Thursday, January 29, 2009

Keeping the big picture the big picture

"In the long run, neither embrace nor ghetto can solve for Christians the problem of the modern world."

These are Benedict XVI's words, cited by Ruth Gledhill in the course of a piece on the public relations disaster which is the Vatican recommunicating four excommunicated bishops, one of whom is a Holocaust denier. The actual context of the sentence is something Benedict wrote on the reception of the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council rather than the specific context of reasons for recommunication of the bishops.

Several observations spring to mind.

First that the great issue in the Anglican Communion is 'the problem of the modern world' and the two disastrous solutions noted by Benedict are being actively pursued in some parts of the Communion, 'embrace' (e.g. TEC) or 'ghetto' (e.g. some proposals by conservative Anglicans for separation). This blog stands for finding a way between 'embrace' and 'ghetto'. In one sentence Benedict captures the big picture of what is going on and of where disaster lies.

Secondly that notwithstanding the great wisdom and insight of Benedict represented in this brilliant sentence it is nevertheless possible, as the public relations disaster shows, for a great church leader to make mistakes. Just because we have the big picture clearly in mind we are not guaranteed to get everything right! Yet without the big picture in mind, could a leader get anything right? (Benedict, of course, has another big picture in mind with this recommunication, that of Christian unity).

Thirdly, almost an incidental point: in some of our discussions we have an Anglican-flavoured recoil at the thought that some action, such as implementing a Covenant, could lead to a decisive response such as excommunication of Covenant rebels. Have we too easily equated 'excommunication' with 'annihilation of relationship'. Whatever the merits of this particular recommunication of Benedict's, it is a reminder that excommunication is not the end of relationship between believers. Recommunication following revision, reversal or repentance of whatever led to excommunication is possible.

Finally, we might note that to be a Christian intent on rational engagement with the world is to be part of a fellowship which includes some nutty people. Holocaust denial is a particularly abhorrent form of nuttiness. But it is not the only form of it around!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rowan reveals revelation's revealing realities

If the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is consistent in any one thing, it is making his hearers and readers think. Here is an excerpt from his recent Hulsean sermon:

"Revelation is the discovery that you are already, before you knew it, in relation to a vision that is both utterly compassionate and utterly truthful: to discover this in the face, in the presence of another human being within history, not even in the presence of an archaic statue, starts the long, draining and exhilarating trail of recasting what has been taken for granted about God and the world, the created and the uncreated, and sketches what might have to be said about a God who is free not only to engage with the human world but to do so from within. I am shown to myself as a person already in relation: God is shown to me as the agency that is eternally prepared for relation. And the creeds begin to cast their shadow before them; because of that single human presence about which we can only say, 'he told me everything I ever did'.

Revealed religion can so easily be presented as the enemy of many things that our culture holds precious: intellectual humility and intellectual adventure; the sense of ultimate otherness or strangeness within our relations with one another; the fascination with our own inner elusiveness, our otherness to ourselves. Yet all these themes seem themselves to arise out of the gradual apprehension of what revelation actually entails. If theology – the theology of revealed religion - has a place in the academy, it is because of the way in which it underscores the strength of the goading to know that drives all serious mental enterprise and at the same time the unfinished character of that enterprise. It does so not by appealing to a vague belief that all verbal forms are provisional or that the spiritual nature of human beings is worth taking seriously, but as a discipline that wrestles with intractable history and particular narrative, with the ways in which human beings think within time and relationship and create language together."

Read it all here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Into the breech once again

Recently a regular commenter made this comment in connection with the question of the Scriptural validity of the ordination of women:

"It's obvious to any reader that women in the first century taught the faith to other women and to children, and that Priscilla and Aquila did some teaching (of Apollos) together. And that they encouraged the spread of faith - as Lydia did. But beyond this, what has been established? Did a woman ever found a church or exercize spiritual leadership over a congregation as episkopos/presbuteros? This is the essential question in the historical debate."

