Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On Fellowship With Followers of a Different Gospel

The recent rebuke of the Archbishop of Canterbury by the Archbishop of Nigeria about the upcoming Canterbury Primates Meeting highlights the problem of fellowship with people who consider themselves Christians but who follow a different gospel than the one that has been passed down to us through the centuries. ++Nigeria is not going to attend the meeting while some (not all) other Global South Primates are planning on going. While most of us can recognize a broken relationship when we see one, and most of us can recognize irreconcilable differences, what duty do we have once we have fulfilled the requirements laid out in Matthew 18? Do our responsibilities change based on whether we are dealing with a fellow pewsitter as opposed to an archbishop, bishop, or priest of the Church, or if we are dealing with potentially heretical teaching?

Some people suggest that leaders in the Church can maintain communion with other leaders as long as their differences do not touch upon Creedal matters. Others advise that false teaching such as today's revisions to human sexuality is every bit as important. Sexual issues were not addressed by the ancient creeds because they didn't need to be addressed, and to limit excommunication to just those who deny the creedal statements lets non-scriptural novelties such as same-sex marriage creep in, and that presents a danger to the Church just like the ancient heresies were a danger.

I think distinctions should be made between the excommunication of lowly pewsitters and the breaking of communion between Archbishops, bishops. dioceses, or denominations.

It is rare for an Episcopalian pewsitter to be excommunicated. I am aware of only two cases in recent history, Lewis Green for giving his priest the finger at the communion rail and Beverly Moore for pointing out a sexual predator in the church (see this post from 2009).

It would seem to me that promoting a false gospel would be a far greater sin than Mr. Green's or Ms. Moore's.

So why are the leaders of the church so hesitant to break communion over the issue of same-sex marriage?

Besides being wimps, I think they are over thinking things. So, I would like to help them by giving them some straight from the pew answers.

  • What is fellowship? Christian fellowship occurs when we agree on the message of the Gospel, it ends when we disagree. 
  • Are there limits on fellowship? Yes, see next Q+A.
  • How much can we associate with those who promote a false gospel? Only as much as we would with anyone else who needs to hear the Gospel. That means we can invite them to dinner or dine with them and work with them to correct their error. That does not mean that we should support their ministry.
  • Can we share Holy Communion? Only after we have resolved the basic Gospel issue, and it cannot be argued away as a non-Gospel issue, because that argument has never, never, worked. Until then, any Eucharist that is shared is a "Fauxcharist". 
  • How were the churches that lost in the great Creedal controversies over false teaching treated? They probably persisted for some time, but for the most part, they have gone the way that the Episcopal organization, the Anglican church in Canada, the Church of England, and the Scottish Episcopal church are going. Does anyone really want to walk with them into obscurity?
  • Isn't it a sin to be party to disunity in the Church? I defer my answer to ++Okoh,
  • "A unity that includes those who persist in rebelling against God’s Word is a false unity." - The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh, Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council  
There is a third possibility as to why many Church leaders won't break communion, and that is because they are privately in favor of same-sex marriage and other innovations being advanced in the Church.

And that is a scary thought.


  1. I am personally acquainted with one of the GS leaders, although of course I do not speak for him and what I say should never be interpreted as coming from him. That being said, I emphatically do not believe your third possibility, a private agreement with the same-sex agenda, holds for him, which is good news for you.

    Existence in some of the countries involved is considerably more complex than we realize here. The putative connection with the structures of the old British Empire still matter somewhat for their credibility within their own often hostile environments.

    1. I think there might be a "Communion partner" Bishop out there who might fit the third possibility.

    2. t seems to me that doctrine in the church universal has become more plastic/more malleable. We have not had certainty since Pope Benedict. The Roman Catholics look to the magisterium as the unchanging truth as popes come and go but the orthopraxy of the church is beginning to be cloudy at best. There seems to me to be a big disconnect between dogma and practice. Roman Catholic universities (especially Jesuit schools like Marquette) seem to be as secular as any public university.

    3. The are Roman Catholic priests out there who are openly opposed to the magisterium with regards to human sexuality. What is keeping their bishop or the Pope from slapping them on the cheek?

  2. Fr. Dale, the troubles in the Latin church are certainly a disincentive to anyone thinking of going to it as the "one true church." I know Roman Catholics who are very, very concerned.

  3. I know Roman Catholics also who are disenchanted but they have been branded "Rad Trads" and generally ignored by the progressives.