The moment I mention ‘doctrine’ I can see the rolling of eyes, in part because of the history of doctrinal dispute the has scarred European history for centuries, and in part because of a reaction against the kind of post-Enlightment rationalist approach that reduces doctrine to propositions. But, as Anthony Thiselton points out in The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, for the first Christians doctrine was about their fundamental disposition in life; the claims of the creeds and credal statements weren’t simply claims about facts, but what they based their life on. They really believed that ‘The truth will set you free’ (John 8.32). That is why doctrine matters, not least in this area of what it means to be created, male and female in the image of God, and the implications of that for sexual behaviour. If the bishops do not believe that wrong doctrine in this area is harmful, then now is the time to abandon any theology of marriage. In fact:
“Christianity is based on revealed doctrine, enabling individuals to live rightly before a Holy God as followers of Jesus Christ. He tells us how to live in all areas of life, including in areas of sexual behaviour. No denomination is at liberty to invent its own doctrine or to sacrifice revealed doctrine on the altars of contemporary fashion. We cannot be authentically Christian whilst simultaneously rejecting the teaching of the one we claim to follow.” (Rev Simon Austen, Rector of St Leonard’s Church, Exeter Diocese)
That is why the ministry of teaching is at the heart of Anglican understandings of what it means to be deacon, priest (presbyter) and bishop. That is why, in the Articles, preaching and the sacraments go hand in hand—teaching must lead to action, but action without teaching is like a ship without a rudder.
I sincerely hope that senior bishops in the Church will now speak up and correct the impression that has been given. Doctrine does underlie this issue; doctrine does matter; wrong doctrine causes harm. If they don’t speak now and publicly, I cannot see but that it will be the end of the Church of England as we know it.