Saturday, July 4, 2015

Is TEC's new doctrine of marriage heretical?

Tobias Haller writes about TEC's recent decision to canonically redefine marriage to be about two persons, not only about a man and a woman,

'The canonical amendment, in the drafting of which I participated, is, in my likely not sufficiently humble opinion, simultaneously orthodox and comprehensive. I challenge anyone opposed to it to point to any line in it that contradicts the teaching of the church. It is true that it omits reference to "man and woman" -- but omission does not constitute denial. Again, some may find this too subtle, but it is true.'

Here, it seems to me, Haller makes a claim that TEC has extended or developed its doctrine of marriage, but not created a new doctrine.

But some seem to view TEC's recent decision as a new revelation granted by the Holy Spirit. I make a comment at that post which ridicules the notion of a new revelation because it is ridiculous, except in one respect. I guess if you wish to assert a teaching which is out of step with nearly the whole of the rest of the universal church, both now and in the past, then logically you can only justify such an assertion by claiming it is valid as a new revelation. Otherwise, frankly, we are into heresy.

Heresy? Yes, because heresy is a distortion of existing doctrine which is not accepted as consistent with that doctrine by wider members of the church. (Or, heresy is acclaimed new doctrine which is not incorporated into the body of doctrine already accepted by the church).

What has TEC distorted in respect of marriage as understood by Anglicans around the world?

Let's go back to a citation in my post below:

'Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of N. and N. in Holy Matrimony. The joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelity signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.' from p. 98 of this TEC material, cited by Anglican Curmudgeon.

TEC's new marriage doctrine involves distorting the plain meaning of the underlying Scripture when we speak of marriage and its mysteries in relation to the mystery of the union between Christ and the church. It is bold and frank in its attempt to extend the Scriptural understanding of marriage to incorporate marriage between any two persons but the price it pays is to distort Scripture.

There is more to consider about the heretical nature of the new doctrine.

(1) It can make no claim that it is reaching back into the beginnings of the church's teaching on marriage to rediscover something which was there but then got obscured. There is no route from the teaching in Scripture and in the tradition of the church to extend the meaning of marriage from a covenantal partnership between a man and a woman to a covenantal partnership between any two persons.

(2) It can make no claim to being an understanding which either everyone, everywhere has always believed, or even nearly everyone, everywhere has nearly always believed.

(3) In respect of Haller's claim re comprehensiveness (if it be a presumption by TEC as to what it has done), we are in novel Anglican territory. Let me explain.

Previously Anglican comprehensiveness has been about the capacity of Anglicanism to live with a variety of understandings about doctrinal matters under a shared umbrella of some common understanding. The classic doctrine is eucharistic understanding. The umbrella has been acceptance that Jesus said, "This [bread] is my body." The comprehensiveness has been the acceptance of a variety of understandings of what "is" means (representation through to transubstantiation, Zwingli to Aquinas). But now Haller makes a move which is akin to the umbrella itself being the subject of comprehension, a move akin to claiming that Jesus didn't really mean "This [bread] is my body" but "Any food (including bread) is my body."

On Haller's notion of comprehensiveness, TEC is claiming that it can remain part of the Anglican body of churches while shifting its understanding of marriage from 'a man and a woman' to 'any two people (including, a man and a woman). But Anglican comprehensiveness is not an infinitely pliable concept. Haller's conception seems to be.

On his logic above 'omission does not constitute denial', marriage could be determined to mean anything, providing it did not exclude the possibility that it includes marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage between any two sentient beings or marriage between any number of sentient beings greater than one would fit his 'omission does not constitute denial.' This is plasticity not comprehensiveness.

We should ask and keep on asking, where does the Scriptural and traditional doctrine of marriage as understood by Anglicans (itself an understanding shared by most Christians around the world through Christian history, points of difference notably focused on the endings of marriage (divorce/remarriage) and not on marriage itself) require an extension which changes its own core definition?

Now, just before someone labels me a homophobic bigot, let me point out two things.

First, that the HOB has spoken warmly about the Communion Partner bishops who have dissented from the recent decision on same gender marriage. We can read what the Communion Partner bishops have to say here.

