Sunday, May 26, 2019

Bridge- building in varied contexts?

It was a privilege to be invited to and a pleasure to participate in a special Iftar meal on Friday evening, hosted by the Canterbury Muslim Community Association as a Thank You to helpers and supporters on the day of the mosques massacres, 15 March and since then. Bishop Paul Martin and I were the only church leaders there and we have communicated to other church leaders that we felt that we represented all churches at the occasion. To be present was to continue to build bridges to the Muslim communities of Christchurch. Their showcasing of their faith and practice, including their prayer ritual just after the setting of the sun, was impressive and a reminder that Islam is always confident in its witness to what it believes.

At our table were a family who live next door to the El Noor mosque in Deans Avenue. They shared with us some of their story of what happened on 15 March. As it happens, the Press ran a feature the following day about their story and it can be read here.

My previous post here may or may not have built bridges to CCAANZ - the new diocese established in these islands, structurally distinct from ACANZP, but your comments in discussion have helped me to better identify issues and to carefully engage in understanding words such as "Confessing" and "Anglican" - thank you.

As it happens, a few days ago, another form of Anglican bridge building was in evidence. Anglicanland geeks will be aware that a while ago the Nigerian Anglican church caused some consternation in ACNA with non-consultation about the ordination of some new bishops for their North American arm, known as CANA. This unilateral action set in motion some intense discussion and decision-making which is reported on here. Some broken bridges have been rebuilt! I mention this here because, whatever we make of ACNA and CANA (and Nigeria's approach to things Anglican), the new polity they have worked out offers an intriguing precedent.

In my words, the CANA dioceses in North America have a choice: instead of the previous situation where, effectively, they belonged to two Anglican provinces, ACNA and Nigeria, they now are asked to choose:
- which of the two provinces they will be a full member of; and thus they will be in a "ministry partnership" with the other province.

On the one hand, this is obviously a relationally and jurisdictionally sound solution to the particular problem which arose.

On the other hand, might it point a way forward for future relationships in Anglicanland as Communion and GAFCON and ACNA etc work out what it means to be both "Anglican" in name and "Anglican" in some manner of formal/informal/official relationship? Nota Bene: this is NOT your opportunity to discuss the merits or otherwise of the Communion/GAFCON etc - plenty of that kind of discussion is well recorded in previous posts!!!!!!!!! But your thoughts on the general matter of whether a diocese might be a member of one province and in another form of relationship with another are invited ...

A little bit of housekeeping: am posting this for Monday 27 May on a Sunday because tomorrow is busy getting ready for and for getting to our annual Clergy Conference. The following Monday, 3 June is Queen's Birthday weekend's public holiday, so it is possible that next Monday's post will be posted on Tuesday 4 June. There, I have confused you :)

Monday, May 20, 2019

If not "Who is Anglican?" then "What is Anglican?"

In some ways last week's post ran into some quicksand in discussion in comments: attempting to define "who is Anglican" is tricky when then are so many claimants and there is no authority/body in the world which gets to determine who is Anglican. The nearest such body is the Anglican Communion, but many self-identifying Anglicans question its legitimacy relative to "true Anglicanism"!

The sand may be no less quick if I suggest this week some thinking about the "what" of Anglicanism. What makes an Anglican? What defines an Anglican?

This question has a sharp focus now we have the media release of two outcomes of the inaugural synod of the new "extra provincial diocese" being formed here in NZ. The release, made on Friday 17 May 2019, is here.

The opening part of the release, with my bold, is:

"A Statement by the Synod of the Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa/New Zealand
Today representatives from twelve churches throughout New Zealand gathered and formed the Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa/New Zealand. By the grace of God we are a new Anglican Diocese in these Islands, standing firmly in Anglican faith and practice, and structurally distinct from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
This new Diocese is united in the crucified, risen, ascended and glorified Christ, committed to the authority of the Bible, and dedicated to our common mission of proclaiming to all the good news of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. We praise God for his guidance and grace, and the sense of unity and common purpose we shared as we met.
We also prayerfully elected as our first Bishop the Rev. Jay Behan, Vicar of St Stephen’s Anglican Church, Christchurch. Jay is a man of humility and grace, committed to the authority of the Bible and the Lordship of Jesus. He is an excellent preacher and caring pastor, and will serve and lead the Diocese as together we seek to reach these Islands with the transforming power of the gospel. ..."

The election of Jay has been widely expected by those who know him and have observed the significant leadership role he has already exercised among the congregations which have been working on the formation of the new church/diocese.

What about the name of the new church? the Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Already I have been in some discussion about the name. The following thinking reflects and develops that discussion (all in my own words).

A Confessing Church?

The notion of a “Confessing Church” reminds us of the church of that name which formed in 1930s Nazi Germany to stand against the evil of Nazism. The stand being taken by the new diocese against our church’s decision to permit the blessing of same-sex marriages is simply not in the same league of steadfastness for the cause of Christ. Homosexuality is not evil, it is a condition of being within humanity. Whatever we wish to propose re sexual morality for relations between people, being theologically motivated to bless lifelong, committed love between two people of the same sex, as some in our church are, is not evil. There is no need to invoke "Confessing" with a capital C in order to become a church with a different view on whether another church is judged to be too broad minded on the matter such that it includes more than one view.

