Saturday, April 20, 2019

Resurrection Week 2019

The following was posted by me a few years back, though here it is expanded and edited slightly from that original post.

This is the season once again to reflect on the sacred mysteries of Holy Week and Pascha. 

I suggest we work backwards from the Resurrection. If Jesus had died on the cross and that was the end of his life, what would his legacy have been? Not much, I suggest. A paragraph, perhaps, in the history of impact-making rabbis of Israel under the Romans, mentioning some notable healings and memorable insights into the rule of God in the world. Maybe today scholars of Judaism would produce a monograph or two on ancient magicians among the rabbis, notably Jeshua ben Joseph. Perhaps there would be a brief headline-making news item that the Teacher of Righteousness at Qumran had been identified by an unusually radical scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls as that same Jeshua ben Joseph.

It is the resurrection which makes the difference here, which sets the Jesus movement on a trajectory which will see Christianity separate from Judaism and which drives the leaders of that movement to see in Jesus things which were not obvious to them when they walked the dusty roads of Palestine with him. We read the gospels historically forwards from Jesus' beginnings to his end because that is the way the narrative is told, but theologically we should begin with the resurrection and read backwards. What was it about the resurrection which led to the telling of the story of Jesus in the way that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John  and, also, Paul told it?

That is why, to offer a first reflection this Resurrection Week first week of Eastertide), the question of the witness to the resurrection is vital to Christianity. Deny the resurrection and everything about our claims to truth falls over. Personally I find the variations between the gospels, 1 Corinthians 15 and, say, Acts 10:34-43 puzzling. Why isn't the account of that collective written witness, bound in the one New Testament, more consistent? 

Modern skeptics have driven a horse and cart full of doubts through the lack of consistency (even, some might say, "actual inconsistency if not downright contradiction"). Yet closer inspection yields more consistency than some are prepared to allow. At the bedrock of each gospel narrative is the empty tomb. They are consistent on the fact that the crucified body of Jesus was placed in the tomb, on the third day the tomb was empty, and thereafter the risen (i.e. raised up from the tomb) Jesus appeared to people.

This, further, is consistent with two accounts which do not explicitly mention the emptiness of the tomb, Acts 10:34-43 and 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. What is 'raised on the third day' phrasing in these passages about but an act of raising from the dead, a raising of the physical body of Jesus which leaves the tomb empty. (I suggest we can talk in this way and still have a debate about what kind of "body" the earthly body of Jesus was transformed to, in the act of resurrection, noting that the resurrection accounts attest to a new body of Jesus which is different to the former body, e.g. appearing at will in an otherwise locked room). 

Acts 10:40 beautifully distinguishes between the raising and the subsequent appearances, 'God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear.


So also 1 Corinthians 15:4-5, 'he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve'. If the tomb was not empty why mention the act of raising from the dead and not proceed straight to the accounts of the appearances of Jesus?

Running these accounts together, with all their variations, I suggest we can account for the variations in a couple of ways. 

First and foremost, Jesus appeared on a number of occasions to a range of witnesses. Between the four gospel writers and Paul's 'tradition' account in 1 Corinthians 15 we receive a set of accounts with heavy selection at work. Paul's tradition is focused on the appearances to the leadership of the Jesus movement, with the exception of the appearance to 'more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time'. The four gospels uniformly emphasise the immediate witnesses to the resurrection, women. Matthew, Mark and Luke (distinct from Acts 1) move quickly from the immediate experience of the risen Jesus to his departure (albeit somewhat implicitly in Mark). Only Acts 1 and John 21 imply a period of more than a few days or weeks in which Jesus remained with his disciples. Together these witnesses to the variety of Jesus' appearances do not provide anything like a coherent account of the history of Jesus between resurrection and ascension. That, perhaps, leads us to a second reason for the variations between accounts.

Secondly, the gospel writers in their gospels are focused on providing for their readers an account of the ordinary human life of Jesus, prior to death. The continuing presence of the risen Jesus 
in his ongoing movement, via the Holy Spirit, perhaps made unnecessary a prolonged account of the period between resurrection and ascension. (Luke, in his 'sequel' to the life of Jesus unveils in Acts many ways in which the risen Jesus post-ascension continues to engage with the movement). What their accounts needed was a wrap up and what we find is that the accounts of the resurrection are overlaid with conclusions to the gospels as a whole (or, in the case of Mark 16:1-8, we might say, denuded of a conclusion via intentional abruptness in the closing of the account - a kind of anti-conclusion).

Thus Matthew draws us rapidly to the Great Commission and Luke does so similarly, but in a challenging manner because in Luke 24 he almost conveys the impression that a long day (of about 25 hours?) elapses from raising to commissioning-and-ascending whereas Acts 1 is explicit that the period was 40 days. (Luke also manages the most flagrant rewriting of gospel tradition when he converts Mark's "you will see him in Galilee" into "as he said in Galilee", Mark 16:7//Luke 24:6, in the cause of emphasising the resurrected Jesus in Jerusalem and its immediate environs).

John works in a different manner, having proposed through his gospel that everything is going on all at once ("my hour"): death and departure, cross and glory, descent and ascent. Thus his Pentecost occurs on the day of Resurrection but there is a epilogue or two as a week elapses before the appearance to Thomas and further time before the appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. But, like his evangelical colleagues, John is always wrapping up his gospel through the last chapter of the narrative (20) and through the epilogue to the main narrative (21): so there is a closing word to skeptics among the believers via the encounter with Thomas, then there is a word, via John 21, to Christian groups divided over leadership of the church as the first century comes to a close.

In the end, then, I am arguing that the accounts of the resurrection, between the gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians have a coherency when we dig beneath the varied ways of wrapping up the narratives of Jesus' earthly life, acknowledge the basic facts which are shared (principally the emptiness of the tomb and the sheer multiplicity of appearances), and allow that different things mattered to different writers.

We need not doubt that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. That is the witness of the apostles. But what was the impact of the resurrection on understanding who Jesus was prior to death and who Jesus is after resurrection? Jesus rising from the dead in the midst of ancient Judaism in Israel in the first century AD was like a fox in a chicken coop. A certain theological mayhem ensued. The epistles effectively tell us about the mayhem and that it was a good kind of mayhem!


My own Epilogue to this post: I am fascinated by what - after many years of study - still strikes me afresh from familiar scriptures. In this case, preparing to preach from John 20:1-18, the three occasions in which Mary fixes on the explanation for the empty tomb that the body of Jesus has been removed by a group of people (20:2, 13, 15). I had not previously noticed that this is a threefold "fixation" of Mary.

On the one hand Mary is being reasonable: if the tomb Jesus was buried in was one found at short notice, then it likely was temporary, and thus some expectation of him being moved to a permanent tomb.

On the other hand, through repetition, John the narrator shows that he is aware that there are various explanations for a tomb devoid of the body which was placed in it. (Matthew 28 provides another one: that the body has been stolen, rather than intentionally placed elsewhere by those who care for Jesus). Thus the narration John provides is an assertion of a contrary possibility: the tomb was empty, the grave clothes were found folded in a certain manner, because the "impossible" had happened, Jesus' body was raised to new, resurrection life.

