Wednesday, November 6, 2013

AMiE: Anglican Mission in Every(western)where

If GAFCON has made a gaffe in its communique's understanding of the subtle relationship between gospel and culture in the West by over-emphasising church purity and under-emphasising mission (previous post below), then what is the way forward for Anglican mission in the West?

Astute comments have been made to my previous post. Comments which are worth reflecting on carefully as we make out way through waters which may be partly charted (i.e. repetitions occur in church history) and partly uncharted (i.e. by definition Christendom has never experienced post-Christendom!)

On the one hand, here is Stephen Donald, a colleague working in the Diocese of Waiapu:
"Communicating the gospel in our Westernised context (and in Aotearoa – New Zealand in particular) is precisely the issue, wherever we may sit on our broad Anglican spectrum of theology and church practice. Rather than fixating on issues around homosexuality, we need to reshape our mission to an increasingly secularised (and often indifferent) society, in which most people see us, at best, as irrelevant, and at worst, judgemental, bigoted and hypocritical.  
Even on the most superficial level in the traditional ‘hatched, matched and despatched’ ministries we fail to connect. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s clergy held an almost monopoly in the area of life-passage celebration, but now there are very few requests for baptism, only 1/3 of all weddings in total are taken by organisational celebrants (which includes those from other religions, not only Christian), and an increasing number of funerals are conducted by celebrants or family members. The ‘horse has bolted’ on Christendom, and without a change of approach and a good hard look at ourselves, we will continue to miss the mark, and in the eyes of Joe Public, drift off into oblivion. 
When we do deliver the goods to our communities in the face of tragedy and disaster (as in the Pike River disaster and the Christchurch earthquakes) or enhancing community celebration and connectedness as I am often involved in here in the Gisborne-East Coast area, we win friends for Christ and influence people, although this is rarely expressed as more bottoms on pews, for all the reasons given above. 
Of course the content of the Gospel is important as well as the context. Grace is not cheap and repentance is required. But so is graciousness; those within the Church who believe ‘the other’ is taking Christianity to hell in a handcart (and both extremes are guilty at times) need to assess their motives. I suspect this often has much more to do with power and control, and a fear of the unknown, than any missional objective."

On the other hand, and just selecting a few paragraphs from many pertinent paragraphs posted in the thread below by Bryden Black, a colleague working here in the Diocese of Christchurch:
"As I’ve tried myself to tease out this question [Editor: the question of ecclesial blessing of same sex partnerships and how the church has arrived through the theological and philosophical journey since the Reformation at a point where it is very open to providing an affirming answer to the question], as a Christian who has all his life straddled many cultures, past and present, and so has a degree of self-transcendence hermeneutically, I have been forced to conclude what I’ve said before: it’s but the presenting tip of an iceberg. I also have two other analogies:  
(1) it’s like a glacier, which grinds away over many, many years, and then suddenly, at its edge, a piece - and in this case, a large piece - falls off, precipitating an enormous avalanche. Everyone notices the avalanche and focuses on it and its effects. No-one, or at least only a few, give any credence to the years and years of slow grinding away of the glacier, out of sight - that is, now to apply the analogy, the slow shifts in cultural and societal movements which actually brought about this visible, tangible, presenting thing.  
(2) More simply, and more morally (and possibly more in tune with your own ‘missionary’ assessment): the source of the ‘pollution’ is quite simply upstream, historically and culturally; it’s just the case that downstream is where we are; and how we are is ... well; it is what it is! [And of course, one may still use this analogy in a non-pejorative moral sense by using say the confluence of two tributaries: I anticipate a few yells!]...
I think you may by now have something of the flavour as to why we may actually be more in disagreement than you realise. My ‘hermeneutical antennae’, intellectual, cultural, philosophical and historical, as well as spiritual, tune into two things at once: there is a single presenting issue; which however is inordinately rich and complex in its own aetiology, historically, culturally, etc., let alone in the actual instance of any one person who happens to deem themselves gay.  
No wonder we humans, this side of the Parousia, are seemingly in freeze-frame mode about ‘it’. Well; some are, and some are not; and those that are not represent two extremes often, the total ‘revisionists’ and the total ‘traditionalists’. What I hope to have shown - again all too briefly - is that there might yet be another stance. I’ve tried to canvass as wide and as deep a perspective as possible, but have still arrived at a position that utterly refuses to align myself with any amendment to the definition of marriage, as the societal and cultural and spiritual thing it really is: such amendment just does not stack up overall! And it is a matter of choose this day: life - or death. Therefore, at root, baptismal distinctiveness, and so sheer holiness [pace Haller] must, yes must, be the order of the Christian Church. And if this particular institution foregoes that ... well; we shall see ..."

