhibit some of those virtues, only to suggest they can ignore a particular work of the flesh in their sexual relationships. That’s just cherry-picking scripture.

          • Pete J January 13, 2016 at 7:20 pm #

            I think you are misunderstanding what I and JP are saying. Neither of us have suggested those are the only fruits of the spirit.

  4. Graham Naylor January 11, 2016 at 9:06 am #

    Great blog-post, Ian

    I vividly remember the late Dr Judson Cornwall talking about his discovery of grace, having been brought up in a ‘holiness’ (read ‘a list of legalistic thou shall nots’) denomination. He described living under rules of the denomination as walking down a road staying within the restrictions of the fences at the side. Then he discovered grace and the freedom from rules. He then spent a period of time enjoying this new freedom; in his words he frolicked in the fields without the restriction of the fences. Then he had an encounter / experience during his daily prayer time. In summary, he was deeply convicted that the correct response to grace was not to live with less boundary than under the denominational rules but to become a ‘centre line specialist’ without even the room for deviation permitted under the rules. Effectively saying the requirements of living standards under grace are greater than under law. Think this fits with much NT teaching, not least where Jesus took the law and took things further – eye-for-eye becomes turn the other cheek; basic 10 tithe with giver keeping 90% become giving everything / sharing everything. If living in response to God’s grace does not require a change away from unholy lifestyle, actions, character pre repentance and belief, how come Paul speaks of believers in terms such as ‘and this is what some of you WERE’ (note past tense referring to pre receiving of new life in Christ) in 1 Cor 6 – in the middle of a section about conduct as a believer, particularly in relation to sexuality?

  5. Phill January 11, 2016 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks for this Ian. Recently I read this passage from Titus, which I think is helpful for how we think about grace as it relates to our sanctification:

    “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)

    Grace has appeared – which teaches us to say no to ungodliness.

    It is unthinkable for anyone who has received God’s grace to continue living in sin (willfully) – Romans 6:1-2, Heb 10:26-31, for example.

  6. Mark Mesley January 11, 2016 at 10:58 am #

    Yes, human sexuality, like the former debate over the ordination of women, are simply the presenting issues … as you and James point out its about authority and revelation. Orthodox Christians (as in Eastern Orthodox) believe that we have to co-operate with God’s grace to be saved … for us, grace is a divine energy which is primarily experienced via the sacraments of the Church. Therefore, if we receive Holy Communion unworthily, without faith and repentance, we damage ourselves spiritually. Through the gift of grace, the believer can be trasformed into the image and likeness of Christ our God. The term we use for this humble co-operation with God’s grace is synergism. It means working with God, not against Him. We are saved by grace, which is a free gift, but the free gift requires a response from us … as the entry in the Orthodox Study Bible says, “because grace changes a person, he or she will manifest the effects of grace through righteous living.” When we fail in this respect, the response must be one of contrition and repentance. In the Anglo-Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and RC traditions, this means going to our priest, and confessing our sins. During the Year of Mercy, it would be great if some Evangelical Christians were to discover the sacrament of reconcilation as a means of grace. The tears of repentance are the way we wash away post-Baptismal sin.

  7. Nigel Coke-Woods January 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    1. I am reminded of the expression “Come as you are, but you may not stay as you are.”

    2. I would be interested in your take on living faithfully comparing Scripture’s sanction of same gender sex and its authorisation of slavery. Even the radical Letter to Philemon does not condemn slavery per se. Christianity eventually agreed that slavery is wrong by working through the consequences of the Gospel contrary to the most direct (and superficial) meaning of Scripture. Might we also take the same approach to same gender sexual relationships?

  8. Pete J January 11, 2016 at 5:15 pm #

    I think suggesting grace *Requires* prerequisite or response means it is not grace and there is no difference between Christ and Moses and we are a doomed. Grace must be a fundamentally different economy than law.

    Grace is never cheap it took Jesus life.

    Although there are no requirements made by grace there are good and bad responses. A good response is to apply the grace you have received to others. A bad response is to demand the debt be paid by others.

    • Pete J January 11, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

      *all doomed sorry.

      Thank you Ian for differentiating between gay people and gay relationships. I think it needs to be stressed that there is no reason why gay people should be especially in need of grace ( or repentance).

      • Peter January 11, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

        I agree – it is indeed an important distinction to make.

    • David Shepherd January 12, 2016 at 8:09 am #

      Pete J,

      For once, we’re agreed. The word ‘demand’ doesn’t sit well with me. However, we should dispel the false notion that grace imparts forgiveness, but not challenge and transformation.

      Christ’s word of power will challenge us to do what is impossible by self-effort. The gospel story of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand exemplifies this. On what basis could He command ‘stretch forth your hand’ to someone with little more than a stump at the end of his arm’?

      It’s not that grace *requires* transformation, but that grace imparts it discernibly.

