Monday, November 30, 2009

The wounded spirit of our church

Writing in the Journal of Anglican Studies Vol 7.2 (November 2009), which is devoted to Lambeth 2008, Peter John Lee, Bishop of the Diocese of Christ the King in South Africa, makes an observation which I have never thought about. It came to him while reading MacDiarmid's biography of Cranmer:

"It was then that I realized how wounded the spirit of our church is, not from the nineteenth but at the latest the sixteenth century. We thought it was acceptable to torture, burn, and eliminate our opponents in the name of the Gospel; we took part in the venomous spirit of those who could do such things; and we took on the fear that others could really and truly want to do such things to us. Of course we may no longer do so with flames but we would do it in common rooms with our tongues (remember the Epistle of James and ts strictures about those kinds of forest fires!); we would do it acidly in courts of law, despite the strictures of Paul; we would speak violently and dismissively of other Anglicans; and we would see church politics as a means to eliminate others - or for them to eliminate us - from participation in the church of our birth. The twentieth century truly saw some parties in Anglicanism trying to eliminate others from their patrimony.

"Of course it was all very polite, academic and rational. But the words behind the scenes of Anglican conversation belied the neutral words on the page; the same is true up to Virginia and Windsor. We can't understand why no one takes our words at face value or debates them coolly; that is because the passions in the community operate at a different, more visceral, more fearful, more violent level than the words we think are vehicles of our meaning. But they are not." (pp. 156-157)

Bishop Lee's article is entitled "Indaba as obedience". It includes reflections on the experience of Lambeth 2008's various groups for conversation and study. The observation cited above is part of an argument Lee develops: the Church of England was and has been rent by controversies which it has exported around the world. This exporting has taken place because Anglican mission has proceeded from the different divisions in the Church of England without these division first overcoming their disunity.

"... those who have been driven by a spirit of mission have not always been equally gripped by the call to unity or the dominical demand for reconciliation." (p. 157)

Lee cites as instances "the Community of the Resurrection in South Africa, great as it was, mendaciously told their people that theirs was the only authentic version of the Anglican faith. The South American Missionary Society told people the same thing in Argentina. But there was no congruence between the two realities, which they claimed to be the only genuine article." (P. 157)

In other words (i.e my words), Lee argues for a new effort at Anglican reconciliation, one that works from the roots of division, which lie much further in the past, and therefore much deeper in our collective consciousness than we may realise, and certainly deeper than supposing that if only we could rewind to (say) 2003 and start again, all would be well.

In conclusion Lee proposes two theological steps. One, to reinvigorate our commitment to the church as the body of Christ: this Pauline imagery has been at the heart of many ecclesial issues in the last century, "However, those of us who were nurtured in the Church of England never followed the logic of seeing the Church of England itself as such a body, or (with more ecumenical sensitivity) as a reflection of that One Body. We lived with the divisions as if they did not matter and did not require attention." (p. 161) The consequence, which now needs undoing, has been that we have become, "passionate about all kinds of missional agendas, but not about celebrating healing and transformation" (p. 161).

Two, to develop a theology of communication, based on James 3 and Matthew 18, which enables "a theology of reconciliation to emerge." (p. 161) From James 3 we observe the tendency of our tongues to create firestorms, and from Matthew 18 "Jesus bids us desist from the pattern of fire-laying, and to extinguish the blaze as close to home, and as close to the outbreak of the conflagration, as we can." (p. 160)

We have work to do!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Anglican writings

Still on the road so no time to post much, but when time reemerges I plan to post some quotes from the latest Journal of Anglican Studies (JAS), which offers some very interesting reflections on Lambeth 2008. Then a review of the Latimer Trust's volume of theological commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration which, frankly, reveals the thinness of conservative theology in the Anglican Communion at this time. To think that N.T. Wright (who has a typically brilliant article in the JAS) gets such a hard time by conservative critics, but from that same critical school comes almost nothing of substance by way of prospects for the future of a united Anglican "something" in a post-Communion phase should it emerge ...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Waikanae Bound

Off tomorrow, Thursday, to an AFFIRM Consultation at Waikanae (an hour north of Wellington). Gathering there will be a sizeable number of conservative Kiwi Anglicans. I am assisting facilitation of a workshop track discussing training for ministry (of all kinds, not just towards ordained ministry). Then fly down to Christchurch Friday night for a wedding on Saturday and some house hunting for the new position in Christchurch in 2010 (all prayers appreciated!!). Last Chapter meeting tonight. Last child turns 13 tomorrow. That child is the result of a relationship begun in Waikanae 23 years ago (at a beach mission, not a consultation)!

A thought as I go to Waikanae: ecclesiology precedes training. What is the church? I shall be interested to see the (undoubted) variations in the answers to that question!

Re my last post - seeking permission to publish photo of the icon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An icon in Nelson Cathedral

Yesterday an icon was received from the Eastern European Orthodox Association of Nelson and installed in our Cathedral with due ceremony and prayer. It is a beautiful representation of Christ the Light of the World, painted in the great iconographic tradition of Orthodoxy.

The installation of the icon is both a mark of gratitude for Anglican hospitality and support for the Orthodox community here in Nelson, which has no permanent priest, and a sign of ecumenicity. The latter is worth a note here in the midst of a series of reflections on Anglican-Roman relationships.

A taonga (treasure) of Anglicanism is its capacity to relate to all
branches of Christianity. When Roman-Anglican relationships are much talked about we could be tempted to think our main ecumenical objective is communion with Rome. In fact our main objective is communion with all Christians. It is an objective worth fighting hard to achieve.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Richardson on Rowan in Rome

John Richardson of The Ugley Vicar has posted an outstanding analysis of ++Rowan's Williebrands address in Rome. He has entitled it Rowan's Roman Bluff. I encourage you to read it. In the comments below his essay I take issue with one aspect of the argument John Richardson mounts. But here I want to draw attention to something the essay highlights, which I describe in this way:

Archbishop Rowan Williams in this address (read here) offers a bold, intelligent, searching attack (albeit in the considered tones of theological language) on matters important to Roman ecclesiology (primacy, magisterium, universal church). But as I read John Richardson's citations of ++Rowan's address on these matters, along with John's own commentary, I am struck by how good the critique is and how weak the alternative is which ++Rowan proposes. On the one hand I am left wondering whether Rome might feel the effect of this address as a rampant All Black forward might feel the fend off of a spindly opposition fly-half, and on the other hand I wonder if the Anglican alternative to Rome on primacy, magisterium and universal church could be strengthened.

I would welcome any thoughts from readers ... I shall keep thinking about it myself!

Logically it is possible that ++Rowan is correct in (at least) this sense: the church as God in Christ intended it through the sending of the Spirit is a weak, fragile and vulnerable being, not actually designed to be made strong through human institutional machinery such as establishing primacy and magisterium. Paul's response to the messiness of Corinth is to patiently reply to each difficulty of doctrine and praxis, not to argue for the establishment of a Petrine type primacy. The Jerusalem church in Acts 15 forms a council rather than a magisterium, and (somewhat fatal for biblical arguments for Petrine primacy, James not Peter is the emergent leader of proceedings). But, as a counter, one could argue that the Pastoral Epistles represent the earliest church on the way towards primacy and magisterium as it begins to feel the full force of 'messy church' and its potential for damaging false teaching.

