Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Resurrection of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand

I drafted up a pretty hard hitting "take" on our church in the light of an article in this morning's Sunday Herald about church life in our largest city Auckland, suggesting that we are a church in crisis re decline and doing nothing much about it at General Synod. Then I thought that it might not be received in a kindly manner and perhaps I should be more responsible as an older member of the clergy: church life is difficult, people are doing their best and we are all in this together. Also, it is not as though I have all the answers.

So how about I let you the reader do the work today?

First, here is a list, as reported by my bishop, +Victoria Matthews, in a recent letter to her clergy of some of the topics for discussion at our General Synod in a few weeks' time. (I am not a member of GS so do not have access yet to the full set of papers - hence grateful for this list):

"The papers for General Synod  which arrived last week are extensive and some weighty topics will be discussed.  The Ma Whea Commission Report which looks at possible directions for our Church in response to the many voices calling for action and reaction about same gender relationships and the request to have these relationships blessed, is now up on the Diocesan web page and is also attached to this letter.  Included in the Ma Whea Commission Report, as an appendix, is the Report of the Doctrinal and Theological Commission on the Theology of Marriage with its theological rationale for same gender marriage.  Other resolutions address the possibility of mutual recognition of Holy Orders with the Methodists in this country; a request for a Decade on Mission; a proposed revised Communications Commission; Fossil Fuel Divestment; an HR package proposal; two Constitutional Amendments; and the motion from last General Synod which seeks episcopal autonomy with respect to those in same gender sexual relationships.  There are a number of Bills including one which requests a name change of our neighbour Hui Amorangi to become the Anglican Maori Diocese of Te Waipounamu.  Reports from the three Tikanga Commissions are also included in the General Synod papers."

The Herald article, secondly, about the state of church life in Auckland city is here.

My question, dear readers, is this: should our list of topics at our General Synod be different in the light of the success the mega churches in Auckland are having at connecting the gospel with Kiwis in this secularised, post modernized new agey 21st century?

Depending on the answers and our willingness to work on them, we may yet look forward to the resurrection of our church in the course of this century as the largest national church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Or not. Perhaps our will is focused in another direction. If so, what do we think our future is?*

*My focus here is on Anglican life in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our church includes the island nations of Polynesia but the mix of culture, history, church relationships and politics is different across those islands and less familiar to the life I am familiar with here in these islands.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Someone thought it cool to invent Jesus' wife; AB on ++JW

A while ago there was a bit of a fuss about a fragment of papyrus known as the Wife of Jesus fragment. At the time it seemed like an academic at a prestigious Ivy League university who should have known better nevertheless went all speculative on a bit of papyrus which was pretty promptly declared a forgery.

Well the academic, Karen King, is undaunted, it would appear, and is busy promoting a book of essays on the fragment in such a way that despite some of the essays repeating the previous denunciation, the fragment, albeit slightly more subtly is being pushed again as sorta, kinda authentic.

Mark Goodacre has the low-down with links here. Of particular note is his link to a quick response PDF by Francis Watson.

They do not come much sharper than Francis Watson. N.T. Wright's class and all that. Believe me, when Francis starts saying that fragment X really says Y and Y goes against received tradition, then the tradition had better change. But in this case he really thinks that fragment X is a copy of some other stuff. Rainy afternoons, idle moments, clever person, charcoal to hand. Explanation done and dusted.

Talking of rainy afternoons, NZ is going through a very rainy, windy and in some cases disastrous patch. If your Saturday is wet and miserable then here is a good long read on the life and times of ++Justin Welby and his first year as ABC by Andrew Depending What Mood I am In I Might Be Kind to Anglicans Or Not Brown.

BONUS for reading through to here: A. N. Wilson on Good Friday.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Guest post on the Cross

One of the first bloggers in the Christian world, writing as Anonymous, has kindly supplied our post for today. The post is headlined:

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all - this is God's will.

Day after day every Jerusalem Temple priest takes his turn on the roster to perform his religious duties; repeatedly he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

But when the Great High Priest I am writing about, Jesus Christ had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies - the ones who reject and even despise the cross on which he died - to be made his footstool.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this.

First he says (in Jeremiah 31:33):

"This is the covenant I will make with them, after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds."

Then he adds (in Jeremiah 31:34):

"Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more."

In conclusion, where these sins and wrongdoings have been forgiven in such a complete manner, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

From now on the only sacrifice God's people are asked to make is the sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Sunday by Sunday, indeed day by day, the effectiveness and finality of this Great High Priest's sacrifice means, sisters and brothers, that we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, that is, to draw close into the immediate presence of Holy God, to outrageously claim fellowship and communion with God himself.

