Should the church ‘let the world set the agenda’ on ethics and doctrine?

Paul Bayes, currently the Church of England’s bishop in Liverpool, has made his clearest call yet for the Church to change its understanding of marriage and sexuality, in his address to the MoSAIC group (I assume in his diocese). He does not disguise the reasons for his views, where he thinks the Church should go, and what that would mean. Along the way, he makes some extraordinary comments for any Christian, let alone for someone appointed as a bishop.

The primary driver for his agenda is ‘the world’.

I believe that your agenda will align the Church more closely with the life and values of Jesus. It speaks of love and of the God of love, and it is also the world’s agenda… In the mid to late 1960s the World Council of Churches developed an understanding of mission. The soundbite that summed up their understanding was this: “Let the world set the agenda”.

He immediately notes an objection, that ‘God should come first’, but doesn’t attempt to engage with this. He simply lists the ways in which the morality of ‘the world’ is evidently superior to the morality of ‘the Church’ in the areas of racial justice, disability, and sexuality. ‘The world beyond the church has set the moral agenda.’

This is odd language to use for anyone familiar with the biblical narrative. This narrative begins with something going badly wrong with ‘the world’, and it is righting this wrong which leads to the expression of God’s love for ‘the world’, in calling it back to its creator. This was why God called Abraham into a distinct relationship with God, foreshadowing the distinctive relationship the people of Israel would also have, which would lead to a distinctive way of life which set them apart from ‘the world’ around them. The same then became true of the new Israel in Jesus, including both Jew and now gentiles incorporated into this Jesus-centred Jewish renewal movement.

The clearest expression of this is found in John’s gospel, where ‘the world’ is both the object of God’s love (John 3.16)—but also a force which stands against God and opposes God’s people (John 16.33)

Although Bayes occasionally mentions ‘Jesus’, as though taking a secular agenda and adding ‘Jesus’ makes it Christian, there is little consideration of the teaching and action of Jesus. When he burst on the scene in Galilee, proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God, and the need to repent and believe, Jesus was hardly ‘letting the world set the agenda’, whether that was the Jewish religious world of his day or the pagan Roman world. Why would it be any different now?

Thankfully, the early followers of Jesus didn’t ‘let the world set the agenda’ when it came to care for the poor, attitudes to wealth and status, and in particular the understanding of sexuality, marriage, and sexual morality. Historian Tom Holland has expressed eloquently his realisation that the ethical values of the modern West have, until very recently, stemmed not from ‘the world’, but from the world-contradicting values of the early Christian movement.

The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value.

Christian distinctiveness was particularly evident in attitudes to sexuality. Although the approach to sexuality differed between Greek and Roman thinkers at important points, there was widespread acceptance of same-sex sex; elite men were allowed to have sex with whomever they pleased; sexual ethical expectations were quite different between men and women; men were not expected to help in raising their children; and unwanted babies were exposed and abandoned. As Rodney Stark documents, all these things were challenged by the early Christian movement, and this challenge contributed measurably to its growth. And many of these views were regarded, by ‘the world’ at the time, as morally offensive. It is odd that Bayes, along with Stephen Cottrell, should find this difficult or surprising, or on its own a reason for change in the Church’s doctrine.

And these concerns flow directly from the teaching of the Jewish Jesus. Jewish rejection of all forms of same-sex sexual activity was its most consistent distinction from pagan culture around it, and Jesus’ lack of explicit mention of same-sex relations locates him within this context. (Given that Jesus was willing to offer radical challenge to so many other assumptions of his Jewish world, it is striking that he does not do so here.) Contrary to a commonly expressed view, Jesus did in fact make sexual ethics an important part of his teaching.

In the Jewish context of Jesus’ day, and in the Christian context that grew out of it, homosexual coitus would have been automatically embraced within the scope of porneia…

So can we say that sexual morality was not a major focus of Jesus’ teaching and that there is, therefore, nothing in the Gospels that should be taken as critical of homosexual sexual practice? Can we say, therefore, that concern with sexual conduct does not align one with Jesus and that in particular Christian criticism of same-sex sexual practice has no basis in the Gospels? No we cannot.

Sexual ethics are given a place of considerable importance by the Gospel Jesus; and in his context, not to speak directly of homosexual sexual practice is implicitly to affirm the negative view of such practice that was prevalent in his context and mandated by the Scriptures of that context. (John Nolland)

The teaching of Paul here is simply making explicit, in a mixed Jewish-gentile context, what was assumed in the teaching of Jesus in a Jewish context. As William Loader, a NT scholar who disagrees with the church’s traditional rejection of same-sex marriage, comments:

It is very possible that Paul knew of views which claimed some people had what we would call a homosexual orientation, though we cannot know for sure and certainly should not read our modern theories back into his world.  If he did, it is more likely that, like other Jews, he would have rejected them out of hand….He would have stood more strongly under the influence of Jewish creation tradition which declares human beings male and female, to which may well even be alluding in 1.26-27, and so seen same-sex sexual acts by people (all of whom he deemed heterosexual in our terms) as flouting divine order. (William Loader, The New Testament and Sexuality, p 323-4)

I suspect some critics of Bayes here will infer that he sees the atoning effect of Jesus’ death and resurrection as of no value—if the world is not fallen, then why does it need redeeming? I am not sure that this follows; it would be possible to believe there are things wrong with the world that need redeeming whilst still taking insight from the world—and in any case there is a long tradition of seeing Jesus’ death as exemplary rather than ‘transactional’.

And I would not want to reject the idea of ‘listening to the world’s agenda’; a sure recipe for marginalising Christian faith is to ignore the questions that those around us are asking. There is also a significant strand within Scripture of God speaking to his people by means of those ‘on the outside’, from Balaam’s ass to Cyrus of Persia. But all this is far cry from deciding that the moral agenda of the world is superior to the moral agenda of the church.

The church has often got things wrong—which is why I am a Protestant Christian, always committed to seeing the people of God reformed by the word of God spoken to us in Scripture. But what Bayes is setting aside, in rejecting the Church of England’s current doctrine of marriage as a lifelong commitment of one man and one woman, is not merely ‘the church’s’ moral agenda; it is the consistent view of Scripture, which has (in different social forms) been the constant benchmark of Christian understanding down the ages. This means that the criticism which he brushes off, that he is not starting with God, actually has bite. On what grounds does Bayes reject what Christians have consistently believed, in favour of ‘the moral agenda of the world’?

Bayes’s position appears to reject the idea that God has revealed himself distinctively in Scripture, and this in turn raises a question about whether God has revealed himself in the person and teaching of Jesus in the gospels. He ends with a concern that the church should be ‘one’, but he appears to have forgotten the other descriptors of ‘…holy, catholic and apostolic’.

Ultimately, Bayes’ position despises the grace of God that we have experienced, in calling us to a distinctive way of life and a distinctive understanding of both our bodies and the place of sex.

To reinforce his position, Bayes groups his own concerns on sexuality with the other secular virtues of race and disability, and the concerns of those upholding the Church’s teaching with the secular bogeymen of ‘divorce, contraception, and the place of women in ministry’. These connections all merit more careful reflection.

The Church clearly changed its view on contraception many years ago, and at the time the main concern expressed was that this separated sex from procreation, a connection that the Catholic Church continues to argue for. But the Church of England has not changed its doctrine of marriage in the light of this, nor in the light of the possibility of remarriage after divorce with a former partner still living; this is about forgiveness and restoration, whilst marriage remains (in doctrine and liturgy) a lifelong commitment. I am clear that the teaching of Scripture enables both women and men to exercise ministry and leadership at every level, and that the debate here is very different in its substance from the debate around same-sex sexual relations. But what these debates do have in common is the question of whether bodily sex difference matters, and how sex is connected to commitment and procreation. These continue to be live issues.

On the other hand, Bayes assumes that the issues of disability, race and sexuality are inseparable. It might be argued that being gay could be understood as a form of disability (as some gay rights campaigners in the US have argued) but Bayes’ position assumes that, against the evidence, sexual orientation is the same kind of immutable characteristic as ethnicity, and that ‘being gay’ and ‘being black’ are equivalents. Without any clear rationale, he is simply dismissing those who demand racial justice but hold the orthodox Christian view on marriage, which (ironically) excludes many of the black-led churches in the UK.

But what is most baffling in Bayes’ position is the idea that ‘the world’ has things sorted out on issues of sexuality and has a morally superior position. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes watching Netflix (we are currently watching ‘Lovesick’) or listening to the radio to learn that the assumed position of ‘the world’ (or at least its dominant narrative in the media) is that casual sex is fine, as long as there is consent.

Beyond the church, the gay community appears to assume the same. This is the account of Alastair Appleton, presenter of ‘Escape to the Country’, of his own experience of coming to terms with being gay:

This greater goal of sex means that it’s irrelevant who we love. The important factor is that we do fancy and love other people. I should have got this clear in my head before even coming out to myself… Instead I fell into the trap of going out, meeting men and having sex with them, while all the time, deep in my heart, I was actually thinking : this is aberrant, this is not in the natural scheme of things, I like it but it’s invalid.

We really have to get away from this kind of thinking, because slowly and surely it will eat away the joy of our sexual encounters. It will either makes us despise the whole gay sex scene or makes us so furiously heedless of our true feelings that we start using mindless sex and drugs and serial dating to mask that deeper unease, that tiny voice that’s saying: this is not right…

It wasn’t until I left the matrix of the English Motherland and headed into the warm belly of the Cold War, post-Wall Berlin, that I was able to discover guilt-free sex.

There on the nudist beaches of Wannsee and in the gay street festivals of Motzstrasse; in the plush gay clubs buried like ruby-velvet jewels in the grey decay of the East; in the clannish, exclusively male Gay Scene of that city, I found that my dirtiest dreams were pretty mainstream and for the first time in my life I could chat openly to other men about those communal sexual pursuits: flirting, fancying, sharking, hunting and getting your heart broken.

Does Paul Bayes think that this is a superior ‘moral agenda’ to the teaching of Jesus? If not, why not?

Bayes talks of the ‘mystery of the body’ and the ‘mystery of desire’ (dismissing those with a more orthodox view as being ‘fearful of their bodies’) without acknowledging that this ‘mystery’ has power to manipulate, harm and destroy lives. It is the power of sex, sexual attraction and sexual activity which has led God in Scripture to put firm boundaries around sexual activity—precisely to protect the weak who could be abused by it.

The acceptance of gay relationships on a par with marriage could only happen in a culture which valorises sexual experience, prioritises the interior life with its patterns of desire over the external realities of the body, and sees sex primarily in terms of pleasure and feeling rather than procreation and society. Bayes appears to have missed that. He cites Gregory of Nyssa, but rips the quotation out of the context of the Nyssen’s wider argument that the discipline of virginity brings us closest to the life of Jesus and anticipates our destiny in the new creation.

What is most sad about Bayes’ argument is the attitude it betrays of those who disagree with him. Unlike those enlightened members of MoSAIC, who are on an exciting journey of learning, the orthodox are apparently stuck in the past, refusing to learn, and trapped in a fear of sex and of their own bodies. They are either asleep, or they are anti-liberal authoritarians, no better than reactionary racists or those who despise the disabled. This dismissive and patronising language is hardly the approach that the LLF process, signed off by Bayes as part of the House of Bishops, wanted to encourage; it is the most exclusive kind of ‘inclusion’.

How Bayes can act as a shepherd to the orthodox in his diocese, whilst viewing them in this way, I do not know. What is worse is that he has made these comments public—so he must intend those whose views he dismisses to know that he views them with such derision.

And how he can be a teacher of the faith, when he waves away actual theological reflection as ‘glittering arguments of the brain’?

A clergy friend of mine made this comment online:

The Church has always grown when its offered a radical alternative to an increasingly morally lost and confused society and, when becoming a member of the Church carries a risk—the test of commitment factor. On my knowledge of rural demographics I think we have 5–7 years left before around 80% of all C of E rural churches will close due to non viability—if not before. But a new, confident Church, anchored to biblical orthodoxy but with the Spirit’s liberating gracious welcome, can offer what our lost and vacuous society needs right now.

Some years ago, gay atheist Matthew Parris said something similar.

As a gay atheist, I want to see the church oppose same-sex marriage…Even as a (gay) atheist, I wince to see the philosophical mess that religious conservatives are making of their case. Is there nobody of any intellectual stature left in our English church, or the Roman church, to frame the argument against Christianity’s slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change? 

Can’t these Christians see that the moral basis of their faith cannot be sought in the pollsters’ arithmetic? What has the Irish referendum shown us? It is that a majority of people in the Republic of Ireland in 2015 do not agree with their church’s centuries-old doctrine that sexual relationships between two people of the same gender are a sin. Fine: we cannot doubt that finding. But can a preponderance of public opinion reverse the polarity between virtue and vice? Would it have occurred for a moment to Moses (let alone God) that he’d better defer to Moloch-worship because that’s what most of the Israelites wanted to do?

It must surely be implicit in the claim of any of the world’s great religions that on questions of morality, a majority may be wrong; but this should be vividly evident to Christians in particular: they need only consider the fate of their Messiah, and the persecution of adherents to the Early Church. ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you.’… These, and not the gays, are now the reviled ones. Popular revulsion cannot make them wrong.

Unless other bishops speak out and offer better leadership and a clearer vision, with bishops like Paul Bayes, who deny the doctrine of their own church, despise those who do, and prefer the agenda of the world to God’s own revelation of himself, the Church of England is doomed.

For my own assessment of what Jesus and Paul teach, along with the other key biblical texts, see my Grove booklet Same Sex Unions: the key biblical texts.

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208 thoughts on “Should the church ‘let the world set the agenda’ on ethics and doctrine?”

  1. In the mid to late 1960s the World Council of Churches developed an understanding of mission. The soundbite that summed up their understanding was this: “Let the world set the agenda”.

    Hm. I wonder if this is a deliberate misrepresentation?

    If you take ‘set the agenda’ to mean (what I would usually take it to mean) ‘decide which topics are to be discussed’, then of course the world does set the agenda. The Church has to answer the questions the world is asking. There’s no point being like a politicians and ignoring the questions the world is actually asking in favour of answering the questions we wish they were asking.

    And new questions are necessarily thrown up by events in the world: the whole area of questions about sexual behaviour, for example, was undoubtedly opened up by the invention of reliable contraception. So in that case the world definitely ‘set the agenda’ in that new topics, which previously were of mostly academic interest, were suddenly ‘on the agenda’, in the sense of being topics that needed to be discussed.

    So if that’s what the World Council of Churches meant — that world world decides what questions people are asking, and the Church needs to answer them — then fair enough.

    But the Bishop seems to be using ‘set the agenda’ in another way, a way which I’ve never really heard the phrase used, to mean ‘determine the answers to the questions’. rather than simply ‘propose which questions are to be discussed’.

    Is this a deliberate misrepresentation do people think?

    • I guess it depends on whether you see ‘agenda’ and think first of its definition as ‘a list of things to be discussed’ or ‘a list of things to be done / goals to be achieved’.

      Is this a Britain/USA thing? The latter seems much more Yankish, the former much more UK, to me.

