Conservative bishops set out theological vision for Church of England

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A group of conservative bishops has issued a new “theological vision” for the Church of England’s process of discernment around issues of marriage, relationships, gender and identity.

The Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process of dialogue and discernment has become increasingly strained since the House of Bishops brought forward plans to introduce prayers of blessing for same-sex couples.

The Prayers of Love and Faith were backed by General Synod a year ago and are currently being trialled as part of existing services but there are plans to bring in standalone services. General Synod will again discuss Living in Love and Faith when it meets later this month. 

‘A Theological Vision’ has been drawn up by seven bishops in the House of Bishops who have publicly dissented from the Prayers of Love and Faith.

They are Jill Duff, Bishop of Lancaster, Jonathan Gibbs, Bishop of Rochester, Ric Thorpe, Bishop of Islington, Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester, Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford, Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield, Paul Williams, Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

The statement, they said, has been sponsored “on behalf of a wider grouping within the House and College”. 

Published on Premier Christian News, ‘A Theological Vision’ calls the Church of England to “witness boldly to the gospel of Jesus Christ, identifying and rejecting the idols and harmful ideologies of any age”.

It opens with the expression of “a wholehearted commitment to the Nicene Creed” and says that “the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation and reveal God’s will for human life and behaviour”.

“As the Articles say, what is not found in Scripture cannot be imposed on the Church, and the Church lacks authority to ordain anything contrary to God’s word written. We seek to interpret the Scriptures guided by the Church Catholic across time and space,” it reads. 

The vision statement reiterates the historic Christian definition of gender as male and female, and marriage as exclusively for heterosexual couples, adding that it is “more than a contingent social arrangement”.

“As the joyful, lifelong union of male and female, the two forms of created humanity, marriage is a dynamic sign of the saving union between Christ and the Church through the Spirit, from which our salvation springs,” it says.

“It thus represents the coming together of difference and is the proper place for sexual intimacy, out of which union the miracle of new life may be born.” 

Of singleness, the bishops say that it is “more than sexual self-denial” and “a positive declaration of the ultimate sufficiency of our eternal union with God in Christ, focussed, like Jesus, on leaving spiritual descendants”.

The vision statement invites people to live in holiness and shun “self-fulfilment or self-expression”. It warns of the impact on the whole Anglican Communion of any change to the Church’s historic position, and ends by stating that the answer to questions around inclusivity and identity can be found in relationship to Christ. 

Tensions have surrounded LLF again in recent weeks with the resignation of the Bishop of Newcastle, Helen-Ann Hartley, as one of its co-lead bishops. The other co-lead, Bishop Martyn Snow, has decided to remain in post.

Bishop Hartley stepped down over the appointment of conservative vicar, Dr Tom Woolford, as interim theology adviser to the House of Bishops. To ameliorate the situation, the Rev Canon Dr Jessica Martin was appointed to work alongside Dr Woolford.


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