Tuesday, August 14, 2018

NZ's Other Religion

On my sidebar I reserve the right to avoid theology and stuff and to "write about cricket and politics." The article I link to below is not about cricket. It is about rugby. It is written by Linda Burgess. And she can write! Her husband Bob Burgess was a brilliant first-five who I saw with my own eyes score two tries against the 1971 Lions at Lancaster Park. (I also saw one of the greatest tries of all time, Ian Kirkpatrick running 50m, fending off Lions' players  as though they were annoying flies, from an amazing viewpoint: the then "Boys Enclosure"on the south-west corner of the Park was in exact line of sight of his run down the field.) I digress. Back to Linda Burgess.

She writes about an era in All Black rugby which straddled changes in our society - to the role of women, to attitudes to sporting contact with South Africa, to rugby's religious role in society. I find her article to be both a walk down memory lane and an evocation of a different world. She also touches on a contentious subject in NZ rugby history, the treatment of Keith Murdoch, expelled from the 1972 rugby tour to the UK, Ireland and France. Indeed his biography sparks the article's writing.

I won't spoil the potential reading pleasure of the whole article by citing from it. It is here.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The bread of life: a sermon on the eucharist


Recently I posted a couple of times on the eucharist (here and there) and promised to post on Brant Pitre's book on Jesus and the Last Supper which remains a sin of omission.

Below I post today's sermon, focused mostly on the gospel passage, John 6 and the bread of life. I don't normally post sermons I have preached. That is mostly because I write them on the back of envelopes. The sermon below is unusual: I actually typed it out on my laptop. I think the sermon below is worth a post, on two grounds.
1. While not directly citing Brant Pitre, my reading of his book is definitely influential on what I say below. I am - of course - responsible for what is written below; Pitre is not responsible for the sermon.
2. I was struck, while preparing the sermon, by the neat way in which 6:41-43 illustrates how the bread of communion can be simultaneously the body of Christ. Your feedback [bad pun] will be gratefully received. I am sure what I write below is entirely unoriginal, but it is a new-to-me insight from this passage.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2 and John 6:35, 41-51:

If we want to live we need to eat the bread of life.

How often should we have communion?
That simple question has had varied answers through Christian history.
From once or twice a year to quarterly to monthly to weekly to daily.
The New Testament, which faithfully reports to us that Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me”, doesn’t actually say how often we should do this.
Indeed the NT, perhaps to the surprise of Christians who put a lot of emphasis on regular communion, devotes very few words to the subject of “holy communion”.
But among those words are the words we find in John 6 as we read from this chapter over five Sundays – this is week three – if you have lost track.

John 6 – bread from heaven
Five Sundays on the bread, someone once complained.
But what bread it is to spend five Sundays on – the bread from heaven, the bread of life, the bread that gives eternal life.
Eat this bread, Jesus says, and you will never be hungry again.
Now we know, when someone talks like that, but our stomach tells us we are hungry, that this is not the bread we buy at the supermarket or cook in our bread makers.
What is this bread from heaven? Is it metaphorical – bread as a metaphor for spiritual union with Christ?
To be sure, there is an element of metaphor.
What counts is the life of Christ in us and our lives lived in union with Christ. We live this life 24/7, whether we share in communion that day or not.
Yet what Jesus says is very specific about eating him – eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
His flesh is the living bread, his blood is true drink. Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (53).
It has been impossible for the church not to join this teaching in a synagogue in Capernaum with the later Last Supper –
the supper in which Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples; shared a cup of wine in the same way.
So, alongside the element of metaphor is an element of material reality.
To eat bread given thanks for, broken and shared among followers of Christ, is to eat the body of Christ.
To drink wine given thanks for, shared around followers of Christ, is to drink the blood of Christ.

