Monday, January 31, 2011

Nothing Comes From Nothing

With a welter of opinion going into the Primates' Meeting that it is a kind of 'nothing' meeting (no power, no actual Communion-shaping purpose, merely a sharing of how things are going in respective provinces), unexpectedly 'nothing' has come from it.

Thinking Anglicans has a helpful set of links here to the final day briefing and to some papers produced by the meeting.

I cannot see it, perhaps you can help me by seeing what I do not think is there, but there is no discernible sign of any statement of the primates noting, lamenting, even celebrating the absence of a significant minority of primates from the Primates' Meeting.

Nor can I see any statement addressing the situation the Communion is in.

Now if this nothing meeting was actually a nothing meeting then comment might stop right now. But I notice that the Meeting has issued a series of statements about the situation a number of people are in around the world, troubling, difficult situations, worthy of comment. But no comment about the Communion.

Then I notice that this nothing meeting has made a something statement about the purpose of the Primates' Meetings. You can read it here. It is a marvellous statement. It includes music to some Communion supporters' ears such as this:
"22 The Primates together:
23 ‐ give leadership and support as the Communion lives out the Marks of Mission1

24 ‐ seek continuity and coherence in faith, order, and ethics

25 ‐ provide a focal point of unity

26 ‐ address pressing issues affecting the life of the Communion

27 ‐ provide guidance for the Communion

28 ‐ address pressing issues of global concern

29 ‐ are advocates for social justice in these situations."
But I cannot find where this meeting has done what it has said it is its purpose to do: "address pressing issues affecting the life of the Communion."
There may be an explanation. Further on in the statement we find this:
"We endeavour
30 to accomplish our work through:
31 ‐ prayer

32 ‐ fellowship

33 ‐ study and reflection

34 ‐ caring for one another as Primates and offering mutual support

35 ‐ taking counsel with one another and with the Archbishop of Canterbury

36 ‐ relationship building at regular meetings

37 ‐ being spiritually aware

38 ‐ being collegial

39 ‐ being consultative

40 ‐ acknowledging diversity and giving space for difference

41 ‐ being open to the prophetic Spirit

42 ‐ exercising authority in a way that emerges from consensus‐building and mutual discernment

43 leading to persuasive wisdom

44 ‐ the work of the Primates’ Standing Committee."
Perhaps no consensus emerged as to whether there are, in fact, any pressing issues, let alone what might be said about them.
Whatever happened (or did not happen) in the meeting, from a life of the Communion perspective, we have nothing as a result of the Primates' Meeting.
Have the primates not only dropped the ball but lost it too?

LATER: I acknowledge that ++Rowan's remarks at the press conference do acknowledge the absence of the absenting primates. That he set his expectations of the meeting low enough to be met is unsurprising. Whether he or the primates together have led the meeting to a conclusion which achieves anything meaningful at all about the unravelling life of the Communion is a point which will be tested in months and years ahead. Here I simply note that the meeting offers nothing, save for remarks about continuing commitment to the Communion, which suggests any way or means beyond the impasse. If Lambeth 2018 were to be another Lambeth with a third or so bishops absent are we going to be told that the good thing is that two-thirds were there and everyone, present or absent, is still committed to the Communion?

I suppose I could try that one on my bishop: not turn up for a few key meetings while assuring her that I remained committed to the Diocese. Yeah, right!?

ANGLICAN CURMUDGEON notices things I do not notice about the Primates' Meetings declarations of what they and their Standing Committee are on about. Victory is complete for those whose vision of the Communion is for a talking shop in which we share with each other how different we are from each other and from which the only announcements expressing a common view and value concern the evils of the world, on which we say precisely what concerned non-Christians say!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pray for the Peace of Cairo

True, the Bible does not say the title of the post (substitute 'Jerusalem' for 'Cairo' and it does, Psalm 122:6), but these days it is just about the same thing, because should Cairo fall into the wrong hands viz a viz the complexity of life, politics, and all that in Palestine/Israel, then the peace of Jerusalem will be imperilled.

I imagine life for Anglicans in Egypt is challenging through these days. As citizens of Egypt they will aspire for good democratic, just government with their fellow citizens; but as realists they will know that should the government of Mubarak topple then it is possible that its replacement (or, eventual replacement) will be an Islamist government. Life is tough enough for Christians in Egypt under the moderate (in respect of religion) government of Mubarak - occasional bombings, lots of subtle and not so subtle anti-Christian pressures (e.g.) restricting church activities and constraining career aspirations of Christian professionals - tougher would be an Islamist government. So praying for the peace of Cairo (the key to Egypt) is praying for a settled state of civic life in which Christians are treated justly, with equal freedom and opportunity as enjoyed by Muslims.

(Bio note: I lived in Cairo, 1982-83, not long after Mubarak began his rule. That vast and populous city was incredibly friendly and safe to reside in. But part of the reasons for feeling safe were the visible signs of military dominated rule: soldiers guarding many buildings. But there were other signs of that dominance such as friendly warnings to take care with what one said because the secret police were anywhere and everywhere. Life was free yet constricted. Many years later the constrictions are obviously chafing).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Gift of Primacy and the Dereliction of Primatial Duty

It is very nice to see ACANZP's own ++Winston Halapua featuring in an ACNS daily briefing. Briefing 2 (from Day 3) is on primacy. Here is the report re ++Winston's remarks:

"Whatever the similarities or differences between the roles and responsibilities of Primates across the Communion, seeing primacy as a gift rather than a right was a concept expressed by Archbishop Winston of The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia as he explained the concept of ‘Tikanga’.

He said the word meant “The place where you stand”, that your position was sacred ground gifted to you by your ancestors, your people, the environment. He said that the position of Primate was gifted to the role-bearer as a responsibility for a time and for the future. “You don’t own it,” he said, “the place [role] owns you. It’s a gift, not a right. It’s a privilege.” "

I like the idea of primacy as a gift rather than a right. Certainly the three primates of our church (++David Moxon, ++Brown Turei, ++Winston Halapua) conduct their roles with humility and care.

I confess to being slightly puzzled by the definition given of 'tikanga' and would appreciate any assistance ACANZP readers could give me. The definition given sounds to me more like a definition of another word, turangawaewae.

But if a bouquet can be given to ++Winston, should we throw a brickbat at the organisers of the meeting as a whole? Over on 'catholicity and covenant' a little sentence is picked up in the report:

"The question was raised, though not addressed in plenary, about how far Primates had a role in safeguarding the life of the Communion as a whole."

Errm, isn't that what many Anglicans with understanding of what is at stake in this meeting are looking for? A plenary addressing of the big questions about the life of the Communion as a whole, whether the primates do or do not have a role in respect of such big questions ... wouldn't that be a good idea?

Have the primates dropped the ball and been derelict in the duty of primatial care for the Communion?

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Theology of the Primate of TEC

It is difficult to know where to begin with a response to this lecture by Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori! The context is an Episcopalian leader delivering a lecture to a Roman Catholic college. Quite a bit of hopeful desire for common working together between Anglicans and Romans features in the lecture. Amen to that.

Here are two parts in the lecture which illustrate why some of us have just a little difficulty with this Primate's theology and cannot say 'Amen' to it.

(1) "It’s important to spend some time looking at our history, because many people erroneously believe that the big conflict came at the time of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. The differences between Roman and Anglican Christianity have certainly solidified since then, but the roots are much older. The points of difference between our respective communions are, to this day, rooted in different responses to contextual diversity. How shall the faith develop, or be permitted to develop, in the face of differing local conditions, challenges, and gifts?"

Mere plonkers of the Anglican world like me have been taught that there was a local issue of praxis at the time of the Reformation (Henry's marriages) but a universal issue (or set of issues) of theology. What was the gospel? How are people saved? These were universal questions of theology which Cranmer and co tackled. They thought Rome was wrong, not an Italian development which did not translate onto English soil. They succoured continental reformers who brought with them insights into the universal gospel of Christ nurtured in Swiss and French towns. They did not reject those insights because they came into being in differing local conditions across the Channel! I find it amazing that almost the opposite of what I have learned is being taught here. Of course I could be wrong. But what if it is the Presiding Bishop who is wrong in her understanding of Anglican history? Is that not a serious difficulty both for her own church and for the Communion as it seeks to welcome her leadership?

