Monday, June 5, 2023

King’s (Defender of the Faith’s) Birthday Weekend: Defender of Confusion?

This is King’s Birthday weekend in Aotearoa New Zealand. Our first for a long time - the Queen having reigned for 70 years - or, we might say, last year’s Queen’s Birthday weekend was the last for a long time, noting the succession plan of Charles, William and George, or even ever. Dare one observe that before the end of this century NZ might have become a republic?

As Defender of the [Church of England variation of the Christian] Faith, Charles presides over what, this weekend in Anglican history?

Unfortunately Uganda rears its head again, the proposed draconian law against homosexuals/homosexuality now having been passed (despite a few pundits saying it might not become law, it has), with Archbishop Stephen, Uganda’s Primate “grateful” for its passing (though he offers the gracious modifier of preferring imprisonment to execution as the severest outcome of the legislation).

Read Church Times report here, and The Other Cheek here.

Cue a certain restlessness in CofE Twitter that neither the ABC nor the ABY have spoken out against their fellow primate. My own thought is a little patience might be in order. Archbishops are busy people and should not make hasty pronouncements!

My own response, made in this past week’s eLife message to our Diocese was this:

 Back in April 2023, the conference of Anglicans around the globe known as GAFCON, meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, made a public, damning criticism of the Church of England for its recent decision to permit prayers for same sex partnerships or marriages (a similar but not exactly the same decision as our church made in 2018). This condemnation was made with not one word said criticising an anti-LBGTQi bill before the parliament of Uganda which had received strong endorsement at Easter from Stephen Samuel Kaziimba Mugalu, the Archbishop of Uganda (and one of the leaders of GAFCON). Read Archbishop Stephen’s message here. A provision in the bill included the possible of execution as a punishment for certain offences by homosexuals. At the time of GAFCON there was a thought that the bill would never be signed into law by the President of Uganda. This week, however, we learn that the bill has become law—read more from Reuters here. We also learn that Archbishop Stephen enthusiastically supports its passing, although resiles from the death penalty being imposed—Read more here. The chances of GAFCON leaders condemning this decision by parliament, let alone its support by the Ugandan Anglican church appear to be zero. It is tragic that a significant global network of Anglicans can condemn one province of the Communion for openness to praying for same sex partnerships while tacitly, if not explicitly endorsing this inhuman legislation endorsed by another province.”.

It is (at best) a bit confusing, is it not? Gafcon’s moral high ground has always been its resolute opposition to any change to Anglican teaching on marriage/human sexuality combined with deep compassion, welcome and inclusion for all homosexuals who love Jesus and wish to follow his teaching (cf. Lambeth 1998 1.10). The inability to hold Uganda to account for the Anglican church’s fervent embrace of the now passed draconian law suggests Gafcon is not as committed to deep compassion etc as it says it is. Is Gafcon confused about its own moral theology and its application to its own member provinces?

(Nevertheless I acknowledge, courtesy of some posts on Virtue Online, that there is a certain confidence in the counter to the criticism, a sense that Uganda is right and, er, I, ++Welby, the Communion as currently constituted, etc are wrong, weak, weak, wrong: here, here, here, here.)

But, we should hastily add, confusion is a feature not only of Anglican (other, non-Gafcon examples can be adduced), but also of Christian life generally.

Recently, for instance, my eye was caught by a controversy over a book written by an Australian about confusion within evangelicalism, focused largely on North American evangelicalism, or, more specifically, what could be called Trumpian evangelicalism. But the intriguing feature of the observable controversy was over an Australian (Presbyterian) review of this book, which in turn has led to a review of the review.

Again, The Other Cheek has the story here and here.

In all these kinds of current stories - examples mirroring these Protestant contretemps can be found in the Catholic and Orthodox worlds - there are two aspects to what I am calling “confusion.”

One, the most worrying, is that an outsider looking in is appropriately confused about what Christianity is about. 

Are we about the truth? (If so, how comes there is so much disagreement?) 

Are we about love for one another? (If so, how come there is so much vitriol from one Christian (or tribal grouping of Christians) to another? 

Are we about faith in God? (If so, and we each have faith in God, how come this common factor seems to have so little power to glue us together?)

Two, our internal confusion about … well, some days it seems “everything”! Let me (the blogger pleads) focus on two confusions (because I think they are important and if we were less confused on them we might be better witnesses to those who are not yet of the Christian faith).


Somehow, in these “culture wars” within the church itself, Scripture is often used as a single book, of one genre (essentially, instructions/rules), which is very clear on any matter of importance in 21st century life.

