Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Does Gene mean what he says?

""A church that does not ordain women or openly gay people - I don't see a future for that," [Bishop Gene] Robinson told ENI after delivering a sermon on 28 June at the First Presbyterian Church in New York City during the city's annual gay pride festivities."

H/t to Titus One Nine for this article in Anglican Journal.

I wonder if Gene means what he says here? That would mean there's no future for the Roman Catholic church, none for the Eastern Orthodox churches, and even less for the stricter forms of Baptist, Pentecostal and other conservative churches.

Perhaps he is right. He is something of an oracle for our times. Clearly it is worth sticking with the Anglican church - the church with an undoubted future. Gene is our guarantor.

Is God Indifferent to the FCA/GAFCON Agenda?

We are now a few days away from a much heralded event, the formation of the UK branch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (aka an expression of GAFCON). Over at Fulcrum on not one but two threads a bit of lather is being worked up about it all. (Incidentally, down here in the former colonies we cherish the fact that FCA does not seem able to start up without the assistance of the Archbishop of Sydney!!)

What these matters require, of course, are some very level heads offering some clear rational thinking. One such wise person is Andrew Goddard. He offers a judicious reflection with penetrative questions here ... and I offer this paragraph as an excerpt:

"Second, and related to the first question, what will FCA do in practice and is it schismatic?

FCA have emphatically denied they are schismatic. Paul Perkin has said “It is not a separatist party” and I believe this assurance and hope others will also accept it in good faith. There remain, however, two concerns related to issues spoken of in terms of schism and separation.

The first concern is that Chris Sugden at NEAC clearly stated, ‘We will keep formal administrative links with the formal Church of England, but our real identity is with Global Anglicanism as defined by the Jerusalem statement and declaration. GAFCON is our connection to the Global Anglican Communion’. This suggests that aligning with FCA is self-consciously to distance oneself from the structures of the Church of the England and the Instruments and to view FCA as one’s primary ecclesial identity. Is this FCA’s stance towards the Church of England and the Communion and what does such a distinction between “formal administrative links” and “real identity” means in practice?

The second concern is that although FCA as a fellowship may not be a separatist party it is clear that it includes and is supportive of some who have already separated (people such as Charles Raven in Kidderminster and Tony Jones in Durham) and others such as Richard Coekin who have come very close to doing so in the past and may well push the envelope further in the future. It appears likely that these people will want FCA to distance itself from at least parts of the Church of England and will seek to move FCA in a more separatist direction. The danger is that FCA - even if it as a whole does not officially follow a “separatist” path - will give legitimacy and provide cover for any of its members who do effectively separate. It remains unclear to what extent FCA wishes to provide a forum for genuine discussion and discernment among the broadest coalition of the orthodox in situations of conflict. Does it seek to act as a wider fellowship to which those who are most discontent will be able to bring their concerns and from which they will receive fellowship and support but to which they also will in some sense be accountable? The concern is that it will simply support those who sign up to it however they conduct themselves in relation to the authority structures of the Church of England and the separatist tail will end up wagging the officially non-separatist dog."

Read the whole here.

Rachel Marszalek rightly draws attention to the question Andrew Goddard raises of FCA and ordained women here.

My question in the heading above is a little tongue-in-cheek! I am sure God is not indifferent to the needs, concerns and anxieties of Christ's church. But whether God would share the felt need for FCA at this time, or whether God would endorse a strategy which works with such little reference to the episcopal hierarchies of the Anglican churches of the UK ... that is something I am less sure about.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Is God indifferent to the GLBT agenda?

With the schism among Anglicans/Episcopalians in North America formally underlined by the installation of Archbishop Robert Duncan as primate of ACNA, the actual business of being the church in the world does not go away, and certainly not for the question of the welcome of the church to all people, including those committed to the GLBT agenda. Here in ACANZP we face this business, and many times I wonder if we are thinking hard enough about facing the world, engaging with it, and converting it to Christ. (I choose the word ‘thinking’ carefully – most colleagues and friends I know are working very hard – it’s in our Kiwi nature to do so – but taking time out to think, to reflect, to analyse, and to conceive solutions with an eye on the ‘big picture’ as well as the ‘long term future’ is something we are less prone to do!)

In thinking about where we are at with respect to the particular challenge of commitments to the GLBT agenda, a post from Ruth Gledhill is timely, reflecting on a Times poll/article by fellow journalist demonstrating “Nearly seven out of ten members of the public favour 'full equal rights' for gay men and women, suggesting that 'the Church, the final bastion of formal discrimination, is out of touch with public opinion’.” Of course there is an edge to such analysis in England which does not quite apply here where we do not have an established church, so I don’t want to shoot holes in the view which Ruth floats which has a particular take on the establishment factor for the C of E if, indeed, it is ‘the final bastion of formal discrimination’. Besides which plenty of commenters have lined her view up in their sights and let go with both barrels of ‘popularity ain’t the priority of the church’ shotgun! Out here in the former colonies it is not clear to me that the churches are seen as final bastions etc, but it is likely that a survey which asked, Is the church in touch with public opinion on the acceptability of a range of sexual partnerships beyond ‘traditional marriage’? would conclude with a resounding ‘no’.

Two matters are in my mind at the moment. One concerns being the church and responding to a challenge which is framed in a way which the church no longer has control over: the GLBT challenge, for example, seems today always to be framed in terms of justice/injustice, discrimination, prejudice, homophobia and bigotry. Almost any response other than ‘of course we will bless same sex partnerships in exactly the same way as marriages between men and women’ seems doomed to condemnation in the court of public opinion. In a sense, there is worse than ‘condemnation’, there is also ridicule to be faced, partly because every public admission of adultery by a right-wing politician who identifies himself (it’s always the men!) as a Christian, constitutes the foundation of a case for dismissal of any attempt by churches to articulate a moral distinction between marriage and same-sex partnerships. The church has a challenge on its hands, and must meet it, not only as a matter of its own ethical integrity, but also to forward its mission. It’s not much of a gospel of transformation which we are offering if it cannot get us men through our mid-life crises!

Another matter concerns the missing conversation partner in much talk about human sexuality and the church, God. It seems to me that the conversation goes like this in many instances: “life is complicated, particularly the sexual dimension of being, so whatever the biblical “ideal” is, it is trumped by actual reality, and so various accommodations need to be made by churches towards including in its membership people in various situations (unless, of course, a church wishes to become a very small, very pure sect); and just one more major accommodation needs to be made, the incorporation of the GLBT agenda.” Spoken thus, the conversation is solely between people and involves potential for negotiation, compromise, power shift, or not. It also involves potential, somewhat realised in experience, for people to be vilified, ridiculed, and condemned: homosexuals are particularly egregious sinners, traditionalists are homophobic hypocritical bigots … and that’s just the Christians commenting on blogs!

But what does God think about these matters? Has God spoken about the complexities of life? In particular, is God indifferent to the GLBT agenda? As I ‘listen in’ to this conversation in the Anglican blogosphere, it is clear that many Anglicans think God is indifferent to this agenda. Obviously many other Anglicans think God is not. But is the former group not obligated to persuade the latter group of theological grounds for proposing that God is indifferent? We are all Christians and not secular humanists! Unfortunately a lot of what passes for ‘theological grounds’ is a series of scornful, ridiculing remarks about the capacity of Leviticus and Romans to convey the voice of God to us. While there are many things churches need to address about bigotry, hypocrisy, inconsistency, and inadequacy in respect of hospitality to people different to us, the question remains, for Ruth Gledhill, for TEC, for my own church (ACANZP), is God indifferent to the GLBT agenda?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Let a charitable spirit of catholic Anglicanism flow in North America

The formation of the Anglican Church of North America is done and dusted with the installation of Bob Duncan as the first Archbishop of this church. I have met Bob Duncan - he is a good man - a humble man too.

The catholicity of Ruth Gledhill is in full operation these days as she has recruited Chris Sugden as a guest blogger reporting from the ACNA proceedings!

But Mark Harris of Preludium is a little less than welcoming in respect of inclusion of ACNA within the 'official' Anglican rainbow:

"There is also the question of just what sort of thing ACNA is. We know it is a church, a church with bishops and an Archbishop / Primate. It is also called by reporter George Conger, "The 39th Province - in - waiting." This of course in support of the notion that the end game is either dual jurisdictions in North America, or ACNA's own sense that its destiny is to be THE jurisdiction of the Anglican Communion in North America. The Anglican Communion is not breaking up, it appears. Rather a second world wide Anglican grouping, one not referencing Canterbury directly and not including a number of older churches, fundamentalist in decidedly un-Anglican ways is developing. If so it will join a variety of other world-wide Anglican bodies and will take its place in the history of the Church."

