BREAKING: Primate writes to Bishops, criticising Gafcon – “the life of our church is being undermined from within”

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The Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Archbishop Geoffrey Smith, has written today to his fellow bishops to openly criticise the recent Gafcon announcement of further plans to provide alternative oversight if required.

In a strongly worded letter, passed to, he describes the action as the opposite of Paul’s injunction in Ephesians 4:3 to “…make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. He also argues that Gafcon’s claim that both the recent Appellate Tribunal decision and the actions of a number of bishops effectively change or depart from the doctrine of the church as “not legitimate” and “not speaking the truth”.

As he reflects on the Gafcon announcement he states that “It feels like the life of our church is being undermined from within”.

The full letter follows (direct link here):

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To this point the Primate has clearly sought to tread a careful path between the two sides in the ongoing divisions amongst the Australian bishops, most recently turning down a controversial request from a transgender priest to be licensed in the diocese of Adelaide, a move which was appreciated by conservatives but then contradicted by the Bishop of Willochra in his own metropolitan province, John Stead. That move by Bishop John Stead brought no apparent public criticism by the Primate nor any to his fellow bishops.

Nor does the Primate ever appear to have used such strong language as “it feels like the life of our church is being undermined from within” about the actions of the Diocese of Wangaratta, Newcastle, Gippsland, Brisbane and elsewhere, all of which have in different ways openly defied the doctrine of the church and the teaching of Christ on marriage as reported here and elsewhere and which have brought the Anglican Church of Australia to the crisis of the current time. suspects there will be a number of recipients of this letter who are disappointed that such critical language is not ever used of these repeated innovations and effective denials of church doctrine, but reserved for those who seek to respond to them and uphold the constitutional position of the Anglican Church of Australia. The language of “significant restraint” is used to describe the current moratorium of revisionists, but their position is not proscribed by the Primate, despite the General Synod having affirmed the historical orthodox view time and time again.

It may also be worth noting that John Stott, who Smith recruits to his argument on unity, was himself very clear on the promotion of homosexual activity in the church (alongside other similar offences):

There is, therefore, a place for church discipline in the case of members who refuse to repent and willfully persist in homosexual relationships.

HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE by John R. W. Stott Christianity Today Nov 22, 1985

If they ought to be disciplined, what of those who openly and wilfully encourage them as so many bishops now effectively do?

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  1. Tim Anderson

    The strange thing is that the announcement at the recent ‘conference’ said little more than what had been said last year. So why the response from the Primate now?

  2. Jill England

    Thank you for this, David, but I can’t access the Primate’s letter.

    1. David Ould

      hi Jill. It’s embedded right into the post.

  3. Paul Nolan

    In the letter to his fellow Bishops, Primate Smith makes two, in my view misleading, references to “the blessing of same-sex couples” & to “a flood of same sex blessings”. At issue is the matter of ACA Bishops in some dioceses intending to authorise their ministers to bless the extant civil marriages of same-sex couples. In the New Testament, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that God considers marriage to be the union of a man & a woman. To bless, in church, the worldly union of same-sex couples seems a very dangerous long term path for a priest to take & more so for a Bishop to advocate.

  4. Robert Bruce

    It is shameful for the Primate to quote scripture on Christian unity while taking sides with the apostate bishops who deliberately undermine the unity of the the Anglican Church of Australia. The principles that underpin the ACA are the very tenets of scripture that Smith quotes in attacking Gafcon for trying to oppose the influence of Satan and uphold the standards of Christ.
    The man has lost all credibility. He should repent and resign.

  5. chris russell

    A very good response to the Primate’s letter, David. Good to hear.

  6. Joshua Bovis

    This is a very sad response from the primate to say the least.

    The unity promoted by the Primate is organisational/institutional unity, a unity based on the most common denominator, the thing that we can all agree on, which is that we are Anglicans. When the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Ephesus, he says some very important things pertaining to unity. What I think stands out is that Paul exhorts the Christians at Ephesus to be eager to maintain the unity they already have, not create unity.

    The unity that we are to maintain has already been established by God, and the way He established the unity was by creating a new humanity through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Apostolic gospel that creates this new humanity. It is the Apostolic gospel that maintains this unity. Thus, it cannot be maintained by hunting enthusiastically for the lowest common theological denominator, in this caseamongst all those who profess to be Anglicans.

    The Primate is caught between a theological and ecclesiastic rock and a hard place. He is trying to unite two incompatible irreconcilable and opposing gospels, two different religions that grind against one another like two colliding tectonic plates, both which lay claim to the nomenclature ‘Anglican’ and he is attempting to do so under the auspices of organisational/institutional unity.

    It will never work. As the saying goes “the emperor has no clothes”. But sadly, whilst the primate states correctly that “It feels like the life of our church is being undermined from within”; to change metaphors, he has backed the wrong horse. Those within GAFCON are not to blame, but rather it is those within the church whom have departed from the Gospel of the Lord Jesus and are teaching a gospel that says “Come as you are and stay as you are”, a gospel without repentance, a gospel which is no gospel at all that are undermining the life of the church.