But this is not Scripture which is a collection of writings, of differing genres, which both includes some instructions/rules and a strong sense, from Jesus himself, that the church is going to need to make decisions about various matters as life goes along.

Scripture, that is, is clear on some matters (God so loved the world, love your neighbour, do not kill (as a general instruction)) and not on others (What is the nature of the love God has for “the world”, and what is “the world” that God loves, does neighbour extend to enemies (so Matthew/Luke) or get refocused on “one another” (John’s Gospel), or both (Paul’s letters)? What does “do not kill” mean for governments (may they use capital punishment as a means of ordering society?) and for Christians (may we serve as a soldier?). It is not so much that Scripture is some kind of “confusion” as that God through Scripture calls God’s people to talk to one another about how we shall live - together as church, in local communities, in national societies, as employers-and-employees, in households - and to do that talking together, well, together and not schismatically apart.

Further, Scripture treated as some kind of uniform volume from which clear guidance may be distilled with the barest of preambles, “The Bible says …,” fails to read Scripture fully and carefully as a collection of writings often in tension with each other.

In my last post I highlighted differences and connections between the Synoptic gospels and John’s Gospel. Since then I have read this important observation (by way of question) by C. F. Evans:

“Does the New Testament contain not one but two religions, the one, to be found in the synoptic gospels, Acts and some epistles, a Semitic, hebraic, historical, prophetic, messianic religion of obedience to commandments … the other, to be found in the Pauline epistles and the Johannine writings, a Hellenistic, oriental, unhistorical, mystical and sacramental cult of union with a dying and rising Lord (a particular variation of the popular pattern of religion in the Graeco-Roman world), and if so, how do these two religions belong together? To some extent these questions have haunted theology ever since.” (Explorations in Theology 2, London: SCM, 1977, p.95)

The genius of developed Christianity - the “religion” that came to approve the canon of Scripture, to settle the doctrine of the Trinity [some writing of this post is on Trinity Sunday!] - is that it bound these differences together, in one whole, and refused to separate them. The least point of this genius decision is that it invites, even instructs the people of Scripture to live with tension, to engage in conversation about what we differ on (while bound to the one God, the one Lord, the one Spirit!).

But of this approach to Scripture and its consequences for God’s people you will find precisely nothing, zero, zilch in the prognostications of … Gafcon, Archbishop Stephen, Mark Powell reviewing Constantine Campbell’s book, various Catholic pundits bewailing the demise of their church because of … their Pope, etc!

Postscript: at an extreme, misreading of the Bible leads to a very dark place - see here.


In all the various perambulations of modern / post-modern Christianity, we seem - in my judgment - to (fairly) consistently misrepresent the God whom we Christians say we believe in. 

Whether we are proposing “Christian nationalism” or promoting the Latin Mass as highest and best worship of God or presenting a slam dunk five or nine step argument against committed love between two people of the same sex or (for that matter) ceasing to be anxious about the state of the church because, you know, God is still at work in the world, whatever happens, we (I would argue) misrepresent God.

We misrepresent God because in our fervour for … Christian nationalism, the Latin Mass, excluding same sex partnerships from prayer, ceasing to care for the church … we imply (however unintentionally) that God is a Latin speaking Christian nationalist with a downer on homosexuals and a careless attitude towards the Body of his own beloved Son.

That is not the God revealed in Jesus Christ and attested to in Holy Scripture. Alternatively put, there is a lot we do and say (and I am no less a sinner on this score than anyone else) which is not Jesus-like. Our Aramaic speaking Lord of the church who failed to lead a nationalist uprising … you get the drift!

In our fetish for the fashion of the moment we are confused about who God is and thus about what our God calls us to be, to do and to say.

I suspect our King is not a reader of this blog!

But if perchance I am wrong, I ask our King to “defend our faith” in a mode a lot less aggressively than my fellow keyboard warriors of 2023 do.

If God calls us to anything it is to meekness and humility.

Monday, May 29, 2023

John and the Synoptics: Towards a Deeper Vision of Jesus Christ

Moving away from the politics of resetting the Anglican Communion and back to reflections on John's Gospel, as I continue to re-read John Ashton's brilliant book Understanding the Fourth Gospel, I am minded to continue to work on "who" Jesus is. That is, to keep reflecting on who Jesus is according to the gospels - all four gospels - which at some points are formally contradictory but always, for orthodox Christians, complementary and comprehensive in their revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Incidentally, thinking about the current ripples of controversy in the Anglican Communion, one way to approach John's Gospel is to think of it as "resetting" the story of Jesus!