But theologically John is also making another point: the resurrection is about what we see and are prepared to believe. Mary keeps seeing the empty tomb and believing the explanation is quite humanly ordinary: the body has been moved to another tomb. Even when she sees Jesus, she does not see him but believes she is seeing the gardener; and the gardener, surely, knows what has happened to the body. Jesus both invites and provokes Mary to see differently and thus to believe differently. With one word, her name, he alters her perception. She sees Jesus, not the gardener. She believes he has been raised from the dead. And critical to the transformation of her sight and her belief is the intervention of Jesus: he creates belief in her.

Implicitly, John is saying to his readers, perhaps some six to seven decades after the death of Jesus: you do not need to have experienced the physical or "physical" Jesus for yourself: even if you had, you might not have recognised Jesus. Mary did not. What you need is to be brought to faith in Jesus as risen and eternally alive to God and to you. And this gift of faith comes from the risen Jesus himself and is available to all whom he calls by name.

Explicitly this is also brought out in the encounter with "doubting" Thomas: Blessed are those who have not seen me, yet believe in me (20:29).

Of course this is not so good for "apologetics" to the extent that apologetics works hard to prove that Jesus was raised from the dead as an historical fact and thus we ought to believe in Jesus as the one who is vindicated by God through resurrection as the Son of God, as the Saviour of the world. This is much more "existential" and a bit tautological: I believe Jesus was raised from the dead because the living (raised) Jesus has met me and called me to him self.

Apologetics is important! So is a lively regard for existential encounter with the risen Christ!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Holy Week 2019

I need to be realistic. I am not going to get a second post in a proposed series on Islam out this week. Possibly not next week either, but I will have time to do some reading next week in preparation for post number 2, perhaps on Monday 29 April.

Meantime, it is Holy Week, and, very sadly, as I write, there is news of Notre Dame, Paris, on fire - and a huge fire at that. An amazing cathedral and one I was privileged to visit in 2015. But there is also a sense in which the world of religion is on fire this week.

Particularly Down Under where Israel Folau, gifted and prodigious Australian rugby player, has just been sacked by Rugby Australia. Their grounds for sacking focuses on a breach of code of conduct in respect of social media postings (and, on the face of it, having given Folau a huge break a year ago when he cause significant controversy, they are right to sack him on these grounds because he has defied RA as his employer). But what he Tweeted - about various kinds of sinners, including homosexuals, going to hell - has caused offence and brought on widespread condemnation across Australian and New Zealand mainstream and social media, while simultaneously raising further debate about free speech versus hate speech. For different Christian responses, from significant Australian Christian voices, read David Ould and Brian Houston. I think it reasonable to say that whatever Israel Folau thought he was doing, he didn't think deeply enough about what helps the whole Christian cause Down Under in respect of preaching the gospel of grace.

Here in Aotearoa NZ, many Christians, arguably even over 90% of Christians, are on fire because of a bill bearing down upon us which would legalise euthanasia. Except the bill is messy and ambiguous and seems to offer some kind of "on a wing and a prayer" approach to future termination of life. Our parliament has done wonderfully well, with great efficiency, in passing a gun control bill in record time. It must do good and not bad on this matter of euthanasia!

OK need to close. I am due to meet the President of Religious Affairs, Turkey, this morning. Interestingly, according to some preparation material, this state department produces a sermon each week for reading out across thousands of mosques in Turkey. Now that is a thought for a Diocese ... :)

Finally, social media is no place to debate the intricacies of religion is my "conclusion of the week." It is a bear pit in which speech becomes a form of shouting, all too quickly. But yesterday I came across a wonderful thread which summarises the theology of Origen, including his extraordinary vision for the universality of divine love. The thread is not only wonderful for its summarising power, but also for its recognition of how Origen's theology necessarily must engage with Augustine's.

Here is a selection to ponder during this week of holy devotion to Jesus:




Monday, April 8, 2019

Thoughts on Islam (1)

Following up some requests here and there for basic information etc re Islam, following the terrible events of 15 March 2019, it seems practicable, at least regards time, for me to devote a few weekly posts to Islam and my understanding of it.

Post number 1, today, proceeds from a question about "God" according to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Is it the same God?

(I guess this is pretty much the same question as whether Christians can call God, "Allah" or not.)

This is a fraught question because whether we answer Yes or No, there are ramifications!

"Yes, it is the same God" feeds the great and attractive myth of modern, Western secularism, that all religions are the same, and why can we not all get along, e.g. making cathedrals into inter faith venues.

"No, it is not the same 'God'" feeds - potentially tragically - into the clash of religions, if not civilizations, nations and races, because it fosters difference in society, especially in societies in which there is not a settled state of respect and reconciliation between races, religions, nations. The kind of difference, now experienced sadly in Christchurch, wherein a "white supremacist" feels emboldened to massacre Muslims.

The fact of the matter is that there is no easy, straightforward answer.

Consider the following aspects of the matter:

1. Yes, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are "Abrahamic religions," each affirming the significance of Abraham as an ancient patriarch of the respective faiths, and thus each affirming the God of Abraham is the God whom their adherents worship. (In this sense God = Jehovah, Allah, Theos.)

2. Yes, all three faiths are monotheistic, affirming that there is only one God, that God is one (indivisible), and that the one God is God of everything (the whole universe, or, if you will, multiverse). That is, not only do the three faiths deny that other gods exist, they also deny that the God they worship is in any sense merely nationalistic (God of Israel) or tribal (God of the Arabs ... or of Englishmen).

3. Yes, on the particular matter of the use of the word "Allah" for "God", Arab Christians use this term as do Arab Muslims. (It is a bit trickier in Malaysia where there is a ban on the use of the word "Allah" in Christian Scriptures published there.)

4. No, the three faiths do not agree on what they believe about the God of Abraham. In particular, neither Judaism nor Islam accepts the Christian claim that the fullest revelation of God is found in Jesus Christ, that consequentially God is believed to be One-yet-Three, Father, Son, Holy Spirit. That is, when we move beyond the bare name, "God", beyond the bare claim, that God is One (without rival, indivisible), into description of God, our understanding of "who" God is, which is also a claim about "how" God relates to us and us to God, then there are significant differences between the three Abrahamic faiths.

That is, the answer to the question at the beginning of the post is, "Yes and No."

But could we also say the "Yes" is very important? When we emphasise the "Yes" we are open to finding what we have in common, to seeing the points of respective theologies which we can unite around, and generally to appreciating what each faith might teach the others about the Godness of God.


Monday, April 1, 2019

Islamophilia or Islamophobia?

Is Islam to be loved or feared?

Answers on a postcard, otherwise you will need to write a very long book to give a full, comprehensive answer to this challenging question. (The postcard, of course, might have the word "both" on it.)