From a different perspective I observe that every Anglican is a confessing Anglican: daily and weekly confessing our sins, regularly in corporate worship confessing our credal faith. All Anglicans belong to the Church of Confessing Anglicans!

Of course, in recent Anglican history, since 2003, "confessing" (with a small c) with respect to conservative Anglicanism is to do with being willing to commit to a statement (confession) of faith (such as the Thirty-Nine Articles), compared with that kind of Anglicanism which sits lightly to statements of faith, perhaps even celebrating doubt of basic credal statements. From that perspective we can talk, appropriately, about confessional Anglicanism.

Anglican?

A further pause for thought is the use of the word “Anglican.” In terms of this post, our question is, What is an Anglican?

In these islands, “Anglican” in relation to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is both a term relating to historic connection with the Church of England, as well as a term relating to our history as a transplanted church with English roots, now composed of Maori and Pakeha, bound by Gospel and Treaty (of Waitangi), secured by a constitution which sets out our partnership as Anglicans, incorporating also the Diocese of Polynesia.

A few months back, our General Synod Standing Committee, responding to a proposal of the Archbishop of Sydney re a possible "distinctive co-existence" for the future of the Communion, had this to say about the Pakeha-Maori dimension to being Anglican, as reported in Taonga,

"The letter goes on to say that that being bound together in constitutional and Treaty-based relationships is essential to being Anglican in Aotearoa in New Zealand."If those disaffiliating want to be committed to that fundamental consequence of being Anglican in Aotearoa New Zealand, then they must stay in these constitutional and Treaty-based relationships."We cannot recognise a Church as Anglican which does not encapsulate this 200 years of relationship and history.""

In other words, any church anywhere in the world can stake a claim to be "Anglican" but in these islands with our distinctive history, our church is saying that we cannot recognise such a claim in these parts unless there is a bond with Maori Anglican via constitutional and Treaty-based relationships. In other words, being Anglican hereabouts is concerned with a theology of covenant more than a theology of confession. Who are we related to?, is the critical question in the theology of covenant, in contrast to the question, What do we believe?, which lies at the heart of a confessional approach to Anglican identity.

Who are we related to as Anglicans? First, to the covenant making God - the God of Abraham, Moses, David - the God who in Jesus Christ makes a new covenant, revealed in Scripture, renewed in the sacrament we celebrate as commanded. Secondly, to each other: the Church of England is the broad church including all English men and women, a nation at worship; transplanted to these islands, the Anglican church is not now a whole nation at worship, but it remains a broad church welcoming all men and women, underpinned by the New Covenant or Gospel and by a particular local covenant, the Treaty of Waitangi.

The GSSC letter sets out a theology of covenant in which Anglicans are related to Anglicans in connection with constitutional arrangements which honour the Treaty between Maori and Pakeha. We are not Anglicans related to Anglicans if we have no such constitutional arrangements. According to the media release above, CCAANZ [corrected from CCANZ after comment below] is a church "structurally distinct from the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia" which, on this covenantal theology, evacuates the prior statement concerning "standing firmly in Anglican faith and practice" of its meaning, because the practice of Anglican faith in these islands is a relational, covenanted church, Pakeha and Maori.

Of course, no true Anglican can be solely interested in "who we are related to" at the expense of "what we believe." If the relational question is prior here, it is only slightly prior. ACANZP is thoroughly confessional (as touched on above re confession of sin and confession of faith). Notwithstanding GAFCON criticism of ACANZP as unfaithful (see here; and, sadly, also, here re a local view of ACANZP as "apostate"), in two services I participated in today we said the creed, read the Scriptures and sang the praises of God Father Son and Holy Spirit!

I could go on. Please stop the reader says! Seriously: there is much more to say but in the time allowance of this week I must stop now, well short of as full an answer to the question "What is an Anglican?" as I would like.

So far, What is an Anglican? provokes two further questions, Who do we relate to? and What do we believe? In this new situation where the new confessional church has clearly and publicly claimed "Anglicans" within its name, what answers to these questions do the two churches of Anglicans in these islands give? Are they satisfactory answers? Do the answers persuade people, both inside the churches, for instance, towards recognition of the other or towards declaratory judgements about unfaithfulness and apostasy; and outside the churches, so that outsiders are drawn to a persuasive welcome and inclusion of all enquirers?

Monday, May 13, 2019

So, who is an Anglican??

A few days ago I received an email from another part of the world in which an Anglican bishop offered to work in my diocese as a missionary bishop. On the one hand when I looked him up in that great clerical directory on the net called Google, it looked like he belonged to an Anglican church in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. On the other hand in his email he did say that his church was not part of the Anglican Communion. Cue a closer look at the name of the church which in wording is pretty close to a church which is a member province of the Communion. But not exactly the same.

