Gene Robinson, the leading bishop at Lambeth (already dominating the headlines, unlikely to go away) makes a claim that God is not locked up in Scripture.
"Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the church was led to permit eating things proscribed by Leviticus, to oppose slavery (after centuries of using scripture to defend it), and to permit and bless remarriage after divorce (despite Jesus' calling it adultery).
And now, by the leading of that same Spirit, we are beginning to welcome those who have heretofore been marginalised or excluded altogether: people of colour, women, the physically challenged, and God's children who happen to be gay.
This is the God I know in my life - who loves me, interacts with me, teaches and summons me closer and closer to God's truth. This God is alive and well and active in the church - not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, having said everything that needed to be said, but rather still interacting with us, calling us to love one another as he loves us."*
If that is not enough to dissuade Lambeth from following his lead - see below for critique - I am not sure what more could be offered by him! More helpful is the following editorial from The Tablet (leading Catholic newspaper in the UK, though deemed by its rival, The Catholic Herald, to be hopelessly 'liberal') which astutely makes the point that true Christian theology is locked into Scripture because within Scripture itself lies all the tension and diversity proper to orthodox theology, and within Scripture is the resolution of the tension and the unity in the diversity, if only we will search Scripture for it. (Hat-tip to Thinking Anglicans).
Peter, Paul and women bishops
The Church of England is groping towards a harmonious solution of its internal crisis over the ordination of women bishops, but with no guarantee that such a solution exists. The crisis reveals much about the nature of Anglicanism itself. The Anglican claim to be both Catholic and Reformed is a challenging one, for it sets up a tension at the heart of the Church between two tendencies which sometimes point in opposite directions. One problem with the claim is that very few Anglican individuals are both Catholic and Reformed in themselves, even if the Church of England is as a whole: individuals tend to be one or the other and, indeed, so do parishes. The weakness of the third way, liberal Anglicanism, is that it regards both these positions through the lens of relativism, denying both of them any enduring claims to truth.
But all coexist inside the same Church. This principle of Anglican comprehensiveness was dictated more by the circumstances of English history than by some blinding theological insight, but it does have its parallels there, for instance in the tensions between the Pauline and the Petrine principles which are described in Acts and have continued to rumble on ever since. Indeed the early Church could have split along those lines, were it not for the fact that St Paul and St Peter realised the danger and steered away from it in time. Sometimes, as Brendan Byrne points out on page 16, the Pauline-Petrine tension is seen as being between the prophetic and the traditional. It is a comparison that flatters the former and a premise that disguises the point at the heart of the current Anglican dilemma.
If one tries to be prophetic without at the same time being traditional, what weight does it have? On whose behalf is one being prophetic? It is one thing to say that the entire thrust of Christian history leads ultimately to the conclusion that ordination to the priesthood and episcopacy should be open to either sex. It is quite another to say that the thrust of Christian history can be ignored if it does not point that way. Indeed, if such ordination is advocated as an act of justice to women, it gains far more from being a historical culmination than from being a historical departure. If the price of victory is to force tradition into unconditional surrender then it becomes a somewhat pyrrhic one, all the more so if it is widely depicted as Christian faith being forced to bow the knee to secular post-Christian values. That is the danger in saying, as some at the General Synod did this week, that if the Church of England does not allow women bishops it will look ridiculous in the eyes of society at large. Instead, the question ought to be: does what is proposed look ridiculous in the eyes of tradition? On that, the debate is far from over.
There is shrewd wisdom in the Catholic Church's ancient custom of celebrating the feast of St Peter and St Paul on the same day, refusing to allow anyone to say "I am for Peter" or "I am for Paul" by favouring one saint's day more than the other. The dialogue between Peter and Paul belongs at the heart of the Church's life, and cannot end with the triumph of either.
*The theological mischief in this statement includes the following:
(a) "Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, the church was led to permit eating things proscribed by Leviticus, to oppose slavery (after centuries of using scripture to defend it), and to permit and bless remarriage after divorce (despite Jesus' calling it adultery)." The Holy Spirit built on the words of Jesus in respect of food rules; the church did not uniformly and universally use Scripture to defend slavery; and the blessing of remarriage is a recent innovation which (precisely because of the use made of it in the hands of pro-gay lobbyists) is causing some revaluation).
(b) "And now, by the leading of that same Spirit, we are beginning to welcome those who have heretofore been marginalised or excluded altogether: people of colour, women, the physically challenged, and God's children who happen to be gay." All such welcome is integral to Scripture and its message. The leading of the Spirit has taken the church back to Scripture on these matters, not away from it.
(c) "This is the God I know in my life - who loves me, interacts with me, teaches and summons me closer and closer to God's truth. This God is alive and well and active in the church - not locked up in scripture 2,000 years ago, having said everything that needed to be said, but rather still interacting with us, calling us to love one another as he loves us." There is much that every Christian can affirm here. But the phrase 'closer to God's truth' begs the question, how do we know when we are close to God's truth, and when we are moving away from it? The traditional Christian answer has not been loose talk of 'the Spirit leading' but of 'the Spirit illuminating Scripture as discerned by the church'. Precisely because the disagreement in the Anglican Communion on matters bound up in Gene Robinson's life and office is so sharp, we are not entitled to talk about the leading of the Spirit, only of our common commitment to search Scripture through the Spirit for the truth of God.