(2) "One of the charisms of Orthodoxy is the sense that God is active in far more than we recognize, that rather than two or seven sacraments, there are dozens or hundreds and even more than we can count or know." Again, we plonkers have been taught there are two dominical sacraments and five sacramental actions, and we have a bit of theological sport with those Anglicans who have sipped from the Tiber and loosely assert there are seven sacraments. But the Presiding Bishop is saying here that we are wrong. There are dozens of sacraments or hundreds and even more than we can count or know. Is this truth backed up by any catechetical statements anywhere in the Communion? [In the light of Bosco Peters' comment below I acknowledge unreservedly that the PB is backed up here by the official teaching of her own church. But that in itself highlights a possible distinction between TEC and the Communion, leading to the question whether it is a widespread Anglican teaching re sacraments which aligns more with Orthodox teaching (see, again, Bosco's comment below for reference) than with the teaching of the Church of England at the time of the Reformation].

In the end I would want to ask this question of PB Jefferts Schori: is there anything special in God's eyes about people who entrust their lives to Jesus Christ? On the basis of the lecture the answer is negative. God is at work everywhere, in all faiths, so much so that the missional task is to seek out partners among non-Christians in renewing and restoring creation. That God might be at work everywhere tilling the soil for the reception of the gospel does not figure in this lecture. That people being saved through religious pathways other than the way of Jesus undermines any necessity for that way seems lost on this lecturer. On the evidence presented here Jesus died to initiate a local rather than universal means of salvation. Note some logical consistency here: ++Jefferts Schori also understands Anglicanism as characterised by developing the faith locally rather than universally.*

Well, the evidence is there for all to see, that there are reasonable grounds for concern about the general theological direction of TEC, as represented in its Primate's articulation of her views. Some of what she says is not true, some of it raises significant questions as to whether it coheres with Anglican theology as broadly subscribed to across the Communion [n.b. italicised words here re worked since original posting], and, in the end, some of it seems at variance with the gospel of Jesus Christ itself.

*The Anglican Communion necessarily becomes a talking shop: how is your local Anglican expression of the localised Christian faith doing? There is no vision of a universal Anglican mission to spread the universal gospel of Christ within this lecture.

Inconvenient facts (2)

Another inconvenient fact at this time concerns the question of whether or not the primates represent their respective churches.

Fact: no one anywhere in the Anglican world denies that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori represents the overwhelming majority of her church, TEC. (Some of us would go much further and say that she superbly represents her church, to the point of all but being a living embodiment of its values and virtues).

Fact: some commentators in the Anglican world deny that primates by virtue of their office are representative of their respective churches. Despite processes of election and appointment in order to secure fit and articulate bishops for churches, and further processes by which those bishops (if not bishops, clergy and laity) choose one from their number to be their primate (exceptions, England where the crown decides; and ACANZP, my church, where we choose three), any representative connection between church and primate is denied by these commentators.

Are the commentators right? If so, is PB Jefferts Schori the exception to their ruling?

Is there any just, fair and true understanding in the denial of representativeness? Is it all possible that we are seeing the expression of bias and prejudice over rationality?

In this case the bias is this: 'primate in favour of TEC's innovations = good person, obviously representative of their church' but 'primate not in favour of TEC's innovations = doubtful person (ask question, are they bigoted, homophobic?), obviously unrepresentative of their church.'

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Inconvenient facts (1)

Here is an inconvenient fact for those asserting that All is Well in the Communion: the Anglican Communion as a formal entity posing as the official organisation (or organism) of Anglicans around the world is running the risk of representing only a third of those Anglicans while other bodies rise up to speak for the other two-thirds.

ACI has published a helpful post here explaining how the absentee primates at the current Primates' Meeting in Dublin represent (or, if like Mark Harris at Preludium you dispute that, are drawn from) churches comprised of two-thirds of Anglicans around our globe.

If the primates who have shown up are not careful, the evolving state of affairs of the Communion (remember Lambeth 2008 when not all bishops showed up) will continue to move in a direction whereby no Instrument of Unity will speak for any set of Anglicans greater than one-third of all Anglicans.

Dare we hope for a change of name to the Anglican Communion since it will not be a label consistent with the contents of its 'tin'? (How about Anglican Minority Communion?) Might we get some honest recognition by the primates of where things are heading?

Can they yet propose a way forward which sees the Anglican Whatever consisting of a majority of Anglicans and not a minority?

Any signs yet that the primates are urgently tackling risk of the diminution of the Communion? Nope!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You make the call!

If you pop over to ACNS you can find a useful list of attending and non-attending primates AND in a novel, but helpful and relevant development a list of reasons being given for non-attendance.

Here is the list of reasons:

"For reasons of visa difficulties:
Province de L'Eglise Anglicane Du Congo The Most Revd Henry Kahwa Isingoma

For reasons of health:

La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico The Most Revd Carlos Touche-Porter

The Church of the Province of Myanmar (Burma) The Most Revd Stephen Than Myint Oo

For reasons of diary commitments:
The Anglican Church of Kenya The Most Revd Eliud Wabukala

The Church of North India (United) The Most Revd Purely Lyngdoh

For personal reasons:
The Anglican Church of Tanzania The Most Revd Valentino Mokiwa

For reasons of Provincial matters:

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan The Most Revd Daniel Deng Bul Yak (the referendum)

L'Eglise Episcopal au Rwanda The Most Revd Onesphore Rwaje (two days after his installation)

Those who have chosen to stay away over recent developments in The Episcopal Church:
The Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean The Most Revd Gerald James (Ian) Ernest

The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & The Middle East The Most Revd Mouneer Hanna Anis

The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) The Most Rt Revd Nicholas Dikeriehi Okoh

The Church of the Province of Uganda The Most Revd Henry Luke Orombi

Church of the Province of South East Asia The Most Revd John Chew

Iglesia Anglicana del Cono Sur de America The Most Revd Hector Zavala

The Church of the Province of West Africa The Most Revd Justice Ofei Akrofi "

But, as Sarah points out in a comment on my previous post, the list bears analysis. If we ask the question 'who among those who are absent are likely to either (1) sign a statement of protest against TEC's actions and/or (2) work on alternative structures such as GAFCON and Global South?' then the number is greater than the seven at the bottom of the list.

What is your call on who might be fellow supporters of the seven who have stated in writing that they are not attending because of developments in TEC?

I would add at least Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Sudan should be considered.

The Primacy of the Word of God

Voices of individual primates may be difficult to hear in these next few days of the Dublin meeting. Except one might be able to track down the voice of a primate not bound into the collective silence of the meeting prior to whatever final communique it makes. Via Titus One Nine we can hear the voice of ++Mouneer Anis, or at least read a transcript of his recent address to a conference in North America.

Brief posting for a day or two, and delay in posting comments as I am involved dawn till dusk in a training course on 'Leading Your Church Into Growth.'

For word on the Primates' Meeting, several sites offer news, including our own Anglican Taonga whose latest Primates' Meeting report suggests as few as seven primates may not be attending as a protest. Other primates are not attending for reasons of illness and crisis in their home areas through natural disaster etc.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Harvest of Grace

Just out in the last week is Harvest of Grace a book of articles, essays, and reflections, united in engagement with the history of the Diocese of Nelson, which celebrated its 150 years of existence in 2008-2009. Anglican Taonga/Nelson Mail reports on its publication here. An advertisement with contents of the book and order form is here. Finally, thanks to modern Googlian technology, you can read excerpts of the book here. Yours truly contributed an essay on 'The Evangelical Character of the Diocese of Nelson.'

It is interesting to ask the question, 'How many dioceses in the Western Anglican world are commonly, frequently described as 'evangelical'?

My answer is 'not many.' There are a few in Australia (most notably, Sydney), perhaps one or two in Ireland. Anywhere else? Without getting into debate over the definition of which dioceses remain Anglican dioceses etc in North America, my understanding of a number of conservative dioceses within TEC is that they would be described as 'anglo-catholic' rather than 'evangelical' if such descriptors were used.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

God's Word for Today

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
St. Paul writing to the Corinthians (First Letter, 1:10)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What's Worse, Boycott or Baloney?

They will be on their planes now, winging to Dublin for the Primates' Meeting due to begin 25 January. Those going might ponder the articulate, careful case presented to explain the absence of those not going, just published on Global South.