This paragraph captures what I see as the key issue for the Anglican Communion: will it accept the novelty of "dual jurisdictions in North America"? Here are two reasons for the Anglican Communion to do just that:

(1) What is developing in ACNA and TEC/ACCan are two expressions of the Anglican spirit neither of which can be denied in some simple judgement (e.g. with the word "un-Anglican"). The liturgical, missional, and theological commitments of ACNA are anything but "fundamentalist in decidedly un-Anglican ways" (as evidenced, e.g., by BabyBlueOnline's montage of clips and reports from the installation service). In support of the Anglicanism of TEC/ACCan one could note, among other things, that they have a continuing Anglican history on their side, and an openness to embracing the reality of post-modern society which is in keeping with the spirit of original Anglicanism which sought to be a church for the whole of England.

(2) Novelty itself is no reason to deny the possibility of dual jurisdictions in North America. Setting aside possible precedents in the dual Dioceses of Europe and the three tikanga arrangements of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia (which provide for triple jurisdiction in our largest city, Auckland), the simple fact of TEC and ACCan is that their respective incorporations of the ordination of a bishop who is neither married nor celibate and of blessings of same sex couples constitutes a novelty in respect of Scripture, tradition and reason in Anglican history. When one novelty is permitted, why should another be denied?

The matter of whether one jurisdiction (TEC in the USA, ACCan in Canada) or another (ACNA) will prevail should be left to the outworking of future history. Each side claims the other will come to nothing! Why not affirm both and see what happens?

Archbishop Bob Duncan, Archbishop Fred Hiltz and Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori are held in the greatest of esteem by their respective churches. Perhaps a test of the grace of God at work in their ministries of leadership will be whether they will encourage and permit a charitable spirit of catholic Anglicanism flow across their churches. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ACNA like the curate's egg

There is an old saying, a sort of Anglican saying really, about 'the curate's egg', meaning that it is good in parts, bad in the other parts.

A post or two below I offer an unequivocal welcome to ACNA from this blogsite (which, surely, has gone completely unnoticed by ACNA)!

But ACNA disappoints me in certain ways. Here's part of a report from USA Today:

"And the governing structure for the Anglican Church in North America is designed to make sure that parishes and dioceses in the new church don't meander off with different biblical interpretations.

Bishops will have the final say in the choice of future bishops. Only men, and no gays, will be accepted.

Duncan says the church may continue to ordain women as deacons and priests. But pushing forward to name them as bishops, he says, is seen by the rest of the Anglican Communion as "a sad and arrogant American approach. The bishop is the symbol of the diocese and putting someone other dioceses do not recognize as capable of holding the office in the post is divisive in the international church"."

It troubles me that the laity and the clergy are excluded from choosing bishops. I don't think they have been the problem with problem bishops!

It also troubles me that there is an equivocal commitment to the ordination of women as deacons and priests.

But most troubling is the argument against women bishops because this is a 'sad and arrogant American approach'. Hello!! There are women bishops in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and they are in the pipeline in England ... and, at last count, they have not divided the international church.

ACNA may yet back itself into a cultural corner over these matters: bishops choosing bishops could work well, but it is very susceptible to control freakery. Excluding women from ordained ministry plays well to the existing conservative members, but does it play well to the mission field of 21st century North America?

Mark Harris at Preludium picks up on one or two other matters of interest such as Bob Duncan's assertion that a new 'muscular Christianity' is required. That's an old expression. Has it's time come again? As Mark Harris points out it is also an ironic expression in a church not keen on gay men taking up leadership roles!

Five Influential Books

"Here’s the crack:
1. Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five favorite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I want to know what five books have permanently changed the way you think.
2. Tag five others."

For follow up on where this started, now has gotten to, and the ten most popular books so far go here and here.

Here are my five books, but there could be others if I were permitted ten or fifteen.

From memory this is the order I read them in (over the course of thirty plus years).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship Opened my eyes as a teenager to the sheer radicalness of the call of Jesus to follow him. The gospels ever since have been a huge part of my understanding of Christianity, important though Paul’s epistles are … Bonhoeffer became the door wherein I went, with the later help of Ellul’s The Presence of the Kingdom, to understand that the politics of God never falls down on the side of left or right but is completely different. I find it so hard to know who to vote for at elections.

John A. T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament Here was magic. The normal findings of NT scholarship about composition dates turned upside down. Written by the same guy who turned theology upside down in both public discourse and vicars' studies with Honest to God. Thereafter (for me) no theologian could be placed in a neat box; almost any thesis with sufficient cunning could be argued by a clever mind; and no liberal ‘fact’ of biblical scholarship was beyond assault.

Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her To be honest I cannot tell you much from memory about the detail of Fiorenza’s argument and I now hardly ever open this book up. But it was the door to a new world of reading the Bible through feminine if not feminist eyes, recognizing that within and behind the text were women who could be seen when the right light was brought to bear; yet who often remained, like the woman who inspired the title, anonymous, overshadowed by men - an injustice a true understanding of the gospel ought to put right.

James D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making I read this carefully when preparing my doctoral studies in the Christology of the Book of Revelation (Jimmy Dunn was my supervisor so there was more than one reason for reading it attentively). His careful unwillingness within a fairly conservative framework to accept any easy equation between NT texts and Chalcedonian propositions taught me to be … careful in my own biblical reading, take nothing for granted, and dig deeper. I often fail to mimic the master.

Walter Moberly, The Bible, Theology and Faith Walter Moberly was and remains on the teaching staff of Durham’s Dept. of Theology. In person he was the luminous intelligence I have renewed acquaintanceship with by reading his writings. This book simply, deeply illuminates the pages of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, opening up new insights from perceptive weighing of texts I so often rush over. From this book, and, indeed all Moberly’s work I am helped to be confident that in God’s Word written there is one theology, ‘biblical theology’ at work through the diversity of Scripture. This flows from the influence of Brevard S. Childs’ canonical criticism on Moberly: I think Child’s work is important too, but I like the way Moberly writes better.

So that’s it then. Nothing on the New Perspective on Paul? No. Never got really shook up about all that stuff. Kind of still making up my mind!

Other scholars have encouraged, inspired, and helped me in Bible study: C.S. Lewis, John Stott and Francis Schaeffer ages ago; N. T. Wright, D.A. Carson, C. K. Barrett, C.E.B. Cranfield, F.F. Bruce, Richard Bauckham, Martin Hengel, Larry Hurtado, Francis Watson, Graham Stanton, Paul Trebilco, Karl Barth, Raymond Brown, Michael Goulder, Anthony Thiselton, Christopher Rowland, and John Ashton more recently.

If you read this you are tagged to carry on the crack:

Cranmer’s Curate, Liturgy, Colourful Dreamer, Theobloby, Available Light

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Welcome to our Anglican World

Anglican Down Under cannot miss this opportunity to welcome the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) to the world of Anglicanism (aka "Anglican World" - which used to be the title of a Lambeth-based publication).

The official birth event is being held as I write this.

Read all about it at (e.g.) Titus One Nine.

The Episcopal Church (TEC) has its place in the Anglican sun but it's just too .... [pop your own words in here, mine are 'elastic in its diversity'] ... to reasonably expect all Anglican Christians in the USA to belong and sleep well at nights. (The Anglican Church of Canada (ACCan) is not quite in the same place as TEC, but perhaps parts of it are, hence the longing of some Canadian Anglicans for ACNA).

So, come on ++Rowan, learn from Barack Obama, diplomatic impossibilities can be attempted: adopt ACNA into the family and tell TEC & ACCan not to get in a huffy about it (see Luke 15:25-32).

Remember, we are a Communion that includes those who ordain women and those who do not, and we live together (albeit, sometimes, some places with incredible tension): TEC, ACCan and ACNA together in North America? Yes, we can!

(Some cynics think the Communion will never agree to such an arrangement because it would encourage separatism elsewhere. That is wrong-headed. The point in North America is that through the ordination of a gay bishop and the promulgation of same-sex blessings TEC and ACCan have etched in stone a new ethic of sexuality which is uncontainable in the old wine of 20th century Anglican polity. If Anglican churches outside of North America do not wish further separation to occur they know what not to do).

++Rowan is in touch with ACNA. BabyBlueOnline reports that he has sent an Official Pastoral Visitor to the ACNA Assembly. This has annoyed at least one commentator. Perhaps ++Rowan is more Obamaian than I thought. Of course there is always the question how much this sort of event registers with the world through Ruth Gledhill and her fellow journalists!

Incidentally, while on the theme of welcome and difference in our Communion: Clayboy has noted that Ghana has just decided to ordain women! Cool!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Trinity and Order (5)

Here, briefly, is another thought on the temporality of the subordination of Jesus Christ as God's Son.

As I understand eternal subordinationism (ES) the Son is subordinate to the Father and the Spirit to the Father and the Son (with debate, naturally, between Western and Eastern versions of ES, as to whether the Spirit is subordinate to the Father alone, or to Father and Son).

How then to explain Luke 4:1 and parallels:

'And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness'?

Incidentally, in the same gospel story Jesus submits himself to the devil, allowing the latter to take him to Jerusalem (4:9).