With such pertinent thoughts in mind, about the state of the society in which we are missional Anglicans and the state of the church to which we Anglicans belong, how should we engage in mission?

One of the great lessons of my days of fond memory at Knox Theological Hall, Dunedin, in the 1980s, was reading an article (from memory, in the journal Interpretation) about six missional strategies for responding to the (Hellenistic) cultural hegemony of Rome and its empire in the Israel of Jesus' day, all neatly described with "I" words.

Insulation - the Pharisees who lived within society by tried to keep the dominating culture at bay with many rules and regulations for daily and domestic life.

Isolation - the Essenes who physically took themselves to the wilderness and set up communities to live a pure Jewish life (as they understood and regulated it).

Insurrection - the Zealots who determined that the hegemony of Rome needed to be overthrown

Integration - the Sadducees who determined that their faith commitments would not stand in the way of working hand in glove with Rome yet held to their faith commitments sufficiently to debate with Pharisees and with Jesus.

Identification - the Herodians who made Rome's interests their own interests.

Incorporation - the Christians who set out to convert the Roman empire and thus integrate it into the kingdom of God (and determinedly not the other way around).

Thus the first thing I recommend for Anglican churches engaged in mission to the West, with its imperial hegemony of secular, pluralist culture, is that we are clear about which of these six strategies we are pursuing.

Anglicans have not been well known for their Insurrectionist tendencies but I see signs in my reading of history and of contemporary Anglican life of each of the other five strategies being followed. Predominantly, however, the Anglican tendency is towards Integration, Identification or Incorporation.

The point about Incorporation is that Christians set out, principally via their chief strategist Paul, to shape Christianity to convert the whole world, Jew and Greek, slave and free, men and women. Along the way they had to deal to tendencies towards Insulation (so Galatians and Paul's rebuke to Peter, perhaps too Hebrews and its appeal to readers not to go back to Judaism), Integration (see letters to churches in Revelation 2-3), Identification (so 1 Timothy where false teachers whose interests seem similar to the prevailing religion of Ephesus are battled) and perhaps even Isolation (is that what Paul avoids in 1 Corinthians 5:10 and the Elder toys with in 1 John?)

Secondly, once the strategy has been chosen (or clearly identified as the one which is actually being pursued), I suggest we need to work out what steps will enable the goal of the strategy to be achieved.

For the Pauline strategy of Incorporation, it is noticeable how Paul went along with the Roman Empire by avoiding unnecessary antagonism (so Romans 13) and how Luke presented the Christian movement (in Luke-Acts) as no explicit political threat to the Empire. Yet Paul preached Jesus Christ as the true Caesar (Kyrios = Lord) and Luke celebrated the advance of the empire (i.e. kingdom) of God which was, in the deeper reality of life, a total undermining of Roman political power.

What steps do we take today to avoid unnecessary antagonism of the prevailing cultural hegemony while being utterly faithful to the gospel that Jesus is Lord and seeking the advance of the rule of God over the world?

What I am arguing for through recent posts is that we take steps to avoid confrontation with the prevailing culture of the West over homosexuality, including avoiding becoming the church known as the anti-homosexuals church. One such step is not to separate over homosexuality. Where separation nevertheless seems necessary over theological matters of authority, true versus false gospel, faithfulness to Jesus as Lord, (a responsive point being well made by commenters) can we clearly articulate that those are the reasons without association also being made by observers with issues over homosexuality?

I have my doubts that at the present time those inclined to separate can do so while maintaining the perception that the separation is not to do with homosexuality but concerns a larger mess of doctrinal failure, gospel fecklessness and cultural captivity.

As an evangelical I appreciate very much that many issues are at work in, behind and underneath current controversy over homosexuality. That it is, depending on metaphors being invoked, this controversy is the tip of an iceberg which began growing centuries earlier or the latest station on a very long journey on a road which long ago forked in the woods of Enlightenment.

