Saturday, February 28, 2009

OK. So Ruth Gledhill is a bit of a hero figure too, on this blog

I like Ruth Gledhill's style. She writes it as she sees it. When commenters blow a gasket (examples at end of post noted below) Ruth responds civilly and with reasoned arguments justifying her approach to an issue.

Like a number of journalists she is on the case of "Bishop" Richard Williamson, unrecognised as a bishop by the Vatican but recently recommunicated by them to a chorus of condemnation by the world and its dog since just about any Catholic who matters seems to have known he was a Holocaust denier, except for Benedict XVI himself.

In this post Ruth lines up like ducks at a fair other follies of the Catholic hierarchy.

Her point, in my view, is not so much that the Roman Catholic church is fallible as that all churches are fallible, including those that often carry off the impression that they are not! I would like to think that the Anglican Communion takes some heart - not from the troubles of others but that it is not alone in having troubles!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

OK. So Rowan's a bit of a hero figure on this blog

"In Rowan’s Rule, Shortt sets out to provide Rowan’s critics with a true measure of the man, attempting to relate both the substance of his thought and the story of his life. Shortt is that rarest of breeds—a religion journalist who knows what he is talking about—and he succeeds brilliantly in his project, showing both that Williams is well worth listening to and that many of his critics may not have listened to him closely enough.

From the right, Williams has come under heavy fire for his supposed theological liberalism and typically Anglican wishy-washiness. To a certain extent, such criticisms are unavoidable. Williams is in fact in favor of women’s ordination, his revisionist position on same-sex relations is on record, and his understanding of Scripture has drawn objections from many, not only evangelicals. If that were the end of the story, Williams would seem to be no more than a conventional liberal, along the lines of the average Episcopal bishop. But as Shortt shows, nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, Williams is best viewed as part of the rebellion against the rebellion of the 1970s, working alongside his colleagues Oliver O’Donovan and N.T. Wright to bring the Church of England away from the arid liberalism of Honest to God and Don Cupitt and back to its roots in Word and sacrament, prayer and worship, tradition and Nicene-Chalcedonian orthodoxy. While many of his professors busied themselves with demythologizing the gospels and re-presenting Christian doctrine as anthropology, Williams insisted that Christianity at its core is answerable to God’s initiative, and most particularly so in the unique revelation of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Very much against the grain of British academic theology of the day, Williams’ first book, The Wound of Knowledge, showed through relating the history of Christian spirituality that “the theologian,” as the fourth-century monk Evagrius said, “is the one who prays”—which is to say that theology must always grow out of the encounter in worship and prayer with the surprising and extra nos Word of Christ, rather than taking its agenda from modernity. And in his second book, Resurrection, Williams showed that the church’s message of forgiveness and new life rests entirely on its real encounter with the risen Christ, who unexpectedly returned to his disciples from beyond the grave."

An excerpt from a lovely, honest, careful review by Jordan Hylden of Shortt's recently published biography of Rowan Williams, Rowan's Rule.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Approaching Ash Wednesday

Jesus calls us to follow him. It’s one of his few commands repeated in all four gospels (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17; Luke 5:27; John 1:43). Christians are followers, that is disciples of Jesus. Being a disciple is a demanding calling as Jesus also commanded that his followers mimic him by taking up their own crosses (Mark 8:34). The details of what the way of the cross will be for one disciple will differ from another (this is a lesson from John 21), but for all disciples the way of the cross is costly. In order to face up to that cost we are invited to keep attentive to the example of Jesus. So that we might be strengthened in our determination to be faithful we are instructed to consider Jesus and his cross (Hebrews 12:1-3). The seasons of the church’s year assist us in being attentive to Jesus. Christmas, for example, draws our eyes to the wonder of the baby Jesus - God becoming human flesh in the humble vulnerability of a tiny child.

Looming fast on the calendar as you receive this Witness are the seasons of Lent, Holy Week and Easter, each drawing our gaze to Jesus and deepening our devotion and love for him. These seasons are particularly intensive in directing us to Jesus and the cross. The forty days of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Palm Sunday, are our opportunity to imaginatively walk with Jesus on his journey from Galilee to Jerusalem – a journey which he knew would end in death, yet which he deliberately chose to begin and to complete. In real time this journey of Jesus took longer than 40 days, but 40 Lenten days for us resonates with biblical times of testing through journeys: Noah and the Ark, Israel in the Wilderness, and Jesus in the Desert.

When we engage with the season of Lent we signal to ourselves and to God that we are seeking to better understand the sacrifice Jesus made through his death on the cross. This sacrifice was not being the unfortunate and accidental victim of a violent regime, but the sacrifice of submitting his own will to that of the Father, knowing that this would mean denial of self to the point of suffering violent death. Giving up chocolates or alcohol for Lent is a good thing, symbolising our resolve to deny self for the sake of Christ. But the point of Lent is embracing discipleship which goes beyond denial to death. Only through death to self can the life of Christ fill us completely (Ephesians 3:19).

The life of Christ is able to fill us because his sacrificial death on the cross achieved something for us which no amount of sacrifice through denial and death can achieve. In the simplest terms, ‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15:3). From the first human beings through to each reader of the Witness, our wrong-doing has broken communion between God and humanity. On the cross Jesus Christ took our culpability for that wrong-doing, made it his own, and repaired the broken communion. ‘Christ was innocent of sin, and yet for our sake God made him one with human sinfulness, so that in him we might be made one with the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Thus the journey through Lent with Jesus is more than a poignant engagement with his resolve to suffer for our sakes. It is a journey to the cross where the single most transformative event in human history takes place. We deepen our attention and commitment to this Jesus – the unique Saviour of the World – as we enter imaginatively into the final week of Jesus’ life, the week we know as Holy Week. Palm Sunday is the turning point between Lent and Holy Week. Geographically Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem ends with his entry on a donkey into the Holy City, but emotionally and physically Jesus’ journey to the cross takes on new intensity. On Maundy Thursday we relive Jesus ‘Longest Night’, beginning with re-enactment of his Last Supper. On Good Friday we watch again from the foot of the cross as Jesus dies for us. Since each gospel provides detailed accounts of the last twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life there is plenty of material to give content to our services of reflection and prayer on Good Friday.

By 3 pm on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion he was dead. A great pause then enters the reflective journey with Jesus which has begun at Ash Wednesday. Jesus is taken down from the cross and buried in a tomb. The next day in our calendar is known as Holy Saturday. There are no stories told in any of the gospels about the events of this day though there are hints that the disciples kept themselves well out of sight of the authorities in Jerusalem. The body of Jesus lay alone in the tomb. All was quiet with the world.

