As the House of Bishops begins its meeting in North Carolina and in light of the Lambeth Conference’s decision to exclude same-sex spouses, a passage from Daniel Migliore’s book, Faith Seeking Understanding, comes to mind. Migliore writes:
“For the sixteenth-century Reformers, the authority of Scripture was rooted in its liberating message, in the good news of God’s gracious acceptance of sinners offered in Jesus Christ. The Bible was experienced not as an arbitrary or despotic authority but as a source of new life, freedom, and joy. This is not the way everyone, or even every Christian, understands the meaning of scriptural authority today. Many people inside and outside the church equate the idea of the authority of the Bible with retrenchment rather than renewal, with coercion rather than liberty, with terror rather than joy. They know all too well how the authority of the Bible has been invoked to suppress free inquiry and to legitimate such practices as slavery and patriarchy. Thus a major task of theology today is to recover a liberative understanding of the authority of scripture.”
I think Migliore is right. I worry that the way some people within the Anglican Communion today are invoking the authority of Scripture is more in terms of “an arbitrary and despotic authority” rather than as a “source of new life, freedom, and joy.” We must be clear that such appeals to biblical authority are themselves in need of conversion by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we must offer a better account of the authority of the Bible as a source of renewal, liberty and joy.
I hope and pray that when the House of Bishops discusses the exclusion of same-sex spouses from the Lambeth Conference they will have the courage to act in accordance with their convictions. I hope they will not delude themselves about the persuasiveness of their presence at Lambeth 2020. And I sincerely hope the bishops will not overestimate the importance of the Lambeth Conference. Sorry, friends, when it comes to the Lambeth Conference, the emperor has no clothes, and dressing up in your ecclesiastical finery to pose for a picture won’t change that fact.
The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have good news to share, “good news of God’s gracious acceptance of sinners offered in Jesus Christ.” I don’t think church leaders should attend a gathering that runs the risk of equating “the idea of the authority of the Bible with retrenchment rather than renewal, with coercion rather than liberty, with terror rather than joy.” Trust me, people will see this for what it is. Better to put your time and energy into finding other ways to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the source of new life, freedom, and joy.