There is an argument for decisive concrete action, for acting on one's convictions if one's church should take one more step along that road by explicitly approving the blessing of same sex partnerships or even changing the doctrine of marriage. That argument is that enough is enough, no further capitulation to or accommodation with the relentless growth of the hegemony of liberal theology is tolerable.

But I respectfully (to my evangelical colleagues and friends thinking about such decisive action) submit a counter argument. No matter how widely (or loudly), gently, reasonably we articulate that decisive action is because of the base of the iceberg or length of the wrongly taken journey, it will be pinned against us, both by others in the church and by the wider community, that we have taken action because of homosexuality, indeed because of homosexuals. No matter how strongly we feel such perception is discordant with reality, is that a perception we wish to encourage?

I raise the question because in that perception it will look like we are scapegoating homosexuals who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Of all the perceptions we might think it worth living with in order to live out our convictions, is scapegoating somewhere between 1% and 5% of our congregations a price worth paying?

Importantly, from a missional perspective, would such perception impede our mission if we are determined to pursue an Incorporation strategy?

There is an alternative way and it is being charted by one of the more evangelical popes in history.

The resounding model today in respect of Incorporation is the manner of Pope Francis' public communication of the faith.

He has not changed (conservative) Catholic teaching on any matter one whit but has managed to frame answers to questions in such a way that the tone of discussion has changed, the prevailing media interest in the Roman church is not its scandalous faults but its possibilities for supporting human dignity.

Are conservative evangelical Anglicans able to engender similar sympathetic response from the public if we generate media coverage that we are forming new churches outside of existing structures because of differences over homosexuality?

Our attention and emphasis should be elsewhere than on sexuality. Steps I suggest we need to take in current mission in the West concern presenting Jesus in a manner which connects with people today.

First, we need to present Jesus as alive - the resurrected Jesus present in the world through his Spirit - doing so through deed as well as word. 'Deed' includes acts of compassionate service and offer of healing prayer. The Jesus of history cuts no ice today. What matters is the now and the future. The 'historical Jesus' sounds as irrelevant as Caesar, Genghis Khan and Darwin.If Jesus is not here in the world today, he is nowhere in the minds of the iPhone generation.

Secondly, we need to find language for today which translates key terms such as 'Saviour', 'the Bible', even 'church'. My suggestion is urgent exploration of Jesus as Healer (rather than Saviour), the sacred writings (rather than the Bible), and 'spirituality centres' (rather than 'church'). Improvements welcomed in the comments.

If there is one thing the cultural hegemony of the West is responsible for it is the immense hurt created by tolerance even encouragement of breakdown of familial relationships. But is it clear to the average shopper in our Malls or to fans at football matches that our churches are places of healing for the hurts being buried through shopping and obsession with sport? 

Thirdly, what is happening in our worship services? Are they Jesus-shaped? As an Anglican with deep love for liturgy I see within our liturgies, their underlying dynamics properly understood, great potential to present Jesus to all who gather to find him. But I also see strange obsessions with form, including with robes, ceremonies and over elaborate ritual movements. Are these constructions of barriers to meeting Jesus inside the church?

That is enough for now.

24 comments:

Father Ron Smith said...

Referring (perhaps) to the recent article on Pope Francis welcome of All Christians "To The Party" -

(see kiwianglo : latest post)

"Are conservative evangelical Anglicans able to engender similar sympathetic response from the public if we generate media coverage that we are forming new churches outside of existing structures because of differences over homosexuality?"

- Stephen Donald -

What a breath of fresh air - and from an Evangelical perspective -that I, for one, can respect and appreciate.

Stephen here (rightly, I think) compares some evangelical rhetoric about gender and sexuality with the much more eirenic approach of Pope Francis, who, having already expressed his respect for celibate homosexuals, then concentrates on opening up the Church to ALL people - regardless of their human sinfulness.

While some people seem to be wallowing in panic about what they see as the demise of Western Christianity, here is the Pope of Rome expressing the love of Christ for all people, welcoming them to a party - in the Kingdom of God.

Thank you Stephen, for opening up the possibilities of mission based on the love of God, rather than any purely human understanding of what that love requires of us.

Peter Carrell said...

Err, Ron, the words you attribute to Stephen Donald are my words!

Father Ron Smith said...

Well, Peter. Congratulations. I do hope Steve Donald is not upset by my incorrect attribution. However. from whomever these words originated - and my eyesight isn't what it was - I think they deserve to be heard.
Well done!