By contrast the Day of Resurrection, Easter Sunday, bursts with energy: a moving tombstone, angels, and people approaching and leaving the tomb signal a great commotion! It is right to make a joyful noise to the Lord in our celebrations on Easter Day, for the tomb is empty. The Lord is risen – He is risen indeed!! In the season of Easter which follows we celebrate the many facets of the resurrection of Jesus: victory over sin and the devil, vindication of Jesus as the Son of Man, exaltation to the right hand of God in power, vanquishing of the power of death over humanity, but mostly we celebrate the fact that Jesus is alive.

To follow Jesus is not to follow a sad, long dead man. It is to walk with the One who draws alongside us, opens God’s Word to us and is known to us in the Breaking of the Bread (see Luke 24:13-35). Our journey through Ash Wednesday, Lent and Holy Week reminds us of the cost of discipleship. Through Easter we are reminded of the joy of following Jesus. Our attention to Jesus through these seasons of the church’s year is underlined in these words: “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

(Also appearing in this month's Witness - the bi-monthly magazine of the Diocese of Nelson).

Monday, February 23, 2009

If the church is to grow, it must teach the whole counsel of God

I have a theory about church growth. According to this theory, the breadth of the content of the preaching will be a significant factor in the height to which growth will attain. Have only one sermon, preach it winsomely, but preach it every week, your church will grow. A little bit, and then it will stop growing. It won’t matter if the sermon is an evangelistic message, a social justice manifesto, a paean of praise to the Virgin Mary, the outcome will be the same. A few fall into this trap of, no matter the lectionary passage, the festival, or the hour of the day, preaching the same sermon week in week out. Some ministers offer more variety. But on closer examination, each sermon espouses some aspect of a narrowly conceived “-ism” which falls short of the whole counsel of God. It might be Pentecostalism or socialism; evangelism or creationism (see post below): it does not matter what the “-ism”, there will be a brake on growth (according to my theory).

I have some evidence for the truth of my theory. Do you have some to share?

Recently I heard a sermon which nicely illustrated the difficulty of a narrow theological scheme for preaching. It failed to offer the whole counsel of God on the matter it sought to address. It generated considerable opposition (from fair minded, Bible minded mature Christians). By failing to offer the whole counsel of God on the matter the sermon’s logic became, ‘Shape up or ship out’ rather than ‘Shape up, or, if not prepared to do so, work together within the church’s system to find an alternative solution’. Hopefully hearers will not ship out because of this particular occasion. But such sermons can have their consequences, especially when they constitute the whole diet of preaching in a church. Shipping out is a growth limiting constraint!!

Positively, as I think about some growing churches I know a few things about, the preaching has been varied, ranging across the whole counsel of God, and not limited to one recurring theme or confined within an “-ism”.

These are difficult days, the days of post-modern life, for the church of God. We are beset and besought on all sides by the challenges of secularism, atheism, Islamism, consumerism, and general religious torpor. Why add to our difficulties by generating them from within our ranks through a narrow conception of the truth of God?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

If evangelism is to succeed, creationism must die

The proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the proclamation of public truth claims about the nature and purpose of the work and person of Jesus Christ. These claims are neither magic nor hocus-pocus nor mystical mush. They are open to rational enquiry, historical and scientific investigation. They may be discussed by philosophers and made subjects worthy of university research.

But some Christians - quite a considerable number in places such as the United States of America - also believe in 'creationism' or 'creation science'. Creationism involves claims that the reality of the beginning of life is closer to a literal reading of Genesis 1 and 2, framed against the chronology of Genesis 4 onwards, than to the scientific discoveries of biology, geology, and cosmology. Thus creationism proposes that the earth (and universe) is young (around 6000 to 10000 years old), and that the first human beings had no biological ancestors. In support of these claims some scientific evidence is advanced. But this evidence is generally not accepted in the broader world of science. Nor are proponents of creationism generally accepting of the evidentially-based conclusions of the broader world of science. Thus creationism involves closure to the normal processes of rational enquiry, and historical and scientific investigation. The potential for creationist Christianity to lead Christianity into a religious cul-de-sac where all sects and cults reside is considerable. In that cul-de-sac there is no evangelism as understood in the New Testament ('Go into all the world'), there is only a furtive gathering up of fugitives from the real world. If evangelism is to succeed, creationism must die.

The case for the fact of evolution is excellently put by Richard Dawkins in an article lauding the publication of a book on evolution by a fellow scientist. Here's an excerpt:

"How can you say that evolution is “true”? Isn’t that just your opinion, of no more value than anybody else’s? Isn’t every view entitled to equal “respect”? Maybe so where the issue is one of, say, musical taste or political judgement. But when it is a matter of scientific fact? Unfortunately, scientists do receive such relativistic protests when they dare to claim that something is factually true in the real world. Given the title of Jerry Coyne’s book, this is a distraction that I must deal with.

A scientist arrogantly asserts that thunder is not the triumphal sound of God’s balls banging together, nor is it Thor’s hammer. It is, instead, the reverberating echoes from the electrical discharges that we see as lightning. Poetic (or at least stirring) as those tribal myths may be, they are not actually true.

But now a certain kind of anthropologist can be relied on to jump up and say something like the following: Who are you to elevate scientific “truth” so? The tribal beliefs are true in the sense that they hang together in a meshwork of consistency with the rest of the tribe’s world view. Scientific “truth” is only one kind (“Western” truth, the anthropologist may call it, or even “patriarchal”). Like tribal truths, yours merely hang together with the world view that you happen to hold, which you call scientific. An extreme version of this viewpoint (I have actually encountered this) goes so far as to say that logic and evidence themselves are nothing more than instruments of masculine oppression over the “intuitive mind”.

Listen, anthropologist. Just as you entrust your travel to a Boeing 747 rather than a magic carpet or a broomstick; just as you take your tumour to the best surgeon available, rather than a shaman or a mundu mugu, so you will find that the scientific version of truth works. You can use it to navigate through the real world. Science predicts, with complete certainty unless the end of the world intervenes, that the city of Shanghai will experience a total eclipse of the sun on July 22, 2009. Theories about the moon god devouring the sun god may be poetic, and they may cohere with other aspects of a tribe’s world view, but they won’t predict the date, time and place of an eclipse. Science will, and with an accuracy you could set your watch by. Science gets you to the moon and back. Even if we bend over backwards to concede that scientific truth is no more than that which enables you to pilot your way reliably, safely and predictably around the real universe, it is in exactly this sense that – at the very least – evolution is true. Evolutionary theory pilots us around biology reliably and predictively, with a detailed and unblemished success that rivals anything in science. The least you can say about evolutionary theory is that it works. All but pedants would go further and assert that it is true."

Read it all here. New Zealand even gets a mention twice (once explicitly, once by implication).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Scripture is the book of truth authorised by Jesus Christ (?)