The bread from heaven is that bread which we eat together in communion.
And whoever eats of this bread will live forever.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (56)
At times in our Anglican history we have had long seasons in which communion was (and in some parishes still is) an optional extra (10 am Mattins and 11.15 am Holy Communion for those who stayed).
I don’t think that approach is faithful to John 6 and its connection to what Jesus did at the Last Supper and commanded us to continue doing in remembrance of his death.
If we want to live, really live, to live the life of Christ in the world, we need to meet, to break bread and to eat it and to share the cup and to drink it.
Thus the spiritual life of Christ comes to us through the material reality of bread and wine:
in this way we eat Christ’s body – his crucified, risen and ascended body – and we drink Christ’s blood – in which the life of Christ comes to us,
the life which was given up for the sake of the world.
As the last words of our Ephesian reading puts it, urging us to love with the same love Christ has for the world,
“live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (5:2)

John 6 – bread from heaven = Jesus, son of Joseph (6:41-43)
We may wonder – as many Christians have wondered – how bread and wine from the earth can convey the heavenly body and blood of Christ.
Fascinatingly there is a strong clue in our gospel reading today.
Jesus says he is the bread come down from heaven.
The Jews who hear this complain: this man is no bread from heaven, this is Jesus the son of Joseph. We know his Mum and Dad.
As readers we know that Jesus is both.
He is the bread come down from heaven:
he is Son of Man and Son of God, come to us from the Father, descended to us from eternal, heavenly intimacy with God his Father.
He is Jesus, son of Joseph.
An ordinary and very material/physical human being.
Same as you and me.
Simultaneously, Jesus is heavenly and earthly, divine and human.
No scientist could have done a blood test and found Jesus to be from heaven.
No theologian, hearing the witness of the Jews who were Jesus’ audience that day, could have denied Jesus to be from earth.
The bread we eat today and the wine we drink cannot be taken to a lab at the university and be found to be the heavenly body and blood of Christ.
And no matter what we believe about the body and blood of Christ which we partake at communion, it is simultaneously bread and wine.

John 6 – the wrap up
If we want to live we need to eat the bread of life.
We should not be vague about this and think of Jesus being all metaphorical.
We can be concrete, specific:
we should come – as we have done today – to communion – to eat the bread of life
– to be nourished and strengthened by Christ through the bread and the wine of communion.
And how often?
I am going to answer that question with another question ...
Can we ever have too much of Christ?




Saturday, August 11, 2018

Staying the (impaired) course (updated)

LATEST: See now this post at Liturgy.

ORIGINAL: The following Tweets (re the Diocese of Nelson Synod meeting this weekend) speak for themselves:






There is more to report than this but I am awaiting some published news about another motion the Synod considered and, I understand, passed. I will update when some kind of linked news comes to hand.

UPDATE: please read this snipped picture of a Twitter feed this afternoon from the bottom to the top. In another motion the Diocese of Nelson synod has clearly signalled a couple of things re the situation in our church. I would welcome Nelson commenters filling us in on "impaired" and "support and recognition" ...


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Making the inadmissible admissible and the admissible inadmissible?

Andrew Goddard - as usual - has an excellent discussion of the Pope's recent move re the death penalty (from admissible to inadmissible), here, with a multitude of links to Catholic writers and theologians. (Liturgy also posts on the decision and has some useful collation of key statements, here).

Goddard's discussion notes the trepidation some commentators have that a shift from admissible here to inadmissible could presage a shift from inadmissible to admissible over there ... if you get my drift.

One issue I am intrigued by, triggered by some things I read on the net before reading the Goddard post, is this: is change to ethical teaching best approached via a "development" conception?

On a development conception we change teaching on X bit by bit, perhaps taking centuries to do so.

An alternative conception could be we simply admit we got it wrong in the past.

With respect to the former: there is a charting of development possible with Catholic teaching about the death penalty, though wise people have pointed out that Francis shift from admissible in narrowly prescribed circumstances (as development previously had done) to inadmissible in all circumstances is not a development but a change. And by "change" those commentators mean, the church effectively now says previous popes/catechisms have been wrong.

With respect to the latter: I would argue that the church universally today recognises that it was previously wrong when it tacitly tolerated let alone explicitly endorsed slavery.

