Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seasonal Greetings: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany

On whatever day you read this, through this period of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany celebrations, may your joys be many, disappointments be few, and sorrows be seasoned with hope and love.

Posting over the next few weeks will be light - probably just pointing to significant Anglican news, should anything emerge - as fits the season. Readers have other things to do (well, perhaps some stuck in snow in Europe and North America have little to do!), and this writer needs to write some other things when not soaking up the sun :)

Best wishes, and thanks for reading through 2010.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The end is near but what will emerge is unknown

A few days before the first Christmas only a few knew anything was going to happen of note, and no one knew that the end of an era and beginning of an aeon would take place in Bethlehem. The end was near and what would emerge was unknown.

Reading a little about Luther last night reminds me that at another point in history, in the history of the church, one man made a huge difference. Not only did he trigger the European Reformation, he spawned a global church (these days, set of churches) bearing his name. In a lesser way, Cranmer became a towering figure in the change from the catholic Church of England to the catholic and reformed Church of England. Before each character arrived on the scene, the end was near for the old order, and what would emerge was unknown.

Are we at a similar point in the history of Anglicanism? The order we know is about to become the old order. New wine can only be contained in new wineskins. I raise this question - not the first time an Anglican has raised it since 2003 - because I am deeply troubled that I cannot raise the question of Anglican unity here without response that 'unity' is 'imposition of unity' or 'institutional unity' and we do not want that. To say we are 'Anglican' yet have no shared enthusiasm across the 'Communion' for Anglican 'unity' is, frankly, a travesty in respect of New Testament teaching on the church as the body of Christ. To raise barriers to progress to unity by, say, invoking the spectre of an unholy trinity of an Anglican version of papacy, curia, and magisterium is a failure to engage with the challenge of being one Anglican Communion. To continue to assert national sovereignty of member churches of the Communion is to work with half a loaf of ecclesiology: the other half is true interdependence in the body of Christ. To claim that there is only one church of Christ (true) and then offer nothing more than 'prayer' to progress the unity of the visible expressions in our world of that one church is - I think, but I think St Paul would agree -  a loss of nerve, vision, and will. My question is this: can we expect a Communion of churches to remain intact when it is both generally divided and even divided on what it means to be united? With no shared vision of our future together why would we expect to remain a Communion?

Here I am proposing that the present Anglican Communion, visibly falling apart, will continue to do so unless it finds the will to do otherwise. The end is near but what will emerge is unknown. My surmise is that a Luther or a Cranmer is going to arise in the next fifty years. There will be a new wineskin. Even my musing about 'Three Federations' a while ago was a musing about one old wineskin transmuting into three old wineskins.

Note carefully, however, the difference between Luther and Cranmer and the new wineskins that followed them in Germany and England. Before the former there was no Lutheran church and after there was. Before the latter there was one form of the Church of England and after (and after the temporary Mary Tudor reverse) there was another form of the English church. Will a new Anglican Communion emerge, or another church altogether?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It is a gift of God, do not strive for it. Yeah, right!

Justice: all too often we fall into the trap of thinking and acting as if it is our responsibility to work for justice. Justice, however, is a gift of God for which our prayers must never waver.

Healing: all too often we fall into the trap of thinking and acting as if it is our responsibility to work for healing.
Healing, however, is a gift of God for which our prayers must never waver.

"All too often we fall into the trap of thinking and acting as if it is our responsibility to hold the Church together. Unity, however, is a gift of God lived into as we are faithful to God’s redemptive mission for a hurting, broken, and alienated world. It is in our common service to God’s mission beyond the Church that we will better understand our unity “en Christo.” In these discussions let us keep the cart behind the horse. Our common life in Christ is for the sake of God’s mission; by God’s grace we understand the unity of the Church to follow." (From here).

"Our unity does not belong to us, but is a gift for which Christ prayed to his Father, and for which our prayers must never waver. We are called to love and honor one other as possessing part of the Divine Truth, the wholeness of which will be revealed in Christ’s blessed kingdom." (From here).

No, I am not convinced that unity is something we pray for but do not work for, which we assume will follow when we dive into mission without first asking whether it is a common mission.

In Scripture we read this:

"... walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called ... eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit ... And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God ... Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, ... makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:1-17)

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ ... that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel ... So if there is any encouragement in Christ ... complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." (Philippians 1:27-2:3)

There is a clear and unmistakeable duty laid on those whom claim to be in Christ to work with the Spirit of God on being one in Christ, of one mind of Christ. Naturally we should pray for unity - it is not easy - joining our prayer with the Lord's prayer ut unim sint. But it is an easy pass to ascribe unity to the area of 'gift of God' no further work needed here. Imagine saying that justice or healing were also in that area!

