Unanimous resolution: The Sydney Standing Committee regarding References to the Appellate Tribunal (Same Sex Blessing) – Wangaratta and Newcastle

Essential reading:

Here is the text of a Motion passed unanimously by the Diocese of Sydney Standing Committee at its meeting on Monday 23 November 2020.

It concerns the Opinion released by the Appellate Tribunal relating to Same Sex Blessing:


Diocese of Sydney Standing Committee – 23 November 2020
References to the Appellate Tribunal (Same Sex Blessing) – Wangaratta and Newcastle

Motion passed unanimously:

Standing Committee of the Diocese of Sydney entirely rejects the recently released majority opinion of the General Synod Appellate Tribunal. We stand with brothers and sisters all over the world who have resisted the attempt to bless what God does not bless and to ignore the teaching of Scripture on the extreme danger of the behaviour endorsed by the proposed services of blessing. We are deeply saddened that the delivery of this opinion further disturbs the hard-won unity of the church.

Moving speech (The Rev Dr Mark Thompson)

As we’ve heard, on Remembrance Day this year the Appellate Tribunal published its opinions, both a majority opinion and a minority opinion. The bottom line was a majority decision that the Diocese of Wangaratta’s proposed service for the blessing of same sex unions is authorised by the Canon Concerning Services and is not inconsistent with the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia. This despite the fact that the Fundamental Declarations make clear that the canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testaments remain ‘the ultimate rule and standard of faith, given by inspiration of God and containing all things necessary for salvation’.

The long document which unfolds the reasons for this opinion makes very disappointing reading. That’s a mild way of saying it really. The handling of the Bible is irresponsible, regularly throwing dust in the air and suggesting either that the key biblical passages do not say what they appear to say, or that there is diverse and equally weighty opinion about the meaning of key terms or the passage as a whole, so we can’t be sure. That is just not true — on either count. As I’ve said in another place, the tactic of casting doubt on the meaning of a word or a statement in order to persuade a person to reject it, is an old debating tactic. It goes back to the Garden of Eden: ‘did God really say?’

The majority opinion cannot seem to grasp that the seriousness of this matter, which takes it beyond previous disagreements between us, is indicated by Scripture itself: ‘those who do these things will not inherit the kingdom of God’. That is actually said twice in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. Not inheriting the kingdom of God — that makes it a salvation issue. And yes, that is true of sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, theft, greed, drunkenness, reviling and swindling too — and we need to beef up our warnings about those things too if we take this passage seriously — but that list does include ‘anyone practicing homosexuality’ as the Holman Christian Standard Bible puts it, or ‘men who have sex with men’ as the NIV (2011) puts it.

It is an extremely serious matter, which is why we consider the embrace of this behaviour, or the attempt to pronounce God’s blessing on behaviour that is spoken about in these terms in 1 Corinthians 6, as a line in the sand that we must not cross. We cannot bless what God refuses to bless but instead warns us to avoid at all costs.

The other Bible passage that is mishandled is Matthew 19, where in answer to the Pharisees’ question about divorce, Jesus appeals to God’s creational intention: ‘Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”.’ The reason why Jesus answers the Pharisees on divorce the way he does, is because this creational purpose of God, bringing a man and a woman together as one flesh, as a new family unit, still stands. But the Opinion dismisses this as ‘an inference not a command’.

There is more that could be said at this point, including the way an illustrative legal maxim is misquoted in order to make it say the very opposite of what it means in the general construction of legal statutes. The principle that ‘the expression of one is the exclusion of the other’ points to the significance of Jesus speaking first of male and female (echoing Genesis 1:27) and then of ‘a man and his wife’ (quoting Genesis 2:24) and not of any other kind of ‘marriage’. However, once again attempts are made to avoid the straightforward reading of the biblical text in the service of a predetermined conclusion.

But not only is the Bible irresponsibly handled, a series of theological assertions are made which are simply insupportable. First, the constituent elements of marriage as understood in Scripture and in the Anglican formularies are listed as ‘maturity, an intention of permanency, and consent’, neatly ignoring the biblical and BCP language of ‘man and woman’ and ‘forsaking all others’. Second, when the Book of Common Prayer is cited, and its three purposes of marriage quoted — the procreation of children, living a chaste and holy life, and mutual companionship — it is asserted that same sex marriages are capable of meeting all these three desiderata and the scriptural teaching on which they are based. The procreation of children, though, is not the natural outcome of a same sex sexual union. It requires of necessity—in every case—intervention from outside of the marriage, which is a massive difference to the conception of a child through the sexual union of a man and a woman in marriage. Third, an almost absurdly narrow definition of ‘doctrine’, itself a minority opinion of a previous iteration of the Tribunal, allows this Opinion to insist that the statements of Scripture and the Prayer Book about marriage do not fit the definition and so the proposed service and all that is involved in it, does not constitute a breach of doctrine.

