Wednesday, July 20, 2011

+Gene and Why the Covenant is a Great Idea

Some talk about the Anglican Covenant focuses on homosexuality as in 'Your high-minded talk about the Covenant is just a cover for wanting to exclude homosexuals from the Anglican Communion' or 'The proposed Covenant is useless, it will never deal with progressive Anglicans who wish to ditch Scripture and tradition on homosexuality.' Although sometimes feeling like I have failed to achieve anything, on this blog I have attempted to argue that the Covenant is timely because within the recent history of the Anglican Communion in crisis over homosexuality we have recognised that we are a Communion so theologically diverse that we strain credibility that we have enough in common to warrant being described as a 'Communion'. That the Covenant is primarily a theological document restating what Anglicans believe is timely for the larger, theological crisis the Communion faces.

Every so often someone comes to my rescue and provides evidence that we do have theological diversity which strains credibility that all Anglicans belonging to the Communion share a common core theology.

Here is a report on something +Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire said recently,

"“I know Jesus to be the son of God,” he told a group of about 50 people, “but what a small, limited God we would have if that was the only manifestation."

Now this is a media reported statement not a theological essay or paper, so I am not going to declare this to be evidence of heresy. But, on the face of it, here is an Anglican bishop making a christological statement which, putting it diplomatically, falls below the Nicene and Chalcedonian par.

The least we could expect of Anglican bishops around the world is that, different and diverse though they may wish to be on human sexuality, whether Hooker meant this or that re Scripture, reason and tradition, and what robes should be worn on which occasion, they all subscribe to the common ecumenical creeds.

The statement above is not unique as a sign that not all Anglican bishops are completely convinced of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of the Father in whom the fullness of God dwells.

One reason for agreeing to the Covenant is that we recognise all the way around the Anglican globe that some common belief is needed for our communion as a Communion to have concrete meaning.

The Covenant may or may not have implications for +Gene in other respects (as some fervantly wish the Covenant to do or not to do). But I hope the Covenant, when established, would lead over the course of time to a weeding out  from the life of our Communion, bishops who fall short of theological faithfulness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. (For clarity: church law is way too complicated to try to weed out current bishops on doctrinal grounds;, by 'weeding out' I mean that in the fullness of time Anglican dioceses guided and inspired by Covenanted Anglicanism will elect bishops adhering fully to orthodox, creedal Christianity).

Hint to commenters here: if you are tempted to use words such as 'totalitarian', 'dictatorial' or 'inquisition' in your comment, please also tell us how you understand the basis for Anglicans who believe that Jesus Christ is unique and those who do not are to break bread together. Thanks in anticipation!

20 comments:

liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

Once again, too much is being promised as going to be solved by the “Covenant”. Recently, an issue significant to me and to my bishop was strongly discussed here (the elements of Holy Communion). It is explicitly mentioned in the “Covenant”. Yet advocates in favour of the “Covenant” could not even agree to its implementation.

Now, putting aside the known inaccuracy of much media, especially when it comes to religion, you quote from the Courier Journal (sic) a sentence, when expanded, that looks to me like “what a small, limited God we would have if [Jesus] was the only manifestation [of God]” (cf. beautiful sunrises, altruistic caring, scientific truth…).

About a man who has just declared “I know Jesus to be the Son of God” you declare that, solely because of this sentence, here is a bishop who is not “completely convinced of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of the Father in whom the fullness of God dwells.” And your hope for the “Covenant” would be the weeding out of Gene from the life of the Communion – now, not because he is gay, but because of such a sentence.

This post is a strong argument against the “Covenant” not in favour of it.

Blessings

Bosco

Doug Chaplin said...

Peter,

I'm not sure your closing challenge is quite clear enough for what (if I understand you rightly) you are asking.

After all, Arius – as far as I can tell – believed that Jesus was unique, and uniquely, preminently close to God, in a biblical phrase "first-born of all creation". And that was judged communion-shatteringly inadequate.

Kurt said...

“Now this is a media reported statement not a theological essay or paper, so I am not going to declare this to be evidence of heresy. But, on the face of it, here is an Anglican bishop [Bishop Robinson] making a christological statement which, putting it diplomatically, falls below the Nicene and Chalcedonian par.” Fr. Carrell

I’m flabbergasted that you feel this way about his statement! Well, let’s begin by at least quoting the paragraph in full, shall we? Here it is:

“I know Jesus to be the son of God,” he told a group of about 50 people, “but what a small, limited God we would have if that was the only manifestation. I think Christians should stay away from spiritual arrogance and show more love, mercy and zeal for justice.”

Just what is “heretical” about Bishop Robinson’s statement that so offends you, Peter? I just don’t “get it.” It seems to me that Bishop Robinson certainly is affirming the ministry of a bishop in the Catechism of The Episcopal Church. Part of that role is to “proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ's name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church;"

Bishop Robinson says that affirming Christ as the Son of God in words is not enough; deeds matter. What is your problem with this?

Kurt Hill
In sweltering Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
I am modifying my post slightly in the light of your comment because the 'weeding out' I envisage is over the course of time: the bishops of the Communion are orthodox ... I have no particular interest in forcing any current bishop out of office. (How would one begin to do that!)

I think (as you know, I have said this before) that the Covenant will have good effect over the course of time, even if it has no immediate effect along the lines that some clamour for and some resist.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Doug,
Arius and Arianism were respectively a tricky customer and a slippery phenomenon which the church struggled to deal with and (perhaps) has never successfully overcome. So, yes, even the Covenant would be challenged by a 21st century Arius. I am not quite sure if +Gene is of the theological adeptness of Arius, but you are welcome to persuade me otherwise!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt,
I specifically spelled out that I do not think the media report constitutes evidence to declare 'heresy.'

