Liberal theology without the gospel has the smell of death rather than of life—J.I. Packer

Source

VIRTUEONLINE: Dr. Packer, you sit in Vancouver, British Columbia. You have seen the collapse of a united Anglicanism in your city and area and it is a microcosm of what is going on in many places. How do you read the present fractures and controversies within the Anglican Communion?

PACKER: It is true that the Diocese of New Westminster is where the modern Anglican troubles began. They began with the decision of the bishop to accept the request of his Synod to start blessing gay unions and drawing up a liturgy for the same. When he did this, he was able to claim “local option” in way among Anglican provinces of settling questions about what Diocesan policy should be. Local option is a corollary from the principle of subsiduarity originally focused on the Roman Catholic fence. Another name for local option is pluralism in practice and there was a time when Anglicans thought that such freedom of thought was Anglicanism in practice. That opinion was revised when applied to blessing gay unions in the Anglican Communion. It is by no means one. The Lambeth ‘98 Resolution 1:10 declared categorically that such unions were off limits, so when New Westminster opted for gay unions it was like throwing a stone into a pond. The ripples went out to the edge of the pond in all directions. The impact of New Westminster’s actions was increased by the action of New Hampshire diocese, electing Gene Robinson. Accepting and consecrating Robinson was Bishop Michael Ingham who was prominent among the consecrators of the wider Anglican Communion. The orthodox became increasingly antsy and the southern hemisphere Primates, the South by South community protested in stronger and stronger language. One reason they did so is that they had a straight forward evangelical faith and they were up against Muslims who saw homosexuality as absolutely off limits and they could foresee what the Muslim world would say to the community as if it were preached as a form of holiness.

VIRTUEONLINE: What happened in practice, and was the response strong enough?

PACKER: In North America both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada were asked to withdraw from Anglican Consultative Council, and a body of theologians produced the Windsor Report which reviewed the whole situation and along with the four instruments of unity imposed a moratorium on affirming homosexual behavior, blessing same-sex unions and consecrating gay priests and bishops. The moratorium was not honored in North America. Homosexuals were put up for election, a lesbian in Chicago was honored in the breach rather than observance. Ingham maintained that churches already blessing gay unions could continue and said he was maintaining the spirit of the moratorium on no gay unions pro tem.

The rest of the Anglican Communion did not agree and it was being discussed at the primatial level. The Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) said the communion should not be hasty in action, more talking needed to be done. This is what liberals always say and they gain ground every time no action is taken or enacted, and the reason for that is they have more time to get people used to their ideas and drill people in their preferred practice. It is a transparent political calculation. The present situation is something of a stand off. The ABC is desperately seeming to try and stave off the day of further decision against the blessing of gays. He is showing himself to be more and more clearly a liberal with an Anglo-Catholic top dressing expressed in his active commitment of the Affirming Catholic movement. Increasingly, what makes him tick is a liberal perspective on theology rather than the catholic heritage which is robustly against condoning homosexuality.

Is he really a catholic with his mind entreating liberalism, or is he a liberal with a catholic top dressing? That’s the question.

Since the Primates of the Global south discovered politically, they now have more clout with a working majority. Unhappily, politics has entered into the whole situation and such action as Akinola’s concerning the constitution of the church of the Province of Nigeria to remove all reference to Canterbury is seen as ventures into power politics. That’s a mistake rather than a step forward. It is reducing an issue of truth to a matter of power politics; it takes people minds off of the question of truth. I am not interested in power politics.

VIRTUEONLINE: Can you be more specific about Jerusalem (GAFCON) and Canterbury (LAMBETH)?

PACKER: A political jobbery has entered into the debate and the GAFCON gathering of primates, bishops and leaders in Jerusalem in June, before the Lambeth conference, inevitably looks like an attempt to upstage and defuse the Lambeth Conference. A number of bishops are not going to the Lambeth Conference—they see Rowan Williams as too compromised. Williams is trying to meet their needs by organizing Lambeth as a study conference with Bible study and topical study without serious resolutions emerging.

But the general consensus is that that isn’t an answer. We are not going to attend Lambeth and put our heads in the sand. We are not going to not discuss this question about gay unions and holiness with licit linkings fit for blessing. If Lambeth doesn’t deal with these issues, Lambeth is not worth coming to. The unity of the Anglican Communion is so impaired at the present time that any Lambeth agreement would be hollow. That is why bishops are not coming. I see GAFCON as an attempt to upstage Lambeth by making policy decisions for the Anglican Communion, distilling policy guidelines for the Anglican Communion for Lambeth proper.