  2. Justin Welby was embarrassed that a Bishop tweeted that we should never trust a tory but neither he nor Stephen Cottrell is embarrassed by the fact that one of his bishops argues openly for practising homosexuality.
    There is no way in which Justin Welby’s leadership could be restored to credibility without a series of things happening:
    – Getting rid of Paul Bayes
    – Ceasing Living Love and Faith which presents a series of views about biblical sexuality in a way that allows liberal views to be given credibility by the company that they keep
    – Condemning TEC’s punishing bishops who act in opposition to same sex marriage – and if TEC don’t change direction separate from them
    – Returning to preaching a gospel which seeks to reconcile the world with God instead of God with the world
    – Acknowledging that the move towards the acceptance of practising homosexuality is a natural progression from coming to the conclusion that the sexes are functionally the same. And therefore ceasing the current pattern of appointing women to vicar and bishop roles in the C of E
    – restoring fellowship with all churches and bishops of churches who have separated from Justin Welby and his bishops – demonstrating this in inviting them to Lambeth
    – disfellowshipping any C of E churches who act in any way in support of the homosexual agenda and who refuse to openly renounce support for the homosexual agenda if asked to
    – Requiring each bishop to express open support for these decisions or leave or be shown the door.
    There will be other things which are essential of which I am ignorant.
    I applaud Ian’s drawing attention to Paul Bayes’ words and direction.
    But it doesn’t stop there – consider the fact that Justin Welby has been able to behave as he has without a public word from leaders of other denominations. Those who call themselves part of the UK church clearly cannot all be if they can’t find the courage to obey scripture in respect of church discipline. But is this a judgemental attitude? Is it for us to say who is and is not the church? Jesus did:
    Matt 12:50 ESV
    For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.
    And we are capable of knowing what is and is not the will of God. We must therefore all begin acting as Jesus does – disciplining people who live in repeated sin (having turned wholly from sin ourselves) and then treating those who persist as not being the church.
    1 John 3:6 shows that those who continue in patterns of sin (as opposed to those who ever sin!) don’t know God.
    No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.
    We are living in a way that is ignorant of the era we are in. The God of the new covenant is the same one as the God of the old. So for example false prophets in this age will be judged no differently to the prophets of Baal in Elijah’s presence. Instead we imagine that the cross has enabled God to be tolerant towards sin – we think that that is what grace is – unconditional acceptance. The cross has not provided God a means of tolerating sin – it has provided us a way of escaping the power and penalty of sin by being ‘dead’. The cross satisfied Gods’ justice but it has not annihilated the holiness of God. The cross is hope because whilst sin has never let go of someone who is still alive God has made it possible for sin to never hold on to someone who is ‘dead’. The 1 John 3:6 verse I quoted above also shows that grace is not unconditional acceptance – it is undeserved relationship.
    In this covenant the judgement of God is delayed – God has in his kindness decided that a nine year old child whose parents are false prophets will most often not see them burned up by fire in front of them – which is good – thank God for that. Although judgement still happens now – and even in extreme ways as it did with Ananias and Sapphira – even if that’s not the usual pattern. Yes the new covenant is more gracious in that it allows those whose hearts are set on pleasing God to be able to please him by the imprinting of the truth on their hearts with God’s Spirit. But this is of no benefit to those who are set to defy God.

    • Shuffle through the video at the link below to see comments made by Bishop David Walker on GBNews about Matt Hancock. Can this man say this and remain a bishop? If so we know that Justin Welby hasn’t been supporting same sex marriage – he’s been supporting the dismantling of marriage altogether.

        • I ask those who remain in the C of E – in the light of the way that Bishops like Bayes and Walker behave – and in the light of the direction of Welby and Cottrell – is there any event which if it happened would cause you to INSTANTLY say that enough is enough? If Justin Welby had sexual intercourse with a woman in the middle of Trafalgar Square would that be a reason to instantly depart from the C of E or would it be simply a matter of concern? If you would instantly leave the C of E if that happened that shows that you already should have left – that you are pretending that it doesn’t matter what happens beyond your local church when you know it does. If you disagree presumably you believe the calling of local churches is only to be faithful within your church – as if there was any such idea – that faithfulness can be thought of as having nothing to do with our responsibilities beyond private and church life? And that it’s acceptable to submit to a leadership team which allows behaviour like that of Bayes and Walker to happen? And to preach the word of God in a way designed to be like restaurant wifi – reaching only paid customers – intentionally avoiding calling all people to be accountable to the truth in order not to contradict one’s own church’s leaders? And pretending that church discipline is only intra church and not inter church – which amounts to believing that God wouldn’t care if you were in fellowship with people in your denomination or other denominations who for example were involved in ethnic cleansing?

          • Hallelujah!
            My talk last week on rejection mentioned the undisputible fact that we, as Bible following Christians, are now the rejected ones as Christ said we would be. I had high hopes for Justin Welby but I guess he is just like many others in the CofE who give in because it’s easier. I keep asking the Lord when I am to leave this apostate church but, I guess that as long as I am leading Collective worship in 3 CofE schools, He will keep me here, but how long will they continue to have people like me in the schools as they allow this heresy to pervade everything? I wonder!

        • For context, this is what Bishop David also said in that interview:
          “The bishop replied: “It is a betrayal – it a betrayal of marriage vows by both parties because both the people involved were married, both have got children. It is a betrayal. In the church, we put a lot of effort into helping couples who are going through difficulties in their marriage, we pray for marriage. The Mother’s Union, one of our longest standing organisations, was set up in the 19th century specifically to promote marriage and family life – so we really care about people who make those marriage vows, and many of them in our churches are keeping them and we try to help them to do that.

          “We are realistic, we recognise things don’t always work out and sometimes a marriage breaks up and sometimes in the middle of a marriage things go wrong and somebody behaves as they shouldn’t – and we don’t condone that but equally we are there to help, support and, in Christ’s name, to forgive”.”


          • Thank you for giving the wider context. I presume then Bishop David also goes on to rephrase his earlier comment that he is “more worried about the fact he failed to keep the social distancing than I am about the fact that here was a middle-aged bloke having a bit of a fling” ?
            Or has he now retracted that statement elsewhere?

          • Taking a dim view of betrayal is a value shared by secularists. Almost every time DW expresses a moral stance he is squarely in the company of secularists.

            Whereas Christians see adultery as one of the most serious sins. This is not a point he makes.

          • We’ve had this debate many times. Jesus didn’t agree with stoning for adultery. And was clear that he didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery.
            Which of course is NOT to say he supported it. But it’s hard to conclude that he saw it as ‘one of the most serious’ sins.

          • The story is possibly late, but certainly seems not to be an original part of any of the first century gospels.

          • I wouldn’t imagine that Martha Hancock and her children would regard her husband’s behaviour as a ‘bit of a fling’ notwithstanding being splashed all over the newspapers.

            Having made this remark in a public interview, I wonder if the good Bishop thinks he ought to apologise to her.

          • Taking a dim view of betrayal is a value shared by secularists.
            Whereas Christians see adultery as one of the most serious sins.

            Indeed; isn’t the point that in the Christian view what makes adultery immoral is not the betrayal of the spouse?

            For example, a lot of secular people these days are in various degrees of ‘open’ marriages, where adultery is tolerated if not actively encouraged. In the secular worldview, this kind of adultery — done with the blessing of the spouse — is not sinful, because there is no ‘betrayal’ involved.

            Whereas of course we Christians know that it is immoral.

            So any analysis of adultery which concentrates solely on the ‘betrayal’ aspect is not Christian, indeed is anti-Christian.

            (Someone should ask the bishop what his view would be on adultery when conducted with the blessing of the spouse in an ‘open’ ‘marriage’, and report what he says).

    • Thank you for this comment Philip; I couldn’t agree more and I appreciate very much knowing that there are like-minded people around. I don’t know the details, but I’m disappointed to know that certain churches aren’t invited to Lambeth. That seems a clear indication that the path is already set and those who don’t agree with it are free to leave. Very sad. I hope you get my email address; I’d like to know more.

  3. Isn’t “the moral arc of the universe” interpreted as “towards good” the opposite of any notion of sin?

    Isn’t it as vacuous as “the right side of history”?

    I’d agree that we need to address the agenda (ie things that need discussing) that the world sets but to see the world’s agenda (in terms of its proffered values) as truth the church needs to accept is ridiculous in any understanding of the need for salvation and redemption. Be challenged by them, absolutely, but to say that this “truth” is the trump card is more than odd.

    It seems very convenient to accept the stipend but stand in opposition to such basic doctrine… Where’s the arc of that integrity leading?

  4. I’m not really surprised by this. I have observed that there is a strong line of thought within the Church of England that what emerges from the prevailing culture and gains general acceptance is a ‘work of the Spirit’. In other words, the Holy Spirit works independently of the church and uses it to show the church what it should be doing.

    Bayes seems to be an exemplar of this notion.

  5. Sigh. One of the marks of good disagreement is being able to sum up an opponent’s argument in a way that they would recognise and agree with. I suspect (I haven’t interacted with Paul Bayes) you have failed.

    First, on the question of agenda. Paul is clear that he is talking specifically about inclusion, with a particular focus on racism, disability and sexuality. The comments that ‘this is odd language’ are therefore not apposite. Yes, the church should set the moral agenda. When it hasn’t, as it hasn’t here, we need serious self-reflection. Sometimes, the world is ahead of us, to our shame.

    Secondly, you trivialise the arguments by saying he is just tacking on Jesus to a secular agenda. It’s a cheap shot. And your logic is flawed. Jesus may not have let the world set the agenda, but the Church of England is not Jesus (despite its calling to be part of the body of Christ). The CofE as an institution has got things wrong, will get things wrong, and sometimes will learn that from outside the Church. This should not be controversial.

    Third, you then dive into an account of early Christianity and sexuality. This is ground that we have trodden on before. Suffice it to say that you present one side of the argument. There is another, and it is held by many in the Church. Put simply, many of us do not think that the practices associated with same-sex intercourse in early church times (which were overwhelmingly pederastic and abusive) are a close match for what we are considering today.

    You imply that Paul Bayes finds surprising the Christian distinctiveness of the early Church. I can find no evidence for this assertion at all.

    You then locate all the teaching in Jesus (good – I agree with you there). But you then try to argue from silence – quote: ‘Given that Jesus was willing to offer radical challenge to so many other assumptions of his Jewish world, it is striking that he does not do so here’. Unfortunately, exactly the same argument from silence was made by pro-slavery evangelicals in the nineteenth century debates. And with more force – there are enslaved people in the gospel accounts, in contrast to same-sex relations.

    William Loader speculates as to what Paul might say. My speculations differ from his; I would expect him to consider faithful Christians in whom the Holy Spirit is at work, and to realise that in Christ there is no gay and straight.

    At least you do not accuse Paul of ignoring the atonement. What is strange is that you then allow that in some cases the people of God clearly are expected to listen to those on the outside. But you then introduce an unfair comparison: ‘But all this is far cry from deciding that the moral agenda of the world is superior to the moral agenda of the church’. Paul isn’t saying this for everything. The whole lecture makes it quite clear that it was regarding inclusion, in particular racism, disability and sexuality.

    You then accuse Paul of rejecting the consistent view of scripture. Except, maybe he interprets scripture differently from you, and thinks that you are rejecting scripture (except if he does think this, he was too polite to say it). I personally don’t think that you reject scripture, but I certainly think you are wrong in this area. To ask me (or Paul) to agree with you is to ask that I go against my understanding of scripture.

    I have no idea where you got the idea that Paul rejects the idea that God has revealed himself distinctly in scripture. It certainly wasn’t from his lecture you linked to. And I’m equally sure that he would be only too happy to add ‘holy, catholic, apostolic’ as descriptors for what the church should be.

    You then make an even more serious accusation, that his position despises the grace of God. Again, this is nowhere in what he has said, and seems to be you taking the worst possible spin on what he has said.

    You then move on to consider divorce, contraception and the place of women in ministry. For the record, claiming that the Church of England hasn’t changed its teaching on marriage despite the change on divorce is, shall we say, bold.

    You then speak of the ‘gay community’. Believe it or not, but not all gay people think the same. In particular, they may not think the same as an account of one person writing over twenty years ago talking about his experiences forty years ago. This is just careless.

    You accuse Paul of not acknowledging the power of desire to manipulate, harm and destroy. Except he does, explicitly. He says: ‘Desire is a driver and a road to holiness, or to dissipation, and Christianity has much to say about the need to move to holiness and to love, to be disciplined lovers, and to forgive one another, and to shun the selfish abuse of love’.

    You finish: ‘What is most sad about Bayes’ argument is the attitude it betrays of those who disagree with him.’ Motes and beams…

    • But does it strike you as coincidental that the ‘change’ on ‘divorce’ happened at precisely the moment when there was a societal shift?

      Which neatly illustrates the point made by the main piece. If the church follows the world, that removes the need for the church. The church has always been countercultural at the points where that is necessary. Whereas the world makes laws on the basis of human nature, the church sees much of human nature as sinful and therefore as on the enemy’s side.

      Who cares what the C of E says? It is agreed on all sides that what Jesus says overrides the C of E teaching, and is or should be the basis of the C of E teaching. As Jesus’s teaching trumps the C of E, then we always defer to that. Unless there is a C of E where Jesus is *not* central, and a very strange organisation that would be.

    • Thank you for your response Jonathan. I completely share your concerns with Ian’s critique of +Paul’s address.

      • May I second that. I am very grateful to Jonathan for taking the time to produce such a clear and gracious critique of a somewhat hysterical blog post.

      • How odd. The David Runcorn I knew as a colleague was always ready to speak truth to power, to stand up for the underdog, to treasure and prioritise pastoral care, and to value integrity.

        Yet here is a bishop, using his institutional power (which in many ways, at the point of ordination, is absolute over candidates) to describe those *who honestly hold to their ordination vows* in upholding the teaching of the Church, as people who:

        • say ‘God comes first and anyway we know we’re right’
        • are ‘sleepwalkers’
        • ‘have sex on the brain’
        • are ‘looking for a ditch to die in’
        • believe ‘the body is feared by those for whom the tidy mind matters most’

        This is so denigrating. And yet you applaud him?

        What happened to you?

    • “Put simply, many of us do not think that the practices associated with same-sex intercourse in early church times (which were overwhelmingly pederastic and abusive) are a close match for what we are considering today.”

      The implication being that same-sex intercourse is generally non-abusive in the modern world. The reality is quite different. Anal intercourse is a use of the human body for which it was not intended. It is therefore an abuse of the human body. Furthermore, it is one with serious implications for health. One reason why sexually transmitted diseases are so prevalent among gay men is that the great majority of them practice anal intercourse.

      The irony is that in the Roman world people seemed to understand that anal intercourse was abusive but wanted to practice it anyway. Hence slave owners were happy to sodomise their slaves but generally didn’t want to be on the receiving end. Things are indeed different now. Men consent to be sodomised. In other words, they happily play the role that slaves were forced to play in Roman times. But the fact that they are complicit in their own abuse is not something to celebrate.

      Putting homosexuals, disabled people and black people in the same category is one way of framing the debate. They can all be seen as victims of prejudice. And society has indeed moved in a direction of challenging prejudice. Society has also moved in a direction of ever greater sexual liberation. So we can quite legitimately frame the debate in a very different way. People are more likely to accept homosexuality now, just as they are more likely to accept sexual promiscuity and the decline of marriage. A small number of Christians believe that sex should be confined to marriage, whether it is between heterosexuals or between homosexuals. But their stance is of no interest to society at large. Gay marriage has become a reality but it has nothing to do with encouraging more conservative behaviour among homosexuals.

      • This is a debate I have had to the point of extreme ennui. So I shall make this point and refrain from further comment here.
        All sexual intercourse has risks.
        Not all male, gay couples have anal intercourse.
        No lesbians have anal intercourse.
        Many heterosexual couples have anal intercourse.

        Queer Christian people who wish to celebrate their marriage in church, do so with every intention of being faithful and lifelong, as do cishet people. Sometimes, sadly, the straight people fail. We cannot know how the gay couples will fare since some churches have only just started offering marriage to gay couples.

        • ‘All sexual intercourse has risks’ is nonsense for the following oft-rehearsed and basic reason. Married virgins may have a minuscule risk; the quasi-sexual intercourse of promiscuous homosexual men has a huge risk. You are saying risk = risk, so tiny risk = massive risk, so tiny = massive. It follows from that that the shortest person in the world is effectively the same height as the tallest, and that small is the same as big, so all opposites are actually the same as each other all along.

          Cishet sounds like a gentlewomanly pastime in knitting or sewing. But I must not mention that, because we are now not allowed to be cosy – vulgarity rules. Being ‘gay’ in the old established sense was a lovely thing.