I would love to say heaps here on the blog but time runneth out faster than the sand in an hourglass, but perhaps I could offer two observations:

- since 15 March 2019, every contact I have had with a Muslim in Christchurch has been a connection with a person full of love, compassion, and genuine commitment to peace, unity and community well-being.

- last week, not that far from NZ, in global terms, the Sultan of Brunei instituted the death penalty for homosexuals and adulterers, as an expression of his commitment to instituting Sharia, the somewhat tough edge of Islamic law.

Is Islam to be loved or feared?

The least we can say and do is to love Muslims!

Monday, March 25, 2019

A few things we can say

Still lots of comment washing around the world, mainstream and social media, about the terrorist attack on mosques in Christchurch on Friday 15 March 2019. Here I will add a tiny amount.

(1) A Christian theological account of what has happened enables us to resolutely call what has happened evil and to acknowledge that evil perpetrated through human choice is a tragic fact of human life. A tragic fact made possible by freedom to choose good or evil being a mark of and gift to humanity as created by God. Thus I am less than tempted to side with those commentators who wish to apportion responsibility to loads of other people, whether, say, to white European New Zealanders who have not completely solved racism in these islands, or to alleged deficiency in our intelligence services.

(2) Nevertheless, and with yesterday's RCL readings in mind, Isaiah 55:1-9/Luke 13:1-9, focusing on repentance, it would be escaping the accountability of this moment in history to not take the opportunity to repent of what the terrorism highlights: (e.g.) everyday, structural racism in our country; Islamophobia; lack of inclusion of migrant communities in our society. In Christian terms, have we loved our neighbours as ourselves? I cannot speak for you but for myself I see much to repent of.

(3) As we headed towards a national two minutes of silence at 1.32 on Friday 22 March, the government initiated a nationwide broadcast of the Islamic call to prayer  and many Christchurch folk, including myself and many Christians, headed to Hagley Park to be "Hands Around the Mosque" in support of our Muslim community gathering for their Friday prayers. That governmental and Christian support created some kerfuffle. At a national level, Bishop Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church, was reported as voicing his strong opposition to such a call being broadcast. This went down like a cup of cold sick in the media (and, I imagine, in the minds of many Kiwis). At a local level my support for the call being supported as a matter of respect and honour to the Muslim communities has led to some opposition. E.g.:

"Thank you for encouraging the Adhan to be said: 
"Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. I witness that there is no god but Allah. I witness that there is no god but Allah. I witness that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger. I witness that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger. Come to the prayer! Come to the prayer! Come to the salvation! Come to the salvation! Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. There is no god but Allah." 
Wasn't 2 mins of silence, and /or the National Anthem enough?The Christchurch Diocese and it's bishop have, in the eyes of Islam, become Dhimmis, and in the eyes of other Christians, become Apostate."

There is, of course, no neutrality between Christians and Muslims on the matter of what we believe about Christ and Mohammed. Each respects the other faith as distinctive, different and in disagreement. By contrast, I am confident that the underlying presupposition of much media reporting and comment this week is that "all religions are the same."

Nevertheless, I think what Bishop Brian said was tone deaf to a tragedy of global reverberations and that Christians supporting Muslims in a respectful way through these days and weeks of grief is the right thing to do. As best I understand, many if not most Christian leaders in NZ this week share the latter approach and not the Tamaki approach. 

The gunman makes no claim (so I understand) to be Christian - thankfully - but once he started shooting with a gun bearing names on it of European leaders in past Christian-Muslim battles, Christians lost the right to claim control of the narrative of the subsequent course of events.

If the devil is winning a spiritual battle for NZ at this time, it is due to 50 people being killed by a terrorist, not to Christians leaders supporting Muslim communities as the least we can do in order to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What can we say?

Not much.

Sometimes a picture says it all, here.

Every reader here at ADU will know that a few days ago, on Friday 15 March 2019, a terrorist, in the name of white supremacy, carried out a deadly plan to shoot people at two mosques in Christchurch. 50 people died, over thirty more were injured. Every news outlet in t he world has carried the story and countless words have been written about the meaning of this event. No further words are needed from me here. I have, however, said a few words in my capacity as Bishop of Christchurch, both to the Diocese and to whomever might be listening to several different radio stations.

A few comments have been made on the previous post’s comment thread. You are welcome to comment here.

Millions are praying for us around the world. Keep praying. Especially for those who are receiving the bodies of their loved ones around now, having been at last released by the coroner, to be buried as soon as possible, according to Muslim custom, and pray for those who continue to sit with loved ones recovering from wounds. For many citizens, maybe even all of Christchurch, and beyond, this tragedy has awakened grief and fear triggered by the quakes. Pray for us that healing and peace will come to a community already with heightened mental health statistics. And pray please for those people who have seen and been traumatised by the terrible video posted by the gunman as he went about his dastardly deed.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A picture does not tell the whole story

It has been my privilege to be in Suva, Fiji this weekend, for the ordination of Fereimi Cama as bishop and for his installation as Bishop of Polynesia and thus his formal recognition as Archbishop of Polynesia and thus one of our three Primates. All three events took place within a single, two and a quarter hour service.

Here is a photo I nicked off Facebook of the bishops gathered around Fereimi, just before the laying on of hands:


I am in that circle (left hand bottom corner of the circle). There are a lot of bishops - it was a very good turnout of our bishops, along with a bishop from Australia.

What does the photo not tell us?

1. It was a very warm and humid in the cathedral - notwithstanding a great array of electric fans. I needed a shower between the service and the festivities which followed.
2. This was an event in the life of our church with international interest: the service began with greetings from the Anglican Church of Australia, the Diocese of Lincoln (a companion diocese) and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.
3. Archbishop Fereimi is the first Fijian Bishop of Polynesia which has its cathedral and diocesan headquarters in Suva, Fiji. His six predecessors have been of European descent (the first four), then respectively Samoan and Tongan.

UPDATE:

Taonga article here.

Fiji Sun article here. (The photo used above may have its source with the Fiji Sun)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Flaws in Canonical Theism?

Adduced here in recent days, "Canonical Theism" is the proposal that the Holy Spirit, for the church's benefit, has not only blessed the church with a canon of Scripture but also with a canonical heritage which includes "a canon of doctrine, a canon of saints, a canon church fathers, a canon of theologians, a canon of liturgy, a canon of bishops ... a canon of ecclesial regulations, a canon of icons, and the like." (from Thesis IX, p. 2, Canonical Theism:A Proposal for Theology and the Church, edited by William J. Abraham, Jason E. Vickers, Natalie B. Van Kirk, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008).)

Having been invited to reflect on this proposal, after dipping into the book cited from above, I am left underwhelmed.

Before we get to the underwhelming of me, let me underline the great strength of Canonical Theism: it joins with movements in theology, past and present, in which we the church are reminded and renewed by re-acquaintance with the riches of the past. Christianity is now historically old and it is highly probable that few issues and question of today were not addressed in the past and so ... why reinvent the wheel?

Why am I underwhelmed?

