Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ezra, Calvin, and the spirit of legalism within the Communion

Parallel teaching of Old Testament and Church History this year at Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson, is opening my eyes to dimensions of the situation the Anglican Communion finds itself in during these days of conservative//liberal wars of and within religions.

A post below makes comment on the rise of new Calvinist church ministries, especially in the States. Arguably this rise is propelled by the slipperiness of post-modernist liberal Western culture: the certainties of the Calvinist way, allied with the large vision it offers for theology and God's purpose in the world provides an attractive antitype to what the world offers. But something similar can be said about the popularity of any conservative religious movement in the world today, including conservative movements within the Communion.

The challenge in this kind of season is to take care not to go with any fashion, whether of the world or of the church, but to steadfastly follow Christ, understanding both who Christ is, and the his calling to discipleship in terms of the whole counsel of God, that is, according to all of Scripture, acknowledging the importance of understanding Scripture with reason and tradition as assistants.

Tonight's Old Testament class tackles Ezra and the rebuilding of the temple after the Babylonian exile. Ezra in certain ways is a prototype of the scholarly Reformers, even of Calvin himself. On one matter of the application of the law Ezra drove forward an initiative whereby Jews who had married foreign women had their marriages broken up in order to maintain the purity of Israel's faith. (Given where the impurity of Israel's faith had taken the Jews through successive exiles one must have some sympathy for Ezra even as one wonders what pain he caused). Ezra was, shall we say, severe, and that does remind me of Calvin!

But the severity of Ezra' law driven governance of Israel is a part of Scripture, not the whole of it. Thus my uneasiness with the 'new Calvinism' and of any movement within the life of the church which is, literally or effectively, 'law driven governance' (thus I am also concerned by the propensity of TEC's hierarchy to apply its laws in a severe manner) is an uneasiness around its faithfulness to the whole of Scripture. Ezra's example is counterbalanced by the approach Jesus himself took to the law - an approach, I suggest, which could allow for some fuzziness in application of the law to the messiness of life.

Some talk within our Communion, e.g. rejection of the Covenant, goes to an opposite extreme, whereby any talk of 'law' and its ilk is dismissed as unAnglican. But that talk, apart from being silly as a shallow understanding of Anglican canon law, is itself unfaithful to Scripture which does include the example of Ezra.

Charting the appropriate course between law and grace, punishment and mercy, freedom and licentiousness is never easy - but is that not part of the cost of discipleship?


Anonymous said...

The only thing that you be completely certain of is that your mortal meat-body is going to disintegrate and die.

And in a world in which ALL of the Sacred Scriptures of the entire Great Tradition of Humankind are freely available to anyone with an internet connection of what relevance is Ezra, a fictional character from the "sacred" texts of a then tiny tribal cult in Palestine/Israel, got to do with anything?

Why should it have any binding relevance to anyone in 2008, especially to the overwhelming majority of human beings who are not Christians.

Plus me-thinks you ought to check out.

Anonymous said...

Calvin was one of the most montrous human beings that ever lived.

He helped create the colourless, joyless, dour, fascist totalitarian mini-state in Geneva where people were executed for the most trivial of reasons. He even allowed his own relatives (by marriage) to be executed for and absurdly trivial reason.

Who would Jesus execute?

Once a person is suitably constrained, execution of anyone is never justified.

Plus Clavin's legacy is very much alive in grim-faced puritan America via the righteous zealots in the Bush administration. It used to be the boast of USA right-wing "religionsts" that "god's man" (that is George Bush) was/is in the White House.

Any and every one who subscribes to such an obscene notion is completely and utterly deranged.

Who would Jesus bomb?