Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why don't you tell us what you really think, George?

I've been reading some interesting things today about Pope Benedict XVI. It appears that far from burying himself in prayer at an out of the way monastery he will remain in the Vatican with the extraordinary arrangement that his "trusted secretary, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, will be serving both pontiffs — living with Benedict at the monastery inside the Vatican and keeping his day job as prefect of the new pope's household." Benedict will also continue to wear the white cassock of a pope rather than returning to the black of a cardinal. (Full Guardian report here, also see here). "Is the pope catholic?" is going to become "Is the pope the pope?"

Anyway, the thing about Down Under Christianity is that we call a spade a spade. Diplomats not required. Who better then to comment on Benedict's resignation than Cardinal George Pell of Sydney:

"Not all cardinals have welcomed Benedict's decision to resign.

Cardinal George Pell, the 71-year old top cleric from Australia, described Benedict's resignation as destabilising to the church, and questioned his governance skills.

Pell, Australia's lone representative at the secret conclave to elect the 266th pope, said Benedict was a "brilliant teacher" but "government wasn't his strong point".

"I think I prefer somebody who can lead the Church and pull it together a bit," Pell told commercial television.

He also said the decision to resign set a worrying precedent for the church.

"People who, for example, might disagree with a future pope, will mount a campaign to get him to resign," Pell said.
In a later radio interview he pointed to the so-called "Vatileaks" scandal, in which Benedict's butler leaked secret papal memos revealing intrigues between rival groups of cardinals, when questioned about his governance views.

"I think the governance is done by most of the people around the pope and that wasn't always done brilliantly," Pell said."

I know that the Government of the Vatican City does not have an official Opposition Party, but if it did, George is the natural Leader of the Opposition!

We live in extraordinary times for Christianity. I wonder where it will all end ...

Do words mean what they say?

I have appreciated various comments here, and some off-blog emails about my recent posts. I want to take a few moments to address one or three issues being raised. Essentially they are issues about whether words mean what they say or not.

Gay Marriage in New Zealand

At last late last night the penny seemed to be dropping here that the wording of the proposed legislation carries the curious feature that it addresses the question of the beliefs of a religious body and not of an individual minister of that body. Thus if ACANZP were to change its 'beliefs' re marriage that could put its ministers in a vulnerable position.

That said, some commenters think that discretion always applies re marriages and no minister will be forced to conduct a marriage they do not want to conduct. A plausible example is the marriage of a divorced person which no minister has been forced by state or by church to conduct. However I do not think this is a very good counter example: there is no lobbying group of divorced persons that I am aware of which would consider taking a refusing minister to (say) the Human Rights Commission. Can we be sure that those pressing for rights of gay couples would not take a test case to the Commission?

Church Websites and commenting on them

I have been challenged here and in an email about first contacting the ministers of churches before making comments based on their churches' websites and what is communicated on them. Possibly I should have done that. In reply I suggest that some thought is given to what these websites are saying and what their existence is intended to achieve.

I have understood these websites to be telling the public all the relevant facts about these churches, not least because, being unrelated to a larger church body, the only public information about these churches is contained on their websites. [UPDATE: I accept that there is other publicly available information via tracking down the documents of churches which have been incorporated as charitable trusts]. Thus, if we take an example or two, eucharistic worship is a feature of a church it is reasonable to expect that this will be described in a page which otherwise tells us about the general congregational life of that church, or if the church as an independent church has an accountability structure then it is reasonable to expect that this information is conveyed in an account of the church's life (as, indeed, I observed and cited in the one case out of three where this information is given).

In other words, I have tried to take the websites I explored seriously and to treat the words on them as meaning what they said. I feel I have been taken to task for assuming that words given in description of a church might be an accurate description of the church!

Heads up to all churches: if you have a website, please say on it what you mean and not something which requires an email to the minister to obtain additional information in order to understand it. In particular, if you are telling us 'About [your church]', please include all relevant information, including to what larger body you belong or, if that is not the case, what governance structure you have in place. And if you break bread together, tell us that is an important feature of your life together!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Will the Anglican church in NZ protect its ministers?

I see that the report of the select committee on the proposed changes to the marriage laws is now available (here). Near the beginning it includes these words:

"We recommend an amendment to section 29 of the Marriage Act, which we discuss later in this commentary, to clarify beyond doubt that no celebrant who is a minister of religion recognised by a religious body enumerated in Schedule 1, and no celebrant who is a person nominated to solemnise a marriage by an approved organisation, is obliged to solemnise if solemnising that marriage would contravene the religious beliefs of the religious body or the religious beliefs or philosophical or humanitarian convictions of the
approved organisation."

Does this mean that if ACANZP changed its beliefs to incorporate the belief that marriage between two men or between two women was okay under God then I would be unable to refuse to solemnise a marriage between two men or between two women?

The only opt out envisaged in the report and its recommendations re revised wording of the Marriage Act is "if solemnising ... marriage would contravene the religious beliefs of the religious body."

So, if our "body's" beliefs change, does that not mean there would be no opt out of a state enforced obligation to marry people against my religious beliefs?

Lawyers, bush or otherwise, please comment.

I hope our Ma Whaea Commission is thinking very carefully about where it might go with what it might recommend to our church!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ACNA is not post-Anglican

Yesterday I described a kind of post-Anglican church, a church which draws strongly on the 'Word' strand within Anglicanism. Indeed 'an independent Bible church' would not be an outrageous alternative description of the churches I described along with their counterparts in Australia (as mentioned in various comments to that post). Something I have not made much of so far is the matter of bishops and post-Anglican churches. A feature of all three churches I described is that they have been founded without the oversight of an Anglican bishop authorising and blessing their establishment. Their post-Anglican pastors have either moved out from under the authority of their previous licensing bishops or have not yet sought the oversight of a new bishop.

When we look around the wider world we do not look far before we find another kind of post-Anglican church, the Anglican Ordinariates or Anglican churches which have moved out from under the oversight of Anglican bishops in order to come under the oversight of the Bishop of Rome. These are not Bible churches in the way of those above (though I am sure they respect and read the Bible in public worship and preaching).

As best I understand all these post-Anglican churches, they have felt shackled by being within the Anglican fold with Anglican bishops as their shepherds. Their true freedom to pursue who they are in Christ and what their mission is, comes through breaking with their previous arrangements, or, in a new territory, by simply avoiding them. As some commenters here have pointed out, in respect of growth in numbers, of reaching young people for Christ and in planting even newer churches, many post-Anglican churches (especially of the Bible variety) set an example for most Anglican churches to aspire to. As far as I can tell churches in the Anglican Ordinariates are doing well, but it is perhaps too early to measure their growth in respect of converts.

In other words, although Anglican nuts like me observe deficiencies in ecclesiology in respect of statements made on websites, from a missiological perspective there is much to be excited over. Here are churches that are growing in numbers because they are connecting with people in today's world in a contemporary manner. Anglicans who refuse to learn from their post-Anglican counterparts, whether it is lessons about preaching the Word or celebrating the Mass, may face a grim future of aging and declining congregations. Ask not why your congregation is in decline: ask how it might apply lessons to be learned from other churches!

As an aside, a commenter here asked the other day for my views on the 'franchise' aspect of  Bible-oriented churches. I assume this to be a question about the comparatively monochromatic character of such churches so that a service in one church is more or less the same as a service in another, and the structure of parish life is the same as expressed in study groups, staff make up and such like. Well, I think it is true: there is monochromaticity ... Just like many other churches, including 'franchises' in the Anglican church such as the Anglo-catholic franchises and the charismatic franchises. Believe me, the telling sign of monochromacity is the way the same songs are sung across the franchises: Belfast hymns here, Graham Kendrick songs there, and Marian anthems over there :)

Back to post-Anglican churches. Recall my analysis of a couple of days ago: the Anglican Church is a big boat in a wide sea. Bible churches and Mass churches sail along together. No one forces one to be what it is not, even though the Anglican ideal preached by many is a balance of Bible and Mass, of Word and Sacrament. Freedom to choose to emphasise one half of the duality is a hallmark of modern Anglicanism. So when we find, as I posted yesterday, that some Bible churches have felt unable to continue in the large boat on the wide sea, or we recall today some Mass churches have also left the boat, something has caused disruption. I don't want to speculate here on what may have caused such disruption, just observe that given the width, flexibility and tolerance of Anglicanism, something significant is going on when Anglicans feel impelled to leave the fold in order to pursue their vision of missional church.