In thinking about the differences between John's Gospel and the Synoptics, it is always worth remembering that noticing their differences in not some modern theological problem invented by liberal German scholars in the nineteenth century.

Eusebius, writing his Ecclesiastical History (6:14) in the fourth century says this:

"But that John, last of all, conscious that the outward facts had been set forth in the Gospels, was urged on by his disciples, and, divinely moved by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel."

One of the great questions about this spiritual Gospel is, How does John arrive at such a different Jesus from the portrayals in Matthew, Mark, and Luke?

To a degree, explanation can be given that John draws on a more "Jerusalem" than "Galilee" oriented knowledge of Jesus' itinerant history (so, e.g., we can account for John's three visits by Jesus to Jerusalem, rather than the Synoptics' single visit (apart from Luke's account of the child Jesus visiting Jerusalem when he was twelve) because John (or his key source or sources) knows lots more about Jesus-in-Jerusalem than Matthew, Mark or Luke.)

But such explanation does not deal with, say, John 1, in which the calling of the first disciples is quite different to the Synoptic accounts (no fishing or fish or fishing metaphors are involved!).

Bultmann, in Ashton's view the most intelligent ever commentator on the Fourth Gospel, is somewhat famous for proposing that a "Gnostic Redeemer myth" influenced John to draw up his portrayal of his "different" Jesus. Scholars, including Ashton, have moved beyond Bultmann's myth (while continuing to acknowledge the brilliance of Bultmann's many insights), but that still leaves the question in need of an answer. How does John's portrayal of Jesus end up being so different to that of the Synoptics?

It is a question that, in my view, Ashton himself does not quite answer, because he is uncertain whether the significant difference in John's Gospel was something which entered into the sources John used or was John's own contribution. And, if the latter, then a related question is the extent to which the "Johannine community" - its unique character, its particular experience of being driven out of Jewish synagogues, its location or locations (was it once in Samaria? Did it, per historical tradition, end up in Ephesus?) - shaped John's understanding of Jesus-in-relation-to-this-community?

When, for example, John's Jesus emphasises "love one another", without any hint of "love your neighbour/love your enemy", familiar from the Synoptics, this Jesus lays down a commandment of special interest to the beleagured Johannine community: i.e. be united, resist persecution together, stay strong through tight internal bonds of love. 

In other words, the situation of the Johannine community is such that it cannot afford the "luxury" of teaching "love your enemies" because its enemies are not just horrid people (like, say, Romans in relationship to Jews and Christians) but potential destroyers of the Johannine community.

Reading through Ashton's book again, the following has struck me as, arguably, very important for answering the question I pose above (aside from the Johannine community's experience shaping John's portrayal of Jesus):

1. A lot can be explained by recognising that John works from the Synoptics but develops them through the power of his own formidable insight into the true meaning of Jesus Christ as presented in those gospels (or at least two of them, Mark and Luke).

2. More should be explained by scholars in terms of John's identification as he writes with the risen Christ - his experience of the indwelling presence of Christ in his own life - and his assurance that the Paraclete continues to teach him about the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth's words and deeds.

1. The Synoptics as launchpad for John

Read any set of papers, articles, books about John and the Synoptics and they go something like this: There is no association between the two, apart from a generally agreed "gospel" outline and some reminiscences of the Synoptics in John. Here is a list of all the differences between John and the Synoptics ...  Or, although it looks like there is no connection between the two, on careful analysis, there are profound connections ... and thus John almost certainly knew Mark's Gospel, probably Luke's as well.

My reflection on reading Ashton goes in a different way. Something like this. What if John did know the Synoptics (say, both Mark and Luke)? Then, what if he deliberately eschews following them closely? (Perhaps he knows Matthew as well - why write a fourth gospel of a similar kind?). 

Rather, he fairly consistently works in another direction to them (except for following their broad outline: Jesus ministers, is betrayed, tried, crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem; and for picking up some of their miracles to become his "signs"), reworking the story of Jesus to incorporate the following insights.

Insight #1: Take, for instance, the Healing of the Paralyzed Man, Mark 2:1-12. Here, Jesus identifies himself (in the name of "the Son of Man", v. 10, a self-description often used by John's Jesus) with God - with the one who has authority to forgive sins. Mark does not make a lot of this, save for it being part of his cumulative case that Jesus is "the Son of God", a theme also found in John's Gospel). John, arguably, works on and develops the insight possible here, that Jesus thinks of himself in terms of identify with God, and this is worked out in many dialogues through the Fourth Gospel, as Jesus speaks about the unity of himself as "son" with the "Father." By working from a Synoptic "miracle" in this way, John is able to integrate his account of miracles as "signs" - events which signifies things about the meaning of Jesus Christ in relation to God and to the world.

