Friday, July 13, 2012

What now? (Possibly part 1 of a series)

I notice this morning on Facebook a strong post about the future of our church re the possibility of our theology on marriage changing the character of our church (and 70 comments to date in the exchange following!). What now for our church as we engage over the next two years in re-examining our theology of marriage?

Here is one question I think we should be thinking about (and there are many more to consider, some of which may be considered in future posts):

What is the state of the society in which we seek to be the visible church of God?


Historically, the church has always made some adaptation towards the way society is, even as it has also sought, variously, to prophetically critique society, as well as to convert people to Jesus Christ.

Just yesterday I had the fortunate and privileged experience of being part of a small group of local academics in an informal session with visiting New Testament scholar Darrell Bock, a specialist in Luke-Acts studies. One of the points Darrell made about Luke-Acts is that it functioned as 'sociological legitimation' of the early Christian movement. On the one hand showing that it had ancient and respectable roots in Judaism. On the other hand showing that through no particular fault of its own it had become separated from Judaism while seeking to be a responsible religious movement within the Roman Empire.

In Western society (at least), the church also stands in need of 'sociological legitimation'. That is, we need to be seen to be respectable, responsible, and reasonable. Not least, because the progress of the gospel depends on people making some sense of it: the gospel is different, but it is no virtue if it is deemed to be weird; belonging to the church has to make some kind of sense (e.g. because it is a friendly, supportive, caring community) and have a certain transparency (witness, by contrast, the alarm which cults and sects create in our society); and the church has to make some kind of contribution to the common good (not least to be a legitimated body, the contrast being Islamic societies where churches are more or less illegal, precisely because they threaten the common good of those societies as 'total' Islamic communities).

From this perspective, liberal/progressive tendencies in Western churches lean over backwards to be respectable, responsible and reasonable, while conservative tendencies in the same churches lean over backwards not to be unfaithful to what was once respectable, responsible and reasonable. One question for the latter being whether some shift is required because society has changed - a question which simply has to be asked for the sake of conservative integrity because examples abound of conservatives making some shifts to adapt to a changing world.

A question for the former, however, is whether leaning over backwards for the sake of sociological legitimation is precisely at the expense of the existence of the church itself.

That's enough for now, save to make one further observation out of some remarks Darrell Bock made: Luke took great pains in the telling of the story of the early church to tell us that this church held together across many tensions. It was the church of Hebrew speaking Jews and Greek speaking Jews, of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, of Jerusalem and Rome, of Peter and Paul. I loved Darrell's observation that when the crucial Jerusalem council was held over the tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians, it is the doyen of Jewish Christianity, James the brother of Jesus (and writer of the Letter of James) to whom Luke gives the lead role in proposing the compromise which will hold the two factions together.

What is our Luke-Acts story for the Western church today, for ACANZP?

26 comments:

Small Farmer in The City said...

An EXCELLENT post!

Scott Mayer said...

Hi Peter,

Good post.

I'm not sure that 'sociological legitimation'is the only aspect of the attempts to appear reasonable and respectable to our wider society. I think that there may be a sense in which for some within the church the core beliefs of liberal, secular non-Christian are their own, and that the church is a vehicle for providing aspects of community that secular society has abandoned.

It was listening to philosopher Alain de Botton speaking in a radio interview about his book Religion For Atheists, where he seemed to be saying exactly this -- that modern secular society would do well to learn from religion and recover some of these community building and enhancing features, especial ritual and coming together to celebrate and reflect on the riches of Humanity's wisdom and past (i.e. "today's reading is from Plato's Republic").

My sense is that the ACANZP may be, a least at this point in time, that vehicle.

Bryden Black said...

Peter, may I say two things in relation to the issues of this post.