The name included the word "Anglican" and photos revealed liturgical events with robes being worn which would be completely in place in any member church of the Communion. Is my correspondent an Anglican? May he determine that he is an Anglican?

At precisely the point of trying to frame answers to such questions the handy phrase "it depends" comes into view!

It depends if you are talking about a person who is a member of a church which is a member church/province of the Anglican Communion of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is the leading primatial bishop. I think everyone (inside and outside the Communion) accepts that such Christians are Anglican Christians.

It depends if you are talking about a person who is a member of a church which names itself as "Anglican" but which is not itself a member church/province of the Anglican Communion of which the Archbishop of Canterbury is the leading primatial bishop. I suggest there are  a variety of answers which depend (!!) on a few factors which need ferreting out.

Is my episcopal correspondent seeking to become a missionary bishop in my diocese an Anglican or not? Speaking personally, I am loath to stand as judge and jury and say that a person so identifying as an Anglican is not an Anglican, but it would appear to be an objective fact that this Anglican bishop is not an Anglican who belongs to the Anglican Communion. (On a question which might be on some readers' minds, I know nothing which would help answer the question whether this person's episcopal orders could be recognised by my church.)

Closer to the issue of the day, is Archbishop Foley Beach, with whom I nearly had a coffee recently, and who will be back in NZ later this year (from what I am reading on the internet) to participate in the ordination of a bishop for the new diocese being formally set up here during this month, an Anglican?

Archbishop Foley leads the Anglican Church in North America which is composed of many former members of the Anglican Communion provinces, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church of the USA, as well as many new Christians who will definitely be also identifying as Anglican Christians.

Against answering "Yes" is a line, "He is not a member of a member church of the Anglican Communion."

For answering "Yes" is a line, "He is a member of an Anglican church which is in full fellowship as an Anglican church with a number of other Anglican churches (i.e. GAFCON) which are themselves members churches/provinces of the Anglican Communion."

Which answer is correct? Which answer is helpful?

Worth considering is a guest post on Psephizo by Andrew Atherstone which - spoiler alert - touches on many aspects of current controversy as it came to the fore at the last minute at ACC-17. But some of those aspects touch on the question of Anglican identity. Thus Andrew writes,