A commenter (Rhys) on an earlier post about Jesus and Scripture asks, “does ‘the book of truth authorized by Jesus Christ’ hint sufficiently at the dynamic quality you want?”

Perhaps not. A book, for example, is not as dynamic as, say, a ‘vision’ or ‘manifesto’. Yet Scripture is a book, and I am loathe to give away the concept of truth, static though it may seem in post-modernist shaped contexts. Grace and truth come from Jesus Christ, as John the Evangelist tells us (John 1:17). Of course for the Evangelist ‘truth’ is dynamic in the sense that it has power to lead to belief which leads to eternal life, even when written down (20:31). And, maybe ‘authorised’ sounds a bit heavy.

Perhaps then I could say, ‘Scripture is life-giving truth, communicated through Jesus Christ’.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Good to go

He's off. Bishop Richard is on his/our 40 Day Walk around the Diocese of Nelson. Walking is good for the body and thus good for the soul. (That's my profound conclusion after walking for about 45 minutes this morning with His Nibs).

Importantly, I think this walk is going to be good for the Diocese. Intimate conversations spring up on walks, and the Bishop will be a captive audience for those who make the effort to walk alongside him. Relationships will deepen with people in the diocese.

A walk like this is also a reminder that the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom (the world everywhere under God's rule) and not the gospel of the church. Bishop Richard is the church walking in the world and not the church expecting the world to walk in the door.

Read a Nelson Mail news story here - keep up with Bishop Richard's blog (link on RHS of this page).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jesus Christ and the continuity of scripture in Scripture

Here are a few further thoughts as I work on a presentation at ACANZP's next Hermeneutical Hui ...

One of the most difficult texts of the Bible is Luke 16, with the Parable of the Dishonest Steward (16:1-8, 9-13) a frontrunner for status as ‘the most difficult parable to understand’. On one thing all readers of Luke 16 can agree: the chapter is mostly based on stories and sayings involving money. But this highlights another difficulty: why in the midst of all the talk on money matters is there an isolated saying about divorce and remarriage (16:18)?

Here is one explanation of this puzzle in Luke 16. Luke often works his source material into his particular ordering of it according to catchwords or catch phrases. In Luke 16 the first parable begins ‘there was a rich man’ and the commentary following it ends with ‘You cannot serve God and wealth’ (16:13). The catchwords of riches and wealth lead into an account of Pharisees present making comment. They are described by Luke as ‘lovers of money’ (16:14). But they also ridicule Jesus so this leads to a counter-charge from him that they are those who ‘justify’ themselves. This sets up a new line of thought for Luke’s reporting of Jesus’ speech and his next pericope concerns the law and the prophets and the good news of the kingdom of God (16:16). Incidentally, one of the acute exegetical difficulties in Luke 16 then arises at the very end of Luke 16:16: what does entry into the kingdom by ‘force’ or ‘violently’ mean?

Luke 16:17 then offers a counterpoint to any reader tempted to take Luke 16:16 as licence to ignore the law and the prophets in favour of the gospel: ‘But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped’. I suggest we are entitled as readers of Luke’s Gospel to presume that 16:17 reflects some sensitivity on Luke’s part to debates about Christian understanding of the Jewish law – a sensitivity attested to in the Acts of the Apostles. The charge that the new Christian movement is ‘soft’ on the law is rebutted. Luke 16:18 then becomes an illustration of the depth of Jesus’ own commitment to the law: he prohibits divorce, with no exceptions, and, pointedly, is ‘harder’ than the Pharisees themselves on this issue. The oddity of a ruling on divorce and remarriage in the midst of a chapter on riches and wealth is explained through the sequencing of Luke’s topics: riches and wealth, money-loving Pharisees who justify themselves, the law and the gospel, the permanency of the law, an example of the permanency.

If we accept that no oddity is involved in the reference to divorce and remarriage in 16:18, nevertheless we might be tempted to judge that it is then odd for Luke to return abruptly to money matters with the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31). Yet even here we observe that this story connects back to the topic of the law and the prophets in 16:16-18: the ending of the story makes reference twice to ‘Moses and the prophets’ (vv. 29, 31).

Many implications follow from this reading of Luke 16. Here I mention only one. In the estimation of Jesus there is both difference and continuity between the law and the prophets and the gospel of the kingdom. In the fullness of the revelation of God which expresses God’s rule, what will later be called the “Old Testament’ represents the continuity of the scripture, which was known and taught by Jesus, in the Scripture. This Scripture, the combination into the canon of the church of the Old Testament and New Testament, will include the difference and the continuity between the law and the prophets and the gospel of the kingdom.

There have been many questions arising in the history of the church concerning the practical implications of the continuity of scripture in Scripture. Sometimes the church has been severely tempted to ditch the Old Testament. But the resistance to that temptation has its beginning in the example of Jesus Christ himself.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Archbishop of York is also very intelligent!

(Hat-tip to Nick Baines) Writing in the Daily Mail, Archbishop John Sentamu tackles the rapidly growing intolerance towards Christianity in 'Christian' Britain (talk about an 'own goal'). Here's an excerpt:

"Asking someone to leave their belief in God at the door of their workplace is akin to asking them to remove their skin colour before coming into the office. Faith in God is not an add-on or optional extra.

For me, my trust in God is part of my DNA; it is central to who I am and defines my place in the world. It informs my whole life, not just a weekly service on a Sunday.

It is the failure to grasp this basic understanding of what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ that lies at the heart of the problem of which these two cases are just symptoms.

There is a deep irony at work here, and not simply because the first free schools and hospitals operating in this nation were run by the churches in our land.

Those who display intolerance and ignorance, and would relegate the Christian faith to just another disposable lifestyle choice, argue that they operate in pursuit of policies based on the twin aims of 'diversity and equality'.

Yet in the minds of those charged with implementing such policies, 'diversity' apparently means every colour and creed except Christianity, the nominal religion of the white majority; and 'equality' seemingly excludes anyone, black or white, with a Christian belief in God.

This was strikingly illustrated in the recent case of the dedicated foster mother who had cared for foster children for more than 20 years, but who was recently struck off by her local council. What was her crime? Did she harm or allow harm to be caused to her ward?

No. Rather because her 16-year-old foster daughter decided - of her own volition - to convert from Islam to Christianity, the local authority struck the foster mother from its list of approved carers."

You can read the whole here.