Those not going might ponder the insights Archbishop Fred Hiltz of Canada has shared about the likely progress of the meeting. It will be the first facilitated by a facilitator. Key questions faced under facilitation will include "What do you think is the most pressing challenge or issue facing the Anglican Communion at this time? What do you think is the most pressing challenge or issue facing your own province?" Given that ++Fred then proceeds in interview to downplay any thought that the pressing challenges for the Communion have anything to do with what the absenteeing primates are concerned about, it is difficult to see those primates, should they read his insights, losing any sleep through second thoughts about not attending.

Unfortunately for the future of the Communion, if ++Fred Hiltz's remarks are anything to go by, the Primates' Meeting may be an exercise in collective delusion.

First up, we have this view of what is going on in the Communion's crisis: according to ++Fred, the  absence of the boycotting primates "does nothing to model for the church what it means to try and live with difference."

We are trying to live with disagreement, with dispute, with division. Please, dear primates attending, move from delusion to reality. The Communion is not in crisis because of 'difference.' It is not about whether you wear a chasuable and I do not, or you prefer the old prayer book and I the new. There is a huge chasm of disagreement going on about how we understand and use Scripture, about whether or not the church is privy to new revelation through the Spirit, and about whether or not a common doctrine of marriage is part of the common theology which binds Anglicans together in a global Communion.

Expect absolutely nothing to change if the primates go with the 'difference' explanation!

Secondly, having consulted senior Canadian bishops, ++Fred is going to the meeting with this view of what is really troubling the Communion:

"Three of the four metropolitans were available for consultation and “not one of them raised sexuality or the [Anglican] Covenant” as real challenges facing the Anglican Communion, said Archbishop Hiltz. The “real issues,” they agreed, are combatting disease, access to clean water, security, peace, and reconciliation with indigenous peoples."

Let's get this straight. Once and for all. Combatting disease, providing access to clean water, etc, are vital signs of the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. And on these matters church leaders may certainly contribute from time to time a prophetic voice inspiring and urging those in authority to get on with their responsibilities. But, funnily enough, church leaders have responsibilities which are not solely confined to matters on which God asks politicians, engineers, soldiers, physicians and the like to act responsibly and justly. Such responsibilities include shepherding their flocks, leading their churches well, and working on reconciliation of disputes and disagreements among the people of God. The primary responsibility of the primates of the Communion meeting en masse with the Archbishop of Canterbury is to build up the Communion. Not one whit of difference will be made to, e.g., access to clean water by discussing it. But, with the grace of God, a whit of improvement may be made to the sad state of the Communion if it is fearlessly and honestly discussed.

That last sentence above, by the way, is why, despite my sympathetic reception of the absent primates' explanation of their absence, I still think they should go!

But I am almost without hope that the Primates' Meeting will make one whit of difference. Between the boycott and the possibility that discussions will take place full of baloney, I see few signs of the reality of the Communion's crisis being faced.

'Dublin' is almost an anagram of 'delusion.'

Friday, January 21, 2011

Anglo-Petrine or Petro-Roman centre to church unity?

No time to post today, so a pointer to a thoughtful post on an aspect of the new Ordinariate.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jesus obeyed the Father so wives would obey husbands?

Driving home from dropping our daughter at her place of work this morning I felt the car wobble while stationary at an intersection. Well, cars wobble from time to time as the engine does its thing. But I also saw a traffic light pole wobble and slowly my half-sleeping brain told me 'Another earthquake!' (Quite a severe 5.1 as it turns out). Every so often the Canterbury earthquake rumbles back into life. Something else rumbling back into life is debate about eternal subordinationism. Rachel at Re-vis.e Re-form has a post with oodles of links (as well as a very interesting post about a dialogue between two organisations with opposing views on the ordination of women, Reform and Awesome).

I know theology needs lots of reason but sometimes I have an uneasiness in my bones about a matter and the approach to the roles of men and women associated with advocacy of the eternal subordination of Jesus Christ the Son is one of those matters. But before trying to bring reasoning to the issue, a couple of observations:

(1) There is a potential absurdity in making the link between human roles and divine roles too strong, namely as the title of this post implies, that the big issue is not the Trinity's inner workings but women submitting to men (wives to husbands, women to male leaders in church) and effectively the purpose of Jesus' subordination to the Father becomes the offering of a much needed role model for wives/women!!

(2) I am not sure if it was offered wittily but a comment on another site, by William Witt, struck me as very witty. In my words: on the representational theory of priesthood, a woman may not be a priest because she is not male like Jesus; but on the subordinationist theory of priesthood, a woman may not be a priest because she is like Jesus, destined to be 'eternally' subordinate!!

Some (hopefully) rational concerns:

(i) A trick to good trinitarian theology is to always be thinking 'both/and' rather than 'this' or 'that'. Is God one? Is God three? Some approaches to understanding the Trinity get stuck on one or other question. Generally the resolution is not to rule out the other but to come to a both/and conclusion, God is One and God is Three (or, better, God is Three-in-One). If the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father then that is associated with the 'and' of the Son is one with the Father. Trinity is subordination and mutuality. But some of my reading of contemporary arguments in favour of eternal subordination seem to sit lightly to the 'and' of mutuality between Father and Son.

(ii) Much is made (by eternal subordinationists) of the Father's distinctiveness from the Son: the Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Father; the Father directs the Son; the Son never directs the Father. In sum: by definition the Son is always subordinate to the Father; by implication, rule out subordination then you undermine the Fatherness of the Father and the Sonness of the Son. But is that all there is to say?

Think for a moment about marriage (i.e. one entered into in early adult life with potency for being fruitful through producing children). Yes, the husband's lifelong role is to be sperm giver and the wife's lifelong role is to be sperm receiver; and, where a child is born as a result, the husband also takes on a lifelong role of father and the wife has a lifelong role of mother. In these roles there is a permanent distinctiveness between the two parties to the marriage. Even if the husband dies, as a mother, the widow may at best take on some aspects of also being a father to the children; she never becomes a father. But that is not all there is to the marriage relationship. As husband and wife the couple will communicate about finances, choices in the rearing of the children, choices in the spending of time in leisure, and so forth. In those communications they will function as two persons, not only equal in status as persons, but also contributing equally as people able to express a view, offer a judgment, and engage in a process of coming to a decision (similarly as each would as persons working outside the family home, or engaged in community groups outside the family home). As two persons they enter into an experience of mutuality in which they contribute equally.

Back to God as Trinity. As Father, Son and Spirit engage together as a divine communion, do Son and Spirit eternally work from the Father's lead, or do Father, Son and Spirit engage together in a mutuality of divine persons, co-equal not only in status but also in role? Here I am thinking of a co-equal contribution to God being God. Clearly as we read Scripture we mostly are drawn to God in relation to humanity, in respect of which Father, Son, and Spirit have distinctive roles as creation comes forth from God, as the Son is sent into creation to redeem it, and as the Spirit proceeds from God to indwell us.

(iii) Does the Son never tell the Father what to do? I suggest that Scripture points us to one important instance in which the Father is responsive to the Son's role as Son. In Hebrews 7: 25 we read,

"Consequently, he [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them."

Jesus' intercession is that the Father will accept us. In every instance the Father accedes to the Son's direction.

(iv) The charge of Arianism is sometimes made against eternal subordinationists, and hotly refuted with vigorous assertions of orthodoxy. I do not think this charge is so easly refuted, however, because the more I read of eternal subordinationists arguments (e.g. here in this interesting exchange) the more concerned I am that great emphasis is placed on the Father as originator, source, director, commander, and the like. The more eternal subordination is promoted over concerns to preserve the mutuality of Father, Son and Spirit, the more emphasis is placed on the distinctiveness between Father and Son. How then do we distinguish between eternal subordinationism and Arianism? Protesting that the Son has equal status in divinity does not work, because this equality is not worked through in terms of its implications for mutuality. If the Son (and the Spirit) are co-equal and co-eternal then there is less rather than more distinction between Father and Son (and Spirit). Just to be clear here: I am not myself charging eternal subordinationists with the theological crime of Arianism, but I am pressing the question whether eternal subordinationists really do enough to distinguish between their version of eternal subordinationism and Arianism.