There is a great deal of intricate legal argument in the majority opinion which is neatly and persuasively unravelled in the minority opinion of Ms Gillian Davidson. In many ways, given the gravity of the situation and the potential consequences of the their decision, the majority opinion really reads like shoddy work at points. It is very obviously a preconceived conclusion in search of an argument, which it attempts, unsuccessfully, to manufacture. It reveals a fundamentally different doctrine of Scripture and of Christian discipleship.

For these reasons we need to voice the strongest possible rejection of this majority opinion of the Appellate Tribunal. Already, as we have seen, some of the Australian bishops are preparing to act upon it. We need to make clear that we have not moved from where we have always stood. We stand on the authority of Scripture and the teaching of Christ, given to us during his earthly ministry, and through the subsequent ministry of his commissioned spokesmen, the apostles. We are not moving away from the rest of the Anglican church. We haven’t moved at all. Instead, this opinion and the actions proposed to be taken on the basis of it, constitute a walking away from us and the majority of Anglicans worldwide who have risked everything to take their stand on the teaching of Scripture on this issue.

Brothers and sisters, many of our brothers and sisters, Anglicans in other parts of the world, are looking to see how we will respond to what has been done and is about to be done as a result of this Appellate Tribunal opinion. David Short, who, with the congregation of St John’s Shaughnessy, lost their church campus and the house he and his family lived in, who had his license to minister withdrawn — we made him an honorary canon of St Andrews Cathedral in the wake of it all — David is watching. And we want to be able to look David in the eye and say ‘we are with you, we stand with you’. Jay Behan, David Clancey and hundreds of others in Christchurch New Zealand, were compelled to leave their church buildings behind and eventually to form a new diocese because they could not turn a blind eye to their General Synod’s decision to bless same sex unions. Jay, David, Costa and all the rest — they are watching too. And we need to be able to look them in the eyes and say: ‘the test came, and we stood firm with you’.

So I am asking you to pass this motion. It needs to be strong and it needs to be clear.

But one last thing: it is important, as a friend reminded me last night, that we distinguish between those in responsible positions of authority who teach and promote these things, and those who are broken and hurting and need to hear of the possibility of forgiveness, restoration and new life. To those who teach these things and overturn the teaching of Scripture in doing so, we need to speak in the strongest possible terms, as this motion does, as Jesus did to the religious leaders of his day. But without ever backing away from that, we need to keep reaching out in love, compassion and grace to those trapped by the devil’s lies and who live in the midst of a broken world. To people like that Jesus came — to call them to faith and repentance, but also to healing and new life. So remember to whom this motion is addressed: those who published this Opinion and synods of the Anglican Church who will respond to it. For that reason it needs to be strong and clear.

Once again, I commend this motion to you.

A Day of Reckoning: Victorian Government pushes to ban Christian practices with threat of 10 years in prison

“The day has come in Victoria where Christians and Churches need to decide whether to obey God or the Government. Such a decision should never be forced onto believers but the current Victorian Government insists that it must be so.

There are times when we use hyperbole and exaggerate the significance of words or decisions, but I do not think this is one of those occasions.

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 has been tabled in the Victorian Parliament. This is the most significant threat to religious freedom in Victoria in living memory. The current Government has been slowly removing religious freedoms for a number of years, but nothing quite like this.

Anyone found engaging in ‘change or suppression practices’ may face 10 years imprisonment. …

Take note of the following details:

  1. The Bill will ban consensual practices. If a person invites a pastor or person to pray for them in relation to their sexual orientation or gender identity, the pastor or person can be charged according to the Act.
  2. Section 5.3 provides examples of what constitutes ‘practices’.  Prayer is banned. For example, if a person asks for prayer that they would live a godly life and refrain from sexual activity that they believe is inconsistent with follow Jesus Christ, the person praying can be charge[d] according to this Act.
  3. Section 5.3 specifies that practice is not limited to the examples that are provided. …”

Murray Campbell in Melbourne issues a stark warning.