The point, of course, is not that Jesus is eternally subordinate to the Spirit, or subordinate in any significant way to the devil. Rather that Scripture speaking about the earthly dimensions of the life and mission of the incarnate Son speaks in a manner consistent with the human life of the Son as a human agent of God's purposes (e.g. 'full of the Spirit' and 'led by the Spirit'). But this language is not intended to say anything about the eternal life of the Son in the being of God.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where theologians are called out like Klansmen, the crew try to call the shots, and Sarah Palin makes a surprise appearance

I wonder if Jenny Te Paa from our church will find she is at a convention or the shooting of another few shows of complex TV drama in Anaheim in a few weeks time?

Here's the plot so far. Everyone watching the show think that most of its cast are on the side of progressiveness and thus control the fortunes and destiny of the company at the centre of the show (aka TEC). Some watching are drawn sympathetically to the minority of the cast who, siding with conservativeness, are relentlessly squeezed out of power in the company. To all intents and purposes the show is heading to the conclusion of the current series in which the forces for progressiveness will triumph.

But for some reason the script writers have thrown a couple of twists into the plot. One is the creation of a shadowy group of anonymous theologians examining one of the key progressive issues. The other is the threat by the minority conservatives not just to leave the show but to start up another one. The first twist has led to an amazing scene in which an 'open letter' is sent to the organising bishop for the shadowy group:

" An Open Letter to Bishop Henry Parsley from Two Named 'Louie Crew'

Bishop Parsley,

In 1911, when his son Erman was only six, the local Klan came in the dark to the home of my grandfather and demanded:

"Louie, it is time for you to do your civic duty."

Louie stood them down while Erman watched from behind a window, frightened by the torches and the hoods.

Then to Erman's amazemenet, Louie called out the name of every hooded man. Erman thought his father had magical skills, not realizing that as president of the local bank, his father had loaned the money used to buy most of the buggies and horses of the vigilantes.

"John! Gary! James! Henry!......" Louie called to the panel before him; "you know that you are up to no Christian good when you have to hide your face to do it."


+Henry, Bishop of Alabama, Ernest and I still pay taxes on Louie's property in Coosa County. You know that you are up to no Christian good when you have to hide the identity of the special panel that you have appointed to study us secretly.

Nor do you treat all parties equally. This week the MISSIONER, published by Nashotah House, identified The Rev. Daniel Westberg, a professor at Nashotah House, as a member of the secret panel and Dr. Ellen Charry, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, as the panel's chair. (See page 3 of the
current issue)

The writer had sufficient knowledge to characterize the theologyical position of each member of the secret panel.

Why does one of our most conservative seminaries have access to information that you have denied to all who have requested it, including those of us who share fiscal responsbility with you at General Convention?

End the duplicity. Take the hoods off all members of the committee. Let there be transparency and decency.

I have been baptized.

Louie Crew, L1 Newark"

Talk about the crew trying to call the shots :)

So some reviewers of the show here and here have noticed the striking and somewhat controversial imagery of Klansmen as theologians. Or, is that theologians as Klansmen?

To be fair to the producers a second and more diplomatic version of this twist has been produced - read here.

But this watcher wonders, why the anxiousness being displayed here (or here at Preludium where many posts and comments gnaw away at ACNA and the claims and counter-claims involved re true Anglicanism in North America)? To this observer of TEC it seems inexplicable. Is this anxious presence on the internet a sign of the hidden strength of the second twist in the plot of the soap opera? Could it be that the apparent triumphant progress of progressives is less far advanced than some suppose? As solid an achievement, say, as a Gordon Brown cabinet reshuffle or an Iranian election landslide? Is there, somewhere in the middle of TEC a weight of undecided voters susceptible to the charms of Canterbury or Lagos who may yet either block progress and/or leave for the new show in town, ACNA? Is there a nervous Twitter in TEC which could bring the equivalent of Tehren street protests to the floor of Anaheim? In other words, have the scriptwriters taken a trick from the show "24" and left themselves a thread in the plot that can be unexpectedly reversed? Is the hint of this, for the discerning viewer, the anxiety of certain representatives of the majority!

The anxiety I detect is strange compared with the confidence of Susan Russell (one of the leading members of the progressive cast of the show) in this report from NPR via BabyBlueOnline:

"Reed says the Episcopal Church is following culture, not the Bible. When it ordained a gay bishop in 2003, he says, the conservatives finally decided to offer an alternative. That view irks — but does not worry — leaders in the mainline church.

"The folks that are gathering in Texas [for the foundation assembly of ACNA] represent a small, conservative fringe within the Episcopal Church," says Susan Russell, a minister at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif., and a leader in the church's gay rights movement.

"Their goal has been to vote the American Episcopal Church off the Anglican island," she says. "They failed at that over and over again, and now they're trying to re-create a new province in their own image."

Russell believes they won't succeed this time, either. For one thing, she says, they would probably need the approval of two-thirds of the 38 Anglican leaders around the world to create a separate Anglican province in the United States. Currently, only a handful of those leaders have signed on publicly. Plus, she says, leaders of the breakaway faction would need the recognition of the archbishop of Canterbury — and that hasn't happened.

"It would be as if Sarah Palin were to take a small, but vocal, percentage of very conservative Republicans and decide that they were going to create a parallel United States without having the White House at the center," Russell says."

That would be Sarah Palin the feminista certain feminists cannot stand!

I shall watch developments at TEC's Anaheim Convention with as great an interest as Lambeth last year!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

First-class pronominal theological debate

There is not much point in writing when others are doing it and doing it brilliantly. If (like here) it's a freezing cold Saturday and there is nothing else to do (though unlike me ... essays to mark etc), you might like to follow some first-class theological debate!

Recently Graham Kings of Fulcrum (and Bishop-elect of Sherborne) published a Pentecost prose poem which refers to the Holy Spirit as She. John Richardson of The Ugley Vicar took up the challenge of this language usage in one and then another post. Then Peter Kirk of Gentle Wisdom took up the challenge of John Richardson's response with this post. Peter and John have been cross-posting comments; others have chimed in (even me), and the result is, I think, theological debate of the highest order, especially the sequence of comments here and here.

... and the debate continues with a complementary post by John Richardson 'In what sense is God 'He' (a first reflection)'.

... and also in this post 'In what sense is God 'He' (a second reflection)'.

Time to invent a new pronoun for God, perhaps?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Surprising news

Our church's news site, Anglican Taonga, has just published news that one of the six invited guests to TEC's General Convention at Anaheim comes from our tiny church. What a pleasant surprise this must be for Dr Jenny Te Paa, Te Ahorangi (or Principal) of Te Rau Kahikatea at the College of St John the Evangelist, Auckland.

Walking together or apart; if the latter, together again?

Mark Harris at Preludium tackles some nuances in the question raised in Amos whether two can walk together when disagreed:

"The NRSV and the New American Standard Bible read, "Do two (men) walk together unless they have made an appointment?" The KJV is not too far off if one simply added a few words, " Can two walk together, except they be agreed in doing so? The addition of those two words makes the question not about the two being in agreement, but about their willingness to walk together. The difference: "We can't walk together because we don't agree." "We can walk together because we agree to do so." The first ends up being about purity. The second is about engaging."

As ACNA heads for its inaugural conference, and 6th July and the FCA conference in the UK looms pretty fast, Mark Harris' question is no less urgent to consider. Here is one reflection ... many other angles on the question exist so I offer 'a word' on the matter, not 'the last word'!

First, a reminder of Anglican history: in the 18th century a moribund Anglicanism strangled by rationalism and a predominance of deistic rather than theistic theology spawned John Wesley and co who led a renewal movement within the Church of England which that church refused to accommodate with the result that though Wesley himself died an Anglican priest the movement became a separate church.

Meanwhile some notable evangelicals, John Newton, the Venns, etc, felt able to remain within the C of E. In the 19th century, with, admittedly, a stronger hand being played by evangelicals (Wilberforce and all that), nevertheless all was not well. On the one hand Anglo-Catholicism rose up with a strong visible attempt to recast the C of E on the basis that the Reformation was a misunderstanding, but could not wholly contain this recasting within the C of E and John Newman, with others, left for Rome. On the other hand (and much less talked about by Anglicans) the Plymouth Brethren were spawned with leadership from John Darby and others: a back to Scripture movement. Yet the 19th century was also notable for a flourishing of back-to-Scripture evangelicalism which remained within the C of E.

You will have noticed the key roles played by people called 'John'!!

That is, our history reminds us that when 'two' views within Anglicanism have sought to walk together the result sometimes has been a walking apart. We cannot discount the possibility that the movements represented in ACNA, GAFCON, and FCA (which perhaps are just one movement) will become, like Methodism and Brethrenism in the past, a new church or churches.* A significant difference is that 'Anglican' will continue within the naming of any such new church or churches. Yet, whatever may happen in this part of Anglican action, there will be evangelicals and anglo-catholics who remain within the Anglican Communion.

