20 July 2008

Venables' writes to Schofield

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

14 July 2008

Dear Bishop John-David and Beloved Brothers & Sisters of the Diocese of San Joaquin,

I greet you in the name of the Lord from the UK where the Lambeth Conference is only just about to begin. First of all, let me thank you for the wonderful prayer support so many offered when Sylvia was injured a few weeks ago. Although it was a difficult time, we were sustained by those prayers and are happy to report her recovery. Please keep praying.

Though I will be in touch about the Lambeth Conference at a later date, at this critical time in the Anglican Communion, I have several things to share with you to address some of the aspects of the current crisis. Let me tell you what a wonderful experience the GAFCON gathering in Jerusalem was. There was Christ centered worship, biblical teaching from some of the best leaders in the Anglican Communion and unified fellowship centered in Christ.

The Anglican Communion has been in chaos for a number of years. As a whole, the structures of the Communion seem to have been unwilling to speak clearly and definitively about theological foundations and limits. There has also been an unwillingness on the part of some Provinces to moderate their behaviour even when told how destructive their actions are to other Provinces. GAFCON clearly articulated Anglican theological foundations that many innovating Provinces have proven they are not willing to accept. It also recognized the cooperation and mutual accountability of a group of small (but growing) group of Primates who are willing to be clear in affirming the authority of the Bible and other Anglican tenets. We have agreed that we will seek consensus before implementing changes that impact other Provinces in the circle. That is the way the whole Communion should be operating. We also agreed with the historical perspective that the structural authority of the bishop of a diocese is not absolute. The church has always taught that bishops are accountable for their teaching and their actions. The difficulty in our day has come when there are Provinces that are unwilling to hold bishops accountable to any discipline in the face of unbiblical actions and pronouncements.

We have not broken with the Anglican Communion. We have not broken relations with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sadly, a number of people have attempted to paint GAFCON as a breaking away from the Anglican Communion and from the Archbishop of Canterbury. That may reflect their desire for us to leave so they can change the faith without challenge, but we are not going anywhere. We remain committed to be linked by shared theological principles and shared relationships that, quite frankly, should be the way the whole Communion operates. After a great deal of prayer and conversation, it is our hope that our commitments can widen a circle of health in the Communion and bring some fresh order to what has been chaos for a number of years. Though there have been some noble attempts by the Primates to address the crisis in the Communion at Dromantine and other gatherings, with the Windsor Report, the Panel of Reference and the Dar es Salaam Communiqué, these attempts have not born fruit of any substance. At GAFCON we agreed to standards of faith and order by which we will live within the Anglican Communion in hopes to build a more orderly (and less chaotic) fellowship. If there are those who reject the Jerusalem Declaration from GAFCON, I would ask the question, “Why?” What part of genuine Anglican or Christian faith do they think the Declaration forbids? What in it do they think is not compatible with being Anglican Christians?

As I write to you from the Lambeth Conference, there are painful reminders that all is not well and that the clarity, hope, and charity of GAFCON are desperately needed. Those who have by their action “torn the fabric of the Communion,” are being welcomed as if all is well, and tragically many godly bishops and archbishops are not present having decided that they are bound by conscience not to attend with others who have disregarded the faith. Other godly leaders have not even been invited despite the fact that they were consecrated lawfully and in broad consultation and agreement with many provinces. This is not a joyful time, quite the contrary. For me, it is one of those necessary times to attend to the order of the church even when it is painful. Remember, the situation has been created by the actions of the Episcopal Church. Despite the fervent requests and the fact that the consequences of choosing a unilateral course would precipitate anguish at levels the Anglican Communion has not previously known, they proceeded. There are many, like you in San Joaquin, that are unwilling to continue with such moral and theological compromise. As you know, by the concerted and agreed action of both the House of Bishops and the Provincial Synod, we are glad to give you full membership and a safe haven in the Southern Cone while a long term solution is found. The imperatives of the Gospel give us clear direction.

In addition, I have been in conversation with Archbishop Rowan. Over the weekend I received the following message from him:

“I understand that Bishop John-David Schofield has been accepted as a full member of the episcopal fellowship of the Province of the Southern Cone within the Anglican Communion and as such cannot be regarded as having withdrawn from the Anglican Communion. However, it is acknowledged that his exact status (especially given the complications surrounding the congregations associated with him) remains unclear on the basis of the general norms of Anglican Canon Law, and this constitutes one of the issues on which we hope for assistance from the Windsor Continuation Group. Bishop Schofield has elected to decline the invitation to the Lambeth Conference issued to him last year although that decision does not signal any withdrawal from the Communion. I hope there may be further careful reflection to clarify the terms on which he will exercise his ministry.”

This statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury is clear, even though we are in somewhat new territory; you remain within the Anglican Communion. Given the rigors of international travel and the work that there is to do in the Diocese, I am in agreement with Bishop John-David’s decision not to attend the Lambeth Conference. I am also aware of statements by Bishop Jerry Lamb in which he makes statements and demands that miss the mark of Christian leadership and fall short of what many consider propriety. I would encourage the clergy and lay members of the diocese to ignore this.

We are glad to have you as full members of the Southern Cone. As you can see, you are well regarded as members of the Anglican Communion. May God richly bless you!

2 Cor. 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 8 We are hard- pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

Your brother in Christ,