A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
14th October 2007
Return to the articles index.
Should a Christian accept the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury to attend his Lambeth Conference next year?
The question is slightly theoretical. The invitations are not to Christians but to Bishops.
Of course, all Bishops should be Christians. But a Bishop has to be a Christian first and a Bishop second.
Ultimately, it matters very little if a person is or is not a Bishop, but eternity hangs on whether a person is a Christian.
As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)”
So the question is really whether a Bishop's Christianity would allow him to attend the Lambeth conference.
It still seems a strange question for what would be the difficulty with a Christian going to Lambeth?
The difficulty is how to relate to false teaching and sinful behaviour.
The last Lambeth Conference ten years ago agreed that sexual intercourse outside heterosexual marriage is wrong. This is nothing new or startling. It is just what Christians have always believed. Indeed God himself warned us not to be deceived in this regard: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Yet, since then, the Episcopal Church of the United States has openly, flagrantly and unrepentantly promoted the very behaviour condemned by Scripture, and rejected by the 1998 Lambeth conference.
All appeals to repent have gone unheeded. Furthermore, the Episcopal Church wishes to advocate that everybody else follow their example. Worse still, they are persecuting American congregations and clergy who do not agree with this immorality and heresy.
The leaders of the worldwide communion have patiently tried every form of diplomatic negotiation. But deadline after deadline has been met with unrepentant obfuscation and double talk.
The error is not limited to Americans. Those who are advocating this sinfulness are very keen for all to attend Lambeth together. The aim appears to be to bring about change by forcing the Communion to accept at Lambeth those who advocate sinfulness. By accepting them as full members tacit agreement is given to sinful behaviour. Because they are accepted, this sinfulness is no longer unacceptable.
From Lambeth they intend to re-educate others to understand the Bible in a completely new and wrong way. They wish to teach other Bishops their way of reading the Bible where black means white. Their extraordinary skill in using words to stall and avoid repentance shows their capacity for making the word “wrong” mean “right”! These are the ultimate spin-doctors.
But should a Christian have nothing to do with them? In 2 Timothy we are told to have nothing to do with iniquity but what about with the people who practice, approve of it and even promote it?We cannot distance ourselves from false ideas and immoral behaviour without separating from certain people. In 2 John we are told that greeting and offering hospitality to false teachers is to take part in their wicked ways.
It is not the sinner whom we need to avoid, but the professing Christian sinner.The Corinthians were told: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
It is the fact that these are the Bishops of the church that makes fellowship with them impossible. If they were a group of non-Christians there would be nothing wrong with befriending them. But if they were a group of Christians we should not associate with them. When they gather as Bishops and leaders of those who name Jesus as Lord, there is no possibility of Christians joining them.
It was in the context of false teachers that Paul wrote: “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord.’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)
The Archbishop of Canterbury's attempts to include everybody in his conference are seriously misguided. At this stage, without any new developments, no Christian should be present at Lambeth next year. Attendance is acceptance, and acceptance is approval of behaviour and teaching that is anathema to the gospel.
Unfortunately my guess is that many Bishops will attend. Instead of protecting the flock they will be compromising God's people. Worse still, many will attend in order to promote a new and different gospel. We must pray for all Christian Bishops that they will place their Christianity ahead of their episcopacy.