'Good Disagreement' and the gagging of God
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
(John 1:18, ESV)
With this week’s overloaded news agenda, it would be easy to miss the fact that some significant conversations are happening at the Church of England’s General Synod, meeting in York over the weekend.
For some years now, some people have been pressing the Church to change its line on marriage, specifically same-sex relationships. At this meeting, Synod members are being split into groups to hear what each other have to say on this. They have been given tight rules for the conversations, based on the St Michael’s House ministry of reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral.
It might surprise you, but the aim of this process does not appear to be a discussion of the what the Church of England should think, teach and do about sexuality. Rather, it seems to be a controlled attempt to make people with very different viewpoints get along with each other. The expression that’s used again and again is ‘Good Disagreement.’
The attractions of such ‘good disagreement’ are obvious. The archbishop of Canterbury has often pointed out how, in a world which handles its disagreements with violence and hatred, Christians can have a vital role in pointing to a better way: we can disagree, but still love one another. And there is truth in this: the risen Christ is building a new society in which old enmities are healed (Ephesians 2:11-22). I thank God for how he has brought us together in Christ, in a world-wide family.
Encouraging ‘Good Disagreement’ also has obvious pragmatic appeal to those in leadership, for it appears to promise a way to keep the show on the road.
Moreover, there is no doubt that in some areas of life it is sensible to ‘agree to disagree’, including within the churches. For instance, Christians have taken different views of church government (bishops? elders? presbyteries?), but this shouldn’t cause any breach of fellowship between us, because the Bible seems to give us freedom of choice. The same could be said of a number of issues.
But in the case of sexuality, ‘Good Disagreement’ comes at a terrible price: that of implying that God has not spoken clearly, when in fact on this issue he certainly has.
For on this matter, the Bible is absolutely clear. From the Maker’s instructions in Genesis, picked up by the Lord Jesus himself, right through to the letters of the New Testament, it is clear that the only proper place for sex is heterosexual marriage, and that sexual activity outside this is wrong. (For an explanation of this apparently shocking statement, see one of the excellent, thoughtful books addressing this such as Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay?)
At its heart, Christianity is revealed truth: not a set of human insights, but revelation from God. The wonderful verse above, from the prologue to John’s Gospel, is about how Jesus by his incarnation has made God known. It is the most wonderful news! He is neither silent nor remote; instead, he came down to our level to dwell among us. He wants us to know him. And to know his mind, too. He has spoken! Because he has spoken in Jesus, we turn to the Bible, the book about Jesus.
The world we live in is certainly divided. But it’s also profoundly muddled. At the heart of things, it’s in the dark about God. How absolutely vital it is, then, that we never stop pointing people to the God who has made himself very clearly known!
‘Good Disagreement’ sounds so wise, so godly and so practical. But if we adopt this on a matter God has so clearly spoken about, what we are saying to those around us is that we can’t actually know God’s mind, even when the Bible is clear. How, then, can we know God? He will have been gagged.
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