For Kiwi Anglicans Sentamu reminds us that our planning towards the bicentenary of Samuel Marsden preaching the gospel for the first time on NZ soil in 1814 could incorporate some vigorous historical study. We may not be quite as 'Christian' in our heritage as Britain, but the predominant religious influence on Aotearoa NZ since 1814 has been Christianity.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pause and Patience

At times in the years GR (i.e. 0 G(ene)R(obinson) = 2003) it has seemed that the Communion's break up is imminent. If not tomorrow, then the day after. By contrast, the patience of the Archbishop of Canterbury has appeared variously unrealistic, out of touch, and even belonging to some parallel universe. But the post Alexandrian feel to the Communion offers hints that patience has been a good strategy and Rowan Williams is God's man for such a time as this.

Jordan Hylden, noted before on this blog, writing at First Things (hat-tip to Fulcrum), benchmarks Alexandria as the place where Communion has meant Communion: even a broken Communion can draw out a longing for a deeper Communion rather than for tossing in the towel and throwing toys out of the cot. In the last part of this article Jordan offers the prospect of an obituary to (so-called) 'federal' model of Anglicanism.

"But it is precisely the “federal model”—Anglicanism as a federation of autonomous, doctrinally diverse local churches—that did not fare well at Egypt, just as it found disfavor last summer at Lambeth. We have seen, in both cases, something of a consensus emerging. The great majority of Anglicans worldwide seek a “deeper communion” with each other, and are prepared to cede a certain amount of their autonomy to achieve it.

Of course, the federal model does nonetheless have more than a few proponents. There remain both “federal conservatives” and “federal liberals” (as the English Evangelical Graham Kings has put it), both groups of which, for all their doctrinal differences, share the belief that Anglicanism as a communion does not matter all that much. How have they fared?

The “federal conservatives”—represented by Bishop Duncan’s new Anglican church (ACNA)—have, it would seem, taken a step back for the time being. Although acknowledged as genuine Anglicans by the primates in Egypt, their new body is far from being recognized as possessing full provincial status. It is, as the Windsor Continuation Group report noted, not clear what status groups within ACNA such as the Reformed Episcopal Church (which broke from the Episcopal Church in 1873) have in the larger communion, nor is it precisely clear what sort of recognition ACNA seeks.

Some, perhaps, hoped that official communion recognition could be bypassed altogether in favor of recognition by the GAFCON council. But the GAFCON primates themselves, in Egypt, have apparently decided that this route is premature. Instead, the primates at Egypt proposed that a professionally mediated discussion be initiated among all the concerned parties, with the goal of finding some sort of “provisional holding arrangement” that could have the blessing of the communion at large.

What of the “federal liberals,” particularly in the Episcopal Church? As has long been clear, it is unlikely that it will sign on for the sort of robust covenant and institutional reform that the emerging consensus is envisioning. The church’s Executive Council recently published its response to the proposed Anglican Covenant, more or less saying that it is not interested in any sort of covenant with consequences. Bonnie Anderson, the president of the church’s House of Deputies, has for her part signaled that at this summer’s General Convention she will push to move away from an earlier resolution that called for restraint on further consecration of gay bishops. Although the American church does not plan on taking up the covenant at its convention this summer, the arrows thus far point towards an effectual rejection of its terms.

Tellingly and worryingly, the Executive Council’s response also asserted that the proposed Covenant may only be adopted or rejected at the provincial level, rather than the diocesan. For many “communion conservatives” who still remain within the Episcopal Church, this will amount to a deep crisis of conscience, since in effect their church seems bent upon forcing them to choose between the Anglican communion and the Episcopal Church.

The “Communion Partners” group within the Episcopal Church has pledged itself to remain both Anglican and Episcopal, but if current trajectories continue this may become impossible. A further key move of Rowan Williams and the primates at Egypt was the creation (as mentioned previously at Lambeth) of a “Pastoral Forum,” by which trusted figures from around the Anglican world would be appointed to help warring parties to arrive at agreed-upon solutions. It does not take a crystal ball to see that, in all likelihood, this will be needed in America.

All of these issues and then some remain to be worked out in due time. “There is,” as the WCG report said, “a fundamental ecclesiological question” at stake: “do the churches of the communion wish to live as a communion?” No doubt some do not, but in Egypt as at Lambeth, it has appeared that most of them do. For their part, the primates in Egypt showed a remarkable willingness to work together for the good of the communion, rejecting both the easy disunity of atomized purity and the false, surface-level harmony of smiles and happy feelings, determining instead to seek the unity in fellowship that comes only in the truth of the gospel and at the foot of the cross."

Anglican Down Under notes and applauds the pause of the GAFCON primates; wonders if TEC at its GC 2009 will pause or put the foot on the accelerator; and hopes Kiwi Anglicans know which side their bread is buttered on!

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Keeping the big picture in view

This article, "Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and eternal life" may seem a bit random in its inclusion on this blog, but I got to it after following a link, to another article by the same Spengler, provided by a commenter below.

In a world of conflict and competition for attention, Christians need to have a grasp of the big picture of theology ... and of anti-theologies, or, if you prefer, rival theologies. I find Spengler good on the big picture. Here's an excerpt:

"But what is it that God demands of us in response to our demand for eternal life? We know the answer ourselves. To partake of life in another world we first must detach ourselves from this world in order to desire the next. In plain language, we must sacrifice ourselves. There is no concept of immortality without some concept of sacrifice, not in any culture or in any religion. That is a demand shared by the Catholic bishops and the Kalahari Bushmen.

God's covenant with Abraham is unique and singular in world history. A single universal and eternal god makes an eternal pact with a mortal that can be fulfilled only if Abraham's tribe becomes an eternal people. But the price of this pact is self-sacrifice. That is an existential mortal act beyond all ethics, as Soren Kierkegaard tells us in Fear and Trembling. The sacraments of revealed religion are sublimated human sacrifice, for the revealed god in his love for humankind spares the victim, just as God provided a ram in place of the bound Isaac on Mount Moriah. Among Jews the covenant must be renewed in each male child through a substitute form of human sacrifice, namely circumcision. [4] Christians believe that a single human sacrifice spared the rest of humankind.

Jihad also is a form of human sacrifice. He who serves Allah so faithfully as to die in the violent propagation of Islam goes straight to paradise, there to enjoy virgins or raisins, depending on the translation. But Allah is not the revealed god of loving kindness, or agape, but - pace Benedict - a god of reason, that is, of cold calculation. Islam admits no expiatory sacrifice. Everyone must carry his own spear.

We are too comfortable, too clean, too squeamish, too modern to descend into the terrible space where birth, death and immortality are decided. We forget that we cannot have eternal life unless we are ready to give up this one - and this the Muslim knows only through what we should call the sacrament of jihad. Through jihad, the Muslim does almost precisely what the Christian does at the Lord's Supper. It is the sacrifice of Jesus that grants immortal life to all Christians, that is, those who become one with Jesus by eating his flesh and drinking his blood so that the sacrifice also is theirs, at least in Catholic terms. Protestants substitute empathy identification with the crucified Christ for the trans-substantiated blood and flesh of Jesus."