In response to my question, "is change to ethical teaching best approached via a "development" conception?", we could observe that the church - through history - has both developed its ethical teaching and changed its ethical teaching.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Making decisions: deciding how to make Christian decisions

Recently, in the post below the one below this, a very challenging (in the best sense of that word re theology sharpening theology) set of comments has raised questions about (variously) synodical powers, consensus, categories of decisions in the life of the church.

One important challenge has been whether "majority rule" is sufficient for decisions we make or should we aim higher, for consensus?

Naturally the higher aim of consensus rule is laudable but is it realistic? Very intriguingly, with a background discussion here being whether our GS 2018 did the right thing or not re SSB, for which clearly a unanimous decision did not occur (though 85:15(ish) is darn good), it is notable that four congregational votes in local parishes for the congregations to leave did not achieve 100% either. On some arguments advanced in the comments of the previous post, folk should be staying put. [This is an observation re the nature of the argument and its applications - not a proposition for debate in comments below - do not comment on these local matters directly.]

Further, responding to some examples in the thread below that some majorities in history have been majorities for oppression, we could also observe that some consensi have been unanimous votes for evil to occur. Neither the Klu Klux Klan nor the Soviet Communist Party under Stalin had minority votes in favour of "enemies" being let off execution.

But also important below has been the challenge of whether there are some matters the church should decide in one way and other matters in which it might decide in another way.

Recently, in 2017, our local diocesan synod decided to support the reinstatement of our permanent cathedral. The vote, as I recall, was 55:45%. I have heard no one since argue that it should have been unanimous. As far as I know, it has not turned out to have schismatic consequences. Might we take this example as evidence that in the life of the church, some matters are agreeably about majorities. Is there a majority for the proposition that such matters are generally nuts/bolts and bricks/mortar votes?

By contrast, our GS 2018 decision re SSB, involved matters of truth (what might be believed within this church? what might be blessed in God's name?). It is over matters of truth that people are voting to leave the church. There have been schismatic consequences to the decision. All this is ironic as the intent of the GS decision was that people's convictions about the truth of the matter would be respected and safeguarded by this decision! But should we have waited until we had a consensus?

A difficulty with "waiting" on such matters is that meanwhile real people's lives are affected. When some believed that the decision to ordain women should be held off until no further disagreement existed, there were women called of God to be ordained who were unable to be ordained. On another matter, capital punishment (see below), it very obviously affects lives whether we do or do not execute criminals.

Which makes me wonder, in response to a line in comments in the post below (in my words), on matters of truth, we should wait for an agreed discernment by the church (where "agreed" might be consensus, or reception of a teaching body's deliberation, or even of a papal declaration), whether we might consider two kinds of truth.

One kind could be creedal statements (which do affect us re salvation but don't affect us over who may be ordained, whom we marry, whether we will be hung at dawn or not): by all means, let's wait for the discernment of the church according to agreed process.

Another kind could be ethical statements: by all means let's not rush, consider all arguments, go away and think about it a bit more, pray even more, but, in the end, recognising that dawn is coming up fast, make a decision, if necessary by a majority.

What do you think?

The Pope has kind of thrown a cat among the pigeons pecking at this matter with his recent announcement about capital punishment being inadmissible and the Catechism changing accordingly.

Initially I thought that this was an example (i) of Catholic development of doctrine, (ii) of the Pope exercising power to make a decision in respect of a discernment of the consensus of the faithful. But these articles (National Review, Cranmer (actually Carl Jacobs, a sometime commenter here at ADU), First Things) have put me right on that score!

None dare call it "development" (more like "reversal"). Nor is it a discernment of the consensus of the faithful (because there is not a consensus of the past faithful and not of all present faithful in favour of this decision). Worse, it potentially opens the floodgates on other reversals and undermines the security of many matters of doctrine and ethics (although I think Rod Dreher is OTT here).