The two citations above are from two responses to a challenge posed by Christopher Wells and Leander Harding at the beginning of an online forum offered by The Living Church. Here is their question:

"A number of leaders in the Episcopal Church express a desire to encourage the minority, reassuring us that our presence and voices are both welcome and necessary as the loyal opposition. But what would real encouragement look like? Granting that we cannot easily resolve our disagreements at present, is there nonetheless some gesture that might begin to restore a shared sense of identity and common purpose?"

Their whole post is here. Over successive days running up to Christmas they will post responses to their proposal from a variety of leading thinkers within TEC.

My concern from Down Under is that, again, we see the cleavage between TEC and many Anglicans around the globe. We cannot even agree that unity is something we might bother to do more than pray for. If we do not even have unity about unity (so to speak!), what a fine mess we are in ...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Correspondence between Earth and Heaven?

Why do I believe in the God of Jesus Christ? Many reasons, one of which is the sense that the experience of beauty on earth corresponds to existence of another reality. That reality both creating beauty and offering the fulfilment of the aching desire that beauty creates. There is correspondence between earth and heaven where God with Christ is beginning and end, alpha and omega, first and last.

Last night the grab factor which beauty has - grabbing us through our senses and transporting us out of the ordinary - took hold of me when in the midst of a very fine Carols and Lessons service, one of the musical parts was a recording of Unto us a Child is Born from Handel's Messiah. The extraordinary beauty of the music hit me - again as if for the first time - and reminded me of one of the reasons I am not an atheist!

Here is a recording - I think it better without distracting video of singers and musicians:

Of course just about any part of the Messiah does this particular trick of transporting to heaven!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Oddly No Covenant?

John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar rightly draws attention to the latest round of reasons to say No to the Covenant from the No Covenant coalition blog Comprehensive Unity. 'Rightly' because these ten reasons are not very good reasons. Here I attend to one which I find particularly odd: unevidenced, and highly ironic.

It is no. 2 on the list: "Under the Covenant, churches will be inhibited from undertaking new evangelical or mission initiatives for fear of offending other Communion churches and becoming embroiled in the disciplinary mechanisms set up by the Covenant."

Interestingly this reason, unlike the other nine, has no additional unemboldened comment.
Perhaps this reason needs no further comment; or, perhaps this reason is so vacuous, no additional comment can be given!

Nevertheless this reason for saying 'No' is worth examining: on the face of it, if this reason is based on truth about the Covenant, then the Covenant is truly a terrible thing.

There is, in fact, no evidence for this reason for saying 'No' to the Covenant. Further, it is highly ironic: 'disciplinary mechanisms' speaks of a Communion with rules. But every member church of the Communion has rules. Every member church gets on with mission and evangelism within the framework of these rules. Are the No Covenanters saying, or trying to say that rules in a church or Communion necessarily inhibit mission? This is a very odd position to take for an Anglican group. If member churches having rules does not impede mission, why should a Communion having rules impede mission?

In any case, this reason skips a step in Covenant thinking! The Covenant is not concerned with fear of giving offence, but with common accord as member churches of one Communion. The only fear a member church need have in respect of the Covenant is the fear of stepping out of common accord, for instance on the meaning of mission, or understanding of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To step out of common accord could be to risk a member church asking a question as to whether this step is consistent with shared Anglican understanding of mission and gospel. Actually, there is nothing to fear here, because we would want to be in common accord with one another in a Communion, wouldn't we?

You can see the response coming a mile off: but, but, but, Anglican diversity and all that, we might not be in common accord as we do our thing and they do their thing; we have the Spirit, they have the Spirit, the Spirit can lead in two different directions at once, but that blasted Covenant will set up a perilous situation where diversity will become uniformity, and the Spirit will not be monotoned down to a shadow of its former rainbow self ...

In other words, the real reason for saying 'No' to the Covenant is that we do not agree that Anglicans should be accountable to one another for assertions as to what Anglican mission means because whatever our life in common means, it does not mean accountability for our common life.

As often asked by me on this blog, do we want to be a Communion with things in common or a Something in which diversity knows no bounds?

Those wishing for the former should welcome the Covenant as yet another bond. Those wishing for the latter should be saying 'No' to Communion fullstop.

The Appointed Readings

Okay, I preached today on Matthew 1:18-25, and felt emboldened to explain at the beginning why we were having this reading on the Sunday before Christmas rather than Christmas Eve or Day itself - thank you Bosco Peters for that explanation in a comment on my post below.

I appreciate what I have been learning from the discussion on that thread. In summary:

(1) It is a difficult to draw up any scheme for systematically reading the Bible, and I could be more appreciative of the work which goes into various lectionaries adopted by our church (including the RCL), including the fact of the great lectionary tradition which lies behind (and is included within) current lectionaries.