1.  Canonical Theism - in itself, as a conception of how the church might refresh its life and mission through retrieval from its heritage - offers no ability for the church to discern what is unhelpful, unhealthy and uncongenial from its canonical heritage. Lurking in our canonical heritage, for example, are some appalling attitudes to women, expressed in writing by some of the same saints that, otherwise, are properly lauded for their contribution to theology and liturgy. Our criteria today for rejecting those appalling attitudes of yesterday are not informed by Canonical Theism.

2. While it is true, as I mentioned above, that there are few issues and questions today that were not addressed in the past, the fact is that there are a few issues and questions today that were not addressed in the past, and thus Canonical Theism is of limited value in addressing the sharp edges in the contours of modern Christian life. Take, again, a matter concerning Christian women. Even if there were no appalling attitudes to women among the ancient Fathers, we could not get from those venerable men a positive steer on the ordination of women. Yet many of us - valuing though we do, what is good about our canonical heritage - think we are not bound by that same heritage to refuse the ordination of women.

That is, there are, notwithstanding the attractions of talking about the blessings of the Holy Spirit for the church today by reacquainting ourselves with yesterday, significant limitations in the proposal called Canonical Theism.

The Holy Spirit continues to bless us, of course! But the blessing of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church today is the blessing which comes from hearing what the Spirit is saying to the church, and what the Spirit says to the church today is not bound by the limitations of Canonical Theism.

This will be my last "provocative" post till after Easter. In a Lenten fast I will post weekly in as anodyne way as possible, eager that no one comments - your Lenten fast! - but also, being honest, I have another writing project to complete before the end of March, and there is a bit of travel coming up, and ... well, Easter creates its own episcopal deadlines re my workload.

Monday, February 25, 2019

So, this is what the ABC himself thinks is going on at Lambeth 2020!

Since last week's post looking ahead to Lambeth 2020, Archbishop Justin Welby has given his Presidential Address to the February 2019 session of the CofE General Synod.

I reproduce the address here in full, with some commentary on the Lambeth bits. (The whole address is valuable and I intend using various bits of it in an imminent address I am giving, but my focus here is on Lambeth 2020.)

In case the point gets lost, a Lambeth focus here on ADU is not simply about "an Anglican conference" and even less so "my personal hopes and dreams" for the conference. Rather, I see "Lambeth 2020" as a cypher for (i) the future of global Anglicanism, at least inasmuch as it has been associated with the body known as the Anglican Communion, and (ii) the theological heart, soul and mind of global Anglicanism, at least inasmuch as a rival for that heart - GAFCON - is making claims that it and only it is the true heritage of the English Reformation.

Archbishop Welby's Address:

"This Synod is devoted to the Great Commission to seek to make disciples of all nations. Inevitably we will talk much about what we do.