      As another example, in respect of Zacchaeus’ conversion, the transformation was immediate:

      ‘Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
      When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

      All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

      But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

      Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1 – 9)

      Zacchaeus would not have elicited Christ’s announcement affirming his salvation had he remained impenitently wedded to his past predispositions and possessions.

      • Pete J January 12, 2016 at 8:09 pm #

        I agree to a certain extent, but I don’t like the emphasis, perhaps my own reading, that the power comes through Zacchaeus and not through Christ. In the passage “the son of man” is the character with agency not the tax collector and note Z is declared saved *before* he has done anything to deserve it. Indeed – although Z intends to go very far with his repentence – he cannot pay the price for his sin simply by changing his ways. That is where grace comes in!

        On a slightly different tack I think we as Christians too often are defining ourselves who is and who is not a “son of Abraham” whereas this passage would suggest that role is reserved for Christ himself.

        • David Shepherd January 12, 2016 at 9:07 pm #

          Pete J,

          It is your own reading. What part of saying that grace imparts transformation discernibly would imply that the power comes through Zacchaeus and not through Christ?

          My comment and quotation highlighted the effect imparted by the grace of Christ, which is not at odds with His agency in salvation.

          We agree, of course, that there was nothing Zacchaeus could do to erase his past offences, or merit salvation.

          However, declaration is important because ‘with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. As it is written: ‘I have believed and therefore have I spoken’.

          Our salvation by the grace of God in Christ is effected incarnationally. Those who oppose sexual revisionism are not defining who is or isn’t a ‘son of Abraham’ . We are discerning from scripture what is or isn’t genuinely effected by the grace of God that led Abraham to believe God for an outcome that the patriarch was naturally incapable of accomplishing.

          • Pete J January 13, 2016 at 6:58 am #

            David

            Sorry but I wasn’t talking about issues to do with sexuality, I was talking much more generally and including myself when I say that we are much to quick to decide for ourselves who is and is not a believer. I don’t really understand why you think you can make such a discernment from scripture, nor why you think it might be our place to decide such a thing.

            Im trying not to mention sexuality because I do not see a link between sexuality and either the need for grace or the need to do something to earn grace. Gay people are not more in need of grace than straight people. If a gay person is in a relationship either it is OK or it isn’t OK. If it is OK then he/she is not in need of grace or repentance. If it isn’t OK then she is not in need of grace/repentance. Why can’t gay people be treated like everyone else? Why is there an assumption we need to especially repent?

          • David Shepherd January 13, 2016 at 6:59 pm #

            Pete J,

            You stated: ‘I do not see a link between sexuality and either the need for grace or the need to do something to earn grace. Gay people are not more in need of grace than straight people.’

            Of course, redeemed sexuality doesn’t warn grace. Yet, whether gay or straight, as fallen humans, sexuality is an integral aspect of the outworking of redemption.

            In terms of discernment, Hebrews is clear:

            ‘In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.‘ (Heb. 5:13 – 14)

            The apostle John also exhorts:

            ‘Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.’ (1 John 4:1)

            This is what I mean by discernment.

          • Pete J January 13, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

            Oh so by discernment you are talking about, for example, whose teaching you would trust and not, for example, whether someone should be allowed to attend worship?

          • David Shepherd January 13, 2016 at 9:44 pm #

            Yes, Pete J,

            I have no idea why any Christian would want to ban anyone from attending worship, especially in the CofE, where attendance has plummeted so drastically.

          • Pete J January 14, 2016 at 7:40 am #

            Well it does happen, but I was just using it as an example.

            You were saying that you’d use discernment to aid you in your journey, but not to distinguish between peoples salvation or to judge them.

  9. Peter January 11, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

    As always, a very helpful and insightful article, Ian.
    I tend to emphasise in my sermons, ‘come as you are, but be prepared to be changed’. I would have thought that this was obvious, but sadly much of the liberal argumentation seems to want to pick and choose what suits their position, rather than accepting the whole picture.
    Nigel’s comment about Scripture’s views on slavery is an interesting one. Some years ago I wrote a short thesis on slavery in the Pauline writings. If one were to look very closely at the pertinent texts (including Philemon) it’s difficult to come to any conclusion other than the fact that the concept of slavery was being undermined to such an extent in early Christian communities, that it could only inevitably lead to its eventual demise (the issue of the abolition of the institution of slavery itself is not a fair question in this regard as the democratic means of doing so were not available at the time). The same could be said about issues of gender. However, sexuality is in a different category altogether – if anything, the New Testament is moving in the opposite direction on this matter, strongly re-inforcing the teaching of the Old Testament on marriage and the prohibition on homosexual practices.

  10. Nigel Feilden January 11, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    Re slavery – according to Rodney Stark in his ‘The victory of reason’, slavery – at least the enslavement by Christians of other Christians – was abolished by the end of the first millennium.
    As far as the Bible is concerned – correct me if I am wrong – but Exodus is about God bringing His chosen people out of slavery. The gospels are about Jesus enabling the freeing all people from slavery to sin, the world and the devil.