Let's suppose agreement for a moment that 'the essential question in the historical debate' is the question posed here. Let's also suppose that the agreed answer is 'Probably not'. ( I suggest the answer 'Certainly not' is difficult to sustain because (a) we do not know enough about Lydia's role at Philippi to be certain she exercised no episcopal or presbyteral role, (b) the array of house churches, female hostesses, and ambiguous reference to Andronicus and Junia among the apostles in Romans 16 leaves open the possibility that women may have been involved in founding churches).

In my understanding, the approach of some evangelicals to the question of the ordination of women is that 'Probably not' is insufficient basis to proceed to agree to the ordination of women. The approach of some evangelicals is to work with 'probably not' to argue that (negatively) Scripture does not prohibit the ordination of women and that (positively) Scripture provides a variety of examples of women involved in significant ways in leadership of the early church, including patron (Phoebe), deacon (Phoebe), co-teacher with husband (Priscilla), initial co-ordinator (Lydia), co-labourers with Paul (Syntyche, Euodia), and apostolic witnesses (Mary Magdalene, Junia. From these positive examples, and from the approach of Jesus himself to encouraging the role of women disciples (e.g. Luke 8:1-3; Martha and Mary; the Samaritan woman at the well), it is argued that Scripture begins a development (or 'trajectory') which leads to the valid conclusion that women may be ordained to the diaconate, to the presbyterate and to the episcopate.

Two observations in the present day then need to be made. First, that Scripture does not prohibit the ordination of women to the presbyterate and to the episcopate follows from a reading of 1 Timothy 2:12-15 which limits the scope of 1 Timothy 2:12 to a ruling which does not prohibit all women through all time from teaching or leading men (see further below). Secondly, that this argument for the ordination of women is not analogous to arguments for the ordination of practising homosexuals since there is not an analogous trajectory within Scripture.

Now, at this point the post could become very long as familiar arguments for and against are canvassed. Let me pose two questions for readers, and if they include the commenter I cited above, I should be interested in a further response!

First question: In the set of verses 1 Timothy 2:12-15, verse 15 includes wording whose meaning is much debated, 'she will be saved through child-bearing'. There is no agreement as to the meaning of these words, which, on the face of it, look like an alternative to 'faith' as the key human response in the act of salvation. (For those unfamiliar with the debate there are three main proposals: a woman will be kept safe through the risky endeavour of giving birth; a woman will be saved (from sin, for heaven) through bearing children; the bearing of The Child (i.e. Christ) will save women). Yet v. 15 is part of Paul's "solution" to the "problem" being addressed in 1 Timothy 2:12.

If we are not certain what the solution is, can we be certain what the problem is?

(For example, if bearing children is the solution, is the problem being addressed in 1 Timothy 2:12 a problem (a) with wives (and not, say, widows) (b) with wives of child-bearing age? There are incidentally other reasons to be uncertain of the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12, including the question of the meaning of "authentein" variously translated as 'to exercise authority' and 'to usurp authority').

Second question: in some matters of biblical interpretation we readily concede that change to human knowledge has changed our understanding of the biblical text. An outstanding example is discoveries in evolutionary science which mean that we approach Genesis 1 and 2 differently to the period "pre-Darwin". We recognise that the assumption that Genesis 1 -3 is a simple, literal account of how life began and first developed no longer holds, and we must read Genesis 1-3 as a complex, symbolic, theological story of the beginning of life.

Is there nothing, absolutely nothing about changes in human society (at least in the Western world) in the last century or so which changes our understanding of the role and capabilities of women in the life of the church, including the recognition that women may teach and exercise authority in the church?