Secondly, there is another way forward for Anglicans to move - a way which some Anglican churches are considering, including my own (as per Motion 30). That way is to consider the possibility that permission might be given for those who wish to bless partnerships between any two persons might do so.

An advantage of this way of proceeding is that it need not involve heresy because it need not change the doctrine of marriage. It is controversial, because not all Anglicans are willing to accept that such blessings are not prohibited by Scripture and tradition. It is a matter of continuing argument, because such a move rests on an arguable presumption that what is not addressed is not prohibited and is thereby permissible. (See comments to post below for arguments back and forth).

But it is something to consider on two grounds (at least): (1) some conscientious Anglicans (with a conscience in respect both of Scripture and tradition and in respect of gay couples in their congregations) wish to have this permission; (2) at least in countries such as Aotearoa New Zealand which legally permit gay marriage, it is appropriate that somewhere in the life of the church some manner of liturgical recognition be available for those who choose a pattern of partnership which is covenanted.

TEC, however, has gone beyond this step.

Many Anglicans around the world, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have big questions about this step.

I am suggesting here that those questions include the very significant question of whether TEC has now committed itself to heretical doctrine of marriage.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

TEC's radical experiment in marriage redefinition

'"All I did was get in the way of the Holy Spirit, and she’s a fierce tornado,Louie Crew 
'Rather than Scripture being unambiguous about homosexual practice, it is patently inconclusive about committed gay relationships. It would take a good deal of intellectual gymnastics to pretend otherwise.  
Best we can do: if you don't agree with a committed same-sex relationship, don't have one. Don't demand everyone bless it. Allow those who agree to bless it to do so.' Mike, commenting here at ADU
'Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of N. and N. in Holy Matrimony. The joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelity signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.' from p. 98 of this TEC material, cited by Anglican Curmudgeon.

Over in Utah, TEC's General Convention (GC) is moving in a predictable direction re changing the doctrine of marriage as understood by that member church of the Anglican Communion.(All done and dusted, today, Thursday 2 July NZ time)

Long time prophetic spokesman and energetic activist for change, Louie Crew's comment is a reminder of the intense belief of many Episcopalians that where they are heading is led by none other than the Holy Spirit.

The words highlighted by Anglican Curmudgeon raise the question whether the Holy Spirit would be party to an invented theology of 'the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church' for nowhere in Scripture or tradition can we find any sign that 'the joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelity signifies to us the mystery etc.' That signification comes from the marriage of a man and a woman (Ephesians 5:22-33). I suggest that many other Anglican churches are going to baulk at TEC going that far in, frankly, distorting the text of Scripture.

The comment from Mike makes a very fair point about the ambiguity of Scripture over the possibility that same-sex relationships might be blessed (albeit the point is arguable), and offers an olive branch in respect of the possibility of being a church which permits those who agree that such relationships may be blessed to proceed to bless them while not being a church which demands that every minister must so bless. In many respects what Mike says is where my bet at the TAB would be placed for where ACANZP is going to go - albeit with recommendations yet to be published, General Synod and diocesan synods yet to deliberate, etc.

Quo vadis?

Well, rather than me wax further, I thoroughly recommend reading Jordan Hylken's report on the House of Bishop's decision, 'Marriage Redefined?'. It is both careful and considered. What do you think?

Epilogue: there will be many in the Communion who wish to say, "Enough is enough, TEC must now go." Perhaps. But could we be kind and say, 'TEC is charting new territory. Frankly it looks completely disagreeable and wrong-headed. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Let's think of them as undergoing a radical experiment in marriage redefinition. How about they report back to us in 2028 about how the experiment is going?'

Postscript (2 July 2015):

(1) For a different Down Under view to one I am giving here, try Margaret Mayman, Kiwi minister in Sydney, who writes in the Sydney Morning Herald.

(2) Back to Utah: The Living Church runs an interesting article about the differing treatment by the bishops of two matters related through tradition and sacrament. One one they hesitated to change and on the other they pushed, inconsistently, for change! AND, I now note that the bishops have rejected a request for a study of 'Open Communion.'