The blood Jesus shed on the cross, the blood we could say of the High Priest who was also the sacrificial Lamb, has opened for us a new and living way into the presence of God - the curtain at the entrance to the Holiest of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple has been thrown wide open so we can enter.

So, having such a wonderful great priest over the family of God, let us draw near to God with sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith in Jesus brings, because through faith we know that our hearts are sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.

On this Good Friday, as we remember these things for our benefit and give praise and thanks to God for sending Jesus to be both High Priest and Lamb, let us travel through space and time to the place outside the Jerusalem city gate where Jesus suffered to make the people holy through his own blood.

Let us, then, go to him, outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore - beyond the security of comfortable domestic arrangements, let's go to the marginal places, to where Jesus is, willing to be despised and ridiculed for his sake. It's tough, but our horizons in life are not limited to a house in suburbia and a career in an inner city office, we are looking for the city which is to come, the heavenly city of God.

Indeed, as we look with understanding eyes on Jesus dying on the cross, let's resolve to continue our journey of faith. Perseverance in these days of trials and tribulations is vital. Others have gone before us through testing times - they form a great cloud of witnesses who urge us on.

Let's throw off everything that hinders and the sin which so easily entangles us.

Let's run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfectoer of faith.

Here is the thing, this Good Friday:

For the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

War or peace? Wrath or example?

War or peace?

We have been having some debates here on war versus pacifism. Soon on TV screens we will see the moving story of conscientious objectors in the First World War including Archibald Baxter, father of our most famous poet, James K Baxter. Called Field Punishment No 1, it screens this Tuesday at 8.30 pm on TV One.

In this year of the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, with Ukraine being torn apart by Russian manipulation of nationalist sentiment (or is Russia rescuing Russians under threat of Ukrainian nationalism?) we continue to make the War to End All Wars among the biggest of all lies humanity has told itself.

Locally here in Anglican NZ, in the heart of our own residential theological college, the spirit of military service is alive and well, as you can read here.

For Anglicans in NZ, where, as the article reminds us, we have very strong links to the military, especially via chaplaincies, questions about Christian duty to Queen and country have the potential to divide us.

We could debate whether if this were 1914 we would go to war in foreign fields for the sake of control of Europe. An interesting and safe academic debate.

What if we asked ourselves whether Russians under Ukrainian yokes or Ukrainian interests affected by Russian expansionism is worth fighting for? Or the plight of Syrian rebels?

Wrath or example?

We have also had some debates over the years about God's wrath. It struck me reading Exodus 12 this morning that if the roots of the action of God in Christ on the cross go back to the first Passover (and beyond, to the Fall, in case anyone thinks I have a short-term view of history) then God's wrathful judgment is intrinsic to understanding the cross.

The first Passover is the story of God's wrath being visited on Egypt. The unjust treatment of Israel as Egypt's slave incurred God's just response: let my people go. When polite request for justice failed, God's wrath was invoked. Even a series of severe plagues was insufficient to make Pharaoh repent. Finally, God's judgment would come though the angel of death. For Israel the way through this ultimate plague was to kill a lamb, smear doorpost and lintel with blood, thus signifying that that angel of death was to pass over that house and family. Israel escaped the wrath through the Passover being celebrated for the first time.

At his Last Supper, our Lord celebrated Passover with a transformative action which changed that meal forever for his followers. Breaking bread and blessing wine, equating them with his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out, Jesus became the new Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7, John 1:29, 36). Through his blood his followers would be saved from the wrathful judgment of God: 'Whoever eats of this bread will live forever' (John 6:58). The implication of rejecting Jesus the bread of God (as some did immediately after Jesus finished his teaching in John 6) is judgment: 'The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge' (John 12:48).

There are other understandings to bring to the cross, including demonstration of God's love for us in Christ Jesus and offering an example of patient endurance through suffering (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:21). But for those uncomfortable with the wrath of God being part and parcel of the event of the cross, some reckoning needs to be made with the interpretation of our Lord himself, that on the cross a new Passover took place.

The good news, of course, is that once again, blood serves to save people from the judgment of God, from God's justice being enacted on those of us who have acted unjustly. Through the blood of the Lamb we receive mercy undeserved.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Consequences of being Justin Welby

Recently Archbishop Justin Welby fronted up to the public via media by way of an hour of talkback radio in England. Questions came in from the public.He responded. One response in particular has generated enormous follow up discussion, debate, perhaps even scorn. One line into the controversy is via a linked blog, Psephizo and a post entitled, What did Justin Welby say about gays and violence in Africa? The controversy, you see, turning on the extent to which ++Justin made some violence against Christians in Africa consequential on decisions in England about same sex marriage.