        • A specific point was made about homosexual intercourse – and it’s one that is often made by liberal Christians. In the Roman world, when people thought about homosexuality, they would have thought about abuse. Specifically, they would have thought about slave owners sodomising their slaves. So when Paul condemns homosexuality, this should be taken as a condemnation not of homosexuality in general but of a particular form of it – or so the argument goes.

          But the argument depends on an assumption – namely, that Paul would have accepted homosexuality if he had known about relationships that were loving and consensual. But what would Paul really have thought about homosexual relationships that were “loving and consensual”? I imagine Paul would have been shocked at the idea that two men would express their “love” for each other through sodomy. Sodomy is inherently abusive. It is an abuse of the human body. Sodomy is what slave owners inflicted on their slaves.

          (It’s true that not *all* gay men practise anal intercourse but the great majority of them do. So I don’t know why anyone would want to make an issue out of that.)

          • I don’t believe Paul was ‘only’ condemning pederasty. Although it’s untrue to say that same-sex activity was condoned in the Roman world (it was more prevalent in Greece); only pederasty was really regarded as licit.

            I’m not sure anal sex is ‘unnatural’ either. But that would lead me back into my what’s the telos of the clitoris question. So we won’t go there.

            But I’m interested in how you know the great majority of gay men enjoy anal sex.
            I know there is a study on straight couples. I would be interested in seeing one from gay men.

          • I could try to explain why I think anal intercourse is unnatural but it would probably be a waste of time. For a debate to be worthwhile there must be some shared ground. In this case there seems to be so little shared ground that any discussion would be fruitless.

          • PCD every time I list the points about the extreme unhealth and danger of this practice, you irrelevantly say it is yucky (a surface response, which is accurate but is only a small part of the story), but you obviously have not read it if you think something so lethal can be licit. I care for precious human lives.

          • Christopher

            I don’t think I have ever claimed that anal sex is ‘yucky’. I assume that is your position.
            Nor is it inherently ‘lethal’. Promiscuity, of course, makes many sexual acts and consequences pretty risky.
            Many licit things are dangerous: rock climbing, tobacco, alcohol, driving. I would not necessarily wish to ban them.

          • When did I say you said AS is yucky? I said you said my detailed description of what exactly it is (which after all is the point) and consequently why it is out of bounds for health reasons – that *that* was yucky or words to that effect.

            It is immoral to advocate for a practice which involves linings sometimes one cell thick (in a 68 trillion cell body – so you see how thin cells are); which was central in your lifetime in setting off a pandemic; which involves a lethal combination of dirty, unseen and fluid; which involves no sphincter. And so on. Supporting any one of these is immoral, the combination multiply so. And these things (together with informed contraception) would not have been known about till recently, certainly not in biblical times. A minefield, or rather Russian roulette. People cannot therefore be very precious if that is what you wish for them.

          • Christopher

            This is getting tit for tat, but ‘you irrelevantly say it is yucky’ are your words not mine.

            If people, gay or straight, enjoy AS in faithful, exclusive relationships their health risks are small.
            If people, gay or straight, have any kind of sexual intimacy promiscually, they re indulging in risky behaviour. AIDS/HIV can be transmitted through PIV intercouse, as it usually is in African countries. And in the wealthy west, transmission can be prevented.
            People have agency. It is wise to make them aware of risk. It is very rarely wise to proscribe things altogether.

          • ‘You irrelevantly say it is yucky’ are indeed my words. But, for the second time, what did I mean by ‘it’? To repeat, I meant not AS (which is indeed also yucky because of the other) but my description of what it actually is and involves in practice not theory.

            I never do tit for tat. I refine arguments by picking off contradictions one by one so that what we are left with is progressively more and more noncontradictory. That is a refining process and a way towards truth. As this is not often the way people operate, it is a method not normally understood for what it is – though I am sure it has a worthy pedigree in Holmes and/or Poirot (when you eliminate the impossible, what remains, however improbable, must be the truth).

            Faithful and exclusive, eh? If one now tries to name any typically faithful and exclusive type of relationship other than marriage (which you studiously do not name – the exact reverse of the Christian approach) then one will draw a blank.

            Moreover, they can be faithful and exclusive at the time -serial monogamy. Which is another variety of promiscuity. The average Brit 12 years ago had slept with 9 partners (men) or 7.65 (women). This had shot up from a few years earlier and has shot up further since. This average person with 9 has slept with 2.1million people indirectly.


            AIDS/HIV can be transmitted through normal sex – who didn’t know? It is a great comfort to us that there is more than one way of transmitting it. That’s ok then. Though I am a bit puzzled by how that in any way diminishes the huge role of AS in its transmission, which remains precisely as gigantic as it always was. So you’d need to explain the force of your point.

            It is rarely wise to proscribe things altogether. Search me – but I would have thought that it was not possible to generalise about something called ‘things’. Are there not trillions of ‘things’ and are they not various? The law already proscribes absolute tons of things. Is the law wrong to do so?

          • Lewis Carroll mentioned a Jabberwock and a Snark, but that does not mean that either of them exists in reality.

            However it is comforting to know that you mentioned the pretender to the throne rather than its far more prominent longterm inhabitant.

        • “No lesbians have anal intercourse.”

          Which is a trans-exclusionary statement and therefore highly problematic in 2021.

        • People also tend to forget (or are completely unaware of) the fact that anal sexual intercourse between an adult man and an adult woman was decriminalised in the UK in 1994. That it was ever illegal is another legacy of our Christian heritage.

          • I do not support changing the Christian sexual ethic. I was merely providing another (less well known) fact that, regardless of sexual orienataion or identity, anal sex has never been an acceptable sexual activity for Christians. This law was also changed to conform to the values of ‘the world’ – which does not prohibit anything that fits within a moral framework of automony + consent…

            Secular & Christian agreement: The absence of consent makes a sexual act immoral.

            Secular & Christian disagreement: The presence of consent makes a sexual act permissable.

          • Christopher

            The response to the AIDS epidemic was certainly to clamp down. Many men died horrible and lonely deaths and society became more intolerant.
            Do you remember Section 28?
            Fortunately that was, eventually, repealed. And fortunately, HIV is now preventable.
            And fortunately, there are now drugs which prevent HIV from developing into AIDS and which prevent transmission.
            So, even the risky behaviour of which you write is far less risky than it was.

            I see no reason why anal sex is not a permissible act for Christian’s. I can see why it would not be in the RC Church, but any church which allows contraception….

          • I gave a 10 point dossier on this more than once, but given that there is no sphincter, contraception will just make the problem worse by means of widening. I always try to tell the truth and in truth it seems to me that anyone who wishes something so irreversible and irrevocable (and unhygienic – not the least point) on a ‘loved one’ is beyond reason.

    • ‘One of the marks of good disagreement is being able to sum up an opponent’s argument in a way that they would recognise and agree with.’ Do you think I recognise myself in Paul’s disdainful dismissal of me and others as a sleepwalker, who says ‘God comes first and I am right anyway’, who has sex on the brain, looking for a ditch to die in while gripped with fear?

      So how come you don’t criticise him for this? I am not Paul’s pastor; he is pastor to people he caricatures in this shocking way.

      ‘The church should set the moral agenda, but here it hasn’t’. Evaluated on what measure? The teaching of Jesus the New Testament and the wider scriptures? Fine, but Paul doesn’t actually explore any of that here. And he is claiming that ‘the world’ in general has a better grasp of Jesus’ teaching than the church. That is an extraordinary claim. He is indeed, in this speech, dropping the name ‘Jesus’ into an argument which makes no reference to what he actually taught. I wonder why?

      ‘many of us do not think that the practices associated with same-sex intercourse in early church times (which were overwhelmingly pederastic and abusive) are a close match for what we are considering today.’ I don’t think they are a particularly close match either. But it has been well established that there *were* ‘marriage like’ SS relationships; that some believed these had what we would call a biological origin; and that St Paul’s prohibition of SSS makes no reference to causation, or form of relationship, but is referenced to the absolute prohibition in Leviticus, and the bodily different forms of male and female.

      ‘But you then try to argue from silence…’ except I don’t. You here dramatically fail your own test, and you appear not to have read what I have written. I point out three aspects of Jesus’ teaching which clearly point to his rejection of SSS, and in this respect is typical of Jews of his day. It is one aspect of Jewish ethics he accepts, when he is happy to question others.

      William Loader does not ‘speculate’; he notes the nature and degree of St Paul’s complete rejection of all forms of SSS, as have most heavyweight NT scholars of all views.

      Your adaptation of Gal 3.28 rips the text out of context; Paul is considering here whether different groups of people are excluded by the gospel. I would actually agree with your version, read rightly: in Christ there is no straight or gay; all are invited to receive salvation which calls us to the path of radical holy living, and so either to male-female marriage as revealed in creation, or celibacy in anticipation of the resurrection life.

      If you actually read what I write, you will see that I do not suggest he states he rejects God’s grace; but saying ‘the world’ is morally superior to ‘the church’ in effect does this.

      Again, I do not claim anywhere that ‘all gay people are the same’; you continue to project your imagined view on me. I point out that not all gay people are arguing for ‘gay marriage’ as an analogue to marriage as historically understood. In my experience, the perspective of Appleton is fairly typical of many in the gay community. But this is a view of ‘the world’, so I am asking Paul Bayes how this is superior to Christian morality. If it is not, by what criterion does he reject it, if his argument is that ‘the world’s moral agenda is superior’?

      And again, you appear to have nothing to say to someone appointed over a diocese who scorns those he should be caring for. Do you really think this doesn’t matter?

  6. Though Ian Paul and I often disagree about matters of faith, on this key issue of who comes first: God or the zeitgeist, he is spot on! Well done for speaking out for Truth against militant secularism.

  7. Fourth Assembly of World Council of Churches 1968:
    “At Uppsala, as one clearly saw, they were to agree about almost anything because they believed almost nothing. They reminded me of a pub turn-out in my youth, with ten or a dozen drunks holding on to one another, swaying to and fro, but managing to remain upright. Alone, they would have infallibly have fallen into the gutter…If ever in human history there was a non-event this was it.” Malcolm Muggeridge commenting on his attendance, cited by John Blanchard in Does God Believe in Atheists.

    And the osmossis effect of intensifying developmental progress of the world-view of pluralism and syncretism of universalism is described here in regard to a Day of Prayer for World Peace held at Assisi, Italy on 20 October 1986, organised by Pope John Paul 2. bringing together 130 religious leaders;
    “including the Archbishop of Canterbury (representing the world-wide Anglican Community), leading representatives of Buddhism, Islam, Shinto, Sikhism and Zoroastarianism, the Dalai Lama (the spiritual ruler of Tibet, whose national religio, Lamism, is a mixture of Buddhism and animism0 as well as snake worshippers, fire worshippers, spritists, aninmists… John Pretty -on -Top, chief medicine man of the Crow Indians of Montana. Even if we are to assume that everyone attending the event were genuinely concerned for world peace, it is difficult to see how they could unite in prayer about it. To whom were they praying?…
    “the problem is not solved by airy assertions about the “universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man”, or by suggesting that each person could contribute meaningfully to the event by addressing the deity or deities of his or her choice, because the point of conflict that divides these religions from virtually all the others is not peripheral but central. Can God exist and not exist? Can there be a personal God who is not personal? Can it be true at one and the same time that there are millions of deities, but only one? However well-meaning, Assisi was an exercise in absurdity.” John Blanchard, “Does God believe in Atheists? EP 2000

    But rather than distinguish between the varying ethics and doctrines of the multiple religions and none, of course it is easier to go with and worship the idol of self, on all dominant Western cultural platforms and pedestals, the God -excluding atheist current, than to go against the flow; so far are we from the followers of Jesus who in spreading the Good News of him, and morals espoused, turned the world upside down, at the cost to their lives and livelihoods, even the pantheistic super-power ethics of the empire of Rome.

  8. “all these things were challenged by the early Christian movement, and this challenge contributed measurably to its growth. And many of these views were regarded, by ‘the world’ at the time, as morally offensive.“

    There seem to be two worlds, the one we’re not supposed to listen to and the one we are. I can easily read this into the ambiguous antecedent of the second sentence you wrote above.

  9. Not from Bayes, not David Runcorn (no matter how frequently asked) nor Andrew Godsall is there any definition, or description of the Holiness of God and holiness of and in Christian life is.

    Certainly, it can not be adduced without God, by the moral superiority of the world without God; neither can Christians form a doctrine of humanity, without first having the doctrine of God. The doctrine of humanity, morals and ethics flow from the doctrine of the person of God.

    • Not from Geoff is there any definition, or description of the Love of God and Justice of God…

      See how easy this is? Please stop with the ridiculous attacks that insinuate, imply or state that people who disagree with you don’t care about love, justice, holiness, good news, God etc.

      Do I agree with the conservative commentators on here about this issue? No. Do I therefore assume that they don’t care at all about justice? No – I just think they’re mistaken.

      • The love of God is only ever Holy -Love – Justice in Christ Jesus in his incarnation, life, death resurrection and ascension, only ever demonstrated in the Trinity that is Holy.
        By the way Jonathan, thanks for responding, if only by asking a question without any answer. Maybe it was an answer, that falls into the category of none answer, frequently employed be DR and AG on this wery same question.
        And if you are looking to ask a discete question about justice, I’d ask whose justice, if God’s laws morals and ethics are excluded. Whereas, the natiral law school of jurisprudence always starts with God’s laws.
        So we revert to the question, which God and how do you know him.?

      • The way you are framing debate as between ‘conservative’ and non-conservative shows you cannot understand what all this is about. There is no way anyone can in good faith start off by being either conservative or non-conservative – these things are conclusions. And anyone who jumps straight to the conclusion is not worth listening to. The essential divide is between evidence-followers and evidence-ignorers (and all grades in between).

        It is at such basic preliminary stages that debates get fatally framed.

    • “Not from Bayes, not David Runcorn (no matter how frequently asked) nor Andrew Godsall is there any definition, or description of the Holiness of God and holiness of and in Christian life is.”

      Geoff: if you don’t consider that David Runcorn has ever addressed the question of “the Holiness of God and holiness of and in Christian life” then you have clearly never read one of his several books that address this theme, you have never been to one of his led days on this issue, and you probably haven’t even bothered to look at his website. The way you simply attack other Christians repeatedly on this site is quite remarkable. And very UN-holy.

      • That is little other than a shouty question-begging none answer, from you and your defendant on whose behalf, you advocate who chooses
        not to respond to the question of Holiness on this blog.
        It is entirely evidenced and predictable, par for the course that closes down any discussion from the outset.
        As others have pointed out in the comments Bayes and others seem to be seeking to foreclose on LLF, in effect making mockery of the process, akin to many Public body consultation procedures that take place after the decision has been predetermined.

        • This is not a specific discussion about holiness! Ask Ian to write one. Or offer to write one yourself!
          Your claim was that particular people do not address the question of the holiness of God or the holiness of the Christian life. Your claim is manifestly false and is intended to condemn those you accuse. Kindly act with a little more maturity as Jonathan Tallon suggests.

          • Holiness is central to the topic.
            And absence of its consideration punches a hole in your boat riding the secular flood-tide.
            But if you follow my comments on this article with understanding they merely point out what is missing in arguing in support of Bayes, JT, DR and your
            combined position/case.
            When asked a question by JT I answered it, substantially, if not in full biblical, nor jurisprudential detail, without any rejoinder from him.
            And you now resort to playground insult. You are better than that.

          • Geoff: whenever someone disagrees with you then you ask them which God they are following. If that isn’t a desperate attempt to smear someone I don’t know what is.
            They are followers of Jesus Christ. Christians.

          • But wouldn’t you distinguish the occasions when they disagree with Geoff from the occasions when they disagree with Jesus? The Jesus of Mark 7 and 10 as opposed to the ‘Jesus’ who ‘was really’ a 21st century westerner like ‘us’ all along.

