Bishops' Prayers of Love and Faith lead lost souls further from Christ

(Photo: Church of England)

Church of England bishops have 'commended' prayers asking for God's blessing on same-sex couples from this Sunday, 17 December.

The House of Bishops agreed by 24 votes to 11 that the Prayers of Love and Faith resources should be made available.

The Church's official doctrine has not changed. New, properly-authorised liturgy can only be introduced with a vote in General Synod with a two thirds majority in all three houses (bishops, clergy and laity). Such a vote is highly unlikely in the near future, given that there are similar numbers of revisionist and orthodox members of the House of Laity.

Are the prayers even legal?

While the Church of England hierarchy has sent the loudest possible signal to the watching world that it is beginning to approve of same-sex relationships, it is simultaneously claiming that church teaching has not changed in any significant way.

An Ad Clerum (letter to clergy) written by the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham explains that the bishops "have been advised that it is likely that [the use of these prayers in public worship] is indicative of a change of doctrine".

The majority of bishops, and their legal advisors are therefore relying on the claim that the change in doctrine is not "in any essential matter".

But the nature of repentance manifestly is an essential matter, as the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham suggests. "Repent" was at the beginning of the apostles' message throughout Acts. Those who genuinely have faith in Jesus will turn away from their sins. The consistent message of the Old and New Testaments, and Jesus himself, is that sexual immorality is profoundly sinful.

Those members of clergy who opt to use the prayers may be acting illegally, no matter what the House of Bishops claim.

What about the prayers themselves?

The newly-released prayers are clearly intended to celebrate romantic relationships between two people of the same sex, even though the prayers themselves are relatively unsensational.

The first section is Prayers for a Covenanted Friendship, which are intended for explicitly non-sexual, non-exclusive friendships between any two people.

The bishops claim in the pastoral guidance that services for covenanted friendship are of "a slightly different kind" from the other prayers, and "do not concern sexual relationships" (section 1.1.1). The implication is that the other prayers do concern same-sex relationships.

Many of these Prayers of Love and Faith use generally-true Biblical language about love to suggest that a same-sex couple's love is no different. For example:

"...enfold your servants N and N with your encouragement, hope, and love. Fill them with the grace to rejoice always in their love for one another, and to follow the Way of holiness..."

On one level, this prayer could be said for any two people. But a same-sex couple, for which these prayers are intended, is built on a romantic, erotic understanding of love which is completely out of keeping with the call to holiness.

The guidance says that the prayers "recognize all that is good, and holy, and faithful in these relationships". One of the goods, they claim, is commitment. Again, this is true enough in general but false when applied to a romantic, sexual relationship. A commitment to live in a life of sin is one that must be broken by a Christian who is faithful to Christ's calling. So when many of these prayers encourage or celebrate such a commitment, they are, in context, celebrating sin.

Suggested readings include retelling the relationships between David and Jonathan and between Ruth and Naomi. Since neither of these relationships were romantic or exclusive, and all four of them had children through heterosexual relationships, their use for same-sex couples is truly baffling. In that context, they would only realistically be used to spread Biblical illiteracy.

The difference between life and death

Pre-existing prayers by the likes of Augustine of Hippo are also included. Perhaps they should have included another of his famous prayers: "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."

But this was his prayer before his eventual conversion. Augustine famously turned in repentance to God after turning to the scriptures and reading a verse that spoke directly to the sexual sin he was enslaved to: "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy" (Romans 13:13 ESV).

Augustine became arguably the most influential bishop and theologian in Church history. He knew the stark difference between the authentic love of God and the lusts he had given himself over to.

He chose real love. It is the difference between life and death.

These prayers do their best to blur that vital distinction. In commending them, the bishops are leading lost souls further away from the gospel, further away from Christ.

They, too, must repent. Inch by inch, they are working towards introducing special services that counterfeit genuine marriage and to officially approve of what God calls sin. They are not promoting love and faith but approving of lust and unfaithfulness to Jesus Christ.

Will they act like the Good Shepherd they claim to follow, or will they act like hired hands who care nothing for the sheep?

Andrea Williams is chief executive of Christian Concern.