It is no secret that the Church of England is in trouble. Several years ago, I likened the contemporary English Church to the Episcopal Church in 1999. That was my first year as an M.Div student at Virginia Theological Seminary. I remember thinking at the time that while there were many powerful people promoting same-sex blessings, formal approval of such arrangements would be a long time coming. There were strong, smart orthodox leaders still exercising influence and authority and the vast majority of Episcopalians despised change and just wanted to be left alone. It would take a tectonic change in the status quo for the Episcopal Church to formally embrace same-sex sexuality I thought. But I was wrong. I had not noticed that the ground which felt solid if a bit soft at the edges, had been sapped. The once-solid platform of biblical fidelity, confessional integrity, and institutional conservatism had been steadily undermined, consistently weakened by decades of theological compromise. Just the right blow at just the right moment and the whole thing would collapse. Gene Robinson was that blow.
In England, his name is Stephen Cottrell presently Bishop of Chelmsford soon to be Archbishop of York. In an article on his upcoming elevation, the Church Times reports,
“Bishop Cottrell has also warned that the Church’s stance on same-sex relationships means that it is ‘seen as immoral by the culture in which it is set’ and has suggested that prayers of thanksgiving for these relationships — ‘perhaps a eucharist’ — should be offered. In a diocesan-synod address in 2017, he warned of the ‘missiological damage that is done when that which is held to be morally normative and desirable by much of society, and by what seems to be a significant number of Anglican Christian people in this country, is deemed morally unacceptable by the Church…And, though I am proud to confirm that all of us, whatever our views on this matter, are united in our condemnation of homophobia, we must also acknowledge that it is of little comfort to young gay or lesbian members of our Church to know that while prejudice against them is abhorred, any committed faithful sexual expression of their love for another is forbidden. . . Our ambivalence and opposition to faithful and permanent same-sex relationships can legitimise homophobia in others.”
The Christian Institute expands on the partial quote above as follows, “I am not sure the church has ever before had to face the challenge of being seen as immoral by the culture in which it is set.”
These are astounding words. That one so educated, soon to be so elevated, so highly respected could evince such ignorance so publicly without embarrassment is, well, I am not sure what to call it. On the one hand, he is, of course, worthy of censure. But on the other, that his words are published so widely and he is still embraced so warmly without any apparent sense that something is amiss, what does it mean? Is the indictment more damning to him or to the ecclesial prelates or to the Church of England as a whole?
Has the Bishop taken even a semester’s study in church history? Does he know that Christians have been called haters of mankind, cannibals, atheists even because from the first the Christian Church has refused to bow to the idols of the age? What would Bishop Cottrell say to the Ugandan martyrs who refused to let themselves be sexually corrupted by a homosexual ruler for the sake of Christ? Were these children missiologically obtuse? Ought they to have embraced the “normative and desirable morality” of the king and his court? Men and women and children have been devoured by wild beasts, burned alive, beheaded, and crucified precisely because they refused to adopt the morality of the age and yet it is by the blood of these martyrs, not by the supine compromise of English clerics, that Christ builds his Church.
And we need not even look to the history of the Church. Has Bishop Cottrell read even a single Gospel? Does he know that Jesus was crucified? Was Jesus crucified because he was “seen as moral by the culture in which he was set”? Was he arrested and tried because he embraced what was “morally normative and desirable”? Not at all. Jesus scrutinized the traditions and laws of the day by the law of God and found them wanting. He refused to submit himself or his disciples to the rabbinic sabbath regulations, the washings, the dietary restrictions imposed by men and not God. And his “community” hated him for it. He has a demon, they said. His miracles are empowered by Satan, they said. Jesus was not crucified because the people loved him and he affirmed all of their ways.
But, for all of his faults, Bishop Cottrell, as quoted in the Christian Institute article linked above, provides a succinct summary of the revisionist project,
“…he warned of the ‘missiological damage that is done when that which is held to be morally normative and desirable by much of society, and by what seems to be a significant number of Anglican Christian people in this country, is deemed morally unacceptable by the Church.’”
Yes. That is theological liberalism in a nutshell. What do most people believe right and good? Whatever it is, the Church must preach that thing with verve and vigor, join the march, catch the wave, ride the momentum. I suppose it goes back to Hegel and God unfolding himself in human history or, more directly, to Schleiermacher and the adolescent need to be wanted by our cultured despisers.
At present, our cultured despisers demand sex, and lots of it, with no borders, boundaries or limits. Whatever you wish to do and to whomever you wish to do it (excepting, for the brief and quickly passing moment, children), it is good. Having already said “yes” to this demand, the compromised Church mumbles, weakly, about “commitment” and “monogamy”. We must walk down the broad road of destruction, she says, not run.
Bishop Cottrell teaches that homosexual relationships are good. The Apostle Paul teaches that they are vile, the final stage of idolatrous rebellion and that those who engage in them without repentance will not enter into the kingdom of Heaven (Romans 1:26-27, 1st Corinthians 6:9). Faced with this apostolic opposition, Bishop Cottrell, “…did acknowledge biblical passages spoke about the issue, he said they were merely ‘part of our story and our inheritance’. ‘But what we can do is recognise that what we know now about human development and human sexuality requires us to look again at those texts to see what they are actually saying to our situation, for what we know now is not what was known then.’” The Apostle, you see, was bathed in ignorance, a product of his times, not a herald of Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Who do you believe, the Apostle appointed by the risen Christ or the English bishop who cannot think of a time when Christians have had to face the challenge of being seen as immoral?
Those who, wisely, accept the authority of the Apostle will call those engaged in such relationships to repent and trust in Jesus who loves them, who died for their sins, and will cleanse them of all iniquity. Those who believe Bishop Cottrell will bake cakes and say “prayers of thanksgiving for their relationships” and affirm them to hell. This is not an issue about which Christians can agree to disagree.
This is why Bishop Cottrell’s elevation is so significant. The Church of England has, up to this point, formally embraced the biblical view of sexuality while informally allowing its opposite. It is one thing to have a sitting bishop teaching false doctrine and not do anything about it. That is the abdication of Jesus’ command to beware of wolves, a passive dereliction of duty. It is quite another to elevate the same teacher to a position of high authority. That requires that his very public and widely reported teachings be, if not “approved”, at least tolerated as if they stand within the pale of orthodoxy. This is an act of apostasy. The teaching that men can be with men sexually and women can be with women and that the bible is wrong with regard to human sexuality has now been formally accepted by the Church of England. Yes, this teaching has been accepted informally for years now. But this makes it official.