Insight #2: Even without Insight #1, John could have started with the (so-called) Johannine thunderbolt of Luke 11:21-22 (//Matthew 11:25-27) which speaks of the intimate relationship of Father and Son and the sharing in privilege and power of the Father which the Son enjoys - developed at length in John's Gospel.

Insight #3: John has a lot to say about divine agency in his gospel. God is the one who sends Jesus to the world, Jesus is the one who has been sent into the world. For example, John 3:17 says, "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." But agency is found in the Synoptics, for example, in Mark 9:37 (//Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16):

"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

Notably, here, Jesus is sent by God, but the reference is in the context of relationship: the welcomer of a child welcomes Jesus and the welcomer (in this way) of Jesus welcomes God, "the one who sent me." This chain of relationship features in John's Gospel as discourses set out the nature of relationship between believers and the Son and through the Son to the Father, with the climax of such talk taking place in John 17 as Jesus prays that the disciples may be one as he and the Father are one.

This is not a big Ashton-like book - just a modest length blogpost, so cutting to the summation of my point: an awful lot of John's Gospel (in comparison to the Synoptics) is explainable without recourse to other documents than the Synoptics (at least Mark and Luke), providing we allow for the spiritual and theological genius of John the author. (The point stands, whether we identify John as one of the sons of Zebedee or another John).

Postcript to this section: I am not at all dismissing possibilities and probabilities of other influences on the shape and content of the Fourth Gospel: that John has access to traditions the Synoptics know not; that John (if, perchance, a son of Jerusalem rather than a son of Galilee/Zebedee) has a background in close relationship to Jesus through visits of Jesus to Jerusalem which the Synoptics either do not know or choose to omit); and so forth. But even when these other streams of influence are allowed for, they do not cumulatively explain the distinct differences between the Synoptics and John's Gospel, differences which attest to a singular vision of Jesus Christ being cast in the form of a gospel.

2. John's identification with Christ and the Paraclete

Why would John have confidence, even daring to re-present the story of Jesus' words and deeds in the way he has done? What would give him the sense of authority which his gospel carries that this very different presentation of Jesus deserved the accolade of truth and the mantle of reliability in respect of its insights?

An obvious set of texts to cite (and scholarship does) are those concerning the Paraclete/Advocate/Counsellor/Helper: (here I substitute Ashton's preferred "Paraclete" for the NRSV's Advocate):

"But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." (14:26)

"When the Paraclete comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf." (15:26)

"I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." (16:12-13) 

Here, through Jesus' words, John articulates the conviction that the role of the Holy Spirit, as the special Paraclete (we might think here of a guide for the church, to walk with it on its journey through life), is both to remind the church of what Jesus taught and to develop the church's understanding of the full meaning of Jesus' words and deeds.

John's Gospel, then, is an attempt to give expression to that full meaning of Jesus' words and deeds (as, indeed, we could also say of Paul's Epistles and the Epistle to the Hebrews as they do this but differently to John).

But, is there something more happening in this mode of conviction about the full meaning of Jesus Christ? Reading Ashton (along with some other reflections I have been doing this year) prompts me to also ask whether John composes his gospel as one who understands that he is indwelt by Christ through the Spirit and himself dwells in Christ - think John 6 and the Bread of Life discourse, as well as the testamentary material through John 13-17? Does he write not only "about" Christ but also "as" Christ? Is the Paraclete not only teaching John but speaking directly through John to the church?

Does the authority of John's Gospel lie, not in some feat of historiography, where we develop arguments to assure readers that the Synoptics and John are wholly complementary or consistent and not one whit contradictory, but in a shared confidence (our confidence together as the church, our confidence as readers united with John the author) that the Jesus of the Synoptics, the Holy Spirit of Acts work in union with John to compose the Gospel that bears his name?

In short, is John's Gospel the consequence of a fusion between John and Jesus, a binding of the mind of John with the mind of Christ through the agency of the Paraclete?

In John's Gospel, we have a guide to all the truth about Jesus Christ, a way into the way of Jesus Christ and a lifegiving message inviting us into life in Christ.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Sermon by the late Tim Keller

I am behind where I want to be in my post for tomorrow so let's see if I can complete by next week - it's more reflection on John's Gospel, not on the future of global Anglicanism!

I haven't gotten particularly into writings and communications such as sermons by Tim Keller, a famous US - NYC in particular - pastor, but he has a lot of respect around the world and now human sadness at his death announced in the past few days.