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
I didn't realise the All Blacks hero of the Rugby World Cup was now working in the Diocese of Waiapu :)

I share your concern that evangelical Anglicans are becoming known as the "anti-homosexual" group and our actions deter homosexual people from our churches.

My concern with your proposal is that if you compromise, accommodate a little here and there, eventually the official teaching will fall, even if that wasn't your intent in the beginning.
For example, look at our posiiton on remarriage after divorce. Our official teaching is still that marriage is for life, except for cases of adultery, abandonment, abuse, divorce before becoming a believer, etc. In order to allow for these exceptions, bishops were given discretion to permit remarriage of divorcees in church. That has turned into a rubber stamp rather than a genuine review of each situation. Our de facto position is now that remarriage of divorcees is fine, even though our official teaching hasn't changed.

Or take diaconal/lay presidency at Communion. Some dioceses have pushed the boundaries so far that there is pressure to change the official teaching (an issue of church order rather than doctrine I hasten to add).

1 Corinthians is very helpful for us here. As you say, Paul avoided unnecessary controversies (slavery might be another one) while undermining the foundations of the empire through ultimate allegiance to Christ and living by his values. But some issues, even though they were culturally ingrained, threatened the health of the Christian community and couldn't be left unchecked - sexual morality (prostitutes, incest) idol worship, discrimination (as seen by Communion issues), financial issues, etc. Allowing these practices to fester would undermine the gospel and the credibility of the churches' witness.

Our focus needs to be on Christ, who will lead us to repent of all our sin - greed, selfishness, gossip, grudges, to name some that don't get nearly as much of a run as active homosexual practice - and remake us to live holy and godly lives. We need to be known for presenting Him rather than our stances against things. But we also need to guard the gospel against false teaching that will lead people away from Christ rather than towards Him.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks, Andrew.
I guess the situation is nuanced re compromise/change in teaching. In a church such as my own, change may be coming whatever I propose... in which case the point of my proposal is whether we can live, can see a reason to live with change rather than not.

A colleague reminded me the other day that there are other reasons to not live with possible coming change than I have elucidated through recent posts. I might post on that soon!

carl jacobs said...

Peter

how Luke presented the Christian movement (in Luke-Acts) as no explicit political threat to the Empire.

Yes, that plan worked out real well. Because the Romans would see Christianity as an intrinsic threat no matter what Luke said. They wouldn't worship Caesar. Could you therefore re-write this article around the problem of being required to worship Caesar in first century Rome? Should Christians have been worried about being labled the "anti-Caesar" party in the popular culture? Some things are intrinsic to Christianity. They offend the unbelieving world because the world hates what we believe. We can't do anything about that.

The reason our views on sex have become unpopular is because we present of view of sex that includes imposed obligations. The entire sexual revolution was about removing those imposed obligations from sex. There is nothing we can do about that. There is no way to make our position inoffensive to the unbeliving Western world other than to agree with the popular culture a la Liberal Christianity.

The Christian Life is not about being successful. It is about being faithful. Jeremiah was a miserable failure as a prophet if you judge him by how people responded to his message. But that wasn't the point of his ministry. He succeeded by being faithful. If the culture hates and rejects the Truth, then it has not rejected us, but the One who defines Truth. Be faithful, and remember that there are yet 7000 knees that have not bowed before Baal.

carl

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Carl
Wasn't life in Roman times for Christians just a bit more complex/differentiated than you make out?

In principle it was offensive to refuse to worship Caesar. In practice (in my understanding) it was not uniformly (across the empire) or consistently (through time) required that all offer public sign of obeisance to Caesar. Hence periodic outbreaks of persecution, here and there, so that sometimes Christians were under great threat (the occasion of the Book of Revelation?) and sometimes not (so Paul can write Romans 13 as though the concerns of John the Seer were not present in his mind?).

I stand by my assessment that Luke is playing a 'double game' with his approach, wherever possible (without compromise) presenting Christianity in the least threatening manner, as consistent with pax Romana, while unabashedly presenting Christianity as a movement of followers obedient to Jesus as Lord.

I am not asking Anglican Christians to compromise on matters of human sexuality (in the sense of changing our minds about our commitments to biblical ethics). I am asking whether those commitments require us to enter into schism, to cause unnecessary offence to the community around us: for many, to follow me on this would involve a compromise.