  11. Tricia January 11, 2016 at 8:12 pm #

    Thanks for this post as it really is at the heart of the division in the church.
    My experience is that having turned to Christ at the age of 35, the Holy Spirit set about re-ordering my life. I had gone through divorce and had 2 small children (My husband committed adultery), which became very important when I began to learn how much importance Jesus put on marriage and that adultery was the only acceptable reason for divorce. I was jaded by my experience and had decided that I would not marry again, but I had met someone else. For a while this seemed OK, but gradually I realised as I read my bible and listened to the Holy Spirit (who was very present in my early Christian life) that God was telling me that this was not acceptable and this person would be my soul mate and I could not continue without marrying him. We have now been married for 26 years and he has been and is “my rock” as God promised.
    I was saved by Grace, but grace is the beginning of a journey with God not the final destination. Our lives need to be re shaped in His image. I am still work in progress as we all are, but the role of a Christian is to reflect God and their lives as well as their worship must reflect this. Sexual ethics are clear in the Bible and no-one living in obedience can live contrary to this.

    • Pete J January 11, 2016 at 9:22 pm #

      Tricia I am really pleased that you decided to get married 🙂

      (just to be clear – because it has obviously been so good for you)

    • John January 11, 2016 at 10:47 pm #

      “adultery was the only acceptable reason for divorce”

      What if a husband was violent towards his wife? Would that not also be an acceptable reason for a wife to divorce her husband?

      Ian, I asked you this question on a previous thread but I don’t think you responded. Do you have a view on what the Bible says about divorce for reasons other than adultery? I have previously heard conservative Christians claim that divorce, other than for adultery, is not ok. They described this as a “plain reading” of the Bible.

      • Chris Bishop January 11, 2016 at 11:06 pm #

        John,

        I may have referred to this in an earlier thread. There is compelling evidence that adultery is not the only scriptural reason for divorce. To see a wider view on this do take a look at David Instone-Brewers analysis on this subject.

        http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/

        • John January 14, 2016 at 8:15 pm #

          Thanks again Chris. I did follow and read the link that you provided (the first time). I thought it was very interesting because I have never seen that argument before. But I wondered how widely accepted it was. That’s why I was asking Ian for his view.

          Ian, do you have a view on what the Bible says about divorce for reasons other than adultery? Earlier, I gave the example of divorce due to domestic abuse.

      • Pete J January 12, 2016 at 7:43 am #

        Personally I completely believe that domestic abuse is a valid reason for divorce and remarriage.

        What irritates me is when church leaders use Jesus teaching on divorce to oppose marriage/relationships/people that they don’t like while simultaneously welcoming remarried divorced people (for any reason). It is hypocrisy. With theology it matters what you believe and how you put it into practice. In the CofE remarried people are welcomed more than the theory suggests, but same sex couples are less welcome than the theory suggests.

        • Chris Bishop January 12, 2016 at 7:59 am #

          “With theology it matters what you believe and how you put it into practice.”

          Couldn’t agree more. The thing is however- the theology points against SSM but not divorce.

          • Pete J January 12, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

            Your theology, but not everyones

          • Chris Bishop January 12, 2016 at 10:08 pm #

            No – not my theology but that of 2000 years of christian teaching on marriage. It is you who wishes to invent your own theology based on your own unsupported and prejudiced assertions.

          • Pete J January 13, 2016 at 7:00 am #

            Chris

            You are welcome to believe that if you want (as long as you are not treating people badly as a consequence).

            But I disagree.

      • Tricia January 12, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

        I was referring to Jesus speaking in Matthew 19 to the Jews, when he told them that Moses had given them divorce because they were so hard to teach and that adultery was the only reason for divorce. Which actually shows the significance in the marriage service of the two becoming one flesh in the sight of God. However, in St Paul’s teaching he makes it clear that a husband should love his wife as his own body – this clearly signifies the sin of a husband who is abusive and is breaking his vows. This can also be seen as being hard to teach as Jesus put it. The church takes any breaking of marriage vows seriously.

        • Pete J January 12, 2016 at 8:20 pm #

          I agree Tricia.

          I was making the point that – in general – the cofe treats remarried divorcees much better than it treats gay people.

          I was also saying that if you use that passage to say anything other than “no divorce except for unfaithfulness” then you cannot apply it against gay relationships. It more clearly is opposed to divorce than gay relationships is my point.

          The cofe takes breaking of marriage vows seriously let allows remarried people to become bishops. Openly gay people, even if they are celibate, are not allowed to be bishops.

          • Tricia January 13, 2016 at 11:16 am #

            Divorced people are acknowledged sinners. In the orthodox tradition in Greece you can actually remarry, but it is a different penitential service acknowledging your failure and is only available for a second marriage. The Chrustian faith is about redemption from sin. Two people of the same sex who wish to live together as a married couple are not repenting of their actions, they are wanting the church to accept their lifestyle. There is no correlation between this and divorce.