  10. I found Paul Bayes’ writing a tad Whiggish, but agree with the RC nun who commented that most (recent) moral progress has been wrought through secular rather than religious institutions. The CoE’s work towards the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality was one glorious exception. Over fifty years has passed since then in which parts at least of the Church have become more systemically homophobic and transphobic, so that many young people see the institution not as a moral arbiter but as toxic.
    Anecdotally, many older people, some now in their eighties, agree with them. I have had conversations (two with priests) who say that if they were to start again it would not be as members of the CoE.

    Parts of the CoE are also still deeply misogynistic, as one of the comments above demonstrates.

    I believe, from certain comments on recent posts that some Christians are still racist.

    It is disingenuous of Ian to suggest that the Church has only one reading of scripture on sexualities; that all liberal scholars believe that the Bible condemns all same-sex activity and that the Bible is wrong; and it is disingenuous to suggest that Alastair Appleton is representative of all gay people, or even all gay men. That is tantamount to claiming that all straight people are inherently promiscuous.

    Nor does Ian offer any evidence for his extraordinary assertion that putting gay relationships on a par with marriage could only happen in a culture which valorises sexual experience. What does this mean? Is it not rather insulting to imply that gay couples only get together in order to have sex and not in order to be generative, loving and responsible members of society? If so, then there is no need to campaign for equal marriage, like Appleton ‘they’ could have endless, casual hook ups.

    In a post which is full of dubious assertions, the supercessionist suggestion that Jesus was Jewish, but not that Jewish (i.e. he had thoroughly Jewish sexual ethics, but radically challenged other Jewish mores), is not the least egregious.

    I too second Jonathan’s careful and thorough engagement.

    • That is tantamount to claiming that all straight people are inherently promiscuous.

      They are. That’s the point. It’s called original sin. Everyone is inherently evil, and only God’s grace, if we accept it, allows us to be anything other than evil — and that means it is only by God’s grace that anyone can be faithful.

    • There can never be more than one coherent reading of any writing on any topic it says a certain amount about (the options are zero and one). That is because when there is that much data, it is not possible for that data to join into more than one coherent picture. That is a bit like expecting jigsaw pieces somehow to have 2 separate ways that they could be put together. It is vanishing unlikely, and will happen only if the creator wills it.

      When we move from a single writing to a body of writings, then those problems just magnify because of the multiple authorship. It is easy to find matters where bodies of writings (e.g. the biblical writings) speak with one voice on a given well-trodden topic, but nigh impossible to find matters where there are two or more mutually exclusive options for what their joint overall message is on a given well-trodden topic.

      • “There can never be more than one coherent reading of any writing on any topic it says a certain amount about (the options are zero and one). That is because when there is that much data, it is not possible for that data to join into more than one coherent picture.”

        This is clearly wrong because the bible is such a vast range of material and not primarily about data. Where is does deal with data, it tends to be used figuratively.

        On this subject the bible displays opinion. And when it comes to opinion there is an openness to interpretation. And it’s well known that on this subject, there are a variety of interpretations.

        • But that is nothing to do with my point.

          My point was that when we talk of a ‘reading’ of some writing, we are talking of an overarching interpretation of it (or of a theme within it). As I said, on occasions where there is plenty of data, that data is so specific (as well as being plentiful) that it will not form into any more than one possible big picture (the one intended by the author – except on the rare occasions where the authorial double meanings are on the large scale). So the options are zero big pictures and one big picture. If one has the wrong theory then the data will always yield inconsistencies.

          • But that is nothing to do with my point.

            You have to remember here that Mr Godsall always argues in the alternative. First he claims that it is unclear what the intent behind the Bible actually is; that there are multiple explanations of intent that all might fit the data.

            Then he claims that even if it is clear what the intent of the Bible is, it is probably wrong because the Bible is just a fallible human collection of documents written by fallible humans.

          • Christopher: that general point is fair but you sadly ignore your own criteria for this specific matter.
            1. Overarching interpretations differ. That’s one reason we have LLF.
            2. There is not one agreed big picture on the matter of homosexuality and the bible. That is another reason why LLF exists.
            3. The data is not plentiful. It’s about half a dozen verses. That’s another reason LLF exists.
            4. There is a possibility that you have the wrong theory.

          • There may be 6 verses, but there are large tracts and doctrines that are relevant background (Gen 2, Mark 10 etc). The Romans passage is not a verse but many verses. The Leviticus passage is a larger context in and of itself. So is the 1 Corinthians passage.

            But that is not my point. My point is that it is not possible to state more than one *overarching* interpretation that covers/satisfies all the data. Any number will cover *some* (cherrypicked) data. The maximum number of interpretations that can cover *all* the data is one. Therefore sometimes there will be one possible overarching interpretation and sometimes there will be zero. I am speaking here strictly of overarching interpretations (sometimes called ‘readings’ or ‘narratives’) in the case of matters for which there is a goodly amount of data.

          • “I am speaking here strictly of overarching interpretations

            And so you neatly side step my point again. In this matter, to which Penny was referring and to which you responded, there is no agreed overarching interpretation because there is not a ‘goodly amount of data’. That’s why we have LLF.

          • I disagree. And this can be proven, since the number of inner-biblical factors that are referred to in the literature runs into the hundreds and thousands.

          • “The number of inner-biblical factors that are referred to in the literature”

            Could you please translate this for us? What is an inner biblical factor and to which literature do you refer?

          • I will not translate it ‘for us’, since there is no need/incomprehension, and moreover it is already in English. However, I will translate it for you.

            Inner-biblical means connections that are exhausted by the biblical texts, that do not venture outside the interconnections of the biblical texts.

            It is however a naughty term since any understanding of the words in the biblical texts relies on a wider context. Which is why I always tell people to take a short cut and look at scholarly literature only, ignoring everything else. It is sensible advice, since one should always at least start with the best and most informed, and also given that there is so much of it, one will never have time to get beyond it; and also one will mostly avoid thereby the ill-informed.

            ‘The literature’ is a wellknown way of referring to what has been written about a topic – the scholarly literature on this topic.

          • Christopher I’m afraid you are talking gibberish.
            If it’s a ‘naughty term’ why are you introducing it?

            And you continue to neatly side step my point again and again. In this matter, to which Penny was referring and to which you responded, there is no agreed overarching interpretation. If there was, we would not be having any LLF and associated discussions.

          • You have jumped from the fact that not all details are beyond dispute to saying that not a single detail is beyond dispute. So large a leap can scarcely be imagined – it is almost the entire spectrum from 0% to 100%.

            Among that which is beyond dispute is that wherever homosexual practice is mentioned in the scriptures it is condemned in the following manners:
            (a) pervasively – i.e. in all the relevant contexts, not just some of them; (b) severely – i.e. the level of the condemnation is a high level, so much so that Paul can even use it as a paradigmatic Gentile sin above all others, as well as it generally being among the first to come to mind in his view lists;
            (c) and absolutely – i.e. without any exceptions to the rule being cited.

            But if it’s pervasively, severely and absolutely, what more do you want? One asks. Superpervasive, supersevere and superabsolute? Arguably those are already what one has.

            There are of course numerous other sins which are also condemned in these 3 rather decisive manners. And where this condemnation does not arouse controversy. However, they are not expected to be as much fun as this one. I wonder whether there is a connection there.

            As for number of mentions, there are numerous other things mentioned less often, such as child molestation. How many mentions are necessary? It reminds me of attempts to vote something in. If there have already been 6 decisive votes against, you go on till people vote for the ‘right’ thing and then voting abruptly stops (!).

            However the fact that texts say something does not mean the texts are warranted in saying that thing. In this case they are, in spades – as shown by STI levels, levels of various unhealthy practices, early deaths and promiscuity levels.

          • “You have jumped from the fact that not all details are beyond dispute to saying that not a single detail is beyond dispute. So large a leap can scarcely be imagined – it is almost the entire spectrum from 0% to 100%.”

            I have done no such thing.

            The bible is decisively clear that women should not teach or speak in church. It could not be clearer. It is clear that women are unclean during menstruation. It is clear about many other cultural matters.

            It is remarkably unclear about intimate, faithful relationships between two women. (Though it might be argued that it hints at this).
            It is remarkably unclear about intimate, faithful relationships between two men. (Though we might extrapolate that these are referred to on a few occasions).

            The overarching picture is by no means a single one.

            Make your point as often as you wish Christopher. The C of E – of which you claim to be a member – has embarked on discussion about the matter of intimate same sex relationships. It has even recognised that lay people, including those lay people in ministry, may, without question, form such intimate same sex partnerships.

          • When did I claim to be a member of the C of E? I am a mere Christian, an across-the-board Christian, who loves all the regiments (denominations) and love C of E notably for its choral music, BCP, heritage of buildings, community involvement – the list goes on.

            You are talking as though the supreme wonder of belonging to the army at all pales into insignificance beside the name of one’s regiment.

          • Why is it significant what the C of E has decreed? That is achieved by pressing a button. Even babies and animals can do that, as many parents find to their cost.

            I missed where these decrees were consonant with the teaching of Jesus – but then if they are not then in what way are they a Christian church?

          • “Why is it significant what the C of E has decreed? “

            Oh. I assumed you thought it was significant when you e mailed every member of its General Synod to tell them what to say in the shared conversations. I assumed you thought it was significant when you came on to a blog by a member of the C of E to argue your case. I assumed you thought it was significant when you defended the Iwerne set up. But if it isn’t significant to you at all, then I suppose you were just passing the time.

          • My main point is that votes are not matters of moment, since they either involve the momentous feat of walking into a lobby or the even more staggering feat of pressing a button. Nor does one need to be an expert to vote – far from that, one need not even have listened to the debate.

            (a) Of course it matters what people think, because their views need to be maximally coherent, maximally in accord with the realities, and without contradiction as far as possible. Therefore I perpetually try to present reasoned argument, as I did with ‘Shared Conversations’ (a tautology surely?). This will have the benefit of advancing the debate, and that’s what life’s all about (among other things). That has no specific connection to the C of E. People inside and outside the C of E still need to think rationally and be in possession of facts.

            (b) Same applies to blogs, as I am privileged to be allowed to comment on blogs by Christian and nonChristian, Anglican and nonAnglican. It is not the future of some denomination that exercises me, but truth.

            (c) If you are saying I cannot or would not be expected to comment on Iwerne if I had no special interest in the C of E, that makes no sense, as the issues of fact and coherence would still remain. People often talk for extended periods about Iwerne without mentioning the C of E, which is only one of many dimensions of the question, though I can see why you might yourself regard it as a major dimension.

          • As to defending the Iwerne set-up, that set-up is not the same think through time. If we are more specific and specify the set-up of 40 years ago, then I do not defend it. I praise highly certain central aspects of it (emphasis on quiet times, rare success in character formation, taking the world-changing biblical perspective seriously, gentlemanliness, standards, sense of fun and light-heartedness, enduring friendships, extended family atmosphere leading to love matches), and regard others (which are time-specific) as indefensible. Neither of these, therefore, do I ‘defend’. But if people stopped chattering and instead followed the Iwerne-birthed formation pattern of a John Stott etc then that would be a good way to spend one’s life, and would certainly make one wonder why on earth the alma mater of some of the very finest Christians of the last century should be subjected to *general* rather than specific criticism since it scores so particularly highly in so many ways. When people’s fruits compare then I will start taking them seriously. We are getting off topic.

          • Iwerne was never on topic so far as I was concerned. Anything that focussed exclusively on the most privileged of only one half of the human race was never ever going to be able to produce the ‘finest Christians’.

          • Can you address (a) the pervasively, severely and absolutely point, (b) the preferential treatment given to this particular biblical sin and the possibility that it is a case comparable to the joke about Moses at Sinai ‘I got him down to 10 but adultery’s still in’ (it is the one that, short-term, people would dearly love not to be a sin, and that is why it is the one that receives the preferential treatment).

          • Christopher I have no idea what you are on about here I’m afraid so I can’t answer you.

          • What I mean is this:

            (a) Would you not agree that homosexual ‘sexual’ practice is condemned both pervasively and severely and absolutely whenever it is mentioned in scripture? Given that, together with the lack of mention of any particular exceptions, would you not say that that counts for something (to put it no more strongly) if we are assessing what scripture says on the matter?

            (b) Would you not also agree that there are various other things that scripture condemns pervasively, severely and absolutely but people do not dwell on those other things because avoidance of those other things is less a threat to people’s fun or expected short term fun.
            (Proof of which is found in the fact that threads on sexual topics attract so much ‘interest’ and comment by comparison.)

          • Christopher: briefly I’m afraid
            A. No. It condemns certain types of the activity – those which are related to abusive practices and more akin to slavery. For an exploration of biblical matters on this theme you might read David Runcorn’s excellent book. There is a further book that I have found helpful but can’t recall the title or author of – I passed it on to Penny once I had read it, and if she is reading this thread she might recall the title.
            B. I don’t think there is any clear evidence to make such a generalised claim as this.

            Hope this helps.

          • Hi Andrew

            You don’t recommend popular level books to NT specialists who have already read plenty of scholarly stuff on the subject. Recommend me some critical commentaries.

            The point about subtypes is easily refuted. Paul has only so much space in his vice-lists, and there is room there only for general sins not recondite or niche ones. Still less would he choose a recondite niche sin as his paradigmatic gentile failing in Romans 1.

          • Christopher: have you read David’s book?

            When it comes to things said by St Paul, do you think we are right to now ignore what he says about women teaching and speaking and leading in Churches?

          • Hi Andrew

            Yes, I am following the comments, belatedly, and with the usual feelings of despair.
            I know you gave me your Synod copy of Ed Shaw’s book! But I don’t think you mean that.
            Could it have been Michael Vasey’s ‘Strangers and Friends’?
            I think Christopher is wrong to belittle popular books. Many are written by scholars themselves (for example, Tom Wright), and rely on scholarly research, but written for a non academic audience. David Runcorn’s writing, as a theological educator of some standing, should, of course, be taken seriously.
            I have read screeds on the bible and sexuality – from both ‘normative’ and queer perpspectives (as well as a lot of theology ditto). Some writers have influenced and nuanced my beliefs (Balthasar, for example. Who knew?) but none has changed my fundamental beliefs. I suspect it is the same for most people – scholars and non academics alike – whatever Christopher claims.

            I am afraid, Christopher, that I cannot engage fully with you in this exchange. I have no idea what you saying. This is probably because I am being particularly dense.
            I do gather, however, that you are claiming that texts have only one correct reading which good scholarship determines. Would that be one of you points?
            I know very few biblical scholars who would support this. Most are aware that texts, especially ancient texts which have been read for centuries, are pregnant with all kinds of potential meanings. Foreclosing on meaning is simply a product of modernism;
            it is not a practice which patristics or mediaeval scholars would recognise.

          • I meant to add, of course, that hurrah for the Methodist Conference.
            Poor old CoE still deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

          • Texts as a whole can have only one correct or accurate reading/interpretation (at most) for the simple reason that it would not be possible for the same jigsaw pieces (let alone the same jigsaw pieces in the same order!!) to form 2 *different* complete pictures without any being left out or added to or replaced. Not remotely possible. The jigsaw pieces were carefully selected and polished to serve the one authorial plan as it is. How could those extremely distinctive pieces – all of them – by some miracle also simultaneously fit together to form a second complete pattern as well?

            But entire texts will have as many as one ‘reading’ only where the author had an overall plan. Which is not always the case.

            Smaller contexts (as opposed to texts as a whole) can have more than one possible interpretation, which will be debated over.

            I don’t belittle popular books at all – the better the writer, the more clearly they will see and deliver the message. CS Lewis, Tom Wright, Michael Green. However, there are better uses of finite time than reading popular books which are not distilled from anything more impressive but have never risen above the popular level in the author’s mind.

            Although I have read DR’s book I am intrigued why anyone would go to a popular level book when there are more rigorous ones available.

          • Poor old us, not privy to the correct (Cowell Doe) understanding of the Holy Spirit. Poor old biblical scholars, not yet enlightened as to this new definition of ‘Holy Spirit’.

          • Poor old biblical scholars, not yet enlightened as to this new definition of ‘Holy Spirit’.