1. “Farmer” is correct: you point us in important and helpful directions. Many thanks. It’s also wonderful to be so grounded scripturally ... So thanks to Darrell too.
2. As ever, we need to ground the Church thereafter Christologically. And here again we need to attend carefully to the reality/actuality of his Mission, viz:

“The pattern of the resurrection determines the pattern of the Spirit’s work. And the pattern of Christ’s resurrection is one of both continuity and discontinuity together. Something new appears, which is nevertheless not novel, but the fulfilment of what was there before. The Jesus who rises is in identity and continuity with the Jesus who died ... And yet, although everything in him passes through death, it is raised up into a radically different mode of being ... so that on the one hand he is scarcely recognizable, and yet at the same time seeks to establish with his every action that he is the same.” (Tom Smail)

In other words, when the Christian faith crosses boundaries in mission - social, cultural, geographical, whatever boundaries - this will be our guiding principle as we attend carefully to discerning the Ways of the Spirit among us and the world. For as usual there will be elements the Faith/the Church may readily appropriate (continuity), others that will have to be disavowed, even condemned (discontinuity), and others again that are just plain neutral.

During the next two years ACANZ&P will need to garner those wise clues missiology since Edinburgh 1910 has to offer the world Church. This is especially the case as we gear up to celebrate 1814.

kiwianglo said...

Well for certain, the author(s) of Luke/Acts articulates Jesus' affinity with women, the poor and the 'outer' disenfranchised of his day. This sounds like a good basis for the liberating power of the Gospel in every age of the Church. Deo gratias!

Michael Reddell said...

How does "respectable, responsible, and reasonable" square with "we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Greeks"?

Perhaps it isn't intended to, but it sounds a lot like the sort of cultural or political accommodation that too many German churches made in the 1930s, or that the Russian church made under Stalin. Of course, we don't seek to be scandalous for its own sake but the way of the cross, in which he bids us come and die confronts all that is "respectable, responsible, and reasonable". I sometimes wonder if the desire to be seen as just those sorts of things accounts for the silence from Protestant churches (Anglicans to the forefront) over the slaughter of 15000 innocent children each year in this country alone.

Shawn said...

Michael,

Excellent post, and an excellent challenge to those who want to surrender or accommodate the fashions of the times.

I agree completely.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael and Shawn,

We are talking about the "accommodation" of the gospel (not the "surrender") in terms of Luke, and I am quite happy to extend that to Paul also.

Notwithstanding Paul's words about foolishness to the Greeks, he has a lively and creative use for the tools of Greek rhetoric in the presentation of his various arguments to the Hellenistic Jews and to the Greeks of Corinth!

There is a difference, I suggest, between being "scandalous" and being unlegitimated as a movement within a society we seek to transform.

Scientology (as best I can tell) is both scandalous and unlegitimated.

The Roman Catholic church both scandalises Western society with its virtuous campaigning for the rights of the unborn and with its only-belatedly-apologised-for cases of paedophilia. The former (it seems to me) does not affect the legitimization of the church in Western society (e.g. because it is associated with many good social works among the poor, disabled and so forth). The latter does affect that legitimization.

Protestant churches could be more scandalous, and they could worry less about being well legitimated. But we can scarcely want to end up in the same sociological place as Scientology?

Michael Reddell said...

I guess all those who (history sees as those who) actually "surrendered" thought of themselves as "accommodating".

If the issue is effective rhetorical devices, to establish points of commonality with surrounding culture and its worldview, then you get no argument from me. As you note, Paul was expert at that. But if we say that, as a church, we cannot hold onto certain beliefs of practices because they scandalise or delegitimise us in the world around us, then I think we go beyond effective missional strategies that are faithful to the gospel. Of course, the reactions of others might usefully prompt us to look again at whether some practices are purely optional or cultural accretions. But wouldn't it have been easier - in terms of legitimacy - for the church to have abandoned any regard for the life of the unborn in the cultural climate of the 1970s? Marrying the spirit of the age makes for early widowhood!

And, of course, we don't want to be where Scientology is, in public regard. But then we know it to be false, and we proclaim that the gospel of Christ is true and counter-cultural. Sometimes that is going to put us in hard places if we are to be God's agents in re-evangelising the West. The martyrs of Uganda faced that challenge in their day, and look at the fruit of their sacrifice.

Bryden Black said...