I may be wrong. But my sense of church history is that I may one day be proved right!

Father Ron Smith said...

"I stand by my assessment that Luke is playing a 'double game' with his approach, wherever possible (without compromise) presenting Christianity in the least threatening manner, as consistent with pax Romana, while unabashedly presenting Christianity as a movement of followers obedient to Jesus as Lord." - Peter Carrell -

Well said, Peter! In fact, is not the most recent occupant of the throne of St.Peter using the very same praxis - only the pax Romana in his case might be Pope Francis' relationship to the Vatican Curia.

This is much less threatening to both the churched an unchurched; as the most expeditious way of presenting the Good News of the Gospel (as opposed to the Bad News of pharisaical legalism - that Jesus found repugnant.

Bryden Black said...

OK Peter, let’s have another stab at this root, generic matter, of Gospel and Culture via now this thread's approach. I’ll use that article you recall as a guide but rejigging it.

A decade earlier than this supposed Interpretation article I heard Michael Green parse the Jewish religion of Jesus’ day via notions of holiness. Fascinatingly, it maps nicely your six - but also nails the core issue(s). I now follow EMBG’s schema in my own words.

1. Pharisees were the modernizers of the day (so John Bowker). They sought to renegotiate the Torah, taking its original, predominantly rural setting, and applying it now to the cosmopolitan world of Galilee and Jerusalem/Judea; hence all the synagogue schools. Sounds awfully familiar really! One reason Jesus clashed so forcibly with this particular Jewish sect was that of all the options going within contemporary Judaism they were closest in intent with Jesus’ own programme of reinterpreting the Torah (something not always appreciated given their bad press!). Yet precisely also at this juncture they went about it all wrong: they failed to recognize ‘the hour’, and so the actual divine means of granting Life. Just so, holiness was now a function not of ritual and ritual and/or torah ‘purity’ but of relationship or association with Jesus, Messiah of Israel. [One e.g. - Matt 5:17ff cld have been easily part of Pharisaic lore.]

2. The Sadducees were far too hooked into the Temple and its control. For them holiness was ever a function of ‘space’ - this particular Temple space, which they furthermore controlled - exorbitantly. Just so, Jn 4 - which, in the context of the entire first part of John, chs 2-12, with its literary and so theological structure, blows their theo-logic out of the water! Once more, Jesus and His Gift are the solution.

3. Zealots were good Jews who took not just the view that Messiah would throw the Romans into the sea (once more, sound familiar?!), but they held the Land to be sacrosanct - and rightly so, according to all sorts of OT promises (which too create certain issues for today!). Yet when Paul deals with the Covenant Promise to Abraham and its now fulfilment in Jesus in Gal 3:1-4:7 he neatly sidesteps the issue of “the inheritance” involving “land” at all - again not often explicitly noticed by some. Au contraire, the promised inheritance is actually the Holy Spirit Himself (3:14) - as adopted sons and daughters of the Living Triune God (4:4-7). Christian citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20) - which creates all sorts of ambivalences, tracked awkwardly/painfully down through Church history.

4. Qumranites/Essenes were revolting against that “wicked priest” in Jerusalem - not surprising really! Again, sounds familiar re church history! Their own pesher means of interpretation not only removed them from the defilement of the Jerusalem Establishment; it took both the hour and the torah seriously - but applied both to their own peculiar community and its ways only. I.e. in Jesus’ eyes, they were // to the Pharisees: so close yet so far away from where God in Jesus and the Spirit were actually at work.

[There’s no real Michael Green // to dear Herod, the opportunistic Machiavellian prince ...]

Bryden Black said...

5. Michael’s point is just this (paraphrased and amplified by me): holiness is a powerful cypher of interpreting both the Judaism of Jesus’ day and Jesus’ own solution to how we might be “holy and righteous before God” (Lk 1:75). In short, holiness is both gift (the P tradition) and calling (Deut tradition) in the OT. Re now NT: baptism into Christ Jesus in the Holy Spirit is both gift (verbs in the past indicative passive) and calling (present imperative active verbs). Just so, Rom 12:1-2 becomes absolutely crucial (puns intended!). Fulness of Christian initiation involves the fulness of Acts 2:38-9.

Therefore, as far as ‘the presenting issue of homosexual behaviour’ is concerned: Haller is absolutely right to try to call it “Reasonable and Holy”; these are two essential criteria, given both God’s world and God’s redemption of that world in Christ Jesus. And yet, and yet .... I shall not bore you or ADU folk with repeating myself (with or without gloves on).