(My answer is that much has changed. This change properly leads us to re-examine our assumptions about the application of 1 Timothy 2:12. This re-examination, particularly in the light of a renewed reflection on the significance of texts relating to Phoebe, Priscilla, various Marys, etc, leads, appropriately, indeed legitimately, to the conclusion that 1 Timothy 2:12 cannot sustain the weight of being a universal rule for the church - that is, that there is no woman in any context of the church's life who may be authorised to teach and to exercise authority over men.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Os Guinness and the future of the (Comm)Union

As a young teenager, in the early 1970s I heard Os Guinness speak, and read his fantastic book The Dust of Death. His voice is always worth attending to. Here he is, courtesy of USA Today, on the future of religion in public life in the USA, prompted by the outcry over Obama's choice of Rick Warren to pray at the Inauguration:

"Second, the American settlement of religion and public life shows signs of strain, and needs its first principles renegotiated in light of contemporary social challenges. Though the most successful of the modern Western settlements, vital changes have taken place since the passing of the First Amendment in 1791 — in particular, two factors that are behind the culture wars: an exploding pluralism, reinforced by conflicting views of constitutional interpretation that has skewed the Founders' brilliant understanding of the separation of church and state.

Third, the culture wars have thrown up two broad extremes over the past generation. Both are embodied in movements that are well-funded, nationally led, and receive passionate, though limited, popular support. On one side is a vision of a sacred public square, in which one religion or another is privileged, though not established — associated for better or worse with the religious right. On the other side is a vision of a naked public square, in which all religions and religious symbols are excluded from public life. It is now evident that neither of these extremes lives up to the promise of the Founders' provisions, and neither is just and workable for all Americans. The courts have said as much. To continue the present course of the culture wars is to invite controversies and lawsuits without end, and to undermine America's greatest achievement and one of America's great lessons for the world: the way in which e pluribus unum (Out of many, one) has become a reality and not just a motto.

Fourth, the answer to these extremes and to the culture wars at large lies in the restoration of a civil and cosmopolitan public square. This includes an understanding of public life in which citizens of all faiths — and none — are free to enter and engage public life on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for people of all other faiths, too. Such a view of civility is not a matter of niceness, political correctness or squeamishness about giving offense. Nor is it a search for an interfaith dialogue or lowest common denominator unity that glosses over serious and important differences. Rather, it is a framework in which differences are taken seriously, conflicts are debated robustly and policy are decided civilly — something that is a republican virtue and a democratic necessity."

I suggest he has something to say which, mutatis mutandis, applies to the future of the Anglican Communion. We are as divided as America is by its 'culture wars' and there are no signs of one side giving way. We have had a long time of talking together without the particular goal of a united way forward which transcends our differences. Schism becomes more attractive to some the longer this conversation continues. If we are to remain together - because our shared commitment to Christ demands a shared communion even when little else is shared - then we need to begin now to find what Guinness describes as "a civil and cosmopolitan public square [for the Anglican Communion in which there is] a framework in which differences are taken seriously, conflicts are debated robustly and policy are decided civilly".

In a few days time the Primates of the Communion meet in Alexandria, Egypt. That is nicely symbolic in at least this way: from the earliest days one of the emerging differences within theology was that between the school of theology in Alexandria and the school in Antioch. In the centuries since, the polarities which we may describe in terms such as Protestant v Catholic or conservative v liberal etc can be traced back to the original Alexandria v Antioch polarity. (Yes, one can trace that polarity further back, into the Old Testament itself!!). It is true that sometimes these polarities have resulted in schism, for example, the Reformation itself. But it is also true that for long periods within the life of particular expressions of the church, these polarities have been transcended, contained within the one communion of ecclesial life in Christ. The longest period was, of course, the life of the undivided church through the first millennium.

Will the Primates go to that meeting with a vision for the Communion of the kind which Os Guinness is articulating for the Union (of the States of America)?

Monday, January 19, 2009

This is brilliant!

Stephen Noll speaking to the Mere Anglicanism Conference. The following is a taster. HIS WHOLE PIECE SHOULD BE READ!