I realise, reading some articles here, that I myself am in disagreement with the Pope on this matter. Sorry Adolf and Josef, but I don't think capital punishment is inadmissible in your (and like) cases. But in my disagreement I am in agreement with the Catechism as it was the day before the Pope's announcement.

So, how should we decide matters of importance as Christians?

I think there is something to be said for synods! For gathering representatives of the faithful together and nutting out issues and then voting (in the Spirit!). I would be pretty surprised if Francis could swing his latest move through a global synod of the Catholic faithful. Synods may not be good at discerning (so arguments in the post below) but are they worse than ... popes ... bishops (note the mess the CofE is in re safeguarding at the moment) ... theological commissions ...

Churchillian readers will have spotted my mutation in the sentence above on his great point on democracy - "democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…"

I wonder if the problem with synods is not the form of such government (with the checks and balances of bishops/clergy/laity) but the content of it, that is, with the formation of the members of the synods of the Anglican Communion?

Their views are not shared by this country

Two Canadian alt-right (white supremacist? anti-multiculturalism?) speakers in our country have been put in their places by our Prime Minister holding her baby: "Their views are not shared by this country."

A bit of a "free speech" debate has wound up some quarters of the MSM and social media, the very debate proving that (1) we believe in free speech and do not have an Orwellian police force suppressing it, while the outrage over the speakers proves that (2) we don't see a need to give a public platform to outsiders who denigrate what is important to us. This is not to excuse the hotheads and fruitcakes who have gone all OTT, even to the point of bomb threats. I simply point out to them that when the revolution comes which they seek they will not be in the vanguard but in the van ... heading to the Lubyanka, sequestered out of harm's way lest the revolution be less than gorious. :)

Meanwhile, true free speech is a choir from Nayland College which happens to be at Wellington Airport at the same time as PM Jacinda and babe Neve and father Clarke Gayford and sings Wairua Tapu - a prayer to the Holy Spirit to guide us!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Trinity Has Set Sail in the Visible Ark That is the Church

Christopher Wells has a great article here in The Living Church and the title of this post is excerpted from the article.

The article concerns the nature of the church and the investment God makes in the church as the instrument of God's plan for the world.

Now, to be sure, the specific locus of the article is the events of the recent TEC General Convention and of the recent GAFCON 2018 conference in Jerusalem and much technical detail in the article derives from these major Anglican events of 2018. And that provides an overwhelming temptation to keep arguing That Topic (which is carrying on quite nicely, thank you, here).

Please resist that temptation (e.g. by continuing to comment there).

What I am interested in are your comments on what it means to be "church" and to be "Anglican church" with respect to matters such as "catholicity," "authority", "order", and "visible communion." How can we Anglicans be a global communion when we present ourselves both as GAFCON and as "Anglican Communion." We are scarcely in that territory where outsiders will spontaneously say, See how these Anglicans love each other!

Consider these paragraphs from Wells' article (my bold):

"If God still has a vocation for Anglicans the world over, bound in love as one family to hasten wider unity and reconciliation within the one Church, praise the Lord. Just this hope should be our aim; that is, we must not fail to place even the steps of a General Convention within the comprehensive, world-historical frame of the gospel. Our church — I speak as an Episcopalian — is a very small part of the movement of Christ-followers across time and space, but it may still serve as a site for the formation of evangelical and catholic disciples. When we lose our way, repentance, conversion, and re-initiation should be sought! And this is a good word for us now: to pray for pre-catechumenal humility, in the hope of learning the way of wisdom and following it. 

To be clear, I am not asking, like some of my friends, “Is the Episcopal Church a true church, or part of it?” Yes, and yes. Given that God has placed me here, where I can still serve with real affection for my fellows and for our broadly Anglican tradition of holy teaching and saintly sacrifice, my question concerns how we may non-idiosyncratically answer the call of Catholic truth and unity, holding the two together. And how can we respect those with whom we disagree — and, respecting them, learn to enjoy and love them, not wishing they were other than they are — while at the same time giving one another sufficient space for potential “flourishing,” should the Lord desire it (1 Cor. 3:6)?"

