“What we cannot understand is why you who gave us the Bible and the Saviour are taking them away from us.” This was the genuinely puzzled question of the Sudanese Bishops of their fellows at Lambeth. It was a genuine question that goes right to the heart of the crisis in our communion.

GAFCON in Jerusalem and Lambeth in Canterbury shared much in common. A dominance of non-Anglo faces was a reminder of the universal spread of the Gospel. The Gospel has been faithfully preached and has taken root in and transforming every culture. Many have experienced persecution and/or poverty. The Church in many nations is a testimony to the veracity of our Lord’s challenge and promise that “man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

The gift of Christian fellowship was a joy to be experienced – a testimony to the Holy Spirit’s work amongst His people. There were memorable moments of joy and sorrow at both conferences in personal, mealtime and small group encounters.

At each conference, there was a deep sense of pain, not only because of the shared issues of the obvious differences over Biblical authority but as we grappled with important issues of concern, such as poverty, persecution and our unfinished work of evangelism and mission.

It was a privilege, with my wife Christine and a number of Bishops from other countries, to share in both conferences. This enabled us to observe and experience the real differences that are at the heart of our Communion. They have come to the surface with the Canadian same-sex blessings and the US consecration of the practising homosexual Bishop, Gene Robinson.

At Lambeth, although we sang together and read the scriptures in worship and Bible study, we were sadly not singing from the same page. Two issues prevented us from approaching the Scriptures with confidence. An Irish Bishop put it succinctly when he said, “we are being asked to accept a departure from Scripture as a development of Scripture.”

This development, the acceptance of sex outside the traditional orthodox, Biblical norm (of a man and woman married to each other, considerately), confused many because of a failure to understand the completeness of the canon. This truth, so eloquently proclaimed in the Christmas Day epistle (Hebrews 1:1-4) keeps us from accepting new revelations like the Koran, the book of Mormon and Pentecostal prophets, since it is our God given and agreed measuring line against false teaching. This is the orthodox position on Scripture, summed up by John Stott, “There is a progression within the Bible, but not beyond it.” Such a view enables us to confidently build our lives, preach, evangelise, keep ourselves from being conformed to the world and deceived by Satan, and nourished by God.

As Christians, we have come to know God as our Heavenly Father. This intimate relationship made possible by Jesus’ death to atone for our sins and real by the Holy Spirit’s presence within, is a source of great comfort and challenge. The challenge is that we are to obey God and display the Fatherly likeness. For this to happen, we must have in our hands His expressed will for us. This was a contested area at Lambeth. Christians have always believed (and experienced) a Bible that is clear on the essentials. This does not mean every passage is as clear as others or that we know or understand everything there is to know about God (Deut 29:29 makes this plain and Ravi Zacharias explains how both the clarity and mystery of scripture help us to humbly trust God, “the Bible is a book of simple clarity, but also of intentional mystery. Both are indispensable aspects of wonder. In its clarity, we celebrate our position as the pinnacle of God’s creation. In its mystery, we are dwarfed”).

It is inconceivable that in an area of life as immediate and important as our sexuality (along with how we speak, use our money, know God, forgive etc.) is either unclear or requiring further revelation. The Sudanese questioner went to the heart of our issues in that not only was there confusion about scripture but about the ability of Jesus and His Spirit to transform people. There was no public mention of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, where our apostle reports the transformation of many types of sinners by their new found commitment to our Lord and Saviour. This was tragic and confusing, given the pride of place of Jesus, repentance, declaration of pardon and promise of strength have in our public liturgies.

We met people who had once been in practicing same-sex relationships, now in heterosexual marriages, and another, a homosexual who with God’s grace was happily celibate through reliance upon God’s promises. A sadness shared by these people was the sense of isolation they felt from those who were promoting and supporting the view that those of same-sex attraction must be expected and encouraged to work that attraction out in practice.

Whilst there is some evidence that many from TEC in the USA were surprised to hear from others of the difficulties and the anguish caused by their actions, there was no public statement of repentance from any TEC Bishop who supported Robinson’s consecration. There was regret at the difficulties caused, even remorse from some but there is a world of difference between remorse and repentance. Some anecdotal evidence of Bishops being deeply moved as they engaged with those whose witness has been damaged (“you go to the homosexual church” has been a taunt reported in a number of countries with significant Muslim populations) should lead us to pray that this might grow into real repentance.

A personal sadness to Christine and I was that there was no real interaction with the Jerusalem conference. This was a missed opportunity by Lambeth, given that the Jerusalem Declaration and GAFCON statement were essentially conciliatory words flowing out of deep pain and a desire for fellowship based on shared truth, rather than a common ecclesiology.

Lambeth was designed to encourage listening. This aim was certainly achieved. As a consequence, there was opportunity to build friendships and a growing understanding of others’ passions and views. The process was, however, too flat in that little serious exposition or exploration of God’s mind revealed in Scripture took place. Given the exhortations of the Ordinal and Consecration of Bishops, this absence was as sad as it was a dereliction of duty. My own feeling is that given the good experience of listening to each other, this would have provided a good opportunity for a serious study of Scripture on these issues had it been an expectation modelled and expressed from the leadership and programming.

There was a strong commitment to maintaining the unity of the Communion and the proposed covenant is one expression of this desire. As in all relationships, desire must be based on mutual commitment if it is to be a mature and meaningful partnership. Given our failure to honour the already established covenants, the New Testament Written, the New Covenant of the transforming Holy Spirit in our hearts and the covenant of ordination (and consecration) binding us to preach the former and be transformed by the latter, I do not see much hope for the future effectiveness of the proposed covenant. It was not surprising that the draft of the hardworking covenant design group was being systematically watered down to a covenant that was voluntary and without any legal obligations.

One Bishop in my Bible study group expressed his concern when he observed that he would hardly be acting responsibly if he told a husband who had been unfaithful to his wife that all would be well for the future of their marriage if he kept up his affair! As one attracted to and then drawn to the Saviour, nurtured, built up, ordained in and convinced by the balance of the teaching and worship of the Anglican Church, I was glad for the opportunity Lambeth afforded me. I was challenged and encouraged throughout the process. Most I met were committed to its orthodox beliefs and behaviour. This continues to spur me on. As a member of this part of the body of Christ, I believe I have a responsibility to testify to those who were clearly captive to a revisionist agenda and to continue to encourage those who are unsure.

The twin transforming foundations of a living Lord and Saviour and a clear public domain written Scripture go to the heart of our relationship with God and form the basis of a vibrant and faithful Communion. Both, our Lord and His Word, commit me to the concurrent works of personal obedience, evangelism, church pastoring and denominational orthodoxy in beliefs and behaviour. Without this confidence, conviction and witness, we have nothing to offer the world our Lord has called us to serve. With this confidence, strengthened by our obedience, we as a fellowship of Anglican churchmen and women can expect to be blessed by God and used by Him to bring encouragement to fellow Christians and the transforming Gospel to those our Lord has sent us to.

Peter Brain is Bishop of Armidale. He and his wife Christine attended both GAFCON and Lambeth 2008.