Friday, November 21, 2014

Keep within the teaching

I love reading the Bible and finding new insights. The other day there was this gem in 2 John:

"If anybody does not keep within the teaching of Christ but goes beyond it, he cannot have God with him: only those who keep to what he taught can have the Father and the Son with them." (v.9, Jerusalem Bible).

This is a little different to the next verse which speaks of our human response to heretics. Here in verse 4 we are solemnly warned that when we go beyond the teaching of Christ we do not have God with us.

At the heart of all theological debates, including those within the Anglican Communion is the question of the 'doctrine of Christ' (to use a phrase from the constitution of ACANZP). What is it? What goes beyond it? What keeps us within it?

John in this verse challenges us about the big picture of theological debate. The point of debate is to clarify the teaching of Christ. To fail to do this, to end up going beyond the teaching of Christ is to run the worst of all human risks, the risk that we no longer have God the Father and Son with us.

We sometimes joke that If God left the church, Would anyone notice?

In the midst of our debates it is quite possible that we would not notice that God was no longer with us. Debates have that ability to focus our attention on the debate and not on (say) the truth, or on the fact that the debating hall is burning down around us.

What if we debated with eyes open to the possibility that if we get the outcome wrong, if we go beyond the teaching of Christ, then we can no longer presume God is with us.

It is possible to have the form of religion without the content. To be sure we have the content with the form, we need to pay attention to what we teach and to strive to stay within the bounds of Christ's teaching.

LIkely I will add to this post as I reflect further on 2 John over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Facts on the ground, ecclesiastical change by stealth, you have been warned!

For quite a bit of the 2000s -as I recall - a mantra doing the rounds of conservative blogs concerned about the spread of liberal Anglicanism went something like this, "Watch Out! Liberals are changing the church through facts on the ground." That is, by pushing some practice or other to be tolerated rather than disciplined, liberal activists (so the narrative went) created 'facts' about church life which laid a foundation for a future change to ecclesiastical polity which caught up with the change.

Well, is another church up to the same tricks? Is at least one 'liberal activist' creating 'facts on the ground' which paves the way for future ecclesiastical polity change. In this case the change concerns marriage and the church. Guess who the activist is?

Answer: here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Brutal honesty: broken Communion may not be fixed

++Justin offers a masterful review of state of Communion in his Presidential Address to the current session of the English General Synod (here, also here). The following points stand out for me (within which I have emboldened some words):

"First of all, and this needs to be heard very clearly, the Anglican Communion exists and is flourishing in roughly 165 countries. There has been comment over the last year that issues around the Communion should not trouble us in the Church of England because the Communion has for all practical purposes ceased to exist. Not only does it exist, but almost everywhere (there are some exceptions) the links to the See of Canterbury, notwithstanding its Archbishop, are profoundly valued.  The question as to its existence is therefore about what it will look like in the future. "

"Secondly, Anglicanism is incredibly diverse. ...

At the same time there is a profound unity in many ways. Not in all ways, but having said what I have about diversity, which includes diversity on all sorts of matters including sexuality, marriage and its nature, the use of money, the relations between men and women, the environment, war and peace, distribution of wealth and food, and a million other things, underpinning us is a unity imposed by the Spirit of God on those who name Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. This diversity is both gift and challenge, to be accepted and embraced, as we seek to witness in truth and love to the good news of Jesus Christ."

"Thirdly, the potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about. We need to hold on to that, there is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. The prize is visible unity in Christ despite functional diversity.  It is a prize that is not only of infinite value, but also requires enormous sacrifice and struggle to achieve.  Yet if we even get near it we can speak with authority to a world ..."

"Our divisions may be too much to manage."

"In many parts of the Communion, including here, there is a belief that opponents are either faithless to the tradition, or by contrast that they are cruel, judgemental, inhuman. I have to say that we are in a state so delicate that without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures."

"the future of the Communion requires sacrifice.  The biggest sacrifice is that we cannot only work with those we like, and hang out with those whose views are also ours.  Groups of like-minded individuals meeting to support and encourage each other may be necessary, indeed often are very necessary, but they are never sufficient.  Sufficiency is in loving those with whom we disagree.  What may be necessary in the way of party politics, is not sufficient in what might be called the polity of the Church."

After noting that no Primates' Meeting will be called unless the majority of Primates think that should happen, and there will be no Lambeth Conference if the Primates do not think that should happen, ++Justin observes,

"The key general point to be established is how the Anglican Communion is led, and what its vision is in the 21st century, in a post-colonial world? How do we reflect the fact that the majority of its members are in the Global South, what is the role of the Instruments of Communion, especially the Archbishop of Canterbury, and what does that look like in lived out practice?  These are great decisions, that must be taken to support the ongoing and uninterrupted work of ministering to a world in great need and in great conflict. Whatever the answer, it is likely to be very different from the past."

++Justin is brutally honest here. Realistic, hopeful, yet cannot see how the broken unity (or visible disunity) can be repaired without considerable sacrifice. Are you and I willing to make it?

What if it turned out that Jesus didn't insist on male priests?

Curious remarks here by Cardinal Sean O'Malley. Obviously Jesus founded the church and not Sean. But did Jesus bequeath the church the order of male only priests?