There is one aspect of changing circumstances for Anglicans which I think does not reflect a move to post-Anglicanism. This is the situation in North America where the Anglican Church in North America has been formed in protest at the direction being pursued by TEC and ACCan, and where we find the Diocese of South Carolina sitting outside of the polity of TEC but not yet inside the polity of another Anglican church such as ACNA. In each case I suggest 'post-Anglican' is not an appropriate description of their situation because they continue to have regard for the episcopal oversight of Anglican bishops. Neither independence from Anglican bishops nor submission to the Bishop of Rome marks the character of their ecclesial life. In each case they fervently share in fellowship with Anglican churches, maintain Anglican episcopacy at the core of their identity and seek communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, indeed believe they are in communion with the ABC. Naysayers who describe these churches in North America as 'unAnglican' should face the fact that these churches are viewed as Anglican by a majority of the Anglican Communion with whom they have more Anglican commonality than with TEC and ACCan.

Church life today, as we speak, is very, very complicated. Two instances in the news this week are striking. First, the ordination by the Kenyan church of a clergyman to work in a church plant in Sheffield which is, well, you work it out, but I describe it as an Anglican plant which is not Anglican. Who would be the Bishop of Sheffield?

Then the sad, sorry, spectacular saga of Cardinal O' Brien, leading British spokesperson against gay marriage in the UK, resigning and thus barring himself from attending the papal electoral conclave: if the charges against him are true then he arguably deserves to be regarded as the worst kind of hypocrite because of his strident criticism of homosexuality; and if the charges against him are untrue, then the priests who have brought those charges have not only cast an unwarranted slur on a courageous church leader but also contributed to a spectacular own goal for their church which can no longer contribute publicly to the debate over gay marriage. There are, you may be aware, other stories in the media this week re a powerful network of gay priests. Cardinal O'Brien just before the story broke against him had said in an interview that priests should be able to marry. Good grief. Is the powerful coherence of the Roman church's teaching on human sexuality fraying at the edges and about to be ripped to shreds by the dissonance between its written statements and the behaviour of the clergy responsible for upholding those statements?

I am sure we could multiply such stories around the world. The twenty-first century is make or break time for the church of God. We are in a perfect storm of rising winds of opposition, both from without and within the church. We desperately need God through the Holy Spirit to cleanse us, teach us and enable us to come to true obedience of faith in Christ.

PS Talking of confusion, if one didn't know better one might think this priest is a trendy Anglican vicar ... but he has my vote for pope!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Post Anglican Denomination Emerging in New Zealand?

There is a new church in Auckland with an Australian Anglican clergyman, the Reverend Rowan Hilsden and his wife Sarah Hilsden stated as its leaders. This church is called the Auckland Evangelical Church. Its website is here.

There is another new church in Christchurch with two Anglican clergymen involved in it, both of whom until recently were licensed clergy in the Diocese of Christchurch. This church - just planted within the last month - is called Church By The Tracks. Its pastor is the Reverend Dave Morgan. Local watchers will recognise the photo of the other Anglican clergyman involved in the church, although not as a member of staff.

What does not seem terrifically obvious from the Auckland church's site is that this church is a new planting connected to the Geneva Push which describes itself as, "an Australian network dedicated to recruiting, coaching and unleashing church planters. " This network is headed up by directors, the leading one of whom seems to be the Right Reverend Al Stewart, who formerly exercised his episcopal ministry within the Diocese of Sydney and who was once seen by some as a contender to succeed Peter Jensen as Archbishop of Sydney. Although not mentioned on the Church By The Tracks site, I recall the announcement from Dave Morgan when he signalled his departure from his previous parish as including reference to the role of the Geneva Push in his future plan. As best I can tell the Geneva Push is independent of the Diocese of Sydney. I wonder if it would be accurate to describe the Geneva Push as 'post-Anglican'?

Anyway, back to the Auckland Evangelical Church. It is always interesting to peruse the websites of churches because a key question to ask of any church is what its governance structure involves and how accountability works. This is what the Auckland Evangelical Church says of itself:

"Auckland Evangelical Church is an evangelical church that is independent in governance but united with Christians around the world and throughout history in upholding the gospel of Jesus Christ. We hold the Bible to be the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct and weigh all our teaching against its standard. We believe the teachings outlined in the historic church creeds (known commonly as The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed and The Athanasian Creed) are faithful expressions of the teaching of the Christian Scriptures. We hold to the Reformation teaching that God’s rescue comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in the Person and work of Christ alone as revealed in the Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone."

"Independent in governance" sends alarm bells ringing in my ecclesiological mind (and, I presume, means that the Reverend Hilsden is not licensed to this ministry by the Bishop of Auckland). To make things worse more interesting, this church touts itself as 'weighing all our teaching against [the Bible's] standard' yet that standard knows nothing of independent-in-governance churches (cf. the Jerusalem Council, Acts 15). Then it invokes 'the Reformation teaching' seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Reformation teaching (in its Lutheran/Calvinist mainstream) about the church never set up independent-in-governance churches! Here is a simple question I ask of this church should any of its members or supporters read this post,

If the minister or ministers of the church err in belief or behaviour, to whom is a complaint to be brought?

Secondary question: is the body or individual to whom complaint would be made, themselves accountable to any body of believers, and will their processing of complaint be according to a process agreed by that body of believers?

Naturally I ask this question because it is not obvious from the website of the church to whom its leadership is accountable.

Incidentally, we have a church in Christchurch of similar ethos to the Auckland Evangelical Church, called Campus Church (although its start in life was prior to the existence of the Geneva Push). It is reasonably described as 'post- Anglican' because its founding senior pastor was simultaneously pastoring this church (evening services only) while also being vicar of a parish here in Christchurch (morning services only). Its current pastor I have heard in personal conversation describe himself as Anglican, but he has no formal relationship with the Bishop of Christchurch. Its site is here and I do not think you will find on it any sign as to whom the leadership of the church is accountable.

By contrast, Church By The Tracks does offer the following re accountability:

"Governance. 
Lead Pastor – Dave Morgan  In line with our statement of belief, Dave’s role is to lead the church. 
Oversight team (includes 2 Trustee’s and elected members) Oversight Team’s role is to manage property and finance. 
Board of Reference An external board of appointed Christian leaders who will provide wisdom and support to the Oversight team on issues of doctrine and employment of Lead Pastor." [Ed: would be good to know the names of who is on the board!]

In all three cases it is ecclesiastically fascinating to be drawn to 'biblical churches' which do not give any clear signal in their statements of belief that they practice the dominical sacraments.  

Is it possible that their senior pastors have been taught a deficient ecclesiology? Deficient, that is, in terms of Article XIX,

"The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly- ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same."

It is simply wrong to to truncate ecclesiology after the second comma.

Obviously (reading their web info) what is not deficient in these three churches is their passion and commitment to evangelism, exposition and education. But is an intensive effort to do these things in the name of the Lord properly called 'church' without a congregational life which in its self-description includes baptism and communion? Is it a healthy church life (in two cases out of three) to declare no accountability structure, to give no sign of what authority the ministry leadership is submitted to?

Indeed in terms of a truncated ecclesiology, it is intriguing to find this description on the Auckland Evangelical Church's site re one aspect of its belief:

"About the Church
The visible church is the gathering of believers around Christ in His word. It is a community of people intended by God to bear witness to Him and actively seek the extension of His rule. Within its community, both men and women are to seek proper expression of their gifts as they work to build the church in love. The Bible makes it clear that in church leadership, as in marriage, the roles of men and women are not interchangeable. We are committed to expressing the differences within relationships of mutual dependence."