But here is the interesting thing (for me, at any rate). Both Methodism and Brethrenism soon split in at least two ways, into what I shall call 'stricter' and 'less strict' versions. The Brethren became the Open Brethren and the Exclusive Brethren ... the results of which continue to this day, especially in Nelson, NZ where I live and there are highly successful Open and Exclusive churches operating. A number of commentators have long worried that one split in the Communion will lead to another, and there are good grounds from history for thinking this. I think there are also signs within the ACNA/GAFCON/FCA wing of the Communion of potential to split into stricter and less strict forms of conservative evangelicalism.

Yet here is another interesting thing. Methodism split (as I once saw sign of in a village in the north of England with two chapels bearing different Methodist 'brands') but later reunited (as also did Scottish Presbyterianism in the 19th century). Would an Anglicanism breaking off from the Communion which then split up later reunite? I ask that question because a reckoning with history might alert us to the wastage of energy a pathway of splitting and then reuniting involves and cause us to use less energy on working out, now, how not to split!

*In one sense ACNA is already a 'new church' for it is organising itself as a church yet it is not formally recognised by the Anglican Communion as a member church. Nevertheless all judgements are provisional at the moment. Recognition might be forthcoming. There is a pathway of communion via its links with African and South American provinces. Some in ACNA remain in TEC ... or sort of remain ... .

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


We all worry about the Islamists. Key to many Islamist movements is the mosque: a place to meet, to talk, and, in some cases, to plot and to train. Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, notes this and observes a new phenomenon in Iran: the virtual mosque in which moderate Muslims are meeting:

"What is fascinating to me is the degree to which in Iran today — and in Lebanon — the more secular forces of moderation have used technologies like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, blogging and text-messaging as their virtual mosque, as the place they can now gather, mobilize, plan, inform and energize their supporters, outside the grip of the state.

For the first time, the moderates, who were always stranded between authoritarian regimes that had all the powers of the state and Islamists who had all the powers of the mosque, now have their own place to come together and project power: the network. The Times reported that Moussavi’s fan group on Facebook alone has grown to more than 50,000 members. That’s surely more than any mosque could hold — which is why the government is now trying to block these sites."

I am not yet a Twit, Face, Flick or Bebo. Maybe twomorrow I should get with the programme!

Anglican Communion tainted by association? Check this out!

Ruth Gledhill draws attention to an article of investigative journalism published by the American Anglican Council, written by Ralinda Gregor, and available in full on Anglican Mainstream.

Some commenters on Ruth Gledhill's blog make the usual jibe, 'Why are these conservative Anglicans obsessed with sex?'

Here is a response: conservative Anglicans are obsessed with knowing what's really going on, anxious about secret agendas, non-transparent communication, and potential conspiracies. And the obsession is easily cured by open, transparent communication!

Ralinda Gregor's article is an excellent example of investigative journalism because it follows up a very simple question, 'When the Anglican Communion Office recently announced a gift of $1.5 million dollars to fund the Listening Process, where did the money come from?'

That Gregor writes out of the context of the American Anglican Council (openly, obviously conservative) may affect the level of concern she has about the money trail, but it does not affect the facts (assuming accurate reportage) which are these: the funds were solicited from a retired Episcopalian priest, Rev Marta Weeks, by the Satcher Institute’s Center of Excellence for Sexual Health, and then given to the ACO. Part of Gregor's article reports on the trail, and the curious answers given to the matter of whether these funds are attached to strings or not:

"After questions arose about the source of the funding, the ACO admitted the gift came from Weeks and issued a disclaimer from her that the funds were given without any strings attached. But subsequent contradictory and confusing statements by the ACO, Weeks and the Satcher Institute raise serious questions about the influence associated with this gift and the institution administering it.

Who is in charge?

According to the ACO, the Continuing Indaba Project will be led by the Rev. Canon Philip Groves of the ACO and the Rev. Canon Flora Winfield of Lambeth Palace. Groves is the facilitator of the "Listening Process," begun in 1998 to seek a "common mind upon the issues which threaten to divide us," according to an ACC-14 publication.

But Weeks told the American Anglican Council that she was approached and asked to fund the project by the Satcher Institute, not by the ACO or its staff. Weeks said her association with staff members of the Satcher Institute’s Center of Excellence for Sexual Health (CESH) goes back to their leadership of another organization she supported, the Center for Sexuality and Religion (CSR), which merged with Satcher’s CESH in 2008.

We contacted Christian Thrasher, Satcher’s Director of the CESH and certified sexuality educator, to find out what role CESH will play in facilitating the Anglican Communion’s Continuing Indaba Project. He insisted that CESH will not be consultants or facilitators for the project. He went on to assert that the funding had no strings attached.

However, Canon Groves told this reporter that the Satcher CESH will exercise some control of the process by monitoring project spending to ensure the funds are being used "as intended." Groves added that CESH will also conduct an ecumenical study of the project to evaluate its effectiveness and suitablity for use by other faiths and denominations.

The public attempts by leaders of the Satcher Institute to minimize their delegated role in the Anglican Communion’s Listening/Continuing Indaba process are disturbing and suggest an agenda that is neither objective nor benign."

One must be careful not to see 'reds under the bed' in these situations. It is quite proper for a donating institution to check whether a receiving institution is using the funds as intended and not on alternative purposes, that is checking, not control. And one can understand a benign purpose behind CESH's desire to study the Listening Process's next stage to see whether or not it offers a workable model for other churches' listening processes.

Nevertheless the question hanging in the air is, 'Why the secrecy about the funding source? Why the apparent obfuscation by proffering Weeks as the donor and not the institute?'

But even if those questions receive 'cock up' rather than 'conspiracy' answers, the question remains, should the ACO, the ideally even-handed office for all us Anglicans, be associated with this particular institute?

Ralinda Gregor goes on to detail the striking agenda the institute has for change in accepted sexual moralities, within church as well as society. Alarmingly she cites writings of an assistant director of the institute who has advocated views supportive of pederasty and polyamory.

But, hey, do not be concerned about this dear readers, lest the worst accusation of post-modern times be made against you ... that you are obsessed with sex.

gregor's concluding questions are worth noting:

"The alliance between the Anglican Communion Office, the Rev. Marta Weeks, and the Satcher Institute leaves many questions unanswered:

Who decided this alliance was worth pursuing? The Anglican Communion Office? The Episcopal Church? The Archbishop of Canterbury?

Who investigated the previous work of the Center of Excellence for Sexual Health and its directors? Did they assume Anglicans would not look closely at this next phase of indaba and miss the potential entry of a Trojan horse into the listening process? How will the ACO ensure that CESH does not influence Continuing Indaba in any way when CESH effectively holds the purse strings and this is exactly the type of process they are actively seeking to be involved in?

Why is the ACO continuing to misuse the indaba process to bridge opposing theologies and moralities when the process is based on developing consensus within a village or tribe with shared values and morality?

The Anglican Communion Office has the answers. The rest of the Communion is waiting and listening."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Barnabas was an Anglican

So was Paul, but that's a story to tell for another day. On Sunday just past I had the opportunity and privilege of preaching at our local parish church, St. Barnabas' Stoke, and, naturally, spoke on Barnabas' whose name day was on Thursday 11th June. The lovely worship leader (Teresa, my wife) drew on her Polish heritage at the beginning of the service by noting that what we were doing was like the Polish custom of celebrating name days as more important than birthdays!

Anyway, much noticed about Barnabas is his exemplary modeling for Christians, 'a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith' (Acts 11:24). But something I noticed during my preparation for the first time was that Barnabas was a proto-Anglican. For such a person ministers not on their own initiative but on the authorization of the church. Thus in Acts 11:22 we read that the church in Jerusalem 'sent Barnabas to Antioch'. In fact this action of the Jerusalem church speaks volumes of the significance of the relationship between the wider church and the local church - as does Barnabas' realization on arrival at Antioch that he cannot do the ministry on his own and promptly goes to Tarsus to invite Paul to join him.

One of the great challenges for the Communion at this time, and for movements and groups in the Communion or orbiting around it, is working out what the 'wider church' and 'local church' relationship means in the 21st century.

Another thing I noticed in the reading, Acts 11:19-30, is the state of the mission of the early church. In the first few verses we find that some were in mission 'to Jews only and to no others' while others 'began to speak to Gentiles as well'. This is both a healthy reminder that the early church was not yet perfected and a challenge to us: are we in mission to the whole world or just to the people like us?

This also speaks to one of our challenges in the Communion: however we view gay communities in society and within the church, such communities are often perceived in heteronormative perspective as people 'not like us'. To reach with the gospel beyond the people similar to us was challenging then and remains our challenge now!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Is TEC Anglican?

