Woven through comments to recent posts are some important themes for Anglican theology: incarnation, trinity, biblical theology (especially the glorious subtleties of Paul's theology of body in 1 Corinthians). These things are worth bothering about because when we understand them rightly in a theological commitment which is biblically sound, orthodoxy, we have a sure foundation for worship and mission which honours the God of Jesus Christ and which God will honour with the power of the Spirit of Jesus.
In our bothering about them, we Anglicans face sharp challenges. Others (in relation to us, particularly Romans, Easterns on the 'catholic' side, and Presbyterians, Baptists on the 'reformed' side) claim to have a better understanding. Within our own ranks, we cannot agree on a mechanism (the Covenant) to enable us to walk together in orthodoxy, and we have now watched over a process of serious disengagement from each other, in some cases involving actual schism. A cynic can be excused for wondering if we Anglicans are seriously bothered at all with orthodoxy: if we were, wouldn't we view with more alarm our internal difficulties, and wouldn't we have placed ARCIC III on hold, humbly acknowledging that we are not worthy to have a discussion under the table, let alone around the table, while we are in the state we are in?
Perhaps the most pointed challenge of all, however, is working out the circumstances in which orthodoxy may be enlarged, as Anglicans understand it, in a manner which is agreeable to Anglicans. Part of being Anglican is - obviously - that we are in disagreement with other Christians: we are Anglican and not (say) Eastern or Presbyterian, because we disagree on some matters. To be Anglican is to be free to disagree with other Christians, but does being Anglican require agreement among ourselves? Is there a level of internal disagreement which destabilizes what it means to be Anglican?
Cutting to the chase for this particular post - no time to write the tome required to engage with the questions above - a remark from a valued colleague the other day has gotten me thinking about the idea of 'reception' in respect of orthodoxy. We Anglicans commit to an engagement with claims to theological truth in which Scripture, tradition and reason figure prominently in our method. But how do we know when we have arrived at truth, especially if it is truth which enlarges our understanding of orthodoxy? My colleague's point in invoking the idea of reception is that, in the end, we will be united over change when we have received the case for change together. Unilateral actions by bishops, decisions by narrow majorities in synods, doing things 'our way' by individual parishes do not constitute 'reception.'
A case in point in respect of the life of my own church is highlighted in a sermon Fr. Ron Smith draws attention to on his blog, a sermon preached at St Matthew's-in-the-City (Auckland) and published here on their site. The sermon is entitled 'The Anglican Empire and the Oppressive Myth of Unity.' A case is made that individual gay candidates should not have their ministry aspirations slam-dunked by the alleged needs of the 'Anglican Empire' to be unified. Unity or 'unity' in this framing of Anglican disputes is an oppressive myth. But is that all there is to say? I count both Glynn Cardy, the Vicar of St. Matthew's-in-the-City (who did not preach the sermon, but presumably approved it being preached) and Ross Bay, the Bishop of Auckland as valued colleagues, but on the basis of this sermon, one is acting badly, a conclusion which does not sit well with me. In fact, I think there is something more to say, and when we say it, both the vicar and the bishop are acting well.
If we frame such matters in respect of 'reception' our question is whether our church (ACANZP) has yet received the proposal that orthodoxy may be enlarged to include the theology which affirms an orthopraxy in which partnered gay persons may pursue their ministry aspirations to the fullest extent. We have not yet made that reception. The Bishop of Auckland is right to resist changing the theology of this church by unilateral action. At risk of appearing to act unjustly, even oppressively, +Ross is acting with the proper integrity of a bishop, as one who has sworn to uphold the faith we have received. Conversely, the faith we have received may be stretched and deepened, in a 'new reception' (so to speak), and that will only happen if possibilities for such stretching and deepening are voiced: Glynn Cardy has also acted well in giving space for that voice to be heard.
One dilemma as a church contemplating receiving an enlargement of orthodoxy is this: to what extent in a globally connected age, in which we are not and cannot be innocent about the impact of our decisions on others in the global Anglican family, does reception for us take account of reception by others? A little pointedly, given our own Archbishop David Moxon is a co-chair of ARCIC III, if we (the Communion) are engaged in a global conversation with the Roman Catholic church on matters of ethics, why we would we (ACANZP) not be engaged in a global conversation with our brother and sister churches in the Anglican family on one such matter? Another dilemma is whether we are willing to engage with Scripture to the depth which such reception requires, and in a manner which takes very seriously the sweeping arguments, as well as the details, in a book such as 1 Corinthians (as noted by Bryden Black in a recent comment). Our series of Hermeneutical Hui have been a beginning in that engagement, but (arguably) only a beginning.
In the 1970s our church found a way to receive the truth that women might be ordained as priests and bishops as part of an orthopraxy which was in harmony with orthodoxy (that is, we had no significant, schism-inducing division when that decision was made). At the time we walked in harmony with some members of the Communion and not with others, but the Communion as a whole received the possibility that we might be a 'both-and' Communion in respect of this matter. Things are a little different today. In what way would reception take place in our church if there is to be change? If reception does not work out for our church, can we continue without change with a glad heart, free of charges that we have sided with oppression?
ADDENDUM: A friend and colleague has drawn my attention to these links worth reading in association with the above post, and comments below: here and here. It interests me that St Matthew's-in-the-City highlights offence (not giving it), and moving away from offending the Anglican Communion (i.e. to being willing to offend it) as keys to resolving the debate. On the one hand there is an interesting contradiction there (how do we know what the gospel is while the rest of the Communion does not). On the other hand, focusing on our Kiwi context, my stick in the fire of the debate is, 'Do we want to split our church wide open?'