Do take the time to read it all.

The Church of England’s guide to hearing God’s voice through the Bible, according to LLF

“The Church of England Evangelical Council advise their members to ‘engage’ with the LLF process.

There is, I think, a genuine belief in some quarters that the ‘Beautiful Story’ of the bible’s guide to who we are as human beings in the light of the gospel just hasn’t been communicated successfully, and here is an opportunity to win over the liberals as part of a respectful conversation.

I would want to plead with anyone thinking of taking part in next year’s conversations on that basis: don’t!”

Anglican Mainstream’s Andrew Symes warns against the worldviews behind the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith.

(Matthew 10:16?)

The Beautiful Story

From The Church of England Evangelical Council (PDF file):

“The Church of England has just released a suite of resources (called ‘Living in Love and Faith’) and launched a new dialogue around human experiences of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. And though we are not yet at the end of the road we have reached a big and important milestone. We are now getting close to the point where we shall finally have to make up our minds about same-sex sexual relationships in particular, and this is going to affect every parish in the land, every ministry, every incumbent, and every PCC.

One option for the future is that we simply accept that the Church has a range of views and that we must learn to live with difference. But that is a bit like saying that we don’t really need to make up our minds at all.

And provided you don’t think about it too much, it sounds attractive.

But is it possible to say and do a number of contradictory things at the same time? …

Most important of all, would it be right to lose confidence in God’s design for human flourishing at this critical moment in our nation’s history?

This brand new film ‘The Beautiful Story’ brings together a diverse range of evangelical Anglican leaders who believe the time has come to say where we stand. It is not exhaustive (e.g. there is no exploration of the experiences of transgender people) and it will not answer all the questions that people might have. However they believe it is time to speak up for what we are for rather than what we are against. They believe in another story, a better story, that has been given for our good and for human flourishing. …”

– See The Beautiful Story at the CEEC website. It’s the first of a number of planned resources.

See also these responses to the Church of England’s ‘Living in Love and Faith’:

Living in Love and Faith: Honest disagreement – Kirsten Birkett. (Church Society)

Initial thoughts on LLF – Lee Gatiss (Church Society)

“This whole Living in Love and Faith thing is huge. A 450 page book, a 5 week course, and 50 or so detailed scholarly papers online in a library, plus 30 hours of videos and podcasts. Not only that, but there is already an array of initial responses and comments from various bloggers and tweeters. So it’s hard work keeping on top of all this.

Overall, I want to say this: Ultimately, there is absolutely nothing in LLF which warrants a change in the Church’s doctrine or practice. It simply fails to present a sufficient case to justify revision, if that’s what some were hoping it would do. The clearer our feedback to the process of discernment on the back of this, the better. …”

First impressions of the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith are very disappointing – Prudence Dailey.

LLF’s surrealist theology bodes ill for Evangelical Anglicans – Julian Mann.

That Hideous Strength: A Deeper Look at How the West was Lost — expanded edition

An expanded edition of Melvin Tinker’s That Hideous Strength: A Deeper Look at How the West was Lost is available, and comes highly recommended by David Robertson:

“There are very few books I buy multiple copies of – this is one of them. That Hideous Strength is an essential primer for any Christian in seeking to understand what is going on in society today.

The first edition was outstanding but limited because of its size. This new expanded edition overcomes those limitations, without becoming unwieldy or too heavy. This book should be on every church bookstall, and every Christian’s bookshelf. And now I have to go and buy more of the revised edition!”

It’s available locally from Reformers Bookshop.

General Synod to consider legal opinions on same-sex blessings

Archbishop Glenn Davies:

“In my opinion the effect of the majority opinion’s legal interpretation undermines the clear teaching of Scripture and thereby dishonours God.”

From SydneyAnglicans.net:

“Next year’s General Synod will consider a ruling from an Anglican tribunal saying services of blessing for same-sex marriage are constitutional, under a narrow opinion of what constitutes ‘doctrine’ of the Anglican Church.

The Appellate Tribunal expressed their opinion, by a 5 to 1 majority that the blessing of same-sex marriages was not inconsistent with the doctrine of the church, as expressed in the Fundamental Declarations of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia.