Far more important though is the question of who we are when we seek to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ.
We are not a club with a membership drive. Evangelism and witness are not means to something else, any more than worship is a means to something else. They are ends in themselves.
Both worship and witness spring from our own experience of the unmediated love of God in Jesus Christ, a love that captures and constrains us.
Next year, at the Lambeth Conference, the theme will be God’s Church for God’s World. The Conference seeks to unite all who come in turning outwards to the world around and in love and passionate discipleship to seek to serve the mission of God, to share in the work of God in His world. 
Commentary: is the Anglican church "God's Church for God's World"? The future of Anglicanism globally does not consist in (say) perfecting the liturgy (important though that it) but it does consist on the genius of Anglicanism - developed willingly or unwillingly through its "state church" character - on being a church FOR the world.
The biblical book of the conference will be 1 Peter. I am therefore at present spending a significant amount of my own prayer and study time reflecting on this letter in the New Testament.
Commentary: personally, I am really looking forward to these studies. 1 Peter is written for Christians in exile and "exile" is a good description of the experiences of Anglican Christians around the world today. 
1 Peter speaks to us of holiness, of suffering, of mutual love and commitment, of the transformation for each of us and for the world in the creation of the church of Jesus Christ, of its great themes of “what you were”, “what you are” and what you will be” through being a disciple of Jesus.
Commentary: Yes! 
The letter is written to insecure churches, threatened from without and uncertain within.
Commentary: so, relevant to 2020.
It is beautiful in its sweep and call for pragmatic action to avoid adding unnecessarily to the offence of the gospel and at the same time it calls for absolute faithfulness to Christ, against the current culture.
Commentary: "against the current culture" ... precisely important in working out all issues before us as Anglican churches today.
It says Christians are always to be ready to give a reason for their hope, but to do so with gentleness and grace.
Out of the cosmic change of their incorporation into God’s people comes the utterly down to earth need to witness faithfully, to live well and above all, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart”.(1 Peter 1:22)
In one extraordinary verse Peter brings together salvation, truth, holiness and love.
Commentary: it is an extraordinary, and pertinent verse for Anglicans today.
Even if there were not hundreds of other examples in scripture this one verse puts paid to the absurdity that truth and love are somehow alternatives, that we can be in favour of one but not the other.
Commentary: exactly.
To separate them is like separating breathing from the beating of the heart. The absence of either stops the other and brings death.
In holiness God brings salvation through Jesus the truth, overflowing in love to every person on earth, and as we respond to that love we cease to be what we were and become something new.
Commentary: I have just ordered an entrancing theological tome, Modern Orthodox Theology, which has the sub-title "Behold I make all things new!" What a wonderful summary, biblical description of the gospel and of the goal of theology.
Yet Peter writes this letter because there is so much pressure to conform, and so much behaviour which is what the recipients had been, behaviour like those around them in their culture, the absence of love, competition, no grace, no hope.
There is too much of what they were, too little of what God in Christ has made them.
Commentary: a watchword today is "formation" (alongside "discipleship") and none of us is as well formed, discipled as we might be.
Peter calls for a holy and loving church, reaching out to a world that does not know the power of the resurrection, nor understands that the suffering of Christ were for them. And the church exists to communicate this extraordinary truth.
Communication is so very complex and whatever is said has also to be heard and whatever is heard is not always reflected on in the same way as the original speaker may have intended! 
Sometimes our passion and enthusiasm can be in danger of being misunderstood or can be mistranslated as synod has another debate on standing orders or we agree to set up a working group to bring forward a paper in order to set up a commission to investigate a problem which, in due course, will lead us to having a debate.
At the Lambeth Conference the communication of truth in love, of holiness and salvation in one sentence is made more difficult by 100s of languages and cultures, by the very fact that phrases that mean one thing in one culture have a completely different meaning in another.
Commentary: I suppose ++Welby is guarding against over optimistic imagination of how wildly successful Lambeth 2020 might be.
That is why It is a great joy to welcome our Communion and ecumenical  guests with us at this group of sessions. 
It is always both informative and intriguing to hear observations and comments on what we do and how we do it from our fellow Christians, fellow Christians from different cultures or churches.  
Their observations enable us to realise and learn from what we believe are obvious and transparent ways of behaving that that is not always the case and it is good to hear what Anglicans do in other parts of the world that is not necessarily what we do here or how we behave here. Nor do we necessarily and understandably share the same priorities.
Commentary: Anglican diversity.
Yet the language of love, hope and holiness is a common language.
Commentary: Anglican diversity in unity is not an impossible dream, if only we keep finding our common language in Scripture.
The language of love, hope and holiness walks in the light. It recognises that its own interests are not the final word, but that self-giving and self-sacrifice is.
It does not constantly seek advantage or gain.
It is a language that the church has always struggled with, from the time of Paul writing his first letter to the Corinthians to this very day.
It is a language made harder to speak by the real complexities of the world in which we live, the clash of cultures, and the differences of personality.
The brokenness of the world is also the brokenness of our church.
There is an eternal struggle in each of us and among all of us to speak love fluently, and our tongues stumble over its expression and find law and rules and exclusion and a certain tribalism and club mentality comes so much more easily to each of us.
Commentary: more guarding against over optimism about the outcomes of Lambeth 2020!
But such living in so normal and earthbound a way cannot express the wonder of salvation or the glory of the treasure laid up in heaven for us (1 Peter 4-5).
It cannot set us free to declare to the world the  wonderful works of him who brought us out of darkness into his marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9).
To put it in the simplest terms, we must look like what we speak about.
As Leslie Newbigin said the “business of the church is to tell and embody a story”. So, we cannot talk about Jesus without looking like Jesus.
Commentary: did Newbigin ever say anything which was not brilliant-and-simple?
I am grateful to Bishop Steven of Oxford for reminding me of this in a paper he wrote recently, “Rethinking Evangelism”. I hope he will speak to it and might even get a bit longer than some of us!
He sets out eight marks of witness to Jesus Christ, but at the heart of what he says is that the witness is both the carrier of the message and its embodiment. 
Here we are not only any group of Christians but a meeting of Synod. Synod and synodality is something being discussed by many churches and with many groups at present. 
I do think it is well worth while considering what is our purpose here as Christians who are journeying together, we are ‘in the way’ ‘syn’ ‘odos’  walking together, those who are both trying to hear one another, understand one another and walk with each other in the light of Christ.
Commentary: would that all synods remembered this!
Synod is the focus of our day to day work, but also of our differences. It is a test tube in which we mix up the ingredients of the church and heat them to see what happens.
If the resulting reaction is to be holy, hope filled and truthful, it must be loving. In many places it is.
The Church of England is not only alive and well but is showing signs of growth, renewal and reform and for this we give thanks and rejoice with the God who made us, loves us, and call us to the hope that is in us. 
Numbers of ordinands continue to grow. Parishes and chaplaincies work even harder than ever, at the front line of spiritual, emotional and physical needs in our country.
Dioceses are showing immense effort and imagination in developing new models of church. Church planting goes ahead with over 2,500 planned before 2030.
We are alongside people either to give debt advice or to deliver food or shelter for those in need, or to provide relationships and friendship for those who are struggling with the daily grind of being human.
We continue to educate more than 1 million children.
The work we will hear about from the estates evangelism group is encouraging. We are present for people in some of the most difficult and complicated situations.
Most of all we serve the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and whose activity we see all around.
Because of the resurrection we have hope, whatever happens.
Yes, we argue, yes, we fail, yes, we disagree about inclusion and we let people down and we mess up, but do not leave the wonderful work of the Spirit of God out of the equation.
And thus, we have good news to share and show. Thus, as we journey towards Lent some of you may be considering what you might give up during the penitential season.  
I urge you to consider especially as members of General Synod giving up cynicism and renewing love for those with whom you and I differ.
It is not easy. Some of them have views we find so obnoxious that we wish they were not in the church. We even convince ourselves that really, in God’s mind, because he agrees with us, they are not with us in the church.
Yet they and we are equally loved by God in Christ, equally sinners needing to repent, equally part of the body of Christ. 
So, let us hear a little of why each of us has hope in Jesus Christ. 
I am now going to ask you to turn to your neighbour or perhaps even better to be in a group of three and to share your faith story with each other. 
Each in one minute, without jargon, explain your hope, not in the Church of England, but in Jesus Christ. 
 [Pause for discussion]
So as we listen to each other, and through this Synod as well as in legislative business we turn to evangelism, let us recall that we are in the presence of Jesus Christ by his Spirit. Let us praise God afresh that we carry the ultimate good news of salvation and love, the news of Jesus Christ.
Let us allow the Spirit to warm our hearts with affection and love for one another, to constrain us with the love of Christ. Let the Spirit of Jesus cause us to imagine how we can be the good news we proclaim.
We are not, in this Church, optimists or pessimists. We are those who hope because we are all followers of the risen Christ, sinners yet justified, failures, cracked pots of clay, yet with the only treasure that is the only final answer to the bleakness of a world that too often finds its despair in seeking its own answers without Christ, and needs the light and hope of the Gospel that is in our hands to proclaim. Amen. "

Concluding commentary: some recent talk here on the blog has pointed readers to "canonical theism" which (in my words) is an approach to theology-in-the-life-of-the-church open and eager to receive from the Holy Spirit all the canonical gifts - not only the canon of Scripture - but also the canons of ancient (and universal) church life. ++Welby is drawing Anglican bishops together Lambeth 2020 in an openness to the Holy Spirit, anchored into the canon of Holy Scripture, and paying attention to an ancient and a modern canon. 

The ancient canon is that a bishop is a bishop (and so should be invited to Lambeth). 

The modern canon is Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 - true, not strictly a "canon" (per "canonical theism" because not a decision of the universal church, and not even a resolution of the Anglican Communion which is universally well received) - and this canon/"canon" is restricting which spouses are invited. 

Consternation and controversy about the manner of invitation proceeding from these two canons are arising but ++Welby is being driven to find a formula which is likely to gain lots of bishops willing to gather, not a select few. Again, from ancient times, we know that the strongest impact of conciliar decision making comes from the greater councils and not the lesser councils.

(Postscript: I saw somewhere on the internet yesterday a plea for bishops from the likes of TEC, Canada, Scotland and New Zealand to boycott Lambeth and for such bishops to plan their own episcopal gathering, separate to Lambeth. I reject that plea and if such a gathering takes place I will not be going. The point of Lambeth 2020 is not to form groups of unhappy bishops into various happy conferences. The point of Lambeth 2020 is to gather together the bishops of the Anglican Communion, as many as possible, whatever their feelings.)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Ephraim's exile? (aka what's going on with Lambeth 2020)

Introduction

Bowman Walton’s comments here at ADU are much appreciated by me - he puts into words I myself do not (yet) have, clear thinking about what it means to be Anglican in the 21st century. (All comments here a much appreciated but not every comment is equally able to help me clarify my own muddled thinking!).