(2) Where readings are omitted from lectionaries (as in a 2:1, 7-9, 15-16 type reading) the reasons may have nothing to do with an ecclesial version of political correctness, and may have everything to do with the lectioners (is that the right term?) determining that, within congregational worship, that reading may be smoother, occasion less puzzlement and, obviously, be shorter, than if 2:1-16 were set down as the reading.

(3) Not a new learning, but reinforced here, the great achievement of lectionaries, and a special achievement in our era through the RCL for Sunday and daily eucharists is the uniting of Christians around the globe in reading together from the one Scripture.

I remain, however, a questioner if not a critic! Take the (hypothetical) example above or the real RCL example of Sundays 10, 17 and 24 July 2011 where successively the gospel readings are Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, 13:24-30, 36-43 and 13:31-33, 44-52. The first choice is logical inasmuch as it runs the Parable of the Sower and the interpretation of the parable together; ditto the second with the Parable of the Weeds and its interpretation. Likewise the second set: a sequence of four parables plus Jesus lovely saying about scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven. But notice two things. First, this is not what Matthew himself has done in laying out the sequence of his parabolic material in Matthew 13. Secondly, omitted in this set of three Sunday readings is Matthew 13:10-17, and 13:34-35. The first is a difficult reading in any preacher's estimation, and the second is a kind of footnote. Have they been omitted from the whole year? (Sorry, dear readers, no time today to look through the other 49 Sundays to see if it occurs). It looks like preachers and readers of Matthew throughout the world are being given a pass on confronting Matthew 13:10-17. Even if a reader tells me this reading (or 13:34-35) is found on another Sunday at another part of the year, there is still a question about why these passages, crucial to our understanding of Jesus' teaching through parables, are not found in their natural Matthean context.

Naturally a question arises about what it means to be in a church such as my own which specifies in Sunday prayer book services that 'the appointed readings follow', that is, that the readings set down for the day according to the lectionary ought to be read (albeit several legitimated possibilities then could apply). Would it be disobedience to add in Matthew 13:10-17 on one of these Sundays?

More seriously, my reflections at this point on the lectionary are focused on 'the appointed readings', and include these questions (for the whole of ACANZP to consider):

(a) Should we have a church requirement which does not conform to widely practiced reality, or should reality be made to conform to requirement? Please note here that I am not talking about how most in our church follow the lectionary (to some degree) and a few do not. I am raising the question about the fact that (in my experience, across more than one diocese) parish churches following the lectionary (i.e. to one degree or another) mostly do not have four readings (psalm, OT, Ep, Gospel). Most (in my experience) have the OT or Ep and the Gospel: two readings! Some, perhaps with a handy choir to help, will have three readings: psalm and OT or Ep, and the Gospel, or OT, Ep and the Gospel. Rare is the quadrilection (is that a word?).

A further note: I observe these things about the lectionary not being followed with a great deal of sympathy, not as some kind of liturgical 'policeman'. In my experience of being Anglican in Kiwiland I cannot think of one church which actually follows the lectionary as prescribed in every service. All may be well, for instance, with the morning eucharist, but the evening readings are shortened. Usually the readings are followed but, today there is a baptism - something has to give, and it is one of the readings. All such decisions by vicars are understandable, but strictly speaking they are not according to 'the appointed readings follow'! Hence my next question:

(b) Is it more helpful to have a prescriptive rule (i.e. the literal force of the blunt words, 'the appointed readings follow') or a permissive rule (i.e. the effective manner in which the rule is treated in practice in many parishes)? I am sympathetic to a permissive interpretation because getting parish worship 'right' is very, very complicated these days, and flexibility around a fixed framework is needed according to the challenges of the moment.

(Final note: I acknowledge that when we raise the question of 'appointed readings' we have an additional problem in our church of 'which appointed readings?' as there are so many of them. Let that one alone for now: the questions framed above would remain even if we had only one lectionary to follow).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Anglican Down Under likes this news

Is it presumptuous to think that God might like this news too?

Lectionary Teaser

This Sunday I, and many others, will preach according to the RCL readings. The gospel is Matthew 1:18-25. Whoops, that's the reading for Christmas Day, isn't it? No. I have checked again: that is the reading for Sunday 19 December, 2010. But shouldn't it be a Christmas Day reading only and not six days beforehand? Fair point, but do not worry, there are fine readings from Luke's Gospel for Christmas Eve/Day services. Wait. Just hold on a minute there. I am sure this is the Year of Matthew (beginning with Advent, not on 1 January 2011). Surely there would be a Matthew reading for Christmas Day in the Year of Matthew? Well, there is: if you have Morning Prayer. What? Matthew-without-eucharist or eucharist-without-Matthew? Looks like it.

Seems strange, but I suppose it is one of those quirky things whereby in the Year of Matthew there is not a Matthew gospel reading on Christmas Day but in the Year of Luke there is a Matthew reading. Er, stupid. In the Year of Luke (last year) it was Luke readings all the way through: last Sunday before Christmas, Christmas Day.