An English bishop Tweeted a link to a sermon which she was especially impressed by and I had a read of it - very good. So, in lieu of a post by me this week, I share the link with you:

Tim Keller's Sermon After 9/11 (posted by The Gospel Coalition)

This is, as it happens, on a passage from John's Gospel, and - obviously in the context of 9/11 - explores a theme which is often mentions here, theodicy.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Strict Anglican v Latitude Anglican?

Preamble: this is not another excursion into the rights and wrongs of Anglicans taking position A rather than position B on matters of homosexuality. For the purposes of this post I am assuming there are two such positions (or more) and am not seeking to review them. Rather the focus here, and the preferred focus for any comments you wish to make is on the implications of these positions in the specific light of the recent GAFCON 2023 conference for the shape and character of global Anglicanism.

The post: John Sandemann, commenter here on ADU, Anglican media expert in the West Island, has written two interesting articles relating to the recent GAFCON 2023 conference in Kigali, Rwanda.

First, you might like to read his report on The Sexual Politics of Gafcon. This is a helpful, brave account of the inside story of the nuances and subtleties as the drafting of the Kigali Commitment took place. John, if you are reading this: thank you. 

Much understanding comes from this article, even if I nevertheless remain no less concerned about where the Archbishop of Uganda stands on the proposed legislation in his country - as well as remaining concerned that "the sexual politics of Gafcon" could not be consistent within the final Kigali statement, in respect of public comment on Anglican Communion matters which, not unreasonably, could be expected to critique both the Instruments of Communion, various provinces, including my own AND Uganda! 

Secondly, at the foot of that article is a reference to something Archbishop Kanishka Raffel, Sydney, said in a Q and A session in a post-conference visit in Africa, already noted in comments to my post here (1 May 2023). The fuller report is here

++Raffel is clear in what he says, and while - of course - not every Gafconite would agree with refusing communion to worshippers who are in a same sex marriage, it is difficult to see an official line in a Gafcon statement ever demurring from such strict policing at the communion (Communion?) rail.

What is going on? What is Gafcon really in respect of what it means to be Anglican?

The line out of the 2023 conference has been that a majority of the Communion's primates will be working on a "reset" of the Communion. The Instruments are broken, the ABC deserves no respect being hopelessly compromised by decisions within the CofE, etc. Thus a large number of primates - possibly a majority since Global South is getting closer to Gafcon - could work out a reset of the Communion. Some commenters think this won't actually happen; but it is too early to tell.

But ...

I wonder if there is a counter line. Another take. A line which says something like this:

Yes, there is a reset of the Communion taking place.

It is a reset into two forms of being Anglican.

One is very strict. The Bible says this and this and no Anglican can deny it and if they do they are not a proper faithful or orthodox Anglican. The only form this Strict Anglicanism is going to take anytime soon is very conservative in respect of morality, mostly but not entirely in respect of women being ordained as priests and bishops, but it will take evangelical, charismatic and anglo-catholic forms. The strictness, if you like, is ethical-theological and not "party-spirit." 

One is comfortable with latitude, with breadth, with including grey as well as black and white in working out and working through what we can live with as we disagree respectfully. The form of Latitude Anglicanism will be mistaken for "Liberal/Progressive" Anglicanism but Latitude Anglicanism will include many categories of self-identifying Anglicans. It will not be comfortable with, e.g. strict policing of the communion rail (per Archbishop Raffel's remarks above), and it won't be comfortable with questioning the considered decision-making of individual Anglican provinces, except in extreme circumstances (such as a province supporting a draconian bill against gay people).

An obvious challenge is when both forms of Anglicanism advertise themselves in the same suburb or small town. Should one be called Anglican and the other not? (And who decides?)

It is also notable that Anglicanism has gone this way previously!

The English Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries included a huge drive towards a "strict Anglicanism", exemplified, for example, in the shift between the 1549 and 1552 Prayer Books and in the demands of the "strict Anglicans"/Puritans of King James' day, only one of which he gave way to, the one which resulted in the King James Bible (1611).

The drive was resisted, not only by King James but also by Queen Elizabeth (with the aid of Richard Hooker and his via media between a Catholicising Anglicanism and a Puritan Anglicanism). The result for centuries illustrated by and expressed through the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. (Indeed, the 17th century, after theological controversies and civil wars in England produced a movement of toleration and sitting light to dogma called Latitudinarianism.)

Now, it is quite true that the broad Anglicanism of the 16th and 17th centuries won the day because at some equivalent to GAFCON or Lambeth Conferences, a majority of  broad-minded prelates, clergy and laity were in ascendance. There was a majority parliament of laity to enforce the contemporary spirit of the Church of England.

