Friday, September 30, 2016

JC falls short of JC?

Giles Fraser writes a column which has a zinger start but does it run out of zing by the end?

Here are a few words near the beginning:

"Absolutely nothing that has been said by Jeremy Corbyn over the past few months is anything like as hostile to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few as the Bible. Indeed, compared to the book of Amos and the gospel of Luke, the campaign group Momentum are a bunch of bland soft-pedalling apologists for the status quo. So how, then, can middle England sit through these readings [last Sunday in lectionary-abiding churches] without storming out, but apparently find Corbyn unelectable? Have they not been listening?"

Giles is absolutely correct to make the point that the Bible is intensely socialist when it comes to wealth: it attacks the rich, especially the corrupt rich and the ignore-the-poor rich and it paints word pictures in which goods and services are shared equally among property-sharing Christians (e.g. the early chapters of Acts).

But is this the whole story about the Bible and wealth? Is one JC as good as the JC of the gospels? Or does the 21st century version fall short of the 1st century JC?

Jesus welcomes the support of wealthy women who finance his movement (Luke 8:1-3). Paul gratefully acknowledges the help of deacon Phoebe, a benefactor to many (Romans 16). Neither asks that their wealthy supporters simultaneously give up their wealth as they offer assistance from that wealth. Although Paul is grateful for Phoebe's support, he is mostly independently minded to earn a living from his own hands, making tents. That is, Paul is an artisan, drawing payment from the normal trading conditions of his day.

One might even hazard a guess that both Jesus and Paul were economically literate enough to understand that wealth distributed first needs to be created. Giles, aghast that the Tories seem better acquainted with church than Labourites and that the Queen, as head of the C of E and of Great Britain, seems unperturbed by the general economic conditions of her country, seems either unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge that the facts of economic life might be more complex than his opening remarks imply.

That is why I think his column is out of zing by its end. The zing would have come from an ending which highlighted the importance of a simple aim within the complexities of wealth creation and wealth distribution, an aim both Tories and Labourites, especially Christian ones might aspire to: that no one ever loses sight of obligations to treat all people well, to love one's neighbour as oneself, to bind up the wounds of even our enemies.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When East meets West and West admits it was not top dog

If ADU stands for any one thing within theology and ecclesiology, it is for re-union of Christian churches, the one church of Christ invisible made visible on earth, as God's will is done in heaven so it should be on earth. Starting with Anglicans would be a fine thing :)

Thus music to my ears is this report on a recent Orthodox-Catholic agreement.

Noteworthy in this report here is a more careful approach to actual history of East-West relationships, setting aside as much ecclesial prejudice and scholarly bias as possible, with the upshot that, hey presto, the truth wins and paves the way for the light of rapprochement to be seen at the end of the tunnel of separation. It is still a long tunnel but maybe, just maybe, a pinpoint of light at the end is in sight!

Oh, happy day ...

See also now a Russian report on the same meeting, which draws our attention to the somewhat deferred question of Uniatism.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Two views, two churches?

From the airwaves ...

A heartfelt plea to find a way forward to end suicides of young gay persons, as documented in an evangelical church on a journey ...

Same-sex marriage is not the real deal, a view from a gay man ...

Also from Ron Smith's blog, a Belgian plea for SSB ... from a Catholic bishop!

Try holding that kind of difference in one church, maybe or maybe not (in England) ...

I have to say, as I realise I need to wrap up my own submission in the face of very few commenters here agreeing with it :), that there is a strength of logic, conviction, and passion which is driving this church in these islands Down Under to a schismatic situation.

Which voices, in the end, will prevail?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My "Way Forward" (Final) UPDATED

In what follows - my submission to our church in respect of a Way Forward on the matter of blessing of same sex relationships - I acknowledge with deep thankfulness commenters here and discussion partners elsewhere who have shaped and influenced my thinking through a series of posts in July and early August 2016.

I also acknowledge that what will be my submission (bar some tweaks in the light of comments readers may make here) will not please a number of friends and colleagues. This submission is about what I think will hold our church together. It is not a submission about my own understanding of marriage.

For what it is worth, my own commitment to marriage remains observant of Scripture and tradition. It has recently been well expressed by Bishop DiLorenzo, bishop of Catholic vice-presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, in response to Kaine's claim that the Catholic church will eventually support same-sex marriage. +DiLorenzo writes, 


"all humans warrant dignity and deserve love and respect, and unjust discrimination is always wrong. Our understanding of marriage, however, is a matter of justice and fidelity to our Creator’s original design. Marriage is the only institution uniting one man and one woman with each other and with any child who comes from their union. Redefining marriage furthers no one’s rights, least of all those of children, who should not purposely be deprived of the right to be nurtured and loved by a mother and a father."