LATER: worth a careful read for hidden gems and nuggets are the following:

Austen Ivereigh whose comment on today's rift mending in Rome forecasts some intriguing possibilities for future development in ecumenical relationships - a Grand Covenant anyone?

Andrew Brown rounds up some insights into the background to Benedict's offer and the confusion, if not anger he cause both Archbishop Williams and Archbishop Nichols with the precipitateness of his action; as a bonus, there is also a good 'take' on the different models of a unified church at work in Benedict and Rowan's minds. (PS Ignore the link Brown talks about to a flowchart - that blogger has taken it down as its humour was being misunderstood!)

Then fellow Anglican down under, Charles Sherlock (Bendigo, Australia) gives a frank critique of Anglicanorum coetibus. He says that the Pope has skipped the language of love in this document. Place of publication of this critique? Eureka Street, a publication of the Jesuits of Australia!


Great attitude to ++Rowan demonstrated here; not.

Bishop Alan Wilson offers an appropriate 'appreciative inquiry' response to ++Rowan's address.

Charles Raven posts a fairly savage critique of ++Rowan, which concludes with this sentence (my italics):

"Rowan Williams is creating a myth of unity and it is becoming all the more urgent that orthodox global Anglicans committed to confessional unity do not give credence to such a retreat from reason."

He does ask a good question, however: "But if the Ordinariate is such a modest step – Williams refers to it as a ‘chaplaincy’ – why was he not able to support the formation of such a structure within the Church of England under his own leadership, as the Anglo-Catholic constituency in the Church of England have repeatedly requested?"

One difficulty I have with the Raven reasoning is something it has in common with many critiques being posted around the world: it weighs ++Rowan, the Communion, and the Covenant on the scales with an idealised form of authority in which this issue and that issue (i.e. homosexuality and ordination of women) is dealt with once and for all. Naturally ++Rowan, the Communion and the Covenant are found wanting and (take your pick, depending which side of the glasshouse you are throwing stones from) Rome or GAFCON or the Southern Baptists is found to be not wanting and thus worthy of praise and adoration. But why this particular measure?

What if we tried the world's religions, and the denominations and sects of those religions on the scales, measuring them against criteria such as treating women equally as men (e.g., pace one recent news item out of Somalia, not stoning women for adultery for which men are only whipped), and treating homosexuals as full human beings? We might find it is ++Rowan, the Communion and the Covenant which come out not wanting and certain Christian organisations, ecclesial communities, and claimants to universal churchiness otherwise! Might a thoroughgoing 'anthropology' be the basis on which ++Rowan is praised for the advancement of his reasoning and not denigrated for a 'retreat from reason'?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Understanding the character of the church (pace ++Rowan)

What if we fundamentally misunderstand the character of the church? Suppose we thought that the church was a body of one kind, and it turns out to be a body of another kind? Is it too late to recognize what God in Christ through the Spirit is up to within the communion of God, and in mission in the world; and thus change how we understand the church? No, says, ++Rowan, in his Willebrands Symposium address.

Please read the address. DO NOT DISMISS IT AS ANOTHER NERDY WORDY ESSAY. The church cannot afford to deceive itself about its true character and purpose before God. We have too much to lose if we get it wrong, and so much to gain if we get it right!

Here are what I consider to be the most fruitful parts of the address, with my comments in italics ...

When all is said and done, we have more in common as churches than differences:

"The strong convergence in these agreements about what the Church of God really is, is very striking. The various agreed statements of the churches stress that the Church is a community, in which human beings are made sons and daughters of God, and reconciled both with God and one another. The Church celebrates this through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion in which God acts upon us to transform us ‘in communion’. More detailed questions about ordained ministry and other issues have been framed in this context.

"Therefore the major question that remains is whether in the light of that depth of agreement the issues that still divide us have the same weight – issues about authority in the Church, about primacy (especially the unique position of the pope), and the relations between the local churches and the universal church in making decisions (about matters like the ordination of women, for instance). Are they theological questions in the same sense as the bigger issues on which there is already clear agreement? And if they are, how exactly is it that they make a difference to our basic understanding of salvation and communion? But if they are not, why do they still stand in the way of fuller visible unity? Can there, for example, be a model of unity as a communion of churches which have different attitudes to how the papal primacy is expressed?

"The central question is whether and how we can properly tell the difference between ‘second order’ and ‘first order’ issues. When so very much agreement has been firmly established in first-order matters about the identity and mission of the Church, is it really justifiable to treat other issues as equally vital for its health and integrity?"

What is the church? Is it a body organized by prescriptive rules whose life is measured by its faithful obedience to presciptions? This was the pre-Vatican II view of Roman ecclesiologists. It, arguably, is the view of some forms of evangelical ecclesiology found in Anglican circles, with appropriate substitutions of, say, 'Word' for 'sacraments':

"Part of what Vatican II turned away from is a way of talking about the Church as primarily an institution existing because of divine decree, governed by prescription from the Lord, faithfully administering the sacraments ordained by him for the salvation of souls – ‘an external, visible society, whose members, under a hierarchical authority headed by the pope, constitute with him one visible body, tending to the same spiritual and supernatural end, i.e., sanctification of souls and their eternal happiness’ (Pietro Palazzini, s.v. ‘Church (Society)’ in the Dictionary of Moral Theology, ed. F. Roberti and P. Palazzini, originally published in 1957). But what is missing from this account is any real explication of how the nature and character and even polity of the Church are grounded in and shaped by the nature of God and of God’s incarnation in history. A theological understanding of the Church would be one that makes this connection."

There is another way, a way rediscovered by Willebrands and Congar, and embraced by Vatican II, continued by Kasper, and also found in recent Anglican-Orthodox dialogue. This is the ecclesiology of the church imaging the trinitarian communion of God:

"In broad outline, the picture is something like this. God is eternally a life of threefold communion; and if human persons are to be reconciled to God and restored to the capacity for which they were made, they must be included in that life of communion. The incarnation of God the Son recreates in human persons the possibility of filial relation with the Father, standing in the place of Christ and praying his prayer; and only the Holy Spirit, which animates and directs the entire human identity of the Incarnate Word, can create that filial reality in us. To be restored to life with God is to be incorporated into Jesus Christ by the Spirit; but because the gift of the Spirit is what takes away mutual fear and hostility and the shutting-up of human selves against each other, it is inseparably and necessarily a gift of mutual human communion also. The sacramental life and the communal disciplines of the Church exist to serve and witness to this dual fact of communion, with the Father and with all believers."

In other words, when we focus on God as communion, on the church as human persons in communion with God, then church itself is a communion in which love replaces fear, hostility and division between us. On this model of church-in-relation-to-God, Christians are confronted not with prescriptions which we may disagree about, and thus divide ourselves, but with the logic of God's love for us: being incorporated into the love of God we must love one another. For the true church understanding itself truthfully division is no more possible than it is for God himself.

++Rowan says much more, tackling some of the issues which remain points of division between Anglicans (and other Protestant churches) and Roman Catholics, but the essential point is laid out above: if the Church of Rome is true to its new ecclesiology of Vatican II, itself a theology of the Trinity grounded in Scripture (perhaps especially in the Johannine writings), then the presenting issues of ordination, primacy, etc should not, in the end, divide us.