+Gene Robinson weighs in on the matter via The Daily Beast. It is a thoughtful piece which expresses thoughts I have read elsewhere, including concerns that the ++Welby approach kinda gives into murderers.

Is the matter, nevertheless, one that raises questions about what it means to be 'Anglican'? I have also been reading (but cannot now recall where) that if we go too far in the direction of (so to speak) local concerns trumping global consequences, do we not undermine understanding of episcopacy, with (as it happens) specific reference to the episcopacy of +Gene Robinson himself?

Anglicanism as a global phenomenon is a tension between the local and the global. The Anglican Communion is a communion of churches and not (it is often noted) itself a church. Thus the churches which make up this Communion are autonomous (they can make decisions via General Synods/Conventions without reference to higher authority) while the Communion when it meets cannot make decisions which the churches must implement. So far so good. And thus far we can certainly note that if autonomy means autonomy then local churches should be able to make local decisions about, say, gay marriage or blessing same sex partnerships, or, uncomfortably for many observers, about supporting draconian anti-gay legislation without acknowledgement of any consequences for other churches in the Communion.

But does autonomy mean autonomy?

I suggest that, in the peculiarity of the Anglican Communion, we do not have a straightforward understanding of autonomy, that, in fact, we have a sneaky version which amounts to 'when it suits, autonomous means autonomous, but when it doesn't suit, it doesn't.'

Bear with me.

When TEC ordained Gene Robinson to be bishop in 2003 it exercised its autonomy to ordain whom it saw fit to ordain. In that particular context in time and Anglican debate, the autonomous American church said, 'Global concerns about this mean zilch.' But when we fast forward to 2008 we found that +Gene Robinson was not invited to the Lambeth Conference that year. A snub on any reckoning. Effectively the Conference via its president, the then ABC, ++Rowan Williams, said 'You are not recognised as a bishop admissible to this global meeting of Anglican bishops.' A conclusion we may draw from that event is that sometimes autonomous Anglican churches acting on local concerns will effectively perform sacramental actions, such as ordination, with local but not global recognition of the action or actions.

If autonomy means autonomy then no snub would be perceived: TEC had the right to ordain +Gene Robinson; ++Rowan Williams had the right to not invite him to be a bishop beyond his diocese of New Hampshire.

But there was a perceived snub. Anglicans around the world were pained by the refusal to invite. Autonomy does not quite mean autonomy when we do not want it to mean that. A bishop, we say, ordained locally is available for ministry globally.

What makes this so? What makes for this less than straightforward state of autonomy? It is the fact that the reality of how we understand the Communion is that it is not actually a communion of autonomous churches but a communion of churches with a degree of autonomy and a degree of interdependency with other churches. That interdependency concerns entering into a series of common interests. Communion meetings of bishops, of primates, and of bishops/clergy/laity foster those common interests and do so in a form of theological speech which is laced with distinctive themes and memes derived from distinctively Anglican speech set down in documents such as the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Lambeth Quadrilateral, to say nothing of the writings of popular Anglican theologians.

Bishops chosen locally should share in the common interests of the global Communion. Meeting together at Lambeth is a way to deepen understanding of those interests and perhaps to develop new commonalities. When the commonalities are not shared there may be problems over meeting together (as there were in 2008, noting not only the snub, but many bishops who chose not to take up their invitation).

Perhaps ++Justin misjudged the 'consequences' of local actions on other parts of the world, and perhaps he misjudged the consequences of his own words, as +Gene Robinson notes. My own judgment is that he made an important note to all of us about connections across a global communion and the note works in various ways re a variety of actions at this time (cf. my comment on the Psephizo post linked above). Nevertheless there has been wide debate following++Justin's brush with radio and clearly a number of commentators are angry with ++Justin.

What ++Justin got absolutely right, however, is his underlying presupposition: the Communion is not a communion of completely and utterly autonomous churches. It is a Communion of semi-autonomous churches which should take care not to claim autonomy only when it suits. Further, this group of churches is a communion, a group with common interests fostered by interdependency which need affirming not disputing. For as long as we dispute common characteristics we run significant risks of destroying the Communion as the disputes highlight autonomy and undo unity. The key to our future is to find out what interdependence means, the balance between autonomy and dependence on one another. We set that back when we rejected the Covenant.