Let me be clear here for local readers: as a paid up licensed clergyperson of ACANZP which includes rubrics about 'appointed' readings in its liturgies, I am a supporter of lectionary adherence. But I struggle to understand some things about the RCL readings. I do not understand some of its omissions: they look, for all the world, like 'politically correct' decisions (but that is a topic for discussion on another day). Here, I do not understand why the Year of Matthew does not drive forward the gospel reading chosen for one of the great festivals of the church calendar.

I get it, that on Christmas Eve/Day, Luke's Gospel provides a longer birth narrative yielding a better set of consistent (from one gospel) readings than Matthew's briefer account. I understand the choice for Luke year on year. But I think it is a poor consequence that in the Year of Matthew pretty much every preacher is going to feel a need to explain why Matthew 1:18-25 is the reading for six days before Christmas. When we explain we lecture, when we lecture we lose the attention of our congregations.

Who is in charge of revising the RCL?

It is not our General Synod.

What? There is something in the life of our church in which we are beholden to decisions made elsewhere in the world? Quelle horreur! How unAnglican to submit to a written document controlled by others beyond the shores of our fair islands and the control of our General Synod.

Advent (or Early Christmas) Blessings!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anglicans should take care about 'new Truth'

I am intrigued that in the post below I am taken to task by fellow Anglicans for criticising a serving bishop of our church for embracing the possibility of 'new Truth' according to his understanding of the meaning of Jesus' words in John 16:12-13a: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth."

Anglicanism did not begin with the Reformation but it has been distinctively shaped by it. The Reformation was nothing more or less than a resounding 'No' (let me repeat that, 'No') to 'new Truth' developed through centuries of interpreting Scripture to the point where the church believed or behaved in ways contrary to Scripture: some excessive forms of veneration of Mary, indulgences, defining the mystery of the eucharist in terms of transsubstantiation, investing ultimate ecclesial power in the hands of one papal office, masses for the dead. That kind of thing.

I suggest that the Roman response to this 'No' vindicates the Reformation for close inspection of this response is renewed attention to Scriptural arguments for the matters on which the Reformation theologians said, 'This is contrary to Scripture.' We who stand on the Reformation side of things may be unpersuaded by Roman arguments from Scripture, but we can recognise that honour and respect is being paid to Scripture by mounting such arguments.

The question for any Anglican bishop, whether a +John Robinson or a +Gene Robinson, is whether their claims to the veracity of 'new Truth' pass the basic Anglican test of whether or not these claims are contrary to Scripture.

Incidentally, it is unpersuasive that any Anglican seeking to move our understanding of Scripture begins their case with the words 'I take this to mean'. The very least we owe ourselves as Anglicans is reading Scripture together and coming to a new or renewed understanding as a community of readers.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

+Robinson reveals reason for rift in Communion

+Gene Robinson has been writing on the Bible and homosexuality in The Washington Post. The first in the series is here, and from there you can link to the succeeding posts. In this post I do not want to engage with +Robinson's interpretation of seven 'texts of terror' concerning homosexuality per se: the ground he traverses is well worn, and the manner of his walk (the arguments he offers) offers nothing new to the ongoing debate about these texts. But I do want to engage in one argument he offers which, in turn, I argue goes to the core of the division in the Communion. This is what he writes in his first post:

"In John's Gospel, which is largely made up of the conversation Jesus has with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus says: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16: 12-13a) I take this to mean that Jesus is saying to the disciples, "Look, for a bunch of uneducated and rough fishermen, you haven't done too badly. In fact, you will do amazing things with the rest of your lives. But don't think for a minute that God is done with you - or done with believers who will come after you. There is much more that God wants to teach you, but you cannot handle it right now. So, I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into that new Truth." "

At the core of the division is the question of truth: around what understanding of truth are we united, that is, what is the basis of our fellowship? In a sense the Covenant addresses a subsidiary question: in what manner will we address differences in understanding of truth? The primary question for Anglicans is 'What is truth?' The normative answer for Anglicans has been 'the Word of God, written for us in Scripture, clarified through tradition and reason.' An answer, incidentally, which is the same for all Christians, with some important differences between us in the content of 'Christian truth' arising from how we define Scripture, tradition and reason (e.g. differences between Protestants, Romans, and Eastern Orthodox in the canon of Scripture).

Also 'normatively' Christians have been very, very wary of claims to 'new Truth' beyond the pages of Scripture, pointing to salutary lessons from church history when our ancestors in the faith have gone astray.

But here we have one of the leading bishops in one of the chief protagonist churches in the Communion proclaiming the virtue of 'new Truth'. (Note also the blithe manner in which +Gene moves from 'all truth' to 'new Truth', unconstrained by the possibility that 'all truth' is deeper insight into the truth revealed in Scripture!).