"The Resolution stands but was not to be acted upon, and the Communion has paid a high price for this inaction. Archbishop Rowan Williams has repeatedly referred to the authority of Resolution 1.10 with the qualification that it is currently the mind of the Communion.[25] This misstates the case. The bishops at Lambeth 1998 did not think they were giving an interim report but giving a permanent No, based on what is at all times and in all places the Church’s doctrine concerning the “unchangeable standard” of marriage and sexuality.[26]

Doctrine without discipline is a dead letter; arguably it is worse than no doctrine at all. Let’s put it this way: once a clear statement is made and then spurned, the authority and truth of that statement is called into question.[27] I am convinced that Lambeth 1.10 is the standard to which a faithful member of the Anglican Communion must assent ex animo. Every other mediating statement, every other interim body that fails to go back to the norm enunciated in 1998 draws a veil, successive veils, between speaking the truth and obeying it. Some people take comfort from the fact that Lambeth 1.10 still stands. I am not so sure, for at the end of the day God will not be mocked."

I like Stephen's explanation of the doctrinal coherency and significance of Lambeth 1.10, exposition of GAFCON's Final Statement, and commitment to Anglican conciliarism (which I share).

(But I still have a question about whether GAFCON is a body of true discipline for there is no sign that I am aware of that Sydney's recent decisions re a declension from presbyteral presidency are registering on GAFCON's radar.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Quo Vadis ... which way?

Ephraim Radner is a member of the Covenant Design Group, a 'canonically resident' clergyman in TEC, though 'professionally resident' as a teacher of theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto, Canada. He has written an open letter to the CDG, part of the purpose of which is to remind the CDG that before their eyes the Communion is disintegrating around the issue of homosexuality, at least to the extent in which bishops of TEC continue to undertake actions at variance with recommendations of the Windsor Report which, whatever their moral, Scriptural, or theological import and veracity, are designed to keep the Communion together. Ipso facto, the Covenant also has that job to do. You can read the open letter here.

Concomitantly one of the discussion threads on the Fulcrum Forum is entitled 'New Anglican province in North America?' Part of that discussion concerns why homosexuality appears to be both a 'Communion-breaking' issue, as well as a 'biblical/not-biblical' evaluative measure. One commenter, Roger Hurding, makes an observation in respect of the latter, which itself includes a citation from a leading Anglican theologian in the Church of England, Richard Burridge, which is worth noting:

"My central argument with regard to homosexuality is that, as well as those who discard biblical perspectives on the matter, there is a substantial minority of those with a high view of Scripture who question the absolutism of traditional interpretations on the subject, arguing that there is an exegetical debate to be had.

Richard Burridge makes the point well in his recent book, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics:

"It is puzzling why being against homosexuality, about which Jesus and the gospels have nothing to say and Paul has only...passing references alongside many other sins equally common to heterosexuals, should have become the acid test of what it means to be truly 'biblical' in a number of quarters over recent years."

Within the AC we have learnt to agree to differ on the OoW without breaking fellowship. Might there be (should there not be) a comparable understanding within the communion with respect to homosexuality, where both positions, biblically-argued, are held by mutual respect?"

Between the Radner piece and the Fulcrum thread I am reminded of the following simplicities in regard to the future of the Anglican Communion, which I shall put as questions:

(i) The Anglican Communion has (albeit not completely successfully in every local context) been a Communion whose unity has transcended difference over the ordination of women: can it maintain that unity transcendant over difference in respect of ordination/blessing of same sex partnered persons/partnerships?

Comment: It's hard to think of anyone who answers this question with a straightforward 'Yes'; easy to think of those who answer with a straightforward 'No' or an uncertain 'Maybe' or 'I really hope so'.

(ii)Is homosexuality an issue 'worthy' of dividing the Communion in formal schism?

