Saturday, March 31, 2007

Impending schism in the Anglican church

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, the prelude to Holy Week when Christians commemorate the crucifixion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For many faithful Anglicans, this is an especially anxious Easter season as they contemplate an impending schism within their church. At issue is the vexed question of same-sex marriage.

Earlier this month, the Council of General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada overwhelmingly approved the submission of two resolutions to the upcoming meeting of the church’s full General Synod in June, one relating to the blessing of same-sex unions and the other to revising the doctrine of the church to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples. By adopting either resolution, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada would make a definitive break with the position of the global Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops which voted decisively at its last meeting in 1998 to reaffirm the church’s traditional doctrinal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

The Episcopal Church in the United States is also embroiled in an intense controversy over revision of the doctrine of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is profoundly perturbed. He has warned that Anglican bishops who sanction the blessing of same-sex unions in defiance of church doctrine might well be deprived of their status as full voting members of the Lambeth Conference at its next meeting in 2008.

Andrew Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, has acknowledged the danger. He concedes that the possibility of an Anglican schism will be a “real risk,” if General Synod endorses the blessing of same sex unions.

Underlying this dispute is a central teaching of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; namely, the primacy of Sacred Scripture as the ultimate authority on all questions of faith and morality. The majority of liberal Anglican bishops in Canada and the United States seem to have persuaded themselves to adopt the intellectually untenable position that the blessing of same-sex unions can somehow be squared with the plain teachings of the Bible that forbid sexual intercourse outside the sacred bond of marriage between a man and a woman.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, a professor of church history at Oxford University, is a candid proponent of blessing same-sex unions. In discussing the legitimacy of homosexual activity in his book, Reformation: Europe's House Divided, he persuasively argues:

“This is an issue of biblical authority. Despite much well-intentioned theological fancy footwork to the contrary, it is difficult to see the Bible as expressing anything else but disapproval of homosexual activity. The only alternatives are to try to cleave to patterns of life and assumptions set out in the Bible, or to say that in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong.”

Quite so. The Bible makes clear that faithful Christians must not only sincerely care for the well being of homosexuals, but also uphold the precepts of sexual morality that God has ordained for the happiness and benefit of all people, homosexuals and heterosexuals alike.

Granted, the church’s understanding of the moral law has evolved over time. But any authentic development of doctrine must occur under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in conformity with Sacred Scripture. Thus, the church’s condemnation of slavery in the 19th century conformed with the admonition of St. Paul: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Over the centuries, countless numbers of heretical sects have broken with the injunctions of Holy Scripture as expounded in the universal and constant teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. These sects have disappeared. Like a number of other liberal denominations, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church of the United States are now poised also to lapse into heresy and wither away.

Regardless, Christians can be certain about the ultimate survival of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. In the words of a classic hymn: “Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never ‘gainst that church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.”

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