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Distorting the Gospel of Christ

Recent statements from Alan Harper, the Archbishop of Armagh and John Neill, Archbishop of Dublin have given much cause for concern among faithful Christians within the Church of Ireland. At the very heart of their statements lies a failure to give a clear biblical and moral lead both to members of the Church of Ireland and to an on-looking world, wondering what Christianity has to say in a changing Irish culture. In the case of the interview with the Archbishop of Dublin in an August edition of Hot Press magazine, the perceived official spokesman of Anglicanism in the Republic of Ireland not only failed to sound a clear Gospel note, but even appeared to undermine the teaching of the Bible and of the church in a number of key areas.

Concerning pre-marital sex, Dr. Neill stated that such activity wasn’t necessarily wrong, so long as there wasn’t promiscuity and it was within the context of a loving relationship. He quite openly admitted that his view was contrary to traditional church teaching. From a leader in the Christian church, such comments are quite shocking. Indeed, they fly in the face of the plain teaching of the Bible that all sexual intercourse, whether heterosexual or homosexual, outside of holy matrimony (one man and one woman in lifelong union) is sinful and wrong. Furthermore, such comments create a pastoral nightmare for clergy in dealing with members of their congregation, especially young people. Whilst clergy may faithfully try to teach the Biblical and traditional church view on pre-marital sex and marriage, they are effectively undermined by the publicly stated opinion of the Archbishop.

On the issue of homosexuality, Dr. Neill appeared to endorse supposedly ‘stable’ gay relationships, particularly within civil partnerships. And when asked whether the Anglican Church perceives homosexuality as a sin, he replied rather misleadingly that ‘the official position’ of the church is that whilst homosexual people are accepted, those ‘who are ordained should abstain from sexual relationships’. This statement gives the impression that homosexual practice is quite legitimate for those in the church (in ‘stable’ relationships), who are not ordained, but wrong for those who are. Since the Church of Ireland hasn’t taken an ‘official position’ on homosexuality and since the Anglican Primates at Lambeth 1998 quite categorically declared all homosexual practice as sinful (Resolution 1.10), the Archbishop’s statement neither represents the Church of Ireland nor the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide.

Not only did the interview expose a failure to give a clear biblically moral lead, it also highlighted defective views on the Gospel itself. The Archbishop appears to hold universalist views, that in the end everyone will be saved, even suicide bombers, thus undermining the holiness of God, his righteous character, and the necessity of the cross. Though he insisted on ‘the primacy’ of Christianity, the uniqueness of Christ as the only way to God seems also to be undermined as other religions have some sort of validity as a way to search for God. None of these views reflect the plain teaching of the Bible and have the effect of not only distorting the Gospel of Christ, blunting its evangelistic edge, but also of taking away any sense of urgency in preaching Christ, as everyone will probably be alright in the end.

If the Church of Ireland is to have anything distinctive, useful, and challenging to say to Irish society, in a time of change in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, it must be faithful to the Gospel, the plain teaching of Scripture as expressed in its foundational documents. Reform Ireland believes that the leaders of the Church of Ireland must be faithful to this teaching in public as well as in private, as indeed they promised to be in their ordination as presbyters and consecration as bishops. Regretfully, this interview is not only an embarrassment to faithful members of the Church of Ireland, but also in no way represents the teaching of the Church of Ireland as it has received it from Scripture. Furthermore, members of the Church of Ireland do not want their denomination to become a liberal sect, cut off from the traditional Christian teaching held by the majority of Anglicans. We would urge Dr. Neill and those clergy who hold such liberal views to refrain from promoting them and to consider their effect of undermining the witness of those who seek to be faithful to the biblical and traditional teaching of the Church of Ireland. We would recommend our booklet, ‘A Time to Change’ for further reading, dealing with some of the issues raised in the Archbishop’s interview.

04th Sep 2007

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