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Bishop of Oxford's St Ebbe's Sermon Epitomizes Relational Dilemma for Reformed Anglicans

Bishop of Oxford's St Ebbe's Sermon Epitomizes Relational Dilemma for Reformed Anglicans

By Julian Mann
April 22, 2017

On Palm Sunday in St Ebbe's Church, Oxford, their new diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, made a statement that epitomises the relational dilemma facing Reformed Anglicans in the Church of England.

Introducing his excellent sermon on our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem as recorded in Matthew 21, Dr Croft said:

'It's my hope to come as a servant to this very large Diocese, to respect and honour all traditions within it and cherish the life of the Church in its many different forms and do my best to lead us in God's mission.'

It would be quite wrong to impugn the Christian sincerity of Dr Croft's desire to serve God's Church. His sermon was most edifying, biblically faithful and Christ-honouring. Lord willing, he will do a lot of good in Oxford Diocese.

But the difficulty for a Reformed Anglican church such as St Ebbe's surely comes in their Bishop's apparently intentional commitment to theological diversity within the Church of England. He went further than saying that he wished to serve the churches of the Diocese in their various traditions; he declared that he wished to respect and honour all traditions within the Diocese.

Is it his expectation that St Ebbe's should do the same within the theologically very diverse Diocese of Oxford?

St Ebbe's, in the 'What we believe' section of its website, is unequivocal in its commitment to Reformed Anglicanism. It says: 'We stand in the tradition of the Anglican Reformers of the 16th Century, affirming with them the great truths which were rediscovered at the time of the Reformation, such as the sovereignty of God in salvation, justification by faith alone, and salvation in Christ alone'.

St Ebbe's then directs readers of its website to the Church of England's 39 Articles of Religion.

A selection of quotations from these shows clearly that a church like St Ebbe's is by conviction opposed to some theological traditions that are presently active within the Church of England:

'It is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another' (Article XX -- Of the authority of the Church).

Surely that is precisely the approach to the Bible adopted by Anglican revisionists who want the Church to bless active sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage? So how is a church like St Ebbe's going to be even in 'good disagreement' with such people, let alone honour their tradition?

'The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped' (Article XXVIII -- Of the Lord's Supper).

So, where such practices have developed in some churches, how can this tradition be honoured and respected by a church like St Ebbe's, committed as it is to the 39 Articles?

'The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the world, both original and actual' (Article XXX1 -- Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross). So, how can a church like St Ebbe's honour and respect Anglican expressions that deny penal substitutionary atonement?

Lord willing, Reformed Anglican churches in Oxford like St Ebbe's will enjoy a positive relationship with their new Bishop. But is not the relational dilemma facing these churches the fact that they would not want this desirable thing to come at the expense of the great body of biblical truth their Anglican Reformers died for?

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire, UK - http://www.oughtibridgechurch.org.uk/our_prayers.html

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