This man is incapable of an unintelligent view of things

Naturally, I speak of Archbishop Rowan Williams! Hat-tip to Titus One Nine for a lead into his presidential address to the C of E's GS, currently meeting:

"The Communion we have: it is indeed a very imperfect thing at the moment. It is still true that not every Primate feels able to communicate at the Lord's Table alongside every other, and this is indeed a tragedy.

Yet last week, all the Primates who had attended GAFCON were present, every one of them took part in daily prayer and Bible study alongside the Primates of North America and every one of them spoke in discussion.

In a way that I have come to recognise as very typical of these meetings, when talk of replacing Communion with federation of some kind was heard, nearly everyone reacted by saying that this was not something they could think about choosing. We may have imperfect communion, but we unmistakably want to find a way of holding on to what we have and 'intensifying' it – to use the language I used last summer about the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Somehow, the biblical call to be involved with one another at a level deeper than that of mere affinity and good will is still heard loud and clear. No-one wants to rest content with the breach in sacramental fellowship, and everyone acknowledges that this breach means we are less than we are called to be. But the fact that we recognise this and that we still gather around the Word is no small thing; without this, we should not even be able to hope for the full restoration of fellowship at the Eucharist."

The whole can be read here.

And that whole is worth reading, incidentally, by all those seeking a way forward for Anglicans who agree with and who disagree with the ordination of women to the episcopate.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This is as unkind as it is witty

Andrew Brown, acerbic at the best of times, writing as the C of E's GS meets:

"Within the Anglican Communion, the case is even more obvious. The leaders can meet and talk, but they do so only on the basis of agreeing to disagree about all sorts of fundamental matters. They may agree that unity is desirable, and necessary. But they are none of them going to compromise their positions to attain it, except perhaps for Dr Williams, and no one can explain what his position is. So they agree to hire professional mediators to work out how they can continue to talk to each other. If that counts as unity, the Anglican Communion can never break up."

Jesus and Scripture - Anglicans seeking common understanding

Readers of this blog may be aware that the Anglican Communion is engaged in a hermeneutics project in which Anglican churches are encouraged to work on what it means to read the Bible together, seek common understanding of its meaning, and to do so with particular reference to human sexuality. In practice some Anglican churches are doing more on this than others. ACANZP is one of those. I have a tiny bit part in this work as a member of the organising committee for the second of three hermeneutic hui (conferences), and a task to work on a joint presentation at the next hui (in May 2009) on Jesus and Scripture.

So, in a spirit of collaboration, I share some of my early thinking on this subject in order to seek some feedback, so that what I present might be sharpened to the point of usefulness! Incidentally, the central focus of the next hui is on ‘the church’. Kind of a safe subject to see how we might read the Bible together about it; a practice session for the difficult subject of human sexuality at the third hermeneutical hui!

When Christians read the Bible (or, as I prefer it, ‘Scripture’), we sometimes forget that Scripture has Jesus Christ at its centre – not only as chief subject but also as the centre of its authority over the life of the church. Though often tempted to ditch the Old Testament, the church cannot do so because Jesus himself upheld and honoured the Old Testament. A contrasting temptation is to pit ‘Jesus’ versus his later interpreters such as ‘Paul’, with the former offering pristine truth and the latter sadly manipulating it under the influence of Hellenism. The temptation is resistible as we note that Jesus himself authorised his disciples for their apostolic mission as a continuation of his own, in word and in deed; Paul himself being an ‘untimely’ yet genuine addition to the apostolic band. In perhaps over simplistic terms, Scripture is the book of truth authorised by Jesus Christ.

Thus when working together on our understanding of ‘church’ or ‘human sexuality’ with reference to Scripture, we are not working with a series of texts which may be singled out one by one for examination and marked down as valid or invalid according to some assessment criteria of our own making. Rather, we work with the book authorised by Jesus Christ (we could also say, authored by the God of Jesus Christ through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit). Each text on which we seek a common understanding should be approached from the perspective of the authorisation of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of the church whom we believe in together.

OK, since this is a blog post and not a book I’ll stop that line of reflection and move to this observation which arose the other day through a daily Bible reading: Jesus is the hinge upon which the meaning of Scripture turns.

I was reading Jeremiah 33:17-18, ‘For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to make grain offerings, and to make sacrifices for all time.’ The larger context, by the way, is the Babylonian exile of Judah, the sacking of Jerusalem, and the vision of a ‘new’ covenant with a rebuilt Jerusalem also envisaged.

Now, if we press the ‘literal’ button of understanding Scripture, Jeremiah 33:17-18 is a falsehood. David has lacked a man to sit on his throne and the Levitical priesthood has been in vacancy mode for thousands of years. But if we approach Jeremiah 33:17 through the lens of the whole of Scripture, including the Synoptic Gospels, Paul’s writings, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, then we (i.e. the church collectively through its history) understand Jeremiah 33:17 to be truthful in this way: the throne of the house of Israel is the throne of the kingdom of God and on that throne forever sits Jesus Christ, a descendant of David, the temple of Jerusalem is consummated in the person of the great high priest, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice on the cross incorporates all Levitical sacrifices and is eternally present to God.

Our point here is not only that Jesus Christ ‘makes’ Jeremiah 33:17-18 to be true but also that in the person of Jesus Christ a new expression of the authorial authority of God comes to humanity. Who dare offer a new interpretation of the words of God? The Word of God himself! Matthew’s Gospel, for example, takes up Mosaic teaching in the teaching of Jesus and recounts for us a new interpretation of Moses’ law. Is this the work of another rabbi from among the ranks of the learned rabbis of first century Israel? No, according to Matthew, this is a new and greater Moses who has come among us! John's Gospel, as with many themes in the Synoptic Gospels, develops the idea of Jesus as a greater Moses, offering the more penetrating insight that Jesus is the Word of God and his teaching transforms 'law' into 'grace and truth' (John 1:1, 17).

If we read on in Jeremiah 33 and note the kind of underlining God gives through Jeremiah of his promise in 33:17-18, we can marvel at the authority of Jesus Christ over Scripture which gives 33:17-18 a new and unexpected meaning. The one who does this is rightly ascribed as both a new and greater Moses and the Word of God become human flesh.

With this authority we must reckon as we wrestle with the words of Scripture seeking a common understanding.

What do you think?

Why religion can lead to hate instead of love

"When religion is infected by racism, ideology or extreme nationalism, it can become a carrier of hatred instead of conscience."

This insight comes into a thoughtful and challenging piece by Michael Gerson, posted on Real Clear Politics, entitled 'The Real Scandal of Religion'. The context is the furore over "Bishop" Richard Williamson's denial of the Holocaust, but the article also talks about the contributions Christians have made to both the Holocaust itself and to the Rwandan genocide.