Some Protestant wits might suggest that Jesus didn't bequeath the church any priests, male or female :)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Unpacking those Anglican mysteries

"Eight years ago I attended an Anglican church for the first time. As a Baptist pastor's daughter I was suddenly transplanted into a church community where men sometimes wear dresses, people sprinkle water on babies' heads, drink real wine at communion, and recite familiar phrases aloud together during their services.

Despite growing up in church pews there was still so much that was mysterious: who were the Vestry and what did they do? Would I ever know the words to The Grace off by heart? Would they still give me communion if I didn't cup my hands just right?"

Read on here to find out what Sophia Sinclair made of her time in the Anglican church (here in Christchurch).

Sacred and Spiritual Links - Monday 17 November 2014

The following material is supplied by a UK based colleague:

I hope some of this will be of encouragement. #1 Bishop Mouneer Anis speaking in Singapore on the parable of the foolish virgins; #2 more from Vaughan Roberts on the Book of Revelation; #3 moving talk from the wife of an imprisoned Iranian pastor; #4 Bishop Wright on the theology of St Paul; #16 website of resources for prayer for Prisons Week; #22 Testimony from Turkish converts.

Prayers for you this coming week.

1. How shall we wait for the Lord to come? - Bishop Mouneer Anis - St Andrews Singapore Audio [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 25:1-13]

2. Faithful or Fickle - Vaughan Roberts - St Ebbes Audio [Revelation 2:8-17]

3. The Answer to "Why" Is "Who" - Naghmeh Abedini, wife of imprisoned Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini with a letter from him [worth the wait]

4. Why and How Paul Invented "Christian Theology" - Bishop Tom Wright - Duke Divinity School video

Commentary for Sunday 16th November
5. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

6. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

7. The bells of St. Mary's Lamberhurst in Kent - BBC Radio 4

8. Choral Evensong from Durham Cathedral - BBC Radio 3

9. Sunday Holy Communion livestreamed from St Helena's Church, Beaufort, South Carolina at 10:15 am Eastern Time, 3:15 pm London Time

10. Sunday Worship from Cannon Street Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham - BBC Radio 4

11. Sunday Hour for Prisoners Sunday - BBC Radio 2

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

Please pray for the Ebola Crisis and for those working for a cure; for Christians and all facing persecution and crime in Iraq; for the persecuted church and in particular in Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey, China and North Korea; for peace in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

13. Iraq Region:
Thought for the Day - Canon Andrew White – BBC
Analysis: Distinction between 'moderate Islamists' and 'militant extremists' is misleading for Western governments – WWM
more Media Reports from FRRME

14. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Nigeria: Christians tortured and killed in Mubi - Open Doors
Boko Haram militants 'seize Nigerian town of Chibok' - BBC News
Egypt: Jailed Egyptian convert awaits appeal hearing – WWM
Turkey: Second Turkish trial implicates authorities in planned attack on church leaders – WWM
China: Increased pressure on Chinese Christians to conform to Communism - Christian Today
North Korea: American prisoners released - Open Doors
Ukraine: Mounting violence against Christians - Release International
South Carolina: Prayers from Lent and Beyond

15. Sunday Programme - current affairs with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

Food for thought
16. Prisons Week
Six Reasons Established Churches Should Plant Churches - Ed Stetzer - Christianity Today
Richard Dawkins has had his day, says Ravi Zacharias - Christian Today
How to work on your own – Medianet
Billy Graham answers 'What does it mean to follow Jesus? - Christian Today
John Stott's Prayer for the Next Generation - Trevin Wax – GC

17. I am Turkish and I follow Jesus - Lumindeo Vimeo

18. Set Apart - Worship Central

19. Japanese Snow Monkeys - J&K Schwarz

God bless you

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Give Up Your Small Ecumenical Ambitions - the Good News

Answering Jesus' prayer for the unity of his disciples is an immense challenge as previous posts here have indicated. But ever the optimist I suggest we do not descend into ecumenical gloom and doom.

One specific reason for not being gloomy about future prospects for one global communion of all Christians is the mighty power of the Holy Spirit. We should never act or think as though the Spirit is constrained by our own lack of ability to foresee better days to come. We could also contemplate all that we can see that the Spirit is achieving among us in our day.

Here I want to begin a list of the things which actually unite us. You could help by adding to the list in the comments. The list, I suggest, offers both reason for ecumenical thanksgiving as well as hope for the future.

In no particular order of significance ...

1. Christians accept the Apostles' Creed.

2. Only a few words of the Nicene Creed divide Christians who otherwise accept all the other words of this creed.

3. Without specific heads of churches agreement forcing the matter, from the ground up many churches are united in following a common lectionary. In itself this is a recognition that Scripture (noting 4 below) itself is a continuing matter of global commonality for Christians.

4. While acknowledging differences concerning the canon of the scriptures between Easter and Western Christianity, and within Western Christianity, all Christians are united on the canon of New Testament Scriptures.

5. Trinitarian baptism is practised by the vast majority of churches, and, with exceptions such as the Salvation Army, baptism remains the common initiation rite of those churches.

Can you add to this list? Do you disagree with one or more items on this list?