I cite here, from a Waltonian comment to the previous post, words which remind us that the strengths of Anglicanism (e.g. bishops, “reformed and catholic”) are accidents of history (i.e. driven more by the politics of England in the 16th and subsequent centuries than by clear sighted theological vision):

"[Developing observations about a statement by Michael Bird on why he is an Anglican] But this is precisely an apology for others; it will not do as a self-understanding for actual Anglicans. On one hand, it airbrushes away the monarchy's deep involvement in the Church of England as the wet dog who should not have been in the wedding picture, even though that is the historical reason why a via media happened in England but not elsewhere. For example, Anglicans have bishops because Elizabeth I and her successors insisted on them for the good of the realm, not because they would be helpful to denominational piety a few centuries later. And Catholic and Reformed are anachronisms of later centuries, not what Luther and Calvin got out of bed to be every morning. The theology of Anglican churches cannot be reduced to the political history of modern England, early and late, but neither can it be abstracted from that history. Doing so renders the civic engagement of Anglicans from then to now meaningless. 
Yet that civic engagement is meaningful precisely in light of the apostolic faith in Jesus. At their best, Bird's Baptists are wonderful at acts of charity that bring Christ's love to strangers in need, and this is reason enough to respect their pietism. But the Bible's horizon is far wider than our interpersonal relations, although it surely includes them. Idolatry, personal and social, has disfigured the human community that God created, worship of the Creator-Messiah regenerates that community, and what we call church is just the first fruits of that new creation. According to the scriptures, the Christian hope is not that individuals will travel to a far-away heaven when they die, but that all flesh shall be raised up to see God in the New Jerusalem. All of our private concerns are summed up in it, of course, but this is a public future. If this does not affect our actions in the present, then what do we mean when we say that we believe?
Put another way, when Bird's "gospel people" struggle to make sense of the catholic practice of the Catholic-and-Reformed hybrid of Anglicans, they are trying to find the motivation in Christ for that more-than-individual scope of the biblical narrative itself. Proof texts from the Bible do not help them much unless and until they see the canon as a whole narrative from creation to new creation, garden to city. Once one does see that narrative as the context for those proof texts-- and for the ways in which Jesus and the biblical writers themselves handled scripture-- then, at least intellectually, it all falls into place. Usually, this does not so much solve their problem as reveal it to be a part of a bigger, uglier one-- many of us are alienated from the civic life that God intended for humanity. As in the C1, this alienation is the personal and social fallout of idolatry.
To do missions with + Victoria or evangelism with + Peter is to present Jesus in a way that heals that alienation. Again, Anglicans are not the only Christians who have some resources for doing this work-- Catholics have the social magisterium; Lutherans, a robust two-kingdoms doctrine; Methodists, the example of John Wesley, etc-- but Anglicanism is the only Western tradition that is incomprehensible apart from some political theology."


This citation - noting the role of politics in Anglican decision-making - chimes in with some of the disturbing revelations I am having as I continue to read Michael Massing’s book Fatal Discord about the lives and impacts of Luther and Erasmus on the European and English Reformations. Chief disturbances in recent reading:

1. That Luther was so wrong on a number of matters, some of which had violent, fatal consequences as uprisings and the putting down of uprisings led to terrible, bloodthirsty, rapacious acts of war and terror. To the extent that we appeal to Luther as an authority in Protestantism, why should we treat this (actually) Trump-like* figure as any kind of authority?

2. What on earth were the Reformers doing when they responded to the realisation that their divergences in understanding of Scripture required invocation of authority to settle matters by determining that “princes” and “magistrates” should be that authority?

Sure, we easily get it that the contemporary corruptions of the Papacy meant there was not going to be a “return to Rome” when the question of authority arose (Luther v Munzer; Luther v Zwingli; Luther v Erasmus, etc), but was not the invocation of princes and magistrates by the Reformers merely an alternative papacy (or, more accurately, set of regionalised popes)? The English Reformation may have saved bishops for a church which would come to see itself as "reformed and catholic" but along the way it invested extraordinary authority in the English Parliament and the English sovereign. What was that all about?! (Other than keeping civic order).

Authority in Western churches, post-Reformation

Four to five centuries later the problem of authority still troubles churches with roots in Western Europe. In today's news, for example, we finally get to learn of Pope Francis making a (well overdue, so many commentators) decision re an abuser: Cardinal McCarrick will be defrocked. But the machinations going on inside the Vatican on this and other matters these days remind (Protestant) observers that no matter the theological strength of claims for Roman primacy, the notion of one centralised ecclesiastical authority is fraught with risk that not only may poor decisions be made, but also (again, so many commentators on aspects of Francis' papacy) indecision will reign.

Meanwhile, here in Anglicanland, as the clock ticks down towards Lambeth 2020, eminent pundits are having a go at what might work for ++Justin and the conference design group. Essentially, the question they raise is both what kind of Communion we are becoming and what kind of authority governs it.

Ephraim Radner offers six proposals for Lambeth Conference 2020. Is he being realistic? (Does he have the ear of the design group? His friend and colleague, +George Sumner is on the group.) Who would be going into exile on the basis of these six proposals? Ephraim or me!?

Then there is a twinned essay from Andrew Goddard here. Goddard highlights different approaches from ++Williams (Lambeth 2008) to ++Welby (Lambeth 2020) in respect of how they are authorising what happens (i.e. is intended to happen) at a Lambeth Conference.

A specific instance of Anglican authority at work in the run up to Lambeth 2020

Intriguingly (and hitherto unknown to me), one subtle application of a form of authority in the Communion (referencing Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 on marriage) is in the fact, revealed here, by Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, that:

"Invitations have been sent to every active bishop. That is how it should be – we are recognising that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend. But the invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a series of private conversations by phone or by exchanges of letter with the few individuals to whom this applies." (My bold).
That is creating some consternation in the socialmediasphere.

On the one hand, Idowu-Fearon informs us that the design group is logically, Anglicanly (Resolution 1.10) consistent in its approach to invitations. Also the group is quite subtly moving beyond the 2008 situation in which, readers here may recall, +Gene Robinson was not invited though was present at fringe events.

On the other hand, this approach will create some - no doubt - angst. Some conservatives may be troubled by the fact that same-sex partnered bishops are invited to Lambeth 2020. Some progressives may be troubled by the fact that partners of such bishops are not invited to Lambeth 2020. Boycott, anyone?

Thoughts, dear readers? [Strictly: thoughts about Lambeth. This is not an invitation to rerun the You Know What arguments.]

Now to be clear: I am going to Lambeth 2020 whomever is or isn't invited and whomever is or isn't taking up their invitations. If the Communion (in whatever shape, size, system) is to have a future, we need some global conversation. If the Communion (in whatever ... ditto) is not to have a future, we need to end well with a global conversation. I would like to be part of such conversation!

Back to Anglican (and Protestant) authority/"authority"

I am glad that Anglican churches have bishops (and not just because I am now one). God through history, Israelite history and church history, has invested authority in individuals (Moses, David, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, etc) and individuals have capacity through experience, wisdom and gifts of grace to lead, discern, judge, teach and proclaim, with that capacity offering expeditious solutions to questions and puzzles which otherwise might languish in committee processes.

Yet such leaders can go terribly wrong (Moses and David made mistakes, Paul likely got it wrong when he fell out with Barnabas over Mark, Peter was a very slow learner in respect of critical gospel issues). Bishops can go wrong (cf. McCarrick above). So the question of guardianship of bishops is critical to the matter of authority in the life of the church.