(v) Just as children rarely if ever understand the true intimacy within the mutuality of their parents' inner relationship (until, perhaps, the children when adults themselves enter into the intimacy of marriage), how do we know that the mutuality within the Godhead (of God being God, rather than God as revealed to us as God who comes to us as creator and redeemer) is chiefly characterised by eternal subordination of the Son to the Father? We do not know that, but it is not a great exercise of theological imagination to understand that the God who is love, who is Three-in-One, is a dynamic communion, a lively mutuality not well characterised by the staticness of 'eternal subordination.'

Remember: Jesus obeyed the Father so we could obey the Father as participants in his sonship.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Scripture, Tradition, Reason as a Sleight of Hand

'Scripture, Tradition, and Reason' often functions as a shorthand code for what Anglicanism is all about. But what does this code actually point to? I think it is generally held to mean something like this: Anglicanism is a form of Christian faith and practice which has evolved to employ reading Scripture, drawing on Tradition, and working with rational arguments, common sense, and due regard for the evolution of scientific knowledge in a balanced way when making decisions. Perhaps it is also useful to note what is generally being excluded by this way of making decisions: appeals to a pope, a magisterium (unless that be the church-in-synod/convention), or to Scripture (alone) as supreme authority (or, for that matter, to a foundational element of our heritage such as the Thirty-Nine Articles, or the BCP (1662).

At this point some minds go to bed happy in the knowledge that Anglicanism is obviously sane, sensible, and sorted. There may even be some extra satisfaction that we are 'not like' Romans, Pentecostalists, or Presbyterians!

In fact, 'Scripture, Tradition, and Reason' is a sleight-of-hand which hides a number of worrying things about Anglicanism which relies on this formula.

(1) It offers no guidance as to what might constitute a wise balance between Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

(2) It offers no parameters as to what constitutes 'Tradition' (so, for example, evangelical Anglicans might count heavily as Tradition the Calvinist influences of the 16th and 17th centuries, trumpeting the 39A as superbly representative of Anglican tradition, while anglo-catholic Anglicans might count heavily as Tradition the Catholic influences at work prior to Cranmer and later renewed in the 19th century).

(3) It offers no direction concerning the character of 'Reason': in some conversations it seems to mean rational thought mixed with common sense (which itself is interesting, because lots of non-Anglican Christians think similarly), but in other conversations it seems to mean contemporary experience of life. Indeed sometimes Anglicans become (so to speak) Methodists with fourfold talk of Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

(4) It offers no special place for Scripture, notwithstanding the special place of honour given to Scripture through the reforming of the Church of England, the establishment of the Book of Common Prayer, and the laying down of the Thirty-Nine Articles. In the latter case, whatever their inadequacies from current perspectives (e.g. we may not want to say what they say about popes or magistrates), these Articles consistently invoke Scripture as a higher authority than Tradition. One might also note that in Anglican liturgy Scripture retains a special place (we read from it, and not from Tradition or Reason). Is it not odd that when making decisions, some Anglicans then demote Scripture to equal footing with Tradition and Reason?

(5) It offers no account of the role of the Holy Spirit in the making of contemporary decisions! This also is interesting as (in my experience) Scripture, Tradition and Reason Anglicanism is comfortable switching to talk of the Spirit leading the church into new truth. While it is possible to argue logically that it is the Spirit who guides us as we reckon with Scripture, Tradition and Reason in making decisions, it becomes quite irrational to argue (as some do these days) that the Spirit may lead us to a decision which is unsupported by either Scripture or Tradition because there is no rational basis for knowing that we are making the right decision when at best one leg of the Anglican stool (i.e. Reason) is holding the decision up!

(6) For all of the above reasons, merely invoking Scripture, Tradition and Reason as the general character of Anglican decision-making leaves the door open to the decision-makers to play each off against the others so that the decisions made actually reflect the preferences of the decision-makers. If the decision-makers are in control of the manner in which Scripture, Tradition and Reason are balanced in support of the decisions made, then the real authorisation of the decisions are the people holding power. But, conveniently, 'Scripture, Tradition and Reason' can be invoked as supporting the decisions.

Besides which, we may ask, where is the authoritative statement of a recognised Anglican authority, that Anglicanism is most truly expressed when it invokes Scripture, Tradition and Reason as the three legged stool upon which this form of Christianity is established?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why I am really, truly Anglican (and maybe you are not)

It is understandable that these days some want to speak about 'truly Anglican' to distinguish something or someone who is the genuine Anglican article from run of the mill or even fraudulant Anglican claimants. But the phrase 'truly Anglican' bears a bit of examination. How do we determine who is 'truly Anglican' from someone who is not? Where, for example, is the criterion or criteria written down for all to see which assists with such determination?

It is possible to invoke some criterion, e.g. an Anglican who lives by Scripture, Tradition and Reason, with which many Anglicans would agree. But not all Anglicans agree with this criterion. And it is not written down anywhere that I know as an agreed standard for global Anglicanism.

In any case 'Scripture, Tradition and Reason' itself bears examination as it involves a curious sleight of hand, as I shall attempt to explain soon.

Alternatively, some might invoke the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. But as I understand that, it is a statement of an Anglican meeting. These days it is fashionable to question the authority of any Anglicna meeting posing as a council with authority. So the famous Quad is, really, just a statement with no authority.

So, if there is no recognised criterion or criteria for determining who is truly Anglican, then perhaps determination boils down to a matter of opinion. Accordingly I am really, truly Anglican. Maybe you are not!

Two gospels in the Anglican Communion?

It is a little confusing talking about 'gospel'. Take the very simple instance of reference to the 'four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John': does this mean there are four different gospel messages of which we need to take cognisance, or that there is one gospel in four versions ('according to Matthew', 'according to Mark', etc)? Traditionally the church has understood the latter to be the case. In the case of my post yesterday I referred to two or more gospels present in the Anglican Communion today (with special reference to TEC where a number of conservative bloggers often talk of two gospels at work in that church). It would be more precise to say the following:

(a) some claim that two different gospels are present in church X or communion Y - testing that claim will presumably yield a conclusion either that one gospel is true, the other is false, or each is a version of the one true gospel, or each is a false gospel.

(b) present in the life of church Z is a true gospel and a false gospel (and I know which is which and, of course, I am a supporter of the true gospel).

(c) there is only one gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ but it has many expressions, some of which, unfortunately, are misunderstood as false gospels, with a lot of energy misspent in unnecessary controversy.

So, yesterday, with reference to the current crisis in the Communion, I could more accurately have talked about the need to carefully test claims to follow and to proclaim the one gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ because it is being claimed that there is the true gospel as well as a false understanding of the gospel present at the heart of the crisis.

Such controversies over the gospel are not unique to the Anglican Communion today. The increasingly public (i.e. beyond academia) controversy over the theology of St Paul, often expressed under the heading of 'the New Perspective on Paul', is a true versus false gospel controversy circling around questions such as these:

What was Paul's understanding of the gospel? Has the Protestant church badly misunderstood Paul's understanding of the gospel since the renewed interest in Romans and Galatians generated by Martin Luther? Are proponents of the so called New Perspective on Paul misunderstanding Paul? What if both Martin Luther and the New Perspectivists are wrong?

Back to the Communion: part of what is going on with the absence of up to 10/38 primates at the imminent Dublin meeting is a conviction that if a false gospel is at work in the church this is (a) a very serious matter, beyond the pale of run of the mill differences in theological conviction; (b) a matter on which some New Testament texts give clear direction: there is to be no fellowship with proponents of a false gospel.

Is there a false gospel in the Communion?

Monday, January 17, 2011

What Should ++Rowan Do?

The Primates' Meeting, whether it is a power meeting or just an optional leaders' retreat (as characterized by one commenter in a post below), is at least significant in this way: it is the second Instrument of Unity meeting in less than two years to have people stay away not because it is optional but because of the participation of TEC's hierarchy. There is a message there about the state of our Communion. We are two speed (if not divided more deeply than that). At no time in the last two years has any indication been given that absenteeism of bishops/primates from the Primates' Meetings or Lambeth Conferences will cease as long as TEC remains on its present course.

I think ++Rowan should do something about this situation, ideally in concert with the primates of the member churches of the Communion. The following steps should be taken. They are not hard to secure agreement on.

(1) Make a statement that acknowledges the Communion is in an impaired state and not likely to change that status for the foreseeable future.

(2) Make a judgment call as to whether there are any circumstances (other than change of theological mindset) under which all bishops for Lambeth 2018 and all primates for the next Primates' Meeting are likely to meet or not.

