When the top brass of the Anglican Communion convene for their decennial Lambeth Conference in Canterbury England next month, the elephant in the room will be The Episcopal Church of the USA (TEC).
The Lambeth Conference is a convening of archbishops and bishops who meet for worship, study and conversation every ten years at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the symbolic head of the Anglican Church. The communion has been roiled of late by the TEC's ordination of the openly homosexual, non-celibate bishop, Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire and by the affirmation of same sex unions by a number of dioceses.
Many were hopeful that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, would signal his firm opposition to the TEC's embrace of homosexual behavior by declining to invite the church's bishops to the conference. No such luck. Only Robinson got the cold shoulder, but even that small slight was offset by the Archbishop's refusal to invite Martyn Minns, newly appointed bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans of North America, a group that splintered off from the TEC in protest of the American church's drift toward heresy. Minns' status with the Anglican Communion is deemed "impaired" by Williams because of certain "canonical technicalities" associated with his ordination, but many feel that he was shut out from the meeting because of his refusal to go along to get along.
Hopes that the conference will speak in a definitive way to the rogue actions of the TEC are growing dim. The chance that the conference will expel the TEC with the goal of causing it to repent is low. The likelihood that there will be endless discussions accompanied by much furrowing of brows and gnashing of teeth with no decisive action is high. Williams has shown himself to be anything but decisive, and he speaks in obtuse terms about the issue that is causing so much angst within the Communion.
But if Williams lacks clarity in his statements on the issue of homosexuality in the church, the same cannot be said of Scripture. Homosexual practices are strongly condemned in the Old Testament: "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." (Leviticus 18:22 NIV) The New Testament is equally clear: "Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV; see also, Romans 1:26-27 and 1 Timothy 1:10)
Pooh-bahs in The Episcopal Church resort to all kinds of gymnastics to justify their endorsement of the gay lifestyle: the prohibitions against homosexuality are culturally bound and don't apply to today; the translation into English from the original language of Scripture is not a faithful application of the meaning; Christ's teachings of love and forgiveness and his acceptance of sinners negates the prohibitions set forth in the texts; etc., etc. etc. The real problem, however, is not one of interpretation. It is one of authority. Leaders in The Episcopal Church who give their blessing and approval to the homosexual lifestyle simply refuse to submit to the authority of Scripture. But, rather than owning up to their rebellion against that authority, they invent all kinds of excuses to justify their actions.
In rebelling against God's authority pronounced in his Word, TEC leaders are following in the footsteps of their forebears, Adam and Eve. The First Couple's fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden was also marked by rebellion against God and vain attempts at self justification. Scripture has a name for this kind of behavior. It is called "sin."
Make no mistake about it, however: neither Adam nor Eve nor the potentates of The Episcopal Church are alone in their dalliance with sin. All mankind is infected by sin. This writer is no exception. The Scriptures tell us, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8 NIV) However, Scripture also identifies a remedy for our sin problem: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9 NIV) This process is called "repentance," but there seems to be little appetite for it among TEC leaders who revel in their liberal embrace of the homosexual lifestyle.
In concluding that homosexuality and Christianity are compatible, liberal church leaders are traveling the same route that liberal judges have trod. Today, activist judges twist and distort the plain meaning of the laws and Constitution to achieve their desired ends. Constitutional limitations disappear when they read their own meaning into the texts. Between the lines and in the penumbras of the Constitution, liberal judges have discovered expansive new meanings that do not align with the original intent of the drafters.
Leaders of the TEC approach the Scriptures in this very same way. First, they empty the words of Scripture of their objective, propositional meaning. Then they infuse them with a new meaning that comports with their own whims and desires. They treat the Scriptures like wax, molding them to conform to their politically correct agendas.
This process is not new. In Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty told Alice, "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." Alice responded, "The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things," to which Humpty Dumpty replied, "The question is which is to be master—that's all."
Which is to be master, indeed? The Episcopal Church has decided that the decree of its clerics is to be master. God had been dethroned; his Word has been emasculated. Humpty Dumpty theology reigns supreme.
So, is there hope for the Anglican Communion? That remains to be seen. The heterodoxy of the TEC is a cancer that threatens the Communion's very survival. The options are limited. The Communion can root out the TEC and begin to repair itself by reclaiming the authority of Scripture. It can require that the TEC repent of its embrace of culture over Scripture as a condition of continued participation in the Communion. Or it can ignore the transgressions of the TEC and refuse to take a stand.
Whatever its course, the Anglican Communion should not fail to remember, that any church which forsakes biblical truth will cease to have impact. Without its sure foundation, the church will collapse. The Anglican Church should return to the source of its worldwide communion.