That is, in the 21st century some care needs to be taken in assuming that the "true" or "genuine" or "authentic" spirit of 21st century Anglicanism rests on the course of histories through those earlier centuries if only, say, we could get the English parliament (not that there is such a thing - there is a UK parliament) to continue the enforcement.

Clearly, in the 21st century the spirit of Anglicanism, whether it be Strict or Latitude in character, is not going to be determined by a parliament which represents, say, "middle England" or "the open-mindedness of the West", let alone "the intended spirit of global peace and goodwill of the UN." Anglicanism's (or Anglicanisms') character will be determined by Anglicans meeting in a variety of synods, conferences and forums. Likely it will not be determined in one single gathering. Indeed, if our history since Henry VIII is anything to go by, it may take centuries to reach some kind of "settlement".

And, dear readers, you will be quick to point out that any "settlement" won't suppress the unsettling spirits of Anglicanism since whatever was previously settled is now, again, unsettled :).

Back to the 21st century. There is, I suggest, a settlement of sorts going on, in which a mooted "re-set" of the Anglican Communion is re-setting the state of global Anglicanism for the time-being, into two forms of Anglicanism, Strict and Latitude, each claiming to be genuine/true/authentic Anglicanism.

Likely, if Global South does align closely with Gafcon, then Strict Anglicanism will be able to truthfully claim to be in the ascendance with a majority adherence.

In that case the challenge for Latitude Anglicanism is not to get in an Anglican huff about the re-set but to focus on what we believe, how we behave and how we belong, working hard to read Scripture and apply it, worship liturgically according to our synodical agreements and develop episcopal leadership and synodical governance in ways which are transparent, just and territorially respectful of other Anglicans.

It will also be important that Latitude Anglicanism carefully and wholeheartedly embraces all conservative Anglicans who choose to be conservative-with-Latitude Anglicanism. The long run claim for Latitude Anglicanism through present and future time is that it is what it says on the tin, embracing of all Anglicanism who will live with difference and disagreement.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Sermon for Coronation of King Charles Third: Service in Transitional Cathedral, Christchurch, NZ

Sermon Coronation Service 7 May 2023: Readings: 1 Kings 3:5-10; Romans 13:1-10

The Coronation of Charles the Third last evening in Westminster Abbey involved ceremonies and words which reach back through time, even to the time when Solomon was anointed King of Israel by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet in the 10th century before Christ.

In our first reading, at the beginning of his reign, Solomon asks God for wisdom:

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your people?

There is always humility in knowing that we are not sufficient, that we need help to discharge a great responsibility such as governing people.

There is no greater help for a ruler than wisdom: an understanding mind, able to discern good and evil is needed to govern well.

In the service the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed thus for Charles our King,

Bestow upon him such gifts of wisdom and love that we and all thy people may live in peace and prosperity …

Another humility was also present in the service.

Charles arrived at the Abbey and said these words at the commencement of the service,

In His name and after his example I come not to be served but to serve.

There has been comment and criticism that the coronation service was very religious, very Christian and yet, so the line of attack goes, the United Kingdom is no longer a very religious nation.

An English bishop writing in The Times yesterday, Graham Tomlin, makes the important case that the Christian character of the ceremony is about what understanding of power is at stake for the monarch. [  ; see also, (which is behind The Times paywall)]

And, by extension, Tomlin’s case is about the understanding of what power and authority means for King Charles’ governments in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and other realms for whom he is King. Including Aotearoa New Zealand.

Thus the words of King Charles, about coming to be crowned In Christ’s name and after Christ’s example, in order to serve and not to be served, are a commitment

-          to power understood as service,

-          to leadership which is compassionate and merciful.

This emphasis on servant leadership was the thrust of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon last night.

Whatever we make of the rituals in the service,

-          whether we care for such a service to be as it was, overtly, explicitly Christian,

-          at its heart the Coronation Service we experienced last night,

-          challenges not only King Charles but all of us who care for the way we are governed,

-          to seek the power of love and not the love of power.

Signs of this specific Christian understanding of power in terms of loving, serving leadership were many in the service.

The orb, sceptre and rod, for instance, symbolise earthly rule;

-          but the orb has a cross at its top, a reminder that human authority stands under the authority of the God who is love,

-          and the rod and sceptre were presented with words speaking of justice, equity and mercy.

That is, the monarch’s authority (and, as I noted, by extension the governments of the monarch) is to be exercised with both justice and mercy, with fairness and compassion.

