Rev Richard Coles has revealed he broke CofE rules in order to have his same-sex relationship blessed in a church. John Stevens says Coles’ actions were in direct defiance of the vows he took as a priest
Rev Richard Coles is widely regarded as a national treasure.
The former Communard and celebrity vicar is co-host of Saturday Live on Radio 4, appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and wrote a moving memoir about grief following the death of his partner from alcoholism.
He is openly gay and recently resigned as a parish priest because of the failure of the Church of England to celebrate same-sex marriage.
Last week, bishops in the Church of England proposed the Church allow the blessing of same-sex civil marriages. They are also planning to change pastoral guidance to celebrate the goodness of gay sex inside faithful relationships. In an interview with The Times, Rev Coles revealed that he had already broken church rules by having his own, same-sex civil partnership blessed inside a church. He also revealed that, despite requirements for gay clergy to remain celibate, he had long given up being so.
Breaking the rules
Coles swore an oath of obedience to his bishop to uphold the doctrine and practice of the Church; an oath which he has now admitted to flagrantly breaking. Rather than submitting to the credal and confessional position of his Church, he took upon himself the right to decide how he could live. It is lamentable that bishops failed to exercise proper discipline and hold him accountable to his promises.
Every church and Christian organisation has the right to set theological and behavioural boundaries to ensure that its doctrinal teaching is upheld. When Coles was ordained, and throughout his time as a parish priest, the official doctrine of the CofE remained that sexual union was for within heterosexual marriage only, and clergy who entered into same-sex civil partnerships or marriages were required to practice celibacy. We now know that Coles had signed up to this in theory, but did not live it out in practice.
The behaviour of those who knowingly reject and subvert the doctrine of their own Church is how churches previously faithful to the truth of the Bible drift into unfaithfulness. They gain entry under false pretences, appearing to subscribe to orthodoxy, but then work to bring about revisionist change.
This is exactly what happened in the CofE during the 20th century when liberal clergy who no longer believed the Bible infiltrated churches, despite indicating their acceptance of orthodox confessional statements required of ministers.
The New Testament repeatedly warns of the need to protect churches from false teachers who will lead people astray. One form of false teaching identified in Jude 1 is those who pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ into a licence for sexual immorality, including homosexual practice.
Churches protect themselves against false teaching by adopting confessional standards and requiring ministers and members to declare that they wholeheartedly believe and will uphold them. Those who cannot make such a commitment, or who change the convictions they once held, ought to leave or be removed from office or membership.
The current crisis engulfing many of our Christian denominations has arisen because, over many years, churches have not upheld and enforced their own agreed doctrinal standards. The question of whether to affirm same-sex marriage is only one of many such issues.
The CofE has many clergy, not to mention bishops, who do not believe the reformation doctrines of the 39 Articles. In the past there have been clergy and bishops who did not believe the doctrines of the creeds, who rejected the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, bodily resurrection from the dead, the second coming and the judgement to come.
The crisis engulfing many of our Christian denominations has arisen because churches have not enforced their own doctrine standards
True Christianity requires faith in a series of doctrinal proposition about Jesus Christ and what he has done, and a willingness to live in accordance with them. If these are undermined - or outright rejected - what we have left is false religion
Evangelicals have always sought to guard the “the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3), both to honour God and ensure the salvation of lost people. It is for this reason that the Evangelical Alliance removed Steve Chalke’s Oasis Trust from membership, because it chose to affirm same-sex relationships, contrary to scripture and the confessional position of the Alliance.
The CofE has consistently failed to uphold its own doctrinal standards. Now bishops have been forced to maintain a semblance of unity by blessing relationships the Bible declares to be sinful. It’s a recipe for disaster.