          • Andrew Godsall January 13, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

            “Two people of the same sex who wish to live together as a married couple are not repenting of their actions, they are wanting the church to accept their lifestyle.”

            Tricia this sentence is highly offensive on several levels and I hope you will repent of it.
            1. Two people of the same sex CAN marry. It’s the law of the land in the UK. The Church participated in the debate and lost the argument. Just like in a PCC, once a vote has been taken people have to agree to abide by the decision.
            2. A same sex couple do not believe they need to repent of their actions in marrying or having intimacy. You may think they need to repent, but the law of the land doesn’t and the church, at best, is in the middle of a conversation about. Previous pastoral statements have been clear that people should not be asked intrusive questions about their personal lives so your personal judgement about their moral state is unhelpful at best and contrary to the Gospel.
            3. This is not about a ‘lifestyle’ choice, like having designer jeans or a new kitchen. It goes to the heart of what it is to be human, just as your re-marrying went to heart of your humanity. You may not agree with same sex marriage, but that does not give you the liberty to basically say that other human beings are not entitled to private intimacy.

          • Ian Paul January 13, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

            Andrew once again I need to step in here. You cannot go around accusing people of being ‘offensive’ by stating something they believe, and which in fact is current church teaching.

            I guess you might choose to ‘take offence’ at it, but you need to stop lobbing accusations around if you want to continue part of the discussion.

          • Andrew Godsall January 13, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

            Ian: When someone posts on a blog they are clearly simply posting their own ‘opinion’ and point of view. To suppose anything else is to mistake what a blog is about. It’s a conversation. If you want to stifle conversation, then please go ahead but be clear that is what you are doing.
            I make it quite clear in my post that Tricia is entitled to her opinion. I am equally entitled to find that offensive and to point that out, surely?
            And if this is ‘current church teaching’, why are we having a series of facilitated conversations about it, and why are the primates meeting to discuss it? It’s what some, but not all, of what one part of the church believes is the answer.
            If we used the ‘which in fact is current church teaching’ yardstick then we’d all have to believe in transubstantiation, which is what the vast majority of ‘the church’ throughout the world believes in…..

          • Ian Paul January 13, 2016 at 2:57 pm #

            Andrew, please don’t try the emotional blackmail on me by throwing around ‘stifling conversation’ stuff.

            Not all conversation is helpful. If you continue to accuse people of being ‘offensive’ when they are not, I am happy to stifle it.

            OK?

          • Andrew Godsall January 13, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

            Ian: I don’t see any blackmail, emotional or otherwise I’m afraid. You must stifle whatever you wish to stifle, so obviously that is ‘OK’.

          • Pete J January 13, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

            Tricia I don’t understand how a remarried couple may be thought of as penitent. If their relationship is wrong then they are continuing a sinful relationship. Surely true repentance would be to go back to their original spouse?

            NB I don’t have a problem with remarriage. I just don’t understand why the church can use this passage to condemn gay relationships (sometimes gay people) and welcome remarried people when the passage is apparently about divorce and not about gay people

          • David Shepherd January 13, 2016 at 10:48 pm #

            Andrew,

            If a conversation is to be had (whether here, or facilitated), there’s a vast difference between taking offence personally and declaring something to be offensive.

            It reminds me how, on another post here, one commenter described Jeremy Pemberton’s legal action as vexatious. I agreed with Jeremy that the accusation should have been retracted as invalid, given its legal connotation.

            I might suppose that you won’t, but the word ‘offensive’ has its own legal connotation and, on the same basis, you should retract it.

          • Andrew Godsall January 14, 2016 at 7:07 am #

            Happy New Year David!
            I think the first thing to do is to engage with the three points I raise really. Maybe Tricia will have time to do that today.

          • Karen Watson January 14, 2016 at 9:34 am #

            I can’t think why she would given the above responses. Leaving out the particular context, she is perfectly right about the difference between asking for forgiveness (which could be withheld) and insisting there is no need for grace because you have done nothing wrong in the first place.
            And I can see a severe weakness in the argument that otherwise virtuous lives are decisive. We don’t consider Wagner’s antisemitism acceptable because of his musical genius. And even more dangerously, why would Satan bother corrupting the rest of my life if I was already safely in the grip of one unrepented sin?Paul’s thorn might well have been a weakness he had reason to fear.
            I want to be convinced of the new teachings, really I do, and with regard to both divorce and gay marriage. But I’m finding a lot more passion and rage (on all sides) than sound spiritual and Scriptual discernment I am confident to trust. And too much prayer that says “Lord let us find the right answer” while meaning “them” and “mine”.

          • Pete J January 14, 2016 at 1:00 pm #

            Karen

            For me the massive problem with discussing these issues is that there is only truth and not grace and truth. If you admit to being gay or in a gay partnership it will change the way the church and/or its members treat you. You will certainly be excluded from some activities and in some locations excluded altogether. Therefore telling the truth in this context comes with a cost.