Hi Michael, Peter and Shawn.
To expand a little upon your discussion here and to elaborate briefly upon that course, Theology and Culture, I referred to in another thread.

One part of that course examines that classic from Richard Niebuhr, his taxonomy of Christian engagements with culture (1951). It then addresses an update from Craig Carter (2006), who “rethinks” the entire arrangement on account of his pacifist tradition and our post-Christendom context. This too is then subjected to further assessment via Oliver O’Donovan’s “Just War” material.

All in all however, I myself conclude that NO taxonomy is actually adequate, since it may very well be that from time to time the Church/members of the Church will find themselves embracing either a Carter framework or an O’Donovan approach, depending upon sheer circumstance and “prudence”, that great classical virtue. For this side of the Parousia, we simply do not have God’s bird’s eye view. Indeed, such is the sheer mixed nature of the Church, let alone the world, that ...!

A case study would be exactly one of the situations referred to by Michael. For Bonhoeffer was first inclined to a pacifist stance, only to subsequently side with the plot to assassinate Hitler, for which he was hanged in the last month of the war upon a direct order from the Führer. Was he susceptible to the Corinthians’ charge of “Yes and No”? Only in the abstract possibly, I suggest, and not in via as a Christian disciple and pilgrim, from 1930 say through to 1945. To be sure; that only opens up a host of questions re what situations are patient of such ‘switching’ and which not and on what grounds. But I do suggest the answer to Peter’s “What now?” - and one notably via a Luke/Acts hermeneutic, especially with its powerful undercurrent of ‘salvation-history’ - will be somewhat richer than some folk might imagine. Nor does this judgment surrender anything at all necessarily. Rather, it behoves us to be even more exegetically engaged than we might otherwise be tempted to be ...! And that exegesis applies to BOTH Scripture AND our present horizon(s), especially the latter’s genealogy, of how we have reached such a pitch. For both so-called ‘revisionists’ and ‘traditionalists’ will likely be in for some surprises when they truly start digging historically!

Shawn said...

I don't think we are suggesting that Peter. However, IF the Anglican Church in NZ adopts same-sex blessings and homosexual marriage then surrender is the only word for it.

Ron,

The homosexual "rights" movement is one of the wealthiest and most powerful lobby groups in the West. It has the support of the State and the Liberal establishment, including our current Prime Minister. One famous homosexual us a friend of the Royal family.

In Europe social conservatives can be fined and even arrested for merely voicing disagreement.

So how can any rational person claim that homosexuals are "disenfranchised" and on the outer?

On the contrary, the truly oppressed and disenfranchised are those Christians who oppose the homosexual agenda.

In England a Christian foster couple were banned by a homosexual judge from ever fostering again because they would not teach 7 and 8 year old children about homosexual sex!

For the Church to stand with the oppressed and disenfranchised it must stand with those Christians who are the target of homosexual and liberal hatred and legal persecution.

To stand with homosexuals would be to stand wit the rich and powerful, with the Herods of this evil age.

kiwianglo said...

"To stand with homosexuals would be to stand wit the rich and powerful, with the Herods of this evil age."
- Shawn -

Oh, really? So that['s why Gays in Uganda and Nigeria are fleeing for their lives to escape the Church and state persecution.

I think you'd beet adjust your spectacles here. The funding of Anti-Gay propaganda is coming from very rich and powerful US sources who are trying to undermine TEC's eirenic outreach to ALL people.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron and Shawn,
Perhaps you could each accept that across the whole world, there are powerful and vested interests seeking change in different nations - change which may or may not be agreeable to those of us looking on.

I would hope here that we might all agree that we support change where that change protects basic human rights for people of whatever sexualities.

I think (on the basis of comments previously made) we are agreed here that we do not oppose civil laws which permit civil unions/partnerships to take place between people of the same sex.

We do differ on whether change should extend to civil laws permitting gay 'marriages', let alone whether the church should be conducting ceremonies for gay 'marriages.'

Janice said...

In Western society (at least), the church also stands in need of 'sociological legitimation'. That is, we need to be seen to be respectable, responsible, and reasonable.