Yet I do not belong to a church where such a view is uniformly held by all its members. Nor do I belong to a church which is on the verge of achieving universal adherence to such a view. Far from it, as a discussion at our recent Diocesan Synod demonstrated! (Incidentally, my colleague Bosco Peters today has also published his submission re same sex partnerships, here, and it is quite different to what I propose below.)

So, here is the penultimate draft of my submission (minus appropriate greetings etc):

Introduction

I offer the following observations from my experience of participating in the life of ACANZP, as a priest on a diocesan staff, as a blogger, as a participant and member of the organising committee for the Hermeneutical Hui, and as a facilitator of a series of workshops in my Diocese in 2015 on Motion 30.

(1) We want to stay together with our differences if we possibly can.

(2) If some matters over which we differ are pressed hard, we will not stay together.

(3) To stay together we should avoid at least the following:

- change to our doctrine of marriage
- a decision of General Synod which means licence holders of this church could no longer assent to the authority of General Synod
- continuing lack of permission for priest and bishops to be able to bless same-sex relationships
- discrimination between those holding one view and those holding another on the matter of blessing same sex relationships.

(4) In order to stay together, we may need to change our constitution and the role of the 1928 Church of England Empowering Act in upholding the constitution. In particular we may need to change the character of the declarations we require from licence holders in this church.

What is at stake?

Anglicans are Christians with a range of beliefs and an openness to expressing that range of beliefs through common prayer agreed through synodical process. That is we have formed common prayer with meaning intentionally capable of expressing a range of beliefs shared in common (i.e. our formularies). Even where some of these prayers have emphases which some may pray with more enthusiasm than others, nevertheless they have been expressed in prayers common to the whole church.

We have also permitted ourselves to express what we believe through prayers not held in common agreement (i.e. not formularies): for example, we may bless pets and warships.

What is at stake in the present matter of controversy over the blessing of same sex relationships is the question of whether we have a common mind as a church which may therefore be expressed through a common prayer agreed by synodical process of this church.

It is very difficult to discern through two General Synods (2014, 2016) and the decisions they have come to that we have such a common mind or that we are soon to arrive at that common mind.

Logically, on evidence to date, this church cannot offer an agreed form of common prayer for same sex relationships for we do not hold in common that such relationships may be blessed in the name of God. That is, at this time we should avoid attempting to agree to a blessing service for same sex partnerships that is a formulary.

Yet also at stake in our church at this time is an unmistakable urge and urgency on the part of many clergy and laity that some kind of formal permission is given for blessings of same sex relationships to take place. Associated with this desire is the desire that people may be licensed for ordained and lay ministry who live in a lifelong partnership with someone of the same sex.

A way forward?

If we cannot reach a common mind which is expressed through common prayer agreed by synodical process then we conceivably could do the following:

(1) We could formally agree that at this time we are a church without a common mind on the blessing of same sex relationships; but

(2) We could agree that we are of a common mind that different approaches to this matter are permitted in the practice of this church.

(1) and (2) are more or less the position this church has reached through General Synods in 2014 and 2016. Clear formal statements to this effect would be a way of this church saying that on one specific matter among many in which there is diversity of view it is proposed in this submission that we need to do two things. First, state that we are not agreed on the matter of blessing of same sex partnerships; secondly, state that we are agreed that different approaches to the matter of offering such blessings are permitted.

A question would then be whether we needed to make any further formal, agreed statement as a whole church through synodical process. For instance, this church already (2016) has agreed that services which are not agreed to be the common mind of this church may be authorised for use by bishops. There should be no need to entangle ourselves trying to form liturgies via synodical approval.

Longer term

We should not change our constitution lightly or quickly but the situation which we face as a church highlights possible inadequacies in our constitution (and, by its association, the continuing role of the 1928 Church of England Empowering Act).

For consideration at this time is whether we should commit ourselves to an unhurried review of our constitution.

UPDATE: Responses to some issues raised in comments

(1) "By allowing a variety of practices within the church would ACANZAP not be changing its doctrine in practice, even though not officially in words?