The anointing of the King with consecrated oil and the robing of Charles in a manner resonant with priesthood signifies a setting apart of our monarch for a life of dedicated service, acknowledging that the gift of wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit of God.

Such dedicated service is service dedicated to God and to the well-being of God’s people and not to the advancement of oneself.

Our King already has had a long life of service exemplifying the dedication he formally entered into last night.

To speak in this way is speak for an understanding of government embedded in our second reading tonight:

 “for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.”

It is also to speak for a society in which the driving motivation for what we do is what we also heard in that reading, that God asks that we love our neighbour as we love ourselves.


There are many voices that beg to differ on the matter of whether a divinely ordered and motivated monarchy as the cornerstone of our and other Commonwealth democracies is a good thing.

It is very obvious at this time in our nation’s life that enthusiasm for a constitutional monarchy is waning. Our Prime Minister has recently uttered the “R” word, republicanism.

Terry Eagleton, writing recently in the days running up to the Coronation, acerbically notes against constitutional monarchy:

Real democracies, which is to say republican ones, don’t work like this.

They are the only political form which doesn’t need to invoke a legitimating power external to the people themselves.

Instead, the people legitimate themselves, in their everyday speech, action and law-making.

This lends them an unusual authority, but it breeds uncertainty as well.

It means that political society is founded only in itself, with no pre-written script or divine agenda, and this feels close to a sense of groundlessness.

Democracies have to make things up as they go along, more like experimental theatre than Shakespearian drama.

“The people” sounds like a firm enough foundation, but in reality the people are divided, diverse and keep changing.” [ ]

This is not an entrancing vision for a new way of nationhood;

even less so when we compare his dismay at human frailty with the inspiration the Coronation service itself provided,

that God both initiates human authority and holds it to account for the quality of its Christ-like character in servant leadership.

Charles the Third is now our newly crowned king. If we are not collectively motivated to develop and own a new vision for a head of state, we are obligated to own the king we do have.

It is no easy task to be a servant leader, to live out a commitment to serve and not to be served, to depend on God’s wisdom and not one’s own.

We should pray for Charles and cherish him, as we are doing in this service tonight, for to do so is to pray for ourselves as citizens of the state of which he is head.


Monday, May 1, 2023

Sermon for University of Canterbury 150th Anniversary Service (1873-2023)

The University of Canterbury was founded as Canterbury College in 1873, later becoming Canterbury University College in 1933 before settling on its current name some years later still when the University of New Zealand, of which the then College was a federated member, ceased to exist. This year is the 150th anniversary of the founding and various events are happening through the whole year. On Saturday just past a service of thanksgiving was held in the Transitional Cathedral and I had the honour of preaching at it. I have had a request for the text to be posted online, so here it is! 

+Peter - Sermon for University of Canterbury 150th Anniversary Service 1873 to 2023

Readings: Psalm 119:97-105; Acts 17:16-28

My UofC whakapapa:

-          1978 – 1981 a degree in Mathematics with a side interest in philosophy

-          Bert Brownlie was Vice Chancellor

-          Gordon Petersen was Professor of Mathematics and HOD

-          Bob Stoothoff was Professor of Philosophy

-     Among impressive academics who taught me, memorable lecturers included John De La Bere, Jim Thornton, Peter Bryant, Jim Wilson, Roy Kerr, and Dougal Murdoch.

-         Christian Union under successive Presidents Martin Visser, Paul Trebilco, and Alistair Lennie

We are here today to give thanks for 150 years of accessible education at Canterbury University College which then became the University of Canterbury.

In passing, we might also note that the 27th March 2023 was the 175th anniversary of formally adopting the names 'Canterbury' and 'Christchurch' for the settlement-province and principal town, respectively, both proposed by John Robert Godley in 1848.”

Today, rightly and properly, we also understand and use the name Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha for the University.

The value the university placed on accessible education from its founding was underscored on Thursday night at the Gala Dinner which was a focused fundraising effort to build a scholarship fund for 150 students this year and next from lower decile schools.

This focus is in keeping, as Vice Chancellor Cheryl de la Rey reminded us, with the founding ideals of the university in 1873.

Education is a gift as much as a right –

-          the gift includes the foresight of those who begin schools and universities, and the ability to teach and inspire which those who staff schools and universities –

-          the right is that all should be able to learn that which contributes to their flourishing as human beings.

Most societies around the globe recognise that there are obligations to enable learning for all, with the benefit that society flourishes when people are educated.

The University has contributed to the flourishing of society here in these islands and abroad.