Archbishop Glenn Davies has written to clergy, saying he finds the opinion ‘hard to fathom, as it is contrary to the teaching of the Bible’.

Dr Davies says, the effect of the Appellate Tribunal’s opinion is that “it has declared that a service purporting to bless a same-sex marriage, as the Diocese of Wangaratta had developed, is consistent with the doctrine of our Church, because they narrowly define doctrine as that teaching which is necessary for salvation. Since marriage is not necessary to salvation, the majority of the Tribunal opined, then blessing a lawful marriage under the Marriage Act 1961, would not be a breach of doctrine – that is, with respect to what is necessary for salvation. …’”

– Read the full article at SydneyAnglicans.net.

Documents mentioned:

Archbishop Glenn Davies’ letter to incumbents, 20 November 2020.

Bishop Michael Stead’s explanation of the legal opinion.

(Both are PDF files. Depending on your equipment, they may download to your device instead of opening in a browser.)


Archbishop Davies’ full letter of 20 November 2020 is available at the link above. Below is the relevant section of his letter:

The Appellate Tribunal’s Opinion

While the above matters are good news, I am afraid I have more sober news regarding the Opinion of the Appellate Tribunal with respect to same-sex blessings that was published last week. There were two Opinions which may be found here. They are lengthy reading, but Bishop Michael Stead has provided a helpful summary of the Tribunal’s findings which I have attached.

The Appellate Tribunal expressed their Opinion, by a 5 to 1 majority that the blessing of same- sex marriages was not inconsistent with the doctrine of our Church, as expressed in the Fundamental Declarations of the Constitution of the Anglican Church of Australia.

Under the Constitution, the members of the Appellate Tribunal are in certain circumstances required to consult the House of Bishops and the Board of Assessors (seven clergy elected by the General Synod for this purpose). In answer to questions addressed to these bodies by the Tribunal, unanimous reports from both the Diocesan Bishops and the Board of Assessors made it abundantly clear that the teaching of the Bible, and therefore of the Anglican Church, was that the sexual union of two persons of the same sex was sin. That is why clergy are forbidden to solemnise same-sex marriages, for to bless such a union would amount to the blessing of sin.

The Appellate Tribunal chose not to heed this clear advice.

Personally, I find this hard to fathom, as it is contrary to the teaching of the Bible, which clearly identifies marriage between a man and a woman as the only place where a sexual union is sanctioned by God (Hebrews 13:4). Sexual intercourse outside of marriage, whether it be adultery or fornication is widely condemned as immorality and attracts the harshest of condemnations in Scripture (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Jude 7; Revelation 22:15). While the world may deride our commitment to the standard of morality that God has established for his people, we have been called to holy and righteous living. In the 6th century BC Daniel warned his readers:

Many will be purified, made spotless and refined, but the wicked will continue to be wicked. None of the wicked will understand, but those who are wise will understand. (Daniel 12:10; cf Revelation 22:11)

In my opinion the effect of the majority opinion’s legal interpretation undermines the clear teaching of Scripture and thereby dishonours God.

The Anglican Church in the Diocese of Sydney welcomes all people, regardless of their ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, or even their past behaviour and beliefs, since the message of the gospel is that those who belong to Christ are equal members of the Body of Christ. However, Christ has set us free to serve him in holiness and righteousness of life, which entails changed behaviour. Consider Paul’s exhortation concerning unchristian behaviour and every kind of impurity.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:20-24

For those who struggle with sexual temptations, our Church must be a safe haven, offering both the strength to resist temptation and the joy of Christian fellowship, because the grace of God covers a multitude of sins, just as the Spirit of God empowers us to repent of our sins and walk in newness of life.

The Canon Concerning Services

The Canon Concerning Services 1992 has served our Diocese well for nearly thirty years. It provides flexibility for clergy, who have made solemn promises to conduct only authorised services of the Church in this Diocese (namely, BCP and AAPB), by allowing the minister to ‘make or use variations which are not of substantial importance in any form of [authorised] service.’ The Canon also allows the minister to conduct a service, for which no provision is made in the Diocese, considered suitable by the minister for those occasions.’