"One particularly urgent ecclesiological question is the relationship between the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and the Anglican Communion. The 2016 primates meeting observed that:
The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognised as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognise that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction. (Primates Communique, 2016)
In 2017 they added, more bluntly: ‘It was confirmed that the Anglican Church of North America is not a Province of the Anglican Communion. We recognised that those in ACNA should be treated with love as fellow Christians’ (Primates Communique, 2017). This is to consign ACNA to the category of ecumenical relations, firmly beyond the boundaries of the Anglican Communion. It is a bald assertion, with no explanation or defence. That narrative is repeated in the recent Anglican Communion Office press release about invitations to the Lambeth Conference, that ACNA is ‘formed by people who left the Anglican Communion’, to which Archbishop Foley Beach (primate of ACNA) responded robustly:
I have never left the Anglican Communion, and have no intention of doing so. I did transfer out of a revisionist body that had left the teaching of the Scriptures and the Anglican Communion and I became canonically resident in another province of the Anglican Communion. I have never left. For the Anglican Church in North America to be treated as mere ‘observers’ is an insult to both our bishops, many of whom have made costly stands for the Gospel, and the majority of Anglicans around the world who have long stood with us as a province of the Anglican Communion. (Press release, 27 April 2019)
So here’s the ecclesiological question: is ACNA part of the Anglican Communion or not? And if not, what steps do they need to take to join the Anglican Communion? Who is going to take up the challenge to answer the ‘significant questions of polity and jurisdiction’ to which the primates allude? It will not do simply to tell ACNA (or any other province created under similar circumstances) that they are free to apply for permission to enter the Anglican Communion, and that we will begin to consider the case when they do so. On the contrary, the Anglican Communion must first take responsibility for investigating these questions, in a serious and rigorous manner, before any progress can be made. That is why my defeated ACC resolution appealed for clarity on ‘the core identity and boundaries of the Anglican Communion in the 21st century’. Which side of the boundary do ACNA fall? If currently outside, then how do they transfer across the boundary? We need an answer!
The Anglican Communion, of course, has no constitution and no legal definition. There is, in that sense, no membership list. But the ACC does have a constitution, attached to which is a Schedule of member churches entitled to appointed members to the ACC. In common parlance the Schedule doubles as a membership list of the Anglican Communion, though technically it is only a list of ACC member churches. At the most prosaic level, this is probably the closest we have to a formal definition of the Anglican Communion. It is not a question about doctrine or liturgy or bishops, but simple whether or not a province is listed on the ACC Schedule. ACNA is not on the list. Provinces may be added to, or deleted from, the Schedule by the ACC standing committee, at the request of two-thirds of the primates (Constitution 7.2). No reply from the primates within four months is deemed as assent. So for ACNA to be added to the Schedule, reckoning at 42 existing provinces, 15 would need to register their opposition for this proposal to fail.
The ACC standing committee also has responsibility to scrutinize the viability of new provinces, as a matter of due diligence. According to the current guidelines, they must be satisfied that the new province is a coherent and sustainable entity, normally composed of at least four dioceses, with a provincial constitution, a strategy for theological education, and proof of financial competence (Guidelines for the Creation of New Provinces and Dioceses, 2012). The first ACC meeting in Limuru, Kenya, in 1971, adds a further stipulation: ‘There must be the good will of the existing province in order not to create difficulties of disunity after division’ (Resolution 21 on ‘Creating and Dividing Provinces’). All current provinces have been created by the division of provinces, by multiplication within the existing boundaries. There is no precedent for adding a church from outside the Anglican Communion, or a church like ACNA which has separated from an existing province on doctrinal grounds, and therefore the ACC guidelines are not fit for purpose for the current realities facing global Anglicanism. We need a leap in our thinking.
The ‘significant questions of polity and jurisdiction’ which demand urgent consideration, include the following: First, what does it mean to be ‘in communion with the see of Canterbury’? The 1930 Lambeth Conference famously described the Anglican Communion as ‘a fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional churches in communion with the see of Canterbury’ (Resolution 49 on ‘The Anglican Communion’). ACNA, we are told, is not part of the Anglican Communion, because they are not in communion with Canterbury. It sounds like a knock-down answer. But what does it actually mean? And how would ACNA enter communion with the see of Canterbury? What’s the mechanism? It can’t mean communion between ACNA and the Church of England, otherwise the Church of England would replace the Archbishop as an ‘instrument of communion’. It can’t mean communion between ACNA and the Anglican Communion, because that would be tautologous. Does it mean that ACNA and the Archbishop would sign an agreement of some sort? On what terms? We need an answer!
Second, can separate Anglican jurisdictions intermingle or overlap in the same geographical area? Some assert not, and therefore that it is impossible for ACNA to enter the Anglican Communion unless they supplant TEC or reintegrate with TEC. This is a zero sum game. For alternative possibilities we might look to the precedent set by continental Europe (where several separate Anglican jurisdictions intermingle) or to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia which since the 1990s has three culturaltikanga, each with their own ecclesial jurisdiction,overlapping in the same territory. It must be possible to draw up sensible, practical, negotiated guidelines for how two provinces occupy the same space. But what would this look like? We need an answer!
Third, can two separate provinces be part of the Anglican Communion, if they are not in communion with each other? ACNA and TEC are unlikely to be reconciled doctrinally any time soon. Their relationship would be anomalous, but the Anglican Communion already has a proven capacity for bearing with anomalies. Broken relationships between provinces are already,de facto, a reality of Anglican life. We don’t live in the idealistic world described by the standard textbooks on Anglican ecclesiology. In fact, that world has never existed. It is better to bring the fractured parts of global Anglicanism together as closely as possible within the ‘instruments of communion’, even if not in communion with each other, and live with that tension for the time being, rather than keep them at arm’s length until they are fully reconciled. Of course, there may be need for mediated reconciliation on temporal questions (such as property and money), and public repentance for previous bad behaviour on all sides, but full reconciliation between provinces need not be a prerequisite to Anglican Communion membership. The textbooks need to be re-written. What should be the new terms of our relationship in the 21st century? We need an answer!
We need some urgent ecclesiological thinking at this level of detail, focused on ACNA as a worked example. And rather than throwing around brickbats in rival press releases about who is, or who is not, a member of the Anglican Communion, a more nuanced approach is required. For example, one way through the impasse is to think of ACNA as a province within the Anglican Communion (because grown from an existing province, like Sudan, or Chile, or Sri Lanka, or North Africa), but because it has jumped the gun by forming a new province without the agreement of two-thirds of the primates or the ACC standing committee, it is in an anomalous position and its relationship with the ‘instruments of communion’ needs to be retrospectively regularized." End of Atherstone citation.

Note that ACANZP's structure gets a mention!

There is a lot to ponder. I wrote a comment to the blog post which I reproduce here.

"Hi Andrew
You raise the mystery of why ACNA would want to be in a body with such disunity and what kind of unity it would deepen if it joined/were welcomed into the Communion?
This question is highlighted by your own unwillingness to take communion with your fellow Anglicans. ACNA could scarcely be welcomed in if it were not willing to break bread; if it were willing to participate in communion within the Communion then either it would be ignoring its own differences with a significant part of the Communion or it would be finding a way to be in a communion which transcends difference?
I find it difficult to see a way forward which involves agreement and unity. I can see a way forward which involves “good disagreement” and unity (it is kind of the way we roll in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia). But if you yourself are not willing to take that road, why would ACNA do so?
Any which way, and I may have not explained myself that well, it is fascinating that ACNA are seemingly keen to be in this Communion with all its difficulties (the narrative of which I enjoyed reading above)." End of my cited comment.

I felt as I read this extraordinarily rich and challenging post by Andrew that something fascinating is going on when the Communion (on some analysts' reckoning) is in disarray and yet belonging to it, being counted within it rather than outside it seems to matter a lot, even for those in disagreement with it!