Note the beginning words remind us of the article cited above, but without reference to the Sacraments. Despite the inclusiveness of 'believers' relative to the Article's 'men' the statement ends with a statement about the lack of interchangeability of roles of men and women in church leadership and in marriage. Clearly this is a helpful statement of the situation as it is used as well by Church By The Tracks which has the same statement:

"(g) About the church
The visible church is the gathering of believers around Christ in his word. It is a community of people intended by God to bear witness to him and actively seek the extension of his rule. Within its community both men and women are to seek proper expression of their gifts as they work to build the church in love. The Bible makes clear that in church leadership, as in marriage, the roles of men and women are not interchangeable.  We are committed to expressing the differences within relationships of mutual dependence."

This statement underlines my sense that such churches are post-Anglican because, despite the Anglican background of their current pastors, the life of these churches is not associated with the oversight of a bishop. 

Well, there you have it. A potted account of three churches in New Zealand which are (a) post-Anglican in appearance, (b) sharing a certain family resemblance, and thus (I would argue) on the way to becoming a denomination. A denomination, that is, of sorts at least, as the independence of each church probably stands in the way of becoming a denomination in the mutual accountability sense of that word.

Actually, haven't we seen this post-Anglican denomination of independent churches before? Indeed we have. The Plymouth Brethren bear remarkable similarity to these churches.

Funnily enough, one of their assembly halls is just down the road from where Church By The Tracks meets :)

Tomorrow I will attempt to draw out why I think that these churches, along with the Geneva Push have become 'post-Anglican', in the light of yesterday's post about the Word and Sacrament character of the modern Anglican church with its peculiar twist that no balance between the two is insisted on. 

I will also offer (whether in the post to come or the one after it) a thought about why one other development in the 'Anglican world' can also be called 'post-Anglican' while another development is not post-Anglican at all.

Monday, February 25, 2013

What does 'post-Anglican' mean?

I had better nail down what I mean by 'post-Anglican' before I offer a view on the emergence of a post-Anglican denomination (as promised two days ago for Monday, which is now a broken promise for Tuesday!).

An excursion backwards is called for, in order to better understand what 'Anglican' means.

Once upon a time, let's call it the Old Testament period, Israel developed ways of responding to God which involved action and reflection, sacrificial worship and exposition of texts. The story is told in such a way that suggests that the sacrificial worship (shrines,  Tabernacle then Temple) developed first and exposition of texts followed (think Ezra, post Exile). But the complicated textual reality is that all of the Old Testament which we have received from Israel is a post Exilic document, that is, a story told from the perspective of the time when the nascent theology of Israel had been shattered by national catastrophe.

Effectively the Old Testament is a reconstruction of Israel's theology in ways which both explained how the catastrophe occurred and what the consequences of the catastrophe were. If you cannot see what this has to do with 'Anglican' ... hang in there! In this reconstruction, we read of the Temple and of the Law, of the place where sacrificial action occurred and of the text which both prescribes how the sacrificial action should be governed and sets down the key to Israel's future avoidance of catastrophe, that is, it must obey the Law, in every aspect of life, in contrast to pre Exilic Israel which, despite some contrary positive examples (e.g. Josiah), was conspicuous in its disobedience.

Further, the Old Testament as we have received it has a strong strand of history and theology based around the Law and a weaker strand based around the Temple.

The Law-based history is called the Deuteronomistic History (think Deuteronomy, Joshua through to 2 Kings, as well as the prophet Jeremiah, but Genesis, I suggest, is also history told in this perspective). It tells us who was obedient and who was disobedient (now we might see one connection to modern global Anglicanism!!) in accordance with Deuteronomy's view that obedience to the Law brings blessings and disobedience brings curses. In general this version of Israel's history explains the shattering judgement of God via the exile of (northern) Israel (721 BC), the destruction of Jerusalem and Temple (597 BC) and the exile of (southern) Israel = Judah (587 BC) as a judgement on disobedience.

The Temple-based history is told in 1 and 2 Chronicles (with some influence through Nehemiah and Ezra, but they also have Law-leanings). In these books, which begin the history of Israel with Adam (1 C 1:1), attitudes to the Temple are what cut the mustard. Israel (i.e. the northern kingdom which seceded from Judah after Solomon's death) drops out of the telling. Only the kings of Judah are bothered with by the Chronicler. While their misdeeds have some commonality with their stories told in 1 and 2 Kings, generally their attitudes to the Temple come to the fore. David, to give an outstanding instance, is the great king who wishes to build a house for God. Of his adulterous, Law-breaking dalliance with Bathsheba you will not find a whisper (1 C 11-end). Just as strikingly, Mannaseh who is a wicked king according to 2 Kings 21 fullstop, with not a whisper of repentance, is presented by the Chronicler as a wicked king who repents and in his repentance 'restored the altar of the Lord' (1 C 33:1-20).

The conflict between these two theologies comes to a head with Jeremiah. He predicts the demise of Judah. His rival prophets say all will be well despite the gathering of dark Babylonian clouds on the horizon. Jeremiah has a keen eye on the Covenant with Moses, which gave both the Law and the stipulations concerning disobedience to the Law. The rival prophets mistakenly think the Covenant with David, which appears to have no such stipulations, trumps the Covenant with Moses: the house of God will be forever and thus Jerusalem will never fall. Jeremiah, as we know, was right. His rivals were wrong. Fascinatingly, each theological history offers a slightly different version of God's Covenant with David. 2 Samuel 7:14 includes words not found in 1 Chronicles 7:13: 'When he [i.e. David's descendants on David's throne] commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod which mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings.' Is this an editorial attempt to reconcile the Mosaic and Davidic Covenants?

The loss of the Solomonic Temple at the hands of the Babylonians fuelled the rise of the synagogues in Israel (and in its diaspora) as places beyond the fortunes of the Temple in which faithful believers could use scrolls to preserve the sacred texts of Israel and read, study and explain them. Worship in the synagogues, based on reading, speaking and prayer would later influence the course of Christianity, feeding into its worship what we describe as services of the Word, whether as standalone services or as one half of eucharistic services.

But the loss of the Solomonic Temple also fuelled intense desire to build a new Temple, a desire fulfilled in the post Exilic period. Once again sacrifice occurred as the core action in the worship of Israelites. In the long run, for Israel, the synagogue developments proved the better bet. When the Temple was finally lost to Israel in 70 AD it was set forever on a course of text-based worship. But meanwhile Christianity appropriated sacrificial action in the Temple, guided by Jesus' own instruction and Paul and other Christian interpreters of the cross, to formulate the eucharistic acts of taking bread and wine, giving thanks, and distributing the bread and wine as symbols of the supreme fulfilment of sacrifice in the Temple, the crucifixion of the Lamb of God. Eucharistic worship for Christians is the appropriation of the great Temple stream of theology and history in the Old Testament. Like the Old Testament with its rules and regulations for pure Temple worship, so we have our rules and regulations for the proper ordering of eucharistic worship, including the paraphanalia of ordination and ordained ministry (who wears what robes, who may do what part of the eucharistic service).

Where am I going with this?

I suggest that the Anglican church, with its peculiar history of being once part of the undivided catholic church, then part of the Western church, then reformed in the English Reformation but retaining elements of catholic Christianity other reforming churches gave up on (especially concerning the ordering of worship, i.e. ordination in three orders), then later partially re-appropriating other elements of  catholic Christianity through the Anglo-Catholic movement, is a blessed beneficiary of the fullness of both strands of ancient Israel's worship. No other church (I think it can be argued) places equal weight on both ministry of the Word and ministry of the Sacrament. Other churches come close such as the modern Roman Catholic church and the Plymouth Brethren, but the former does not place as much importance on exegetical preaching as Anglicans do and the latter has a very light 'ordering' of its eucharistic worship. Nevertheless it is also true that the Anglican church is a peculiar church in this way: it does not require of itself that equal weight is given everywhere and in every service to Word and Sacrament.

Thus we find that a typical service in one Anglican parish is a Word-based service, with no breaking of bread; while in another parish a typical service is a Word and Sacrament service, but the weight of the service falls on the celebration of communion, perhaps represented by a shorter sermon than a Word-based parish would desire. Put another way, parishes emphasising the ministry of the Word through preaching often reduce the number of celebrations of communion (say, from weekly to monthly)  in order to enhance the time available for a longer sermon.