But, mutatis mutandis, all that ++Rowan says applies to the Anglican Communion and our own unity. Do we love one another?

Williams has his mojo back

Now, this is more like it, as More than a Via Media observes, Archbishop Rowan Williams is "back", confidently articulating an Anglican future without anxiety. Indeed he rather turns the tables on Benedict! As The Times reports,

"Speaking before he meets Benedict XVI tomorrow, Dr Rowan Williams told a conference in Rome that the Catholic Church’s refusal to ordain women was a bar to Christian unity."

As indeed it is. Rome can change - Benedict has demonstrated that - but can and will it change on this matter which lies at the heart of human dignity, of male and female created equal in God's sight, and redeemed equally on the cross of Christ?

"“For many Anglicans, not ordaining women has a possible unwelcome implication about the difference between baptised men and baptised women,” [++Rowan] said."

Here is the confident expression of the validity of Anglican life:

"“Is it nonsense to think that holding on to a limited but real common life might be worth working for within the Anglican family? And if it can be managed within the Anglican family, is this a possible model for the wider ecumenical scene?”"

Here is the challenge which he will bring to the table when he meets with Benedict tomorrow:

"But yesterday the Archbishop made clear that there would be no turning back the clock on women priests in order to appease critics. He dismissed the Pope’s offer to disaffected Anglicans as barely more than a “pastoral response”, which broke little new ground in relations between the two Churches.

Dr Williams said: “It does not build in any formal recognition of existing ministries or methods of independent decision-making, but remains at the level of spiritual and liturgical culture.

“As such, it is an imaginative pastoral response to the needs of some; but it does not break any fresh ecclesiological ground,” he told the meeting of senior priests, bishops and cardinals.

Dr Williams put the row over the apostolic constitution, as the Pope’s plan is known, into the context of a centuries-old debate about reuniting the Christian Churches. He questioned whether unity talks should even continue if disagreements over issues such as papal primacy had no hope ever of being resolved.

“I want to propose that we now need urgent clarification of whether these continuing points of tension imply in any way that the substantive theological convergence is less solid than it appears, so that we must still hold back from fuller levels of recognition of ministries or fuller sacramental fellowship,” he said.

But he went on to argue that if there was hope that such issues could be resolved, the Churches could begin to talk about converging their structures of administration and governance, and seeking “sacramental” fellowship.

The speech laid the ground for a frank encounter behind closed doors with the Pope, the highlight of Dr Williams’s Rome trip."

Read the address Archbishop Williams gave at the Willebrands Symposium here.

Ruth Gledhill's blogpost re all this is here, entitled "Rowan in Rome: the Fightback begins"

Voices rising against Uganda's legislation

From Warren Throckmorton's site:

"Exodus Sends Letter Opposing Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

November 16, 2009

Exodus International sent the following letter to Uganda’s President Museveni regarding The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 currently being considered in the Parliament. The bill would criminalize and prosecute homosexual behavior and would require pastors, missionaries, health care providers and counselors to report those suspected of such behavior. Exodus International, along with its board members and broader network, opposes this legislation as it inhibits the global Christian church’s mission to share the life-giving truth of the Gospel and extend the compassion of Christ to all.

President & Mrs. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
c/o Principal Private Secretary, Amelia Kyambadde
State House Nakasero
P.O. Box 24594
Kampala, Uganda

Dear President & Mrs. Museveni,

As evangelical Christian leaders dedicated to advancing the truths of the Bible worldwide, we commend your work to promote ethics in Uganda. In addition, your efforts to eradicate the HIV/AIDS epidemic have been appropriately praised internationally and we are praying for your continued success.

We want to humbly share our concerns regarding The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, introduced before the Ugandan parliament on October 14, 2009. First, we believe that sexual crimes against children, homosexual or heterosexual, are the most serious of offenses and should be punished accordingly. Homosexual behavior in consensual relationships, however, is another matter.

While we do not believe that homosexual behavior is what God intended for individuals, we believe that deprivation of life and liberty is not an appropriate or helpful response to this issue. Furthermore, the Christian church must be a safe, compassionate place for gay-identified people as well as those who are confused about and conflicted by their sexuality. If homosexual behavior and knowledge of such behavior is criminalized and prosecuted, as proposed in this bill, church and ministry leaders will be unable to assist hurting men, women and youth who might otherwise seek help in addressing this personal issue. The Christian church cannot and should not condone homosexual living or gay-identified clergy within its leadership, but it must be permitted to extend the love and compassion of Christ to all. We believe that this legislation would make this mission a difficult if not impossible task to carry out.

Many of us and those we know and work with have personally struggled with unwanted homosexual attractions and once lived as gay individuals, but have since found a new identity in Jesus Christ and have gone on to live lives that reflect the teaching of the Christian faith. We sincerely believe that such transformations cannot best be achieved in an environment of government coercion where the vital support, care and compassion of others in the Christian community is discouraged and prosecuted.

Please consider the influence this law will have upon those who may seek help in dealing with this difficult issue as well as church and ministry leaders committed to demonstrating the compassion of Christ to all. We are praying for you, for this matter and for the people of Uganda.


Alan Chambers
President of Exodus International, Orlando, Florida
Former homosexual

Randy Thomas
Executive Vice President, Exodus International, Orlando, Florida
Former homosexual

Christopher Yuan
Adjunct Instructor, Moody Bible Institute, Chicago, Illinois
HIV Survivor
AIDS Activist
Former homosexual

Warren Throckmorton, Ph.D.
Member of the Clinical Advisory Board of the American Association of Christian Counselors
Grove City, Pennsylvania"

(H/T Peter Ould of An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy)

You see, it is possible for Christians around the world to be united on something in the realm of ethics!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Archbishop Rowan: stick to your knitting ... and knit a better Anglican habitat

I admire and respect Archbishop Rowan Williams, think him often misunderstood, and unnecessarily criticized. But my admiration is not unqualified, and qualification enters into trying to admire his prognostications on the future of the planet as reported here. It is just nuts to argue that higher taxation will create a better life here on earth. Perhaps in the short term it will do something as present wealth is redistributed, and as we constrain our rampant use of carbon dioxide emitters. In the long-term, however, other solutions are required, solutions which continue to create wealth which people may share in.

Of course, the odd thing about this address of Archbishop Williams is that (a) it involves a clear vision for a better human habitat, and (b) a conviction boldly stated as to the achievement of that vision.

Would that (a) and (b) applied to the Anglican Communion were as forthcoming ...

(H/T Kendall Harmon)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When old men speak, the young are rewarded through listening

(H/T Fulcrum News)

Walter Kasper clears up some confusion in the minds of journalists and of critics of Benedict's offer to Anglicans ...

Jim Packer is as sagacious as ever, from the ending of Mark's Gospel through the brilliance of C.S. Lewis to unpicking the difficulties of Canadian Anglicanism ...

Stating an Anglican position is tricky business

Titus One Nine has published this release from the Modern Churchpeople's Union's about it's response to the latest version of what the C of E with women bishops might look like. The press release is this:

"Women Bishops and the Revision Committee

MCU has published a paper that welcomes the Revision Committee's change of policy. However, it questions the emphasis on seeking to satisfy the opponents of women bishops while showing no comparable concern for the majority appalled by the continuing gender discrimination.