I mention all this here on Anglican Down Under not because I see Gerson's wisdom as generally worth noting, but because when we attempt to understand why so much hatred gets spilled in the Comments on Anglican blog and news sites (mostly not this one, but it doesn't get a lot of readers) it may be worth turning the quote above around.

If Anglicanism is largely free of racism and extreme nationalism, is it an infection of 'ideology' which is generating the hatred?

The relationship between 'ideology' and 'theology' can be less clear than some of us might think. Sometimes we think it a clear distinction when we nail those different to us with an 'ism' which brings non-theological material into the thinking of Christians: feminism, Marxism, Nazism (in the 1930s German church), and the like. But 'ideology' infects our theology, I suggest, when we allow one idea to stand out and to stand over our thinking and praxis as Christians, or when we wed ourselves to an 'ideal' and from that ideal judge the life of the church. Since most of the life of the church is less than ideal it is easy to judge it a failure, to fall into a mode of condemnation and thus into the hatred Gerson writes about.

The SSPX to which Bishop Richard Williamson belongs is an example of an ideologically driven group in this second sense: it deems the pre-Vatican 2, Latin-speaking liturgical life of the RC church to be ideal, and from that perspective it has judged and condemned the post-Vatican 2 life of the church. The poverty of its theology is demonstrated in its lack of appreciation of the incarnation of our Lord which means that once Latin ceased to be the universal language of the peoples of the church, liturgies in Latin ceased to be faithful responses to Christ.

But ideology crouches at the door of each and every church. When we look around us and judge the life of the church to be deficient relative to the Reformation in Calvin's Geneva or to the first outpouring of the Spirit in modern Pentecostal experience or to the way the church was in the 1960s ('the church was full every Sunday') we are beholden to ideology.

Or, when we become single 'idea' people: the key to every good future of the church is 'evangelism' or 'Bible teaching' or 'inclusiveness' or 'praying for an hour every day', or 'following the prayer book to the letter', ideology has us in its grip!

Monday, February 9, 2009

I like this

"the Church of England is perhaps the only church witnessing to the pain of holding together instead of taking the easy option and simply splitting and going where your mates are. It costs nothing to form yourself into a community of like-minded people among whom you won’t have to struggle with challenge or difference. But that is not the Church. Just like the first disciples of Jesus, our vocation is to follow Jesus together. Jesus did not give any of his disciples a veto over who else should or should not be called into the company of disciples."

Perhaps that's a bit of a stretch saying its 'the only church' - Benedict and his communion are having an interesting time 'holding together' these days - but the essential point Bishop Nick Baines makes about the church of Jesus Christ is a well made one!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Come, walk with me, and see how far we go

Hat-tip to Graham Kings of Fulcrum for the remarkable comment by one Chris Taylor copied below. Itwas originally posted on Stand Firm in response to some reflections by Sarah Hey on the recent Alexandrian Primates' meeting and its outcomes.

It introduces for me the concept of a Communion in which its diverse parts are invited to walk with the Communion to see whether continuing the journey is desirable and possible. In this case the invitation is to the new province in North America (ACNA), to TEC, and to ACCan. No one will be expelled but some may choose to go when they realise the real cost of belonging to the Anglican Communion which is keeping in step rather than racing ahead. Final point from me before reading Chris Taylor's comment: this concept of walking with the Communion helps understand why the GAFCON primates at the Primates meeting felt able to not only sign the communique but also praise it! To finish off, below, there is a flourish from Ruth Gledhill.

Here is Chris Taylor - I have italicised some of his words:

"Not sure anyone is still reading this thread, but if they are, I wonder how many still think the Primate’s meeting was useless? I certainly shared Sarah’s sense going into the meeting, but I don’t now that it’s over. In fact, I think this may turn out to have been one of the critical turning points in the history of Anglicanism—both in North America and globally. When I first read the communique I thought: “yawn, same old, same old” but on reflection, and after reading a lot of the post-meeting reports I realized that there was a lot more going on under the surface of this meeting than first appearances seem to reveal.

Here is an interesting article from The Living Church on how several key GAFCON Primates saw the meeting:

Here’s a very interesting link to a debriefing after the Primates meeting by Archbishops Orombi and Venables on Anglican TV (it’s about 45 mins. long):

Presiding Bishop Schori, on the other hand, doesn’t seem so enthusiastic after the Primates meeting:

“Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who attended the annual summit as head of the Episcopal Church, said her church is “going to have to have honest conversations about who we are ... and the value we place on our relationships and mission opportunities with other parts of the communion,” according to Episcopal News Service.”

She arrived late to the meeting, didn’t say much and left early according to reports.

Integrity doesn’t seem pleased either:

And here is Bishop Minns’ official statement released by CANA:

And here is what Bishop Duncan had to say:

On reflection, what seems to have happened at Alexandria is that everyone finally acknowledged honestly what’s going on—there are two different religions now inhabiting the Anglican Communion and one of them isn’t Christianity! It may have some of the coloring of Christianity, but its fundamental commitments are not Christian. It’s commitments are essentially secular, liberal and humanist. It’s gospel is the gospel of individual human liberation, not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It borrows from the Gospel of Christ those bits and pieces which suit it, but its primary commitment is to individual human “liberation,” as it sees that.

Most importantly, I think, it now looks as if two key instruments of Communion (the ABC and the Primates) have formally invited the ACNA to walk with the Communion. So, just as the head of TEC is saying: her church is “going to have to have honest conversations about who we are ... and the value we place on our relationships and mission opportunities with other parts of the communion,” ACNA is being invited to explore its relationship to the Communion. Formally, of course, both sides are being asked to walk with the Communion, but I think it’s going to be A LOT harder for TEC to continue that walk. GC is coming up this summer, as we all know, and I’m doubtful they will be able to reaffirm the freeze on more gay bishops and blessing same sex unions—it goes against their core gospel, and, furthermore, they can see that there’s no end in sight to the moratoria.

On the other hand, ACNA is being asked to do two things: (1) engage in professionally mediated talks (no harm there that I can see), and who seriously thinks that professional mediators are going to be able to reconcile orthodoxy and heresy anyway? And (2) ACNA is being called upon not to cross into TEC turf and peel away folks from the dwindling TEC flock. This request is going to be harder, but it certainly doesn’t prevent ACNA from reaching out to the millions of unchurched non-Anglican North Americans out there who need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ—which is something that ACNA claims to be most interested in anyway. The tricky issue, frankly, will be how to handle those faithful Anglicans currently on the sinking TEC ship who want to flee to ACNA, especially if they want to bring their current TEC buildings and property with them. The Primates, it seems to me, are telling ACNA to back off and not encourage or lend comfort to those people for the time being. This will indeed be hard, but I think ACNA will need to abide by the request if they are serious about walking with the Communion.