(3a) If there are such circumstances, tell the Communion and work hard to make sure they prevail.

(3b) If there are not (and that is my judgment), tell the Communion and set in motion the required work  to reconfigure the Communion accordingly.

In respect of (3b) that could be as simple as changing our name, replacing Communion with a word more suited to being 'not in communion', but could be as complicated as two communions within a larger shell entity, the ABC being a figure of unity for both communions but just a figurehead for the larger shell entity.

In fairness to ++Rowan's leadership I would add that I think the logic of the current situation - including the fact that various sides are not going to be told what to do by anyone else - does not change if ++Rowan decided to retire (though he deserves to be free to make that decision - he must be very tired!) or to resign to make way for another ABC who, somehow, would break through the logjam with a different approach. No, no, no.  I believe ++Rowan could say more - offer a blunter more realistic assessment of the crisis. But I do not believe that he is in any way part of the problem. Let me explain ...

There are two gospels (or more) at work in our Communion today. Two approaches to salvation, two messages of what life in Jesus Christ means. In my view this is not an unusual situation per se: two (or more) gospels have often been present in the life of the Communion (think back, for example, to the early 1960s and the two gospels represented by John A.T. Robinson's Honest to God and the then burgeoning publications from the pen of John Stott). For many decades the Communion has coped with two (or more) gospels but that has lulled us into thinking such a situation would always prevail. Today we are facing the fact (or ought to be facing up to the fact) that we are not coping with the presence of two (or more) gospels in our midst. A two or more gospel church or communion always risks division. Risk through the last decades of the twentieth century has become reality in the twenty-first century.

It does not matter who the ABC is in respect of personality or leadership skills once managing the risk (as Fisher, Ramsey, Coggan, Runcie and Carey did) gives way to the reality of two or more gospels acting as foci points for multiple communions. (Added note: see comments below, but there is an important argument that Carey belongs with Williams as ABCs in the time of reality, Runcie being the last ABC in the time of risk).

The reality which has emerged from the years of managing the risk is not a failure on the part of ++Rowan's role as ABC but a result of decisions made elsewhere beyond the ability of any ABC to influence them. On the one hand the decision (albeit an aggregation of small decisions over several years) by TEC to be ultimately unconstrained by considerations of the Communion's unity in pursuit of the gospel as they understand it. On the other hand the decision (albeit an aggregation of small decisions over several years) by archbishops and bishops (mostly but not exclusively in Africa)  to be ultimately unconstrained by considerations of the Communion's unity or by the usefulness of American financial generosity in pursuit of a Communion united around one gospel.

In sum: the Communion has lived through much of its life with the pleasant delusion that it has been united deeply. In reality it has had a fair degree of unity in constant tension with the underlying, even hidden presence of two or more gospels. The tension has snapped: there are two or more gospels present and the pursuit of one or the other as the gospel for the Communion has exposed the fragility of our unity. There is no going back to the way things were. The future can be managed well or badly. The Primates' Meeting is impotent in respect of reversing the course of recent history, but it has potential to lead well into the future in which an impaired Communion must necessarily give way to a new set of Anglican entities.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

++Rowan Williams' Fan Club Dissolves Itself?

That is one interpretation of the very latest ACI epistle entitled 'It's Broken. Fix It!' This time all four ACI pillars are bulwarking for the truth (Radner, Seitz, Turner, McCall) and their battering ram is aimed squarely at ++Rowan Williams. They highlight his feigned powerlessness to change the course of the Primates' Meeting.
There is no official or unofficial ++Rowan Williams' Fan Club (that I am aware of). But if there were it looks like it is dissolving itself. (I am less than happy myself, by the way, with the seeming passivity of ABC leadership at this time).

Still, there could be a trick up his sleeve. An unpredictable move which shows that we have all given up too soon. :)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Who is an Anglican these days? (3)

It would be a strange irony of recent global Anglicanism's tendency to eschew talk of the Covenant, to overturn tradition at the drop of a hat (think: Lambeth 2008 as completely different to all preceding conferences), and to make up rules as it goes along (think: the way some things have happened at recent ACC meetings), if a definition of who is an Anglican were fiercely inflexible!

In fact, in a further irony, there is no body of global Anglicans capable of defining who an Anglican is and enforcing that definition. After all, what has a great plethora of words by blogging Anglicans in recent years achieved? Clarity that neither Lambeth nor ABC nor Primates' Meeting nor ACC have authority to impose anything on any member church of the Communion. There never will be an international legal decision which  makes 'Anglican' somekind of trademark because there is no body of Anglicans capable of representing the Communion as a body of which the Communion is unanimously supportive.

In the end, defining who is an Anglican these days cannot rise above a matter of opinion. So here is my opinion!

(1) Anglicanism has character: a theological heritage, a liturgical tradition, a history of growth and development from beginnings in the Church of England. Any definition of who an Anglican is should incorporate those who share in that character through self-identification as an Anglican.

(2) Anglicanism has expression in various churches, as well as in the global Anglican Communion, and in other networks, notably at this time, the Anglican Church of North America, GAFCON, and Global South. Any definition of who is an Anglican should incorporate those who claim membership of such self-identified churches, communions, and networks.

(3) Anglicanism has theological substance, summed up as reformed-and-catholic. Any definition of who an Anglican is should incorporate those self-identifying as Anglican whose confession of faith is coherent with that substance.

This is not 'Anglican means anything we like'. Masses of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Quakers, etc would not fit any emerging definition from these three principles, not least because no matter how much they celebrated what they had in common with Anglicans, they would neither claim membership of an Anglican church nor self-identify as Anglicans.

This approach to definition has advantages of acknowledging the theological substance of being Anglican (so being Anglican does not reduce to absurdities like an Anglican with technical membership of a church (say, never turning up to worship, but making an annual donation) is 'in' but a person attending an ACNA church, fully subscribing to the theological substance of Anglicanism is 'out'), as well as formalities such as the overwhelming majority of Anglicans being those who belong to a member church of the Communion. In its own way this approach is inclusive and diverse (what could be more Anglican than that!).

Naturally the best way to be Anglican in theological belief is to use authorised prayer books because in these the theological substance of Anglicanism (as understood by each authorising church) is best expressed.

Two observations:

(1) My task here is attempting to define who is an Anglican these days, not to define who is in the Anglican Communion or who ought to be in the Anglican Communion. Dysfunctional though I think the organising bodies of the Communion are, it is nevertheless their task to work out who belongs and who does not belong to the Communion. While a sentiment within me says that all Anglicans ought to be in the Communion, the reality is that not all Anglicans want to be in the Communion because some think the Communion is unfaithful to Anglicanism as they understand it.

(2) The summary of Anglican theological substance, reformed-and-catholic is very important! I suggest that those Anglicans moving to the Anglican Ordinariate are doing so because, in the end, they have come to a point of jettisoning the 'reformed' part of the substance. The much discussed phenomenon of 'Sydney Anglicanism', conversely, is running the risk (IMHO) of jettisoning the 'catholic' part of the substance. But concerning the main task of this post I suggest the 'catholic' part is noted carefully: to be Anglican is to want to be and to work towards participation in the life of the whole church. We could say that there are no individual Anglicans! We should note that claimants to be Anglican should have a 'plan for union' (NZ readers of a certain vintage will know that phrase well!). That is, Anglicans look to belong to something bigger than themselves: to a parish, to a diocese, to a national church, to an international Communion, to a reunited, undivided global church (one day!). Setting to one side property disputes and some rhetoric about an ambition to replace TEC and ACCan, ACNA quite rightly desires to be part of global Anglican networks, and those global networks rightly seek to include this entity. My personal hope is that one day sufficient bridges can be built for TEC, ACCan and ACNA to coexist within the Anglican Communion. That would be second prize, of course, compared with true unity in the body of Anglicans in North America, but it would be a realistic representation of where Anglican theological diversity has broadened to in North America.