The paper argues

* that the proposed proliferation of different classes of bishops (women, men consecrated or not consecrated by women, men who do or do not ordain women, etc) should be resisted;
* that church leaders should resist the influence of magical views of the sacraments, treating priests and bishops as if the value of their ministry depended on whether their appointment followed precise rules;
* that the 'theology of taint' - the idea that a bishop who has once ordained a woman priest is no longer an acceptable bishop - is not acceptable and no allowance should be made for it;
* that resistance to change, while characteristic of many reactionary religious campaigns, is unrealistic since churches do, and need to, make changes;
* that the increasing appeal to the individual conscience as though it were a basic unchanging fact, rather than an expression of what the individual currently believes to be true, should be resisted;
* and that the current reactionary mood among church leaders is in danger of being made permanent by the proposed Anglican Covenant." (The whole paper to which the release refers may be read here).

I find this to be an interesting mix of propositions, underlining the difficulty we Anglicans can have trying to state a position on something for which we do not have a handy comprehensive catechism to quote from! Consider:

"* that the proposed proliferation of different classes of bishops (women, men consecrated or not consecrated by women, men who do or do not ordain women, etc) should be resisted;" I agree. No problem.

"* that church leaders should resist the influence of magical views of the sacraments, treating priests and bishops as if the value of their ministry depended on whether their appointment followed precise rules;" I agree to the words before the comma. After that is tricky: if following precise rules is not important for the value of ministry then, hey, let's treat those ACNA bishops as ... bishops!

"* that the 'theology of taint' - the idea that a bishop who has once ordained a woman priest is no longer an acceptable bishop - is not acceptable and no allowance should be made for it;" I agree. No problem for me; but I acknowledge it will be for some.

"* that resistance to change, while characteristic of many reactionary religious campaigns, is unrealistic since churches do, and need to, make changes;" I agree. But I wonder if the MCU understands that sometimes those most resistant to change are those fronting 'progressive religious campaigns'. Here in NZ, for instance, some of the people most resistant to the establishment of a truly profound Three Tikanga life together have been ... progressives.

"* that the increasing appeal to the individual conscience as though it were a basic unchanging fact, rather than an expression of what the individual currently believes to be true, should be resisted;" On this, with special reference to controversial issues in our Communion, might we all, left/right, reactionary/progressive be united in our agreement?

"* and that the current reactionary mood among church leaders is in danger of being made permanent by the proposed Anglican Covenant." Really? The Anglican Covenant is designed to ensure that the Communion understands itself to be a body of believers committed to orthodoxy and orthopraxy and works to ensure that understanding, and not another prevails. Only if the 'current reactionary mood among church leaders' is in tune with orthodoxy and orthopraxy will it be made 'permanent'. Surely the MCU is not saying it is unconcerned with orthodoxy and orthopraxy being a permanent feature of the Communion?

The MCU would not be the first Anglican body to attempt to achieve too much in a statement, to the detriment of the effectiveness of the statement as a whole!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Rowan needs to do

Archbishop Rowan Williams' role as incumbent of the See of Canterbury gives him a unique opportunity to lead the Communion, a unique opportunity which I do not think is yet undermined by provinces here and there which have sought to remove 'communion with the See of Canterbury' as constitutive of their being Anglican. How might Rowan lead the Communion with a vision for a future which is not 'chaotic and uncertain'?

I suggest that one text needs to guide his every statement and sermon:

"to unite all things in [Christ]" (Ephesians 1:10)

The great plan of God, as articulated in the fullness of Pauline theology within Holy Scripture is that all things are united in Christ. A larger framing of the phrase above is Ephesians 1:9-10:

"making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

The future of the Anglican Communion is to be joined with other things in the universe in the great unity of everything. That means that everything in our life together which presents as an occasion for division and disunity is an opportunity, should be an opportunity, as faithful readers of Scripture, for deepening our life together. For and against the ordination of women as priests and bishops? This could lead to division (and in places has), but challenges us to find the ways in which we might remain united together in Christ. Responding to differing cultural movements in respect of human sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular? A process of division has already begun, but is it irreversible? What might it mean, even now, for (say) ACNA and TEC, or TEC and Uganda to sit around a table (a loaf of bread and a cup of wine placed serendipitously in the centre of it) and talk and listen and talk and listen until unity in Christ is regained, because as Anglicans bound to listen to Scripture we are "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3), knowing "there is one body" (4:4) united under just the "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all" (4:5-6).

Archbishop Williams role, I suggest, is not to articulate anxiety about our future, but to cast and recast the great vision of Scripture for the unity of all things. In respect of that vision we have erred and strayed and gone our own ways. It's time to come back to the one way of Jesus Christ. Our elder shepherd Rowan, on behalf of the Great Shepherd, needs to call us back together. We need to heed that voice, not because of veneration for the heritage Canterbury represents, but because it is the voice of the living Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 16, 2009

New Day

Man turns 50. Asks for and receives iPod Touch. Discovers email-to-blog posting feature. This is he trying the feature out. If you read this, it works!

Sent from my iPod

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Take two Tablets for insight and wisdom

(I want to return to my reflections on the leadership the AC needs at this time, but meanwhile ...)

Two interesting opinions advanced in The Tablet.

One is by Nicholas Lash, leading British RC theologian, critical of the Vatican's moves re a PO for Anglicans. Including this:

"The differences between Anglicanism and Catholicism are not, of course, merely liturgical, but also doctrinal. Article I.5 of the constitution states that “The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the authoritative expression of the Catholic faith professed by members of the ordinariate.” This simply makes no sense. The Catechism is a useful if uneven compendium of Catholic teaching. It has little or no authority in itself (as does, for example, a dogmatic constitution of a general council, such as Lumen Gentium or Dei Verbum), but only in the sources or authorities to which it makes reference. It is not a confession of faith, and should not be used as such."

The other is the Editorial which concludes thus:

"Anglo-Catholicism is going through a profound crisis precisely because it is losing faith in its central principle. Anglicanorum Coetibus is offering to let incoming Anglo-Catholics hang on to the incidental symbols of that principle, while relinquishing what lies behind it. Does that make sense? Would they not be better off just becoming Roman Catholics in the normal way, and joining an existing Catholic community they can enrich and be enriched by?"

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Anglican Communion future does not need to be ‘chaotic and uncertain’

I am a great admirer of Archbishop Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict. Neither, however, are perfect; each is capable, on a given day, of outshining the other, either in the intellectual sphere, or in the leadership of their respective churches. If in my previous post I was critical of Archbishop Rowan it was because I think the Anglican Communion could do with a better intimation of the future than ‘chaotic and uncertain’ – a phrase in grave danger of being a self-fulfilling prophecy!

What intimation could be given? Let’s think a little about Pope Benedict and his recent offer to Anglicans. That offer is as though Benedict said to himself, “What is the Roman Catholic Church? It is the church which is catholic and Roman. There is not much room to negotiate the meaning of ‘Roman’, but there is some width in the word ‘catholic’. Let’s stretch it out a little and include Anglicans, providing they accept becoming Roman – submissive to the rule of Rome and agreeing to the teaching of Rome (i.e. the Catechism of the Catholic Church).”

