The Beautiful Story

The recently released Living in Love and Faith (LLF) resources seek to set out “the Church’s inherited teaching on Christian living in love and faith, especially with regard to marriage and singleness, and of emergent views and the Christian reasoning behind them”.  They, and the principle of listening to each other across the whole church as we discern together, will be at the heart of the church’s focussed attention to these matters in 2021.  We cannot though become exclusively focussed on LLF’s framing and presentation.  It will also be important to hear different parts of the church articulate their own understandings and hopes in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage in their own words.

The first such substantial offering is a film (“The Beautiful Story”) released this week by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) on its website and YouTube.  It provides a powerful and fascinating snapshot of the evangelical Anglican constituency more generally as well as in relation to the themes of LLF.  As with the LLF films, this is a highly professional production, one drawing together over 20 contributors.  At just over 30 minutes it is quite long and packs in a lot of material.  It is, however, composed of 11 sections and so can be broken down into smaller bite-size chunks to allow individuals and groups time for reflection and discussion.

Perhaps the most immediate contrast with LLF is that this film does not seek to provide an overview of a range of opposed understandings.  It has a much sharper focus.  Indeed it might be possible to see its primary vision as seeking to fulfil the first of LLF’s various learning outcomes – that as a result of watching the film “it is hoped that people and church communities will be inspired by scripture’s glorious and joyful vision of God’s intention for human life”.

In setting out that vision, viewers are taken on a journey, guided by Jason Roach, a member of General Synod who also served on the Co-Ordinating Group of LLF.  While all are expressing a shared understanding of the biblical vision and God’s call to the church, we meet a wide range of people on that journey.  CEEC claims to be an overarching group for the various evangelical networks in the Church of England “based on common understandings of the Christian faith and its Anglican expression, and united by a common vision to promote and maintain orthodox evangelical theology and ethics at the heart of the Church of England”.  This film provides strong evidence to back up that claim and in a way that will challenge some stereotypes of evangelicals.  Those speaking come from across multiple evangelical “tribes” – Church Society, Renew, New Wine, Fulcrum, Junia Network (formerly AWESOME) – as well as including those in senior leadership such as Bishops Julian Henderson, Jill Duff, and Rod Thomas.  There are those who are same-sex attracted, a good balance of male and female speakers, lay people and clergy serving on the ground in parishes, and an impressive diversity in terms of age and ethnicity.

The journey begins with encouraging testimonies of God and the gospel powerfully at work in the lives of individuals and communities during COVID.  This leads into approaching issues of marriage and sexuality by explaining that the church has “a better story” to offer the world, rooted in a biblical vision of true humanity.  Here, as with LLF, there is a recognition we must set specific contentious presenting questions in a bigger theological and missiological framework.  The film’s centre is two sections which succinctly and sensitively present, as an “attractive story”, a biblical theology of fulfilled sexuality expressed in marriage between a man and a woman and in singleness.  There is also honesty that evangelicals have often failed in word and deed and a call for right repentance.  Attention then turns to the wider church debates.  Here speakers set out a case that the biblical teaching is clear, that our differences cannot be seen as the same as those over women in leadership, and that there are harmful implications if the Church of England changes its stance.  The final sections therefore look towards the future with a clear and strong commitment to the Church of England and calls for evangelical unity within it and good engagement with the LLF process.  This is combined with an open acknowledgment that the depth of our disagreements may require us to rethink our church structures.  Maintaining the earlier positive tone, this suggests constructive ways forward that may prove necessary to benefit everyone and so brings to the fore challenging questions for evangelicals and the whole church.

As LLF demonstrates, and will doubtless become clear in responses to this film, we currently have major disagreements as to what constitutes “scripture’s glorious and joyful vision of God’s intention for human life”.  Although primarily directed at encouraging and equipping evangelicals, this CEEC film – and their forthcoming one on race – can also be of value to the wider church and not just as a powerful presentation of our inherited Church of England teaching.  The Pastoral Principles for living well together relate not only to how we respond to LGBTI+ people but also to those fellow Anglicans who see things very differently from us.  Central to the LLF vision is that across the church we all need to learn to understand one another better and, where necessary, acknowledge prejudice, cast out fear, and address ignorance.  Like LLF, and perhaps future similar films from those pressing for change, this CEEC film, by letting the wider church hear evangelical voices, can also contribute to that important task.

3 thoughts on “The Beautiful Story”

  1. The Bible contains a remarkable constellation of interrelated pictures of God’s relationship with his people illustrated by faithful marriage and adultery, sometimes with explicit sexual imagery.
    Francis Schaeffer says somewhere to the effect that these are surely pictures that we would not dare use if God himself did not use them.

    The sad connection between same-sex attraction and the ordination of women is that they both, in different ways, shatter this constellation: same-sex attraction by denying the essential male/female asymmetry of the sexual act and the sexual attraction which precedes it; the ordination of women by the failure to model in the Church’s ministry the way the human race was created, and by the denial (by those who agree with ‘Discovering Biblical Equality…..) that the essential asymmetry in the husband-wife relationship involves the wife submitting to her husband as the Church submits to Christ.

    Phil Almond

  2. Do you have any critique of the video at all? For example the frankly offensive suggestion that the abuse highlighted by the #metoo movement is somehow a result of the sexual revolution? (as if the Bible isn’t full of #metoo examples itself)

  3. For many years I have been frustrated by the fact that it is nigh on impossible for a layman like myself to have a two-way discussion and debate with groups such as CEEC, Church Society, Gafcon. I am not talking just about the Human Sexuality disagreement but about, relatively speaking, more fundamental and more important doctrines and trends. I am hoping that at this critical juncture in the life of the church we could move away from discussions behind closed doors, with the results communicated to laypeople for their views, and open up the debate and decision-making process to laypeople like myself to take an active part in making suggestions and comments in a two-way dialogue to decide what is the best way forward.

    As I see it the ideal situation would be an internet site open to all Fulcrum, Gafcon, CEEC, Church Society, AMiE and Renew members and supporters, including laypeople, which would be the place where views are posted, debated, challenged and agreed. I have a particular view which I would like to put forward and seek support for, as follows:

    I believe that the message of the Bible, the Gospel, has two essential parts: the terrible warnings to flee from the wrath to come (not least from Christ’s own lips) and the wonderful sincere, genuine invitation to all to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection; to submit in repentance, faith, love and obedience. Both of those parts have to be believed, taught and preached to be faithful to the Bible.

    I can’t prove it, and would be humbled and put in my place to be proved wrong, but I surmise that the terrible part of that Gospel is believed, taught and preached by only a minority of Anglican Theologians, Bishops and Ministers. Of course none of us believes in the terrible God and Christ of the Bible unless and until we are convinced from above, and I hope we are all praying that God in his mercy will send that convicting breath from heaven on the whole church. But if I am right in my surmise, this situation is the most serious failure of the Church of England as a whole and she is facing the prospect that God will require the blood of the unsaved at her hand.

    The LLF disagreement and this more fundamental and more important (as I see it) failure are linked: by the doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin. So I think that the present situation is an opportunity for those who agree with me to challenge the rest of the church, both evangelicals and non-evangelicals about this most serious failure. I want to see that challenge take place, perhaps by an open letter to all Ministers and Bishops, before there is any talk of going separate ways on the sexuality disagreement. Put it this way: suppose at the end of the LLF process the church reaffirms the ‘traditional’ view on Human Sexuality. That would leave this more fundamental and more important failure unaddressed.

    Phil Almond

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