This Canon was adopted in our Diocese because it clearly stated that variations to authorised services must be ‘reverent and edifying and must not be contrary to or a departure from the doctrine of this Church.’ However, the effect of the Appellate Tribunal’s Opinion is that it has declared that a service purporting to bless a same-sex marriage, as the Diocese of Wangaratta had developed, is consistent with the doctrine of our Church, because they narrowly define doctrine as that teaching which is necessary for salvation. Since marriage is not necessary to salvation, the majority of the Tribunal opined, then blessing a lawful marriage under the Marriage Act 1961, would not be a breach of doctrine – that is, with respect to what is necessary for salvation.

This interpretation is contrary to the reports of the House of Bishops and the Board of Assessors who considered there is no such constraint upon the use of the word ’doctrine’ either in the Thirty– nine Articles or the Bible. Moreover, both reports were explicit and emphatic as to whether sexual immorality precluded a person from salvation in Christ Jesus, supporting this contention with references to Scripture (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:3-5; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Revelation 21:27; 22:11) .

Under the Canon Concerning Services 1992, it is the Diocesan Bishop who determines whether or not a proposed service fits the conditions of the Canon, so that already one Bishop has confidently declared that same-sex blessings are now legal in his diocese. Yet that is not the case in the Diocese of Sydney, as I do not consider such services to be either edifying or reverent, let alone in accordance with the doctrine of our Church.

I was pleased to see the Provincial Standing Committee of the Synod of NSW passed the following resolution this week and it asked each Diocesan Bishop to inform his clergy accordingly.

The Standing Committee of the Synod of the Province of NSW noted the two Opinions of the Appellate Tribunal concerning the matters of:
a. the Wangaratta Blessing Service; and
b. the Clergy Discipline Ordinance 2019 Amending Ordinance 2019 (Diocese of Newcastle).
In order to prioritise good fellowship, this Standing Committee requested the ministers of the Province to wait and not to act upon these matters until they are debated at the next General Synod.

These are difficult days for our Church. Next year the General Synod will have opportunity to reflect upon both the Majority and the Minority Reports of the Tribunal’s Opinion as to whether which one truly reflects the Constitution’s declaration that ‘the canonical scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being the ultimate rule and standard of faith given by inspiration of God and containing all things necessary to salvation.’

This is a crisis for our National Church and should lead us to prayer as we reflect upon both the teaching of Scripture and the demands of discipleship. I recognise that some will find this confronting and for differing reasons. When your congregations hear of this, they may be disturbed as to how a judicial panel could arrive at such conclusions, yet the teaching of Scripture has not changed. So, we should continue to pray, to trust God and to love our neighbour as ourselves as we navigate this territory over the next eight months until the meeting of General Synod.

As Advent approaches, the Collect from the Second Sunday in Advent is a wise guide for our prayers.

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

With every good wish

Grace and peace

Glenn N Davies

A Direct Threat to Christian Education in the US

“The accreditation of Christian colleges and schools has just been directly targeted by the nation’s most influential LGBTQ organisation.

The Human Rights Campaign has recently issued a document directed at the incoming administration entitled Blueprint for Positive Change 2020. The Blueprint demands that President-elect Biden adopt a legislative agenda and enact specific executive orders that are in line with the LGBTQ movement—a movement that Biden pledged to champion.

Contained within its pages are perhaps some of the most alarming demands that threaten religious liberty, and the mainstream media has given little to no attention to this dimension of the report. …”

– Albert Mohler writes about a ramping up of the culture wars in the USA.

Review: ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self’ by Carl Trueman

“With each passing year, it can seem that cultural developments are only getting worse.

The unending creativity and output of Western debauchery is one of its hallmark industries. ‘Live Your Truth’ and ‘You Do You’ asininities ensure that critical investigation about the goals of human nature are subjugated beneath the hierarchies of nerve endings and atomized ‘rights.’ A rejection of God’s authority over creation explains one reason for our cultural plight. But cultural realities are forged by a complex milieu of ideas, personalities, and artifacts that build on one another in genealogical sequence to get us to where we are today.

Enter iconoclast Carl Trueman, who has written one of the most anticipated books of 2020. ;”

– At The Gospel Coalition, Andrew T. Walker highly recommends ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self’ by Carl Trueman.


Tim Challies has also published a review:

“As I see it, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is not only the most important book I’ve read in 2020, but also the best. I can’t recommend it too highly.”

and Justin Taylor has this – with several videos from Carl Trueman.