This is what it means to be part of a family, after all, you need to do what the larger family is asking of you—as we’ve been saying to TEC for years now! The Communion is NEVER going to kick anyone out—that’s just not the Anglican way. The Anglican way is just to allow people to choose that they don’t want to be part of the Anglican family anymore. What the Primates are doing, it seems, is saying to both sides: “If you truly value being Anglican, walk with us.” Time will ultimately show who is Anglican and who is not by who chooses to walk with the Communion and who chooses to walk away from the Communion. I strongly suspect that at the next GC TEC will continue to walk decisively away from the Communion as it responds to the “new thing” it thinks the Spirit is calling it to do. This is precisely why I think it’s especially important that ACNA choose to walk WITH the Communion.

The reality too is that ACNA has A LOT of its own work to do anyway in terms of organizing itself (there’s the minor matter of canons and constitution, for example, and relationships among the various parts of ACNA to clarify). It will surely be hard for ACNA bishops not to respond to the pleas for help from Anglican faithful still within TEC, but for the time being, that is indeed what they are being called upon to do by the Primates. ACNA bishops will NOT be able to cross boundaries into TEC territory to serve parishes that are currently under TEC control. Parishes like Matt’s [Matt Kennedy's], which have already made the move are a different matter, I suspect, but that’s clearly still a grey area—just as is the question of TEC assisting parishes in Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy, and San Joaquin which wish to remain with TEC—after all, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander!

The point here is that ALL Anglicans in North America are being called to WALK WITH THE COMMUNION, to show through their actions that they genuinely value being a part of the global Anglican family. Nothing of value in life comes without sacrifice and hard decisions. Being part of a family means you sometimes have to give up what you personally want to do in favor of what the family wants. However, my guess is that ultimately it will be far easier for ACNA to walk with the Communion than it will be for TEC to walk with the Communion. As ACNA chooses to walk WITH the Communion and TEC and ACofC choose to walk AWAY from the Communion, the question may become not whether we need a Third Province in North America, but whether ACNA isn’t THE genuine Anglican province in North America! If this proves to be the case, then the meeting in Alexandria may prove to have been far more significant than Sarah and many of us ever imagined!"

The other interesting note to make at this point re follow up to the Primates' Meeting in Alexandria is Ruth Gledhill's conviction that the Archbishop of Canterbury and Primates (at least) are contemplating a special extra-provincial status for ACNA (the new emerging province in North America). That is, beyond the 'professional mediation' envisaged in the Communique, between ACNA and TEC and ACCan, there is already a vision for ACNA's future:

"At the same time the new “church” formed by conservative evangelicals in the US, led by the deposed Bishop of Pittsburgh, Bob Duncan, which is seeking recognition as a new province, is likely to be granted some extra-provincial status allowing the thousands of Anglicans it represents to remain within the Communion. This would lead to two parallel Anglican provinces operating in the US, one free to pursue its mission of inclusivity including the consecration of bishops of different sexualities, the other mandated to preach its own gospel of what it believes to be “orthodoxy”."

This is the kind of thing Ruth says because she has a solid source! Thus in the smae article Ruth makes an observation which concurs with Chris Taylor's observation above that the Alexandrian meeting might prove to be very, very important in the history of the Communion:

"Historians may look back on this time as a new reformation as Anglican canon lawyers, theologians and bishops struggle to find a formula for a Church that can remain at once reformed and catholic, inclusive and orthodox, without formal schism."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Is there something about Sydney Diocese

which suppresses what people are really thinking in the depths of their hearts?

I ask this question because I have sensed from conversations with one or two Anglican ministers from Sydney that they have felt less than free to say what they really think about theological issues such as the ordination of women.

Now, in this article, we find the new Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Stuart Robinson, committing himself in a reserved ifs-and-buts manner to the ordination of women as bishops ... yet until recently Stuart was a minister in Sydney. In the article he explains why he made little if any noise about the ordination of women while he was ministering in Sydney.

Yet I am still left with my question because of those conversations.

I am also intrigued by some things in the Stuart Robinson story. One is that while in Sydney Stuart Robinson was free to appoint lay women to preaching and teaching roles in churches he led. Let's get this straight: in Sydney women will not be ordained as presbyters or as bishops because of texts such as 1 Timothy 2:12, yet they can be appointed (in sympathetic parishes) to teaching and preaching roles. Confused? I am!

But another thing which intrigues me - hat-tipped to this by a correspondent - is this. When one checks out the St Paul's, Chatsworth, Sydney website and looks up the staff page, a plethora of male faces stares back! On the face of it this sea of masculinity does not presage an early appointment of a woman as an assistant bishop!

Say after me, 'There are limits to diversity'

If you have a bit of time to spare, read The Windsor Continuation Group Report to the Archbishop of Canterbury (published February 2009).

Its been influential on the outcomes of the Primates Alexandrian meeting and a number of things catch my eye. One is its reiteration of a much overlooked point about 'diversity' within Anglicanism: there are limits to diversity; 'diversity' is not a slogan justifying anything Anglicans think, say or do.

"52. To be a communion, as opposed to a federation or association, is fundamentally to acknowledge that the fellowship of Churches is not a human construct; it is the gracious gift of God. Churches are enabled to live in communion because they recognise one another as truly an expression of the One Church of Jesus Christ. If mutual recognition of faithful discipleship, the preaching of the Word of God or the ordered administration of the Sacraments is threatened, then the entire foundation of the Communion is undermined. This is why although Anglicans remain committed to a generous accommodation of diversity, there must ultimately be some limit to the extent of the diversity which can be embraced. This limit is the point where the fellowship of Churches can no longer recognise in one of its members the faithfulness to Christ which flows from communion with the Father, in the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit. If the recognition of one another as Churches is to be sustained, it implies a level of mutual accountability in the handling of the life of each Church.

53. The question of the limits of diversity becomes acute when major differences arise in the life of the communion of the Churches which concern the faith, order or moral life of the Communion. It is then that Anglicans need a common understanding of how together, in communion, they can, guided by the Spirit, discern and decide together. What are the sources that need to be brought to bear on any issue? What are the structures through which discernment takes place? What is the nature of their authority to guide discernment, to speak the mind of the Communion and even to request restraint while open reception takes place and the Churches of the Communion come to discover the mind of Christ for them?"

Friday, February 6, 2009

Te Kawenata Hou - The New Testament

What better day than Waitangi Day - celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and gathered Maori chiefs with the ministrations of missionaries in the background on 6th February, 1840 - to note Te Kawenata Hou: The New Testament.