It is quite reasonable, sober, and sensible for Anglicans around the globe to be very concerned that, when all is said and done, TEC is on a pilgrimage to 'new Truth' and not on a path of ever deeper, ever renewed understanding of plain, traditional, Scriptural orthodoxy, confined to the bounds of Scripture and our creedal understanding of Scripture. A new approach to homosexuality is simply one expression of the will to embrace 'new Truth.' The big picture here of Anglican alarm is not the issue of homosexuality, but the lack of will to commit to faithful orthodoxy.

What is the nature of the truth around which we fellowship as Anglicans in the Communion? Is it the old, old story of Jesus and his gospel, or is it the new Truth of +Robinson and his peers? It cannot be both. We are in a rift because truth is non-contradictory. The future of the Communion, ultimately, will be as an orthodox Christian community or not. Right now we are in a grace-filled phase (well, sort of!) in which we are giving the benefit of the doubt to each other: perhaps TEC is right, perhaps it is not, as it claims to be just as orthodox as the rest of us. But this phase will not last forever: the truth will out. We will be a TEC-shaped Communion, or a Communion which constrains TEC (i.e. relegates it to the second tier, suspends it, or even expels it), or TEC will repent of its Robinsonian toying with new Truth. I can think of no fourth possibility for our long-term future.

Right now I am very doubtful that TEC will repent, doubtful that the Communion will constrain TEC (because of the absence of a significant proportion of primates from the Primates Meeting in January), and thus view our likely future as a TEC-shaped Communion. While I object to the boycott of the primates, I understand that they may feel tired and worn out trying to combat the propensity of ++Williams and other primates to not confront 'new Truth' and judge it for what it is: heresy.

I am grateful for +Gene Robinson for his honesty and frankness in revealing once again why there is a rift in our Communion. It has nothing to do with bigotry and homophobia, and everything to do with fundamental concerns about the theological commitments defining Anglicanism in the 21st century.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ordination grounded in Scripture

Last night I preached at a diocesan ordination service in which four men were ordained as deacons. I do not think it helpful to reproduce the whole sermon as the whole sermon is also the way it was delivered, and the small ad libs within it as it progressed. But at the heart of the sermon was a theological argument for one understanding of ordination rather than others. The essence of the argument is that some understandings of ordination lurk in our church - more strongly lurking in some periods and places than in others - which do not measure up to Scripture itself, in this case to Acts 6:2-6 and the development of ministry recounted there.

"At least two mistaken views of ordination have been toyed with in the life of our church. They may even be lurking undetected in some of our minds tonight.

I am going to call one view ‘bureaucratic.’ Ordination, on this view, is a quaint way of becoming an Anglican minister. It is really just an administrative step with symbolic actions in order to become a minister. Other churches make ministers in other ways, but this is the Anglican way, so we need to go through it in order to be a minister in this church.

The other view I will call ‘mechanical.’ Ordination, on this view, is part of a system of salvation. Guarantees of salvation via baptism, absolution and eucharist rely on ordained priests to make these actions valid. Being made deacon tonight is a necessary step on the way to becoming priests. Once made a priest one can contribute as a working part of the machine of salvation.

I suggest that neither such view is true to Scripture. In our readings tonight we are confronted with God as the author of mission and chooser of missioners – the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, Stephen, Philip and others. Ordination is responsive obedience to God ordering the life of God’s mission.

In the Acts reading, the needs of God’s mission determine who is chosen to assist the mission in its growth and development. The initial order of ministry, the apostles, cannot cope with growth and its consequences. A new order of ministry, in today’s words we might say, ‘a new layer of leadership’ is developed.

Those ordained neither go through a necessary bureaucratic procedure nor become part of a machine of salvation. Hands are laid on them to draw them deeper into the dynamism of God’s work in the world, as well as to set them apart for specific tasks in the life of the church.

The view of ordination here in Acts is dynamic, not bureaucratic or mechanical: the Holy Spirit works flexibly as the church develops new needs; and the Holy Spirit works powerfully and unpredictably through these seven ordained men."

I went on to observe that Acts never describes these seven deacons as actually serving at table! They perform miracles and preach the gospel powerfully. Discerned as full of the Spirit, after ordination they have an even greater fullness of the Spirit.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A TEC-shaped Communion or a Communion-shaped Communion?