Further, it may be observed in some of those parishes which happily have a shorter sermon in order to have a weekly celebration of communion, that there are extra elements added into the service, drawn from Roman rites, which are designed to develop the theology of the Sacrament (and only that part of the service) in ways which the reformation of the Church of England had eschewed.

That is, in Old Testament terms, we can find 'synagogue' Anglicans at worship, and 'Temple' Anglicans at worship. The genius of modern Anglicanism, that is, since the beginning of the twentieth century, has been its unwillingness to resolve the tension between 'synagogue' and 'Temple', between Word and Sacrament. Consequently we have been a church which has both espoused through liturgical revision around the Communion a desired balance between Word and Sacrament while tolerating congregations within our midst that do not seek to live out that desired balance.

In order to get to where I want to get tomorrow, when I open up the possibility of the emergence of a post Anglican denomination in New Zealand, it will help to have this background in mind. In a church of Word and Sacrament, of Bible and eucharist, in which the opportunity for equal weighting of both is offered but not imposed, there is always the possibility that an emphasis on one and not the other will lead to dissonance with the mainstream of Anglican life ...

Also in the background here is an important observation about the Bible, especially in this post concerning the Old Testament, that it is a 'wide' rather than 'narrow' set of scriptures, in which a variety of theological approaches to the work of God in the world are presented. A key to understanding modern Anglicanism flows from this observation ... 

Thus, as a provisional working definition of 'post-Anglican', I offer this: the state in which Anglicans find themselves in when they can no longer live out what it means to be church within the peculiarity of modern Anglicanism's refusal to resolve the tension between Word and Sacrament.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Underground churches

We'll steer well clear of new eruptions in the volcano that is our Christchurch cathedral controversy and focus on an intriguing church architecture in Ethiopia, being Saturday and the ADU day for something a little different ... here.

On Monday I want to look at the possibility that a new post-Anglican denomination is emerging in New Zealand :)

POSTSCRIPT:

Loved seeing a Tui Billboard this morning when out and about:

Bishop Brian Tamaki,*
The Vatican called to say
You've made the shortlist

Yeah, right!

Talking of billboards by Tui, the makings of one are in the picture at the head of this post.

*A well-known NZ bishop at the head of a denomination of his own creation.

PS to Postscript: A good observation here.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Leave of absence?

The square peg of things to do, places to visit and people to see this week will not fit into the hole of available time. I am most unlikely to post again for a number of days, having given myself leave of absence from blogging, without pay. To the alarm of some readers here, given that my entirely orthodox views are understood by them to be suspect, I might mention that I am spending two days of the available time reviewing the teaching of theology at an institution :)

Anyway, for your erudition and education might I point you to the concerns of Joshua Bovis for our church, the penetrative reflection of +Kelvin Wright, my own background cracking open of this week's readings for sermons this coming Sunday, the continuing anxiety of the Curmudgeon about the drifting boat which is his church (i.e. the boat which is what our church may become if Joshua Bovis is correct in his diagnosis of it), and finally for today, the latest edition of The Living Church has a few mots (in)juste by yours truly. If you think about it, you will understand that I am thankful to readers here for their contribution to what I say.

Always look on the bright side of life!

And please appreciate that posting of comments might be as occasional this week as an oasis in the desert.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Benedictine murmurs, Taonga comment, WOW

A Saturday round up.

Our Christchurch Press this morning has several articles about the Benedictine announcement this week. One is sourced from the Times (so electronically behind a subscription) which suggests that BXVI resigned because a recent report about the 'Vatileaks' crisis demonstrated that the Curia is riven by divisions too great for a frail old man to clean them up. The nearest available report to this is in the Independent. Our Press also recarries a 2010 article by the late Christopher Hitchens which excoriates BXVI for his roles (as bishop, cardinal, prior to becoming pope) in covering up sexual abuse of minors. You can google that if you wish. But it is troubling: has the Pope a great theological mind and an inept, even obfuscational record as administrative leader? The Roman Catholic church is brilliant when experienced at the level of parish and other 'frontline' ministries (cf my post on Thursday). Its working out of the power which accrues to the apex of its hierarchical structure is a significant weakness. How can a claim to be the primary global force for Christian 'unity' for the ecumenical church (so long as under the primacy of Rome) carry integrity if the divisions in Rome are not themselves overcome?

My colleague Wally Behan has written a thoughtful comment to Taonga's article about the recent hui, here.

WOW: I also note on Taonga A VERY SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENT (!!!!), namely that our General Synod Standing Committee is setting up a doctrinal commission re these matters, and AS WELL the Ma Whaea Commission has appointed three people to report to it re the theological implications of what was said at the hui. KIWI ANGLICAN READERS TAKE NOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I suspect I shall come back to this sometime. But not today ... the sun is shining and Saturday tasks need to be done :)

Late addition re a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition. Watch here. Is this bloke, James Allison, right that if Rome changed its view re "objective disorder" then all would be well?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Romans debate to date

It is just too neat, I suggest, to confine Romans 14 and 15 to matters of 'secondary' importance and be done and dusted with its relevance to contemporary discussion and debate over homosexuality.

When Paul writes in Romans 15:7, "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God," he is placing our welcome of one another on the same level of importance as Christ's welcome to us. That is, if salvation, Christ's welcome of us, is a 'primary' matter of doctrinal importance, so is our love for one another (cf. a major theme in 1 John around God's love for us and our love for one another).

The issues in Romans 14 and 15 are also of primary importance because they have the potential to 'destroy the work of God' (14:20). In our current discussions we are talking about our welcome of one another and we have huge potential to destroy the work of God in how we handle these discussions. I stand by my assertion that Romans 14 and 15 is relevant to the situation at hand.

In catching up on where debate on this blog has gone over the last week, with a strong and robust critique of what I have said, including what I have said with less clarity than I would have wished to have achieved (!), I nevertheless continue to see analogies between the situation in Rome and our situation today.

Principally, there the Christian community was divided over the evaluation of a course of action. For some, eating certain foods was wrong because those foods were unclean. For others, all foods were clean so everything could be eaten. Paul, in his own mind, was clear on which side of the dispute he belonged: "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself" (14:14). But what he does not then do is engage in an attempt to persuade those on the other side to change their minds. Rather he engages in a powerful, subtle plea to those who agree with him to live in such a way that they do not make their brothers and sisters on the other side of the dispute to stumble: "Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died (14:14) ... it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble" (14:21).

One analogy, I suggest, is that today in the Western church we have a powerful, strong group of theological and ministerial leaders who think that nothing is wrong in itself in respect of sex between any two people in a loving, committed, permanent relationship. As I read their arguments they would happily say, "We are persuaded in the Lord Jesus that this is so." The continuing analogy then would be that Paul would say to them, "Do not let what you affirm re sexual relationships cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died." Incidentally, I recognise that the chances of this particular group of the "strong" having regard in this Pauline way for those who think differently (the "weak") is zip!

But there is another analogy to consider, one which focuses less on any analogy between clean and unclean food and more on analogy between the church divided into "strong" and "weak" groups. For the Western church is divided at this time (indeed, all churches, as far as I can see) in another way over homosexuality (with the possible exceptions of a very few ultra-liberal churches). In this division the "strong" are those for whom the normative experience of life, of being Christian and of organising domestic households is innately heterosexual: husband and wife; mum and dad; boyfriend and girlfriend. In my personal experience of church this is the mainstream, overwhelming presentation of congregations to the point that single people (whether identifying themselves in any further way or not) often grizzle that church life is all about families. The "weak" then are the tiny or even invisible minority who openly identify as gay or would do so if they felt brave enough in the midst of the overwhelming majority to do so. (The "weak" are also those who are single). The analogy then would be that Romans 14 and 15 speaks to us of the ways in which those who belong to the "strong" can cause their brothers or sister who belong to the "weak" to stumble.