A Roman answer to that question is to have a hierarchy of bishops with a most trustworthy one at the top of the hierarchy (i.e. the Pope). History has not judged that process well (taking all popes into account and not selectively admiring the many good Popes). And presently a lot of Catholic-based questioning of the current Pope is going on.

An Anglican answer within England itself, as I noted above, has been to have the common sense of the English people (represented by the Parliament) as guardians of the bishops. The Anglican answer outside of England (developed as much in NZ by Bishop Selwyn as anywhere else in the globe), and more recently within England, has been to elect/appoint synods/conventions so that the common sense of the whole church is represented in the governance of an Anglican church.

Yet the 39A remind Anglicans that we think councils can err and thus synods/conventions are not themselves the failsafe means of ensuring the good of the church according to the will of God. What is to be done? Some kind of wider council has been the Anglican response (i.e. Lambeth conferences, recalling that the first one was called to countenance an alleged heresy), and in making this response, Anglicans have called on a long and wide church history of great councils. Even great councils may err but great councils bring together a wide body of knowledge and wisdom, with a greater chance of transcending narrow "local" concerns and pressures such that any national church (or small international church such as ACANZP) might fall under. Thus great councils have given us the Nicene Creed, resolution of major theological issues and many things followed to this day by the majority of Christians.

The potential authority of the Lambeth Conference is immense. But its potential cannot, of course, ever be reached if individual bishops and individual provinces of bishops within it pay no attention to what is resolved (so 1998 Resolution 1.10) or if, as at 2008, no resolutions are made. Even better is a Lambeth Conference which resolves X and has a uniform response from each Anglican provincial synod that X will be thus and so.

Is this a scenario which can reasonably be conceived for the Anglican Communion and its provinces today?

The run up to Lambeth 2020 is going to be, to say the least, interesting.

*Whenever Luther was recommended to go lightly on his opponents, he nearly always "double-downed" on his invective and mockery of them. A lot of Massing's material about Luther reminds me of Trump's approach to conflict. Nevertheless Luther was different to Trump in important ways.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Bishop of Christchurch

Today is Monday. The weekend was great. The ordination service on Saturday morning in the Christchurch Boys High School auditorium was beautiful, the installation service on Saturday afternoon in Christchurch's Cathedral Square was bathed in sunshine (a little too hot, if we were to complain about one thing!) and well attended, an afternoon tea at Christ's College was a lovely way to conclude the day, then preaching at all three services in the Transitional Cathedral yesterday was a privilege with a superb family and friends lunch between the first two and last services.

The whole weekend involved vast efforts of time and energy from a large number of people and I am grateful to everyone for their contribution: thank you!

Here is my favourite picture from various family snaps - taken after I was installed in the cathedra [bishop's chair] in sight of the cathedral:

Taonga has an article here.

My installation service address is here.

Our Diocesan website has articles here, here and the video of the ordination is here and of the installation is here. (Excellent quality too!)

Here is the text of my sermon yesterday in the Transitional Cathedral:

"Sermon for Sunday 10 February 2019 @TC
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; [10 am only] 1 Cor 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
By splendid coincidence the prescribed readings from the lectionary today, featuring the prophet Isaiah, Jesus our Lord and his apostles, [Paul and] Simon Peter fit perfectly with a new bishop speaking about a new chapter in Christ’s mission for the Diocese.
By terrifying coincidence, the prescribed readings today speak of prophetic and apostolic ministry and mission which was faith-filled, fruitful, and enduring in a manner which sets the highest of standards for a new bishop to attain to.
Isaiah receives a vision which terrifies him.
“Woe is me!”
No vague, ambiguous God confronts him through the vision.
Majestic, awesome, holy, the Lord of hosts sits on his divine throne.
But this overwhelming, Almighty God seeks a human servant – a missioner who can be sent to call Israel to return to God – and Isaiah is that servant.
“Here I am; send me!”
If we, the Diocese of Christchurch, believe in Isaiah’s God, what is God wanting us to do in God’s service?
Are we available to this God? Dare we say, “Here we are, send us!”
Isaiah’s call is set in a time when Israel had some hope that it could work itself out of a considerable mess in respect of its theology and its practice, but all too soon that hope was dashed.
Israel would not heed the prophetic message of Isaiah and other prophets.
God led it into exile - a severe punishment for unfaithfulness, for spiritual recklessness.
But it was not the end of Israel.
The same God led the return of Israel to its promised land, creating in the process a longing for a new anointed ruler, a new King David.
Those longings are motifs hidden within Paul’s phrase “according to the Scriptures” in the 1 Corinthians 15 reading, where he contextualizes the execution and then resurrection of Jesus into the history and expectations of Israel.
Those expectations were often put in pastoral images – sheep, false shepherds leading the sheep astray, a true or good shepherd to come.
And much talk about pastoral ministry in the church, including that of a bishop, is couched in this pastoral language.
We can excuse the first disciples Jesus called to follow him for being a little confused when the talk of a new future for Israel was about fishing and not about shepherding.
Luke’s gospel story of the net full and overflowing with fish illustrates that the God of Israel is the God of expansion and growth.
The mission of God which becomes the mission of Christ shifts focus from one nation to all nations.
Israel will grow beyond its racial and geographical boundaries to include new fish – new peoples, new nations.
God through Jesus Christ came into the world to gather together all the peoples of the world, a vast catch.
If Isaiah’s mission is to speak to Israel as sheep that have lost their way and become disconnected from God,
then the mission of Simon Peter and his fishing mates is to speak to the world as fish God wishes to catch and make connection with.
In both cases, God is at work in the world and amazingly invites ordinary human beings, frail and fallible people,
that is, you and me, Isaiah and Simon Peter, to share in the divine mission.
If there is one task in my time as bishop I want to make the stand out priority,
it is to challenge myself and all who will listen to me to actively share in the mission of God, to be co-workers in the mission of Christ.
The church ought to be primarily missional: outward facing, always available to be sent by God into the world, unafraid to catch people into the great net of God.
In theory, we know this, we nod in agreement with this but in practice we the church often find it hard to be primarily missional.
We often settle on primarily responding to our internal wants and needs.
Yet as long as we read Holy Scripture, God will challenge us to be primarily missional, as our readings do today.
There is a specific challenge in our Gospel reading that I draw to our attention.
In the background to this challenge are these observations:
The sober reality is that the number of Anglicans active in Christ’s mission in our Diocese is declining.
Our total Sunday attendance has been declining through the past few decades. Since the quakes, 70 ministry units have been reduced to 60 units.
It should not be surprising to us if in my time as Bishop of Christchurch we further reduce to 50 ministry units.
Yet such realities in the present time are at variance with the mission of Christ laid out in this event of an overwhelming catch of fish – an event which illustrates the expansive, universal heart of God.
In this passage Luke invites us to ask:
Are we joining with Jesus in great faith, believing that – even though the contemporary night seems long and the fishing to date has caught little – the best catch is yet to be?
A couple of years ago Stephanie Robson, now our new Ministry Educator, published a sober report into the state of our life as a Diocese.
In that report, Stephanie makes a very sharp observation about our tendency (in my own words) to avoid facing the double jeopardy of many congregations simultaneously reducing and ageing.
We are doing that avoidance, I infer from the report, on the basis of a vague hope that some new people might turn up, transferring to us from other churches;
or that a change in government immigration policy might one day lead to the recruitment of thousands of ready-made Anglicans from Africa.
No. Our hope should be directed to a different way of thinking.
If we are not to die as a Diocese, in approximately twenty years’ time, we must freshly offer ourselves to God to be part of an apostolate, of an evangelistic mission in Canterbury, Westland and the Chathams.
A mission which seeks to draw new people into the life of Christ.
Only if this is our mindset will we be taking seriously the words of Jesus:
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
Ah, you may be thinking to yourselves,
“That is all very well, but isn’t Christ’s mission much more than evangelism? Doesn’t it include working for justice, seeking to meet the needs of the last, the least and the lost?”
Indeed, Christ’s mission is comprehensive, broad and far reaching and often it is better conducted by deeds rather than words.
But I will be failing in my obligation as the Bishop of Christchurch if I lose sight of the evangelistic mission of Christ and if I fail to challenge our Diocese to have the same mindset as Jesus himself had.
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
At stake is not simply the size of the Diocese but the future of the Diocese and its work in the mission of Christ.
In twenty years’ time, who will be available to reach out to the poor in our communities around the Diocese with the practical love of Jesus?
So what might we do, here and now, today and tomorrow?
A little introspection is good for the soul.
What if we were to ask ourselves this question:
What is so valuable to me about Jesus Christ that I want others to have what I treasure?
That is a loaded question, of course, because it raises the question how valuable Jesus is to us.
But it is great question because it leads us to a place of renewal.
If we have lost our first love for Jesus, Jesus is more eager than we are to renew that love.
If we have difficulty articulating why Jesus is central to our lives, Jesus is more eager than we are to teach us about himself.
When I returned to the Diocese not long after Bishop Victoria began her episcopacy here, I heard people saying things like this:
“Bishop Victoria has made it cool to talk about mission.”
That was and is brilliant.
Let’s keep talking mission.
Our challenge today, for the next ten years, at least, is whether we will all – together in Christ - make it cool to talk about evangelism at the forefront of mission.
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”"