Philip Turner offers an excellent analysis about the 'deep' level of what is going on in current Communion machinations re the role of TEC in respect of the Primates Meeting and the Standing Committee. The race is on for the prize of a Communion with two integrities rather than two tracks. Here is a slice of the larger analytical pie:

"Sensing the radical implications of what TEC seems to be up to, there has been considerable push back from around the Communion. In response, TEC not only continues to assert its autonomy, it also aggressively argues that the basis of communion is not so much common belief and practice as it is common mission understood primarily as the alleviation of human suffering and the pursuit of greater social justice. The doctrinal aspect of communion is reduced to a list of talking points, namely, the outline for ecumenical discussion set forth in the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral. The heart of communion on this view comes down to perpetual dialogue coupled with “mutual ministry,” understood largely in moral terms.

The problems with this view of communion are numerous and fatal. First, as previously noted, by placing unity in faith at the margins of communion, TEC has taken a stance in direct contradiction to its own history and to the position it has assumed in its ecumenical conversations. Thus, for example, in TEC’s own foundational documents and in her conversations with the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches communion is understood first as communion in Christ expressed in common belief, order, and worship.

Second, the Quadrilateral, which TEC’s defenders hold up as a sufficient standard of faith, was never intended as an adequate statement of Christian belief. It was formulated as an outline by means of which ecumenical conversation could be focused and (it was hoped) moved forward. To say, for example, that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation and are the rule and ultimate standard of faith says nothing about the way in which they are interpreted. Again, to say that one believes the Nicene Creed is a sufficient statement of Christian faith says nothing about the way in which its various articles are understood and exposited. In short, TEC proposes as an adequate statement of belief, an agenda for a conversation about adequate belief. This is precisely the position she takes in the councils of the Communion. Communion is a matter of sustained conversation–an extended indaba process.

Third, communion is defined largely in moral rather than theological terms. This position follows naturally enough from the reduced role of common belief just set forth. No one wishes to underestimate the importance of shared ministry in service to the poor, but it is hard to see, when push comes to shove, why communion as TEC defines it is communion in Christ Jesus. In the end, Jesus is no more than a good example that might be replicated in many other historical figures. He is more an example of a moral ideal than he is a savior apart from whom we can neither know nor serve God as God wills."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Three Federations?

Sarah (I assume, Sarah Hey) commenting on The Anglican Competition post below makes this prediction:

"I think we'll have three different medium-sized entities at the end of the day: raving revisionist TEC and her allies, fumbling [and still clueless about the juggernaut of TEC's revisionism and what delights will be in store in the coming decades from that diminishing organization] "we'd sign anything if it could only go away" moderate COE and her allies, and the rest of the traditional Provinces."

Now, so comments do not get stuck on the language here, I am going to take up her comment and recast it as fairly and as diplomatically as I can. (So don't bother commenting here about her comment!)

Whereas I often write as though the future will be some form of GAFCON/Global South federation and the remainder of the Communion as another federation of Anglican churches (and it will be federations because neither in the first nor in the second will key churches submit their understanding of Anglicanism to the judgement of others), Sarah proposes three entities. I think there could be something in what she says.

(1) If we drop loaded terminology such as 'raving', 'revisionism', and 'juggernaut' we can still fairly raise the question whether TEC is on a steady trajectory towards a manner of Anglican life which is distinct from both traditional Anglicanism (measured, for instance, by the embrace of same sex partnerships as equal of marriage) and much modern Anglicanism (measured, for instance, by the ease with which members (individuals, parishes, dioceses) are let go of). No other Anglican church I am aware of, save perhaps for Canada in parts, is as willing as TEC to let go of its dissidents.

But these are not the only distinctives to note here: TEC's great claim is to be led by the Spirit, even when that direction is different to the rest of the Communion. TEC may prove to be right (and thus, effectively, it will be the rest of us who will have been the real 'revisionists') but at the moment what is interesting is the distinctiveness of their pathway. This pathway is distinctive because (a) they make that claim though it contradicts where the majority of the Communion is at; (b) they are unwilling to test the claim in the court of the Communion as a whole, (d) within their ranks are voices expressing preference for the Communion to break up rather than any reversal of commitment takes place, yet (c) they wish to remain part of the Communion rather than to walk apart. This distinctiveness means it is not at all clear to me that (2) below will be a close ally of (1) as we go forward into the future.

(2) Then there is - always, because we are Anglican - a group of moderates, perhaps best represented by the CofE, who really, really hope that the Communion can be held together, and will conjure up all manner of band aids, rubber bands, and bits of string to hold it together. Covenant, diplomacy, refusal to exclude, hints of inclusion (to ACNA), revisioning Lambeth (and now, it seems, the Primates Meeting), and generally expressing goodwill to all and tolerance of everything: the moderates are just about exhausted, both in energy and in ideas. The Great Moderate is of course the ABC himself. This mass of moderates may fall apart, especially if the Covenant is not well supported across the Communion, but I think the genuineness of their inclusiveness - the will to retain opponents - may be the superglue which holds all together.