Whether my comment gets to the heart of the fascinating mystery of ACNA and the Communion is another matter. What does matter is that we remain in conversation about what being Anglican means.

After all, many Anglicans speak proudly of belonging to an inclusive church and Communion. Surely we need a definition (or set of definitions for differing questions) which is not too exclusive?!

Monday, May 6, 2019

Probably time to get back to Anglican matters ...

Believe it or not, the Anglican Communion continues, notwithstanding a lack of attention from this most Anglican of blogs :)

Though I think I could be excused for being somewhat reluctant about getting back to the life of the Anglican church today because - yes, you guessed it - that life is still dominated by You Know What.

Take, for example, this latest Communique of the Communion Partner bishops (of TEC and ACCan) which does say various things about the general life and renewal of the churches from which these bishops are drawn but which addresses first and foremost continuing developments re You Know What in North America.

Speaking of North America, the city of Christchurch recently received a visit from Archbishop Foley Beach, Archbishop of ACNA and Chair of the GAFCON Primates Council. Unfortunately I was away in another part of the Diocese but otherwise would be been pleased to meet with Archbishop Foley. His visit is just a few weeks out from the inaugural synod of the newly forming "extra provincial diocese" of Anglican churches formed out of disaffiliations from ACANZP. Two expected outcomes of that synod are an agreed name for the new entity and an announcement about a bishop-elect to lead the new entity. All of which is, of course, a development due to the decision our church made nearly a year ago about You Know What.

Then ACC-17 has been meeting in Hong Kong. Many important matters have been discussed and these can be traced through some Thinking Anglican posts here and here (and links therein). But, seemingly inevitably, a running thread through ACC-17 has been You Know What, focused on the machinations (that seems a fair word) about Lambeth invitations issued by ++Welby: which bishops are invited? (all; no wait, ACNA bishops, as observers only); which spouses of bishops are invited? (only those conforming to Lambeth 1998 1.10; but, wait, aren't there some bishops not conforming to that resolution?).

Thus, as pretty much has been the case since 1998, things are messy!

I would like to be clear, however, that I am fairly neutral about the fact of Anglican messiness re Lambeth. I do not feel negative about the path ++Welby has taken on the invitations. What would any of us have done, if we, like him, were seeking to get the most Anglican bishops in one conference possible in circumstances which are ... messy!

Is there a way forward?

Rather than answer that question with a simple yes or no, I am minded to note to you that I am enjoying reading Diarmaid McCullough's Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life (which has a very sweet promotional line from Hilary Mantel, author of Tudorian historical novels such as Wolf Hall, "This is a book that - and it's not often you can say this - we have been awaiting for four hundred years.")

Cromwell lived at the heart of change in Henry VIII's England, Wales and Ireland, playing both a political and an ecclesiastical role (which, of course, in that era, were intertwined roles), the like of which has never been seen again since for a layperson.

As a (mostly) sympathetic proponent of the Continent-influenced English Reformation in an England tilted theologically in a Catholic direction (so the Henrician mind) but canonically in a Protestant direction (so the Henrician ambition to both break from Rome's control and to gain financially from dissolution of monasteries), did Cromwell ever clearly see "the way forward"? England was very "messy" in those emerging Anglicanism days!

And, if all seemed well (after Cromwell was executed in 1540) because of what happened in the reign of Edward VI, t'was not so when Mary Tudor ascended to the throne. Then came Elizabeth ... o happy days for those longing for the mess of the 1530s -1550s to end.

Is there a way forward for the Anglican Communion? Yes but likely not seen and agreed to this year, or decade.

Postscript: one fascinating aspect of reading Cromwell's story, at least until the point when Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn are out of the story, is that years and years  were spent trying to resolve "the King's Great Matter", i.e. the matter of securing agreement that his marriage to Katherine should be annulled.

Obviously a significant amount of agreement was secured within England itself, but there was a great effort made to secure agreement on the Continent, including working with theologians and philosophers in contexts where local monarchical or ducal rulers seeking political alliances might be inclined to support both Henry's aspirations re peace and trade as well as re annulment of his marriage.

As the story of this European wide search for support unfolds in MacCullough's telling, I couldn't help thinking of today's desperation on the part of Theresa May and her government to secure European agreement for what they want re Brexit.

In both cases, it is the will of Europe that the island nation experiences unhappy failure to reach agreement!


Monday, April 29, 2019

Thoughts on Islam (2)

How sympathetic can Christians be to "the call of the minaret", to the Islamic call to worship and to prayer? Many years ago I read the famous account of a deeply Christian and deeply sympathetic encounter with Islam - a classic of its kind - written by Kenneth Cragg and titled The Call of the Minaret. In the light of recent events, I must re-read it.

But recently  my attention has been drawn to another, more recent account of a sympathetic encounter with Islam, written by Mark SijlanderA Deadly Misunderstanding: Quest to Bridge the Muslim/Christian Divide. Here Sijlander works hard, is pressed hard within himself by a series of insights, to find significant tracts of common ground between Christianity and Islam. More common ground than I thought possible. Perhaps too much common ground for many Christians?