    It reminds me of what American pastor and blogger Tim Challies wrote some time ago:

    “False teachers cause division within the church and often cause division even among true Christians. Because false teachers tend to remain within the church, and because they claim to be honouring the Bible, they confuse true believers and drive wedges between them. The church often trusts a smiling false teacher ahead of a frowning defender.”

    1. Helen Gitsham

      Thanks Joshua,
      In despair, I have been crying out, “where do I begin?” And then I read your reply. You covered everything I wanted to say.
      Spot on!

      1. Joshua Bovis

        Thank you Helen for your kind words.

    2. Roger Gallagher

      Hi Josh, totally agree with what you’ve said, but feel that I need to be pedantic about a small but important point – Tim Challies is actually a Canadian.

      1. Joshua Bovis

        Hi Roger,

        A very important point indeed. How remiss of me. My apologies to you, to Tim Challies and to all Canadians!

        “Oh Canada, our home and native land.True patriot love…(humming the tune as I type…but that is all I know).

  7. Paul Nolan

    Thanks Joshua. I agree. St Paul, at the time of his writing to the Ephesians, was urging them to maintain – “keep” – their unity. Reading the passage today, Primate Smith seems to take a longer view – that Paul was urging today’s Christians to keep on uniting. Both assertions can be viewed as legitimate.

    But invoking St Paul’s call for unity, in any tense, will not solve the ACA’s dilemma over same-sex marriage.

    The Church, led by Primate Smith’s 2017 predecessor, decided to permit its clergy to continue solemnising civil marriages in combined civil & religious ceremonies. That was a serious error of judgement. By permitting clergy to use the Marriage Act after December 2017, the Church is involving itself in marrying “2 people” not a man & a woman as the ACA & its predecessor has since 1788.

    In his 26/7/21 letter to the Bishops, Primate Smith writes that the next meeting of General Synod will be “our first opportunity to discuss the change to the Marriage Act & the opinion of the Appellate Tribunal.”
    Both topics together, perhaps, or is he saying that the 2017 Primate alone made the decision to keep using the Marriage Act.

    I very much hope the next General Synod decides to authorise ACA clergy to solemnise marriage in religious ceremonies only. Then there will be no need for GAFCON’s alternative diocese.

  8. Jayne Bendell

    This is a letter that Primate Smith had to write. As Primate, his position, forces him to respond and following Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Wellsby’s lead, our Primate is beating the ‘unity’ drum. For me personally there is a crucial question that demands an answer. Our bible states that sex outside the sanctity of Jesus’s definition of marriage is regarded as sexual immorality. This teaching has implications for heterosexual and homosexual people alike. Asking the church to bless ‘living arrangements’ outside Christ’s definition of marriage is according to the Apostle Paul, sinful. This leads us to the crucial question the church must resolve. CAN THE CHURCH OPENLY ASK ALMIGHTY GOD TO BLESS WHAT ALMIGHTY GOD STATES IN HIS WORD THAT WHICH ALMIGHTY GOD REGARDS AS SINFUL? This has implications for other areas of our lives apart from same sex marriage. To bless sin means that the Anglican Church of Australia no longer regards the Bible as the Authorised Word of God, remembering that the book of John states in 1;14, Jesus is the Word. Discarding the Bible and turning our backs on our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ has long term implications for the existence of the Anglican Church. I believe Primate Geoff Smith is aware of this conundrum, which makes his response disappointing. He fails to address the heart of the issue. To alter and re-write the Bible to suit ourselves means that we no longer regard Almighty God as God. Man takes the place of God. Do people want to attend a church where Man is glorified rather than Almighty God.
    Perhaps our Primate should re-read the story of Eli and his two son’s Hophni and Phineas in the early chapters 1 Samuel. If the Primate has any difficulty in interpretation , the Primate could bring up the website of John Stott’s old church “All Soul’s Langham Place and listen to the sermon preached by Charlie Skrine on Sunday 25th July 2021. Now that’s a sermon John Stott would have endorsed.

    1. Paul Nolan

      Hi Jane.

      Legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England & Wales was passed by the UK Parliament in 2013.

      According to the internet the Church of England’s House of Bishops decreed in 2014 that there will be no special services of blessing for married same-sex couples, but such are permitted more informal kinds of prayer to mark the occasion, at their request. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, avoided taking a position on blessing same-sex couples but did endorse civil same-sex marriages & prayer ceremonies to mark those occasions.

      Our Primate appears to be channeling his English counterpart ahead of the next ACA General Synod.

      But, as you make clear later in your comment & as I sincerely hope GS delegates will understand, blessings of civilly-married same-sex couples is a side issue. ‘Blessings’ in fact is a classic red herring.

      As you write – “He (Primate Smith) fails to address the heart of the issue. To alter & re-write the Bible to suit ourselves means that we no longer regard Almighty God as God. Man takes the place of God. Do people want to attend a church where Man is glorified rather than God.”