- Would this lead to a situation where same sex couples go to Rev Y (or Bishop Y if it's a whole diocese) down the road if Rev X doesn't offer same sex blessings?

- Would you recommend a similar approach for any other issue where there is not a common mind in the church, let's say diaconal presidency of the Lord's Supper? (Note: an issue of church order rather than doctrine!) Do you think it would be a good idea for particular dioceses to implement it if their bishop(s) and synod agrees? To what degree is local variety acceptable in our church?"

1.1: Perhaps, but words matter, and we already have a lot of practice which is objectionable to Anglicans who remain in their church because the practice has not yet changed the doctrine.

1.2: Yes; as indeed is the case if (say) I refuse to take a wedding of a divorcee ... there will always be a clergyperson somewhere at hand who will.

1.3: No, I would not so recommend, and certainly not for diaconal presidency, but this is a vexed issue in our church and diaconal presidency is not, and by vexed I include the concern many have for the health of homosexuals in a divided church - I cannot think of anyone keen on diaconal presidency who is under stress because the church has not approved it. The acceptance of local variety is somewhat fluid, is it not? When we agreed that women could be ordained priests one of our bishops refused to ordain women for a further ten years. We have a fair variety in our church over what constitutes the blood of Christ in communion: wine, grape juice, blackcurrant juice. Some bishops seem comfortable with that; others make efforts to restrict such variety; our formal rubrics only allow for wine.

(2) "Within your submission you also state:

“.. Associated with this desire is the desire that people may be licensed for ordained and lay ministry who live in a lifelong partnership with someone of the same sex.”

Now in times past you have agreed that a sexual relationship between same sex couples is sinful. Just to be clear, are you advocating that the Anglican Church ordain men and women who are living openly in sexually immoral relationships?

If this is the case and given your personal convictions, how is this not a violation of your conscience? Or, is this some kind of Romans 9:2-3 Pauline moment; a willingness to sacrifice even your own salvation for the sake of Anglican Church unity?"

This misses the point. We have two opposing views in our church. I am not advocating that we ordain men and women living openly in sexually immoral relationships. I am advocating that we accept that we are a church who think couples in a faithful same sex partnership are living sinfully and we are a church who think couples in such a relationship are living holy lives; that we might allow that those who think the latter might so ordain ... the analogy here is with remarried-after-divorce clergy, for whom some will think they are fine before God and others will think they are adulterers. Why might we be such a church of divided views? We are prepared to give one another the benefit of the doubt: perhaps "I" and wrong and "you" are right.

(3) "By way of follow up, I’m conscious that in your submission you have staked your credibility on the claim to celibacy being made by partnered up gay Bishops and other homosexual clergy. "

No, I do not see where I have done that, save for accepting that in the CofE a partnered but celibate bishop's word might be trusted. If we permit the blessing of same sex couples in our church I am not presuming those couples will be celibate.

(4) "It is my opinion,that you submission is well intended but muddled and confusing.In Introduction (3),the later three of the four sub-points which you make, contradict the first.If G/S permits the blessing of s/s relationships;how can any really orthodox licence holder accent to G/S, which they believe has stepped so far from the Doctrine, as defined in the Constitution,which G/S is required to hold? If priests and bishops are permitted to bless s/s relationships;is that not a change to our Doctrine of Marriage?If a s/s couple who have had a civil marriage seeks a blessing on their relationship,does that not ipso facto infer/confer a Godly recognition of their marriage and turn it into Holy Matrimony? And let's be rational about non-discrimination between those holding either of the so called permitted views.What realistic chance has an orthodox person have of becoming a bishop in a diocesan with a liberal majority irregardless of their qualities and qualification?The TEC hierarchy have made it known that they wish for future bishops to be chosen from the ranks of woman and blacks"

The point of this debate in our church is precisely What can we agree together? and What can we not agree together? My submission is premised on the presumption that we cannot at this time and for the foreseeable future agree on changing the wording of our current doctrine of marriage but we might (or MIGHT) be able to agree to be a church with differing views on SSB. I have no assurance that this will happen and if it does not happen then we will split.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Wales Confirms Baptism Only, Losing Faith, Keeping the Faith

Quite a rich Sunday round up today!

The Anglican Church in Wales, via  Bishops' Letter, confirms that from Advent only baptism in water and in the name of the Holy Trinity will be necessary for reception of communion. Read it all here, including their (now) understanding of Confirmation.

We may rejoice with this podcaster of some renown (one of my colleagues listens to him!), Mike McHargue, because he lost his faith and then refound it.