            I’m sure this also occurs for remarried people but, from my pov, not to the same extent.

  12. Eric January 11, 2016 at 8:48 pm #

    I wonder if the word ‘demand’ is the problem here? Perhaps we might re-imagine it as ‘response’? That is ‘Do we respond to Grace or Not? Does God’s YES to us in Christ find an echoing yes in our lives? One thing which profoundly troubles me in this debate and indeed in much that is happening in the church and contemporary Christian writing, is its anthropocentrism. YES, God Loves us. That is inarguable. It is the foundation of The Gospel and is always and everywhere true. But . . . Do we respond in love to God?? Perhaps we Experience Grace as demand, because we have not yet been operfected in our love of God?? The burning fire of his Love is still at work in us transforming us, and calling us to Him

    • John Grayston January 12, 2016 at 10:11 am #

      Some years ago when I was editing Bible Readign Guides we had a letter from a reader who complained bitterly about our quoting the last verse of ‘When I survey’; ‘…Love so amazing, so divine,/ Demands my soul, my life, my all.’ ‘My Jesus,’ she argued, ‘wouldn’t demand anything.’ Her argument, of course was with Isaac Watts rather than us but, yes, I think there is a problem with the connotations of demand. For some it connotes oppressive behaviour or harsh legalism rather than a response of love to love.

      We did also try to point out to her that Jesus does actually require certain behaviours…

  13. Andrew Godsall January 11, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

    The Dean of St Paul’s, David Ison puts the practical out working of grace extremely well:

    My hope is that the Primates will offer not only the Church but also the whole world the real Christian hope of how we can live together in difference without destroying the other. That means accepting that none of us own the full truth, and that we find God’s truth through being committed to live in relationship with one another.

    My fear is that they will follow the world rather than Christ, and give up on one another.

  14. Andrew January 12, 2016 at 10:03 am #

    Thank you Ian for this post. These were exactly my thoughts when I read Martyn Percy’s essay. Thank you for once again calling out sloppy arguments.

    I agree that this is a debate about grace. But I would like to see this related more closely to the lived experience of gay and lesbian Christians. In short: God’s grace is active in equipping those who respond to Christ to live lives of holiness. So this begs the question: why does God’s grace not remove the sexual and romantic attraction of gay and lesbian Christians to people of the same sex? Grace is transformative in all aspects of our lives – but almost always leaves our sexual *orientation* intact, however much the expression of our sexuality might be made more holy. Why is this?

    Surely if we really look closely at how grace operates at the realm of people’s sexuality, we would discover that God is not working to make gay people straight, repressed or uniformally celibate – but is working to make *all* Christians express their sexual love in ways which are appropriately holy, self-giving and sacramental (cf. Rowan Williams ‘The Body’s Grace’).

    • James Byron January 12, 2016 at 11:19 am #

      Just to pick up on grace specifically, this is a crucial point.

      A common comparison with the “struggle” against “same-sex attraction” is addiction of various kinds, from alcoholism to kleptomania, yet people do overcome these impulses, and find joy in that release. (And, of course, the impulses lead to destructive behavior.)

      Homosexuality, by contrast, isn’t destructive — far from it, like heterosexuality, it can lead to the most incredible loving relationships, which even Justin Welby acknowledged — and people no more find joy in release from same-sex attraction than they do release from opposite-sex attraction.

      Maybe God’s grace isn’t releasing LGBT people from their sexuality because there’s nothing wrong with it, or its expression?

      • Andrew January 12, 2016 at 11:22 am #

        ‘God’s grace isn’t releasing LGBT people from their sexuality because there’s nothing wrong with it’.

        Exactly, James. This is a point which I wish was grasped far more widely, and made more powerfully and consistently by those in the affirming camp, instead of weak appeals to ‘equality’ or ‘human rights’ or other arguments which carry little theological weight.

        • Pete J January 13, 2016 at 7:10 am #

          Andrew

          I think it is!

          Im not sure if you’d expect people to say one prayer of repentance and expect immediate ability to fancy the opposite sex, but lots of gay people spend fortunes over decades and subject themselves to horrific therapies seeking orientation change. Too often it claims lives. It seems to me that if Gods grace was at all interested in that activity then change would be possible.

          I think an uncomfortable aspect of that argument though is then that bisexuals should just put up and shut up (I suspect the vast majority of christian bisexuals do anyway). Since they are able to form relationships with the opposite sex, such an argument would not affirm their relationship if it happend to be same sex

    • David Shepherd January 12, 2016 at 6:46 pm #

      Andrew,

      But that’s just begging the question; the question being ‘can same-sex sexual attraction be expressed through God-honouring relationship?’

      Your line of reasoning merely assumes an affirmative answer by giving undue weight to ‘lived experience’.