(3) For a clarion call back to our roots in the first century, go to The Gospel Side.

(4) Andrew Goddard at Psephizo poses some questions about sexual ethics in the light of same gender marriage. And the comments (especially if you recognise the names of some of the key 'players' in the UK scene) are fascinating ...

(5) Ben Irwin has four pieces of advice ...

Theological Click-bait: could Utah be first state to approve polygamy?

Yes, momentous events are happening around the ecclesiastical world, particularly in Utah, where the TEC General Convention has worked contextually to approve polygamy same gender marriage (in the HOB, but the HOD is sure to agree). I am working on a post on that. Perhaps later today ...

Meanwhile, for your amusement, Steve Wright at Faith and Theology has offered all bloggers help with smarter, more enticing post titles, also known as 'click-bait'.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Spiritual and Sacred Links - Tuesday 30 June 2015

Supplied by a UK colleague:

Here are some things I hope you will find encouraging and informative:

#1 John Lennox on witnessing in an challenging culture; #2 Grant LeMarquand on preparing for the challenges of ministry; #3 Ele Mumford at the seaside; #4 the challenge and encouragement of Psalm 119; #12 Please pray for the victims' families from numerous massacres in the last 10 days and those being charged with insulting Islam, including now in the UK; #14 Some articles on the US court decision on marriage and some examination of the Pakistan blasphemy laws.

Prayers for you for the coming week

1. The Premier Lecture 2015 - Against the Flow - Professor John Lennox [Do you sometimes feel like you need to be encouraged in your faith, especially with the challenges you face in an increasingly secular culture?]

2. 2015 Graduation Commencement Address - Bishop Grant LeMarquand - TSM

3. The Wisdom of the Cross - Ele Mumford [1Corinthians 1:18-20] - St Peter's Brighton

4. Psalm 119

5. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

6. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

7. The New Testament in a year with Rev Andrew Goddard

8. The bells of St Peter ad Vincula, Combe Martin in Devon - BBC Radio 4

9. Sunday Worship from First Lisburn Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland - BBC Radio 4

10. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

11. Choral services from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge
and New College, Oxford

Please pray for those under trial for insulting Islam in Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan and now the UK; for Charleston in South Carolina, Tunisia, France and Kuwait in the aftermath of mass killings; for the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church; for Christians and all facing persecution and crime in Syria and Iraq and Iran; for those affected by the earthquakes in Nepal; for peace in Burundi, Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

12. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Prayers for the Church of England from Lent and Beyond
UK: Belfast Pastor Faces Prison for "Grossly Offending" Islam - Soeren Kern
Imam defends pastor who called Islam 'satanic', says he will go to jail with him - CT
Egypt: Coptic boys on bail, anti-Islam charges pending - WWM
Egyptian convert still in jail having served his time - WWM
Sudan: Prosecution closes case Sudanese Pastors trial - CSW
South Carolina:Prayers from Lent and Beyond

13. Sunday Programme - with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

Food for thought
14. What Churches and Clergy Should Note from the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling - Christianity Today
SCOTUS Decision: Best Articles & Videos - David Murray
and a round up from First Things
Don Carson Responds to SCOTUS
A Prayer Litany for Marriage from the ACNA college of bishops - Lent and Beyond
Al Jazeera digs into Pakistan's blasphemy law in two-part series - Julia Duin
Our Story Begins: Hudson Taylor - OMF

15. Facing the Canon with Anthony Delaney - J John

16. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me - Elgar - St John's College Choir, Cambridge

17. Trails End - Randy Halverson Vimeo

God bless you

Monday, June 29, 2015


The gospel in a Tweet is, #LoveWins.

Funnily enough, that is also the hashtag celebrating the US Supreme Court's decision to act as the parliaments of various countries, including my own, have acted. (Wait that doesn't sound right: the Supreme Court is not the US legislature ... but that is another issue, internal to the body politic of the States).

Christians in the US are either celebrating (led by President Obama himself) or concerned. The latter include the US Catholic Bishops, a coalition of evangelicals, ACNA, and the Diocese of South Carolina.