      Of course they don’t. But the REASON the ACA faces likely schism is the failure of its leadership to stop its clergy from using the Marriage Act, wherein Man defines civil marriage in Australia as the union of “2 people”. In 2017 the ACA leadership should have instructed its ministers to conduct religious marriages only.

      It is not too late at next year’s General Synod to put that policy in place. AFTER Synod passes that policy, it would be up to individual dioceses & Bishops if they consider it correct to bless the existing civil marriages of same-sex couples, on request, in the couple’s parish church.

      Paul Nolan

      1. chris russell

        Paul, on your scenario, why “would [it] be up to individual dioceses & Bishops if they consider it correct to bless the existing civil marriages of same-sex couples, on request, in the couple’s parish church”? Perhaps you do think that some people may “want to attend a church where Man is glorified rather than God”. I’m not sure that I follow you.

      2. Jayne Bendell

        Thank you Paul for comments. Yes I do agree that the civilian aspect of the marriage service should be separated from the ‘religious’ aspect of the service. I understand that this is common place in Europe. But your final paragraph suggests that the local Diocesan Bishop can still agree to the blessing of same sex marriages which brings us back to the issue can Almighty God bless what He, Almighty God regards as sinful. The Bible or to use Anglican language, The Word of God, clearly states what God regards as sinful and what God regards as acceptable and God honouring behaviour. Also this raises other issues. Is it ethical for the clergy of the Anglican Church to assure people that they can call on the Lord to bless their relationship and the Lord will comply, knowing that they , the clergy, are calling on the Lord to bless Sin. The danger the clergy face is that they may compromise their own personal salvation. Read Matthew 7: 21-23. ‘Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven ……….I (Jesus) will tell them plainly ‘I never knew you’

        1. Paul Nolan

          Hello Chris & Jayne. Not for a moment do I think it correct for individual dioceses or bishops to bless existing civil marriages of same-sex couples. It is for the participants to decide if that view is correct or not. Jayne, I totally agree that ACA clergy & bishops risk their personal salvation by blessing, in church, the worldly union of same-sex couples. Please see my comment of 26/7/21 at 9:53pm.

          What I am trying to express is – please don’t be taken in by the red herring of blessing same-sex civil marriages in our churches. That issue arises only because of the ACA leadership’s decision in 2017 to continue with combined civil & religious marriage ceremonies. I urge you & all Anglican readers of this blog, to please concentrate the minds of potential delegates to the 2022 General Synod on the REAL issue which threatens the unity of our communion i.e. does the New Testament record Jesus as describing God’s definition of marriage as the ‘cleaving’ – adherence – of a man & a woman or does it not?

          Regards, PN

          1. chris russell

            Paul, the problem with saying that “[i]t is for the participants to decide if that view is correct or not” is that it is NOT for the participants to decide if that view is correct or not. The blessing of homosexual marriages in churches is not a red herring. It is the very question at issue. The fact that it may be said to arise “only because of the ACA leadership’s decision in 2017 to continue with combined civil and religious marriage ceremonies” is not the relevant point; but moreover, the ACA leadership did not make any such decision in 2017 despite the fact that it has acted in effect as if it has done so. Having said that, I agree with you that a decision as to whether “to continue with combined civil and religious marriage ceremonies” ought to be made by the ACA, and also by other Churches in Australia which, supposedly, are Christian Churches.

            1. Paul Nolan

              Hi Chris. This forum encourages open debate & we all have our views. Mine is that the local Synods & Bishops of Wangaratta, Newcastle & a few others have taken what they see as a logical step to bless the union of civilly married same-sex couples in their churches. Their logic is simple – as the Parliament have legitimised same-sex marriage, why should we not ask God to bless those who have taken that step, the more so if we know them as regular parishioners? The mentioned Synods have even written a liturgy for their ministers to use. Were it not for the pandemic & the consequent postponements of General Synod, the liturgy would be in use now in those regions.

              Doubtless there are some good people in those areas who genuinely feel this is a pastoral duty which ACA ministers should undertake. But there are, amongst them, a group of deflectionist Bishops who will do all they can at GS to focus attendee’s minds on the blessings issue & away from the fact that their 2017 inaction in not having the Church discontinue combined civil & religious marriages, is far & away the more critical issue.

              World-wide wherever one finds recent splits in the Anglican communion, such have occurred because provincial churches have either fully embraced Caesar’s re-definition of marriage or have failed to place themselves outside it.

              The Australian Church has one chance only, at the next GS, to avoid a split. I urge all attendees to concentrate on the main issue & not be deflected from it by advocates for blessings.

  9. chris russell

    Paul, I’m more than happy to agree with you that the main issue should be seen as that concerning whether the Anglican Church should continue to perform civil marriages. Couldn’t agree more! I believe that I am the only one, in this forum, who has addressed the issue that you have raised. Thanks for putting your view out there.

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