      When compared with the communities which they serve, surveys of clergy and laiy ethnicities in Anglican churches reveal them to be disproportionately Caucasian. Is that part of our ‘lived experience’ evidence of its immunity to God’s pervasive grace?

      I doubt whether the Church’s unconscious bias can ever be expressed in ways that are appropriately holy, self-giving and sacramental.

      • Andrew January 13, 2016 at 4:03 am #

        David,

        On what grounds are you able to claim that I am giving ‘undue’ weight to ‘lived experience’ – and who gets to decide what constitutes ‘undue’ weight?

        Rather than giving ‘undue’ weight I’m simply highlighting a fact which is indisputable: God equips gay Christians (like straight Christians) with sufficient grace to overcome their sins and be conformed to the image of Christ (to claim otherwise is heretical). But he does not in doing so change their sexual orientation. This is a fact borne out by experience. So there are two ways of explaining this: either God’s grace is not fully sufficient and transformative in the realm of sexuality to overcome all human sinfulness (an unorthodox position surely?), or God’s grace does not transform sexual orientation because it does not need to be changed – it is not inherently sinful.

        You see, it’s not about giving certain ‘weight’ to ‘experience’ over ‘Scripture’, as though we’re measuring out quantities in making a cake. The testimony of experience is clear and indisputable. So the challenge for conservatives is this: how do you account for this within your biblical and theological framework? If your biblical and theological framework simply cannot account for this, then the obvious conclusion is that framework is wrong.

        Your point about ‘unconscious’ bias and the ‘disproportionately Caucasian’ Church is a muddled one -I’m afraid I’m not sure what you’re driving at here.

        • David Shepherd January 13, 2016 at 7:59 am #

          Andrew,

          The weight is undue by your presumption that insinuates your conclusion in your argument. Question-begging is undue because it is a logical fallacy.

          As I explained, one could equally argue that the ‘lived experience’ of CofE Christians, as evidenced by numerous surveys, is that their unconscious bias (that results in the Church historically being disproportionately Caucasian to this day) is not transformed by grace.

          By the same token advanced by you, God’s grace would have changed this propensity for bias in the Church and has not ‘because it is not inherently sinful’.

          This, in turn, could call into question any biblical and theological framework which cannot account for the persistence under God’s grace of unconscious bias in the CofE.

          I am simply applying your ‘lived experience’ logic to another aspect of the CofE.

  15. Tim Keene January 12, 2016 at 11:34 am #

    I know that the ‘presenting issue’ is sexuality and not slavery but may I go off at a tangent. One of the intriguing aspects of Christian history is its relationship with slavery. I am sure a book has either been written on it or ought to be written on it.
    Christianity emerged in a world in which slavery was universally accepted. By the medieval period (say from 500 AD) it had been largely banished from Christendom. Yet outside Christendom it continued unchecked. In the 18C, as the Enlightenment influenced by Hobbes and suchlike started to view humans as commodities, the slave trade by Christendom reached a peak only to be undermined by Christians such as Wilberforce etc. Strikingly, even at the height of the slave trade, when a slave came to Europe (Christendom) he ceased to be a slave.
    Slavery continued outside the Christian sphere unabated. It still persists in the world and is growing all the time as Christian influence wanes.
    So although slavery represents an issue about which Christians rightly hang their heads in shame, it is also an issue about which Christians have less reason to do so than anyone else.

  16. Penelope Wallace January 12, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

    I am not competent to debate the theology, but I love the “God-spluttered”! Is it original to you, Ian?

  17. George Day January 12, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    Thanks, Ian. While I am on Martyn Percy’s side in that I support the acceptance of same-sex relationships I think you are quite right in your critique of his arguments.
    For me the crucial points (which is what I would have advocated in the Grove Book you may remember I suggested to you about a year ago!) are:
    (1) The traditional approach via biblical texts that mention same-sex relationships or that refer to other directly relevant material, especially the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, leads to stalemate (as we are seeing only too well today!) – granted the texts are all consistent with the conservative position, but all of them have such big questions hanging over them that they cannot provide the strong evidence that the conservative side needs before it can say to committed same-sex couples that their relationship is contrary to God’s will and that if they cannot sustain a heterosexual relationship then they should be celibate.
    (2) We therefore do better to look to biblical texts that refer to similar situations to the one we are in, and see how they are handled, see what principles arise, and then seek to apply those principles today.
    Our situation is that major change is being advocated in an important area of teaching – I would imagine all can agree that that is a fair description of our present situation. It seems to me that there are 3 NT parallels – the issue of whether Gentile converts had to keep the full Mosaic law, especially (for the men) circumcision; the treatment of the food laws by Jesus in Mark 7; and Jesus’ treatment of the sabbath law. In each case these were at the time hugely important areas of teaching, absolutely central to the defining of God’s people. (They are no longer such hugely important issues, but that is simply because of the way they were dealt with at the time). What is striking – even disturbing – in each case is the failure to quote scripture, and indeed the willingness to totally set aside what the conservatives would have quite rightly said was clear from scripture – namely the importance of circumcision, of food laws, and of sabbath observance.
    What we do find, instead of the quoting of scripture, is that in Acts 15 the revisionists (for that is a not inappropriate description of Peter, Paul and Barnabas here) argue from the needs of people and from seeing the remarkable things that God was doing. With the issue of the food laws, Jesus simply uses what was basically ethical/spiritual reasoning. With the sabbath law he used the principles of need (especially somebody’s need for healing) and again arguments from common sense.
    So these three principles arise – acting in accordance with what God was doing; the needs of people; and rational arguments arising from common-sense ethical considerations.
    If we apply these today the rational argument requires us to look seriously at the range of human sexuality (together with an acknowledgement that the Genesis account of sexuality clearly is not complete – e.g. it says nothing about the possibility of celibacy); then having taken full note of that range of sexuality we are in a position to give right consideration to the needs of the people affected and how we might respond to those needs; then finally we can take stock of what we see happening today – at the very least it is possible that the desire of so many LGBT people for the commitment of partnership/marriage and for the blessing of the church is a work of God, every bit as surprising perhaps as his work among the Gentiles of Antioch, but just as real.
    Handling these three principles in this way I believe gives a far surer basis for the acceptance of committed same-sex relationships than the sort of arguments advocated by Martyn Percy.