People in the first and second centuries may very well have needed to be reassured that the Christian movement had ancient roots and was not just some new religious fad coming out of the East, like Mithraism or some such, but they couldn't have been reassured that it was respectable, because it wasn't. In those very religious times an accusation often brought against Christians was that they were atheists, and this in a time when following the imperial religion was pretty much a civic duty. They offended people all over the place.

the progress of the gospel depends on people making some sense of it: the gospel is different, but it is no virtue if it is deemed to be weird

But at the start it was deemed to be weird. And in this present Western culture it is again deemed to be weird just by virtue of the fact that it tells the story of a man who rose from the dead. Everyone 'knows' that can't happen.

belonging to the church has to make some kind of sense (e.g. because it is a friendly, supportive, caring community)

How about because it bears witness to the truth? And, frankly, I don't think of the church as a "friendly, supportive, caring community" (sounds like a bunch of social workers) but as a community where a disparate group of sometimes difficult people are at various stages of learning how to love one another, with some trying harder than others.

From this perspective, liberal/progressive tendencies in Western churches lean over backwards to be respectable, responsible and reasonable

No. They lean over backwards to try to fit in with the world - worldly wisdom, worldly values, worldly politics, worldly ethics. As a result the world thinks quite well of them (even if rigorous atheists do not) and that seems to be what they want.

while conservative tendencies in the same churches lean over backwards not to be unfaithful to what was once respectable, responsible and reasonable.

I read somewhere that a conservative is a person who believes the same things progressives believed 20 years before. That's why I call myself a radical conservative. Back to the roots! Others can find their homes among the dead and dying branches.

I'm currently a bit over half-way through re-reading Jacques Ellul's The Subversion of Christianity (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986). The rigour of his critique of the church is unsettling, even depressing, but it is of continuing relevance in this situation as much as it was when liberation theology was all the rage. Until more people in leadership positions within the institutional Western church understand what is wrong with it and are willing to do something to reform it, again, I don't think there can be a Luke-Acts story for it for today. The ancient roots are still there but the "no particular fault of its own" part is not.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice,
I am not completely happy myself with the use of words such as "respectable" but my point (which obviously needs clarifying) is that even in the earliest days of the Christian movement there was something which made sense to people about it (rational sense? just the sense that here was a real experience of divine love and love of the divine?), further, it seemed to make this sense to a wide variety of society (even if thin in numbers at first): rich/poor, educated/uneducated, civilian/military, to say nothing of Jew/Gentile, slave/free, men/women.

Ellul has a lot to say to us. Though dead, his words still speak.

Shawn said...

Janice,

That was one of the best posts I have read here.

Well said.

Shawn said...

Ron,

TEC is not engaged it an outreach to all people. It is engaged in distorting Christian teaching to suit liberal political ideology, an ideology which has nothing to do with Christian mission, and sverything to do with cultural Marxism.

liturgy said...

Peter, you write:

“I think (on the basis of comments previously made) we are agreed here that we do not oppose civil laws which permit civil unions/partnerships to take place between people of the same sex.

We do differ on whether change should extend to civil laws permitting gay 'marriages', let alone whether the church should be conducting ceremonies for gay 'marriages.'”

That level of agreement on this site is a significant achievement. Congratulations.

Might it then be constructive to build on that agreement?

Does the community centred on this site agree that it is appropriate to pray for a couple in a Civil Union? That the couple stay together, etc? Might it be appropriate to thank God that this couple has found each other? Might it be appropriate to do these things communally? In the midst of the Christian community? In a Eucharist?

Blessings

Bosco

Shawn said...

Bosco,

For myself I would have to say an absolute no to all of the above as doing what you suggest compromises the Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality, and would amount to a de facto recognition of a thinly disguised form of homosexual marriage.

I would also like to clarify that I do not exactly support civil unions, so much as I support getting the State out of marriage altogether. I do support, as far as civil law is concerned, the inviolate right to voluntary association, including whatever contractual arrangements consenting adults choose to make, but this should not be confused with moral support for gay marriage in any form.

liturgy said...