And:

"Faced with Donatist heresy, Augustine simply urged return to the visible communion of the Catholic Church for all seeking salvation — not because outward membership in the Church guarantees eternal life (it does not), but because “outside the Church there is no salvation”: broken communion is surely a deal breaker (see On Baptism 5.27.38–5.28.39). 
Had St. Augustine attended the recent GAFCON Assembly in Jerusalem, he could have agreed to its impassioned warnings against false teaching, and he might have spoken in favor of councils of the Church designed “to consult, to decide, and if necessary to discipline.” 
He would have blanched, however (supposing that an Augustinian understanding of Anglican ecclesiality is imaginable), at GAFCON’s encouragement “to recognize confessing Anglican jurisdictions” willy nilly, absent wider adjudication and authoritative consensus about visible boundaries. If the hand of God is indeed “leading us toward a reordering of the Anglican Communion,” as GAFCON’s “Letter to the Churches” asserts, it will be orderly, as an agreement about the Catholic faith by the instruments of Anglican communion. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13), truth and unity being identical in God. 
And we should say something more. 1,600 years after Augustine and downstream of countless divisions, we have learned to accept that the Church is wounded, with semi-permeable bounds. In a Roman Catholic idiom, multiple “communities” may faithfully bear their members unto salvation, though they be in less than full communion with one another. How so? Baptismal unity has grasped us, which bestows a character, and commonly shared faith follows. So far, so Augustinian. 
But because, “often enough, both sides were to blame” for our unhappy divisions, the sin of schism is transposed into separated brethren doing the best they can with what they have inherited (Decree on Ecumenism 3; Catechism of the Catholic Church §817). The communion of the Church is impaired, therefore, but we might say only in the sense that the normal rules of Catholic life apply (see Lumen Gentium 48). On the one hand, “there have to be factions [lit. heresies] among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine” (1 Cor. 11:19). 
On the other hand: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor. 12:21). The work of inter-ecclesial reconciliation is the work of intra-ecclesial reconciliation, and vice versa — a providentially imposed both/and to aid picking up the needed “discipline” that may save us from final “condemnation,” “but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 11:32, 3:14). A gracious, cruciform regimen, therefore, for formation in holiness. 
In this familiar Corinthian situation, Anglicans and others may find again an opportunity for imaginative charity in discernment, including discernment about faith and order, which require boundaries, permeable and otherwise, and a readiness to teach confidently about Christian things. Resolution B012 secured something of this in its ecclesial layering, called by the Communion Partner bishops a “helpful space of differentiation, set within the wider communion of baptism and faith that we continue to share, however imperfectly” (“Austin Statement” §9). GAFCON is right to seek common counsel and common standards in accord with Scripture, in service of the Church’s unity and orthodoxy, which go together (just as heresy and schism are finally indistinguishable). None of this is optional for any Christian church seeking apostolic authenticity. GAFCON is wrong, however, to try to button things up too neatly — even within the one universal Church, and all the more within the Anglican Communion — in lieu of the Lord’s subsequent sifting. “Let both of them grow together until the harvest” (Matt. 13:30)."

So Wells drives forward to a somewhat complex solution re global Anglican futures (which I won't cite here - you will have to read the whole article).

Is it too complex? Is being Anglican in the 21st century too hard? There is something admirably straightforward and (in the best sense of the word) simple re both GAFCON's vision for future Anglicanism and that progressive vision which drives TEC foreword, a vision which has no fear of marrying gospel with (the best of) liberal culture.

Thoughts?

(BUT PLEASE NOT A RE-RUN OF "THAT ISSUE". We can discuss Wells' ecclesiology in general terms rather than particular. His great question concerns how the church lives with difference and disagreement. The issue at stake here, from my perspective, is how we do that with ANY ISSUE? How do we do that in an ordered manner, with respect for due authority (what is due authority?) while continuing visible communion?)