Monday, 8 November 2010

How to avoid the real issues

Five Anglican bishops are to join the Roman Catholic Church we are told. To be sure, the Anglican Church is in a mess, but what are we to make of this move? It is surprising? No. Does it make sense? No. Does it avoid the real issues? Absolutely.

Surely if you are able to accept the doctrines of Rome, you have either changed your mind or you were never a real Anglican - the 39 Articles are quite clear (see Articles 11, 14, 22 and 28 for obvious examples). It seems that the really important things to us today are the peripherals - 'Can I maintain my traditions?' was the question asked. As long as the Anglican Church will let me do that, fine - but if not I'll just switch allegiance. Who cares about the doctrine of Scripture, the work of Christ, the role of Mary and the saints, or the doctrine of the Sacraments? Does it really matter whether or not I can honestly uphold the confession of my church in its plain meaning? What matters is whether I can maintain the traditions I love! If so, I'll settle - wherever that happens to be. Am I upholding Scripture? Absolutely - look at this sprinkling of Bible verses to prove my point!

Tut, tut - but I suppose we evangelicals always knew that those Anglo-Catholics were never strong on the Bible, eh? Yet the next day I was dismayed to find evanglicals playing the same game as I came across the material from the Lausanne 'conversation' on gender roles. Sadly 'conversation' seems to be a rather loose term - it was more an announcement of egalitarian principles with no complementarian contributors that I found (and I think I've watched all the main contributions). There was no conversation, no grappling with the crucial texts - from what I saw it would be more appropriate to call it the 'Lausanne announcement' on gender roles. Egalitarianism was the presupposition, and then supported by creating a kind of cloud of possibly-relevant biblical and theological points mixed with a large helping of false dichotomy (it's either women involved in every ministry of the church or none). This method enables the speaker to say a lot that sounds biblical whilst avoiding the issues at the heart of the question. (For example, 1 Timothy 2 got a sentence or two from just one speaker who mumbled that particular point so badly I had to listen to him 3 times to work out what he said!)

Now I'm all in favour of a very positive view of the roles of women in the church, but certainly not in this theologically dubious way - a method which could easily be turned to make the Bible accept any cultural assumption we want it to. It's exactly what Steve Chalke (in)famously did in 'The Lost Message of Jesus' in order to deny the doctrine of original sin - just talk about Genesis 1&2 as if Genesis 3 didn't exist! Now, this certainly isn't an original observation from me, but it's worth repeating - if Lausanne wants to take this approach to Scripture and sensitive cultural issues, how long will it be before they are taking the same approach to condone homosexual practice?

The end result - Scripture is submitted to the authority of our culture. I can talk about the issues in hand with an open Bible, but all the while avoiding the real issues it raises. Is that what it means to be an evangelical? I think not.

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