It is worth noting, via First Things, that c.100 million US citizens likely disagree with this ruling (i.e. agree with the 4 judges who were outvoted by the other 5). Chief Justice Roberts himself disputes whether this matter had anything to do with the constitution. Arguments about this will run and run. Yet where will it end, since some conservative Christians' minds may be changed?

Obviously 'marriage' in the sense of a permanent contractual relationship between two people is undergoing redefinition in Western culture, supported by legal redefinition. In the majority judgement, Justice Kennedy writes,
"No union is more profound than marriage for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family."
That Kennedy is willing to include same gender couples in this otherwise admirable definition of marriage demonstrates that in this redefinition of marriage, gender diversity is immaterial.

There is now no legal sense in several Western countries that 'marriage' means: 'The most profound human union because it embodies the union of male and female bound by the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.'

Yet it is difficult to see that a majority of Western Christians are going to let go of the concept of a 'something' (which used to be called 'marriage') being a union of a man and a woman. For this majority the US Catholic Bishops speak:

'The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home. 
Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.'

Nor is it possible to see that the ever increasing Muslim population in Western countries is going to let go of the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

Might we yet see a new word for what 'marriage' used to mean?

Meanwhile for those Christians not supporting gay marriage, who believe the Gospel = #LoveWins, there is a question of how we connect with those who believe that Gay Marriage = #LoveWins.

What can we affirm about the love which binds two people of the same gender together according to the law of the land on marriage? 

If we cannot find affirmation I suggest we are in grave danger of being viewed as those who discriminate against gay and lesbian people in a society which rightly abhors discrimination against people groups.

The gospel does not require gays and lesbians who commit to loving another to be put beyond the pale. While conservative churches rightly claim that they seek to put no one beyond the pale, the difficulty now is that we are being perceived as putting people beyond the pale.

Incidentally, this is also a time for conservatives to continue being, well, conservative.

The Supreme Court ruling does not change the fact that conservatives in Western societies have concerns about the future of the family: we should continue to argue (as the US Catholic bishops do) for the rights of children to be brought up by a mum and a dad, as well as arguing that the word 'mother' or 'father' should not be demeaned by a person of the opposite gender claiming to be what they are not.

We should continue to ask what 'bisexual' means in a context where commitment to monogamous marriage (gay or straight) is being celebrated. We should continue to be wary of future progression towards legal polygamy (given that no rational arguments against legalisation now exist in Western countries which have legalised gay marriage).

Speaking more personally about the state of my own inner thinking, as I read across the internet through these days, finding impressive arguments for and against the Supreme Court decision, I am freshly struck by the way in which what I have personally understood marriage to be all about is undergoing examination. I realise, to give one line of questioning, that within a Western cultural framework, fuelled by childhood books and TV programmes in which the hero and heroine met, fell in love and got married, I have assumed marriage is primarily about love and secondarily about faithful commitment between two people intending to create a family. (Someone I read said that much better but I cannot find the link). From that 'romantic' perspective, Western culture has always been on track - though we knew it not until recently - to affirm gay marriage because the State, in the end, cannot and should not stand in the way of love between two people.


It is from the 'family' perspective on marriage that the greatest objections to gay marriage arise (so it seems from my reading). If marriage is about two people uniting to reproduce, committing to fidelity in order to provide security for their children, then should the law permit marriage between two people whose union does not lead to reproduction? (A secularist could ask that question.) Ditto: ... then should church canons define marriage to include two people whose union does not lead to reproduction? (That is an ecclesiastical question tied to permitted actions of ministers in respect of blessing and (for some churches) sacramental action).

In sum: is God at work through this time to refine our understanding of marriage? Not merely refining us in the sense of 'getting back to the Bible' or 'recommitting to tradition' but also in the sense of challenging specific cultural assumptions that have become enmeshed with our understanding which we have described confidently as 'biblical' or 'traditional'?

To return to the question above concerning the gospel = #LoveWins, in our engagement in so-called culture wars and in church debates over marriage, how might Christian love win?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Change is coming and it won't be long

I am calling Cardinal Kasper the patron saint of persistent prelates.

Last year he figured as point man for the push within the Roman church for change to rules regarding communion and remarried divorcees.