Consider this, as one instance: everything we discuss about Scripture and its meaning for our lives is clean (nothing is forbidden for discussion) but the ways in which we discuss things, the manner in which we emphasise some parts of the Bible and not others, the priority we give to some issues and not to others can be a stumbling block to others. A question about homosexuality in these times is whether the Bible requires us to make it the major issue we have made it. By making it a major issue (when, arguably, the major issue of our times is the breakdown of marriage among Christians) are we making a stumbling block for the "weak"?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Turn from sin and be faithful to the gospel because the end is nigh

We keep forgetting the world is going to end (e.g. in this scenario) which is an ignoring of what Jesus often said. That prospect of the imminent end of life - no one knows the day or the hour, said Jesus - gives bite to Lent which began yesterday. Last night I was part of a wonderful joint Anglican-Roman Catholic service in the Catholic parish church of Bryndwr, sharing with Anglicans from my Bryndwr parish and from our neighbouring Fendalton parish.

Fr Rick Loughnan set the tone for our Christian service, welcoming us all from our respective Christian communities, and praying that the service would enable a deeper conversion of our hearts. Mark Chamberlain (V of Fendalton) preached a wonderful sermon with the memorable image within it that our Lenten disciplines are training for the disciplines required of us through the whole year, in the same way that training for a marathon (which he has run) involves running - no one turns up to the beginning of a marathon relying on visualisation of victory and inspiring words from a coach to get them through. To run a marathon one has to run in preparation. Thus we came to the ashing and those wonderful words of our joint commitment to Christ,

'Turn from sin and be faithful to the gospel.'

Now to the implementation of those words over the next forty days!

When time permits, I will return to Romans 14 and 15 and my I-never-intended-it-to-be-so-comment-generating meandering through Paul's subtle theology therein.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What is clean?

I stand by my claim yesterday that there is no shock or surprise in an 85 year old man announcing that he is retiring. Those who proffer the fact that in 600 years no other pope has retired from office as reason for using 'surprise' or 'shock' in journalistic reports about Pope Benedict's announcement yesterday are still slack hacks. A quiet keeping up to date with Vatican news in recent months would have informed any reader that the Pope's health was failing (or at least 'fading') and that retirement was a prospect being considered. Universally the pope's announcement is being greeted with the word 'humility', recognising that this announcement demonstrates the pope is not so enamoured with himself that he cannot see the greater good of the church. I too salute Benedict's humility. Not least because it is in keeping with the teaching of the apostle Paul in the chapters from Romans I am meandering my way through. Benedict does not want to cause any believer to stumble (14:13, 21).

When we get to Romans 14:14 we reach a striking point of theological severity, to which I am probably unable to do justice. Having instructed on the way forward for the divided Romans, "Let us therefore ... resolve ..." (14:13), Paul states a theological principle in order to clarify what is and is not the issue in their division.

The principle is this:

"I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean" (14:14).

The point of stating it is elucidated in the verses which follow. What is dividing the Romans is not the reality that (in this case) some foods are clean and unclean. (If it were so, then a simple statement from the apostle of what was clean food and what was unclean food should overcome the division). Rather, what is dividing the Romans is the differing attitudes in their minds to food because some cannot grasp that all foods are clean and operate with a distinction between clean and unclean, while others can so grasp. Paul consequently asks for the believers to respect these differing attitudes.

But what about the principle? Is this not an extraordinary statement because of the word 'nothing'? Obviously the first thing in Paul's mind in this context is food. There is no food which is not clean. But given that Paul has not confined his vision in Romans 14 to food, the theological principle in 14:14 is not confined to food. It is precisely the same principle that Paul enunciates in 1 Timothy 4:4-5, "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God's word and prayer." But the context of 1 Timothy's statement in 4:3, "They [false teachers] forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." That is, the theological principle in Romans 14:14 is extensive, and relates to all aspects of created life, to food and to sex.

Thus I disagree with those here who have suggested that Romans 14 and 15 are not wholly gerrmane to current Anglican controversies. The question we are debating over homosexuality is in fact a question of cleanness and goodness: is there any circumstance in which sex between two men or between two women is 'clean' or 'good' in the same way that sex between a man and a woman is clean and good in the context of marriage, that is, not to be forbidden and to be received with thanksgiving.

Conversely, our present debates, related to Paul's developing argument in Romans 14 and 15, are complicated. There is nothing in Paul's writings (least of all in Romans or 1 Timothy) which suggests that he can be corralled as a supporter voting for 'everything is clean' to include (say) a faithful, loving same sex partnership. So Paul, confronted with the possibility of change to our church's legislation in 2014, might suggest to us that 1 Corinthians 5-6 are the relevant teaching to apply, not Romans 14-15. That is, where matters are not covered by the principle in Romans 14:14, the larger teaching through these chapters is not applicable. Yet (suppose for a moment) that 'nothing is unclean in itself' includes any faithful, loving, permanent sexual partnership, then Romans 14 and 15 is precisely applicable as teaching for a church divided by attitudes in the minds of believers.

As I understand the character of the deepest division in our church, at least as represented at our recent Hermeneutical Hui, it is the division over what may be called clean or good, over what may be received with thanksgiving and what may not.

On one side are those who are certain that a same sex partnership characterised by marriage-like character - faithful, permanent, stable, loving - is clean and good, and thus blessable in the name of God.

On another side are those who are certain that this is not so, perhaps, in terms of 1 Timothy, because we cannot see where such a relationship is 'sanctified by God's word.' Yet a further side is represented by Bishop Victoria's paper which I understand to be an argument (in terms of the passages I am referring to here) that what is clean is "marriage" and thus what is required for the church to move forward is theological agreement that "marriage" includes any two people in a covenanted relationship. That is, the first two sides are characterised by "certainty" as to what is the case, and this side is characterised by "uncertainty" but with a resolve to work towards a "new" certainty.

At least one question we then have, in this stage of deep theological division, is the question of how we walk in love (see Romans 14:15), avoiding injuring our brother or sister and not being the cause of the ruin of one for whom Christ died.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Despite Romans 14:13 I am going to pass judgment

And the judgment I am passing today is on all media who use the word 'surprise' or 'shock' in their descriptions of the just announced resignation of Benedict XVI as Pope. The guy is 85. There is no surprise and even less shock when an 85 year old says they are going to retire. PS I am also passing judgment on media (such as our own Stuff.co.nz ) who say this move could "plunge" the Catholic church into "turmoil." The canonical procedures are clear and well-known. There will be no turmoil, just prayer and booking of airline tickets to get the voting cardinals to Rome for the enclave. Incidentally, just as Damian Thompson points out that the Catholics of England and Wales will have no say in the election so we could point out that the Catholics of Aotearoa New Zealand will have no say either, our only Cardinal, Tom Williams being over the age of 80). I am feeling quite judgmental about this without a shadow falling across my conscience :)

With that plain and wilful disobedience on my part confessed concerning Romans 14:13, "Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another", I return to my meandering discourse on the 14th and 15th chapters of this great epistle. Only briefly today as other concerns press on me, including running the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Races at the Anglican Centre. Made the pancakes last night. If pancake making is a requirement for papal office, then I am in. First thing I will change is the Infallibility thing. Otherwise some terrible mistakes could be made, as many commenters here could predict. However I am not a shoo in for office as already Richard Dawkins is a candidate with odds of 666/1. I digress.

The second part of 14:13 continues, "but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another."

Here is Paul at his pastorally sharpest edge. All sincere Christians who honour the Lord are entitled to have their differing convictions recognised and provided for, he has been saying till this point. That is, "equal but different" could be the slogan of the Paulinist church of Romans 14:1-12. But is that how humanity operates in a community, let alone the church? No! Among us some of us are 'strong' and some are 'weak'. Theoretically we should relate in an egalitarian church; practically some are stronger than others, some are weaker than others. So Paul says we need to make allowances for 'the other', in particular by not putting a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.

What does this mean for 21st century church life and our engagement with difference in views over human sexuality? More when I can come back to this. But offer your answers in comments.

Epilogue: Back to the Pope's retirement. It is wonderful to see that the two great tasks of his office are simply stated in his announcement,

"in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel"

The strength of the Roman church lies in that phrase: a simple determination to continue its (Petrine) way and a clear, unwavering conviction that its mission is simply to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Would that all churches and church leaders were of similar steadfastness and focus.

Monday, February 11, 2013

For The Record

I see that Bishop Victoria's paper on the Theology of Marriage is now published on Taonga. Head there for a read.

