Two Ways to Be a Christian?
A Response to Vaughan Roberts
By a Loyal Layman
Many who attended university in the 1990s and 2000s will be familiar with the evangelistic tract “Two Ways to Live”. It was a simple and useful gospel outline. Students attending the big evangelical Anglican churches were encouraged to use it to share the gospel with friends. It explained that there are only two ways to live: with self as the lord of our lives, or with Christ as Lord of our lives. The latter involves repentance for previously living with ourselves as Lord, and instead, surrendering the Lordship of our lives to Christ, the rightful Lord – whatever the personal cost. This is essential to genuine Christianity; so Two Ways to Live taught.
It is confusing, therefore, to read Vaughan Robert’s booklet, published by Latimer Trust this week. The paper was timed to be released along-side the bishop of Oxford’s separate paper, which had outlined the case for the C of E to adapt its doctrine and practice, by providing services for committed same-sex partnerships to be fully recognised and celebrated by the Church of England. Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, proposes a settlement, which suggests providing for a differentiation of provision and oversight for those who could not support such a change. Shortly after this paper was released, the Bishop of Worcester released a supportive letter agreeing with the Bishop of Oxford, but stating “those who hold to a traditional view should be honoured and they certainly will be in this diocese, as long as we remain your bishops” (inferring that those who hold to the traditional view and therefore seek ‘alternative oversight’ from other bishops should perhaps not be honoured in the diocese).
Having been granted the opportunity to review the Bishop of Oxford’s paper in advance of its publication, Vaughan Roberts was invited to prepare a response to provide the alternative view. This Vaughan does. The paper does set out an alternative view to that of Steven Croft. In his response, Vaughan Roberts sets out his view, which is that marriage is only possible between and man and a woman.
But, Vaughan sets his response within a framework. In his introduction, Vaughan has already given credibility to the alternative view as still being a ‘Christian’ view, held by Christians who are seeking to do their best to serve God. At the outset, Vaughan established a framework where the two views are merely different views, which though they “go very deep” and may be “found in the end to be irreconcilable”, are nevertheless both Christian views. Vaughan presents the Bishop of Oxford’s view as a “Christian” view held by someone he identifies as “one who is seeking to be faithful to Christ.”
Later on, in the second part of his paper (which deals with the suggested approach of how the church might move to a position of allowing clergy to celebrate and solemnise same sex relationships), Vaughan reflects on the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ process, saying:
“We understand each other better, but remain deeply divided. Far from finding one another in the middle, if anything in recent years we are polarised more into two distinct positions, both of which are held with integrity, passion and deep Christian conviction.”
Again, Vaughan suggests that those who hold the opposite view regarding same sex relationships, do so out of ‘Christian conviction’.
Whilst much of how Vaughan sets out the orthodox position is admirable – seeking to be clear without fulfilling the stereotype of a Conservative Evangelical Christian, the reader is unfortunately left with an overall impression that no matter how firmly Vaughan himself believes the Orthodox position, it is still possible to be a Christian and hold to a liberal view on this matter.
As such, the article effectively suggests that there are not ‘Two Ways to Live’ (with Christ as Lord or with Self as Lord), but ‘Two Ways to Be a Christian.’ The first is the position Vaughan is presenting as his own view: the orthodox and traditional view, whereby marriage and sexual relationships are only permitted within the Christian life within a marriage between one man and one woman, for life. The second alternative “Christian view” is that held by Steven Croft, which adopts the world’s values on uncomfortable matters and provides a softer and more comfortable way to follow Christ: No ‘putting to death’ of the old self, no repentance of sin, no denying one’s self and following Christ. If Croft’s view is a Christian view, held by Christian’s with deep Christian conviction, it begs the question, why would anyone choose to hold to deeply unpopular, painful and costly Orthodox Christian teaching on matters of human sexuality?
We do so because, of course, the Bishop of Oxford’s view is not a Christian view at all. This is why it matters. This is why some have already come to the painful decision that they cannot remain in a Church of England which is moving in the direction now formally supported by the Bishops of Oxford and Worcester. They cannot do so, because they cannot in all good conscience remain in a church where non-Christian views are held up as ‘alternative’ Christian views and where false teachers receive honour that the Bible does bestow. There are only Two Ways to Live, not two ways to be a Christian. Equally, many who hold to the orthodox view and remain in the Church of England will surely want to find ways to distance themselves from false teachers such as Croft and the Bishops of Worcester who are actively promoting heterodoxy. We need evangelical ministers to not only be clear about the issue of homosexuality – they also need to be clear about what it means to be a Christian.