I have received a bit of stick from one commenter at least, possibly from another in a post on his own blog, about my 'take' on TEC which, I stress, is not to definitively judge it to be either non-Christian or non-Anglican, but to raise questions about its self-understanding of being Christian and being Anglican in the light of internal criticism from within its own ranks (or, in some cases, from the ranks of the recently departed), and with respect to some hard-to-explain actions. Here is an excerpt from just such an internal critique, written by Jordan Hylden, and published in the esteemed (online) journal First Things:

"“Are you Anglican, or Episcopalian?” As an Episcopalian interloper studying at a Methodist seminary, I get the question a lot from my puzzled friends. Each time I’m asked, part of me wants to launch into a mini-primer on Anglican ecclesiology¯to wit, that Episcopalians are Anglicans, since the Episcopal church is just the American province of the global Anglican communion. Which means that, technically, the question shouldn’t even make sense¯it’s sort of like asking, “Are you American, or Texan?” But, of course, I know just what the question means¯it does make sense, because it reflects the sad divisions that have roiled the church over the past five years. Quite simply and sensibly, my Methodist friends want to know whether I’m a member of the liberal Episcopal church, or one of the conservative Anglican groups that broke off. And as saddening as it is to admit, I’ve come to think that their common-sense perception is more accurate than my attempts at ecclesiological theory. Their question can only be asked, and answered, because of the reality on the ground in the United States: Episcopalians are one thing, and Anglicans are another.

Popular understanding is usually much wiser than theoretical wishful-thinking, and nowhere more so than here. The divisions in the church have led the American public to attach the meanings to the words Episcopalian and Anglican that they actually bear in their usage¯namely, that to be an Episcopalian means to be a member of an pro-gay, autonomous American denomination, more liturgical than most churches but firmly within the theological orbit of liberal Protestantism. To be an Anglican, by contrast, means to be part of a conservative evangelical church with bishops, connected somehow with Africa and opposed to homosexuality. The definitions have by now become quite distinct and firmly fixed in the national lexicon¯ask almost any church-going American what the words mean, and you will get an answer something like the above.

Some Episcopalians and Anglicans (myself included) strongly dislike these characterizations¯to be genuinely Episcopalian, they believe, means to be in fellowship with the Anglican communion, and to be authentically Anglican is to be part of a global communion of catholic Christians united by creedal orthodoxy and a commitment to read Scripture, pray, and worship together in the historic Anglican tradition. But although this sounds wonderful in theory, it is simply not what has happened, by and large, in the American context. Because of what’s taken place over the past five years, Episcopalian is now understood to be a term set in opposition to Anglican, and Anglican refers not to a global catholic communion but rather to an American-African evangelical phenomenon. Whether we think the words ought to bear these meanings is not the point¯my point is that this is what the words actually do mean, in newspapers and conversations and pulpits across the country."

Read the whole article here.

By contrast in this piece by esteemed TEC theologian Ian T. Douglas, "Joining God's Mission", there is a clear understanding that Episcopalians are Anglicans. It is a well-argued plea for Episcopalians to work hard to achieve the Millenium Development Goals ... which is lovely but for the odd thing, as Christopher Johnson of Midwest Conservative Journal points out, that nowhere in this theology of making the world a better place does the cross of Christ play a role,

"It’s like this. I don’t agree with them about much of anything but I have no doubt whatsoever that the Unitarians have done many worthwhile things to ennoble the race and do them still. Muslims are known for their acts of charity.

If there is a religion anywhere in the world that doesn’t enjoin its followers to look out for the less fortunate or improve the world, I’m not familiar with it. No doubt many an atheist sticks a few dollars into a Salvation Army kettle at Christmas time.

So there is nothing distinctly Christian about trying to make the world a better place."

But Christopher Johnson's challenge applies to ACANZP - often our public promotion of mission is expressed with more concern for culture, context and changing the world for the better, than for the cross of Christ and the gospel message centred on it. There are times when the public voice of our church is indistinguishable from the Labour Party's policies. One reason for my critique of TEC is that I believe that the doctrines and attitudes of TEC have drifted down and across the Pacific to influence the dominant theological paradigm of our church. Ultimately this is not fruitful for the mission of our church.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Common Prayer for the people

Coming back to my Anonymous commenter who says ACANZP is in chaos, liturgical if otherwise.

Perhaps rather than attempting to defend our church from the charge of present 'chaos' it would be profitable to make a proposal for the future, for I entirely accept that our church is liturgically diversified in extremis!

Let's review the current situation, as briefly as possible:
(a) our prayer book provides four complete eucharistic prayers for Sunday use, and a fifth which admits of suitable alternatives to most of its parts, save two (the institution narrative and the anamnesis).
(b) Pages 511ff of our prayer book provide for all the diversity one could wish for in a eucharistic service, save the gospel is required to be read, and (as noted above in (a)) two parts of the eucharistic prayer have compulsory wording.
(c) Our prayer book's service for morning and evening worship provides for a fair amount of flexibility regarding a non-eucharistic service, but not much observed, it would seem, are minimal requirements around always having two readings, the Lord's Prayer, the collect for the day, etc.
(d) On the one hand a significant amount of 'what's right in my own eyes' takes place, in all kinds of church styles (as far as I can tell); on the other hand, visit a dozen different informal charismatic evangelical mid-morning services and quite a few common characteristics can be found.
(e) In any case a piece of legislation called the Template also permits the above.

ADDITIONALLY as Bosco Peters has helpfully drawn attention to: recently our church approved 8 eucharistic prayers, though only two are 'brand new' and six provide common opening versicles/responses for our NZPB thanksgivings and thus are a recognition of the importance of common prayer. Go here to find these prayers (and others) and here to read a critical history of the Template.

Then, let's think a little about common prayer and why it is desirable:

(i) it reflects the common theology of the church which authorises the common prayer

(ii) it develops the identity of the church which offers common prayer

(iii)it guarantees access to churches with this identity up and down these islands: that is, when I go to the Anglican church of X and then of Y, I can be sure to recognise the liturgy involved.

What if ACANZP agreed to the following:

(1) commitment to the principle of 'common prayer' as far as possible, respecting differing contexts (Maori, Polynesian, Indian, Tongan, and English language settings will be catered for), and differing missional opportunities (a cafe church outreach might not be expected to use the formal liturgies??).

(2) acceptance of the reality that in the 21st century many congregations in our church, for a variety of reasons not easily able to be undone, are working well with a form or forms of informal liturgy that are legally protected by current legislation (i.e. which permits huge liturgical flexibility) but which are not positively affirmed by our prayer book (e.g. by providing a guideline for such services).*

(3) a working out of (1) and (2) through two pathways:

(3.1) formal liturgies more or less as in NZPB but a paring back to just four eucharistic services; with renewed clarity given about not substituting eucharistic prayers, nor chopping nor changing them either!

(3.2) informal liturgies provided for through guidelines which clarify the flexibility and freedom permitted alongside rubrics spelling our the minimal requirements for all such services to conform to 'authorised forms': e.g. each such service must include the collect for the day, confession/absolution, two readings (one of which must be the gospel), the Lord's Prayer, intercessions, and (if a communion service), one of the authorised eucharistic prayers, blessing and dismissal.

How hard could that be?

*It could be argued that the Template does this but I would counter-argue that the examples provided with the Template are worded in traditional liturgical language and are not geared in words, tone, or detail for the actual practice of many congregations.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

This brightened my day, perhaps yours too

H/T to Re-vis.e Re-form

Reflections on the rejection of a nomination for TEC episcopacy

Over at Preludium, Mark Harris offers two reflections worth a look at. Both stem from his desire to understand further why TEC is not consenting to the election of a potentially innovative bishop, Kevin Thew Forrester.

In the first reflection, which builds on other reflections as you will see, a brilliant chart is offered by Mark which takes the grid-mapping of current Anglicanism a stage beyond that initially provided by Graham Kings.

In the second reflection (and please read the comments), is a kind of plaintive plea to understand the self-harm done to the body of TEC by this lack of consent which is a 'narrowing' of the possibilities for the manner of life of TEC.

In other words Mark Harris agrees, more or less, with my post below which picks up on a TEC priest's comment that this is a turning point, but with sadness rather than with joy!

God's kingdom is exceedingly broad!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Trinity and Order (4)

In my last post on Trinity and Order (3) I offered an excerpt from Wikipedia as a response to some questions raised by a correspondent. Questions remain, however, and have been restated as follows below. Being a little short of time this week I offer the barest of comments, with promise to return to the subject:

1. How can the ‘submission’ of Jesus be said to be for a limited time only, or be ‘temporal?’ Response (REVISED): We are limited by the constraints of human language to speak about the mystery of God Three-in-One becoming incarnate, Jesus Christ the Son filled with the Spirit and one with the Father, yet seemingly forsaken by the Father and Spirit on the cross. In speaking of this becoming incarnate Scripture uses language of sending and submission with special reference to the mission of Christ while physically present on earth, which is a temporary phenomenon, although the human nature taken up by the Son is permanent. See further, the comment below by Tim Harris!