            Poor old Apostles…

          • Christopher

            I find your jibe rather cheap.

            But are you suggesting that the Holy Spirit has abandoned the Methodist Church?

            I know some ‘top’ biblical scholars who would see the HS very much at work in the Methodist Conference.

          • Their members certainly abandoned it in droves 10-20 years back once it became less distinguishable from the surrounding world – it is always the way. This will just accelerate that process.

            I don’t know which top biblical scholars you mean, but for sure biblical scholars know something about what pneuma hagion means in the text, so if any of them think it means anything so wildly inaccurate and indeed contrary as ‘spirit of the age’ or ‘the way things are going’ I would be very interested to see chapter and verse?

          • Loveday Alexander, Dale Martin, Patrick Cheng, Halvor Moxnes, Ken Stone, Deryn Guest, Teresa Hornsby, Stephen D. Moore, Hugh Pyper, Katie Edwards…..

          • It’s quite clear to me what Christopher Shell is saying. He is saying:
            1. that top level biblical scholars (of whatever personal conviction) agree that whenever the Bible discusses same-sex behaviour, it considers it to be seriously sinful and incompatible with a life of holy Christian living;
            2. that these texts are imbedded in larger discussions of Christian conduct that move in the same direction, so that the voice of the New Testament is unanimous on this matter;
            3. that popular discussions by writers like David Runcorn who are not biblical scholars fail as exegesis because they miss the totality of the biblical evidence and/or engage in special pleading for their interpretations.

            From a basic academic perspective
            Christopher is correct on each of these points. Over the years I have read extensively in the top level academic work (which deals with exegesis, biblical languages and ancient history) and occasionally in more popular discussions like David Runcorn’s and it is clear to me that David should listen to his former colleague John Nolland. I have read a good bit of David’s writing on the subject and it pastorally driven but exegetically poor. Dsvid needs to read John Nolland carefully (as I have, among numerous others),
            Christopher is also right in observing that Andrew Godsall plays a game of “heads I win, tails you lose”, arguing either that “the Bible is unclear on this” or “the Bible is only the product of its (ignorant) time”. That is why serious discussion with him always ends in confusion and illogic. Andrew cannot follow through either viewpoint consistently.

          • James

            If Christopher is saying these 3 things, then he – and you – are wrong. And need to read some more ‘top level academic work’.
            The “top” scholar who uses a great deal of special pleading for his exegesis is Gagnon. Quite shameless. And getting older by the day.
            People who are not themselves biblical scholars are quite capable of reading the scholarship and reflecting on it in more ‘pastoral’ or non specialist works.

          • James and others here seem to assume that ‘top level’ academic theologians all hold traditional views on sexuality. They do not. By contrast, what they call ‘popular’ books will lack accurate bible exegesis. They mean ‘popular’ books that support same-sex relationships of course. There are plenty of ‘popular’ books written from the conservative perspective of course. Do they tend to the same dodgy exegetical competence I wonder?
            I am genuinely fine with having the merits of my books discussed here and elsewhere – that goes with the terrain. I is the way I too seek to go on learning. Nor do I claim to be an academic theologian. I was privileged to teach alongside John Nolland for 6 years. James assumes that I cannot have discussed this topic with him or I would (presumably) hold a conservative view. He is wrong. I always took every opportunity to learn from John and others. But like several other faculty colleagues at the time, I disagreed with him on this issue. (The same is true of the years I was on theological faculty with Ian Paul).

          • But the fact that you think something so multifaceted and nuanced can simply be ‘agreed’ or ‘disagreed’ upon shows a worrying inexactitude, or else dogmatic ideology. Alas.

            And when a NT scholar disagrees with a non NT scholar, which of the 2 needs to do more research?

          • I have no idea why anyone thinks an equation is being made between conclusions and degree of rigour. That is a million miles from what James and I are saying. The point which I oft repeat is that conclusions are neither here nor there, because they are merely the inevitable result of exegesis, and anyway no-one ever knows what the conclusions are going to be, because they are exegetically determined (or statistically determined, or whatever). Forget conclusions, just concentrate on exegesis and/or statistics, and the conclusions will take care of themselves effortlessly. At the point of departure, all conclusions are possible; the more one researches, the number of possible conclusions gets narrowed down.

            Rigorous exegesis is all you need. That is why it is utterly bewildering that one would not begin with commentaries and critical literature. If one can hear from the experts, where else would one begin?

          • Penny, Gagnon’s book contains hundreds of arguments of which you have not addressed one – but please do so, to counter this. Your extreme level of generality is exactly what might naturally be inclined make one suspicious and decrease one’s trust.

          • Chris writes: ‘Rigorous exegesis is all you need’. For what exactly? To all agree? Really? Some years ago the evangelical publishers Zondervan started a series called ‘Counterpoint’. Gathering the most respected teachers of the evangelical theological world the series explores theological beliefs on all aspects of Christian faith, doctrine and ethics. It now runs to 34 volumes. ‘Each volume lays out multiple views on a particular theological matter,’ they write, ‘letting you draw your own conclusions on these contested issues. Respected biblical scholars and theologians present their views based on years of extensive research—so you know you’re hearing the strongest possible case for each perspective.’
            No lack of rigour there. But the result is ‘multiple views’ notice. No pretence that academic rigour leads to one agreed view. A variety of views are present, possible and respected. Nor are readers told what to believe by academic theologians. Rather we are invited to ‘draw your own conclusions’ based on what we read.
            This all feels quite a long way from some of the arguments being made here.

          • Penelope,
            I have found that there’s not all that much difference between becoming older and becoming odder..

          • When did I say that academic rigour leads to one view? I said that it always narrows down the possibilities, so that the trajectory will always be in that direction, the refining direction. And also I said a second thing: that you are generalising about all exegetical debates as though they were all the same as each other!! There are many and diverse exegetical debates. In the case of some of them, the findings are pretty clear. You are demanding that they never ever be clear – which is not only odd but would be (after 2000 years) a good reason to discontinue them altogether it ’twere true, which ’tis not.

          • Christopher

            ‘Rigorous exegesis is all you need’. For what?


            Exegesis is scientific.

            I feel you are both, somewhat, overstating the role of exegesis in determining doctrine and making the assumption that a) being scientific is ‘good’; and b) that science is objective and disinterested.
            Exegesis is a brilliant tool. But it can go only some way to determining the ‘meaning’ of a text.
            Take ‘arsenokoites’. Briefly an exegete may contend that, etymologically, this neologism means ‘male bedder’. They may infer that Paul is using this term to describe male same-sex sex (specifically anal sex). They may then consider if this word means the same thing to the writer of the Pastorals and in the early church.
            Fascinating. But this does not tell us what Paul, the writer of the Pastorals, or the early church meant when they used this term.
            Did they mean:
            ‘Straight’ men indulging in same-sex activity
            Coerced or abusive sex
            Consensual mutual ‘homosexual’ sex
            We do not know.
            Some scholars believe that arsenokoites denotes abuse; others disagree.

            We do not *know* the authors’ intent and, even if we did, that would not exhaust the hermeneutic potential of the text(s) in which the word appears.

            Rigorous exegesis is important but it does not deliver ‘meaning’ by itself. Still less doctrine.

            Christopher: I have neither the time, nor the wish to discuss Gagnon’s detailed exegesis and us doing so would exhaust Ian’s patience. As I think I have said before, some of his conclusions are convincing; others much less so. But I would argue that all his scholarship is disfigured by his somewhat hysterical polemic.

          • We do not *know* the authors’ intent

            True, but that doesn’t mean all possible intentions are therefore equally likely. We can’t know for sure but we can be, say, 90% certain.

            and, even if we did, that would not exhaust the hermeneutic potential of the text(s) in which the word appears.

            Hermeneutics is, according to the OED, ‘ The interpretation of scriptural texts’.

            ‘Interpretation’ comes from the verb ‘interpret’ which means ‘To expound the meaning of’.

            The meaning of a text (or indeed any communicative act, whether verbal or non-verbal) is what the author of that text intended it to convey. cf Paul Grice.

            So yes, if we did know the author’s intent then that would rather mean we had successfully hermeneuticised it.

          • Being scientific is good? Generally – yes it is. You disagree? That would certainly be a startling position.

            Science is objective and disinterested? You are being binary here rather than emplying a sliding scale. Science is more objective and disinterested, by some way, than nonscientific methods. I do not know any scholar who either uses or prefers methods that were not maximally scientific. It would – further – be a contradiction in terms. What alternative, in terms of objectivity, do we have if we forswear science??

            Hence neither of your 2 points stands.

            1-As you say, a neologism, because it is a neologism, has to be literal. That helps us a lot.
            2-This particular neologism echoes the vocabulary of Leviticus. That helps us a lot too.
            3-Paul’s vice lists can only be of general not recondite vices. That helps a great deal.
            4-Even the etymological meaning denotes something general not something recondite. So that seems to cohere.
            -You have listed alternatives, but given the 4 points above, the alternatives have nothing like equal likelihood (when do alternatives ever?). Just simply listing them might imply that they did.

            In truth, many who suggest some of these alternatives have not faced all or some of points 1-4.

            You say you have neither the time nor the wish to discuss Gagnon’s detailed exegesis – something which I know you have studied. Why does that answer not surprise me? Ought I to add: ‘neither the time nor the wish nor the expertise’. You then follow with another sweeping generalisation. When one sees minute detail – as in Gagnon and as in commentaries, one heaves a sigh of relief that one will not be sold short with platitudes. Here is someone who is really interested in the truth and in exactitude.

            As for the hysteria – I don’t recall any, but supposing that in a parallel universe there were some. Then the amount of hysteria would be completely independent of the accuracy. Something could easily be very hysterical and also very accurate (or indeed neither). This (whay one might see as adolescent) obsession with emotions is what always seems to stall liberal discourse.

          • As you say, a neologism, because it is a neologism, has to be literal

            Not necessarily. How literal is ‘zoombombing’?

            But your other points, yes.

          • Christopher
            Certainly I have the expertise to engage with Gagnon’s NT exegesis, not with his exegesis of Hebrew texts.
            But, even if Ian had the patience of a saint and I was not trying to finish a PhD, I would have neither time nor inclination.
            Partly, because, as Iargued above, exegesis only gets us so far. I agree that arsenokoites most probably means male bedder. But that does not tell us how Paul was using the term, how his first readers understood the term, nor indeed what exactly the lyings of a woman meant in Leviticus. Neologisms are more difficult to exegete because there are no other contexts in which the words have been used. So, that’s where hermeneutics come in.
            You are certainly correct that Gagnon’s rather shrill polemic is akin to adolescent emotionalism.

          • Neologisms are more difficult to exegete because there are no other contexts in which the words have been used.

            You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. A neologism can be used many many times. Indeed, every common word was a neologism once.

            I think the term you are clumsily reaching for is hapax legomenon, meaning a word which is used (so far as we know) only once.

          • That word is not a hapax legomenon though I suppose that its first instance was at the time.

            Penny, what on earth do you mean by shrill? First you say that hysteria is not correlated with accuracy (illogical; the two are, to the contrary, wholly independent, so may at times be heavily correlated); then you suggest that vocal pitch (of all things) is a key factor. It is a pure cliche which on examination means nothing. It is independent thinkers that one listens to.

            Then you say I am right to say Gagnon’s supposed shrillness is akin to adolescent emotionalism. Which obviously I never said – and since no other contributor would suppose I did, you place yourself below them all in understanding-capability – unless your misunderstanding was wilful or sarcastic.

            What I said was that the introduction of ‘hysteria’ (and indeed shrillness) as though it were a factor (or indeed present at all) was in my observation a typical step among liberals who so often seem to veer into the topic of emotions and confuse them with the actual issues in hand.

            It can get exhausting dealing with this density (not in the stupidity sense) of misunderstanding.

          • Christopher

            I said nothing about the accuracy of Gagnon’s exegesis (I commented that some of his conclusions are convincing, some not). But, as I said, his scholarship is disfigured by the shrill polemic of the last third of his MO.

            I was being sarcastic about this. Your assertion that only liberals are prey to emotionalism is contradicted by Gagnon’s diatribe against homosexuality, and forgive me, by your own emotional investment in the dangers of some male same-sex practices. As I have observed, many things are risky. I have even named some of these ‘things’ – smoking and alcohol, for example. But the most we can do is warn of their dangers. Prohibition doesn’t seem to work. Ironically, when children are taught about anal sex in school and about safe sex, some commentators are up in arms.

            And thank you for acknowledging that arsenokoites is a neologism. That does make its meaning more difficult to determine, even with the Levitical context, to which I referred. There is no other use of the term to provide context.

            But I think we are a long way from Paul Bayes and his excellent speech.

          • Hi Penny

            Deja vu in conversation with liberals – average of one misrepresentation or failure to reach understanding per sentence. Why is it so much higher with liberals?

            (1) You don’t speak against Gagnon’s exegesis (on which points? why?) but against his conclusions. But his conclusions – on the biblical material, not in his final chapter – are based on his exegesis, so how can you distinguish the 2, let alone oppose them to one another?

            (2) Shrillness of ‘polemic’ I have dealt with, but you have not digested my assessment. Two points. Vocal pitch is utterly irrelevant. And secondly, it is well possible to have a shrill pitch and high accuracy, or a low pitch and low accuracy.

            (3) Polemic is for show and for rhetoric. Exegesis is very different from rhetoric. If you doubt it. Try giving a public speech whose content is exegesis.

            (4) I never said only liberals were subject to emotionalism. I said liberals were subject to emotionalism.

            (5) Both Gagnon and I are highly passionate and caring about things that matter, which is the only appropriate approach. Taking a non-passionate approach to things that matter seems to me weird or scarily unfeeling. Compromised. Seared.

            (6) But to show emotion is not emotionalism. The 2 things are quite different. Emotionalism is where someone psychologically is still at a primarily emotional/intuitive/feeling level – closer to the non-human animals or to infants – and is always gravitating to emotion not reason. Whereas showing emotion sans emotionalism can be in the context of assessing logically which things matter, and caring personally about them because they matter, and indicating this by the appropriate tone of voice and actions. It is unlikely that people with higher degrees will show emotionalism; whereas the more that people care, the more that they are appropriately passionate about the things that matter, the better. They will be guided by their reasoning to understand which things do matter the most.

            (7) Many things are risky, so that ‘means’ it’s ok to do risky things, because when we do them, they are after all not unique in being risky. ‘Ergo’ do them.

            Anyone who understands that piece of logic, indicate.

            (8) The most we can do is warn of their dangers? Prohibition does not work? So why (for the second time) are so many things illegal? You speak as though nothing is illegal. That is very inaccurate. All the many things that are illegal are prohibited. Why are there laws against them if prohibition does not work? If there were no law/prohibition against murder, then fewer people would be murdered? If there were none against cannabis, would fewer people use it?

            Does anyone believe this sort of thing? I doubt they do; but if they do, they do so without evidence.

            (9) I do not ‘acknowledge’ arsenokoites is a neologism, because I had never denied it in the first place.

            (10) No other use of the term apart from 1 Cor 6? If that is the case (and the instance in 1 Timothy is by a different author though not by any means wholly independent) then that makes it a sort of hapax not a neologism.

            (11) It is a neologism as well – but that means it will not be understood unless it is spelt out literally and simply. So its meaning is accordingly spelt out literally and simply, and can be gauged – even without the additional giveaway Levitical evidence, which just confirms it all the further. Rom 1 also makes clear that the very fact of people sleeping with their own sex is the scandal, no specific context being necessary or mentioned, and if it were, then the sin would fail the test of being the paradigmatic generally-apparent representative gentile sin, which is its function in the text.

            13 sentences, yielding 11 misunderstandings.

    • On the valorising point, Ian is correct – we have moved from the family tree being the thing to sexual union being the thing (a decivilising backwards trajectory), and that is well illustrated by the social change regarding homosexuals.

