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Confronting the Pilling report

April 2015 | by David Tyler

In less than a generation, a major cultural shift has occurred relating to homosexuality. What was once a crime bringing disgrace is now protected and promoted by numerous diversity initiatives.

To address the issue of homophobic bullying, the Department for Education has appointed an adviser drawn from a homosexual activist organisation. 

Significant shift

Churches across the Western world have wrestled with the changes. In the UK, we have examples of ministers declaring themselves to be homosexual. Many Christians have written on the subject, revealing differences of understanding scriptural teaching on sexual relationships.          

In November 2013, a working group within the Anglican Church published the Pilling report, its findings on human sexuality. It was named after Sir Joseph Pilling, the chairman of the working group.

The report marked a significant shift from previous statements about sexuality. They proposed that faithful same-sex relationships should be recognised by the Church. Evangelical Anglicans expressed their concerns, because the group’s approach to Scripture appeared contrived.

All but one of the working group (and their advisers) gave their names to the report. The exception was Keith Sinclair, the Bishop of Birkenhead, who decided to write a ‘dissenting statement’.

Subsequently, leaders of various evangelical organisations came together to discuss the seriousness of the situation. They agreed that the issues are of primary importance and that a response is needed for the sake of the gospel in the Church of England.

A series of meetings were planned around the country to nurture evangelical unity around traditional, orthodox sexual morality. This was to be done by revisiting biblical teaching, providing practical advice on pastoral support, and considering possible political responses.

Obedience

One event was held in Manchester, which I attended. It was encouraging to see a large audience of people, with a wide spectrum of ages, both male and female.

The main speaker was Bishop Sinclair who asked the question, ‘What is mission?’ His answer, ‘To make disciples’. The Lord Jesus defines mission, he said, not us. We are to teach everything he has commanded. Our task is to obey. While there can be ‘good disagreement’ on some matters, there is no such thing as ‘good disobedience’.

If same-sex marriage is accepted, we lose obedience. Bishop Sinclair directed our attention to the life of Jeremiah and drew out foundational lessons for today.

First, we are to profess the Word of the Lord, wherever we are, including in exile. Second, we are to keep speaking, even if no one appears to be listening. Jeremiah did this for 40 years.

Third, before we speak the prophetic word, God must first speak to us. Fourth, when God speaks to us, we become people of hope.

The second speaker was John Dunnett of the Church Pastoral Aid Society and chairman of Evangelical Group General Synod. He reviewed biblical building blocks in a helpful and thorough way, starting in the early chapters of Genesis (initiation of the marriage relationship) and ending at the end of the Book of Revelation (wedding feast of Christ and his church).

He contrasted the teaching of Jesus with the various emphases of the revisionists, showing them to be a departure from Scripture.

This was followed by a question time with a panel, where the speakers and some other Christian leaders responded to questions submitted by the audience. Bishop Sinclair returned to speak on ‘good disagreement’ and showed that this issue is not one where Christians can agree to differ. The gospel is at stake and we must warn people about being caught up in compromising the truth.

‘Church in exile’

Christians are rapidly becoming marginalised, and a growing number are facing legal difficulties. It is encouraging to find active Anglicans who are prepared to take a stand for righteousness and truth against the tide of public opinion.

We need to stand with Bishop Sinclair, whose excellent statement on the issues can be found in the Pilling report.

This is the first time I have heard an Anglican leader speaking from the perspective of ‘the church in exile’. It is a striking contrast to Anglicanism as the voice of the National Church and often the Establishment.

To move from centre stage to exile is dramatic and significant. Dissenting Anglicans need to know that they are not alone in the wilderness!

Nonconformist Christians have been in exile for generations. Most of us are used to the thought that we are a minority culture living in a post-Christian society. Is the Lord using this issue to bring us together, to demonstrate that real unity is in Christ and his truth, and not in denominational groupings?

Speaking for myself, the meeting I attended last November did more to strengthen unity between Anglican and nonconformist Christians than anything else I have experienced.

David J. Tyler

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