But please notice how the dimension of holiness was itself so hotly contested in Jesus’ day. And notice especially how ‘correct’ each sect within Judaism thought it was, being ‘the one and only Way’ vis-à-vis others. And finally, notice most importantly of all, how Jesus seems to say to each and every one of these supposed options: yes; but ...! [This is Michael’s great insight]

Fast forward to today. Our Gospel and culture dilemmas may IMHO be best parsed and therefore best negotiated by just these means which Michael Green sets up and which I have amplified (fairly extensively) here myself. But notice finally, just how the exact matter of homosexual activity does crop up within the Pauline corpus. It’s not front and centre; yet nor is it peripheral. For it is a matter of holiness, the holiness of the creation which is being redeemed by its Creator, in whose image human beings are made.

Father Ron Smith said...

"But notice finally, just how the exact matter of homosexual activity does crop up within the Pauline corpus. It’s not front and centre; yet nor is it peripheral. For it is a matter of holiness, the holiness of the creation which is being redeemed by its Creator, in whose image human beings are made."
- Bryden Black -

My real challenge to you Bryden, right now - when you are isolating what you see as the 'unholiness of homosexuality' - what, do you think might be considered as OTHER ways of being 'unholy', that you, yourself, might be guilty of - that have nothing to do with sexuality, but are still against charity and accountable to God?

Of course, you may not be guilty of any unholiness - only you and God know the answer to that. But I do challenge you not to place homosexuality in the arena of intentional sin. This has already been judged and not found wanting - by both Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Why are you still persisting with this pogrom against homosexuals?

In any event, whatever you say about sin and culpability, It might be good if you were to read the essence of Pope Francis' latest invitation to sinners; to "Come to a Party", wherein he admits he is a sinner - by nature, and still proclaims a welcome and redemption for sinners.

On the other hand, if you admit that homosexuality if 'neutral', and that it is only homosexual activity that you are condemning, It might be good to remember the attitude of Jesus to the Keepers of The Law, in his encounter with the Woman 'caught in the act of adultery': "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone!"

None of them felt able to stand in judgement. Why do you persist in your judgement? One could hardly call it 'pastoral concern for those you treat in this way.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
It is not front and centre AGREED: that is why I am currently pursuing the line that churches should not secede over homosexuality!!

Yet nor is it peripheral AGREED: that is why I am not denying there is an issue to engage with.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
While Bryden can defend himself (and your word, "pogrom" is not acceptable, by the way, but I have not energy to delete it tonight), I rise to support him.

1. Concern for Holiness includes concern for those homosexuals who read the Bible differently to you Ron; who read it and see that it commands celibacy. They then look around to see who in the church supports them, and find very few willing to publicly offer support. Bryden is one such supporter.

2. While appreciating very much your consistent reminders to the pastoral situation of homosexuals, the issue before our church today is not the general pastoral care of homosexuals but whether this church understands itself to have the authority to bless what has not formerly been blessed. That issue is a theological question with several dimensions. I support Bryden bringing those dimensions to our attention.

Dr Edward Prebble said...