This is a production of the New Testament in Maori and English (1952 Paipera Tapu / Good News Translation) through a joint venture between the Bible Society and Te Pihopatanga Aotearoa. It looks fantastic. Brilliant cover, nice easy-on-the-eye typeface, two columns per page with Maori on the inside columns and English on the outside (shaded) columns. This is a must have for Kiwi Christians; and especially for those like me without much command of Maori.

The Primates' Half-Full Glass Communique

Some excerpted paragraphs from the Primates Alexandrian Communique - the whole accessible, e.g., here - I have added my own comments in italics. At the end I address the question whether this communique is hopeful or not:

"10. Our honest engagement revealed the complexity of the situation. Matters are not as clear-cut as some portray. The soul of our Communion has been stretched and threatened by the continuation of our damaged and fractured relationships, even though we believe that God continues to call us into a Communion founded not on our will, but on the action of God in Christ Jesus. We have experienced God drawing us more deeply into that honest engagement and listening which both require and engender trust, and which must continue and intensify if we are to move forward under God. We must find a deeper understanding of the basis of the bonds, both divine and human, which sustain ecclesial fellowship.

Amen to 'complexity'. Unless we accept this is the actual state of affairs in the Communion we will despair of the slowness of the process and the middling stand of leaders, including the Primates in this Communique. The complexity of the Communion includes, I suggest, the wide variation in cultures of sexuality, San Francisco to Lagos etc; and the nuances in approaches to biblical interpretation as different Anglican churches arrive at different conclusions re the practice of human sexuality across a range of matters from remarriage of divorcees to faithful, stable same sex partnerships.

11. The Windsor Continuation Group Report asks whether the Anglican Communion suffers from an "ecclesial deficit."[6] In other words, do we have the necessary theological, structural and cultural foundations to sustain the life of the Communion? We need "to move to communion with autonomy and accountability"[7]; to develop the capacity to address divisive issues in a timely and effective way, and to learn "the responsibilities and obligations of interdependence"[8]. We affirm the recommendation of the Windsor Continuation Group that work will need to be done to develop the Instruments of Communion and the Anglican Covenant. With the Windsor Continuation Group, we encourage the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Communion Office to proceed with this work. We affirm the decision to establish the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith and Order. We recognise the need for the Primates' Meeting to be engaged at every stage with all these developments.

AMEN to this too! If there is one good to come from the ordination of Gene Robinson to the episcopacy it is a re-formation of the worldwide set of Anglican churches into a 'Communion' which is a 'true church' in the sense of a 'one, holy, catholic and apostolic body of Christ'. Again, if we do not accept an 'ecclesial deficit' marks the actual state of Anglican Communion affairs, then we are unlikely to find common cause towards a solution.

12. There are continuing deep differences especially over the issues of the election of bishops in same-gender unions, Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions, and on cross-border interventions. The moratoria, requested by the Windsor Report and reaffirmed by the majority of bishops at the Lambeth Conference, were much discussed. If a way forward is to be found and mutual trust to be re-established, it is imperative that further aggravation and acts which cause offence, misunderstanding or hostility cease. While we are aware of the depth of conscientious conviction involved, the position of the Communion defined by the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 in its entirety remains, and gracious restraint on all three fronts is urgently needed to open the way for transforming conversation.

Once again, Lambeth 1998 1.10 is affirmed. That's good. Will it make a difference, say, at GC 2009?

13. This conversation will include continuing the Listening Process[9], and the "Bible in the Church" Project. It is urgent that we as primates, with the rest of the Communion, directly study the scriptures and explore the subject of human sexuality together in order to help us find a common understanding.

Goes without saying, really!

14. The Windsor Continuation Group Report examines in Section H the question of parallel jurisdictions, particularly as raised by the Common Cause Partnership, a coalition of seven different organisations[10] which have significantly differing relationships with the Anglican Communion. The Report identifies some of the difficulties in recognising the coalition among the Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Significant concerns were raised in the conversation about the possibility of parallel jurisdictions. There is no consensus among us about how this new entity should be regarded, but we are unanimous in supporting the recommendation in paragraph 101 of the Windsor Continuation Group Report[11]. Therefore, we request the Archbishop of Canterbury to initiate a professionally mediated conversation which engages all parties at the earliest opportunity. We commit ourselves to support these processes and to participate as appropriate. We earnestly desire reconciliation with these dear sisters and brothers for whom we understand membership of the Anglican Communion is profoundly important. We recognise that these processes cannot be rushed, but neither should they be postponed."

I suspect this will mean little to the harshest critics on the left and the right. But this is a very significant statement because it means that the whole Communion, through its Primates speaking in unanimous agreement, acknowledges and accepts the existence of the emerging parallel jurisdictions in North America and regards these as Anglican entities speaking with Anglican voices. One does not, after all, have a 'mediated conversation' with a vacuum! What kind of regard and recognition, if any at all, may be given the parallel jurisdictions remains to be seen. But this is a respectful response, unlike the constant dissing served up by the likes of Mark Harris on Preludium. And, as Christopher Seitz astutely points out in a comment [No 25] on Titus One Nine, this response has been agreed to by the likes of ++Peter Akinola: that is, those who think the parallel jurisdictions should have been granted instant recognition should reflect on the process now agreed to by the African primates.

You can probably pick that I see the Communique as a half-full glass. Reactions on Titus One Nine (the comment by Christopher Seitz noted above excepted) are that it is half-empty, if not empty! So, I remain hopeful about our future as a Communion on a journey towards ecclesial solidity, commonality in our reading of Scripture, and clarity in our understanding of mission in a world much removed from the Saxon England of Augustine and the Elizabethan England of Hooker. Yet my hope is tempered by the dark cloud of General Convention 2009, no larger than the size of a man's hand, visible above the horizon.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

He ain't mysterious, he's my brother

A few days ago it was reported that some of the usual suspects lurking at Primates Meetings were not to be seen in Alexandria. Needless to say this was aimed at the "right wing" lobbyists of the Communion. There was even a hint that ++Rowan had made it unusually clear that in his mind these people were not to be present, so they should be told to stay away.

Now Changing Attitude reports that 'the mysterious Mr Dobbs' has been seen in and around Alexandria providing transport to ++Peter Akinola. Mr Dobbs being the Rev Canon Julian Dobbs, Canon Missioner to CANA (i.e. Nigeria's North American branch).

Well, to those of us in the Diocese of Nelson, New Zealand, he ain't mysterious, he's one of our brother clergy, having served in our diocese for some 15 years or so!

Go, Julian! Given some of the heresies and strange characters associated with Alexandrian Christianity, being transport officer for a bishop is of no particular significance!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Not much to report or to comment on at the moment.

Presumably the Primates meeting in Alexandria will offer something to chew on.

But then they might not.