Comment: some are answering this question 'Yes' but for differing reasons ('Yes, our commitment to gay and lesbian Anglicans is worth it'; and 'Yes, our commitment to the authority of Scripture demands it'); others are saying either 'No' or 'I do not know'. Sometimes I think we forget that church division can occur over comparatively small yet significant differences: on the question of baptising infants or not, churches are divided from each other. On the face of it this is 'merely a question of practice with respect to chronology' - seemingly a small issue - but in reality (e.g. the reality of attempting negotiate a union of adult baptising and infant baptising churches) there is a complex of issues concerning salvation, church membership, covenant(s), sacraments, and interpretation of Scripture and the practice of the ancient church. Homosexuality is raising for the Anglican Communion significant questions around the interpretation of Scripture, the meaning of marriage, the relationship of church and culture, salvation, ethics, etc. Any one of these might not be worth schism, the accumulation of these might be.

(iii) Where is the biblical case for acceptance/endorsement of blessings of same sex partnerships and for ordination of persons in same sex partnerships being articulated in an accessible form?

Comment: personally I am not sure of the answer to this question, but it requires an answer if evangelical Anglicans are to recognise the possibility that homosexuality need not be a litmus test of 'biblical' Christianity.

(iv) In the particular matter of TEC, if homosexuality were excluded from consideration, is there a case for considering TEC to have lost its way in respect of the true character of Anglicanism (at best) or to be deliberately embracing another (heterodox, even heretical) way (at worst)?

Comment: in my view quite a lot of talk re Communion schism over the issue of homosexuality boils down to the place of TEC in the Communion (in, out, on the second tier). I sense that if TEC were 'out' or 'on the second tier' then the issue of homosexuality would remain for the Communion to engage with it, but its engagement would be gentler and kinder. But its hard to see the Communion agreeing to the ousting or demoting of TEC on the basis of a single ethical issue. It might do it on the basis of its declension from orthodox Anglican theology. But has it so declined? I know the answer is obvious to some (especially those involved in forming the New American Province) but it seem non-obvious to others. Who is to judge?

For what it is worth, I think question (ii) above (Is homosexuality an issue 'worthy' of dividing the Communion in formal schism?) is itself a crucial point of dividing of the Communion. In 2009 - a General Convention meeting year - I can see attitudes hardening on the part of those who would answer the question 'Yes' (as noted above, a group itself motivated in at least two different ways), and I can see a continuing lack of commitment to dividing on the part of others - especially lay Anglicans.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Headship and the church

I had been thinking a little lately about headship and the church, a concept that lies close at hand in many debates about the role of women in the leadership of the church. One thought I have had is that, in response to a concern that the ultimate head of the church should be male (e.g. women presbyters/priests might be okay so long as its guaranteed that the bishops will be men), the ultimate head of the church is and always will be male: Jesus Christ our Lord!

So it cannot go unnoticed here when Pope Benedict XVI makes these observations:

"Even more important is to see that only in these two letters is confirmed the title "head," kefalé, given to Jesus Christ. And this title is used on two levels. In the first sense, Christ is understood as the head of the Church (cf. Colossians 2:18-19 and Ephesians 4:15-16). This means two things: above all, that he is the governor, the director, the one in charge who guides the Christian community as its leader and lord (cf. Colossians 1:18: "He is the head of the body, the church.") And the other meaning is that it is as the head that he raises and vivifies all the members of the body of which he is head. (In fact, according to Colossians 2:19, it is necessary to "stay united to the head, from which the entire body, through ligaments and joints, receives nutrition and cohesion.") That is, he is not just one who directs, but one who is organically connected to us, from whom comes also the strength to act in an upright way.

In both cases, the Church considers itself submitted to Christ, both to follow his superior leading -- the commandments -- and to welcome all of the vital flow that come from him. His commandments are not just words, mandates, but are vital forces that come from him and help us.

This idea is particularly developed in Ephesians, where even the ministries of the Church, instead of being attributed to the Holy Spirit (as in 1 Corinthians 12), are conferred on the Risen Christ. It is he who "gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers" (4:11). And it is because of him that "the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament ... brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love" (4:16).
Christ in fact is dedicated to "present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (5:27). With this he tells us that the strength with which he builds up the Church, with which he guides the Church, with which also he gives correct direction to the Church, is precisely his love.