What might Rowan say at this time to the Anglican Communion? He could say this, “What is the Anglican Communion? It is a communion or fellowship of Anglicans. Our difficulties are not with finding Anglicans – all sorts claim to be Anglicans, there are many of them, and they are spread across great tracts of the world – the Americas, Australasia, Asia, Africa and Europe. Our challenge is what kind of communion are we? When people talk of leaving, of deposing, of walking apart, something is not right with our fellowship. To renew our communion together we need to rediscover what we have in common. It has to be more than claiming the adjective ‘anglican’. Benedict is right: communion is based on common truth and common commitment to leadership. After all one definition of ‘Anglican’ is ‘in communion with the See of Canterbury’. Well, if people want to be in communion with the See there needs to be a common truth we share together. My role therefore is to lead the rediscovery. We can avoid chaos and uncertainty.”

To which many observers might add, “And the lead must be firm, clear, and understandable.”

In short, Benedict’s lead has been to take the simple name, Roman Catholic Church and emphasise the first two words, Roman Catholic Church. Rowan’s challenge is to take our simple name, Anglican Communion and emphasise the last word rather than the first word, with renewed determination, Anglican Communion.

What might we rediscover with Rowan? First, we might rediscover that common truth is international and transcends local culture. If TEC is engaged with cultural transformation in the USA re liberalizing sexual mores and being criticized for it, we are seeing an analogous situation in Uganda at this time: a Ugandan church engaged with cultural transformation in Uganda re conservatizing sexual mores and being criticized for it. Some questions of humanity concern all humanity. In particular a communion of Christians around the world cannot be a communion if the interests of one are not the interests of all (Philippians 2:4). Canterbury – the See in which we claim to be in communion – could lead us forward in this discovery, holding out the hope of order not of chaos. The humility of the current holder of the office is just the model we require for such enquiry as we engage with and listen to each other (Philippians 2:3).

We might, secondly, reappraise the adequacy of the leadership of our Communion in the light both of our upheavals, and of the possibilities for bold leadership demonstrated by Benedict. Communion involves a common commitment to leadership: we commune under one who presides over us, though that one may have co-presidents close at hand. Can we truthfully say that our Anglican Communion has a presider? To an extent it is the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to an extent there are co-presidents (the Primates) close at hand. But only to an extent since we are also, to an extent, presided over by the ACC, Lambeth, and the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC (I hope I have that correct!). Do we need to ‘sharpen up’ the matter of presidency of the Communion, in line, simply, with the normative Anglican practice in ordinary parish churches, of our communion services being presided over by a president (bishop or priest)?

This question could lead, obviously, to a ‘papalism’, if not to the Petrine throne itself. But it need not. Anglican presidency of the Communion could involve presidency of a Communion council – just the one, not the several we currently have – as the key body ordering the common life of the Communion, determining the questions of common truth which transcend local cultural factors, and reminding us all of Christ as the centre of our life together.

There is no hidden agenda re the Covenant in the above paragraphs – I hope it is quite explicit! We need the Covenant – not as a stick to beat TEC with (the great fear of Covenant opponents) – but as a clarion call to TEC and Uganda (merely to cite two current examples) to make a commitment to common truth discerned by the whole Communion greater than commitments to pursue engagements with local cultural matters.

I will stop there. Much more needs to be said to work out some of the detail implied in these two points. Suffice for now to press the issue, in the light of Benedict’s offer, what does Communion mean to Anglicans? Is our Communion more important than being Anglican? (!!)

An easy lesson in creating a foreboding headline

Here beginneth the lesson:

(1) All Saints Day coming up

(2) Prepare sermon on the saints

(3) Write some interesting paragraphs in the sermon

(4) For instance this one (which I have broken down into smaller paras for ease of reading):

"One is indeed something to do with our contemporary anxieties. We need to tell the stories of the Saints to remind ourselves what is possible and within any Christian family.

"We need to tell the stories of those who have made God credible to us. And within our Anglican family we need to go on telling a few stories about those who have shown us that it is possible to lead lives of Catholic holiness even in the Communion of the See of Canterbury!

"We need to be reminded of what we have to be grateful for in the lives of those who within our communion and fellowship have lived out God's presence and made him credible here in this fellowship with these people. God knows what the future holds for any of us for any of our ecclesiastical institutions, but we can at least begin with what we can be sure of; that God has graced us with the lives of Saints; that God has been credible in this fellowship with these people.

"This church [All Saints Margaret Street London] with its very particular place in the history of the Church of England is one small but significant facet of that great mystery and that great gift. And at times when the future seems more than usually chaotic and uncertain, it doesn't hurt simply to give thanks."

(5) Do not for a nano second entertain the thought that the interest of journalists will lead to, say, 'Archbishop encourages believers with the thought that it is possible to lead lives of Catholic holiness even in the Communion of the See of Canterbury.'

(6) Hope like anything that journalists will pick out the language of the dark side of church life.

(7) Pick up your morning paper, The Times in this case, and sip your coffee with the satisfaction of knowing that you have not hoped in vain:

"Rowan Williams: Anglican future looks 'chaotic and uncertain"

(8) Ring the journalist concerned, Ruth Gledhill, and thank her for her interpretation of what you said, that in a world not knowing when and how it will come out of recession, whether Iran or North Korea or Pakistan will supply the next nuclear calamity, where the next earthquake/tsunami combo will strike, she has not been confused about the main point you were making, that the "Anglican future" is scary.

(9a) PS Give thanks to God that Ruth did not focus on the following for a headline such as "Archbishop betrays Buddhist sympathies": "It's that extraordinary realization of which we see a glimmer in the Buddhist doctrine: that the great Bodhisattvas do not enter into rest until they have brought everyone they can with them. That's why they keep coming back, being reincarnated to speak to more and more people. This, I believe is a glimmer of the same insight that the holiest, the most whole of God's children, reach that wholeness only in communion with us."

(9b) Allow only the briefest of flickers of thought that phrases like "chaotic and uncertain" might be performative language.

(9c) Forget that far away, Down Under, for example, we yearn for a different form of leadership of the Communion than represented by the language of "chaotic and uncertain".

(10) Perhaps this should be point number (1): become the Archbishop of Canterbury because people, and journalists, pay your sermons some attention!

Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Uniate dreams

Dan Martins in Confessions of a Carioca writes appreciatively of Benedict's offer, and concludes with this dream:

"What I, in my fantasies, would like to see—I may as well come out and say it—is a true Anglican Rite Church, alongside the Maronites, Melkites, Ukranians, etc., an Anglican Uniatism. In such a church, the gem that is the Anglican tradition could be allowed to shine in all its comprehensive glory, not just temporarily and partially, but indefinitely, until the Spirit works to bring all the strands of Christianity into fruitful unity. This would include permanent permission to retain a married priesthood. Yet, this church would be anchored firmly to deferential communion with the Roman Pontiff exercising his Petrine ministry of fostering unity among all the faithful in Christ, and thus be protected from evolving in ways that compromise the integrity of the faith. Now, I understand the technical reasoning behind the decision not to move in such a direction, that Anglicanism is a spinoff from the Latin Rite that needs to be reunited with its parent, and not, properly speaking, an ancient church with a patriarchate of its own. That is a completely coherent response. But it is also a failure of imagination, and possibly a deficit in the cardinal virtue of fortitude. The potential harvest of Christian unity is incredibly rich at this moment. But reaping that harvest demands not just a bold stroke like Anglicanorum Coetibus. It demands a leap of faith.