      • David R, I know you worked with John Nolland.
        I knew him for several years and have also heard you speak and read some of your writings,
        That is why I mentioned John – I was quite sure you had spoken with him but evidently you have not refuted his exegesis or his historical knowledge.
        As you say, you are not an academic theologian but a pastoral writer. That is fine but exegesis is a “scientific” (“geisteswissenschaftlich”) and linguistic-historic exercise and your work, pastorally sensitive as it is, doesn’t address those questions and is erroneous or inclined to special pleading.
        Some months ago you said with some candour in this blog that you had already made your mind up on homosexuality before you began your studies at London Bible College butyou kept your opinions to yourself. It seems to me, David, tbat you have been bending your interpretations to fit your beliefs. That is called eisegesis.
        It isn’t evangelicalism. It’s “post-evangelicalism”.

        • Greetings James. We have covered this ground before. If you were quite sure I would have talked with John Nolland I am not sure why you tell me here it is something I should do? I also mentioned that a number of other academic numbers of the faculty did not agree him on this. Nor did the Principal at the time. So I think this is more than just a (familiar?) lack academic rigour in the Pastoral Theology department. And can I clarify. I did not say my mind was ‘made up’ before I started my bible studies. But I was starting from a theological uninformed including position and needed to test it. We all start from somewhere. What I said was that the evangelical world was an almost impossible place to explore biblical and theological truth on this issue because even the discussion was looked on with suspicion and only one view was thought acceptable. Over the years I continued to test my convictions on this and I am more convinced, not less – and think I can say why more clearly. Label me all you like James. I think we just disagree on this. Evangelicals can and do.

          • You say that only one view was thought acceptable, but do not explain what is wrong with that. Nothing. Evidence pointing one way only is an extremely common occurrence.

            Evangelicals are at the forefront of discussion and weighing of alternative interpretations and readings, so are the leaders in allowing for different opinions on the small scale. On the large scale it is so much more difficult to justify different opinions, because when the scale is as large as that there is no overcoming it.

          • You say that only one view was thought acceptable, but do not explain what is wrong with that. Nothing.

            It is always important that alternative views are able to be put forward. A ban, explicit or implicit, on alternative views kills knowledge.

            However it is equally important that any alternative views which are put forward explain the available evidence at least as well as the view they are challenging. That I think is the issue here: the alternative views can only be put forward by selectively ignoring or explaining away some of the evidence.

          • I don’t mean that, as you will see from reading on, S. I mean that there are thousands of occasions when only one basic understanding is possible. Not that there are not thousands of other occasions where that is not the case. Where it is the case, it should be allowed to be the case.

        • What is wrong is that no other views were allowed or debated. It was effectively a theological lockdown on this subject.

          • But that will often happen. There will be many times when either the message of the text is clear, or proposals are not a possible understanding of the text, or both.

            What needs to be pondered is: Why is a *demand* being made that texts *must* be obscure. No-one sets out to write an obscure text; and more translational effort is put into the Bible than into anything else. And also: why are the texts supposedly obscure on precisely the occasions when they say something we don’t like?

          • David Runcorn is right about the lack of rigour in Pastoral Theology, an eclectic field to be sure. I knew many of the Trinity staff in the 80s and early 90s, when Trunity became less evangelical and a little more “post-charismatic” with liberal catholic touches..The dissentient view, I think, cane from the non- biblical studies people. David Gillett kept his views on homosexuality more or less to himself and only announced them when he had retired. His argument was very subjective, about the quality of homosexual relationships that he knew from his friendships. Paul Roberts in Liturgy always seemed mire in the liberal catholic end as well.
            David Gillett pushed Trinity into “spirituality” which by definition is more “inclusive”. David Runcorn’s own work continued this trend.
            I am pretty sure that David did say months ago in this blog that when he started st LBC he already disagreed with the evangrlical position on homosexuality,

          • In ‘theological’ subjects other than biblical studies there is often little way of being scientific to any degree. So the stage is clear for ideology, cultural imposition, and wishful thinking. It is immaterial what people say in speculative theology if speculative theology is not a proper subject with checks and parameters. See Michael Hampson, Last Rites for his experience of Cuddesdon.

            Bristol has long been a bit of a stronghold – look at the high-end uni suicide rates, amoral ‘Skins’ programme, liberal capitulation of the cathedral, and rioting potential. It is unsurprising if some of this negativity seeped through the Trinity walls.

          • James. My last comment here. Firstly, I am in no doubt you have read and listened to my stuff with care. You honour me in this. Thank you. But here you continue to simply label people and places with emphatic confidence in your own rightness and the failings of those you disagree with. It makes discussion impossible. Please note I do not label you. Of course what you or I call ‘liberal’ or ‘post’ depends a great deal on our own starting place. Trinity was emerging out of a time of extreme narrowness and began at last to make a contribution to the wider church.
            I wonder if you agree that while pastoral theology can lack rigour at times, Doctrinal and Biblical studies can lack pastoral rigour at times and simply become coercive and controlling. And there are parts of the evangelical world needing to face that at the moment.
            You might note that Trinity remains in partnership with Crosslinks. And throughout those years the faculty all annually signed a doctrinal basis of faith. Thanks for this exchange.

  11. Thanks, Ian, for once again pulling this worn out issue back to biblical reality and away from the fantasy world of cultural Marxism. The idea that ‘the world’ by some magic of social evolution has arrived at moral heights to which Christian churches must be dragged up from their primitive ignorance is a triumph of wishful thinking over observable facts. More importantly, it is a narrative that sits four square against the one which runs from end to end of the Bible; and there’s no way that Christians can honestly find a coherent way of holding to both at the same time. In fact, to hold on to the first is to reject the second.

    Setting boundaries is not only fundamental to God’s creative enterprise, it is also central to the expression of his love for human beings: without behavioural boundaries our lives would be chaotic; we could have no understanding of our sinful natures and therefore be incapable of seizing any opportunity for redemption. Moreover, despite their personal cost at times, respect for and obedience in observing God’s boundaries is the only certain road to the joy of a life with him. Fortunately he has given us the ability to understand about boundaries and quite enough teaching about where they lie. But he has also given us the free will whether or not to observe and respect them.

    Surely one of the first joys of becoming a Christian is the new realisation that God’s boundaries are there for our benefit. So everything looks rosy. But we find out soon enough that we have an inner battle over them; and the world around us can make some compelling arguments that God got it wrong, or that we’ve misunderstood God, or that God’s moved on and we need to catch up. It can be a wearying business always sticking to morals and ethics that grate with the world around us. So notions that at last God’s giving us a new freedom that we’ve always wanted or a wonderful fresh understanding that allows us to sit more comfortably with the rest of the world are a powerful enticement.

    But surely a Church of England bishop should be well up to speed with this Sunday school level of Christian comprehension? Obviously not. And if this is not dealt with the Church of England will indeed be doomed.

  12. If +Paul’s article is left uncriticised by his fellow Bishops, does this mean I can cancel plans for our church/ PCC to engage with the LLF process this autumn? This would be a big help, as we have a few others things to focus on such as our Diocesan mission strategy, and new ways to be the body of Christ together and to reach the community for Christ in word and works as we emerge into this brave new post-covid world. There seems little point discussing LLF at parish, PCC, deanery synod and diocesan synod level if the house of bishops and the Archbishop(s) already agree that they “want to see conscientious freedom for the church’s ministers and local leaders to honour, recognise and, yes indeed, bless same-sex unions”. Bolting stable doors comes to mind if this particular die has now been cast?

    • Francis. It is surely well known that the bishops hold a variety of views on this – so no doors can have been bolted on this issue. They do not all agree! Indeed the more conservative bishops have been quite public in their views – cf the CEEC video and elsewhere. So why should +Paul not be allowed to state his conviction?
      When we were debating the ordination of women we all knew what each bishop thought. It is not obvious to me why this cannot be the case here.
      But please join in LLF. It really is meant to be a discussion where all voices are welcome and heard – and the discernment shared.

      • David,

        “So why should +Paul not be allowed to state his conviction?”

        Because bishops promise at their consecration (rather like the rest of us ordained folk) that they will “teach the doctrine of Christ as the Church of England has received it… refute error, and… hand on entire the faith that is entrusted to you?”
        [‘By the help of God, I will.’]
        If +Paul wishes to see the doctrine of the CofE changed, of course he would be right to express the hope that the LLF process will lead to a Spirit-inspired revision of the canon, but for now by his vows he has committed himself, surely, to “hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” (Titus‬ ‭1:9‬ ‭RSV‬‬ – as referenced in the Order for Consecration). By continuing directly to contradict canon B30(1) he must therefore have to consider his position, shouldn’t he?

        • Hi Francis. Thanks for this exchange. I really like your phrase about ‘a Spirit-inspired revision of the canon’. That is exactly the process we are engaged in together with LLF. The church has done that most recently on divorce and remarriage and the ordination of women in the church. That was a process of public debate, like this one. How else do we test and discern the questions we are facing? I may be misunderstanding you but I read you as saying that Bishop Paul may privately hope the church will change its mind on this matter – but should not only stay silent on what he thinks – but is required by canon to publicly defend view he disagrees with?

          • read you as saying that Bishop Paul may privately hope the church will change its mind on this matter – but should not only stay silent on what he thinks – but is required by canon to publicly defend view he disagrees with?

            Just like a member of the cabinet, then?

          • David,

            It is very likely that your worldview will prevail in the next few years, not only in the CoE but also in the wider evangelical culture (as it stands). What do you say to those who feel “Spirit led” to oppose these changes?

          • So you think something you call ‘the church’ (which is not the church at all, but an arm of it) is more important than the leader who is that church’s raison d’etre and sine qua non – whose best attested (and also very distinctive) teaching this is, on d*****e?

            How wise we are. After all, look at our track record and look at Jesus’s. Ours knocks the spots off the other; but maybe it will catch up one day or be assigned to re-education.

  13. Well put Don. God’s moral standards were not put there to make life awkward for us or to tie us in knots, but to make our earthly lives happy and fulfilling. But being human beings, we always end up thinking that our “freedom” will be better than God’s constraints. The Church’s purpose is to speak for God – Bishop Bayes seems to think otherwise. How Bishops Ryle and Chavasse must be spinning in their graves!

  14. Hi Ian, Thank you for this post – you’ve addressed Bishop Bayer’s speech with clarity and clear biblical insight. I find it remarkable that such muddled and convoluted views could come out of someone as eminent as a Bishop.

    Speaking as a millennial Christian, it seems that senior clergy always seem to aim to please and appease the zeitgeist (to borrow the word from above) of the age. Where is their fight and zeal for the Gospel? Always dodging, weaving and ducking on some issues but coming up strong on others- like Brexit for example. Interesting to see how Bayes has lumped everything together in that classic buzz-word soup of identity politics. Our bishops really do have that cringe-factor!

    Maybe it is because I am new to the whole religious/political theatre with the CofE but how did we get into such a pickle whereby we have senior clergy promulgating such ‘theology’? Seriously, where and how are these ideas developed and encouraged? I would welcome any views.

    Ultimately, I take hope in that my faith is not dependent on the woolly stance of the CofE (though it saddens me) but by God’s redeeming grace alone. Now that is good news!

  15. Dear Ian,

    The Israelites were on the cusp of going into the Promised Land. God had told the nation that they were NOT to behave like the nations they were going to displace. They were a “holy people.” Their God is Holy. They were to “be holy as the LORD their God is holy.” (Leviticus 11:44) In fact, Leviticus 18Leviticus 18 repeats seven times the warning that Israelites were not to imitate the Egyptian or Canaanite mores. Five times this chapter grounds sexual morality in the character of God. Those who observed these decrees were promised true life (18:1–5).

    Several basic principles stand out in this section of Leviticus. (1) Marital intercourse made the man and wife as closely related as parents and children. This is the “one flesh” concept of Genesis 2:24. (2) Marriage made a girl not just a daughter-in-law, but a daughter of her husband’s parents and a sister to all his brothers. Even if her husband died his brother could not marry her, for that would be equivalent to a brother-sister marriage. The custom of Levirate marriage (Dt 25:5ff.) was the exception to this principle. (3) A man could not marry any woman who was a close blood relative. (4) A man could not marry any woman who had become a close relative through a previous marriage to one of the man’s close relatives. (5) The New Testament writers assume that the laws on incest still bind the Christian conscience (1 Cor 5:1ff.).
    Leviticus 18:18 has been interpreted by some as a prohibition of the most odious form of polygamy, viz., taking to wife the sister of one’s present wife. Others think that “sister” in this verse refers to any Israelite woman. Taken in this way Leviticus 18:18 prohibits polygamy altogether. Other sexual sins prohibited in this section are: (1) sexual relations with a menstruous woman; (2) adultery; (3) sodomy; and (4) bestiality. A prohibition against sacrificing children to the god Molech is included among the sins commonly practiced among the Canaanites (18:19–23).
    The section on sexual sin ends as it began with a solemn warning. This kind of sin defiled the land of Canaan. Consequently God had decreed the expulsion of the inhabitants of that land. If Israel permitted these vile acts to be practiced among them, the land would vomit them out even as it had vomited out the Canaanites before them. Consequently, anyone who did these detestable things was to be cut off from his people (18:24–30). Deuteronomy continues the same theme (6:14-15, 7:2-4, 18:9-14, et al).
    If this is what is required of the nation of Israel by God, then the same would also be expected by Christ and His Church who is His bride. If the non-believer goes into the house of the Lord and cannot tell the difference between the non-believer and the believer in worship, cannot tell the difference between the world and the church in ethics, worship, etc., then the church has failed. The Church whether it be non-denominational, Baptist, Church of England (Episcopal in the US), etc. are not to mirror the world. Christians are not to conform to this world but are to be transformed.
    I could go to I Corinthians 6:9-11 and point out that sexual sins are mentioned in 3 of 10 categories of sins that Paul writes. What is forgotten is that Paul indicates that some of the Corinthians were no longer committing those sins when he writes, ” And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
    This indicates that some of them were no longer known by the sin mentioned in verses 9-10. They changed. That is not what someone who says that “I was born this way,” wants to hear. Yet, remember what Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11)

  16. Anddrew G,
    Holiness is central to the topic.
    And absence of its consideration punches a hole in your boat riding the secular flood-tide.
    But if you follow my comments on this article with understanding they merely point out what is missing in arguing in support of Bayes, JT, DR and your
    combined position/case.
    When asked a question by JT I answered it, substantially, if not in full biblical, nor jurisprudential detail, without any rejoinder from him.
    And you now resort to playground insult. You are better than that.

    • Geoff. If the absence of any consideration of holiness leaves a fatal hole in any argument here then your issue is with Ian, not us. It is his blog and he doesn’t mention the word once.

      • The Bishop’s views are critiqued in this article, particularly his stating point. My comments corroborate the critique, drawing out a different point but also starting at the same World Council of Churches meeting, where Ian Paul’s critique commences, then the onto the absurdity of the meeting in 1986 of multiple religions. The main point I make is Holiness of God is absent, which is a consequences of excluding God as a prerequisite in determining morality when in fact is essential attribute of God and his command to his people be holy as He is holy which embraces morality ethics and justice.
        It remains evident that there is a determination to avoid the topic by you, AG and JT.

        • Geoff: I can only repeat what I’ve said before. David Runcorn deals with the question of the holiness of God many times his writings and speaking engagements. No avoidance at all.
          The holiness of God is best seen in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. I regret to say that in your constant picking at other members of the body of Christ you don’t set the best example.

  17. It seems to me that there is a tragic irony in that the comments made by the bishops of Manchester and Liverpool were made at the season when many men and women were undertaking to uphold the faith “revealed in the Holy Scriptures, set forth in the catholic creeds, and witnessed to by the historical formularies of the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles and the ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.”

    I find it hard to see how these statements are compatible with the oaths these bishops themselves made in the past.

  18. “let the world set the agenda” ???
    Did Jesus say “the world is the light of the church”?

    “let the world set the agenda”?
    Did the apostles say “do not love the church nor the things of the church” ?

    “Let the world set the agenda”
    Did Jesus say “my kingdom is of this world”?