Therefore the first meaning is Christ, Head of the Church: be it in regard to the leading, be it above all in regard to the inspiration and organic vitalization in virtue of his love.

Then, in a second sense, Christ is considered not only as head of the Church, but as head of the celestial powers and the entire cosmos."

Hat-tip to Titus One Nine for this. The whole piece, including some superb observations re marriage, can be read here.


It seems pretty clear why the IDF continues its war in Gaza: Hamas rockets have not stopped firing. Its quite unclear to me why the rockets continue when they bring such misery and destruction to Gaza in retaliation. There are signs today that a ceasefire might be imminent. The only ceasefire worth having will be one in reality, not words, and that will require the rockets to stop.

The whole situation of Gaza / Palestine / Israel is complex and twisted and torn with histories told differently and political goals on local, national and international levels colliding with awful realities, including the undoubted zenith of desperation on the part of Gaza Palestinians. But not far below that must be the desparation of Israel itself having neighbours whose manifestos proclaim the urgent necessity of destroying Israel.

The killing of Gazan non-combatants is appalling. It should stop. But so should the rockets. I find myself unmotivated to join protests against the IDF's actions since it logically means supporting Hamas' who have goals in respect of Israel and Jews which are indistinguishable from Nazi philosophy. Perhaps I could join a protest against both IDF and Hamas. Has one been organised?

In the course of all of this I note the curious situation for a number of liberal Anglicans (and, of course, a number of liberals who have no church affiliation). Many seem to have a self-assurance about what is right and what is wrong. In this case Israel is wrong. In other cases, more often touched upon on this blog, traditional theology, or Scriptural teaching is deemed wrong by liberal Anglicans. But it seems curious to me in this present instance to lend support to Nazi-like philosophy - not an action normally associated with liberals.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Yes, it's hard to be a Christian these days ...

... when your episcopal leaders are embarrassed by Christianity.

"Watching President-elect Obama laboriously attempt to assemble the most inclusive prayer team ever (a woman, a gay bishop and a Baptist preacher -- isn't there a joke like that?), one has to feel anew our enduring need of divine assistance in holding together this war-weary and culture-war-torn great nation.

Episcopalian Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who will pray at President-elect Obama's request on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, has been reading through inaugural prayers in history. He is "horrified" at how "specifically and aggressively Christian they were," according to The New York Times.

Yes, it is true that even back in 1953, Father Patrick O'Boyle prayed, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (alongside a prayer by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver). At FDR's 1945 inaugural, Monsignor John Ryan prayed, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost ... Through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Oh, the horror of it all!

Bishop Robinson may have inadvertently relieved some folks' minds by making it clear that his prayer "will not be a Christian prayer and I won't be quoting Scripture or anything like that."

Robinson is ruminating on alternatives such as praying to "the God of our many understandings," a language he said he learned during his stint in alcohol rehab.

Perhaps in the future, taking Christian pity on the poor Michael Newdows of the world, presidential prayers can be re-addressed: To Whom It May Concern."

Thanks, Gene, for yet another reason not to fight for your corner!

You can read the whole, enlightening article here.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit

Tomorrow's gospel reading, Mark 1:7-11, includes John the Baptist's promise about Jesus:

"I indeed baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (v. 8).

There is more than the difference between percolated coffee and instant coffee in the two baptisms! John declares that Jesus brings a new dimension of change to the human situation.

OK much more can be said (will be said in my sermon tomorrow!), but on this site devoted to Things Anglican, this observation comes to mind:

Is the Anglican Communion, together with its affiliates, living in the Spirit? Do we Anglicans look like a fellowship of people 'baptized with the Holy Spirit'?

It's just that, sometimes in our wranglings and litigations, we look, however faintly, and however unfairly, like a fellowship of people that are not actually a fellowship, and have been drenched with a spirit which being no spirit of unity can scarcely claim to be the Holy Spirit.