The other side of the GAFCON conference is very important. In a good way, it will establish in advance of Lambeth, global policy principle as a fixed point. There is legitimate disagreement whether it is better to go to GAFCON or have GAFCON after Lambeth and encourage everyone to go to Lambeth. Archbishop Mouneer Anis is much wiser by saying we should go to Lambeth and constitute an evangelical phalanx. It would create a stand off position with each side is digging in. Rowan Williams is doing everything he can to judge its significance while the Global South through its Primates ensure that it won’t happen.

It is clear that at least one of the crucial issues involved in this debate is the issue of jurisdiction, which history has always affirmed mon-episcopal (whoever the bishop turns out to be) that pattern of jurisdiction is in process of being broken first by the action of Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone who is going to give Episcopal jurisdiction to churches in Canada as he did to Recife, and certainly in Canada that means parallel jurisdictions. It was earlier breached by Emmanuel Kolini who took AMiA into the Diocese of Rwanda. Second, it is being breached by the Common Cause negotiations for a third non geographic province for North America, a province that will take in US and Canadian churches. Those negotiations, they hope, will come to fruition in a couple of years. I don’t think the principle of mon-episcopal oversight can ever be abolished.

VIRTUEONLINE: Do you approve of the ecclesiastical intervention of alternative Anglican archbishops into Canada, and what is your overall view of diocesan boundary crossing?

PACKER: If the Anglican Church of Canada were clearly and unambiguously committed to the constitution of the Anglican Church of 1893 and appealed to the 39 Articles and to the 1662 BCP as standards, then I would discourage causing more trouble than it is worth for churches to leave the ACC to come under their jurisdiction whom they liked more than their own bishops. Where as now the ACC refuses to stick unambiguously to its constitution, the intervention of the primates, though regrettable, is much less regrettable than forcing faithful Anglican churches to continue in an unfaithful Anglican situation so there is no alternative save into a splinter group.

We in Canada have carefully seen the acceptance of foreign episcopal jurisdictions as an emergency measure that we would not have accepted unless pushed upon us, and our hope is that the Anglican Church of Canada might come to its senses and halt its tentative sanctioning of gay unions by Synod. Now four dioceses have voted to ask the bishops to sanction the blessings of same sex unions, and bishops accede to it on some murky situational ethics basis with any complaint to the effect that leaving the constitution of ACC falls on deaf ears. So some have declared the ACC out of communion. Calls upon the bishops to repent of all form of sin falls on deaf ears.

VIRTUEONLINE: Three archbishops, one from the Southern Cone, one from Rwanda for the Anglican Coalition in Canada in Vancouver and one from Kenya, Bill Murdoch have, or will, intervene in Canada. (Murdoch is going there without invitation to a conference and will celebrate with the Eucharist March 2-3). What is your thinking about that?

PACKER: In an emergency, necessity knows no law. Any ordinary sanctions can, with impunity, be disregarded if necessity so requires. In this case, it does require that the ordinary rules be breached.

VIRTUEONLINE: Do the archbishops of Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have sufficient experience and wisdom to make major decisions, which are leading to the break up of the Anglican Communion?

PACKER: I think they have sufficient clarity of biblical understanding to see that treating gay unions as holy and blessing them is contrary to the Bible and to the gospel and cannot be sanctioned whatever. I think they are right, that when the gospel itself is impugned, it must at all costs be maintained. It is not a question of wisdom but obligation. People are pushing the acceptance of gay unions and blessing them accordingly.

VIRTUEONLINE: Do you think that personal animosity is driving it too fast and without sufficient reflection?

PACKER: If there are personal animosities, they are conscientiously discounted in their statements. Those arguments are at level of principle, so animosities have been stalled or suspended for the truth.

VIRTUEONLINE: Why can’t the GAFCON folk wait till after Lambeth and then, on that basis say that they tried, reasoned, been patient and then make a big decision in August, than now?

PACKER: I don’t know because I am not involved in GAFCON discussions and I am not sure I know all the reasoning that guided the GAFCON meeting in June.

VIRTUEONLINE: The Book of Common Prayer presumes that the Anglican Church in any one geographical area is one; this is presumed by the BCP. How do you explain in any American metropolis the presence of multiple Anglican jurisdictions? Is there a way of reconciling the multiplicity of jurisdictions with the Prayer Book and the 39 Articles in one church in one region?

PACKER: Realism says there are few liberal churches, if any, who hold to the 1662 liturgy in its ideal, none hold to the 39 Articles, so if there are separate jurisdictions, the stock piling of conservative Anglicans in a Third Province is necessary. The liberals only prove they will become more liberal and they will shrink and shrink. So the issue of parallel jurisdictions will resolve itself in 30 years.

VIRTUEONLINE: On women’s ordination. CANA is opening up the subject and AMiA has opened up this subject, do you think that pursuing women’s ordination as an issue will eventually bring schism and division among the orthodox?