Your Holiness, carpe diem!"

I agree, Dan, such a dream would be worth exploring ... especially since earlier in your post you express the hope that evangelical Anglicans might be part of any substantive Anglican movement towards greater union with Rome. My additional dream is that Eastern Orthodoxy would make a simultaneous mover westwards. However I note Bosco Peters' point that the eastern Uniate churches are currently a stumbling block in the way of such movement.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anglican hotel will accommodate you until other guests begin to leave. No smokers allowed.

I think I have written before that my favourite one word definition of the Anglican church is "accommodation". Benedict's offer to Anglicans to leave our accommodation for his, in a Personal Ordinariate, is generous. But I have observed in several posts that it may not lead to many takers; its real significance lying in the fact that it demonstrates that where there is a will, a way can be found. My consequential question to the Anglican world at large is whether we are doing enough, measured by the clever and generous spirit of Benedict's approach, to accommodate the manifest differences among us.

Nevertheless I need to acknowledge two challenges concerning Anglican accommodation of Anglicans. One challenge was highlighted by a commenter here a week or so ago.

Challenge one is the threat that if we welcome certain guests to our hotel, others will leave. This challenge, at least to an extent, is being faced in North America and in the Church of England. Putting it a bit crudely, in the former, Liberal agenda supporters in, Conservative agenda supporters out; and vice versa; in the latter, Women bishops in, Against women bishops out; Against women bishops in, Supporters of women bishops out.

Challenge two is what "rules" lead to some guests not being welcome if they will not observe them, or to some guests being shown the door if they break them. The commenter's point was that historically the Anglican church has been most unaccommodating to certain groups: the Methodists is perhaps the best known and most significant example; closer to home in Aotearoa New Zealand, an example is the prophet Ratana and his followers who were nearly accommodated by our church, then not, and today the Ratana church is one of the stronger churches in respect of Maori affiliation.

Then, heading in a slightly different direction, but 'on topic' with Benedict's offer. There is a view abroad that an 'Anglican' is someone in Communion with the See of Canterbury. Claimants to the descriptor 'Anglican' who are not in such communion, according to this view, are not Anglicans. If this is so - it is not necessarily my own view - then Anglicans may leave the Communion for a Personal Ordinariate, but once within that fold, they will not be Anglicans. If they are not 'Roman Catholics' in the sense of ordinary members of the Roman Catholic Church worshiping in normal Catholic parishes, what are they?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The sagacity of Cranmer reminds me of Cranmer

In a post on the latest publication of detail about the Personal Ordinariate, or Anglican enclave within the Roman church, Cranmer writes some sensible words to keep us in the middle of the via media:

"And Cranmer finds it bizarre that there are some who are positively wetting themselves with infantile exuberance over the supposed creation of an Anglican branch of the Catholic Church: in case they hadn’t noticed, there has been one since AD597. And even before Pope Gregory despatched Augustine to Kent, there is evidence of Christianity in England from the late second century. England has seen eighteen hundred years of catholic Christianity, from the Ecclesia Anglorum, through the Ecclesia Anglicana to the Ecclesia Angliae. The Church in England and the Church of England have been the geographic, cultural, legal, theological, spiritual and ecclesiological cornerstone of English identity before, through and since the Reformation.

"The doctrinal history of the Church of England asserts that it is both Catholic and Reformed; Apostolic and Evangelical; Prophetic and Protestant. The Prayer Book states: ‘Whosoever will be saved, it is necessary above all things that he hold the catholic faith...’. Anglicanism is a worldwide universal communion, and repudiates some of the claims of Rome, not least its soteriology, ecclesiology, its unique claim to catholicity and and its understanding of authority. Unless salvation has ceased to be by faith; unless church governance has ceased to be synodical; unless infallible moral authority has indeed been imparted by God to one man, the doctrinal claims of the Church of England, founded on natural law through tradition, reason and experience, have as much validity now as they had four centuries ago. And let it not be forgotten that when Richard Hooker wrote The Laws Of Ecclesiastical Polity, Pope Clement VIII said of the book: "It has in it such seeds of eternity that it will abide until the last fire shall consume all learning." "

What Benedict can do, Rowan can do better

Where there is a will there is a way. Benedict wants Anglicans under the banner of Rome. He has pulled out all the stops on his constitutional organ to play as seductive a melody as possible. Here, for instance, from the just published Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, is the deal for Anglican bishops (not irregularly married or themselves former Catholic priests):

"Former Anglican Bishops
Article 11
§1. A married former Anglican Bishop is eligible to be appointed Ordinary. In such a case he is to be ordained a priest in the Catholic Church and then exercises pastoral and sacramental ministry within the Ordinariate with full jurisdictional authority.
§2. A former Anglican Bishop who belongs to the Ordinariate may be called upon to assist the Ordinary in the administration of the Ordinariate.
§3. A former Anglican Bishop who belongs to the Ordinariate may be invited to participate in the meetings of the Bishops’ Conference of the respective territory, with the equivalent status of a retired bishop.
§4. A former Anglican Bishop who belongs to the Ordinariate and who has not been ordained as a bishop in the Catholic Church, may request permission from the Holy See to use the insignia of the episcopal office."

OK. Benedict's constitutional organ has a limited range of music it can play (i.e. no married bishops with episcopal power through ordination to ordain priests). But he is pressing the range available to him to its limits here.

Talking of music, who will pay the piper? How will priests with wife and family be paid for in a Catholic context used to paying low dollars to single priests with few material needs? Try this:

"§3. When necessary, priests, with the permission of the Ordinary, may engage in a secular profession compatible with the exercise of priestly ministry (cf. CIC, can. 286)." (from Section 7)

Where there is a will there is a way. Benedict is finding that way because he wills the unity of the worldwide church. If only various Anglicans around the Communion intent on seceding from each other, suing each other, bad mouthing each other, and refusing to compromise with each other could open their eyes to the possibilities which exist when one is determined to lead the church forward in unity.

Of particular pointedness, as brought out in a response by Father John Broadhurst, reported by Ruth Gledhill, is the fact that Benedict is creating a space for a group of Anglicans for whom the Church of England is struggling to create a space:

"Father John Broadhurst said: 'I had thought the original notice from Rome was extremely generous. Today all the accompanying papers have been published and they are extremely impressive. I have been horrified that the Church of England while trying to accommodate us has consistently said we cannot have the jurisdiction and independent life that most of us feel we need to continue on our Christian pilgrimage."

Perhaps it is not too late. Perhaps Rowan can come up with a better deal. Stay Anglican. Be a "Catholic Ordinariate" in the midst of the Church of England. On full stipend. Bishops as full bishops. It could happen. Is there a will to make it so?

Monday, November 9, 2009

A shake up for theological education in NZ?

Here in Aotearoa NZ we have a complex and bewildering array of possibilities to obtain a theological qualification, and, arguably, it is even more confusing when talking about fulfilling requirements for Anglican ordination (because there are no national standards). Here I want to focus on theological qualifications, but will mention ministry formation.

We have four main university level routes to obtain a degree in theology: the University of Auckland, University of Otago (Dunedin), Carey Baptist College (Auckland), and Laidlaw College (until a few years ago known as the Bible College of New Zealand). Auckland is beginning a path towards its degree being obtainable by distance/online learning; both Carey's, Laidlaw's and Otago's degrees are obtainable in this way. The college I am currently involved with, Bishopdale Theological College in the Diocese of Nelson, offers studies towards a Laidlaw College degree. Laidlaw, incidentally, has its main campus in Auckland, and a branch campus in Christchurch.

It is also possible to obtain theological qualifications through Maori educational institutions, though my understanding of the focus of the subjects offered is that it is geared towards a Maori perspective to the extent that few non-Maori are likely to be drawn to these courses.

The Ecumenical Institute of Distance Theological Studies offers the possibility of obtaining an L. Th. via distance learning (and some block courses). This course, as best I understand its standing in relation to a 'university degree', is that it is of a university standard while not being equivalent to a degree. This is particularly worth noting because one issue in education concerns the portability of credits, and my understanding is that someone part way through an L. Th. who wished to transfer credits to a university degree poses interesting questions!

Other angles to note are Roman Catholic education, some of which falls within the University of Auckland, and some of which, for priests in training, is connected with Australia. The latter country also figures in relation to the University of Otago which offers entry to a Doctor of Ministry degree accredited by the Melbourne College of Divinity.

From a diocesan ministry education perspective I note that there is no nationally accessible certificate or diploma level qualification below the level of university degree studies, save for EFM (Education for Ministry). I mention this because such qualification might be accessible time and fees wise in a way in which university level courses are not. For example, typically a person undertaking a distance university course for a semester requires $500-$600 and 6-8 hours available time per week. This is off-putting for people with tight household budgets and full-time work.

Finally, from a strictly Anglican perspective, our residential college, St John's College (Auckland) has developed a Diploma of Anglican Studies which is a ministry formation course, and Bishopdale Theological College is developing a proposal for a Graduate Diploma in ministry formation. Among differences between the two is that the former, for the most part, will be a pre-ordination qualification, obtainable through full-time residential study, while the latter will be a post-ordination qualification obtainable through block courses along with active reflection on the practice of ministry between block courses. Perhaps in this same paragraph we could mention the Master of Ministry programme offered by Otago for people who have been in ministry for a few years - a popular programme across a number of denominations.

Already I can imagine a commenter pointing out something significant I have missed!

In the midst of this description of the 'formal' side of theological education and ministry formation, another narrative can be told, for both Pakeha and Maori, of a trend away from national centres of ministry education to localized training in regions. Thus various dioceses are showing an interest in local initiatives which could lead to locally provided qualifications (with or without NZ Qualifications Authority accreditation).

Then there is the statistical narrative of which of the above institutions are growing in enrolments, which are stable, and which are declining ... rumour has it that X is struggling, Y is facing a government imposed cap in numbers, and so forth.

Is it time for a shake up for theological education in NZ?

Here is a quick thought:

How about two national theological providers: an Auckland College of Theology (incorporating all current Auckland degree providers, and diploma providers) and an Otago College of Divinity (incorporating the EIDTS L.Th.)? Two are proposed because a bit of competition is a good thing for the avoidance of complacency.

Each College would offer possibilities for residential and for online learning, from at least degree level to Ph. D level. Each would have flexibility to provide for shades of difference in perspective (evangelical/pentecostal/Roman Catholic/etc)

Each College could develop a 'special interest' such as a Master of Ministry, or a Diploma of Ministry Formation.

At least one College would provide opportunity for Certificate and Diploma level studies below university level (in respect of costs and of time commitment). Anglican and Roman Catholic dioceses, Presbyterian presbyteries, and the like would have a welcome invitation to develop local courses within a framework set and supervised by that College towards certificate and diploma qualifications.

Proliferation of accredited providers would cease. Portability of credits obtained would be enhanced. Other advantages would accrue.

How and when might we talk about this at a national level?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NZ's First Blogging Bishop

It is now public news that Archdeacon Kelvin Wright, Vicar of Roslyn, Dunedin, will be the next and ninth Bishop of Dunedin.

This is outstanding news for our church. Kelvin will be an excellent bishop. Read a news release here.

He will also be (as far as I am aware) the first blogging bishop in our church. His site, Available Light, is superb. Kelvin is a master of English prose. It is always a pleasure to read what he writes, and often his writing is illustrated by the most wonderful photos, taken by Kelvin himself.

As bishop he may not be able to post as frequently, but I hope he entertains and informs us to some manageable degree. Traveling around his beautiful diocese he should be able to come up with exquisite photos!

The moral equivalent of climate change

Speaking to Theos, a UK public theology think tank, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has given (as we might expect) an outstanding lecture, 'Religion in Twenty-First Century Britain', excerpts of which are reproduced below. A report from Theos is here, and towards the bottom of that report you can click on a link which takes you to a Word document transcript of the lecture. Sacks touches on various themes dear to my thinking, including the paradox that Western civilization has a death wish which it is fulfilling by failing to reproduce sufficient children to carry its values forward:

"God is back and Europe as a whole still doesn’t get it.

"It is our biggest single collective cultural and intellectual blind spot. In fact - and here is an extreme example but it is an extraordinary one - some people today who are most convinced that religion is irrational and altogether outmoded, are nonetheless queuing up to get their children into faith schools. And they still don’t fully understand the contradiction.

"The survival of religion in the twenty-first century cuts across some of our most basic intellectual assumptions. After all, how can anyone still need religion if: to explain the universe we have science; to control the universe we have technology; to negotiate power we have politics; to achieve prosperity we have economics. If you’re ill you go to a doctor, not a priest. If you feel guilty, you go to a psycho-therapist, not to confession. If you are depressed you take Prozac and not the book of Psalms. And if you seek salvation you go to our new cathedrals, namely shopping centres, where you can buy happiness at extremely competitive prices.

"So why has religion survived? The answer is – to cut through several volumes of potential literature - that homo-sapiens is the meaning-seeking animal."

The Chief Rabbi offers a lovely note about philosophy, science and faith:

"As we know, there are some people who believe still in the twenty-first century that God is an old man, with a long white beard and his name is Charles Darwin. Now, people think that Darwin refuted religion. As a matter of fact, Darwin did nothing of the kind. What Darwin refuted was Aristotelian science, on which a great deal of Christian theology, what is called Natural Theology, was based. Aristotle believed that there were purposes in nature, and by studying nature you could discover the purpose in things. That never was a Jewish belief – it happens to be a belief of a certain kind of synthesis between Hellenism and Christianity. So, actually, the new science is more of a challenge to a certain kind of philosophy than it is to religious belief. And I don’t know anyone who has said that."

Jonathan Sacks then argues, in the main body of the lecture, that four features of the 21st century do not yield answers to the search for meaning, and concludes:

"So, if we search for meaning, we will not in the twenty-first century find it in the market, in the state, in science or in philosophy. It is that principled abdication of the search for meaning by the four great institutions of modernity that has created the space which religion has returned to fill, and which indeed it always did fill."

Sacks notices a remarkable parallel with the ancient world of Greece,

"Europe, at least the indigenous population of Europe, is dying, exactly as Polybius said about ancient Greece in the third pre-Christian century. The century that is intellectually the closest to our own – the century of the sceptics and the epicureans and the cynics. Polybius wrote this:

"The fact is, that the people of Hellas had entered upon the false path of ostentation, avarice and laziness, and were therefore becoming unwilling to marry, or if they did marry, to bring up the children born to them; the majority were only willing to bring up at most one or two.

"That is why Greece died. That is where Europe is today."

Along the way Sacks offers this brilliant observation about the current era of change in Western civilization:

"We are undergoing the moral equivalent of climate change and no one is talking about it. Albert Camus once said that the only serious philosophical question is “Why should I not commit suicide?” I think he was wrong. The only serious philosophical question is “Why should I have a child?” And our culture is not giving a very easy answer to that question." (Italics mine).

Towards the end, Sacks observes,

"At the moment, the fastest growing religions in the world are those who take an adversarial stance towards society, religions that challenge liberal democratic freedoms, and that is bad news.

"Worse than that, sadly, is that in various parts of the world, political conflicts - conflicts that were once clearly political - have now become religionized. And once that happens they become insoluble because compromise in politics is a virtue and in religion it is a vice. All peace depends on compromise and that is why peace comes to seem to some religious groups to be a form of betrayal which is why peacemakers get assassinated. And therefore I believe we have no choice but to articulate an intellectually open and humble and tolerant religiosity as the only strong enough defence for some of the religiosity that is coming our way with the force of a hurricane."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The crucified Anglican and other notes

Cranmer of the Blog (not of the Reformation) offers this definition of being Anglican, within a post about David Cameron doing God:

"Being Anglican can be one of the most difficult Christian paths to follow: one often feels that one is neither one thing nor another; as was once observed, that one is somehow 'crucified between the two thieves’ of the Puritans and the Papists; suspended between doctrinal fanaticism and superstitious ritualism."

Recently I had opportunity to be in Auckland to speak to their Post Ordination Training group at Vaughan Park on An Evangelical Ecclesiology in an Anglican context. Fortunately I was not crucified ... indeed I was much encouraged to be with a vibrant and sizable group of fledgling ordained ministers (about 20).

Visiting Auckland and talking around the traps underlined, however, my current grizzle with our church: it takes far too long to confirm the nomination of a new bishop. It is almost a month since the election of the next Bishop of Dunedin, but the news is not public yet. This weekend the Diocese of Auckland are electing a new bishop. So in about a month's time we will know ... my view is that our church should move to change our electoral process with canons appropriate to the modern age: (1) a closing date for proposed names to the synod, say, six weeks before the electoral synod; (2) publication of the names being proposed (as Dunedin did not, but Auckland has done on its website); (3) publication of the nominee of the Synod within 24 hours of the close of the synod; (4) if the name is not subsequently confirmed by the bishops and members of General Synod, so be it!

One point about opening the process up is that the current process contributes to a form of clericalism: I know that many clergy in our church know the name of the next Bishop of Dunedin - we are a gossipy lot. Few if any lay people (outside of the Dunedin synod itself) will know this information. It's time for a change and the change should be inclusive of our church as composed of lay as well as clergy.

I suppose I might be crucified for grizzling!

Finally, speaking of bishops, a lot of Christians in Aotearoa NZ are concerned with the recent prominence being given to the most notorious bishop in our fair country, Bishop Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church (which, for the record, has nothing to do with any traditional episcopal church). Recently he conducted a ceremony of loyalty to himself in which some 700 men promised expressions of loyalty to him ranging from standing when he and his wife enter the room to not speaking ill of them in public. For the privilege of doing this they paid a sum of money, and the spectators at this event also paid a sum of money for the pleasure of watching this bizarre event.

As I listen around I think the concerns include these: care for those caught up in Destiny and unnecessary demands being made on them 'in the name of Christ'; alarm that in the name of Christian ministry an ego can be inflated as big as Bishop Tamaki's; sadness that this peculiar approach to Christianity damages the honour of Christ in this country. But there is a plus side: dinner table conversation here these days very quickly opens up opportunities to speak about our faith!

NOT QUITE FINALLY The Anglican Church of Uganda, I am pleased to say, has posted a statement regarding the draconian anti-homosexuality bill before Uganda's parliament. You can read it here. I look forward to its final position statement on the matter, which surely will be against the bill, because this statement says the church is against the death penalty!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Anglican identity lies in our theology

Where does Anglican identity lie? In Rome (when all is said and done)? In Geneva (or its modern analogy, Sydney)? In Canterbury (yes, deliberate double entendre there for Kiwi readers!*)?

John Richardson (focused on his own C of E) offers an excellent reflection on this and related questions in a talk he has published called, "Evangelicals and Catholics working together —where now, after October 20th?".

Here is an excerpt:

"The Church of England has a theological identity. It is established in its formularies and in its historical development. Above all, it is established in its commitment to test all things by Scripture. Surely none of us can object to that. The question we face is how we come to terms with it, and how we come to terms with the disregard of these principles by so many in our church today.


"The challenge of the hour, as I see it, is for us to recover the vision of being theological Anglicans. Some of us will find we cannot do that —I think that is as true for some evangelicals as it is for some catholics. If that is so, then we must face the facts honestly and courageously.

"But many —hopefully most —of us will discover that being a member of the Church of England is what we want. If that is the case, then we do not need to ask what we have in common — we will discover what we have in common.

"Our challenge will be, having these things in common, and truly being members of the Church of England, we call our church back to its proper theological roots and to its true mission."

*Here in NZ we have a province in the South Island called Canterbury which, with a portion of the West Coast of the South Island, constitutes the Diocese of Christchurch.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Anglican and Roman kerfuffles

A quick note ... Preludium, Thinking Anglicans and co have noted in the past week or so the kerfuffle in the C of E re a committee seemingly recommending that a decision of the GS re women bishops be overturned. Then there are reports that behind the walls of the Vatican the curia are getting to work on Benedict's offer, concerned that it means this, that, and the other divisive possibilities, especially re commitment to priestly celibacy.

One response, common in both situations, is a call to be staunch: stick with the decision, even if people are upset.

Perhaps. But I wonder if a deeper issue churches face in these situations is unity. The majority decision of a synod may be right. The determination of a bishop or pope to lead their flock in a given direction may be correct. But should 'majority rule' rule in every situation? Does a leader's authority to lead override considerations of popular mandate and support? We can go to the history books and find situations in which a stubborn maintenance of a majority decision, in the long run, was the right thing to do. But there are also times when such adherence leads to civil wars, balkanisation of an entity into fractured parts and the like.

What occasions are the desire to have women bishops in the CofE, to admit married Anglican priests to the Roman priesthood, and to canonically affirm partnered gay clergy in Anglican churches of the Communion: push ahead, whatever the consequences? Or, pause for a long cup of tea?

I am not saying, e.g. re the English situation, that the committee is right and the whole of its GS wrong, rather offering my sympathies to people who clearly are deeply concerned about holding their churches together in the face of extraordinary challenges.