Wangaratta and Newcastle Bishops issue first responses to Appellate Tribunal

“The two bishops of the Dioceses at the centre of this week’s Appellate Tribunal opinions have issued their first responses. Bishop Peter Stuart of Newcastle sent his clergy a letter on Friday …

Bishop Clarence Bester of Wangaratta issued a statement on Thursday. …

– David Ould has a report, and the text of the statements.

Responses to the Appellate Tribunal Opinion

Essential reading on the 11 November 2020 Opinion issued by the Appellate Tribunal:

Dr Robert Tong on the Appellate Tribunal Opinion

Dr Robert Tong AM, Chairman of the Anglican Church League, has written this response to the Opinion given by the Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia.

It’s very helpful in giving us context for what is happening, and is well worth reading in full.



The Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia

This afternoon the Primate (Archbishop Geoff Smith), released on the General Synod website the Opinions of the Appellate Tribunal on references made by him to the Tribunal for their Opinion on the validity or otherwise of legislation made by two dioceses of the Australian Church.

The Diocese of Wangaratta passed legislation to authorise a service to bless marriages which have been conducted in accordance with the Commonwealth Marriage Act.  However, there are some marriages, validly contracted under the law, which are not recognised by the church. These marriages could be blessed by use of the Wangaratta service.

The Diocese of Newcastle passed legislation in similar terms to the Wangaratta Diocese authorising the use of a blessing service. However, the Bishop did not provide his assent to the legislation within the required 30 days and, accordingly, the legislation lapsed.  There is nothing to prevent the legislation being reintroduced at a subsequent synod and, if assented to by the Bishop it will form part of the law of the diocese of Newcastle.  Secondly, that Newcastle Synod amended the jurisdiction of its diocesan tribunal.  The amendment removed from the jurisdiction of the diocesan tribunal, power to entertain complaints about clergy who had used the blessing service.

The Appellate Tribunal is created by the General Synod Constitution.  The Tribunal is the final forum in Australia for discipline appeals from a diocese.  The constitution also gives the Tribunal a function to provide advisory opinions on questions referred to it. Its membership consists of three diocesan bishops and four lawyers. Thus, it is a mixed body with training and skills in law and theology. Members of General Synod elect the members of the Tribunal and once elected they remain until retirement at 70.

On these references, the Tribunal invited written submissions from interested parties and then conducted their deliberations in private.  Under section 58 of the Constitution, where the Tribunal is not agreed on a question of doctrine, they can seek the opinion of the House of Bishops and the Board of Assessors. The Assessors are a panel of seven clergy elected by the General Synod. On the three questions asked, the House of Bishops provided a unanimous reply. The same questions to the Board of Assessors also resulted in a unanimous response. The theological thrust of the reports from the bishops and assessors was that the underlying theology in the blessing service was contrary to the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles of the Anglican Church of Australia.

So much by way of background. The President of the Tribunal, the Hon Keith Mason AO QC was joined by the Hon Richard Refshauge, the Most Rev’d Dr Phillip Aspinall, Professor the Hon Clyde Croft AM SC and the Rt Rev’d Garry Weatherill, who formed the majority and gave one joint opinion.

There is a profound sense of disappointment in reading the lengthy majority opinion. In essence, the majority held that the meaning of ‘doctrine’ in the constitution is narrow. That is, in the constitution, doctrine is the teaching on the faith which is necessary to salvation. Thus, at paragraph 180:

In our view, the matters in the present reference do not involve issues of faith or doctrine properly so called any more than the dispute over female ordination. The contending views about “blessing” same-sex marriages are strongly held. But, with respect to some of the recent rhetoric, and the actions taken abroad by some bishops of this Church, the blessing of same-sex marriages does not [necessarily] involve denial of God or repudiation of the Creeds or rejection of the authority of Holy Scripture or apostasy on the part of bishops or synods prepared to support such measures.

Given that questions of doctrine were in play as well as answers from the House of Bishops and the Board of Assessors, it is disappointing that the majority have formulated an opinion which skirts around the theological position set out in the reports from the bishops and assessors.  And it is particularly curious that the two bishops on the Tribunal (who are also members of the House of Bishops) did not provide their own ‘theological’ addendum to the majority opinion. Especially so, when the majority opinion, of which they are part, opens the door for the blessing of behaviour which the Bible clearly says will exclude people from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10).