PACKER: My hope is that the ordination of women will never bring about church division. This is not a part of the gospel, it is a secondary issue rather than a primary one and I would hope that an amicable arrangement, not to everyone’s full satisfaction, but a workable arrangement, can be arranged that have differed historically can come together. It is hoped that 10 splinter bodies will come together in the Common Cause diocese.

VIRTUEONLINE: What do you think Anglicanism in North America will look like in 10 years time?

PACKER: First, I disclaim any gifts as a prophet. My guess is that the Third Province, the Common Cause province will have arrived. That reluctantly its presence will be accepted by the TEC and ACC. That in the light of the situation, the ACC and TEC will go forward in making liberal theology their standard and bless and accept gay unions. It will be the Common Cause churches that preach the gospel and teach the Bible. I expect congregations in TEC and the ACC being fed on liberal theology will continue to wither on the vine as they have done for the last half century. Liberal theology, without the gospel, proves to be the smell of death rather than of life. While Common Cause are [sic] a minority today, that will change as liberal churches get smaller and smaller and become in turn a minority.

VIRTUEONLINE: Thank you Dr. Packer.

8 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. Bishop Ijaz Inayat Says:

    IS IT GAFCON vs LAMBETH?

    It is not GAFCON vs the Lambeth, it is “life, eternal vs death, meaning the life based on the Word of God is precious to those who value it unlike those who bother for the structure and system which according to Dr. Packer, “Liberal theology, without the gospel, proves to be the smell of death rather than of life”. Again, “If Lambeth doesn’t deal with these issues, Lambeth is not worth coming to”.

    If the liberals in USA, Canada and elsewhere need to run their churches without the Lord and His Word, it is not binding on the believers to identify with them. We need to identify with the Lord and His Word and since we also need a fellowship in the Universal Church, there is no better place other than GAFCON who have a clear mind in dealing with issues according to the Word of God.

    Dr. Packer further says, ““Now four dioceses have voted to ask the bishops to sanction the blessings of same sex unions, and bishops accede to it”. I wonder where the authority of the bishops in matters of “Faith and order” is to be exercised if they do not agree with their dioceses?

    We are taught to live according to our faith and bear witness to it and the Lord said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin (causes you to stumble), cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire” (Mt. 18: 8-9). We are only trying to be witnesses of the risen Lord in command of the Church.

  2. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    The faithful Primates who attend Lambeth will have a bad time there. They will receive no honor and their voices will not be heard. Perhaps it must come to this for the Anglicans of the world to wake up to what the wealthy radicals are doing.

    It is evident that Anglicans are being greatly distracted from the work of the Gospel, as Bishop Inayat states. There is no real choice between Lambeth and GAFCON, because Lambeth has nothing to offer and GAFCON offers hope of open and free discussion and discernment of a way forward.

  3. GARY MORROW Says:

    Issue raised:

    VIRTUEONLINE: On women’s ordination. CANA is opening up the subject and AMiA has opened up this subject, do you think that pursuing women’s ordination as an issue will eventually bring schism and division among the orthodox?

    PACKER: My hope is that the ordination of women will never bring about church division. This is not a part of the gospel, it is a secondary issue rather than a primary one and I would hope that an amicable arrangement, not to everyone’s full satisfaction, but a workable arrangement, can be arranged that have differed historically can come together. It is hoped that 10 splinter bodies will come together in the Common Cause diocese.

    No packer, this is part of the gospel, it is another primary issue, and it is time to set things straight, there shall be no amicable arrangements, nor workable arrangements insulting God, his Word, Laws and Commandments.

    [edited]

    You will not get away with political correctness hear.

    You will not get to pick and choose which doctrines will and will not be adhered to.

    Yikes, I am always amazed at our reluctance to accept the Bible as written. So many of us, maybe even all of us, look for ways to mold the Bible to say what we want it to say and pay little attention to the words and doctrines and precepts that are as clear as the writing on the page.

    There were no apostlesses, bishopesses.

    1 Timothy 3
    2 He setteth out Bishops, 8 and Christian deacons with their wives, 12 children and family, 15 he calleth the Church the house of God.

    1 This is a true saying, If any man[no woman] desire the office of a Bishop[masculine], he[not she] desireth a worthy work.
    2 A Bishop therefore must be unreproveable, the husband[man] of one wife[woman], watching, sober, modest, harberous, apt to teach,
    3 Not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre, but gentle, no fighter, not covetous,
    4 One that can rule his[man] own house honestly, having children[not homosexual] under obedience with all honesty.
    5 For if any cannot rule his[man] own house, how shall he[man] care for the Church of God?
    6 He[man] may not be a young scholar, lest he[man] being puffed up fall into the condemnation of the devil.
    7 He[man] must also be well reported of, even of them which are without, lest he[man] fall into rebuke, and the snare of the devil.
    8 Likewise must Deacons[masculine] be grave, not double tongued, not given unto much wine, neither to filthy lucre[sodomy],
    9 Having the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
    10 And let them[men] first be proved; then let them[men] minister, if they[men] be found blameless.
    11 Likewise their[men] wives[women] must be honest, not evil speakers, but sober, and faithful in all things.
    12 Let the Deacons[masculine] be the husbands[men-not homosexuals] of one wife[woman-no polygamy], and such as can rule their[men] children well, and their[men] own households.
    13 For they[men] that have ministered well, get themselves[men] a good degree, and great liberty in the faith, which is in Christ Jesus.
    14 These things write I unto thee, trusting to come very shortly unto thee.
    15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest yet know, how thou oughtest to [[behave]] thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.
    16 And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness, which is, God is manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of Angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up in glory.