It does look like a statement was made which falls below par and I am using the opportunity to reflect on the possibility that the Covenant, over time, could raise the standard to which bishops aspire when they speak, not least in being unafraid to espouse the uniqueness of Christ.

Yes, +Gene went on to make a fine statement about avoiding spiritual arrogance, and living out the gospel. No problems.

I do have a problem if a bishop seeks to link spiritual arrogance to affirming the uniqueness of Christ. We can make the affirmation and be humble at the same time.

Bryan Owen said...

"The least we could expect of Anglican bishops around the world is that, different and diverse though they may wish to be on human sexuality, whether Hooker meant this or that re Scripture, reason and tradition, and what robes should be worn on which occasion, they all subscribe to the common ecumenical creeds." ~ Peter Carrell

That gets us to first base.

"One reason for agreeing to the Covenant is that we recognise all the way around the Anglican globe that some common belief is needed for our communion as a Communion to have concrete meaning." ~ Peter Carrell

We've now made it to second base.

"I do have a problem if a bishop seeks to link spiritual arrogance to affirming the uniqueness of Christ. We can make the affirmation and be humble at the same time." ~ Peter Carrell responding to Kurt

Home run!

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,

You have a valid point about achieving a basis of common belief and theological coherence throughout the Communion. I just doubt whether the Covenant will be effective to achieve that goal, over the short or long term. We haven't even been able to hold to the 3 agreed moratoria across the Communion, so I'm less than hopeful that we can hold to a more comprehensive and definitive covenant. Worse still, the ACC, who is charged to do the 'weeding out', seems to have a weed infestation of its own.
We would both like to see a united Communion that operates from a common basis, but I think we are too far apart theologically and relationally to achieve that. Alternative structures, which uphold the apostolic faith and remain within the Communion, are the way to go for now.

Bryden Black said...

Thanks for the noble attempt, Bryan, to get to first base. But when I heard for myself the regius prof of divinity Oxford, who happens to be a TEC priest, claim she could say the Creed “loosey goosey” ... I knew we were in trouble then and there!

Bryden Black said...

Hi Bosco!

You have attempted to raise the temperature re RCD 1.1.5 before ... and it only spawned a surfeit of gnats! I shall not be tempted down that road again; it merely generated some heat and not much light, and that after spawning gossamer-like threads and variably applicable comments.

The crux initiated by Peter is as Bryan attempts to show. For I have heard KJS herself make even more explicit noises (than this media release) that flout the clear intent of the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. Period: QED

Kurt said...

Another batch of horror stories about TEC, eh, Bryden? I have a few about the “Sydney ‘Anglicans.’” Want to hear them?

Kurt Hill
In sweltering Brooklyn, NY

Father Ron Smith said...

All of this talk, just to try to prove that Bishop Gene is not an 'othodox' leader in the Church. However, I believe that it really is his sexual difference that offends the nay-sayers. His statement about Jesus has nothing of the heterodox about it. He merely says that there are other pointers to God in Creation. Jesus is the unique Son of God, but he not, in his incarnate form, contain all that there is of God in the world.

What would worry me more would be if he denied the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which some protestant bishops appear to do - not to mention 'other ranks'

Peter Carrell said...

Hello Commenters!

Andrew: increasingly I am feeling that Communion unity is impossible in our lifetimes!

Kurt: precisely, Sydney is in various ways 'out of line' on faith and order matters. However I cannot imagine ++Peter J even beginning to say something like +Gene said.


Ron: +Gene has sometimes described himself as an evangelical. I hope it would not be a problem if he favoured an evangelical, even Cranmerian understanding of the eucharist!

Bryden and Bryan: thank you for understanding what is at stake!

Bryan Owen said...

Catholicity and Covenant has posted a piece relevant to this discussion entitled "Are progressives stuck in the Victorian era?" Check it out.

Peter Carrell said...

I have!

Bryden Black said...

No Kurt - just the simple reality, heard from her lips to my ears and into my soul. QED

PS: I too know "Sydney" first hand as well ...

Anonymous said...

"But, on the face of it, here is an Anglican bishop making a christological statement which, putting it diplomatically, falls below the Nicene and Chalcedonian par."

There is a fairly well reported story about Mr. Robinson from his days in seminary. He sought counsel from another priest because he did not believe the words of the Nicene Creed. His counselor advised him to simply mouth the words but not speak them. So it is not surprising that he would make a statement that does not meet the standards of the Creed.

Nikolaus

Pageantmaster said...

Oh dear, guess it is rather conservative of me but I really don't like the new colour scheme. Ochre and cow-pat yellow is not a patch on the green fields and blue skies of the old scheme - so restful and cheerful and sunny at the same time. Sorry if the new scheme is in your old school colours or something.

Regarding the Covenant, notwithstanding that people have been persuaded to write fulsome praise of it on the Living Church and elsewhere, now that the ABC has dismantled every working Instrument of Unity, there are now no cogs and wheels within it - the engine casing is still there, but none of the parts now work.

Sorry to say that, as a former supporter of the principle of Covenant. Lambeth Palace and its supporters are just seeking to breeze over that!

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Nikolaus,

The following interview gives the full account of the "seminary days" conversation re the Nicene Creed. Some have used only the first part you mention in order to say he doesn't believe the Creeds.
http://www.thewitness.org/agw/gunn020405.html

His position now is that he says and believes all the words, but interprets them differently to most. Probably a less credible position than the one he held in his seminary days.

Father Ron Smith said...

"There is a fairly well reported story about 'Mr'(sic) Robinson in seminary...." - Nikolaus -

And so it becomes - as with many a sola scriptura advocate -'The Word of God'. Great care should be taken with gossip.