These are not idle matters. Since I wrote my first post in this series (the length of which I know not), we have had the atrocities in Sri Lanka in which innocent people, including innocent Christians going about their Pascha worship, were targeted for death and destruction, by extremists claiming the cause of Islam as motivation and seemingly spurred to sacrifice their own lives by an Islamic understanding of martyrdom and paradise.

There is, of course, no common ground, no bridge to be built from a Cragg-Sijlander approach to Islam in general to the particularly murderous machinations of the Sri Lankan bombers. But where the Cragg-Sijlander approach is vital is for our relationships with 99.9999% of Muslims who have no thought of violence in the cause of their faith and only desire to live in peace with their neighbours. [Following a comment, see below, with my reply, I need to nuance that last sentence! Clearly, if we take account of all violence across the Islamic world (e.g. Muslims fighting Muslims) and across the world, then a much larger percentage of Muslims are prepared to take up weapons in the struggle for their faith, either in reality (e.g. Hamas v Israel) or in a theoretical stance (e.g. fighting back against, say, American (perceived as "Christian") troops invading an Islamic country). My focus here is on the willingness to indiscriminately bomb or shoot non-Muslims: by my reckoning, a very small percentage of Muslims are willing to do that; by far the overwhelming majority wish to live in peace with their neighbours, whether in Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Britain, France, etc.]

If we are not to read the violence of the 0.0001% into the lives of the Muslims we encounter at work, at school, in the supermarket, on the bus, we need an approach which looks for common ground, for the bridges between us.

I have only started reading Sijlander's book. I am looking forward to finishing it!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Resurrection Week 2019

The following was posted by me a few years back, though here it is expanded and edited slightly from that original post.

This is the season once again to reflect on the sacred mysteries of Holy Week and Pascha. 

I suggest we work backwards from the Resurrection. If Jesus had died on the cross and that was the end of his life, what would his legacy have been? Not much, I suggest. A paragraph, perhaps, in the history of impact-making rabbis of Israel under the Romans, mentioning some notable healings and memorable insights into the rule of God in the world. Maybe today scholars of Judaism would produce a monograph or two on ancient magicians among the rabbis, notably Jeshua ben Joseph. Perhaps there would be a brief headline-making news item that the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran had been identified by an unusually radical scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls as that same Jeshua ben Joseph.

It is the resurrection which makes the difference here, which sets the Jesus movement on a trajectory which will see Christianity separate from Judaism and which drives the leaders of that movement to see in Jesus things which were not obvious to them when they walked the dusty roads of Palestine with him. We read the gospels historically forwards from Jesus' beginnings to his end because that is the way the narrative is told, but theologically we should begin with the resurrection and read backwards. What was it about the resurrection which led to the telling of the story of Jesus in the way that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John  and, also, Paul told it?

That is why, to offer a first reflection this Resurrection Week first week of Eastertide), the question of the witness to the resurrection is vital to Christianity. Deny the resurrection and everything about our claims to truth falls over. Personally I find the variations between the gospels, 1 Corinthians 15 and, say, Acts 10:34-43 puzzling. Why isn't the account of that collective written witness, bound in the one New Testament, more consistent? 

Modern skeptics have driven a horse and cart full of doubts through the lack of consistency (even, some might say, "actual inconsistency if not downright contradiction"). Yet closer inspection yields more consistency than some are prepared to allow. At the bedrock of each gospel narrative is the empty tomb. They are consistent on the fact that the crucified body of Jesus was placed in the tomb, on the third day the tomb was empty, and thereafter the risen (i.e. raised up from the tomb) Jesus appeared to people.

This, further, is consistent with two accounts which do not explicitly mention the emptiness of the tomb, Acts 10:34-43 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. What is 'raised on the third day' phrasing in these passages about but an act of raising from the dead, a raising of the physical body of Jesus which leaves the tomb empty. (I suggest we can talk in this way and still have a debate about what kind of "body" the earthly body of Jesus was transformed to, in the act of resurrection, noting that the resurrection accounts attest to a new body of Jesus which is different to the former body, e.g. appearing at will in an otherwise locked room). 

Acts 10:40 beautifully distinguishes between the raising and the subsequent appearances, 'God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear.


So also 1 Corinthians 15:4-5, 'he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve'. If the tomb was not empty why mention the act of raising from the dead and not proceed straight to the accounts of the appearances of Jesus?

Running these accounts together, with all their variations, I suggest we can account for the variations in a couple of ways. 

First and foremost, Jesus appeared on a number of occasions to a range of witnesses. Between the four gospel writers and Paul's 'tradition' account in 1 Corinthians 15 we receive a set of accounts with heavy selection at work. Paul's tradition is focused on the appearances to the leadership of the Jesus movement, with the exception of the appearance to 'more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time'. The four gospels uniformly emphasise the immediate witnesses to the resurrection, women. Matthew, Mark and Luke (distinct from Acts 1) move quickly from the immediate experience of the risen Jesus to his departure (albeit somewhat implicitly in Mark). Only Acts 1 and John 21 imply a period of more than a few days or weeks in which Jesus remained with his disciples. Together these witnesses to the variety of Jesus' appearances do not provide anything like a coherent account of the history of Jesus between resurrection and ascension. That, perhaps, leads us to a second reason for the variations between accounts.

