At the time of this writing, over 1000 biblical Anglicans are meeting in Jerusalem at a Global Anglican Future Conference. It is being held as an alternative to the Lambeth Conference to be held next month. Many of these delegates will boycott the July conference.
The Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola set the stage for the Jerusalem gathering when he told the conservative delegates: “We must rescue what is left of the church from the error of the apostates.” It is exactly the issue of apostasy that has brought about this rebel conference.
The main issue which is driving biblical Anglicans away from the worldwide body is the issue of homosexuality. The US Episcopalians (the American version of Anglicanism) has as one of its Bishops a homosexual, who is “married” to his male lover. Gene Robinson dumped his wife and kids and proclaimed that homosexuality was quite compatible with his Christianity.
It is not just Robinson that has the biblical Anglicans worried. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is also a source of concern. The renegade Anglicans feel the denomination is being destroyed by theological liberalism, and that the Word of God is no longer seen as authoritative.
Which brings us back to the A word. Apostasy, in a general sense, simply means abandoning or renouncing one’s faith. In the Christian understanding, it has to do with defecting from, or abandoning, basic Christian doctrine and practice. It is a term closely related to, but perhaps not identical with, heresy.
Both involve a major departure from the faith, with key beliefs and practices rejected or distorted. The issue of homosexuality is obviously a significant behaviour and practice which Scripture clearly denounces. Theological liberals and revisionists cannot gainsay the clear teaching of Scripture on this topic, so they must greatly distort the Word of God, or deny it altogether in order to push their pro-homosexual position.
Thus the issue of ordaining homosexuals as church leaders, or of granting same-sex marriage rights in the churches has to do not only with practices which are sinful, but with the very Word of God. By rejecting the Bible as the final and sole authority on matters of faith and practice, believers who take the pro-homosexual position are certainly putting themselves in the position of being apostates or reprobates.
The Third World Anglican leaders recognise this, while many Western Anglican leaders do not. To tamper with the Word of God in this area, and to seek to trump Scripture with trendy secular theories and ideologies, means one is no longer submitting oneself to Scripture, and thus is in real risk of apostasy.
Whether the worldwide Anglican Communion splits over this contentious issue remains to be seen, but unity – based on a return to God’s word – does not look very promising. Theological liberalism and contempt for the Word of God have been allowed to linger too long in certain parts of the church.
Of course we are warned in Scripture that a little leaven leavens the whole batch. Allow false teaching and practice to fester, and it simply gets worse, infecting more and more areas. Paul warned that in the last days there would be a falling away from the faith (2 Thess. 2:3). The term “falling away” comes from the Greek word apostasia, which of course is where we get our English word from.
Jesus also warned about dark times ahead, with many false Christs and false prophets being on the prowl (Matt. 24:24, eg.). Peter warned about false teachers and false prophets who would bring into the churches destructive heresies. And he speaks of their “shameful ways” as well (2 Peter 2:1-3). Wrong beliefs and wrong practices go hand in hand. Indeed, Paul could admonish us to watch our lives and our doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).
There are dozens upon dozens of such warnings in the New Testament. In fact, the entire Bible is filled with warnings about turning away from God and his Word. Yet that is just what we find in so many parts of the church today, when the clear teaching on issues such as homosexuality are deliberately rejected or distorted.
Indeed, Paul in Romans 1 strongly makes this case, using homosexuality as his prime example. He speaks about those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. In Romans 1;18-32 Paul makes the case for the ugliness, folly and insanity of rebellion against God. Sin and idolatry are described and condemned here, with homosexuality used as a chief example of this rebellion. The wrath of God, says Paul, falls upon such idolatry and wilful rebellion.
Three times Paul says that God gave them over to this depravity. It is at once both an indication of man’s idolatry and rebellion against God, and a means of punishment as well. Homosexuality is both a sign of rebellion against God as well as the punishment for such rebellion.
This is worth looking at in more detail. As James Dunn in his commentary explains, this giving over is for Paul a case of man apart from God regressing to a lower level of animality. “God had handed them over in the sense that he has accepted the fact of man’s rebellious desire to be free of God, and has let go of the control which restrained them from their baser instincts. The rationale is, presumably, that God does not retain control over those who do not desire it; he who wants to be on his own is granted his wish.”
Or as Thomas Schreiner puts it, “The context suggests that the ‘penalty’ is not something in addition to homosexuality. The penalty is rather being handed over to the sin of homosexuality itself. . . . Thus people had to be handed over to punishment precisely because they had scorned God’s glory. Once again, the main theme of the text is driven home. The foundational sin of refusing to thank and glorify God leads to other sins.”
Or finally, as Douglas Moo says, it is not just a question of the divine influence being withdrawn from the rebellious idolater. “God does not simply let the boat go – he gives it a push downstream. Like a judge who hands over a prisoner to the punishment his crime has earned, God hands over the sinner to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin.”
Of course we must bear in mind that all sin alienates us from God; all sin is idolatry; and all sin brings upon us the just wrath of God. But it is quite revealing that Paul should single out homosexuality when he discusses the reprobate mind and the depraved heart. It is his example par excellence of those who exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship the creature over the creator.
Thus the African Bishop was quite right to raise the A word here, and tie it in with the issue of homosexuality. It makes for a good test case: do we in fact let God be God, and let his Word guide us in matters of truth and morals, or do we claim to decide what is right and wrong, true and false?
Do we, in other words, let the creator/creature distinction remain, or do we seek to usurp the role of God, and pronounce our own version of events to be the inspired and authoritative one? The truth is, either God and his Word are the final authority, or we are. But it cannot be both. Either God calls the shots, or we do. And if we do, the A word is most appropriate here.