(3) Then Sarah's 'the rest of the traditional Provinces': in disagreement with TEC, in dissatisfaction with moderate Anglicanism (often arising out of contexts of strident challenges from other religions), many provinces want to stick close to Anglicanism-as-inherited. From this perspective anglo-catholics and evangelicals can find common cause: "We are agreed that Anglicanism has a past we should learn more from than current claims about the Spirit's leading; we may disagree on what that past consists of, but we are united in what it cannot accommodate from the present," could be their statement, as well as this, "We have a gospel to proclaim: it is not what TEC claims is the gospel, and it is clear and unequivocal, in contrast to the understanding of the muddled moderate middle of Anglicanism."

Three Federations? If we can find the right language to describe what is happening in our midst, we may be able to give this hypothesis a fair hearing.

Bible bashing

Thanks for some comments made in recent days. All thoughtful. At least God knows where the Communion is heading!

Back from the ANZABiblicalStudies conference where the Bible got a bashing, in the best sense of the word: lots of papers with detailed explorations and exegeses of the text. Always interesting to reflect on how much unanimity exists in the world of biblical scholarship: we are united in wanting to study Scripture in depth, bound by unwritten protocols to be polite to each other even as we ask robust questions, and keen as mustard to enjoy our refreshment breaks and annual conference meal!

Coming up on Sunday we have a diocesan ordination service - four to be ordained deacons. I am working on the sermon for that. How to be non-soporific (the opposite is a tendency with academic papers!), non-controversial (not really the occasion to upset people), non-confusing (bound to be some friends and family present who do not quite understand the difference between, say, a deacon and a priest), and non-indulgent (the service is about the laying on of hands, not about the sermon)? Positively, how to speak up for Anglican orders, challenge those ordained to fulfil their calling, and encourage all with confidence in God building the church ...?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wright's righting of wrongs against Wright

Am about to participate in our annual Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies conference. One of those papers end on end conferences, punctuated by the conference dinner tonight. A wonderful set of people who will not mind in the least me saying that none will present with quite the verve and swerve of N.T. (+Tom) Wright ... because no one else in the world does. He is the hapax legomena [single usage] of biblical scholarship when it comes to style! Anyway, have just come across a rarity in the world of Wright, a posting on a blog - The Ugley Vicar no less. Here is a flavour, but please read the whole. Marvellous.

"I hope all this is reasonably clear. I didn't know whether to be amused or insulted by the chap on your blog who said I must be unclear because I'd never been a parish priest. (I suppose being Dean of a cathedral doesn't count either.) I would like to show him the files and files of letters, postcards, emails and so on from the Old Mrs Joneses of this world who have thanked me heartily for explaining things, in sermons and books, in a way they can understand and in a way that their own vicar had never made clear . . . But maybe he doesn't realise (some don't) that the NT Wright of the academic books is also the Tom Wright of the Everyone series...

I was also struck by the attempt by Ro Mody to systematize a Wright-says-this and Reformed-says-that view. It really doesn't work like that though I haven't got the time to explain why. But please be it noted: I have always, always, stressed penal substitution as being right at the heart of things, both for Jesus and for Paul. I do that in preaching and teaching as well as writing. It is one of the saddest slurs I encounter when people suggest I don't really believe or teach this. It's a way of saying 'we don't understand Tom Wright and he's saying things we didn't hear in Sunday School so he's probably a wicked liberal, and since wicked liberals don't believe in penal substitution he probably doesn't either.'"

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Anglican Competition

A couple of posts below I make the slightly radical suggestion that a way forward for the Anglican Communion would be to suspend Anglican Communion operations (committees, commissions, conferences) for twenty years or so and see what happens. Mark Harris has noticed this and (I think) assessed it as the wrong way to go. Fair enough, though I notice his way forward has a certain amount of prescription which to all intents and purposes implies some kind of covenanted restart to the Communion!

Either way, we are in a period of Anglican Competition: competing ideas for the way forward (muddle on, suspend operations, suspend even expel a member or two), competing proposals for how we might be bound together (Covenant or not, in Communion with the ABC or not), competing notions of what form our binding together might take (global church, communion, federation), competing groupings (GAFCON, Global South, TEC and its allies), and competing alternatives to Anglican-by-virtue-of-formal-membership-of-the-Communion (ACNA, Anglican Ordinariate).

It is very hard, I suggest, to see a way forward here in which the Anglican Communion as we know it currently is not considerably weakened. With each passing month we see further fragmentation and deeper disagreement. If 10 primates do not show up at the Meeting in January 2011 then we have a significant underlining of the crisis we are in. More importantly, their absence will almost certainly (based on past performance of the ABC in the presence of the PB) lead to no decision which clarifies the future of the Communion. It will muddle on, failing to grasp the challenge of formally suspending from membership either the protagonists or the antagonists in the present crisis, and lacking the power to insist that all member churches front up at the same table of discussion.