Peter
Thank you for that very interesting and helpful blog. I thought of entering your last one, but thought that once you had passed 60 comments, a new thought from me might not assist the conversation. so I thought I would have a go on this one, when there were only 7 comments. Unfortunately, mine was one of 64,000 houses in West Auckland affected by a power cut after an explosion at a substation. Power is now on, but i see 13 comments, and the conversation has moved. I’ll get back to your original blog.
I wholeheartedly agree with nearly all you say, and will ignore the bits where I don’t. Actually the phrases that gave me most difficulty were where you introduced various reflections with: “As an Evangelical I....” It is for others who are comfortable with that identification to say whether your thoughts are worthy of evangelicals. I want to suggest that they should sit comfortably with Christians generally. I am NOT an evangelical – I guess I am a broadstream Anglican inclusivist – but many of your ideas are ones that I would be happy to argue myself. I speak particularly of your “first, secondly and thirdly” list at the end (shouldn’t that be first, two and thirdly, or 1, b, and iii?).
We need to present Jesus as alive – yes, absolutely
Find better language – indeed. In parallel with your remembered Knox College lecture, I have always been inspired by my OT lecturer at Nottingham University, Harry McKeating, and his puzzlement that the theme of God/Christ as healer has traditionally received so little attention, despite such massive biblical support. While the term “spirituality centre” is a bit clumsy, I certainly agree that our churches should be much more open to language of spirituality, and not fear it as something “new agey” and suspect.
And your comments on worship and liturgy are spot on.
I think one of the great difficulties many Christians have allowed ourselves to get into (and a large proportion of comments on your blogs illustrate my point) is that we have permitted a sharp dichotomy or bifurcation to be drawn between viewpoints that are sometimes called “evangelical’ and “liberal”. I am not saying that we must all agree – clearly we don’t and won’t. But I do consider that these viewpoints should be seen as part of a range, or spread, or spectrum, with no dividing line in the middle or anywhere else along the line.
One of the welcome outcomes of postmodern theological reflection is that many categories are breaking down, or at least the lines between them are becoming blurred. Many of the exciting concepts such as missional church, fresh expressions, or incarnational community involvement can be, and should be, applied across the spectrum. A number of recent writers, from a wide range of theological emphases, are developing the concept of “generous orthodoxy”. While particular writers may well mean somewhat different things by such a term, i believe we should embrace the commonality that can be detected. Let us by all means be strong and clear about those matters which we see as orthodox, or biblical, or Christ-like, and at the same time, let us be generous towards other Christians who wish to apply those epithets to different concepts.
Carry on the good work

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks, Edward!

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Ron for once again demonstrating what I can only call a laudable sense of compassion and desire for holy justice. Of course, I have to quite quickly say something else as well: that you are misguided and wrong-headed in the actual direction and target of such sentiments. And a calmer examination of what I actually said (and try always to say re this matter) might show how this is the case.

My own words, which you quote, addressed purely and simply “the exact matter of homosexual activity”. In other words, you could have saved yourself the first few paragraphs. So let’s just confine ourselves to the last three.

It is because we are all “sinners by nature” - you, me, the pope, and my close friend who deems himself gay - that the Lord Jesus states quite simply to Nicodemus, “unless one is born anew/from above ...”. Furthermore, when Jesus went to celebrate a meal with the “sinner” Zacchaeus, this “sinner” demonstrated his own transformation, having encountered the One who “came to seek and save the lost”, by his fulsome sense of restorative justice. We should note too this spiritual metaphor of rebirth is paralleled in the Letters of Paul by referring to incorporation into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet such rebirth/resurrection is but the beginning. Paul’s bold μῂ γένοιτο of Rom 6:2 is the beginning of all Christian moral theology and praxis.

One last thing. The only reason I have continued to contend forcibly against your stance towards homosexual people (and please note now that shift; and please note you have still failed to address my post @ November 3, 2013 at 5:12 PM under the Venn diagrams) is that it is you (and others) who are constantly throwing the matter in our faces, by insisting upon the seeming ‘equality’ of their sexual relationships - in quite specific circumstances, I grant you, namely, of ‘committed faithfulness’ etc. But please note even this qualification of yours! It is already a moral judgment! You yourself do not condone ‘promiscuous’ sexual activity among gays. If you were not to insist upon calling holy - even to the point of desired formal church blessing - what many of us, including those voices for “the democracy of the dead”, deem sinful activity derived from the witness of Holy Writ, then perhaps I could address other matters - like causes of childhood poverty, peace for Tibetans, or more efficient fertilizer programmes to reduce nitrates.

As for “pogroms”: such “asinine” remarks are best ignored ...

Bryden Black said...

Apologies folks! In my haste to get the previous comment off I pressed the wrong key; or did no-one else catch the typo: ῂ versus ὴ. Things are really slipping on my watch ...

Anonymous said...

Well, I did, Bryden, but it doesn't make an iota of difference to my esteem for you, or the apostolic judgment to which you subscribe.

Martinos ho hupogrammateus

Bryden Black said...

Phew! I fancied I might be under (sic) your scrupulous, hypercritical (sic) gaze, Martin De Classicis ...

Father Ron Smith said...

In part reply to you, Bryden, on your last post (I love the word 'hypercritical' - so close to the other one, I wonder why?):

Are you suggesting that once a person has received transformation by the Holy Spirit in Baptism, they are not prone to sin again? I would find this difficult, from my own experience, to believe.

