13th November 2020
This week the Church of England published its long-awaited set of resources called Living in Love and Faith, which presents “Christian teaching and learning about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.” You probably know these topics have been highly controversial in the Church of England for a number of years, and these resources have been produced to help us find a way forward.
There will be time to study the contents in due course. I haven’t yet read the material, but I have ordered a copy of the book. For now, I want to reflect on the title itself. “Living in love and faith” is what any Christian believer will want to do. We’ll want to live in love for God and our fellow human beings. And we’ll want to live by faith in God and his word. What will be debated is what that looks like in practice.
I have a four observations. First, loving God goes hand-in-hand with loving my neighbour. According to Jesus, these are the two great commandments. Indeed, to love God with all my being is the first commandment. It is because and when I love God that I will start to love my neighbour. And I cannot justify failing to love my neighbour on the ground that I’m loving God, or the other way round. Loving my neighbour is more complicated than giving them what they want.
Second, loving God goes hand-in-hand with obeying God. Here’s how John puts it in his second letter: “This is love: that we walk in obedience to [the Father’s] commands.” Interestingly, he goes on to say that, “his command is that you walk in love.” So, we’re commanded to love! But we can’t claim to love God if we refuse to do what he asks.
Third, “faith” goes hand-in-hand with “the faith.” Faith is certainly our act of believing. It is also what we believe in, a body of faith – such as we have, for example, in the Apostles’ Creed. Jude can write and urge his readers “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” So, our faith is meant to be faith in the faith.
Fourth, everything in the coming debate will hinge on how “love” and “faith” are defined. It’s often claimed that Anglicans appeal to three authorities: Scripture, tradition and reason. However, the Book of Common Prayer makes it clear that the final authority is Scripture. What the Bible says, God says. We listen to tradition and reason to help us understand the Bible. So, the issue will be, as it has been since the Garden of Eden: “What does God really say?”
Lord, grant us to know what it means to live in love and faith according to your will, and give us the grace to live as you intend. Amen.