++Justin does not wish to be the ABC who finds himself without a Communion. He is working hard at renewing interdependence. He has his work cut out. His critics are zeroed in on his every word. Should he prove fallible he will be mercilessly criticised.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The most Christian PM since ...


David Cameron is on an evangelistic roll as he speaks publicly once again about his faith, the work of the Church of England and the importance of faith for morality. Thanks Church Times!


David Cameron seems an enigmatic kind of chap. At best, is he an 'all things to all men' kind of leader, trying to please this constituency and that? This, it seems, is to the despair of many a Tory. At worst, is his Prime Ministership a charm offensive which hides an agenda for maintaining the classy British society of which he happens to be at the top as a rich, Old Etonian? This, according to many a left-winger, is the real Cameronian inside oil. Either way, some have wondered about the Christian commitment of David Cameron. But on that score we now have this to consider: with H/T to ++Cranmer, we hear David Cameron saying some good things, including this at a recent 'Easter reception' at 10 Downing Street:

" I’m proud to hold a reception for Christians here in Downing Street and proud to be a Christian myself and to have my children at a church school, which – I often get my moment of greatest peace – not every week, I’m ashamed to say, but perhaps every other week I pop in to the Thursday morning sung Eucharist beautiful service in St Mary Abbots, and I find a little bit of peace and hopefully a little bit of guidance."

He goes on to make an observation I included in my sermon yesterday (there was an AGM to follow the service):

"This third thing I wanted to say, which I suppose is a little bit more controversial, but I was reflecting on this meeting tonight and what to share with you and I have a thought – which is not a new thought, but I think it is a true thought –which is when I think of the challenges which our churches face in our country and when I think about the challenges political institutions face in our countries – in our country, I see a lot of similarities. We both sometimes can get wrapped up in bureaucracy; we both sometimes can talk endlessly about policies and programmes and plans without explaining what that really means for people’s lives. We can sometimes get obsessed by statistics and figures and how to measure things. 
Whereas actually, what we both need more of is evangelism. More belief that we can get out there and actually change people’s lives and make a difference and improve both the spiritual, physical and moral state of our country, and we should be unashamed and clear about wanting to do that. And I’m sure there are people here of all political persuasions and no political persuasions, and I’m certainly not asking you to agree with everything the government does, but I hope you can see – hopefully more than moments, but real moments of evangelism, enthusiasm and wanting to make our world a better place."

There is more at the link, including heartfelt concern for persecution of Christians. But perhaps the nicest comment he makes concerns the pastoral ministry of parish priests, referring directly to the priest of the parish whose school his children go to and his own local priest in his constituency:

"So it’s lovely to have here tonight the vicar from St Mary Abbots school, Gillean Craig, and also the vicar who looks after me spiritually in the constituency, Mark Abrey in Chadlington, who, when I often – anyone asks me about the pastoral care that many vicars carry out across the country, I remember 5 years ago when we had to mourn the loss and bury my son Ivan, I can’t think of anyone who was more loving or thoughtful or kind than Mark. And of course, Ivan would have been 12 yesterday, which has had me pause to think about that."
Britain's most Christian PM since Margaret Thatcher?

But then Giles Fraser pours a bit of (needed) cold water on the idea of DC's Christianity being the meat and bones kind that gets you crucified ... here.

That critique fires bullets all around. Is what I believe and stand for as a Christian likely to get me crucified?

Monday, April 14, 2014

The politics of Jesus (Monday 14 April 2014)

I really like what I see of our NZ Prime Minister John and his wife Bronagh Key. They seem extraordinarily pleasant, open, transparent people with the best interests of New Zealanders at heart. If you have time watch this lovely interview by John Campbell as he meets and eats with the Keys as part of a series on our political leaders at home.

Just before readers who do not like John Key and/or detest his policies switch off, I will be trying to bring you further instalments of John Campbell's series,**** so some fairness to all leaders is experienced here. Further, I don't think I am particularly biased towards National Party PMs: from the past (within my lifetime) I have admired Norman Kirk and Bill Rowling, detested Rob Muldoon and his style of politics, and looked in awe at the talents of David Lange. Though not when they were PM, I have met and much liked Mike Moore and Geoffrey Palmer. I was once enthralled to have a two minute conversation with Helen Clark when she was Leader of the Opposition: she is one of our greatest Kiwis. I was at primary school with David Parker (current Deputy Leader of the Labour Party) and have had a couple of occasions of meeting him during his career in politics: as nice a bloke now as he was a school friend then.