Reading carefully in Romans 14 and 15

I realise reading through Romans 14 and 15 that it is a subtle passage in Paul's thought. It is mainly about a controversy over eating food. But it is not solely about that controversy. In 14:5 Paul notes another controversy, 'Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.' (See also Colossians 2:16). Clearly Paul thinks the theology over handling difference is applicable to more than one issue.

Further, Paul is tackling a question of difference among his readers, but he takes pains to point them all to the common ground they share. From 14:5b through 14:9 Paul lays out the common ground they share if they are willing to see it in each other. It has three aspects. First, an individual aspect, 'Let all be fully convinced in their own minds' (14:5b). If we are going to have difference among us, Paul seems to say, the least responsible thing we can each do is check and re-check our thinking so we are convinced we are right. What a waste of time and energy to argue about our differences if we have not yet fully thought through what we are asserting to be vital truth! An observation I make after many years of working on differences over human sexuality is that the process has gotten rid of silly ideas, badly thought through suppositions and ill-considered conceptions from my mind.

Secondly, on all sides of the controversy, people are honouring God. Whatever the presenting differences among Christians, we share common ground over our resolve to honour God by how we live. In respect of present sexuality controversies I offer two observations about what I read on the internet. (1) Often little thought is given to the possibility that those we oppose share with us a desire to honour the Lord. (2) An obvious logical move to make on such a matter is to claim that our opponents are not true Christians (i.e. whatever protestations they make, they are not really intent on honouring the Lord, thus they do not share common ground with us). Note that this move can work both ways in binary opposition: "A Liberal Christian is not a real Christian" say conservatives, "since basically they are heretics"; "Conservative Christians are just bigots (which effectively means, 'not genuinely Christian')" say liberals.

Thirdly, we all belong to the Lord: 'whether we live or die, we are the Lord's' (14:8). Our common ground is that we belong to the same family of God. Consequentially Paul goes on to ask, 'Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?' Again, see in the above paragraph, number (2): the simplest way to avoid the complexity of handling difference in a Pauline manner is to deny that the other is a member of the same family!

Is that the end of the matter, we are different but the same, so just get on with life? Not quite. As time permits I will come back to Romans 14 and 15.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Living on $4 a Day

In keeping with my intent to make Saturday's a day for something a little different from the Monday to Friday meandering of this blog, unless distracted by some event such as the Hui last weekend, today's something is the Lenten message of the Presiding Bishop of TEC. 


I wish you a blessed Lent.
Lent is the ancient season of preparation. Preparation for Baptism at the Easter Vigil and it’s a season of solidarity with those who are being formed to be disciples of Jesus and missionaries in God’s mission.
We form people in a sense that God dreams of a healed world, a world restored to peace with justice, and some of the ancient images of that healed world are those of the prophets. One of the famous ones from Isaiah is an image of people having a picnic on a mountainside, enjoying rich food and well-aged wine. That image of being well-fed is particularly poignant in a world like ours where so many go hungry.
Lent is a time when we pray, when we fast, when we study, when we give alms. It’s a time of solidarity and it is particularly a time to be in solidarity with the least of these.
As you prepare for your Lenten season and your Lenten discipline, I’d encourage you to think about consciousness in eating. That’s really more what fasting is about than giving up chocolate. Being conscious of what you eat, standing in solidarity with those who are hungry, whether it is for food, or shelter, or peace, or dignity, or recognition, or for love.
When we stand in solidarity in terms of eating, we might consider what we are eating and how we are eating it and with whom we are eating, and I’d invite you to consider some of the challenges that are around us. Many leaders in this United States part of the church have engaged in an act of solidarity with the poor by trying to live on a food stamp budget for a week. That’s about $4 a person per day. And it’s very, very difficult to find adequate calories and reasonably nutritious food for that kind of a budget. But it would be an act of solidarity with those who do go without every day and every week. An act of solidarity like that might increase your consciousness about those who go hungry, it might increase your own consciousness about what you eat, and it might provide an opportunity to share some of your largesse, some of what you save from that kind of eating with those who go without.
The violence in our country, the violence around the world is most often an act in response to those who don’t have enough. Those who are hungry, those who ache for recognition and dignity, those who struggle for peace.
Your and my preparation for the great Easter festival can be an act of solidarity with the least of these. As you engage this Lent, I would encourage you to pray, to fast, to act in solidarity with those who go without. Learn more, give alms, share what you have. Be conscious about what you eat.
A blessed, blessed Lent this year.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Friday, February 8, 2013

Who are the weak?

If you were, or indeed are a member of the Church of England, engaging with the question of women bishops, who are the 'weak' as we reflect on the application of Romans 14-15 to the process of making a decision? Are the 'weak' those women who feel powerless in the face of a bunch of men having the upper-hand in the process, a process which could yield a decision to maintain the house of bishops as a male only preserve? Are the 'weak' those parish priests and congregations who know that when women become bishops they will be a small minority quite possibly without power to self-determine that only male bishops will minister to them? Perspective matters!

Interestingly, 'perspective matters' has a bearing on most great human divisions. Consider the bitter battle in the USA over the future course of its economy, a matter of interest to all the world, not least NZ whose economy is so small it is easily battered by the big players getting things wrong (in our perspective). Today I see Paul Krugman has posted about this amazing graph:

The Krugman perspective is that John Boehner is wrong to say that since he entered Congress in the early 1990s government debt has been a problem no one has seriously addressed. And Krugman, on that matter, is correct. The Clinton years were an amazing period in which federal debt reduced dramatically. Note, incidentally, how much that debt grew in the St Ronald Reagan years! But isn't the graph revealing? The growth in debt through the last part of the second Bush era and now the Obama years is astronomical. A fight over controlling that growth is worth having. Essentially Krugman's great point is that this debt doesn't matter. But is he right? Should his perspective be focused on the right hand end of the graph and not on whether Boehner misspoke about a part in the middle?

Analogously, on matters of sexuality and the church in the 21st century, we have similar points being made in argument. "It's a major problem (and getting worse)." "No, it isn't. We are making a major fuss over a minor aspect of life." "This has gone on for years. It's about time we solved it once and for all." Also, analogously, we could observe that both Boehner and Krugman have 'weak' hands to play. The former with his House republicans is battling President, Senate and public opinion. The latter, as the graph reveals, is battling the unseen reality of spiralling debt - the facts are not on Krugman's side.

In our ACANZP debate, represented by the recent Hui, who are the weak?

Perhaps the answer does not matter. When Paul writes, 'Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions' (14:1) should we understand this to mean that when we think we are the strong ones, our attitude to those who (by contrast) are the weak ones is clear? Welcome them, Paul is saying, do not refuse them a place in the life of the church, and do not welcome them solely for the purpose of arguing with them.

Quite a lot is at stake in this approach. Some very sobering words are written by Paul in 14:20:

'Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.'

Within the Anglican Communion in the past decade or so, we have seen a lot of destruction of the work of God: churches divided, churches leaving national churches, individuals and congregations leaving churches, damage to reputation of churches as our debates have been played out in the media which, arguably, is damage to the gospel and our mission of proclamation. Has this damage been for the sake of the equivalent of 'food' or has it been for a higher cause than that?


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Welcome one another

EXTRA BIT: That hopey changey thing we long for so that the lot of humanity improves. Well here is modest testimony to the possibility for change for the better.

TODAY'S POST:

The verse which guides us to Romans 14-15 as applicable to divisive issues in the church is 15:7,

'Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.'

What are divisive issues but issues which affect our 'welcome' to one another. Issues dividing Protestants from Rome affect our welcome to eucharistic tables controlled by Rome. Until comparatively recently issues dividing Presbyterians from Anglicans affected their welcome at our eucharistic tables! Responding to an enquiry re a wedding in one of our churches I am reminded that not all ministers of the gospel are welcome to take weddings in Anglican churches.

It is old advice when engaging with Paul's writings to ask what the 'therefore' is there for. Thus from Romans 15:7 we proceed backwards. In 14:1 we find a bookend to 15:7,

'Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.'

In the current controversy it could be said that each side thinks the other is 'weak'!

Weak, on the one side, in faith and full of fear, unnecessary fear and timidness in the embrace of human diversity.

Weak, on the other side, in understanding of Scripture and of facing up to its rigour and application to 21st century life.