There is also the question of 'formularies': how important is following the formularies  in order to be an Anglican (or, to be Anglican)? My thought is that it is very important if one wishes to be discerned as a good Anglican or a faithful Anglican or a thorough Anglican. But simply to be an Anglican? It is often observable about the formularies that many of us try to follow them but each of us has a blindspot, an area of formularaic life which we observe in the breach. Who is to say that X is an Anglican following her 95% selection of the formularies while Y is not an Anglican because he follows a different 95% selection? And would 95% be sufficiently robust, or 90% or ... well who would say when one ceased to be an Anglican because of not observing the formularies? (Yeah, I know, technically a church court could say ... but when did one say that in recent memory in my church?). Plus there is the further difficulty re formularies as a criterion for being Anglican, namely that they are hard to enforce upon ordinary (i.e. unlicensed) lay people. To avoid any misunderstanding: Anglican formularies are important and all licensed ministers of the church, lay and ordained, should understand and fulfil their obligations in respect of them. I am not encouraging anything less than being a good, faithful and thorough Anglican. My point here is that I am not convinced that invoking the formularies is helpful when defining who is an Anglican these days.

Okay, cutting to the chase, Who is an Anglican these days? I put this forward for consideration:

An Anglican is someone self-identifying as an Anglican.

I would like to extend that to something like 'and expresses that identification in word and deed'. But I fear I would exclude those many Anglicans who do not actually attend church :)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who is an Anglican these days? (2)

Teasing out the issues on Anglican identity is coming along very nicely in comments being made to my first post on the question of who is an Anglican these days. Thank you.

Certainly a pretty tight definition of 'Anglican' (and therefore of who is not Anglican) requires belonging to the Anglican Communion. There is then just the small, but actually rather large question of how people self-identifying as Anglicans who do not belong to the Anglican Communion are to be called. Such people, after all, are clearly and particularly not identifying themselves as Presbyterians or Baptists or Roman Catholics etc!

Frankly, in my book, calling them 'wannabe Anglicans' is less than gracious as well as, I suggest, less than accurate (because 'wannabe' implies a grasping ambition to be something one cannot be, whereas some signs suggest that civil, careful, progressing discussion has been engaged in between ACNA and Canterbury). More helpful is the suggestion that the Anglican Communion (quickly) develops a form of 'associate membership' for the likes of ACNA. Anglicans would then be 'full' and 'associate' members of the Communion. Such an approach would be in keeping with the spirit of 21st century Anglicanism which we are constantly assured is 'inclusive'!

Also helpful is the suggestion that people may appropriately identify themselves as Anglican where the theology to which they hold can broadly be identified as 'Anglican theology.'

Another comment uses the phrase 'truly Anglican' and that is a matter to consider also: are there 'Anglicans' and 'true Anglicans' (and, some might want to add, 'false Anglicans')? Associated questions would then be the grounds by which one designated an Anglican claimant as a 'true Anglican.' Would that include communion with the See of Canterbury? Adherence to formularies of a member church of the Communion? Commitment to Anglican theology? (One particular challenge these days is that some Anglicans think other Anglicans-communing with Canterbury-adhering to relevant formularies have nevertheless lost the Anglican theological plot: are these true or false, orthodox or heterodox or heretical Anglicans?)

Also into the mix of threads of issues - not drawn into conclusions here yet - is the nature of idenfication language: some words play dual roles when it comes to identification. 'Kiwi', for instance, can apply to someone born and bred in NZ; but it is also used by people who emigrated here just a few years ago but who now identify themselves fully with this land and its culture. Also, in my experience, denominational identifications are flexible in various ways. There is many a Presbyterian spouse who has worshipped with their Baptist spouse in Baptist churches for many years of married life who nevertheless understand themselves to be Presbyterian and not Baptist. Ditto Methodists who move to a rural area with only an Anglican or Roman Catholic church to choose from: although fully immersed in the life of the church they participate in, in their hearts they remain Methodist. Conversely there are those Christians who will say 'I am an Anglican these days' (because they have been worshipping in the local Anglican church for a few months) but when they move towns and find the local Baptist church to their liking, cheerfully say 'I am a Baptist these days' (even though the 'full members' of that congregation might look sideways at them because they know they have not been fully immersed!).

Any more issues, questions, nuances to ponder?

ADDED LATER: Of course there are a few more things to think about, like (a) Anglicans who have some tenuous connection with a local parish church, virtually never actually go to church for Sunday worship ... are they more or less Anglican than a member of ACNA? (b) Anglicans who leave (say) TEC for ACNA but do not renounce in any way their Anglican-ness: have they ceased to be Anglican because they left one Communion-associated form of Anglicanism for another?

I will attempt some conclusions in my next post.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

For those of you who think ADU is extreme conservatism hidden in lamb's wool

The Dubliners: Why Peter Carrell has it all wrong

Should I be flattered to have been noticed? :)

I have written to David Virtue suggesting he has misread the article ...

Who is an Anglican these days? (1)

'Anglican at least means those who follow the formularies and are part of the Anglican Communion – or we are back at Humpty Dumpty defining a word to mean whatever he wants it to mean.'

These words in a comment by Bosco Peters here raise the very interesting question of who is an Anglican these days.

In my understanding there are at least three categories of people and churches to which they belong claiming to be Anglican.

(1) People belonging to chuches which are member churches of the Anglican Communion (most of which churches have the word 'Anglican' in their name, some of which have the word 'Episcopal', and one of which is simply 'the Church of England.'

(2) People belonging to churches which form the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), a network which is not formally part of the Anglican Communion but which is a complicated entity inasmuch as (2.1) some churches which are part of the network are under the jurisdiction of bishops who are bishops of a member church of the Communion, and (2.2) Archbishop Bob Duncan, presiding bishop of the network, is routinely invited to meetings of Anglican bishops such as GAFCON and Global South conferences.

(3) People belonging to churches in one geographical area which are under the jurisdiction of bishops who are bishops of a member church of the Anglican Communion in another geographical area where that jurisdiction has not been approved by the member church of the Communion in the first geographical area. (Maori Anglicans in Australia are under the jurisdiction of Maori bishops of ACANZP but this is in an approved arrangement with the bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia; whereas members of the AMiA [recently firewalled off from ACNA, though still in some association with ACNA] in the USA are overseen by the Anglican Church of Rwanda in an arrangement not approved by TEC).

But there is also a fourth category of Anglican claimants to consider, namely those claiming to be Anglican (or, on closer inspection, may not claim to be Anglican!) who do not fit any of the three categories above. In mind here are (4.1) members of the Church of England in South Africa (CESA), a now long-standing offshoot of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa - I think, but am not certain, that members of CESA would describe themselves as Anglicans, (4.2) members of various other churches around the world which use the word 'Anglican' or 'Episcopal' or the phrase 'Church of England' in their name, and (4.3) members of the new Anglican Ordinariate in the Roman Catholic Church: what will they describe themselves as?!

A final note, referring back to the cited comment above: I do not think that considering the possibility that all in these four categories may appropriately claim to be Anglican takes us to Humpty-Dumpty or 'Anglican' meaning anything at all. None in these four categories would consider themselves to be Presbyterians. All would claim a common heritage or background or point of origin in the evolving, spreading life of the Church of England. However actual consideration of the possibility will be my concern in my next post or posts on the matter.

If there is a fifth, sixth, etc category, please let me know :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Scripture Alone (4 - final for now)

I find that some Christians are edgily nervous about how we speak about Scripture. A good Anglican phrase like 'God's Word written' (Article 20) as a description of Scripture raises eyebrows twitchily. The gist of such responses as I best understand them is that the Word of God is in the text but is not the text. After all 'the Word' is Jesus Christ who is alive and reigns in heaven and thus is certainly not a set of words, not confined to one book, and not constrained by the limitations of first century men and their pre-Christ predecessors. Positively, so this theology goes, Jesus Christ the living Word of God lives in and through our lives, not via a text.

I suspect that a great attraction of this line of understanding of the relationship between 'the Word of God' and the printed words of Scripture is that Scripture itself, read from start to finish, makes all readers nervous about siding with law over grace, and about the prospect of being enslaved by the letter rather than being made alive through the Spirit. Further, (as recently pointed out here in a comment to an earlier post in this series) Jesus himself warns against reading Scripture in such a way as to not see the wood for the trees:

'You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.' (John 5:39-40)

Yet even here, Jesus offers an important clue about the significance of 'Scriptures' (here directly meaning the Old Testament writings): 'they bear witness about me.' What is true of the Scriptures of Jesus' day is also true of Scripture (Old and New Testaments) of our day: they bear witness about Jesus.

But there is something we might miss here. The writer of the fourth gospel writes these words down for the benefit of his readers. How are his readers to 'come to [Jesus] that [they] may have life'? By reading the words of the Gospel according to John is the answer.

'Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:30-31)

In other words, for John the 'words' of Scripture (the Scriptures of Jesus, which we know as the Old Testament; the new authoritative writing being written down by John as witness to Jesus) lead to 'the Word' which is both alive and gives life. No division exists between the words and the Word, between text and the Truth. A similar situation is expressed in the closely related First Epistle of John: the Word of life is the eternal life in which believers participate, attested to in words proclaimed by the writer and his colleagues, and in the specific instance of this epistle 'we are writing these things so that (y)our joy may be complete.' (1 John 1:1-4). Again, no division exists between words and the Word, between text and the Truth: written words give and enhance life in Christ the living Word.

In the end Scripture is much much more than a set of books reflecting the constraints of the contexts in which the actual words were written in ancient times, seemingly beyond our present power to fully comprehend a world unknown to us. Scripture is the means by which we meet Christ, anticipated in the Old Testament, presented in space and time in the gospels, and interpreted for us in the epistles. The power of the words of Scripture lies in their presentation - making present to us - Jesus Christ the living Son of God, the Word of God made flesh. The Word of God, Christ as the full revelation of God, is written for us in the pages of Scripture. We know no other Christ, we have no other access to Christ the Word than through Scripture.

When we think about Scripture as the Word of God written, as the unique witness to Jesus Christ, we see tradition and reason pale almost to insignificance. Reason tells us nothing about Christ. Tradition is the church seeking to understand Christ, but can add nothing to Scripture and always needs testing that it is aligned with and not against Scripture, lest we dishonour the fullness of Christ revealed to us in Scripture.

Scripture Alone because no other source of revelation leads us to the true Christ. We could say that the Word became text and dwells among us still!

For Anglicans, if this line of thinking is acceptable, we might take care when speaking about 'Scripture, Tradition and Reason.' These three are not a trinity of co-equal authorities. If Christ is the centre of our communion together, then Scripture is both supreme authority above Tradition and Reason, and Scripture is the expression of the Word from which Tradition and Reason proceed.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Scripture Alone (3)

Part of my musing about 'Scripture Alone' is that the future of the church (all churches, around the world) will depend on Scripture as the one common authority for faith and practice. One contributing observation here is that when the Reformation utilised Scripture as a plumbline to measure the then Western European church an eventual consequence was that the Roman-led Western European church in the centuries following (enlarged, of course, through those centuries into a global church) itself drew closer to Scripture and sought more rather than less justification from Scripture for its decisions.

There are glaring Roman exceptions, but even these can be argued to highlight the increasing rather than decreasing role for Scripture. Thus I notice Diarmaid MacCulloch in his monumental A History of Christianity mentions such a glaring exception, 'In 1950 [Pius XII] used papal infallibility to define the doctrine of the bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven, a move which infuriated Protestant, Orthodox and Eastern Churches alike' but goes on to also observe the character of internal Catholic opposition to the move 'and which did not please those Catholic theologians who cared about the doctrine's lack of justification in the Bible or in early Church tradition.' (p. 952) In my personal reading of Catholic literature I find an increasing recognition of the need to underpin doctrine with Scripture. It is a subjective judgement I know, but I find it difficult to believe that Benedict XVI, careful scholar that he is, making a similar unScriptural definition some sixty years later. In those six decades a renewed interest in bibical scholarship has been expressed, as well as a new freedom (with some constraints) to engage in critical scholarship free of the anti-biblical scholarship 'Modernist' campaigns of the era between Vatican 1 and Vatican 2.

Nothing is simple about the apparently simple phrase 'Scripture Alone'! For the church of the future a complex discussion will concern the question 'what Scripture?' (the Protestant Bible or Catholic Bible or Orthodox Bible?!) There will continue to be vigorous discussion about interpretation of Scripture. But at least there will be such a discussion rather than, say, a discussion about abolishing Scripture or relegating it to the archival bowels of theological libraries. Why will we retain Scripture? I will attempt to reflect on that in the next post, and do so in such a way as to re-express why Scripture is unique, and thus why some credence may be given to the idea of 'Scripture Alone.'

Irish Troubles

Some reflections by me on the forthcoming Primates Meeting in Dublin are published here at Living Church. Hopefully I have covered myself in sufficient blandness to protect me from being convicted of false prophecy. The biblical consequence for that being ... well, you know!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Scripture Alone (2)

Anglicans seem to be comfortable with the thought that being Anglican means having Scripture at the centre of our lives, most obviously expressed in liturgies requiring two or three readings from Scripture and the preaching of a sermon, at least for Sunday services. I have noticed in my years of engaging in Anglican conversations on the internet that some Anglicans are not so comfortable with the phrase 'Scripture alone.' As I understand this discomfort 'Scripture alone' may provoke the following (overlapping) concerns as to a not so hidden agenda being promoted:

(a) Puritan Anglicanism in which only what is (affirmed) in Scripture should be part of the church's life and what is not in Scripture should not be part. (Bishops might survive this form of 'Scripture alone' but candlesticks will not).

(b) Fundamentalist Anglicanism which has no appreciation or insufficient appreciation of the roles tradition and reason play (or ought to play) in true Anglicanism alongside Scripture. Thus in Fundamentalist Anglicanism, Scripture may be used in a blunt manner to suppress or avoid other considerations on a given matter, considerations which tradition and/or reason would helpfully bring to discussion. In my personal experience creationism has a presence in some Anglican contexts which are fairly described as Fundamentalist Anglican. (But, for the avoidance of unnecessary comment, I am not saying that all Fundamentalist Anglicans are creationists).

(c) Reformed Anglicanism which understands that 'Scripture alone' pertains first and foremost to understanding salvation: all we need to know to be saved is in Scripture. The discomfort here could range from mistrust ('Reformed Anglicanism? Huh, I bet it is really Fundamentalist or Puritan Anglicanism we are talking about') to a simple question, 'What about the Catholic part of Anglicanism (understood as 'reformed-and-catholic')?'

What I would like to explore in this little series are questions such as Is there more to Scripture Alone than the three options above? and Is there a future to Scripture Alone which we could embrace with affection rather than avoid with fear?

Arrival or departure?

(I will get back to 'Scripture Alone' but that has been an item on the Anglican agenda for some 500 or more years ... so no hurry).

In recent days news of a prominent ceremony of blessing in a cathedral with a bishop presiding and two well-known clergywomen has been reported, mostly in terms of it being a 'marriage'. All three clerics are licensed clergy in TEC, the ceremony is being justified in terms of a resolution of TEC's General Convention, and nothing I have read suggests that anyone of note in TEC is concerned that this event will have any bearing at all on the immediate future of the Communion (bearing in mind the imminence of the next Primates' Meeting, at the end of this month, in Dublin).

Cranmer writes of the matter with clarity:

"But when does a blessing become a marriage?

The Revd Peter Ould has performed an autopsy on the liturgy used in this service, and determined that it is indeed a marriage ceremony. Like that presided over by the Revd. Martin Dudley in London, the Rt Rev M Thomas Shaw has been content to amend the Prayer Book to accommodate the same-sex union.

And so all references to procreation have been excised.

While this may be nothing new in the US, it illustrates that The Episcopal Church has departed from the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and the orthodox teaching of the Worldwide Anglican Communion.

In Genesis 2, God says: “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make a help mett for him’ (v18). It continues: ‘Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh’ (v24). Although these verses do not purport to define marriage, they do describe its origin, and are therefore crucial for understanding the Bible’s teaching on marriage, which is both heterosexual and monogamous. This precludes homosexuality (Exod 22:19; Lev 18:22f) and Lesbianism (cf Rom 1:26f). Some heterosexual unions are also prohibited (Lev 18:9-17; 20:11-21; Deut 22:30; 27:20-23). Bigamy, though evident in the OT, is not ideal (Lev 18:18; Deut 17:17), being portrayed negatively (Gen 16:4ff; 21:10) or deemed problematic (Deut 21:15-17).

Three purposes for marriage can be identified out of v24: (i) the procreation of children; (ii) companionship, and (iii) sexual union. Marriage is a covenant before God, which is explicitly confirmed by Jesus when he states that marriage is that which ‘God hath joined together’ (Mt 19:6); when a person ‘leaves’ and ‘cleaves’. Jesus refers to being ‘yoked together’ (Mt 19:6; Mk 10:9), the Greek term meaning a profound union. The marriage covenant was designed by God to last until at least one of the spouses dies (Rom 7:2), though it could be severed by divorce.