The minority opinion of Ms Gillian Davidson asserts that ‘doctrine’ should be given the meaning intended by the framers of the Constitution, as a standard of our unity and our coherence as a distinctly Anglican body of believers.   She accepts the theological position in the unanimous opinions of the House of Bishops and Board of Assessors, that same sex practice is contrary to the faith and practice of the Church; persistent, unrepentant sin precludes a person from God’s kingdom; and God cannot bless that which is named as sin. For my part, it is inconceivable that the leading synod members of the 1955 General Synod, some known to me, who adopted the Constitution, would in any way support the narrow interpretation of ‘doctrine’ as expressed by the majority Opinion.

On the Newcastle reference, the curtailing of the jurisdiction of the diocesan tribunal was the point at issue. The change is to preclude categories of conduct by clergy in that diocese from being the subject of a charge in the diocesan tribunal. The majority held that the amending legislation was a valid exercise of the constitutional power of the diocesan synod. Ms Davidson took the view that the synod’s power may only be exercised ‘for the order and good governance of this Church within the diocese’ and that the proposed ordinance of the synod harms good order and governance and therefore is inconsistent with the Constitution.

The Opinions on both references require considered reflection on the legal reasoning and the treatment of Scripture by Tribunal members. While that may take some time, the conclusion is clear and disturbing. A presenting question is: who can articulate ‘doctrine’ in the Anglican Church of Australia? A contest between General Synod and the Appellate Tribunal is inevitable.

What might flow from these Opinions? Anybody familiar with the long and tortured gestation of the Constitution, will recognise that the hard-won unity of the Church, as expressed in the opening sections of the Constitution is under threat. The ordination of women created a state of impaired communion putting pressure on unity. If same sex liturgical blessings become part of the life of a diocese the unity of the Anglican Church of Australia will be on paper only.

Participation in the Holy Communion is seen by many as the visible expression of unity. When some Primates, at a Primates Meeting, declined to join in Communion with Primates from provinces which did not uphold biblical sexual morality, that was the ultimate breach of unity. Could that happen at an Australian Bishops Conference or at General Synod?    

At ground level, some congregations in dioceses which adopt the innovation, may want episcopal oversight from another bishop. Others may see that diocese as ripe for church planting.

Looking more widely, do these Opinions mark the line in the sand which was crossed in New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom?

Robert Tong

Remembrance Day 2020.

See also:

Preliminary thoughts on the Appellate Tribunal ruling – Dr. Mark Thompson, Principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney.

Preliminary thoughts on the Appellate Tribunal ruling — Dr Mark Thompson warns of devastating consequences

“It is with great sadness that I note the opinion of the Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia on the matter of proposed services to bless same-sex unions. Setting aside the unanimous advice of the House of Bishops and the unanimous advice of the Board of Assessors, the majority of the Tribunal has decided that there is no impediment to such services of blessing going ahead.

This opinion, if acted upon, may indeed have devastating consequences for the Anglican Church of Australia, as similar decisions have done elsewhere in the world, but it cannot change the revealed will of God. …”

Read all of Canon Dr. Mark Thompson’s preliminary thoughts at the Moore College website.

See also:

Appellate Tribunal Issues Majority Opinion Backing Same-Sex Blessing Liturgy – David Ould, 11 November 2020.

“Attention now moves to the House of Bishops who meet tomorrow and the Standing Committee of the General Synod who begin to meet on Friday.”


‘Newcastle Anglicans support gay marriage’ – 27 October 2019.
Wangaratta Blessing “Delayed” – 10 September 2019.

From Father to Son — J.R.R. Tolkien on Sex

“Tolkien dearly loved his children, and he left a literary legacy in the form of letters. Many of these letters were written to his sons, and these letters represent, not only a hallmark of literary quality, but a treasure of Christian teaching on matters of manhood, marriage, and sex. Taken together, these letters constitute a priceless legacy, not only to the Tolkien boys, but to all those with whom the letters have been shared.

In 1941, Tolkien wrote a masterful letter to his son Michael, dealing with marriage and the realities of human sexuality. The letter reflects Tolkien’s Christian worldview and his deep love for his sons, and at the same time, also acknowledges the powerful dangers inherent in unbridled sexuality. …”

Albert Mohler republishes this excerpt from his book Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance after the announcement that “Amazon intends to include sex and nudity in the upcoming “Lord of the Rings” streaming series.

See also his The Briefing for 10 November 2020. (Part 4.)

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