2. Does that mean that the things God decides ‘outside’ time have limits too, as this decision did? Response: possibly, but there is a lot to think about when we talk of God and time. The concept of human freedom, for example, is often understood as a decision by God to limit his power to allow for genuine choice by his human creatures.

3. Is the ‘arm’ or ‘Son’ still the Son? He’s fulfilled His Father’s [and His own] wishes, voluntarily .. without ‘will’ of His own. Using my above analogy, it’s entirely possible to thrust one’s arm into the fire and damage it in order to save the whole body. Incredible, brave, generous, breathtaking .. but possible. “I am the way etc.” Response: (see the original comment, by the way, to get the gist of the illustration of arm/head/will). I may not understand the illustration properly. One response I have is to note that the relation between Father and Son is not analogous to the head and the arm of a body. One can lose an arm and still be who one is. A better analogy (IMHO) would be to think of the relationship between brain and mind. Without a brain I have no mind; without a mind my brain is dead. The mutual indwelling of Father Son and Holy Spirit is better modeled by brain mind and (say) nervous system. Take any one away and the others cease to exist. In a very important sense, particularly taken up Trinitarian theologians in the 20th century, God Three-in-One dies on the cross; not merely the Son. The one will of God leads God to the cross. But there is a lot of ink to spill at precisely this point in our understanding of theology ... of incarnation and of Trinity.

4. Whereas, doesn’t the limit of ‘temporal’ mean somehow that the ‘arm’ or ‘Son’ was coerced, DID have a ‘will’ that was different? I know I can’t possibly disagree with these great minds you quote .. but my poor brain comes to the opposite conclusion. Response: I do not agree with you, but acknowledge that a lot turns on how we understand 'temporal'.

Has Sydney been inconsistent in its understanding of the Bible?

A comment suggesting I have been captious with my original post has led me to revise this post (and correct a biblical reference).

I would understand that the Sydney Diocese's policy of not ordaining women to the priesthood or the episcopacy is a policy of obedience to the Bible, especially to texts such as 1 Timothy 2:12.

It is somewhat surprising then to learn that a significant contribution to the huge loss suffered by the Diocese's investments during the recent months of world recession has been due to borrowing money. I quote from Archbishop Peter's letter to the Diocese about this difficult situation (italics mine):

"Firstly, I want you to know that we have suffered very significant losses to our diocesan capital. For several years now we have borrowed money to increase the amount invested. This resulted in greater than average returns. In fact, a special 20 million dollar distribution to help purchase land and build new churches was possible in 2007 because of this."

Another Bible text is Romans 13:8:

"Owe no one anything, except to love each other ..."

Right now the Diocese is living by that text literally for the letter continues:

"Our investment position is now stable. All bank debt has been repaid, investment risks have been significantly reduced and our liquidity position is very strong."

But one wonders if for a while the Diocese made a choice to either ignore Romans 13:8, or to follow a line of interpretation in which Romans 13:8 does not preclude borrowing (as argued in a comment below). If the latter, then the Diocese has not been inconsistent in its understanding of the Bible.

Nevertheless the question remains if one can soften the apparent literal sense of Romans 13:8 then might not one do this with another verse or two?

If the former, i.e. Romans 13:8 simply set to one side, then it could be argued that there is an inconsistency. Now in my view most if not all of us who seek to live as far as possible by the Bible do live inconsistently relative to the Bible. It is hard to be perfect! But when we realise we are inconsistent then it may be appropriate to do some soul-and-mind searching. One possible outcome is that we lower the emphasis we place on being 'biblical' and raise the emphasis on 'theological system' and thus honestly acknowledge that our lives are governed by a system of theology rather than the Bible. Many Christians live with debt (Visa, mortgage, car loan) because, in their minds, there is a system of theology which both permits this and explains the limited application of Romans 12:8 (to say nothing of the whole downer the Bible has on usury).

It would be interesting to learn from Sydney what its system of theology is which reconciles applications of 1 Timothy 2:12 (fairly literally, it seems) and of Romans 13:8 (not too literally, perhaps).

This question of 'biblical' versus 'theological system' is not an unimportant matter. In a few weeks time a significant development in the post GAFCON life of the Communion will take place when the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the UK and Ireland will be launched. As it happens, Archbishop Peter Jensen is one of the featured speakers.

Thus one can presume that a substantive call from this meeting will be for the Anglican churches of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to be reformed to a standard of biblical orthodoxy. But what is 'biblical orthodoxy'? It is a clear, consistent system of theology coherent with the Bible. Many of us want to be biblically orthodox; but do many of us understand that it is difficult to achieve in practice? That difficulty is, I suggest, what the non-GAFCON part of the Communion understands, and inspires patience in the ongoing conversation among Communion partners over our controversies. It will be looking, I am sure, for signs from the inauguration event in London on 6th July that the immensity of the challenge of being biblically orthodox is understood!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What is good for the goose is good for the gander

A recent commenter has pointed out the inconsistency of my tackling TEC for its faults while paying no attention to ACANZP's own. Fair point. One of our faults, I am told, is failure to discipline our clergy when they fall short of the canons. Funnily enough, that IS also a problem in TEC, according, not to me, but to the magisterial A.S. Haley, a US-resident, church attorney, writing in Anglican Curmudgeon. You be the judge etc ... here is an excerpt from a longer post:

"It is a serious enough consequence for the Reverend Mr. Forrester not to gain those consents, and I do not mean to belittle it in the slightest, but at the same time I feel constrained to point out that nothing the Reverend Mr. Forrester has done will lead to the suspension or inhibition of his ministry within the Church. Nor, be it understood, am I calling for any such discipline --- the time is long past when any good could come of that. In pointing out what follows, I am showing only the blatant double standard that the Church applies to its clergy, depending on which side of the spectrum they are perceived, by those in power, to fall. That double standard currently defines the Church, and is a necessary part of the process by which it is breaking up, as I shall show presently.

At the same time that the Church appears to be barring Kevin Thew Forrester from being one of its bishops, it sanctions (allows) others of its bishops to violate the canons with impunity. Forget about same-sex blessings for a minute, and let us just focus on the practice of inviting anyone who comes through the door of an Episcopal Church, whether baptized or not, to partake of Holy Communion --- the so-called practice of "open communion".

The very name is an oxymoron, of course. To take "communion" is to share what one has in common with one's fellow communicants --- namely, having been baptized into the Christian faith. What we have in common with all other humans is not what defines us as Christians, and to make simple humanity the common factor, or even the act of coming into a church, is to degrade the significance of baptism as both a sacrament and as the initiation into the Christian faith. Why bother with baptism if one may receive communion regardless of one's status as a believer? There is no implied threat of any kind to withhold communion if one does not choose to be baptized as a Christian. The invitation, instead, is to return as many times as one feels like to receive communion, without fear of being "excluded". To be inclusive to that degree is to define away the meaning of one's faith, and to reduce it to a Sunday gathering of whoever bothers to show up.

To accept the oxymoron arguendo, however, it remains the fact that "open communion" is, in our current Church, a blatant violation of our national canons. (Canon I.17.7 provides: "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.") Some may point to the 1979 revisions to the Book of Common Prayer which (among other things) eliminated the old BCP rubric that "And there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready", and claim that its elimination meant that Communion was now open to the unbaptized. But that would be an erroneous conclusion, as Father Haller demonstrates once more to our gratitude, in this post. The intent was to eliminate any implication that confirmation was required as a prerequisite for taking communion; that is why the Canon was left unchanged.

While he was the Bishop of Northern California, the Rt. Rev. Jerry A. Lamb was notorious for inviting all present, baptized or not, to any Eucharist at which he presided. When he was called on it at a diocesan convention, he buried the matter by appointing a task force to conduct a survey, and to make a report at a subsequent convention. And by the time that later convention came around, he had announced his retirement, so the matter was finessed. (The report of the task force appears to be no longer on the diocesan website, but its findings are described in a paragraph at the bottom of page 13 of this document.)

Now, however, Bishop Lamb is once again in charge of Eucharists, every time he visits a parish that chose to remain with ECUSA in the area of the former Diocese of San Joaquin, and he continues to invite all to take communion. There are no voices raised against his practice of celebrating open communion --- either among his parishioners, or in the House of Bishops of which he is a member."

Oh, by the way, open communion is a practice in our church too, pragmatically driven, with nary a theological reflection at an official level to support it, let alone a canon. Mea culpa.

Order in the Trinity (3)

In response to my previous post on Order in the Trinity (2) these questions were raised in a comment:

"But how can [the subordination of God the Son to God the Father] be temporal?
Do you mean by that .. just for Jesus' time on earth?
While He's 'inside' time, whereas they are both now 'outside' time?
If that is the case, how come it was decided 'outside' of time?
How come Jesus 'humbled' Himself to become man in order to save us.
Doesn't that mean in some sense that I don't understand, that He's now not 'pure' God, but a mixture?
Otherwise what does it mean to say "He humbled Himself."
Isn't any submission [I've said before I don't like the word subordination] voluntary?
Otherwise it IS subordination surely?"