I DO believe that even the most 'transformed' among us, on earth, is still prone to sin - even the Pope - from his own testimony. So what you are accounting as 'transformation' - presumably clothing us in the 'holiness' that you speak of - may only become possible after death of the body!
And then, the work of perfecting us is that of God - not ourselves.

I might ask the question of you, in the light of your statements here: Have you been 'transformed' into a state of 'holiness' yet; or are you, like me and the rest of us sinners, still in 'this world of sin'? If you have managed that state of perfection, perhaps you'll let us all into the secret. We can then package it, and save a lot of work for ourselves.

I must admit that the only holiness I have to proclaim is that of Christ in the Gospel. I can aim for it, certainly, but of myself I have no power to attain to it. All holiness is of God!

There, now. I've managed to speak of holiness without even once mentioning sex. That's not the only area is which we are ALL prone to sin! One other area, is felling entitled to castigate others for THEIR sins.

"God, have mercy on me, a sinner!"

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Are you giving up too easily on achieving a measure of holiness in this life?

As ministers under the authority of the church we are expected to live out a reasonably holy life albeit falling short of perfection.

Many Christians, lay and ordained, find that while remaining sinners, nevertheless through the help of Christ we manage to remain faithful to our spouses, kind to our children, honouring of our parents, etc.

None of that gives us the moral platform to stand over our fellow sinners but it does give us grounds to encourage one another to walk in step with the Spirit, being ever transformed into the likeness of Christ.

The simple point Bryden is making is that the written Word of God holds out to us both the promise and process of growing sanctification. It is a sad day when you find such faithfulness to Scripture the occasion for castigating Bryden from your own high moral ground, certain of your version of righteousness.

Bryden Black said...

Short answer Ron: NO! Which one may easily see from my three posts under this thread (no puns this time, BTW).

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, you know, and I know, that we all struggle in this life for 'holiness'. But when I read the scriptural warning of Jesus, when someone called him 'Good Master', he replied, "Who are you calling good? There is One alone Who is Good". That really says it 'like it really is'. We are sinners!

Of course, at every participation in the Eucharist, we make our confession of our failings, and pray for the strength to overcome.

However, when we fall, as fall we do, we have the privilege, 'en Christo', of knowing that God is ever merciful and will forgive us our sins - as we admit them and express our true regret. This does not, as Paul reminds us, give us 'License to sin'. However, it does remind us that Christ died for our sin, that we might be redeemed from its effects.

The biggest problem, in the arena of sexuality and sin, lies in our elemental understanding of what 'sin' is - for each one of us in our own particular situation.

In my book, to be homosexual is not, necessarily, to sin. (except that we all are sinners, whatever our sexual orientation). The problem of sin, in this context is: how do we exercise our given sexuality? Is it purely for our own pleasure? Does it encourage another human to sin? Or is it exerted to damage or humiliate another human being. Or, again, is it a betrayal of a mutually committed relationship? These are areas of possible self-indulgence that can be harmful to others - and, therefore, sinful.

Any of these transgressions can occur in any of us, regardless of sexual-orientation. This is why, for theologians to concentrate on homosexual promiscuity, as more dangerous than heterosexual unfaithfulness or promiscuity is inconsistent.

This is one reason why I want to argue for committed relationships - whether hetero- or homo-sexual.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
To be clear about a few things, and thus I hope impressing upon you the importance of being fair to fellow commenters:
- I am not aware that any one commenting here thinks that 'to be homosexual' is a sin.
- I am not aware that any one commenting here thinks that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is any the worse or more dangerous whether it is engaged in by two men, two women, a married person committing adultery or two unmarried persons committing fornication. Indeed I cannot think of anything anyone has said here which makes one sexual sin out to be worse than another.
- I also cannot think of any commenter here who has ever suggested that self-indulgence in sex, putting oneself and one's own pleasure first in sex is any more or less self-centred whether one identifies oneself as heterosexual or homosexual.

The essential difference between your views and most other commenters here is not over whether homosexuals should be able to have sex with a partner of the same gender (as though we are sex police that people ought to pay attention to). The essential difference is whether God through the living, written Word which informs and forms the life of the church has proscribed sexual intercourse outside of marriage between a man and a woman, or not.

To make that observation is to remind you of a clear challenge made here repeatedly to you: where in the written Word of God do you find the precept which empowers the church to bless a relationship which is not marriage between a man and a woman?