Possibly only Norman Kirk of those named above came from as hard a family upbringing as John Key had. My admiration for John Key partly stems from the fact that (unbeknown to me) he was growing up about 800m from where I lived in Bryndwr. My street was as middle class as any street in NZ. John lived in a tough state housing street that I steered clear of. He was brought up by a single mother. By all accounts there was not a lot of money. His life story, of moving from a poor upbringing to becoming one of NZ's richest men (prior to politics) and now to being our Prime Minister, is a genuine story illustrating the possibilities of betterment in a capitalist democracy (both here and in other countries where he made his fortune such as the UK and the USA).

But as we contemplate such things today we find ourselves matching present day economic conditions with the politics of Jesus which includes valuing of economic equality as an expression of equality of persons entering the kingdom of God as equal bearers of the divine image (Genesis 1), equal as sinners needing salvation ('all have sinned'), and equal as recipients of God's merciful love ('God so loved the world). What does the politics of Jesus mean for Christians working out which economic future to vote for?

Cutting to the chase, within the capitalist sphere of the world, Christians along with others consider the possibility of Communism as a system and (in my understanding) quickly reject it as proven not to work (Cf. failure of Soviet Russia and Communist China, both now (state-guided) capitalist economies) and also as destructive of basic human freedoms as it was imposed (mass starvations, ethnic cleansing, labour camps). That appears to leave some form of capitalism as the only option for the method of economic activity in the world and (again, cutting to the chase) presents as with the agony of supporting a system that poses equality of economic opportunity versus equality of outcomes: the former can be implemented consistent with human freedom, the latter cannot be done without dictatorship.

The story of John Key rising from poverty in Bryndwr to wealth in Parnell (especially via the key 'opportunity' means of education) is the perfect illustration of equality of economic opportunity on this scenario. When he was at Burnside High School (then NZ's largest secondary school), 2000 pupils from a mixture of socio-economic backgrounds, according to the narrative of modern capitalism, all had equal opportunity, if chosen and pursued, to become "John Key." Less trumpeted, of course, is the simple mathematical fact that if 2000 pupils are at one secondary school being educated for success, no economy can support all 2000 becoming extraordinarily wealthy: someone has to make their wealth at the expense of others. If one, say, rises to own and manage a supermarket, others are needed to stock the shelves and run the checkouts, one can realise  capital advancement out of the business, the rest settle for wages.

Are these the only alternatives, opportunity versus outcome? Does equality for people within capitalism (which can only sustain equality of opportunity) boil down to inequality of outcomes? These days there is a twist to the question: are we also doomed to have a system which offers increasing inequality rather than some kind of inequality in a settled state? Are we doomed to a situation in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and nothing can be done about the ever-widening gap?

As I best understand the following article, 'Capitalism simply isn't working' about economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, there is another way forward, a way which has been followed previously in the twentieth century, in which governments through taxation (we might even say 'actual, effective taxation') attempt to ameliorate the gap between rich and poor. (The cynic might say, 'At least revive the prospects of the squeezed middle-class'). This is undoubtedly attractive as taxation as an imposed redistribution of wealth is a very long way from the totalitarian methods of Soviet Russia and Communist China. Yet the point remains in the article that the globalization of economic conditions means that country A changing its taxation system does not present the advantages to that country which prevailed in, say, the 1930s or 1950s so long as countries B to Z refuse to change their tax rates.

Our election in NZ is not an election of a 'one world government'. It is just for the government of an incredibly tiny percentage of the world's population. What are we to do for the equal benefit of all NZers in a world where our economy depends as much on wage/tax rates in China as it does on (say) America's attempts to assist income for its farmers via subsidies?

**** I now note that David Cunliffe is going to be a no show for this particular series of interviews:

-  - -  -  -
As a bit of a postscript and so I do not lose sight of the link, I note John Pilger's plaintive cry of the heart about twenty years of economic life in post-apartheid South Africa. His article illustrates the dilemma we seem to face re choices. On the one hand his characterization of the control of the post-apartheid economy by the same forces that controlled it beforehand is troubling. In theological terms, Mammon's rule over the kingdom has been both unchanged and unchallenged. On the other hand his own recipe for an alternative, essentially widespread nationalization of industries and massive control via state intervention in economic activity is a recipe for failure. South Africans might be more equal today in their share of wealth as a result but their non-participation in the usual trading conditions of the world (e.g they would have been battered by the banking system on Pilger's approach) but that wealth would be much diminished. But particularly poor (in my view) is Pilger's failure to acknowledge the likelihood that a government controlled economy creates enormous opportunity for cronyism: the operators approved by such government, from Cabinet ministers downwards becomes the new rich. To truly change the system one needs to change the individuals ...