On the last two questions I would simply say that submission is not necessarily voluntary (one might think of the submission Islam has on occasions sought at the point of a sword) and subordination, whatever our personal preference to not use it as a word in these contexts of Trinity and Order, is the word mostly used in current discussion.

The first questions raised can be responded to with this excerpt from Wikipedia's article on the Trinity ... which, a little short of time this week, I post with gratitude to the writer! (In any case, I do not think I could have put these things clearer or more concisely myself):

"Economic and ontological Trinity

Economic Trinity: This refers to the acts of the triune God with respect to the creation, history, salvation, the formation of the Church, the daily lives of believers, etc. and describes how the Trinity operates within history in terms of the roles or functions performed by each of the Persons of the Trinity—God's relationship with creation.

Ontological (or essential or immanent) Trinity: This speaks of the interior life of the Trinity (John 1:1–2, note John 1:1)—the reciprocal relationships of Father, Son and Spirit to each other without reference to God's relationship with creation.
Or more simply—the ontological Trinity (who God is) and the economic Trinity (what God does). Most Christians believe the economic reflects and reveals the ontological. Catholic theologian Karl Rahner went so far as to say "The 'economic' Trinity is the 'immanent' Trinity, and vice versa."[71]

The ancient Nicene theologians argued that everything the Trinity does is done by Father, Son, and Spirit working together with one will. The three persons of the Trinity always work inseparably, for their work is always the work of the one God. Because of this unity of will, the Trinity cannot involve the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father. Eternal subordination can only exist if the Son's will is at least conceivably different from the Father's. But Nicene orthodoxy says it is not. The Son's will cannot be different from the Father's because it is the Father's. They have but one will as they have but one being. Otherwise they would not be one God. If there were relations of command and obedience between the Father and the Son, there would be no Trinity at all but rather three gods.[72]

In explaining why the Bible speaks of the Son as being subordinate to the Father, the great theologian Athanasius argued that scripture gives a "double account" of the son of God – one of his temporal and voluntary subordination in the incarnation, and the other of his eternal divine status.[73] For Athanasius, the Son is eternally one in being with the Father, temporally and voluntarily subordinate in his incarnate ministry. Such human traits, he argued, were not to be read back into the eternal Trinity.

Like Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers also insisted there was no economic inequality present within the Trinity. As Basil wrote: "We perceive the operation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to be one and the same, in no respect showing differences or variation; from this identity of operation we necessarily infer the unity of nature."[74]

Augustine also rejected the idea of an economic hierarchy within the Trinity. He claimed that the three persons of the Trinity "share the inseparable equality one substance present in divine unity".[75] Because the three persons are one in their inner life, this means that for Augustine their works in the world are one. For this reason, it is an impossibility for Augustine to speak of the Father commanding and the Son obeying as if there could be a conflict of wills within the eternal Trinity.
John Calvin also spoke at length about the doctrine of the Trinity. Like Athanasius and Augustine before him, he concluded that Philippians 2:4-11 prescribed how scripture was to be read correctly. For him the Son's obedience is limited to the incarnation and is indicative of his true humanity assumed for human salvation.[76]

Much of this work is summed up in the Athanasian Creed. This creed stresses the unity of the Trinity and the equality of the persons. It ascribes equal divinity, majesty, and authority to all three persons. All three are said to be "almighty" and "Lord" (no subordination in authority; "none is before or after another" (no hierarchical ordering); and "none is greater, or less than another" (no subordination in being or nature). Thus, since the divine persons of the Trinity act with one will, there is no possibility of hierarchy-inequality in the Trinity.

Since the 1980s, some evangelical theologians have come to the conclusion that the members of the Trinity may be economically unequal while remaining ontologically equal. This theory was put forward by George W. Knight III in his 1977 book The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women, states that the Son of God is eternally subordinated in authority to God the Father.[77] This conclusion was used as a means of supporting the main thesis of his book: that women are permanently subordinated in authority to their husbands in the home and to male leaders in the church, despite being ontologically equal. Subscribers to this theory insist that the Father has the role of giving commands and the Son has the role of obeying them."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

God is Back. Do we know this Down Under?

Ruth Gledhill interviews John Micklethwait, one of the co-authors of a recently published book God is Back which is upbeat about the revival of interest in religion today. This excerpt from her post is, perhaps, especially notable and worth thinking about:

"Basically there seem to be two choices for both Catholics and Anglicans: find complicated answers to complicated problems and emerge with Graham Greenish styles of catholic Anglicanism and anglican Catholicism. Or follow the present Papal model, which Micklethwait described as a 'two-speed Catholic Church' with an inner core of orthodox believers and an outer core who 'travel along for the ride.'

There could be room, he thought, for a sophisticated Christianity which sounded a bit 'David Jenkins' to me, but which would seem to mean embracing God and doubt at the same time. But he admitted that the evidence suggests religions succeed when they go in the other direction. He kept apologising for talking in terms of brands, the market place, bottoms on seats, but he couldn't help it. He is after all editor of the Economist.

Given all the problems with the covenant, maybe theologians and canon lawyers are not ultimately the right people to be trying to sort out the mess in the Anglican Communion."

What would a two-speed Anglican Communion look like? A two-speed Catholic Church is nevertheless a world church with one Mass, that is, everyone is going in the same direction in worship and in doctrine expressed through the words of the liturgy. We cannot yet do that.

More to the point Down Under, in New Zealand and Australia, do we know that 'God is Back'? Could Micklethwait and Wooldridge have written their book based on research here? Possibly. Certainly we have many churches and church leaders pragmatically concerned with 'bums on seats' knowing that when the last seat is emptied, that's it, for there are no established churches here (and, in New Zealand, our charities law requires each church to have a specified winding up clause in respect of the loot.)

Is God back Down Under? What do you think?

Turning Point for TEC?

Following a post below re TEC I have been criticized in a series of robust comments which have included a detailed, knowledgeable critique of the failings of my own church, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. It has never been my view that TEC is beyond hope of transformation and this excerpt from an article from Christianity Today - about the failure of Thew Forrester's nomination to be Bishop of Northern Michigan to secure sufficient confirmatory votes - notes the possibility of that hope being realized (see especially words I have emboldened):

"In addition to rejecting orthodox Christian teachings about the Cross, Thew Forrester denies that Satan exists, calls the Qur'an the Word of God, describes sin as being blind to our own goodness, and questions whether Jesus is truly the only begotten Son of God. A student of Zen Buddhism, Thew Forrester took Buddhist lay ordination vows and adopted a new Buddhist name—Genpo—meaning "way of universal wisdom."

Critics charged that Thew Forrester had also altered Christian liturgies to add Buddhist, Unitarian-Universalist, and New Age principles.

In a message posted on his blog, Bishop of Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) Paul V. Marshall warned that the denomination's failure to uphold historic Christian teachings had made it an embarrassment.

"As a Church we are increasingly a laughing-stock … because we do not consistently proclaim a solid core, words as simple as 'all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,' yet 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,'" Marshall wrote.

Thew Forrester's theological and liturgical innovations are too extreme for a majority of the Episcopal Church, said Greg Griffith, founder of the conservative Anglican website StandFirmInFaith.com. But that doesn't mean that the Episcopal Church is ready to embrace the faith once delivered to the saints, he added.
"All the Episcopal Church has done is to say that someone who is clearly not a Christian may not be one of its bishops," Griffith said. "It may be history in the making, but it's hardly a grand or noble achievement, and certainly not a signal that the Episcopal Church is returning to orthodoxy."

"In any other church—evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostal—this person wouldn't get to go to seminary, let alone be able to lead" an entire regional body, said Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. The fact that a diocese chose Thew Forrester and that nearly 30 standing committees have voted to confirm him is troubling, Harmon said.

Harmon and other theological conservatives also noted that the opposition to Thew Forrester is fragmented. A few oppose him because he was the only candidate for bishop on the ballot. Others say he should have gone before the proper channels before rewriting the Apostles' Creed and baptismal covenant. Only a minority oppose Thew Forrester because they believe the changes are contrary to Christian teaching, Harmon said.

"This is not something to celebrate. It's something to be sad about. It reveals a deeply, deeply unhealthy church," he said.

But Bill Carroll, rector at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio, says the vote may be a turning point for his denomination. "I think history will remember this as the point when the Episcopal Church began to show some backbone about basic Christian doctrine," he wrote in a comments thread at EpiscopalCafe.com. "For too long, we have allowed our respect for difference to mean anything goes. There are boundaries.""