The way will open up for some form of GAFCON and/or Global South to pursue more vigorously a vision for global Anglican life which will be at variance with the vision (or, for that matter, lack thereof) of the official Anglican Communion. Bit by bit that vision - given a fair wind and some carefulness in articulation - will draw in other dioceses and parishes from around the Communion. Effectively the Communion will formally work in two tracks (even three) because there will be the track of the Communion itself (three quarters of the primates, roughly one quarter of the people membership) and the track of those not on that track.

It is not as though the vision of the official Anglican Communion, dominated by a progressive theological agenda, will not have some attraction itself. It will be supported, but it will be on a downhill slide as long as its major supporters are member churches in the Western hemisphere. Uniformly these Anglican churches are declining in numbers ... and numbers matter when it comes to some things: keeping churches open, paying for ministers, funding costs of administration.

Over time, my guess is that the present Anglican Communion will wither on the vine. A different Anglican entity will dominate in 2100. It will be closer in spirit and organisation to a global Anglican Church. It may be scarily fundamentalist. If there is some form of the Anglican Communion still in existence it will be like the SCM in our NZ universities: it still exists, no one knows how it keeps going, and it is virtually invisible.

Historians will look back and wonder why in the first part of the 21st century Anglicanism lost its way with irretrievable consequences as a catholic-and-reformed church, with a liberal heart. They will conclude that an unwillingness for any leading figure, apart from the ABC himself, to compromise was the principle reason for the demise of the Communion.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Well done

I thought the Pike River Miners' Memorial Service yesterday at the Omoto Racecourse, Greymouth was very well done. You can link to a report, order of service, brief video and full service video. The last is over 1.5 hours long.

The Reverend Tim Mora led the service exceptionally well. Carolyn Williams, and her daughter Sarah, sang beautifully. Speakers, including our Prime Minister John Key, and local Mayor Tony Kokshoorn captured the mood of the occasion brilliantly.

I am particular impressed with Tim's homily which unflinchingly witnessed to the God we meet in Jesus Christ. The service included explicitly Christian songs, prayers and blessings. Our agnostic Prime Minister's address began by talking about all the praying Kiwis had been doing. "New Zealand's the most secular nation in the world. Yeah, right!" (with apologies to overseas readers unfamiliar with our 'Tui beer' adverts!!)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Suspend the Communion?

If I were the Autocrat in charge of the Communion (and if the Communion would do what I said) what would I do? Thinking about that initially led me in the direction of some complex arrangements (i.e. of a kind that a committee would never agree to, but a creative Autocrat could determine!) but I think something quite simple might be the order of the day. It would not need an Autocrat to be appointed to make the decision, just a collective will to act. The simple recommendation works from a post of Christopher's Johnson's which in turn reflects on a post by Cranmer.

Currently the Communion is experimenting with suspending the full involvement of some members of some committees as a consequence of excursions from orthodoxy and incursions into other bishop's jurisdictions. One problem with this approach is that some see it as too little, too late: thus the GAFCON Primates are doing their own bit of suspending in turn, suspending themselves from the Primates' Meeting in January 2011. So here is the idea, which extends the concept of suspension. Let's suspend the whole Communion: all committees, all Communion wide roles. Let no committee meet and no primates travel on 'Anglican Communion' business. Say for twenty years.

During that time Anglicans will make choices about meeting together, about inviting this one and that one to preach and to preside, and about conferences of various kinds. Choices will also be made about ordinations and liturgical services. After twenty years some clarity will emerge about which Anglicans want to be in a formal relationship with each other and which do not. Or, indeed, clarity may emerge about never again attempting to maintain a formal "Communion". During those twenty years the evolution of global Anglicanism will take place without current stresses and strains, and without displays of pique and hurt about who is in and who is out.

In short: rather than a Communion polity in which a few are suspended because our formal life cannot contain our diversity, how about suspending Communion polity itself?

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Counting down to Thursday's Memorial Service

Back from Dunedin, and an induction service in Tinwald last night at which we did not sing In Christ Alone! Over on the West Coast intense preparations are taking place for the Memorial Service for the Pike River miners - 2 pm Thursday. Trains, planes, buses and cars are being organised to take people there. Please pray for church and community leaders preparing the service. Three messages/sermons have been posted on Taonga: by +Richard and Hilary Ellena, Robin Kingston, and Tim Mora.

The service will be broadcast live on radio and two TV stations. It is a curious feature of 'secular' Kiwi life that when the chips are really down: the death of a major figure (in recent times one thinks of Sir Edmund Hilary and the Maori Queen), or now, a major tragedy, Christian ritual and spirituality come to the forefront. Faltering though our corporate witness to Christ may seem to be (e.g. looking around and seeing churches for sale), we are faithful and thus ready to serve in the bad times as well as the good times.