    • Jamie Wood January 16, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

      Very interesting George, and I am impressed with your argument that in Acts 15 Peter, Paul and Barnabas were revisionists.

      One difficulty that many have is that we are very badly equipped to “look seriously at the range of human sexuality.” Most people consider their sexuality a private matter. The man/woman in the street does not make their sexuality public for others to look at, and our friends and acquaintances do not put their sexuality on display for us to look at. In some cases we can make a guess based on relationships admitted to, but it’s only a guess – we don’t ask our friends “How gay or straight are you?”

      We can bypass the people we know personally – which itself is a dodgy thing to do – and study books or the internet, but, on this topic especially, there is no obvious repository of value-free, objective facts that we can then “rightly consider.”

  18. Tricia January 14, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    Andrew
    I am sorry you found my comments offensive, but if we are to have an honest debate we have to accept that we will find the other person’s comments unacceptable at times. My post was in reply to Pete J and the correlation between divorce and ssm. Divorce appears in the OT and Jesus tightened up the ethics in Matthew 19, the Romans do not allow, the Greek Orthodox allow a second chance and the COfE decide on a parish basis after interview with the couples concerned. The point being that divorce is biblical and ssm is not.
    Taking your 3 points:
    1. That fact that the Government has taken the step of changing traditional marriage with no electoral mandate on the wave of political correctness has no bearing on the teachings of the Church. The State for centuries has been based on Christian laws and values, the Government has broken the bonds. To comment that it can be likened to a PCC meeting is breathtaking.
    2. A State marriage is now a different marriage. This is clear in the Same Sex Marriage Act where it states that a same sex couple cannot consummate, but are married and a heterosexual couple must consummate or they are not married. Neither can a same sex couple commit adultery. The church only acknowledges marriage between a man and a woman – maybe we will have to refer this as Holy Matrimony. I make no comment about people being allowed to live their lives as they wish and I agree with the need for civil partnership to ensure legal rights.
    3. You and I differ in this point specifically because of the topic under discussion “Grace”. You want to accept grace at no cost – what Dietrich Bonhoeffer refers to as “cheap grace”, but as Ian has pointed out, that is not the Biblical definition. Christ says “pick up your cross and follow me”. It would have been much easier for St Paul to have accepted the sexual ethics of those he was evangelising – he did not. He said ‘once you were like this – now you are not”. I am not diminishing the cost to the individual, I am saying Christ is worth the price.

    • Pete J January 15, 2016 at 7:20 am #

      Tricia

      My point was specifically about Matt 19. Many in the church use it to exclude gay partnered people from church or aspects of the church, yet there is no exclusion for those who have remarried after a divorce (excepting unfaithfulness). Since Jesus does not (and indeed nobody in scripture) condemn gay relationships it seems perverse to say that a passage that condemns remarriage (at least under most conditions) actually doesn’t mean that at all, but does ban gay people from even marrying once.

      I would personally suggest that Jesus was rebuking the main purpose of divorce *at the time* which was to treat marriage as a commodity and the wife as a throwaway thing. If we can have such a nuanced reading of this passage (and the bible) in terms of remarriage, then why accept only a plain reading of scripture when it comes to gay sex?

    • Pete J January 15, 2016 at 7:26 am #

      Tricia on your points…

      1. Is sort of true and sort of not true. Same sex marriage was not in the governments manifesto (that government did a lot of that!) for either party, but there was clear evidence that 2/3rds – 80% of the population were in favour *and* this was new rights for a minority which don’t really impact the wider population.