Secondly, the gospel writers in their gospels are focused on providing for their readers an account of the ordinary human life of Jesus, prior to death. The continuing presence of the risen Jesus 
in his ongoing movement, via the Holy Spirit, perhaps made unnecessary a prolonged account of the period between resurrection and ascension. (Luke, in his 'sequel' to the life of Jesus unveils in Acts many ways in which the risen Jesus post-ascension continues to engage with the movement). What their accounts needed was a wrap up and what we find is that the accounts of the resurrection are overlaid with conclusions to the gospels as a whole (or, in the case of Mark 16:1-8, we might say, denuded of a conclusion via intentional abruptness in the closing of the account - a kind of anti-conclusion).

Thus Matthew draws us rapidly to the Great Commission and Luke does so similarly, but in a challenging manner because in Luke 24 he almost conveys the impression that a long day (of about 25 hours?) elapses from raising to commissioning-and-ascending whereas Acts 1 is explicit that the period was 40 days. (Luke also manages the most flagrant rewriting of gospel tradition when he converts Mark's "you will see him in Galilee" into "as he said in Galilee", Mark 16:7//Luke 24:6, in the cause of emphasising the resurrected Jesus in Jerusalem and its immediate environs).

John works in a different manner, having proposed through his gospel that everything is going on all at once ("my hour"): death and departure, cross and glory, descent and ascent. Thus his Pentecost occurs on the day of Resurrection but there is a epilogue or two as a week elapses before the appearance to Thomas and further time before the appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. But, like his evangelical colleagues, John is always wrapping up his gospel through the last chapter of the narrative (20) and through the epilogue to the main narrative (21): so there is a closing word to skeptics among the believers via the encounter with Thomas, then there is a word, via John 21, to Christian groups divided over leadership of the church as the first century comes to a close.

In the end, then, I am arguing that the accounts of the resurrection, between the gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians have a coherency when we dig beneath the varied ways of wrapping up the narratives of Jesus' earthly life, acknowledge the basic facts which are shared (principally the emptiness of the tomb and the sheer multiplicity of appearances), and allow that different things mattered to different writers.

We need not doubt that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. That is the witness of the apostles. But what was the impact of the resurrection on understanding who Jesus was prior to death and who Jesus is after resurrection? Jesus rising from the dead in the midst of ancient Judaism in Israel in the first century AD was like a fox in a chicken coop. A certain theological mayhem ensued. The epistles effectively tell us about the mayhem and that it was a good kind of mayhem!


My own Epilogue to this post: I am fascinated by what - after many years of study - still strikes me afresh from familiar scriptures. In this case, preparing to preach from John 20:1-18, the three occasions in which Mary fixes on the explanation for the empty tomb that the body of Jesus has been removed by a group of people (20:2, 13, 15). I had not previously noticed that this is a threefold "fixation" of Mary.

On the one hand Mary is being reasonable: if the tomb Jesus was buried in was one found at short notice, then it likely was temporary, and thus some expectation of him being moved to a permanent tomb.

On the other hand, through repetition, John the narrator shows that he is aware that there are various explanations for a tomb devoid of the body which was placed in it. (Matthew 28 provides another one: that the body has been stolen, rather than intentionally placed elsewhere by those who care for Jesus). Thus the narration John provides is an assertion of a contrary possibility: the tomb was empty, the grave clothes were found folded in a certain manner, because the "impossible" had happened, Jesus' body was raised to new, resurrection life.

But theologically John is also making another point: the resurrection is about what we see and are prepared to believe. Mary keeps seeing the empty tomb and believing the explanation is quite humanly ordinary: the body has been moved to another tomb. Even when she sees Jesus, she does not see him but believes she is seeing the gardener; and the gardener, surely, knows what has happened to the body. Jesus both invites and provokes Mary to see differently and thus to believe differently. With one word, her name, he alters her perception. She sees Jesus, not the gardener. She believes he has been raised from the dead. And critical to the transformation of her sight and her belief is the intervention of Jesus: he creates belief in her.

Implicitly, John is saying to his readers, perhaps some six to seven decades after the death of Jesus: you do not need to have experienced the physical or "physical" Jesus for yourself: even if you had, you might not have recognised Jesus. Mary did not. What you need is to be brought to faith in Jesus as risen and eternally alive to God and to you. And this gift of faith comes from the risen Jesus himself and is available to all whom he calls by name.

Explicitly this is also brought out in the encounter with "doubting" Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen me, yet believe in me (20:29).

Of course this is not so good for "apologetics" to the extent that apologetics works hard to prove that Jesus was raised from the dead as an historical fact and thus we ought to believe in Jesus as the one who is vindicated by God through resurrection as the Son of God, as the Saviour of the world. This is much more "existential" and a bit tautological: I believe Jesus was raised from the dead because the living (raised) Jesus has met me and called me to him self.