What's to be done?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Lambeth in retrospect

During the Lambeth Conference I appreciated the provocative postings of Bishop Nick Baines (Croyden). Fulcrum have now published a 'six months on' reflection by Bishop Nick. He is still provocative! An excerpt is pasted below. But I want to make it clear to readers of this blog that my posting it here does not mean I am personally in agreement with all his assessments (e.g. of GAFCON, FOCA).

"The Lambeth Conference 2008

a review after six months

by Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon"

"After I posted my final Fulcrum blog of the Lambeth Conference I was asked if I would offer a considered (but brief) review six months on. Well, here it is. But I need to begin with a bit of contextual stuff.

I agreed to blog the conference because I didn’t want people simply getting information from a media that only had one script in two parts: (a) the Anglican Communion is obsessed with sex and (b) is about to collapse. I tried to write each day with candour, not only to inform the reader, but also to give a flavour of how it felt to be in the hothouse itself, not always knowing what was likely to happen next. Returning to the blog for the first time since the end of the conference, it has been instructive to review not only the content, but also the conviction of what I wrote and how I wrote it.

It is clear to me that the conference was successful – not in resolving contentious issues to everyone’s satisfaction (an impossibility as well as not the purpose of the conference in the first place), but in taking seriously the ministry of reconciliation committed to us by the God who has come among us in Jesus Christ. Had the conference lasted only a few days or a week, it would have ended in a degree of acrimony and with some people’s prejudices reinforced. But two weeks of gracious listening, talking, wrestling and trying to establish relationships that took the Gospel seriously paid off. Those bishops who stuck with it discovered that simply walking away is not a Christian response to tension – after all, the Church is called to reflect the nature of the God who refused to walk away from those who even crucified Jesus. This tougher option was worth it...

continue reading here

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

This is Houston Calling

Hat-tip to Anglican Taonga for a marvellous interview in Christianity Today with Russell Levenson Jr., Vicar of St Martin's, Houston, with a membership of 8,200, the largest parish church in TEC. Here's an excerpt:

"But I do not think leaving is the answer. That is where the Communion Partners rest. Daniel had to stay in Babylon, but did not abandon his faith. Jeremiah was not given another Israel. Ezekiel had to preach to the dry bones. When Jesus and his message were completely rejected, he did not leave. He wept. He stayed. He did not move on to Egypt. He stayed and faithfully preached when they believed and when they did not believe.

There appears, for now, to be tremendous hope in the other forms of Anglicanism that have been springing up around the country. But they are very much in their embryonic stages. In my previous diocese, there were six different expressions of Anglican identity in one small area of the state. None of them were growing significantly. There are already some divisions within these breakaway movements over liturgy, women's ordination, and prayer book language. I wish them well, but I would have rather seen them stay.

I have asked every person I personally know that has [left] or was pondering to leave the Episcopal Church if they were prevented in some way by their parish or bishop from preaching the gospel. Each one has said, "No."

They have been criticized. They have been mocked at clergy conferences, but they have not been prevented from preaching the gospel, and thus I wonder why they leave. But I do honor their decision to do so.

In Jesus' last prayer before his arrest, he prayed that his followers would "be made one" (John 17:11). How can anyone hear that prayer, knowing it was prayed with Christ's blood-stained sweat, and say that division is the way forward? How can we read Paul's plea, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3), and strive for further schism?"

I like this man and his thinking!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Various discussions are reviving in the Anglican blogosphere re women and episcopacy (go to Stand Firm for example). Particularly jumped on by some conservative commenters are women in England speaking for the possibility of women bishops who mix their speech with some less than satisfactory theology, or even with no theology at all. What I am noticing is that, however unintentionally, some conservative responses are 'anti-women'. I say this because the argument beneath the responses is not 'if we are going to have women bishops let's ensure they are sound theologians' but 'see, women cannot be trusted to be sound theologians, which means, of course, that they should not be bishops'.

Now, there are arguments for women not being bishops which are not inherently 'anti-women' (some are included in this posting-and-thread on Stand Firm), but I wonder if some conservatives should take more care to confine themselves to such arguments rather than beat up on women in the sub-texts of other arguments they bring forward!