    “let the world set the agenda”
    Did Jesus say “let the world go into all of you and make disciples”?

  19. In AD 325 the Emperor Constantine convened the council of Nicaea. During one particularly heated exchange between the Bishops Arius and Nicholas on the subject of Christ’s divinity, Nicholas became so agitated by the argument he was hearing he strode across the room and interrupted the council by slapping Arius across the face, resulting in a short prison spell courtesy of the Emperor himself .

    This is the *vibe* I get from this article. 😉

    It feels much more polemical in tone than the usual tone of Psephizo, and I suspect that the words Ian Paul might have wanted to use initially are probably harsher and blunter than the ones actually used. I wouldn’t dare to suggest that the author would go so far as to wish violence upon the noble bishop, but equally in the face of such wanton ‘drivel’ (as it is presented here at least) I honestly wouldn’t blame him if he did.

    There are two questions really.

    1. Are these selected quotes a fair representation of what Bishop Bayes actually believes?

    It’s hard to say. I think Jonathan makes the excellent point that some of the conclusions here are straw men, and not really fair inferences from what Bayes said, but at the same time it does seem readily apparent that Bayes was privileging the secular over the spiritual and making an argument often at odds with traditional Anglican thought and practice.

    2. Where they are not fair representations, does the Bishop bear any responsibility for the lack of clarity, or is this all just a deliberate (or ignorant) misrepresentation on the part of the author?

    This is the trickier one to answer. If Bayes’ defenders are right, does he not bear responsibility for failing to communicate what he actually believes properly? Because if he does purport to uphold the teaching of the church then he didn’t do an especially good job of it..

    I’m waffling….

    This was a hard read, and the comments section harder. Most of all because I don’t think anything is likely to change, regardless of how much criticism (or indeed praise, depending on your position) Bayes gets.


  20. Bps Bayes and Walker have only one life on this earth.

    They therefore select out of all the millions of options the one leader and one way of life that stands out as the best they have encountered.

    They then proceed to press exactly the opposite line from that leader and organisation, as though even when it comes to the best way of life available and the best leader available, what makes sense is to oppose those thinks actively, or to be lukewarm and vague about them.

    When one has just the one life, and there is a spectrum of many glorious causes, what is this half heartedness? Awake, O sleepers and rise from the dead.

  21. It has of course become clear in Winchester that if a diocese is not happy with their bishop, they can express that in a vote of no confidence. It seems to have been a turning point in the life of that diocese – although of course it is not yet clear how that will eventually play out. The diocese of Liverpool and of Manchester have a means of expressing displeasure concerning their bishops.

    • The diocese of Liverpool and of Manchester have a means of expressing displeasure concerning their bishops.

      ‘They haven’t been no-confidenced, therefore they must be in the right’ is an interesting approach. I wonder how it translates to politics? Presumably you think that the fact that no no-confidence vote has been brought in the present government means that Boris Johnson’s conduct and competence as Prime Minister is beyond reproach? After all, if it wasn’t, Parliament has a means of expressing displeasure.

      • Not at all what I’m saying. I’m saying that *if* people don’t have confidence in the Christian leadership of their bishop, they have a way of expressing this.

        • Is there a standard procedure for expressing lack of confidence in the christian leadership of a Bishop in the CoE or is it different for different dioceses?

          Who would actually discipline a Bishop? Is is other Bishops or the ABC or ABY?

          And who would discipline the ArchBishops – the Queen?

          Just curious to know.

          • Hi Chris and hope you are well

            “Is there a standard procedure for expressing lack of confidence in the christian leadership of a Bishop in the CoE or is it different for different dioceses?”

            It has never been tried before. Winchester has set a very new precedent, which is why it is interesting to follow what happens in that diocese.

          • Gavin Ashenden has written a very good blog on the Winchester affair. I *think* the ABC has no jurisdiction.

          • Thank you Andrew and Penelope. If I understand it correctly, the Winchester affair was about the Bishop overstepping the bounds of his episcopal authority rather than a matter of theology and teaching, so I wondered if these would be treated differently.

          • Andrew, can you tell me if Bishops are themselves subject to CDMs or are they excluded? I am aware that the CDM procedure is being overhauled in the light of people being damaged by it but will the new procedures include disciplining Bishops?

          • Hi Chris
            Yes, as David indicates, the CDM, and whatever replaces it, will include bishops. The important thing to note, however, is that discipline does not encompass what people believe but only what they. So, for example, Paul Bayes can express his belief in SSM quite openly, as he has done. If he were to preside at a same sex marriage however, it would be a disciplinary matter.

          • Thank you for the clarification Andrew. My understanding of the CDM is that it is possible for clergy other than Bishops to be completely removed from ministry with loss of their their orders i.e. defrocked as it were, whereas Bishops cannot be removed at all. The current situation in Winchester seems to be that a vote of no confidence can be taken against the bishop but unless the bishop steps down voluntarily no one can make him do so.

            Do Bishops have stronger protections against removal than ordinary clergy? Front- line clergy I would imagine, are accountable to their bishops but who are the bishops accountable to?

        • I’m saying that *if* people don’t have confidence in the Christian leadership of their bishop, they have a way of expressing this.

          Just making sure you weren’t trying to imply that if therefore if they hadn’t done that, it means that they do have confidence in the Christian leadership of their bishop and so people should stop criticising said Christian leadership of said bishops.

          I’m glad to find out you’re clear that you weren’t at all implying that, and indeed nothing could have been further from your mind.

  22. You mentioned Ian your continuing support for women’s occupying positions of leadership/teaching which require them to have ultimate doctrinal and pastoral discernment in their church.
    I just wanted to share a pastoral situation which has arisen at a church I was attending two years ago. I left the church now two years ago having criticised its culture and the attitudes of its senior leadership.
    The church had a married couple who were named as co-senior pastors. He was recently discovered to be have been unfaithful sexually over two years and has resigned from the church and she is now on compassionate leave.
    Anyway now the church must make a decision – at least they must in order to have integrity. They either have to stick with their egalitarian views in which case she – although also a victim – must accept full responsibility for allowing and not identifying the wrong spirit in which the church and her home were being led – and resign with a black mark against her name. Or alternatively the board (and her) can turn from their egalitarianism and allow her to resign as senior pastor while admitting that she wasn’t as responsible as her husband and therefore never should have allowed her to occupy that position in the first place.
    This is where egalitarianism jumps from being the pursuit of people with PhDs and reaches into the life of ordinary people. I seriously doubt that many egalitarians who wish to appoint women to positions of senior leadership want to make them fully responsible for failures at times like this.

    • They either have to stick with their egalitarian views in which case she – although also a victim – must accept full responsibility for allowing and not identifying the wrong spirit in which the church and her home were being led – and resign with a black mark against her name.

      I don’t understand this. If there had been two men who were ‘co-senior pastors’ and it was discovered that one of them had been secretly embezzling church funds, and the other knew nothing about it, would you hold the innocent one fully responsible for ‘allowing and not identifying the wrong spirit in which the church’ was being led?

      If so, I am surprised. If not, what is the difference? Why would she be responsible for not identifying her husband’s sin when he, presumably, took great care to hide it from her, and was (until recently) successful in his deception?

      • Hi S,

        I wish now that I had taken the time to express my approval of your reply elsewhere here that started with the words “Taking a dim view of betrayal” for how insightful it was.

        I believe that the way you describe things is ignorant of the nature of how sin works. People who commit adultery don’t suddenly do so after a period of otherwise righteous behaviour. It’s an act which is preceded by behaviour which is less than faithful. To do such a thing we must begin to excuse behaviour that precedes it. For example we may allow ourselves to feel as if we are faithful and that others don’t acknowledge our faithfulness – and then along comes a woman who agrees with us.

        When we follow God ourselves we begin to understand the nature of discipleship and can identify when the way in which others talk about their faith is consistent or not with our experience.

        If a pastor is not able to identify failure of heart before it is failure of action then how is he supposed to lead the church he oversees? How for example would he know who to appoint as leaders? It isn’t just a crap shoot – and it shouldn’t be decided only by asking himself who has not done anything obviously wrong.

        Any person who grows in their knowledge/experience of God is becoming simultaneously more aware of the ways of the world by contrast with the character of the God. A pastor is required to make sophisticated spiritual judgements about the character of other people. The character of other people reveals itself at all times and over time.

        • I wish now that I had taken the time to express my approval of your reply elsewhere here that started with the words “Taking a dim view of betrayal” for how insightful it was.

          Very kind, but I can’t claim any special insights; I’m sure I’m just saying what everybody else is thinking.

          I believe that the way you describe things is ignorant of the nature of how sin works.


          People who commit adultery don’t suddenly do so after a period of otherwise righteous behaviour. It’s an act which is preceded by behaviour which is less than faithful.

          Right, yes. But it’s also behaviour which, by its nature, is concealed.

          If a pastor is not able to identify failure of heart before it is failure of action then how is he supposed to lead the church he oversees? How for example would he know who to appoint as leaders? It isn’t just a crap shoot – and it shouldn’t be decided only by asking himself who has not done anything obviously wrong.

          Okay, yes, but surely it’s unreasonable to expect every pastor to have an unerring Columbo-level ability to identify wrong ‘uns?

          I think you are underestimating the ingenuity of sin to conceal itself, if you think that it should always be obvious to someone. Yes, pastors should be good judges of character; but they are still only human, and even the best judge of character can be fooled.

          Indeed some of the tragic scandals which have come to light recently only demonstrate how thoroughly sinners can deceive even those who work most closely, and in some cases live, with them.

          I note that you didn’t explicitly answer my question about the male pastor who was ignorant of his co-pastor’s fraud. Could you explain whether you would hold the innocent co-paster responsible for failing to spot his colleague’s sin in that situation?

          • Thanks for your reply S. Yes I would consider him responsible – although the co-pastor’s mistake would be that he should never have accepted being part of an arrangement in a church where two people are overseeing the church with equal authority. What is he to do if he believes the person he is working with is not behaving as they should?

            A few decades ago a politician overseeing a department would resign when there was a failure in his or her department. Why? Because the accepted view was that they had full power to organise everything – people – structures – tasks – to succeed. The implication was that they were able to make reliable judgements about people – however there was also a culture where the level of trust in people was higher – because people were more trustworthy.

            But what about a church? And what about the fact that it is now and not then? What should be expected of the senior leader? The fact that people are less trustworthy now doesn’t change anything – the obligation of any senior pastor is to arrange his church so that only those who he has good reason to trust are involved in leadership – even if that means that a pile of events must be cancelled and the pastor is the only one leading. The process by which someone should rise to leadership is not all or nothing – they should be given limited responsibility and if they prove worthy of it they can be given more. If not the damage is mitigated. A church cannot be said to be a church unless it has governance and it cannot be said to be governed if major catastrophes can happen (if an ordinary person in the congregation falls that is not what I consider a catastrophe) and no-one is responsible for it happening.

            The reason things are different now is because the state of the church in the first world is such that leaders and the people in the congregation don’t have the wisdom that arises from holy fear. But imagine that leaders did and yet for some reason a failure of character is beyond their detection. They still serve a God who is eager to help them to be able to lead the church in a way that is pleasing to him. He’s going to help – whisper in his ear. So with the addition of that benefit there is every reason why full responsibility must remain with the leader. When a leader gives away ultimate responsibility for any area of church life he is doing what it is called ENtrusting himself to others – the Bible condemns this. I made a short video about this issue about trusting people – and entrusting. Link below. Excuse the hair.

          • Thanks for your reply S. Yes I would consider him responsible – although the co-pastor’s mistake would be that he should never have accepted being part of an arrangement in a church where two people are overseeing the church with equal authority. What is he to do if he believes the person he is working with is not behaving as they should?

            Okay, well, to start with, personally, I don’t think we’re going to agree on the nature of authority in the church, then: personally, I don’t think any church should have a single person with ultimate authority. I do not think that a government department is a good analogy for a church.

            But that said, on your terms, I seem where you’re coming from now; what I don’t understand is why you began by writing:

            ‘Anyway now the church must make a decision – at least they must in order to have integrity. They either have to stick with their egalitarian views […] Or alternatively the board (and her) can turn from their egalitarianism and allow her to resign as senior pastor while admitting that she wasn’t as responsible as her husband and therefore never should have allowed her to occupy that position in the first place.’

            I don’t understand how you think this is even a decision. Surely it’s simply obvious that the female co-pastor then should be treated exactly as a male co-pastor would be in the same situation?

            Put simply your issue with the situation here seems, when you drill down into it, to be nothing to do with egalitarianism but simply with the entire concept of ‘co-pastors’, whether male and male or male and female?

          • It wasn’t my intention to imply that a single person with ultimate authority runs a church. I recognise that a group of elders govern a church – but we have come to accept that it is common for one person who is most often doing the time consuming work of teaching is often acting as the executor of the will of that group of elders. And we also recognise there are contexts in which one person may stand above a group of elders in terms of authority in the case of apostolic ministry – but in that case the apostolic leadership of the church isn’t permanent. My point was only that two people shouldn’t have the executive role.
            As to whether a government department is a suitable analogy I raised it not to illustrate the nature of church life but only to illustrate the way in which leaders should take responsibility and be considered to have it.
            As to your final point – yes – the female co-pastor should be treated like the male co—pastor in a circumstance of failure at the very top. I was simply making the point that it if a church acknowledged that she was not equipped to succeed in that role – because no woman is – that therefore failure was spread across her being placed in the role and in the way she fulfilled it. I believe that the reason many women are now in senior leadership is as a result of the failure of men to lead – and when those women don’t handle their responsibilities the failure lies also with those who shouldn’t have released them into those roles.

          • When I said that that apostolic leadership isn’t permanent I meant that the apostle may operate in a similar way to a teaching elder for a period – involved in the daily life of the church – and then give way to those they raise up to fill that role. I didn’t mean that there is a point at which apostles no longer exercise their apostolic gift over a church.

          • It wasn’t my intention to imply that a single person with ultimate authority runs a church. I recognise that a group of elders govern a church

            Ah, then perhaps we aren’t so far apart as I thought.

            – but we have come to accept that it is common for one person who is most often doing the time consuming work of teaching is often acting as the executor of the will of that group of elders.

            I think here we’re getting into practical detail rather than matters of principle. Sometimes that one person might be acting with full (delegated) executive authority yes; but other times the executive authority might be divided among two or more roles. I would think, for example, that quite often the person with responsibility for teaching — which indeed must involve authority to oversee what is taught by others — would not be the same person with responsibility for financial matters — who would have authority over the setting and spending of the church budget.

            (And, of course, the original and first church-treasurer-who-is-skimming-off-the-top was appointed by Jesus Himself, so that’s something to think about re: who is to blame, isn’t it?)

            And we also recognise there are contexts in which one person may stand above a group of elders in terms of authority in the case of apostolic ministry – but in that case the apostolic leadership of the church isn’t permanent.

            I think to comment on that I’d have to ask what exactly you meant by ‘apostolic ministry’ as different people seem to use that term to mean very different things. Sometimes it means ‘evangelistic’, as in taking the gospel to places that haven’t heard it, as the Apostles did; sometimes it means ‘allegedly connected by a chain of hands to Peter’; sometimes something else.

            My point was only that two people shouldn’t have the executive role.

            Or where two (or more) people have executive roles, their areas of responsibility should be clearly defined and non-overlapping so as to avoid problems.

            As to whether a government department is a suitable analogy I raised it not to illustrate the nature of church life but only to illustrate the way in which leaders should take responsibility and be considered to have it.

            Understood. Yes, in that case, we agree.

            As to your final point – yes – the female co-pastor should be treated like the male co—pastor in a circumstance of failure at the very top. I was simply making the point that it if a church acknowledged that she was not equipped to succeed in that role – because no woman is – that therefore failure was spread across her being placed in the role and in the way she fulfilled it.

            Hm, I think I would take issue with ‘because no woman is’. I don’t think anything in your story suggests either that the problem arose because the co-pastor was a woman, or that (as we have established) a man would necessarily have coped any better.