This is the unequivocal Anglican position, as stated in the Book of Common Prayer."

Except these days I suppose it is, for some Anglicans, the equivocal position!

Cranmer is right. With the Primates' Meeting imminent (a prayer for which is here), this is a point of departure. But who is departing from whom? Has TEC arrived at a new point of unequivocal commitment to difference from the majority of the Communion?

I will publish comments on this post which discuss (1) the (in)significance of this event of blessing in Boston for the life of the Communion (2) whether or not "The Episcopal Church has departed from the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and the orthodox teaching of the Worldwide Anglican Communion" (3) the likelihood of any consequential alterations being made to the Primates' Meeting in Dublin at the end of this month. I will not publish comments which (1) include ad hominem comment on anyone involved in the event of blessing or other episcopal leaders in TEC or the Communion (2) engage in general discussion about human sexuality.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Toronto Blessings?

If you have nothing better to do with your time you might be interested to follow a conversation between Toronto Anglican bishops and Ephraim Radner over at Covenant. It is a civil conversation. The blessings being talked about are not the Toronto Blessing of the 1990s!

Scripture Alone (1)

Scripture talk in Anglican circles can be tricky to negotiate. One wants to raise the 'but' of reason and tradition necessarily standing alongside Scripture. Another wants to ask 'what Scripture?', meaning the Bible as the ancient church knew it (OT in Greek not Hebrew) or as Jerome argued for (OT in Hebrew), with possible cognoscenti distinctions being made between Greek New Testament texts (Byzantine or modern eclectic, for instance?). Then recent debate seems to implicitly if not explicitly have what I will call the sexual ethic issue lurking, as in 'I know where this is heading, you just want to end up with a position which underlines/sets aside commandment against loving same sex relationships.' But negotiating these matters is important: Scripture at the centre of our life is a distinguishing feature of being Anglican. Why, for instance, are our liturgies not cluttered with references to Mary and various saints? (Because we do not find support for doing so in Scripture). Why do we have formal, written down liturgies which take care with words authorised for use? (Because these words rather than other words capture the scriptural detail of our theology, so much so that most of our liturgies are drawn directly from Scripture). This last point has to be nuanced - Roman and Eastern liturgies have similar attention to Scripture, but the scriptural detail of our theology means we part company on one or two points in the eucharist (at least, many Anglicans do, I have been part of 'Anglican' liturgies which borrow Roman words to do with 'offering' sacrifice!)

While some Anglicans seem to play fast and loose with Scripture, the reality of the core of Anglican theology as resolved by synods and conventions approving prayer books and making other resolutions of theological importance, is that it is strongly aligned with Scripture, if not tightly bound to it. Where we discover that some kind of deviation from Scripture has occurred, the first criticism to arise is that 'this is not Scriptural'. We are a church with Scripture at the centre.

That's enough for today. More soon on the theme of 'Scripture alone.'

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Anglican Ordinariness

The first bishops etc from the C of E have been received into the Anglican Ordinariate. We are told that within a couple of weeks they will have been ordained priests. They and we can all sleep better for knowing their sacramental ministries can move from pretence to reality :) Perhaps this is a moment to consider those of us who are not following them. We could call ourselves members of the Anglican Ordinariness and ponder the virtue of being ordinary Anglicans. In the background to my reflection is taking up again Diarmaid McCulloch's History of Christianity as some holiday reading (and contributor to depression, Christianwise!!): what a hash Christians have often made of the fullness of life in Christ.

Three virtues I note are (1) Scripture at the centre of our lives, as measure of truth and treasury of the gospel (2) Christ unconstrained and unclouded as direct mediator of God's salvation (and therefore as guarantor of validity of sacramental ministry) and (3) continuity with the ancient church aligned with flexibility as church of present and future ages.

A vice? As simply as I can express it, the brilliant national Church of England has spawned a struggling international Anglican Communion, uncertain of how it should govern or manage itself in relation to the three virtues above. Somehow the 'catholic and reformed' character of the C of E, post 1559/1662, has translated poorly into a larger body.


Not long after finishing the above post, I came across Ephraim Radner's latest essay at ACI; a heartfelt cry of despair concerning the future of the Communion, unless God saves it. Including this:

"I have long since abandoned any expectation that writings like this would be heeded by those about whom they are written; that, in this case, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori would voluntarily stay away from the Primates Meeting; that other Primates would drop their boycotts and demonstrate ceaseless hope; that the Archbishop of Canterbury would speak clearly and forcefully to the actual obstacles before our Communion’s healing and would follow through with concrete means of removing them. I write instead for a few others, who simply wonder what it all adds up to – a warning and an encouragement. A warning: ultimately, through their actions or lack of them, our leaders have asked us all to rely on them or on ourselves, and not on God. That is the hopelessness they are engendering. But in the days to come – this year and the next and the next after — we cannot put our trust in “children of men”, the “princes” of our church. And encouragement: hope for our Communion, our churches, and our souls, lies with God."

To which we may observe that God has promised the Communion nothing, we may be left to wither on the vine!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Long Road to Nowhere

It has been good to have a holiday from blogging, and I come back to posting resolved to post my opinions a little less this year while reserving a right to post lots of news items, should there be any.

To be honest life is a bit depressing at the moment, Anglicanwise. A sharp set of shocks on Boxing Day seems to have set back restorative hopes for some of our Anglican parish buildings in Christchurch. For reasons I won't go into here I am more rather than less worried about a bright future for the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. As for the Communion, nothing is looking good from my Down Under viewpoint and to make matters worse I had an epiphanic moment which implies the future of the Communion is very dim indeed.

My epiphany for Epiphany is this: a council denied authority to disapprove also has no authority to approve.

TEC is stoutly resisting any and every attempt to have its Communion dividing decisions judged by the Communion. It denies authority for any Instrument of Unity to make such judgement, save possibly for the ACC which it is doing its best to control. Where Anglican leaders have given up on an Instrument of Unity, bishops staying away from Lambeth and primates from the Primates Meetings it holds its hands up and wonders why such choices are being made when All is Well because the canons and constitution of TEC have been scrupulously observed. A war is being waged on the Covenant, well led by leading TEC pundits, with the likely outcome that the Covenant will be approved in such a manner that it will have no effective authority where it counts: calling into Communion coherency those member churches which have moved away from coherency of doctrine and practice.

But if the signs pointing to a TEC victory, a Communion with no council to disapprove its actions, become reality, we are then left with a frustrating future. TEC will be a pioneering member of a Communion which has no conciliar means of approving TEC's ground-breaking decisions as properly part of Anglican lore if not law.* In our life as global Anglicans we will have a serious alteration to Anglican doctrine of marriage occurring which is neither disapproved nor approved. Further, we will be tied in knots as to how we might organise ourselves to become decisive. Naturally some will make even more of a virtue of being indecisive, but many will wonder what kind of Communion disables itself from making decisions!

I suggest this will prove, over time, to be unsatisfactory on all sides of the Communion. Why are we unable to risk a conciliar disapproval of a decision in order to seek conciliar approval? That smacks of a lack of courage and of resolve to find common ground together. The effect will be further disaster for the Communion, as we will have journeyed further down the road to nowhere as a Communion with a name which means something (common doctrine and practice). Or, alternatively, we will be further down the road to a Communion with a name which means nothing (uncommon doctrine or practice cannot be restrained).

PS For the assuaging of doubt that TEC is embedding change to Anglican understanding of marriage as a covenanted relationship between a man and a woman into the fabric of its life, you might like to read this Episcopal news service report of an episcopally presided event repeatedly described as a 'marriage' involving one of the best known Episcopalian theologians.

*I am more than well aware that TEC, as other member churches do, makes decisions according to its canons and constitution which are properly made (and am also aware that some of its decisions may have been improperly made, according to commentators such as The Anglican Curmudgeon). I am not here talking about whether TEC by its own lights has made decisions it is entitled to make, but about whether on some matters of wider Communion interest it has made decisions which might be recognised as contributing to the development of Anglican doctrine and practice around the Communion. Further, my ongoing point on this blog is whether 'Communion' means a body of Christians with some things in common which go beyond a shared heritage in the Church of England or not, and whether we have any real accountability to one another or effectively are a body of observers of one another's claims to be genuinely Anglican.