Final noticing by me: somehow a lot of sins of male leaders in the church seem to get overlooked in some of these discussions!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I noticed ...

... this profound point conveyed by Baby Blue, repeating an article published in 2006, in which she reports on a conversation with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali:

"A highlight for me was how Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali characterized our current crisis as one about revelation (which is different from how it is usually characterized as being about the authority of scripture).

I found that quite compelling - how do we discern revelation in the church? It is clear that the Christian faith is a living faith which finds its identity not in the law but in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. This means that our faith is personal - not private - but personal, which means the Holy Spirit is speaking. Bishop Michael said that the Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself but aligns Himself with Christ - and so He will not contradict Scripture. The Gospel of John, he said, makes this very clear. If God is a new thing, He will not contradict what He has all ready done and said. The Scriptures are quite clear about what it means to live a holy life, as well as what the sacrament of marriage means not only to men and women, but as the primary illustration of God's relationship to His people."

I myself do a bit of thinking about Scripture in relation to evangelical theology and to the life of the church, and am both inspired and challenged by the distinction Bishop Nazir-Ali makes between 'revelation' and the 'authority of Scripture' and the way in which he draws us to consider which is more pertinent to current Anglican difficulties. (It happens to tie in with some reading I am doing at the moment in a book of essays entitled Canonical Theism, edited by William Abraham who himself has written on the relationship between revelation and Scripture).

What I like about the emphasis on 'revelation' is that it is impossible to escape the link to God who is the Revealer; whereas with the 'authority of Scripture' its possible to bog discussion down by raising the question of 'what Scripture means?' and making the link to the cacophany of human interpreting voices. Of course the authority of Scripture can be understood as 'the authority of this text which the church has valued for a long time' but it is in fact 'the authority of the Revealer whose revelation is conveyed to us in Scripture'. Attending to 'revelation', arguably, gets us to the Revealer quicker than 'the authority of Scripture', but also reminds us that God's revelation does not cease with nor is bounded by Scripture (e.g. God guides us), and thus we must reckon with the Living Voice speaking to the church, and not just with a text which can be diminished by adjectives such as 'ancient' or 'dry'! Yet, the good Bishop reminds us, God's revelation beyond Scripture never contradicts Scripture.

Food for thought ...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Preparing for the Great Bust Up of 2009

A commenter has alerted me to the availability on the web of a prescient book, J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism.

The link takes you quickly to a web page and from there you can download individual chapters speedily, even on 'dial up'.

Happy Holiday Reading!

Anglican of the Year 2008

This award is, of course, simply in terms of this blog. Somewhere over the rainbow there might be an 'official' award of this title.

Well, I have thought a bit about this. There are certainly some interesting, some outstanding, and some flawed Anglicans; and even one or two who are interesting, outstanding and flawed. And there are exceptional individuals out of the public gaze who represent the ideals of Anglicanism, which, in the end, is about being gracious Christians!

But reflecting on 2008 I am struck by the strength and resolve of various groupings of Anglicans. Those Virginian Anglicans, for instance, who have maintained their right in law to continue to use their church properties - a right recognised by the Virginian judiciary but not by The Episcopal Church. Or, those Anglicans who came together for GAFCON in Jerusalem, and forged a path of unity in truth. Behind the scenes before and during Lambeth a collection of different groupings of Anglicans enabled this complex and potentially disastrous event to take place, and to more or less fulfil its planned agenda. Then there is another grouping of Anglicans with impressive if somewhat anonymous credentials: those who have been under severe pressure for their faith, including Anglicans in Iraq, but perhaps under the severest pressure have been Anglicans in Jos, Nigeria.

So, in 2008, a difficult year in the life of the Anglican communion, no one individual stands out as 'Anglican of 2008', but a variety of Anglicans working together in common cause for Christ and for the gospel constitute an impressive and inspiring example for other Anglicans to follow. To God be the glory!!