So, what about ACANZP? I have disagreed with the commenter about his precise description of our failings (e.g. I would not use the word 'chaos' to describe our liturgical diversity) but we are far from perfect, and many parishes are in decline as measured by falling numbers and/or an aging congregational profile. What could our turning point be?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Changing Face of Anglican Evangelicalism

Some years ago I lived in Durham, England and worshiped at St. Nicholas' Church, Marketplace, Durham. Our vicar then was Michael Wilcock, well known for his expositional writings in the Bible Speaks Today series. His predecessor was even better known, one George Carey, who wrote a book about his time as Vicar of St Nick's (as it was popularly known), called The Church in the Marketplace. This parish has had, as far as I know, an unbroken evangelical ministry for 150 years.

Just up the road, about a stone's throw away, was the Claypath United Reform Church. It had an energetic and learned minister who was succeeded by Dr Bob Faull, who was the OT tutor at Cranmer Hall during our time in Durham. Last night a perchance read on the internet led me to a story I was not aware of, namely that around 2003, when Bob moved onto a post in Scotland, the Claypath church appealed not to its own denomination but to a Church of England church for assistance with its future, the somewhat famous evangelical parish of Jesmond in Newcastle (in the neighbouring diocese to Durham).

Cutting a presumably longish story short, Christ Church Durham was formed, in the face of protests from the established Church of England (read a Church Times report here). On the website of Christ Church Durham you can read of the manifold ministries and activities of this church and learn that

"We are an Anglican evangelical church in the heart of Durham City, committed to preaching the good news of Jesus."

I hunted round the site in vain for any sign that this Anglican evangelical church is under the episcopal oversight of the Bishop of Durham. A cross check on the site of the Diocese of Durham reveals no church of this name listed as one of the churches of the Diocese. I conclude that this is an 'independent evangelical Anglican church'. (Incidentally, notwithstanding the suggestion in the Church Times that this church is a plant of the Jesmond parish, it does seem to have its own trust managing its affairs).

Yet it is not completely independent, for this statement is made here:

"We are an Anglican evangelical Church which holds to the teaching of the Bible. Our doctrinal beliefs are contained in our Trust Deed and are set out below. We are formally linked to Crosslinks [a mission organisation], and to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (a world-wide Communion of orthodox Anglicans) and we assent to the Jerusalem Declaration of 2008. We hold to the Biblical doctrines contained in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal."

This is not the only independent Anglican evangelical church in England. I do not know how many others there are. But clearly the continuing existence of such a church (which seems to be thriving, by the way) offers a model which can be replicated into a network of such churches.

I imagine you might have some questions reading this story. Here are some of mine:

What role, if any, do bishops play in the ongoing life of this form of Anglican evangelicalism?

If bishops play no role, what kind of commissioning for ministry takes place when the church wishes to appoint a minister?

To what authority would a person with a complaint about ministry in this kind of church appeal?

Is it possible to claim the description 'Anglican' in a meaningful manner when defining a church which is not under the oversight of a local bishop? (Noting that not only is this church not under the oversight of the Bishop of Durham, but it does not appear to be under the oversight of any bishop of anywhere).

What is the long-term future of independent Anglican evangelical churches? (I imagine that it must evolve one day into either an episcopal-led network of churches or into a non-episcopal-led network of churches which might quietly drop the word 'Anglican').

Is it possible to claim to "hold to the Biblical doctrines contained in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal" while not being under direct episcopal leadership?

Whatever answers may be given to these questions, the face of Anglican evangelicalism is changing when one can set up an Anglican evangelical church a stone's throw away from another one!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Seeing ourselves as others see us

A recent commenter to a post below makes a number of observations about the state of the church to which I belong, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. Some telling observations are made, but I think some of the assessments offered are too sweeping. Then there is also the question raised of whether I should cease to be critical of TEC and be more critical of my own church ... I shall think upon these things. But that thinking will include my ongoing concern about the healthiness for the future of Anglicanism of TEC being a major influence on the Anglican Communion, and about the ongoing influence of TEC in the life of this church in which it has many admirers!

Nevertheless our church is in a very puzzling state. Consider these observations:

- we have parish churches which are faithfully Anglican (follow the liturgy, run the parish in the way parishes have been run for a long time now) but in the doldrums (aging congregations and financial anxieties inhibiting creative missional advances)

- we have have parishes which are living in a form of unreality (there are so few active parishioners that a bold amalgamation with a neighbouring parish would be the certain recommendation of any review commission that was commanded to dismiss nostalgia from its considerations)

- we have growing, dynamic parishes defying the aging demographics but which are Anglican in the liturgical sense of the word at the 'early service' (average age of congregation 60+) but not at their main service of Sunday morning)

Let me put the next point as a question, for I am uncertain of the evidence:

- do we have any parishes which are (a) growing numerically, and/or (b) decreasing the average age of Sunday worshippers present at services by faithfully following one of the main eucharistic services in our prayer book (while offering creativity in music, preaching, children's talks etc in the course of this faithful following of the rubrics and content of the liturgy)?

With advance apologies to overseas readers who will struggle to answer this last question! Is there a positive answer to this last question? How many such parishes?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Order in the Trinity (2)

A previous post offered some thoughts about 'order'. Here are some about 'Trinity'! ... which reminds me of the appositeness of doing so, this Sunday being Trinity ...

Trinity is the great doctrine of the church and mission for it is our doctrine of God and thus our self-understanding of distinctiveness in respect of all claims concerning 'God', including denials of the existence of God. Being doctrine, it has both human history and divine disclosure in its origins.

Its human history is that the church once did not have such a doctrine and then one day did have this doctrine. If its conception is through divine disclosure, then its birth certainly involved labour pains. The great contractions leading to the birth began as questions arose about the relationship between Jesus Christ and God and disputed answers were offered. The dispute in summary was over the question whether Jesus Christ was less than God in being (Arian led the affirmative for this) or completely God in being (Athanasius led the defence of this). Scriptural evidence could be gathered in support for each answer; though the matter did not turn solely on exegesis for the experience of the church counted for something: it had been worshipping Jesus as God from the beginning, was this wrong? Reason too played a part: if Jesus was not completely God in being, could he save us completely?

Some of the evidence of Scripture pointing to Jesus being less than God were texts which spoke of the subordination of Jesus to God: the language of sending, of obedience, of exaltation, of filling with the Spirit of God spoke volumes to Arian and his supporters. The order, God, Christ, angels, humanity, animals, plants, was an order of subordination: Christ subordinate to God, angels to Christ, etc, with an ontological dividing line - a line between uncreated being and created being - drawn between God and Christ, angels, humanity, animals, plants. For an Arian hermeneutic, the being and function of Christ are unambiguously subordinate to God.

But there was more to Scripture than this reading of the evidence. Other texts, both singly, but more powerfully, cumulatively, spoke of the oneness of God and Christ, as a unity of being of Father and Son (and Holy Spirit). This reading of the evidence, of the divine disclosure through Scripture of the essence of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, gathered strength from its upholding of doctrines of salvation, creation, and revelation. Though some specific moves in the commitment of the church through councils making creeds involved imperial power, the establishment of the doctrine of the Trinity is not an expression of power rather than truth. In post-imperial ages the Arian challenge has recurred and the church has always confirmed its Athanasian rejoinder.

What then of order in the Trinity? First, all the texts Arian read remain in Scripture. In some measure Jesus Christ is subordinate to God the Father, the question we are teasing out is the extent of that 'measure'. Secondly, the Trinity which necessarily involves language of 'equality' includes a direct challenge to simple notions of subordination: in some sense Father Son and Holy Spirit are coordinate. Thirdly, the doctrine of the Trinity as formulated in the finite language of humanity is always an attempt to penetrate through language to the inner character of the being of God. In itself it cannot convey exhaustively the truth of God for then our words would be greater than God. This is of particular relevance when we reflect on the relationship of Father to Son and Holy Spirit and of Father and Son to Holy Spirit.

If, for example, we ask the question has the Father given birth to the Son, the answer has always been an unequivocal negative but the word we have come up with to describe the "origin" of the Son has been 'begotten', a somewhat equivocal word as it cannot dislodge a hint of 'birthing'. Ditto for the "origin" of the Spirit in the Father or in the Father and the Son: we have come up with the word 'proceed', a somewhat equivocal word also as it cannot dislodge a hint of production. (Indeed, so difficult is the question of understanding 'proceed' that the church split in 1054 between West and East over the question whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or from Father and Son). In short, we stumble with our language seeking to penetrate the mystery of God the eternal being of Father Son and Holy Spirit, none created of the other(s), none superior or inferior to the other(s), when we attempt to articulate the meaning of 'Father' in relation to 'Son' and 'Father' and 'Son' in relation to 'Holy Spirit' who is revealed in Scripture as the 'Spirit of God', the 'Spirit of Jesus' and so forth.

It is this stumbling, I suggest, which creates the opportunity to describe the subordination of God the Son to God the Father as an 'eternal subordination'. Our question then is whether this is a true speaking of God the Trinity. There are alternative possibilities to consider, the obvious one being that there is a temporal subordination rather than an eternal subordination.

More anon.