Shawn,

Carl and Bryden appear to me to be following more consistently from their position that homosexual activity is wrong.

I cannot keep up with everything here, but I think I missed the point where Peter turned off that road. Maybe he still thinks he is on that road. Shawn, you appear to me to be saying you are not following Peter. While Peter thinks everyone here is still following him – perhaps he didn’t indicate his turn well.

Peter appears to be heading down a street which sees homosexual activity as the lesser of two evils; the other evil being loneliness. I would need some convincing that sexual activity is the (only) cure for loneliness – but then I have struggled with the logic of many of the streets around this part of town.

Blessings

Bosco

Anonymous said...

"Does the community centred on this site agree that it is appropriate to pray for a couple in a Civil Union? That the couple stay together, etc?"
This is confused and muddies the water of Christian ethics, which is about life in the (yet to be consummated) Kingdom of Christ. "Civil unions" have no Christian significance, any more than the Ulysses Club. If a legally constituted relationship excludes siblings, is limted to one other person only, and implies sexual conduct between these persons, what has it to do with Christian life? Quite the antithesis, surely. Anyway, secular society has moved on, and quite rapidly. It calls these things "marriage" as well.
"Might it be appropriate to thank God that this couple has found each other?"
Cue 'Some Enchanted Evening' ....
I have plenty of friendships. None of them is 'celebrated' liturgically.
"Might it be appropriate to do these things communally? In the midst of the Christian community? In a Eucharist?"
No. The Eucharist is the remembrance of Christ's death for us and the summons to live his life now. It must not be blasphemed.
Martin the Antitroll

Shawn said...

Bosco

Yes, I would place myself with Bryden and Carl that homosexual activity is absolutely wrong, and that loneliness is very much the lesser of evils. Also, having known a number of celibate homosexual people I am not convinced that loneliness is necessarily an insurmountable problem. There are more ways than sex to overcome that and to find emotional fulfillment.

People are sometimes confused by my position because they tend to assume that if I am opposed to the Church accepting homosexual activity and gay marriage then I must also believe that the State should legislate against homosexuality or legislate to restrict marriage in some way, but as a Paleolibertarian that is not the case. So long as it conforms to the non-aggression principle (no force or fraud) then the State has no business interfering in the voluntary and consensual behavior of adults.

Bryden Black said...

Before you/we get too gung-ho Bosco, please read together with Ron and Peter (as I have exhorted!) Jana Bennett. She has quite a bit to say to your questions: "In the midst of the Christian community? In a Eucharist?" ciao ciao!!

Father Ron Smith said...

"No. The Eucharist is the remembrance of Christ's death for us and the summons to live his life now. It must not be blasphemed."
- Martin the Antitroll -

So, then, in your opinion - only for the Sinless? Certainly not for the prostitutes, tax-collectors and other Sinners of Jesus' preferred acquaintance, then?

When did you last attend, or indeed conduct, such a Eucharist?

Father Ron Smith said...

Shawn, one final attempt from me to engage you on a rational basis in your preoccupation with the 'Sin' of homosexuality:

Do you consider homosexuality to be a disordered human condition?

Do you consider promiscuity among gays to be more sinful than promiscuity among married heterosexuals - for instance in wife-swapping?

Shawn said...

Ron,

So far you have not made any attempt to engage me on a rational basis.

Yes, according to a Christian theological view homosexuality is a disorders condition, because it is a result of the post-fall corruption of nature.

ALL sex outside of the covenant of marriage is wrong. I don't know how much clearer I can make that for you.

By the way your response to Martin is wrong for two reasons. The first is that he was not saying the Eucharist is for the sinless, he was saying that it should not be used as part of a gay marriage, which is a totally different issue.

Second, you keep telling us that homosexual activity is NOT a sin in the first place. So your ude of Jesus' outreach to sinners contradicts that claim.

Shawn said...

Last point Ron,

I do not have a preoccupation with the issue of homosexuality. Most of the time I don't think about it at all. But it happens to be an issue that is being debated in the Church at the moment and on this blog, thus I express my opinion.

I really wish you could make your points without these kinds of silly comments.