St Helen’s Bishopsgate in London has said it has “broken partnership” with the House of Bishops because of their “muddled message” on teaching around sexuality.
The House of Bishops is the body within the Church of England which includes all diocesan bishops, nine suffragan bishops and the Bishop of Dover (Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin). It is one of the three bodies that make up the General Synod – the Church’s assembly - which votes on any changes made.
St Helen’s, a large evangelical church in the City of London, said it has made the decision after “much prayer and reflection” and “will be withdrawing from those activities which indicate full spiritual partnership. This is likely to include the selection and recommendation of people going forward for ordination, as well as planting new Church of England churches.”
The move is largely symbolic, with the Church confirming it is not leaving the Diocese of London or the Church of England.
The church’s rector, Rev William Taylor, said: “The House of Bishops has responsibility for spiritual leadership in the Church of England – teaching the truth, correcting error and exercising discipline. Their failure of leadership over many years is responsible for the confusion that the Church of England now finds itself in."
In a statement, the church’s leaders explained: “St Helen’s and many other churches have over a prolonged period called for and prayed for Bishops, as the denomination’s senior leaders, to uphold their vows to teach what the Bible says, including in the area of sex and marriage, and to deny false teaching and practice. Instead, the House of Bishops is divided on sex and marriage; its official orthodox doctrine is expressly undermined by how some bishops speak and act, and by the failure to speak and act of many others. This has resulted in a muddled message and confusion for church goers across England.”
They refer to the appointment of clergy who openly seek to change the Church’s doctrine and who want to introduce same-sex marriage. They also reference the recently published Living in Love and Faith resources which seek to encourage listening to people on the other side of church debates about gender, marriage and sexuality
“Living in Love and Faith demonstrates the division in the House of Bishops with some sections setting out the orthodox biblical teaching but others erroneous alternative views. The overall effect suggests that the clear biblical teaching on sex and marriage is not clear.”
“In good conscience, St Helen’s is no longer able to remain in gospel partnership with the House of Bishops until they again speak and act consistently in accordance with the plain reading and plain teaching of scripture on sex and marriage, as recognised by the church down the centuries.”
The church leadership add that teaching on sexuality "is not merely a ‘secondary matter’ over which faithful Christian disciples can ‘agree to disagree’, rather it is a matter of the authority of God’s word to which all disciples of Jesus Christ should seek to submit (and not reword).”
They make clear that they are not leaving the Church of England and will remain part of diocesan structures, working with the Bishop of London, Rt Rev Sarah Mullally.
“However St Helen’s will be withdrawing from those activities which indicate full spiritual partnership. This is likely to include the selection and recommendation of people going forward for ordination, as well as planting new Church of England churches. We have been in regular communication with both the current Bishop of London and her predecessor about our developing concerns. We are grateful that the Bishop of London has, in response, proposed working with St Helen’s to assess how the potential consequences of broken partnership could be addressed."
Since the passing of women bishops, the church's oversight comes from 'flying' bishop Rt Rev Rod Thomas. Rev William Taylor, said: “We are grateful for the ongoing faithful ministry of the Bishop of Maidstone, Rod Thomas, who is not himself a voting member of the House of Bishops but has repeatedly and faithfully raised these concerns about departure from the Scriptures. Rod will review me annually in my role as Rector of St Helen’s, with input from the churchwardens and other members of the team at St Helen’s. We will also continue to pray for the leadership of the Church of England and for the House of Bishops.”
They add that they wish to remain in partnership with “likeminded" churches across the country who share their concerns.