            I believe that the reason many women are now in senior leadership is as a result of the failure of men to lead – and when those women don’t handle their responsibilities the failure lies also with those who shouldn’t have released them into those roles.

            And again here I don’t think this is consistent with your agreement that the same could have happened to a male co-pastor, and that the problem was with the co-pastoring arrangement and its unclear division of responsibilities, rather than the sexes of the principals per se. Rather I think that as, as you have agreed, a man in the same position should be treated exactly the same, the responsibility, inasmuch as there is any, lies entirely with the female co-pastor, just as it would with a man.

          • I presumed that when I made statements about women not being gifted to be responsible for ultimate doctrinal and pastoral discernment that you realised I was speaking my view about women’s teaching/leadership without going into detail to justify it. But for what it’s worth my view matches that expressed in the video at the link below AND FOR EXACTLY THE SAME REASONING expressed in it (I have spent a lot of time disagreeing with Tim Keller publicly in recent months so I am not some kind of Keller or TGC fanboy – I just agree absolutely on this).

          • I presumed that when I made statements about women not being gifted to be responsible for ultimate doctrinal and pastoral discernment that you realised I was speaking my view about women’s teaching/leadership without going into detail to justify it.

            Well, yes, I did, obviously, and that’s why I questioned it.

            But for what it’s worth my view matches that expressed in the video at the link below AND FOR EXACTLY THE SAME REASONING expressed in it (I have spent a lot of time disagreeing with Tim Keller publicly in recent months so I am not some kind of Keller or TGC fanboy – I just agree absolutely on this).

            Who has time to watch videos? Is this reasoning available in written form anywhere?

  23. “The primary driver for his agenda is ‘the world’.” – psephizo –

    YES! That is ‘The World’ for which Christ died and for whose inhabitants Jesus became incarnate!

    Some people are born into situations which, though they have not had any part in choosing for themselves, are daily ‘crucified’ for who they are – BY some zealots in THE CHURCH.

    • “The primary driver for his agenda is ‘the world’.” – psephizo –

      “in the world but not of it”. Jesus

      • It is a very basic error to give a particular meaning to a word and then assume that that is what it means wherever else it occurs. This is true of the fried contexts of the same word within the scriptures and also in relating scriptural words to contemporary usage. This has happened repeatedly here in relation to the word ‘world’ – starting with Ian’s original blog comment but continuing in ensuing the discussion. Even putting ‘the world’ in inverted commas, which +Paul does not do, invites a distortion of emphasis.

        • I think it’s a “very basic error” to believe the “world” can set an agenda which, at the very least, the Holy Spirit birthed Church cannot /should not challenge.

          Indeed one word isn’t a theology but the contrast I’m pointing at is with Father RS’s assertion.

          The whole notion of sin, rebellion against God, the bringing of salvation from outside the world (fully aware use of “world” ) the Scripture etc seems to be “underplayed” (being polite) . The whole blinding NT thrust, is that the church is the place in which God’s redemptive work is seen… To his glory.

        • This has happened repeatedly here in relation to the word ‘world’ – starting with Ian’s original blog comment but continuing in ensuing the discussion.

          Surely it started with the Bishop’s remarks, in which he does not define what he means by ‘the world’?

          I’m sure you agree that if you are going to use a word as overloaded as ‘world’ then if behoves you to be clear what you mean by it, and that it was a failure on the Bishop’s part not to do so.

          • Does anyone out there know of any examples of church growth (however you measure it) resulting from a theology that is LGBTQ+ positive? I’d like to know if following ‘the world’s lead on some issues actually does more than make some Christians feel better about themselves. Genuinely interested.

    • Isn’t that (a rare pattern but a precious community) more to do with being newly energised by a tragedy to genuinely love one another and accept one another where each person is at, both of which are agreed Christian behaviours? Love can so often be lukewarm or nonexistent, but where people have passed through a tragedy and want to make things better, they have the motivation to love genuinely.

  24. As an ex-vicar, this post dismayed me but didn’t surprise me in the least. Bayes’ comments exemplify why I felt there was no place for me in the Church of England. I don’t miss it. Boats don’t sink because of the water around them, but because too much water finds its way inside. Whilst people like Paul Bayes gleefully drill holes in the hull, there will come a day, quite soon probably, when no pump will bail the water out quick enough. Tragic.

  25. What was at be my final attempt to contribute here to James and others on this thread has not appeared. There was note about awaiting moderation. Grateful for the exchanges though.

  26. My last comment here, in response to David Runcorn’s comment above.
    1. It is no part of academic Biblical and Doctrinal Studies (“dogmatics”) to have “pastoral theology rigour”. Evangelical pastoral practice is the application of evangelical doctrine to the life of the church, especially in the light of the New Testament’s teaching on church life. It is *not about adopting Freudianism
    Jungianism, or other regnant (but ultimately passing) psychological and psychotherapeutic theories along with biblical language and ideas.
    2. As well as encouraging catholic spirituality and practices at Trinity, David Gillett introduced the enneagram to groups of students. Knowing a bit about the background to the enneagram, I thought this an odd thing to do, especially in a purportedly evangelical college. I have long thought these eclectic practices – like Myers Briggs etc – academically weak and theologically dubious but not harmful unless they are taken seriously. Freud, Jung Gurdjieff etc are no substitute for the Gospel but actually enemies. Jung seems to come back in some form every generation or so, as Gavin Ashenden, a former Jungian, has observed, and liberal Anglicans are periodically keen on his ideas.
    3. As I have said on other occasions, I have always recognised David R’s concern for those on the margin. People with ssa do face great trials in life and Christians with ssa especially need the love and understanding of fellow Christians to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. Loneliness, frustration and emotional unease are heavy burdens to bear.
    4. But if David Runcorn’s beliefs were correct, it would entail the following theological and social conclusions:
    A. That God specifically created or intended some people (c. 2%? Of the British population) to be homosexual bisexual or “transgender”. Does David really believe that this is God’s purpose?
    B. That two men should “parent” children without a mother and that two women should “parent” children without a father? Does David really believe this is God’s design for the family?
    C. That a man – even a priest in pastor – may leave his wife and family in mid-life because his homosexual feelongs have become strong and insistent and he must now follow his “true nature”. David knows that this is not a hypothetical scenario.
    D. That – despite “God not making mistakes” as Jayne Ozanne tells us – some people have been “born into the wrong body” and this needs to be “corrected”. I wonder what David thinks about the epidemic of gender confusion afflicting teenage girls today.
    All of these things are the implications of what Paul Bayes and David R advocate. And they are all realities of secular British life today (along with widespread divorce, 200k abortions p.a, multiple sexual partners in most people’s lives, and cohabitation instead of marriage). Do you want the Church to be like the rest of British society? It already is. These are the actual fruits of their ideas, which is why I point out that David’s actual beliefs today are really liberal catholic, similar to Andrew Godsall’s. Evangelicalism does not consist of signing a brief doctrinal statement but is the hard, painful and costly work of submitting one’s beliefs to the actual first century writings of the New Testament.

    • All true and to the point. But why oh why do people not say ‘Yes I am happy for the guy to leave his wife and kids’ or ‘No I am absolutely not happy’? It’s evasive. It is an awesome thing (not in a good way) to affirm excruciating pain.

      • And I have simply spelled out the implications – the PASTORAL implications – of David Runcorn’s beliefs. The advocates of “gay inclusion” (which must also mean “bisexual inclusion”, whatever that means in practice – a series of sexual relationships, presumably? – and “transgender inclusion”) are believers, like the secular world, in salvation through romance. This is, in the stricted sense, a pagan idea found repeatedly in the corpus of Hellenistic Greek erotic novels, viz. “Daphnis and Chloe”, “Callirhoe”, “An Ephesian Tale” etc in which Eros acts irresistibly on persons until they find their soulmates.
        What David R fails to see is that his ostensibly liberal catholic (but really hellenistic-romantic) view of the Bible actually undermines the nature of marriage and the family as a union of father and mother.

        • Yes, with thousands upon thousands of precious victims on the ground. So I reiterate my question. Prevarication is not an option when things are so serious.

          • And the church is also underwriting the wicked work of the world that supports the splitters and divisive and abandons the already abandoned. This is exactly why one’s attitude to the sexual revolution is so key – it could not be less of a merely theoretical question. Support for it (and all its fruits, such as the silly consent-only principle) is an absolute killer.

          • Yes, this is one of the big failures of David Runcorn’s romantic, modern liberal catholic view of homosexuality. He is focused on the loneliness and sexual frustration of homosexual men, forgetting that sex is a unitive force intrnded by God also to create families – and for homosexual couples that means adopting another person’s child and bringing that child up in that environment. How can that be God’s will? And how can it be God’s will for a pastor or Anglican clergyman to leave his wife and children to take up with another man? As happened with the erstwhile Bishop of New Hampshire and some well known clergy in England – and some less well familiar ones that I knew in my pastoral work (three families). These are the realities that David doesn’t deal with.

  27. The world need not set the agenda for the Church (though the world may sometimes lead by example). But Christians in local churches may need to set the agenda, because in the last resort conscience cannot be dominated.

    The absolutely obvious best course of action at this juncture is (a) recognise the factual truth (that the Church of England is divided down the middle about human sexuality) (b) have the maturity to recognise that Christians may hold diverse views and different positions of conscience, in journeys of faith with God (c) we should respect people’s right to hold conscientious beliefs, different to our own (d) we ourselves then face the challenge to love people we disagree with and pray for them to flourish in their local churches (e) recognising there is a complete logjam on this issue, rather than trying to dominate each other’s consciences, it would be better to remember our shared eternal unity in Jesus Christ, and acknowledge that in this world, our Unity in Christ manifests in diversity (f) treat local church communities, their PCCs, their priests, with respect by allowing them to determine how they as grassroots Christians, in their actual communities, believe in all conscience they should receive and include lesbian and gay people (g) protect, with equal respect, other church communities who in their own good conscience believe differently.

    In short, some form of ‘Unity in Diversity’ along the Scottish lines. Instead of everything being imposed ‘top down’ – which has perpetuated this endless debate and a fake uniformity – treat local grassroots communities with respect, and allow them agency to follow their local journeys of faith and service. Stop imposing and dominating on sexual issues. Conscience gets lived out in the realities of local church life. Conscience and sincere conviction really matter.

    The large centre ground of the Church of England wants to get past this logjam of division, and get on with all the other aspects of parish life and pastoral care.

    I believe this is the direction the Church of England is going.

  28. Ian: “unless other bishops speak out… the Church of England is doomed.”

    I think that’s a little ’emo’ and melodramatic, Ian. Most of the Church of England is just getting on with parish life, serving neighbours in need, and carrying on with stuff, living lives of faith.

    “Ultimately, Bayes’ position despises the grace of God that we have experienced…”

    Ian, I think this is also a wee bit extreme. I know you say ‘position’ rather than ‘person’ but let’s get real. Paul Bayes has faith, Paul Bayes loves God, Paul Bayes lives life touched by grace of God, as we all do.

    He just dares to voice a view (of half the Church of England) that you disagree with. Let’s not go anywhere the idea that he despises the grace of God. That ends up down the ‘He’s not a Christian, I am’ dead end road to the ghetto that’s called ‘Remnant of the Pure’.

    What he’s trying to do is appeal for us to respect conscientious differences of opinion, and differences in how we understand scripture and how it should be read and received.

    I suspect that is the way the Church of England will go, and I suspect you know it may well do so. And I understand your sense of alarm; and your own ardour for Jesus Christ (which I find endearing).

    I suggest we should affirm Paul’s as well. We are not enemies if we hold different views. Paul will not ‘doom’ the Church of England.

    Alarm can lead to exaggerated anxiety. I think we best all come, in the Church of England, and ‘be still’, and then in grace and love, say ‘Sure we differ, but journey well.’ If we agree to disagree with grace, there are ways forward, respecting the conscience and consequent practices of diverse local churches.

    Or you can have schism. That will be driven by people at the extremes, because most members of the Church of England don’t want it. We need to find a path of grace that respects divergent conscience, yet looks far deeper, to the grace and love God offers people we happen to disagree with.

    It’s possible. It is, indeed, a matter of grace. I think Paul gets that.

    • Susannah
      There is a much deeper disagreement: The Thing that Matters Most

      In one of his ‘Reflections of an Anglican Theologian’ titled ‘The Thing that Matters Most’ Dr. Martin Davie explains that he was prompted by Bill Clinton’s successful slogan ‘It’s the economy stupid’ to reflect on what should be an equally clear, brief slogan for the Church of England. He concludes:

      “When all is said and done, the Church’s core business is saving souls, and the only way that souls will be saved is if people come to realize that this life is not all there is, and that they need to put their trust in Jesus in order to avoid an eternity of damnation and enjoy an eternity of blessedness instead. The Church’s calling is to be God’s instrument to bring people to this realization, and for this to happen the leaders of the Church need to switch the focus of their message to the thing that matters most, the life of the world to come.”

      “It’s eternity, stupid”.

      Surely, then, to focus clearly on ‘The Thing that Matters Most’ the Church must believe, teach and preach both the terrible warnings, some from Christ’s own lips, as well as the wonderful invitations and promises to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, which are the two essential parts of the Gospel, the Church’s core message. As Warfield commented on Elijah’s experience in the cave,
      ‘….it is not the Law but the Gospel, not the revelation of wrath but that of love, which saves the world. Wrath may prepare for love; but wrath never did and never will save a soul’
      But wrath may prepare for love. And an honest, faithful preaching of the gospel has to include that warning. After all, Christ and his apostles gave us the warnings as well as the loving invitations and promises. The Church needs to believe and teach and preach both to be faithful.
      Only thus can the Church as a whole say with Paul, ‘Therefore I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God’; only thus can the Church as a whole take seriously the solemn warning God gave to Ezekiel that the appointed Watchman who ‘does not blow the trumpet to warn the people’ will be held accountable by God for the blood of the unsaved.
      With the publication of the LLF material the Church is about to spend considerable time and effort on the Human Sexuality disagreement. This disagreement is important. But it is definitely not “The Thing that matters Most”. What matters most is that the whole Church should believe, teach and preach both parts of her core message, the terrible part and the wonderful part, and the serious failure, as I see it, of the majority of the Church to preach the terrible part – the warnings.
      The LLF disagreement and this more fundamental and more important (as I see it) failure are linked: by the doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin. So I think that the present LLF situation is an opportunity for those who agree with me to challenge the rest of the church, both evangelicals and non-evangelicals about this most serious failure. I realise it is easy for me to suggest this challenge – I am not dependent on the Church for my livelihood and I have not promised to be obedient to any Bishop in all things lawful and honest. But I want to see that challenge take place, because I want those I dearly love to hear that warning, not just from me, but from the whole Church, before there is any talk of going separate ways on the sexuality disagreement. Put it this way: suppose at the end of the LLF process the church reaffirms the ‘traditional’ view on Human Sexuality. That would leave this most fundamental and most important failure unaddressed.
      According to General Fuller’s account of the battle of Waterloo in ‘Decisive Battles…’ there came a moment when ‘Napoleon still had in hand eight battalions of the Old Guard and six of the Middle, and had he sent to Ney but half this force, Wellington’s centre must inevitably have been overwhelmed…..’. But the decisive moment passed.

      I suggest that if evangelicals are ever going to challenge the rest of the Church about what she believes and preaches about Original Sin, the need to preach the warnings as well as the Good News, about wrath and retribution – this is the decisive moment to do it, by pointing out in the LLF debates that LLF is part of a wider, deeper issue. I suggest writing an Open Letter to challenge all ordained Ministers, including Bishops and Archbishops, and please, please, let the ensuing debate be on the internet open to all, and not behind closed doors. Let us all continue to pray that God in his grace and mercy will revive and rebuke the world-wide Church to focus on the thing that matters most, the Day of Judgment and the eternal life (or eternal retribution) which awaits each of us after death. Let us all also continue to pray that God will convict us all that God and Christ are both terrible and wonderful.


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