Onwards and upwards!

Monday, February 4, 2019

GAFCON Fragmentation?

Heads Up and Spoiler Alert: there are two very Anglican-geeky questions at the foot of this post!

So, I was toying with the idea of a further report from the still-enthralling Fatal Discord reported on in the post below. It remains a wonderful read, not only because of good writing style, but also because the writer has a great grasp of Reformation history centred on Luther and Erasmus.

Luther comes across as a hero - an absolute hero in human terms because he is relentlessly courageous, abundantly insightful, and a rockstar of a man in social and political terms as well as theologically and spiritually. Single handedly, through pamphlets and his translation of the NT into German, Luther forges Germans of several principalities and powers into a nation, defying great world leaders of his day as he does so.

Erasmus is a great intellectual who accidentally falls into a trap. Every age cries out for a synthetic leader, a person who can forge a unifying centrist position which gives voice to the common ground among people and across communities and nations. Erasmus was that person in many ways and in many centuries he would readily be the super-outstanding figure of his day.

But events over took him. Pioneering a willingness to re-look at Scripture (by questioning the supremacy of the Vulgate, bringing the Greek NT into publication) and unafraid initially to voice searing and deserved criticism of the Roman church, Erasmus offered fast burning fuel to Luther's fire as he began to recognise, with Erasmus' assistance, that the penitential aspirations (and corruptions) of the early 16th century Roman church were contrary to Scripture.

When that Lutheran bonfire of Roman vanities started to scorch more than the obvious corruptions of the day (e.g. creating political turmoil not only across Europe but also spreading into Britain; moving beyond reformation of the Mass and other sacraments to throwing them out altogether), Erasmus found himself in that agonising centrist position in which both sides of the conflagration turn on the centrist.

Loyal to the Roman church (and somewhat financially dependent on both papal beneficence and royal patronage from kings and princes loyal to Rome), he was hugely pressed to put his sharp pen and intellectual prowess to deprecating Luther. Sharing many sympathies with Luther's criticisms and standing firm on his own theological insights which underpinned them, he was reluctant to savage Luther in print. Moreover, accidentally becalmed in Basel for many years - a hotbed of increasingly radical Reformation zeal - he was conscious that public criticism of Luther on behalf of distant Rome risked local wrath falling on him.

Luther was willing to be martyred. Erasmus made it clear in writing that he himself was not willing!

So much for history: the reflections for our current situation are easy to come by. No doubt for another post, but I have been thinking about such things as what it means to be faithful to Scripture. Erasmus was but Luther challenged him to go (so to speak) deeper. Luther was but Muntzer and Karlstadt challenged him to go (so to speak) deeper. Who was right? In a divided Anglican world today on faithfulness to Scripture, who is right? There are definitely Erasmian, Lutheran and Karlstadtian figures in our 21st century midst! Who is to judge?

Erasmus was right on many counts, not least on the importance of working for peace, not war. Luther was right in all sorts of ways, but also clearly wrong, not only about Jews, but also about relationship between state and church (at least as measured by the ability of the future German church to tolerate the rise of Nazism). Moreover, few today, if any would go the distance on something he wrote which I had not previously known: that a wife with an impotent husband should take another husband! Karlstadt and his radical colleagues were right to push hard on the full meaning of a renewed knowledge of Scripture being applied to all aspects of society which were unjust. But, arguably, they turned the gospel of grace into a new tome of laws and replaced the Pope in Rome with the pope in the local pulpit.

All in all, Luther spurred a mighty chaos in the church in Western Europe, so that it was very difficult to work out in many cities and towns who exactly was in charge of ecclesiastical life.

We are not quite as chaotic today but today's news alerts us to a little bit of global Anglican chaos. According to conservative news site Anglican Ink, the Anglican Church of Nigeria has appointed four new bishops for work in North America without consultation with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).

That is, despite much ado about GAFCON (which includes Nigeria and ACNA) being the true beating fellowship heart of global Anglicanism, when it suits Nigeria to not respect its communion with ACNA, it is happy to do so. Which, of course, is not communion. It is not good Anglican communion practice to unilaterally make cross-border episcopal incursions into the territory of another Anglican province. Such bad practice has, of course, been justified through recent decades by assertion of a judgement that the incursion into an Anglican province with bad something (theology, practice, both). Is there something wrong with ACNA?

Is GAFCON fragmenting?

We will see.

But here are a couple of questions for Anglicana geeks:

(1) If, perchance, ++Welby were to invite ACNA bishops to Lambeth 2020, should he also invite the four new Nigerian bishops for North America?

(2) If, perchance, for the next GAFCON Conference, the four non-ACNA bishops for North America were invited, should ACNA consider not attending?