    Titus 1
    6 What kind of [men] ought to be chosen Ministers;

    6 If any be unreproveable, the husband[man] of one wife[woman-not polygamous], having faithful children, which are not slandered of riot, neither are disobedient.
    7 For a Bishop[masculine] must be unreproveable, as God’s steward, not froward, not angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre,
    8 But harberous, one that loveth goodness, wise, righteous, holy, temperate,
    9 **((Holding fast the faithful word according to doctrine)), that he[man] also may be able to exhort with wholesome doctrine, and convince them that say against it.

    1 Timothy 2

    11 and with what modesty, women ought to behave themselves in holy assemblies;

    11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
    12 I permit not a woman to teach, neither to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
    13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
    14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, and was in the transgression.
    15 Notwithstanding, through bearing of children she shall be saved, if they continue in faith, and love, and holiness with modesty.

    [Edited ad hominem]

    The Bible is very clear in its assertion of men as being the first created in God’s own immage.
    Though Jesus had may women with whom He had deep relationships, none of them were involved in the leadership of His ministry. And the Bible clearly states that the leadership of the church is to be male, not female. I am not in any way comdemning women, only stating what is in black and white-doctrine.

  4. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    I agree that the ordination of women priests and deacons is NOT a secondary issue. It violates the biblical view of God’s order in creation. That is why I set aside TEC orders as a “priest” in March 2006. To successfully impose the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals in TEC it was first necessary to ordain women. This effectively broke the back of catholic orders and removed that obstacle of Church disciple and order. It is not a coincidence that the first women canonically ordain a priest in TEC was also openly lesbian. Louie Crew boasts about this in his essay here: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/gayhist.htm

  5. Bishop Ijaz Inayat Says:

    Dear Primates, Archbishops and Bishop,

    “The faithful Primates who attend Lambeth will have a bad time there. They will receive no honor and their voices will not be heard.”

    Our dear sister Alice (please read comment # 2) has given you a very useful advice by which you will be honored both by the GAFCON and the Lord. Before you decide to go to Lambeth please read the 144 page report about the ABC, specially page 131 and you will see that the organizers of Lambeth are well ahead of you to involve you in groups where you will not able to speak about the Lord and His Word.

    Come over to GAFCON and your spirits will be refreshed and conscious satisfied. The Lord will take care of the rest.

  6. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    “Come over to GAFCON and your spirits will be refreshed and conscious satisfied. The Lord will take care of the rest.”

    Amen!

  7. GARY MORROW Says:

    This article parallels with the issued raised in re: #3:
    Author David Murrow has written a very important book on the subject: “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” He confirms my theory. Men don’t feel welcomed in churches anymore because Christianity has been feminized.”

    How the church has emasculated men:
    http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=59962

  8. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    The 1977 TEC House of Bishops meeting in Port St. Lucie, Florida failed to censure Bishop Paul Moore for ordaining a woman priest in full knowledge that she was lesbian. The Bishops tabled a measure to censure Moore because the House was divided on the issue of women’s ordination. Bishops who upheld historic catholic discipline and order did not want to be forced to ordain women, so they adopted a conscience clause, which revisionist bishops then used as grounds for ordaining homosexuals.

    Looking back at how TEC came to its present troubled state, it is evident that women were a pawn in the game of power politics. To achieve acceptance of homosexual clergy, it was first necessary to break the back of catholic orders by ordaining women. 

    In this interview, both Virtue and Packer have missed the point. Women’s ordination led the way to the present schism, causing division within the Anglican Communion, and between Anglicans and Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Unless Anglicans deal with the question, there is little hope for healing the schism and much less hope of unity in the Body of Christ.

    Where are Anglicans to find an opportunity to address the question? At Lambeth 2008? Hardly.  The organizers of Lambeth will handle that venue so as to hush legitimate questions. The Archbishop of Canterbury may value unity in principle but he can’t guarantee open discussion of anything controversial and expect the Communion to hold together. In reality Lambeth is a media event, not a council of the Church. That is why GAFCON must go forward.