So each might say.

Yes, I think Romans 14-15 is worth a post or two in the present context.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Marriage and friendship

Marriage is between a man and a woman, and always has been. But friendships are not so gender particular.

As we digest the recent Hermeneutical Hui, news from Britain of gay marriage passing the first legislative hurdle (by a very clear margin), and the fact that both our church (if Taonga's headline about the hui is correct) and the British parliament is out of sync with the CofE by being in disagreement with the ABC, it is worth thinking as clearly, as carefully and as care-fully as possible. We are, after all, as Christians, called to love God, Christ, his church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, family, friends, neighbours and even enemies: that is just a little bit suggestive of clarity, care and cherishing one another as we discern the right thing to do.

One of the most important things I heard said at the hui was said by a friend of mine who is both openly gay and living transparently with his partner. (In my words, save where quotation marks are used) he said that he sees marriage as involving complementarity and thus it does not work for two people of the same gender, rather he proposes the idea of "committed friendship."

Interestingly this line of thought (which he freely acknowledges is not a majority view within the gay community he moves within) accords with a perceptive note struck by Doug Chaplin as he reflects on the British parliamentary debate:

"There are, in short, new queer as well as old straight voices insisting that the two relationships are not the same kind of thing. Whether these relationships should be given equality in the same institution, or be given two equal but different institutions is a serious and genuine question."

(In passing, two good opinions re the Brit situation here and here).

"A serious and genuine question" strikes an important note as we debate matters here and elsewhere in these islands. Changing our definition of marriage whether at a popular or legislative or ecclesiological or theological level is "serious" and thus we should be able to ask "genuine questions" about what an alternative approach might be.

Notwithstanding some bold and imaginative attempts at the hui to argue that marriage, theologically, could be understood as encompassing any two persons and not simply a man and a woman, I and other conservatives remain unpersuaded that the case has been made. I would go further, personally, and say that the case cannot be made, that the embeddedness of complementarity, of the couple needing to be gender differentiated for marriage as revealed by God to his people to be the one flesh, potently procreative relationship intended by God is as unchangeable as 1+2=3.

Nevertheless if that conclusion is clear and careful thinking in respect of Scripture-based theology, what about the matter of care-fullness or cherishing of one another in Christ? How do we make space in our church, for instance, for my friend and his partner? From a conservative perspective can anything supportive be said about same sex couples who understand their relationship as a "committed friendship" and who may have entered into a "civil union" here or a "civil partnership" in the UK?

Something I hope we can say is that we believed in the value of committed friendships, of friends who identify their closeness in specific terms, "Fred is not just one of my many friends but my best friend. We are mates for life." Biblically we see such friendships in the obvious and much discussed examples of Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, and Jesus and the Beloved Disciple. That some make more of these examples in respect of blessed partnerships than others would like need to not deter us from finding common ground, that the Bible praises friendship and offers examples of 'particular friendships.'

Naturally the question arises (at least, I find it arises when these matters are discussed at an event such as the hui) whether sexual engagement between such friends is sinful or not. Alongside which question I also find very quickly we engage with (putting it politely) interesting interpretations of the stories of the three sets of characters mentioned above. (Indeed The Love of David and Jonathan is the title of a very recently published book by James Harding, one of the presenters at the hui, who lectures in Old Testament at Otago University. No greater depth has this relationship been explored than the words laid down therein by James). Such interesting readings of these stories, in my view, represent a fixed view that there are same sex relationships in which sex is not sinful and may even be in biblical contexts blessed by God

It is no part of my conservative reflection here to argue (again) that homosex is sinful. But it is part of my reflection to point out that while we are a church in which it may not be too late to steer towards "committed friendship" rather than "marriage" as description for covenanted same sex partnerships,  it is too late to undo the determination made by many that in such partnerships, sex is right, not wrong.

Thus, at least for those of us who are determined not to depart from our church, we must ask whether there is a way forward other than disunity. That is, if we could agree in our church, even better in the Communion as a whole, on affirming committed friendships while disagreeing on whether sex between two men or two women is sinful, how could we live together in Christ?

That, I think takes us to Romans 14-15, and the question of living with sharp disagreement in a united church. We should stop by there for a while before assessing other options, whether +Jim White's "we just would stay together, like pacifists and militarists" or (without attaching the idea to any one named leader in our church) the possibility of new episcopal arrangements for our church.

On Waitangi Day, here in Aotearoa NZ, where we celebrate our differences as two peoples and wonder about our unity as one country, that might be an appropriate point to end this post. I will come back to Romans 14-15 when time permits.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Further post hui

I am working on a longer post re reflection on the 'deep' theological issues with where we headed in the hui. Meantime, why not head over to Bishop Kelvin Wright's reflection (here). Alongside that we could read how the new ABC is walking in lock step with his church on a view of marriage which is in keeping with the long held Christian view of marriage (tradition) and the widely held view of marriage around the church (catholicity).

Some notes for commenters:

I deleted a comment this morning which made an allegation that a certain group of Christians is "lying." Do not do that and expect to be published unless you are going to supply a link to evidence for the charge.

I published another comment which only just sneaked through my moderational sensibility: take care, please, about directly addressing other commenters in the second-person. All too quickly such comments lead to ad hominem debate.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Post Hui Reflections

Don't just read here, go to Taonga for a full report (which I see no need to repeat) with links to some (but not all, e.g. not Bishop Victoria Matthew's) papers given. I suggest that the headline there, "Hermeneutic Hui leads church ever closer to same-sex blessings" is an accurate summary of what the hui represents within the journey our church is on through these particular years (via diocesan work on theologies of marriage, the Ma Whaea Commission, General Synods 2012 and 2014). However other headlines could be given in summary. Here are mine:

"Our church stakes claim for discipleship and divine worship as context in which to make decisions about how we live in 21st century."

"Clear recognition by ACANZP that a consensus on homosexuality will not be reached."

"Determination by our church to find a way forward on blessings of same sex relationships which honours our respectful divisions."

"Uncertainties within ACANZP about how to proceed: do we do needed theological work before making ground-breaking decisions?"

I was asked yesterday whether, in a one word summary, I was heartened or disheartened and I responded, "Heartened." Why? Three reasons. We went through this event in fellowship, including eucharistic fellowship, despite our (respectfully, diplomatically) expressed disagreements. It would be naive to expect that those gathered at the hui represent every viewpoint in the church (e.g. as far as I could tell we were a pretty thoroughly "Anglican" group, but many in our congregations do not self-identify as "Anglican.") Nevertheless the character of the hui suggests we can mostly if not wholly hold together as we make decisions in 2014 (presuming we do not make stupid decisions).

Secondly, we expressed through our papers (despite their, in my view, mixed quality re depth of theological and exegetical insight) a new dimension of theological and pastoral engagement with the issues. Speaking broadly, the 'liberal' papers were seriously theological (i.e. not superficial regurgitations of secularist arguments of the kind being invoked in our parliament) and the 'conservative' papers were poignantly pastoral (i.e. not statements of conservative positions as though gay and lesbian people are invisible or have experiences we do not need to listen to).

Thirdly, we clearly said (particularly through Bishop Jim White's paper) that we are a church intent on holding together our differences on these matters and not, repeat 'NOT', a church intent on passing legislation with vague assurances that we will respect those disagreeing with it when really we do not mean it. +Jim's use of the analogous situation re pacifism/militarism was very important on that score: pointing to an issue in our church which we have never resolved and are not likely to resolve which is also an issue in which we live respectfully with both viewpoints. Putting this another way, with an eye on what some other churches are doing in the Communion, I suggest we are a church which very definitely, very clearly, and very intently does not wish to mimic the manner in which TEC has proceeded.

By the way, both for local readers who may not understand the dynamics of our church and for overseas readers, I perhaps need to say that conservatives at the hui operated on the presumption that when push comes to voting shove, at best we represent about 40% of our church and thus we do not expect to "win" votes on motions which push for change. We are expecting and believe we have a right to expect that we can "win" by having motions put which do not drive us out of the church.

However "heartened" is not the same as "perfectly confident all will be well." What, then, might be the roadblocks ahead of us as we proceed?

