Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself. Do what it says. (James 1:22, NIV)
A much-anticipated report from the House of Bishops on human sexuality has been published today. It is the culmination of a process of what have been called “Shared Conversations” in the Church of England over the past two years.
The document reads like the work of a committee with widely divergent views – which indeed it was. On the one hand it reports that among the bishops “there was little support for changing the Church of England’s teaching on marriage”, and says that the balance of views is that clergy should continue to understand that “the Church’s teaching that sexual relations were properly conducted only within heterosexual marriage”. But on the other hand, it says we still face the challenge of how “both celibate and non-celibate relationships might be more fully articulated in our theological ethics and better communicated in our pastoral and missional practice…”. There is, here, a bit of what George Orwell famously called “doublethink”.
How can this circle be squared? A possible approach is mooted in the report: keep our doctrine, but alter our actual practice. This is clearly an appeal to both sides! It is not unimaginable that the Church of England will seek to resolve the matter this way.
The problem, however, is that in the New Testament our deeds cannot be pulled apart from our beliefs. Or, more precisely, as James puts it, we must do what the Word of God says! What I believe is profoundly demonstrated by my actions. The two must cohere. So to say we accept Christ’s teaching about sexual immorality and marriage and not to put it wholeheartedly into practice would be driving a wedge between teaching and practice which should never exist.
Of course, James’s exhortation extends far beyond the area of sexual ethics to all parts of life. Do we believe the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ? If so, it must show in our lifestyles.