Apologetics is important! So is a lively regard for existential encounter with the risen Christ!

An Epilogue to an epilogue ...

Partly prompted by this Psephizo post on the resurrection narratives, I have done some more thinking about the five accounts of the resurrection (Matthew to John, 1 Corinthians 15).

1. Whatever we make of common historical threads running through the five accounts, we have to take account of literary freedoms being exercised.
2. A starting point for recognising such literary freedoms is Luke 24:6 where Luke manipulates Mark 16:7, from the angel's direction to head to Galilee and there to meet the risen Jesus (so, also, Matthew 28:7), to "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee ...". Why does Luke make free with Mark? Luke could be the more accurate historian and think Mark is wrong (i.e. Mark has received and passed on wrong information) but Luke does seem intent in his gospel on making Jerusalem the "centre" of God's great work through the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. By altering Mark's account, he offers a coherent account of the empty tomb (in Jerusalem) and appearances of the risen Jesus (in Jerusalem, or nearby, at Emmaus) on the same day as the empty tomb is discovered.
3. By contrast, Matthew offers an incoherent account in Matthew 28:7-10. In verse 7 (as noted above), Matthew follows Mark: head to Galilee to see the risen Jesus. But in verses 9 and 10, the risen Jesus meets the women on their way home from the empty tomb. Matthew, like Luke and John, knows of at least one Jerusalem-based appearance of the risen Jesus and it occurs before the disciples encounter the risen Jesus in Galilee (28:16-20).
4. But is Matthew himself being literarily creative when he offers an account of a dramatic earthquake leading to multiple resurrections of the dead (27:51-53)? No other resurrection account includes this story, yet it must have been a significant impact on the situation in Jerusalem.
5. Then we might note that despite Matthew, Luke, and John offering commissioning scenes with Jesus and the disciples, not one of the scenes matches another in respect of location or words said by Jesus. (Various explanations can be brought to bear on these discrepancies, so we can accept them as less than "contradicting" each other; but they are discrepancies which Christian apologists - in my view - are liable to skirt over. As I often do myself!)
6. What about John in his accounts in chapters 20 and 21? Apart from a few features such as at least one woman going to the tomb and discovering it was empty, Jesus appearing unexpectedly in the presence of the disciples and greeting them with "Peace ...," and chapter 21's encounter being located in Galilee, not one aspect of his accounts tallies directly with the other three gospels or with 1 Corinthians 15. How much of these chapters is "history" and how much is "literature"?
7. Nevertheless, the combined testimony of all the accounts (including Mark 16:9-20) is to the conviction that God raised Jesus from the dead and that the raising was not a resuscitation but a raising to victorious, new and everlasting life, exalted/ascended to the presence of God the heavenly Father of Jesus.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Holy Week 2019

I need to be realistic. I am not going to get a second post in a proposed series on Islam out this week. Possibly not next week either, but I will have time to do some reading next week in preparation for post number 2, perhaps on Monday 29 April.

Meantime, it is Holy Week, and, very sadly, as I write, there is news of Notre Dame, Paris, on fire - and a huge fire at that. An amazing cathedral and one I was privileged to visit in 2015. But there is also a sense in which the world of religion is on fire this week.

Particularly Down Under where Israel Folau, gifted and prodigious Australian rugby player, has just been sacked by Rugby Australia. Their grounds for sacking focuses on a breach of code of conduct in respect of social media postings (and, on the face of it, having given Folau a huge break a year ago when he cause significant controversy, they are right to sack him on these grounds because he has defied RA as his employer). But what he Tweeted - about various kinds of sinners, including homosexuals, going to hell - has caused offence and brought on widespread condemnation across Australian and New Zealand mainstream and social media, while simultaneously raising further debate about free speech versus hate speech. For different Christian responses, from significant Australian Christian voices, read David Ould and Brian Houston. I think it reasonable to say that whatever Israel Folau thought he was doing, he didn't think deeply enough about what helps the whole Christian cause Down Under in respect of preaching the gospel of grace.

Here in Aotearoa NZ, many Christians, arguably even over 90% of Christians, are on fire because of a bill bearing down upon us which would legalise euthanasia. Except the bill is messy and ambiguous and seems to offer some kind of "on a wing and a prayer" approach to future termination of life. Our parliament has done wonderfully well, with great efficiency, in passing a gun control bill in record time. It must do good and not bad on this matter of euthanasia!

OK need to close. I am due to meet the President of Religious Affairs, Turkey, this morning. Interestingly, according to some preparation material, this state department produces a sermon each week for reading out across thousands of mosques in Turkey. Now that is a thought for a Diocese ... :)

Finally, social media is no place to debate the intricacies of religion is my "conclusion of the week." It is a bear pit in which speech becomes a form of shouting, all too quickly. But yesterday I came across a wonderful thread which summarises the theology of Origen, including his extraordinary vision for the universality of divine love. The thread is not only wonderful for its summarising power, but also for its recognition of how Origen's theology necessarily must engage with Augustine's.

Here is a selection to ponder during this week of holy devotion to Jesus: