Tuesday, June 1, 2010
How many Holy Spirits are there?
Towards the end of a CNN report on the ABC's Pentecost letter is this section in which Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut says,
"Bishop Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut called Williams' statement "significant" but "not as punitive as it might have been."
He said it was an affirmation of the three moratoria, and he made clear that other churches, not just the U.S. Episcopal Church, will be affected for having broken promises as well.
"Many churches across the Anglican Communion because of conscience or their belief in what the holy spirit is up to in their local context have lived beyond the moratoria," Douglas said. "While the moratoria are still before us, such actions do have some ramifications. ... If anything, I question the efficacy of the moratoria."
He added, "It's another expression of how we're trying to live with our differences with integrity and not alienate one another. I'm still convinced there's so much more that unites us." (From here. H/T MidWestConservative)
I do not know Ian Douglas but everything I read about him suggests he is a shining star in the firmament of TEC. He is a learned man, and, he is, or has been, and may yet be still, a TEC rep on the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.
Committed to integrity, not alienating one Anglican from another, and convinced that much unites Anglicans, nevertheless Ian Douglas here gives expression to a demanding conception of the workings of the Holy Spirit. So demanding that I suggest this conception raises the question whether there is more than one Holy Spirit.
"Many churches across the Anglican Communion because of their conscience or their belief in what the Holy Spirit is up to in their local context have lived beyond the moratoria"
(I blame CNN not +Ian for no caps for Holy Spirit in the CNN article. 'Moratoria' refers to the requests in the Windsor Report that uninvited episcopal incursions from one jurisdiction to another, same sex blessings, and ordinations of same sex partnered persons to the episcopacy cease for the time being).
What does the Holy Spirit get up to in 'local contexts'? Implicit here, reading against the back story of developments 'beyond the moratoria' in North America, is this understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit:
(1) The Holy Spirit is leading TEC to affirm a new understanding of the holiness of sexual relationships previously unknown in the universal church, and ahead of leading other churches with the same guidance (i.e. other Anglican churches, Eastern Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic church),
(2) This new understanding through the Holy Spirit is likely a new understanding all churches will catch up with in the course of time (or, alternatively, will be revealed to be in rebellion against); but certainly it is an understanding coherent with a specific development in the local context of North America, state and social support for same sex partnerships.
(3) Nevertheless the Holy Spirit is not at work in the formation of ACNA (another North American development 'beyond moratoria') since TEC, astute at recognising the work of the Holy Spirit in new ways in local contexts, is vigorously opposed to Communion recognition of this phenomenon.
(4) Nor is the Holy Spirit at work in all local contexts in which the church believes it to be at work, so developments in Africa, in which draconian legal measures are variously proposed or implemented (against same sex partnerships, such as a recent imprisonment in Malawi of a couple followed by release upon outcry), are expressions of evil injustice, not of the Holy Spirit working locally.
In short, implicit in what +Ian Douglas says is this understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding God's people: the Holy Spirit can reveal universal truth (the things which unite us, the injustices which all cry out against with one voice, false claims made by churches) and local truth (the things which are right for our church in this place and time, even though not also discerned by other churches). Further, the Holy Spirit is at work in guiding TEC so it knows these truths, both universal and local truths, when other churches do not know them. Thus the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Southern Baptist churches (and, we may mention, ACNA) working in the same local context as TEC, but determining different responses to the local context, logically, are either not hearing the Holy Spirit (a wilful and serious act of disobedience), or are being guided differently by the Holy Spirit.
Now, it is a simple truth of Christian life that on many matters the Holy Spirit does guide us differently. Thus I may be guided towards overseas medical missionary service while you may be guided into a teaching career in local high schools. Mary is led by the Spirit to belong to the church to the south of her home, but her neighbour Bill is led by the Spirit to the church to the north. And Mary's church in its local context may be guided by the Holy Spirit to focus its mission on the needs of children while Bill's church may be guided to focus on the care of the elderly. On many matters the church (i.e. all Christians) believe the Holy Spirit works in diverse ways, the great mission of God to perform. In the midst of these matters is an indifference (adiaphora) to doctrinal or ethical concerns.
But what of doctrinal or ethical concerns when they impinge on the life of the church. Can the one Spirit guide different churches to believe different things? No. There is one Spirit and one mind of Christ. The promise in the gospel reading for Trinity Sunday just past is that the Spirit will guide believers into 'all truth' (John 16:13), not into 'multiple truths'. That there are differences between churches on doctrinal and ethical matters is a question of discernment of the truth. Some of us are discerning the Spirit correctly, some of us are not. Reading Scripture, the inspired Word of God, our differences in interpretation are not a set of equally valid readings, but a set of readings simultaneously claiming to correctly discern the Spirit's revelation of the mind of Christ.
The point, therefore, about "belief in what the Holy Spirit is up to in their local context" is that this is belief about what the one Spirit is up to in that local context. If another church has a different belief, then both cannot be right. TEC in North America, if guided by the Holy Spirit, is simultaneously calling into question the discernment of all the other churches which disagree with its belief in what the Holy Spirit is up to.
That is, though +Ian Douglas says what he says in a disarming and mild manner, the concrete truth claim within his words to the media is as extraordinary a truth claim as any church can ever make: we know the truth, other churches do not; we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit on this doctrinal or that ethical matter, other churches do not.
Enter ++Rowan Williams. As good a theologian, I wager, as +Ian Douglas. As he leads the Communion's reflections on TEC's claims to truth, ++Rowan understands the extraordinary nature of these claims. Rightly he asks of the Communion: are these truth claims being made by TEC also being discerned universally across the Communion? The answer is 'no'. Despite giving quite a significant amount of time, as well as space (in meetings, conferences) for consideration of TEC's truth claims, the Communion, itself a discerning-of-the-Holy-Spirit body like TEC, does not share TEC's discernment. Hence the appropriateness of a 'Pentecost' letter calling time on this period of discernment. The Holy Spirit, the letter is saying, is non-contradictory. The demanding conception of the Holy Spirit implicit in +Ian Douglas' expression of TEC's understanding of the Holy Spirit's contextual work in North America is too demanding. It collapses under the weight of what it is made to bear.
But then, I could be wrong, along with ++Rowan ... there is an alternative explanation of the apparent contradictions involved: there is more than one Holy Spirit!?