There was a push back, but it looks like the Kasper shove is coming back into the maul, and steering it towards the try line. The Tablet reports here. (Note this report also)

Oh, I know, those who doubt the maul will head in that direction will be vocal. "The church is bound by ... this and that."

But that could be to underestimate the current Pope. He is a realist, not an idealist. He knows that the church (all churches, he understands Protestants and Pentecostals pretty well) in the West is in trouble. On certain matters it is becoming too much like the Pharisees (i.e. emphasising the rules) and less like Jesus (i.e. emphasising mercy). Only the Jesus shaped church has a chance of winning back the West.

He has not taken the name Francis for nothing.

And this means something for Anglicans. We may be responding to cultural change with - take your pick - greater urgency, less regard for tradition, etc, but perhaps we are going to be more in tune with Rome than looked the case when (e.g.) the Ordinariate began.

And there is a challenge for Anglicans. Rome changes with a significant regard for unity. We Anglicans do not always have that regard.

Though currently - amidst a round of Motion 30 workshops in the Christchurch Diocese - I am impressed by our local commitment to finding a way forward to stay together.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Spiritual and Sacred Links - Wednesday 24 June 2015

Supplied by a UK colleague:

The face of the world has turned to Charleston this week where out of tragedy of the loss of nine church members to a gunman, a remarkable Christian witness has shocked the world even more as they live out the words of Jesus: 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

#1 and #2 are two sermons from Charleston, the first from the church which lost members to a gunman on 17th June; #3 Vaughan Roberts on Jesus being all you need; #4 Dr Richard Hays of Duke University on how the two Testaments inform each other #12 how The AME church in Charleston is recovering and the remarkable witness it is making worldwide.  Please pray for it. #15 the Turin Shroud continues to baffle and inspire; #16 and #17 encouraging and #19 a song for Charleston from Christian song-writer Steven Chapman and there are prayers for Father's Day.

Prayers for you for the coming week

1. Sermon at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston today - Rev. Norvel Goff [Psalm 46] [First service after reopening after losing nine members]

2. Do not be overcome by Evil, but Overcome Evil with Good - Brian McGreevy - St Philip's Charleston audio today

3. Jesus Who'll Satisfy You - Vaughan Roberts [John 4:1-42]

4. Did Moses Write About Jesus? - Dr Richard Hays - Lanier Theological Library Vimeo


5. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

6. The New Testament in a year with Rev Andrew Goddard

7. The bells of Lincoln Cathedral - BBC Radio 4

8. Sunday Worship from Wellington College in Berkshire commemorating Waterloo - BBC Radio 4

9. Choral Evensong from King's College, London - BBC Radio 3

10. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

11. Choral services from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge
and New College, Oxford

Please pray for Charleston in South Carolina and Emanuel AME Church known as 'Mother Emanuel' for its foundation; for the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church, Christians and all facing persecution and crime in Syria and Iraq and Iran; for those affected by the earthquakes in Nepal; for peace in Burundi, Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

Charleston, South Carolina
12. A Call to Prayer from the Bishops in South Carolina
Victims' Families Address Charleston Shooter In Court With Forgiveness
Emanuel AME Church holds first service since killings - USA Today
Moving Photos Of Sunday’s Service At Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church - Buzzfeed

13. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Prayer for Father's Day
Prayers for the Church of England from Lent and Beyond
South Carolina:Prayers from Lent and Beyond

14. Sunday Programme - with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

Food for thought

15.How did the Turin Shroud get its image? - BBC
Elizabeth Elliot - Christianity Today
Elisabeth Elliot on the Christian Father - Christianity Today
The Church Is Not a Sanctuary: On the Ground in Charleston - Peter Beck
Thriving Churches in a Hostile Culture - GC
Vein Repetition - David Keen
A 4 Step, Simple Strategy To Have a Less Stress-Filled Life - RE

16. Worcester Cathedral Voluntary Choir

17. Phil Chadder, Prison Chaplain

18. How Beautiful Upon the Mountains - Stainer - St John's College Choir, Cambridge

19. Song for Charleston - Steven Curtis Chapman

God bless you