Participants at the hui as we go back to our dioceses need to remember that the decision-making of our church is in the hands of dioceses and General Synod. The goodwill of the hui may or may not be replicated in our synods when they come to address these matters.

Part of the hui (especially Bishop Victoria's paper on the theology of marriage) signalled a need to do further theological work ahead of change (in the sense that the four hermeneutical hui constitute the foundation for that work, not the whole of that work). If that call is heeded then change is a long way away, which no doubt would suit some in our church and not others.

There is a question how the goodwill of the hui re conservatives translates into individual diocesan situations going forward from any change in our church. I reminded my small group that in the past (i.e. before the current "moratorium") some dioceses discerning for ministry seemed to be making a question about attitudes to homosexuality the key decision as to whether a candidate was accepted for ordination or not. Thus general assurances to conservatives as a collective body could be undermined by the actual way a diocese operates behind the closed doors of selection conferences and Boards of Nomination meetings. (Again, I think we are in a different era on these matters, but we need to be vigilant).

On the theology of the blessing of same-sex relationships

Finally, here, a brief summary of my assessment of the case (i.e. across several papers, not picking on any one paper or argument mounted therein) made in favour of our church agreeing to the blessing of same sex relationships or even of deeming such blessed relationships to be marriages:

We are a church (in a Communion) looking for a theological warrant for blessing (which I understand as a signal of divine approval) relationships between two people which hitherto the church has understood to be unable to be blessed. Despite impressive rereading of Scripture to remind us of the variegated models of marriage in Scripture and of the trajectory of God's inclusive love (most especially the trajectory from Israel to the whole world, Jews and Gentiles), I did not hear the case for the warrant being made.

What I did hear is a lot of questions being raised about how well we understand marriage, a well made and pertinent case that relative to the gospels' teaching on discipleship in many parts of the church we have over-valued the importance of marriage (and undervalued the significant teaching on celibacy for the sake of the kingdom), and an underscoring of what I believe is now accepted in our church, that the church must not and should not be a body which ignores let alone rejects those who identify as gay and lesbian.

In other words, and picking up what I said here a few days ago, it is one thing to question whether our theology of marriage excludes the possibility of blessing same sex relationships, let alone might extend the definition of marriage to mean any two people, not simply a man and a woman; it is another step to answer the question affirmatively.

What does it mean to be a catholic church at this point in our life?

From a catholic perspective, the haunting dilemma for our church is how we might proceed, given the pressure to proceed emanating from the dioceses of Auckland, Waiapu, Dunedin and Aotearoa. As I understand catholicism as a characteristic of our life, we should only proceed if we have an agreed theology underpinning change. (This, I think, is one large concern in Bishop Victoria's paper: that it is better to do the theological work slowly and before we make change, than to change and do the work afterwards). Bishop Jim's point is that in a situation in which we seem unable to reach catholicity on the matter (i.e. I think he is pessimistic about this relative to some optimism on Bishop Victoria's part) we are free to pursue local options, having devolved authority to exercise 'conscience'. But is that the church operating in a proper catholic manner?

Further, and largely unacknowledged at the hui, there is the question whether we are heading towards a decision which puts us out of catholic sorts with most of the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What is persuasive in Auckland?

Updated update: I do not agree with everything a commenter here says, but am interested by his observations about 'cultural Marxism' and thus find it fascinating that none other than Cranmer's blog latest post has a reference to this phenomemon, here.
UPDATE: Likely Monday before I get a full report of today's proceedings in, but, in the meantime, a commenter has pointed us to this interesting Down Under article in the Oz media. A brief note relating it to the hui: we managed, at all times, to work our discussions in the context of the worship of God, our discipleship following Christ, and do everything to the glory of God.

Today's post from Auckland

Great venue (Auckland cathedral). Pleasant company (whatever my views on what people say, I like their company). Great food (for a slightly spreading middle ager, not too many calories). Yes, yesterday was a good first day at the Hui. And a long day. It was after 9.30 pm when I arrived back at my accommodation.

Okay, I heard plenty that I disagreed with, but how about noting what I have found persuasive here? The following thoughts, I underline, are my summarising thoughts in my words. Do not mistake them for the 'views' of 'the other side'!

(1) Whatever we make of the arguments for change in our church, we have a situation in which people who love Christ and walk with him as his disciples differ on the question of how we live according to God's Word. A proposal put forward yesterday, but not greatly taken up in discussion, is that we need to pay attention to Romans 14, which is a Pauline addressing of the matter of when Christians disagree sharply and potentially divisively. Evident to me, as far as the church is represented at this hui, is that no one wants to leave our church or see anyone leave our church. We can endlessly bat to and fro the meaning of Scripture on sexuality, but the breakthrough could come through consideration of other parts of scripture.

(2) The situation we are in as both church and society is not only about the question, "What does Scripture say?", it is also "What does our discussion (let alone any resolution of it) say to people self-identifying as gays and lesbians about their value as people. We may not intend to oppress or destroy anyone by our exegetical discussions and our processes in making decisions, but the effect of our talking can be to suppress people being themselves, even to ghettoize or exclude them, or worse. That is an extraordinary pastoral situation to be in as a church.

(3) Through various presentations a quiet question and one that has been emerging for sometime in global debate is the question of whether Scripture addresses the matter of Christian disciples who live responsible lives under God in stable, faithful, permanent same-sex partnerships. At the end of yesterday my reflection is that this is a real and lively question to consider. I heard nothing by way of exegesis, hermeneutics, or theological reflection which suggested a substantial, convincing "positive" answer to that question is at hand. That is, we are a long way from the question being answered by an assured theology of blessing of such relationships (that is, through blessing, signalling that God approves as God does of marriage).

Conversely, as a conservative trying very hard to listen to God, to people's experience of life in Christ, and to understand what it means to be a frail, fallible human being (that is, as sexual sinner in a church of sexual sinners, which sometimes is marked by (say) divorces, subsequent remarriages, confessed addictions to pornography, adulterous affairs, etc) I am a long way from dismissing the question. I sense I am not alone among conservatives here.

If I can I will report in later today. Otherwise it might be Monday ...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Unpersuaded (yet) in Auckland

First day of the Fourth Hermeneutical Hui today (Friday 1 February) so have been reading in preparation. Now, I know that some folks here are not particularly impressed with what I write in defence of marriage as traditionally understood by Christians, being between one man and one woman. Naturally I find this all a bit strange, that defending what Christians have believed and nearly universally around the world today continue to believe should elicit so little sympathy from fellow Christians here, especially those from the catholic stable with the weight it places on tradition and its propensity to treat texts of Scripture literally (e.g. on the eucharist). But that is what it is.

However, having pre-read some of the papers about to be delivered, I remain singularly unpersuaded by those papers which propose a new line or which (essentially) soften us up for a new line. What does not persuade me? Arguments for same sex marriage which work from Scripture appear (i.e. on the basis of my reading) to involve considerable weight being placed on 'silence' - the silence of Scripture on marriage being other than between a man and a woman. Arguments from silence can have plausibility (the lack of communication from aliens is a plausible argument for them not existing!) but they are not always persuasive (especially if funny lights are seen in the sky at night!).

Further, I am finding myself wondering as I read if what I am reading (when not amounting to an argument from silence) amounts to an argument for same sex marriage being valid on the basis that when a scholarly barrage of doubts and questions is aimed at marriage as Christians have traditionally taught it, based on Scripture, "marriage" shows a few cuts and bruises. But is that an argument? And why (I ask myself as I read) are otherwise good Christian people, charged in some cases by virtue of licence with upholding the teaching of the church, so intent on finding and holding up to the light every fault and foible in the hitherto theology of marriage? Is there not a greater obligation to strengthen that theology rather than to weaken it?

Final thought for tonight, if marriage is not a Christian ideal, because disciples are called to mission which, if the NT teaches anything about discipleship, is better aided and abetted by celibacy, in what way does making that point from the gospels then create a platform to support extending marriage from heterosexual couples to same sex couples? Frankly, I find some arguments for same sex marriage to be odd as arguments.

To summarise to date, when the Hui has not even begun, I am looking for good, quality, theological arguments. Will I find them over the next two days? As best I can I will keep you posted.