Updated: Nov 23
Mr Benjamin John, a lay member of General Synod is on a mission to find out what bishops in the Church of England are required to believe. And the answer is frightening.
Some readers of this blog may remember how Mr John bore the brunt of the Archbishop of York’s derision in February 2023 – when his perfectly reasonable question was met with a lecture about the development of doctrine and the suggestion that he might like to read the New Testament.
At the time, notable evangelist J.John, who is not known for wading into controversial matters, spoke up in support of his son, saying, “There was no answer to the question posed, although the superior and frankly condescending tone adopted clearly implied that the rank of archbishop put you above accountability on doctrinal matters.”
This time, Mr John has addressed his question to the Chair of the House of Bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury – he has been very careful in his explanation of how current controversies seem to contradict a previous answer given by the Archbishop, and he ends by asking his question, “..what do Bishops actually have to believe?”
Mr Benjamin John (St Albans) to ask the Chair of the House of Bishops:
Q180 - “The Archbishop of Canterbury in response to written question Q102 in the July 2023 Group of Sessions wrote that “the preface to the Oaths and Declarations made by all clergy sets out the basis of our doctrine and teaching saying, “The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.””
This was in response to a question trying to clarify what Bishops actually need to believe and uphold. The Preface to the Marriage Service, that is in the historic formularies which we are told witnesses to Christian truth, teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and the 39 Articles were “Agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops of both Provinces and the whole clergy in the Convocation holden at London in the year 1562 for the avoiding of diversities of opinions”. Given ongoing dissent by some Bishops on the doctrine of marriage, which seems to contradict the Archbishop’s previous answer, and the apparent toleration of “diversities of opinions” what do Bishops actually have to believe?”
One would have hoped that the Archbishop of Canterbury would have learned from the mistake of his colleague and answered this much younger man in a thoughtful and respectful manner.
Instead, his answer is short and pointed:
The Archbishop of Canterbury to reply as Chair of the House of Bishops:
“I refer to the answer I gave last time with the emphasis that the faith is proclaimed ‘afresh in each generation’ and ‘Led by the Holy Spirit’.”
Such a scornful answer may go down well in a sixth-form debating society but it is unbecoming for the Primate of the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion. It is defensive, disparaging and more worryingly spiritually inane – but sadly we have no reason to believe that it is not honest.
In responding in this way, the Archbishop of Canterbury shows he has no interest in the historic formularies or the theology which they contain – he sees no reason to explain how the changes he is introducing are rooted in his understanding of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Scriptures or the catholic creeds –and no desire to justify how they fit within Anglican tradition. Instead, he emphasises two phrases, which when ripped from that context are entirely subjective and therefore meaningless.
And that is the problem.
The Archbishop of Canterbury's real emphasis is to use the power that he has to get his LLF project through Synod – and to achieve it he will celebrate “uncertainty” and create all manner of “fresh” understandings of doctrines and pastoral practice, as long as they are more acceptable to the current “generation”, and all the while he will claim the blessing of the Holy Spirit.
And he is not alone, the Archbishop of York's Presidential Address today, showed where he finds his authority:
"In my leading of the Church, where there is conscientious and godly disagreement, I choose to err on the side of generosity. To err on the side of generosity. To err on the side of mercy.
When I am in doubt, I seek to judge the tree by its fruits. And it is the fruit and the goodness and faithfulness that I have seen in so many gay and lesbian Christian couples, not least so many faithful clergy as I have also seen it in those who live celibate lives and those who are married, that has led me to support the direction of travel that we, the whole Synod, supported in February."
Just like the Archbishop of Canterbury, in times of doubt the Archbishop of York does not cling to the word of God, or the doctrines of the Church or the words of the Book of Common Prayer - no, instead he has chosen to determine the truth for himself by what he sees and what he decides is good and right.
Lord have mercy.