      2. State marriage has often been out of whack with church marriage. As im sure you’re aware it is only very recently that remarried divorcees can marry in church.

      • David Shepherd January 15, 2016 at 8:33 am #

        Pete J,

        Christ inferred from Genesis (‘the two shall be one flesh’) that life-long monogamy is God’s perpetual intention for sexual relationships. Divorce, while scripturally permitted for unfaithfulness and desertion, is still contrary to what God intends for marriage.

        In the 1980’s, the same Genesis passage was cited by the CofE as a parallel inference prohibiting polygamy among African Christians.

        The argument from the passage against same-sex marriage is simply another parallel inference about what God perpetually intends for Christian sexual relationships.

        So, Jesus can infer, despite permitting divorce for porneia, that God’s perpetual intention is for marriage to be a lifelong commitment. On this basis, a previous divorce can seriously hinder entry to ordained ministry, requiring a Bishop’s faculty.

        The Church has also inferred, despite OT polygamy, God’s perpetual intention that marriage should not be polygamous. So, while polygamy is lawful in Africa, the 1988 Lambeth Conference resolved (114)

        ‘In the case of polygamy, there is a universal standard – it is understood to be a sin, therefore polygamists are not admitted to positions of leadership including Holy Orders, nor after acceptance of the Gospel can a convert take another wife, nor, in some areas, are they admitted to Holy Communion’

        Yep, Africans have to live with this ‘exclusion’. Yet, according to revisionists, guess what we aren’t allowed to infer? Supposedly, we can’t infer God’s perpetual intention for marriage to be heterosexual from ‘“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? (?Matthew? ?19?:?4-5? NIV)

        So, while you might argue that the CofE gives wide discretion to the local vicar to re-marry and accept re-married divorcees, it’s still a far cry from pretending that the last of the above inferences from the Genesis narrative is totally inapplicable.

        You can possibly see why the African Anglicans shout ‘hypocrisy’.

        • David Shepherd January 22, 2016 at 10:36 pm #

          It’s been a while since the press announced them to be the first same-sex couple to be granted joint parental recognition through gestational surrogacy, but I just saw the Drewitt-Barlow’s poster-family with five kids in tow on the One Show (scrub the time to 20:16)

          Of course, all of the children’s biological mothers were airbrushed out of the picture, including Megan Hoffner, the disgruntled birth mother of the twins, who lost an acrimonious lawsuit for pre-natal support against the couple.

          In asserting, with kids blissfully trotted out, that:

          ‘The family unit shouldn’t be defined by the gender of the parents’

          , the Drewitt-Barlows are proclaiming automatic presumptive parenthood through marriage to be the new frontier of gay ‘rights’.

          Perhaps, blogger Robert Oscar Lopez, a bisexual professor of English in California, who was raised by lesbians, counters their falsehood best, when he states:

          The poor treatment of carrier mothers, and let’s not forget gamete donors as well, is the direct result of problems in the fight for same-sex marriage.

          The groups who argued for gay marriage decided they needed simultaneously to argue for same-sex parenting. This conflation was disingenuous and harmful—two people who build a life together do not infringe on anyone else’s rights, but two people who need to acquire the biomaterials for a child from someone else are stepping on tons of other people’s rights: the child, the child’s birth parents, the child’s biological kin, and the larger community that’s forced to perform a charade of equivalence.

          If LGBT groups claim (and by their silence, perhaps, an implied majority here) that marriage is just about two people who love each other, then this slot on the One Show proves otherwise!

      • Tricia January 15, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

        Pete j
        Polls have been proved very wrong. 500,000 people petitioned the Government NOT to redefine marriage, within a 3 week period.
        The new rights do impact the community – people are losing their jobs and livelihoods and children are being given the false information that you can have 2 mothers or 2 fathers.
        State marriage only began in the 1800s – previously all marriages were in church. The state used to undertake the same form of marriage without a religious content.
        Divorce laws were changed around the 1970-80s, prior to this only adultery was accepted as reason for divorce.
        The church had to deal with the new law and whether you can remarry in church is dependent on the interview with your clergyman – it is not a given. As David has pointed out it is a more serious matter for any ordained person.

  19. David Shepherd January 15, 2016 at 6:29 am #

    Wow! This dropped last night: http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/statement-from-primates-2016/

    Excerpt:

    ‘7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.

    8. We have asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.’

    • Pete J January 15, 2016 at 7:56 am #

      The message seems to be that allowing gay people to have a relationship and/or become a bishop is a bad thing that allegedly causes “hurt” (as the TEC are doing), but promoting imprisonment for and vilifying gay people by spreading malicious lies is to be encouraged (churches of Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya).

      This is effectively what Welby said he didnt want to do (pass the mess on to his successor). In three years time TEC wont have changed its practices and may have been joined by one or more of Canada, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, possibly even a church in Central/South America.

    • Tricia January 15, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

      David
      Praise the Lord!

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