Here in NZ we have millennials "keeping the faith in a secular world", including one of our own curates here in the Diocese of Christchurch!

Ever timely is reflection on the liturgy of the church. Via the fabulous ABC (I.e. Ozzie Broadcasting) we can read this penetrating and uplifting Gregory Hillis essay on Thomas Merton and the spirit of liturgy which is the communion of love.

Then from the sidebar of ADU, Psephizo has a brilliant post on the attempt to freeze the ESV just after it takes on some updates which reflect the wishful interpretations of complementarian conservatives rather than actual, faithful translation.

Doug Chaplin, continuing his 39A posts provocatively challenges all preachers to display rather than hide their learned side.

Last but definitely not least, Bishop Kelvin's final charge to his synod (he retires next year) is witty, poignant, autobiographical and hand-in-yer-face-stop-you-really-really-need-to-pay-attention.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Breaking News: Anglican says Anglicans may have been incorrect

Doug Chaplin has been running a superb series on the Thirty Nine Articles on his blog Musings of a Christian Humanist. By "superb" I mean at least one proponent of the continuing importance of the Thirty-Nine Articles is revising his estimation as a possible over-estimation.

A sharp example of Chaplin's thinking sharply is in this post on Article 34 Of the Traditions of the Church. You can comment on his post at his post but I mention it here because he does make a pretty unanswerable claim against Anglican proponents of the kind of "sola scriptura" approach which relies on the plain sense of Scripture as a clear and definitive guide to what Scripture means and how we apply it. That approach, of course, comes under attack here from time to time, despite my own, ahem, impeccable defence of it :)

Along the way, Chaplin raises a very sharp point about the Anglican notion of a "national church" as being drawn from neither Scripture nor tradition - a notion which, it is worth reflecting on, as he does, lies at the heart of the current imbroglios in which we find ourselves.

Nevertheless I am not quite as sure as he is that the notion of the national church is what he says it is. But perhaps I should leave my own thoughts on that for another day!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Breaking News: Pope confirms his interpretation of his own teaching is correct [Updated 3x]

Ever since the publication of Amoris Laetitia, the recent papal document on marriage, family, divorce and remarriage, eucharist, there has been a to and fro, across blogs etc, on whether or not the document (from memory, one particular footnote in it) means that remarried-after-divorce-without-annulment Catholics may receive the eucharist or not.

Christian Today reports that Pope Francis has communicated to bishops in Argentina that in certain circumstances such Catholics may receive communion.

"Divorced and remarried Catholics can in "some cases" receive Holy Communion without living as "brother and sister" and without getting an annulment, Pope Francis himself has confirmed.In a leaked letter to Argentine bishops Pope Francis gave his own interpretation for the first time of Amoris Laetitia, his exhortation that followed the recent synods on the family dominated by controversy over the Church's strict rules on divorced and remarried Catholics.Many believe the rules excluding such couples from communion, even where they were the innocent party in a marriage breakdown, are cruel. Traditionalists however stand by what they say is biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman for life and that there can be no flexibility.The pope's letter to bishops in Argentina, in response to a document the bishops produced on the issue, was leaked by a priest. The Vatican has today confirmed the letter from Pope Francis is authentic.In their document, the Argentine bishops focus on the need to integrate divorcees into the life of the Church. They say that "in certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments"."
[Update: note also Catholic Herald report here.]
[Update for the robust among us: Rorate Coeli reports here. Of course I think Rorate Coeli is nuts with its "Pope destroys family" view. The Pope is trying to succour already broken families. Good marriages need no teaching about what happens if they breakdown. Rocky marriages are unlikely to be held back from crashing on the rocks by threats of withheld communion. But families weathering the effects of broken marriage might be helped by the Pope's promulgation of mercy.]
[Update: also with robust response is this First Things article, H/T Nick in comment below. But I like this point made in a comment below the article:

"The job of the Catholic Church is harder than adamant traditionalists admit. The task is to protect the sanctity of marriage (not to mention the actual victims of easy divorce, who are always those family members who most need stability, loyalty, and emotional sustenance), but also to avoid becoming more legalistic than Jesus himself was ..."]

On the one hand this is the final breakdown of Western Christianity, letting the Trojan Horse of "culture" inside the last bastion of theological rectitude, some will say.

On the other hand this is the mercy of God being worked out in the reality of human life, some will say. And I agree wholeheartedly!