The worlds we live in today are better worlds because of the work of esteemed alumni such as Helen Connon, Ernest Rutherford, Apirana Ngata and Rita Angus,

to say nothing of teachers such as, perhaps the most famous Canterbury lecturer of all, Karl Popper.

There is, in summary, much to give God thanks for, as we look back on the past 150 years, and as we look around in this year and see the University in good heart – not something that can be taken for granted in the ups and downs of education in a small, under resourced country such as our own.

But an anniversary is an opportunity to pause and take stock.

What, for example, is the relationship between university and church in a province such as ours which in its European settlement was a church-based settlement?

In the search for truth, what do people of the gospel say to people at the cutting edge of new knowledge?

In other words, what is the relationship between Jerusalem and Athens?

In the passage read from Acts 17, we find Paul the apostle of the good news of Jesus Christ in Athens.

In words reminiscent of life in a university we heard that in Athens, Paul

“argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day”.

And that

“… some … philosophers debated with him … “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.”

What is a university if it is not a place of curiosity about the meaning of things?

We also heard,

“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.”

What is a university if not a dedication to the search for what is not yet known, for what is new?

Paul in Athens tried to convey a specific piece of good news to the Athenians:

that the God of the universe had entered our planet in the human being, Jesus of Nazareth,

who had proclaimed a new world order, died on a cross and been raised to life,

in order that humanity might be reconciled to God, so that a broken world might be healed.

This is the single greatest public fact in the history of knowledge.

It is a controversial and controverted fact. The Athenians were not exactly overwhelmed by Paul’s message.

It scarcely needs saying that in the history of the University more staff and students have wanted to dismiss or ignore this fact than recognise it and be shaped by it.

Thus, it is possible for Athens in ancient times and a university in modern times to get close to the greatest public truth and shy away from it; to be committed to holistic education and not quite get the whole of holistic education.

Paul bore witness to the reality of the creation and sustenance of the universe a university explores. He pointedly spoke to the Athenians about,

“… The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is the Lord of heaven and earth. For “in him we live and move and have our being”.”

In the quest for meaning of what we learn, is there meaning if cannot, do not, will not recognise the source of the universe and therefore our knowledge of it?

Is there purpose to the quest for meaning and to the search for new knowledge if we do not connect this enterprise to the one who holds the goal or telos of life?

In a sense, there is knowledge beyond knowledge – a knowing of the meaning of the universe as well as a knowledge of the universe. Something of this knowledge beyond knowledge is captured in the words of the psalmist in our first reading this evening:

“Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. …

I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation …

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

One of the strangest things about the University is that in a church-founded settlement, there has never been a department of theology – unlike the Presbyterian-settled city and university down the road!

I am told there was a strong secularist commitment within the founders of the University.

Nevertheless, within the life of the University, commitment to the One in whom we live and move and have our being has been an important presence through its history.

That presence has been especially represented in

College House, Bishop Julius (now Arcady) Hall, Rochester and Rutherford Hall,

 expressed by

chaplains, students and staff, often forming clubs and societies such as

the Christian Union, Newman Society, Student Christian Movement, the Navigators, Campus Crusade and so forth –

-          all of whom have borne witness to the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

For this Christian presence through 150 years we also give thanks this evening.

If there is much to give thanks for at this 150 year mark, and there is, there is also much to look forward to through the next fifty years.

The challenges before the world are immense – not least because of threats of climate change and a new global war – the possibilities for the University to assist humanity find solutions and resolutions to problems and conflicts are extraordinary.

May God bless the University in all its endeavours.


Monday, April 24, 2023

Affirming GAFCON, Critiquing GAFCON, Resetting the Communion, Confirming ABC-led Communion

GAFCON 2023 press statement here, final communique: the Kigali Commitment here, news site here.


Via my Twitter feed I paid some attention to GAFCON 2023 as it met in Rwanda last week.

There was so much to commend - clips of beautiful worship, summaries of agreeable biblical teaching (e.g. on the supremacy of Christ in Colossians), a sense of unified direction for a significant part of the Anglican Communion (noting signs of common accord between GAFCON and Global South).

Thus these paragraphs, from the Kigali Commitment are, hopefully, true of each and every gathering of faithful Anglicans whether globally, provincially, diocesan-wide or in a parish:

"Our conference theme for 2023 ‘To Whom Shall We Go?’ (John 6:68), along with our Bible studies in the Letter to the Colossians, focused our attention on Jesus, the one in whom all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form, the Lord of all creation and the head of his body, the church (Colossians 1:15-19; 2:9).

Our Chairman in his opening address encouraged us to be a repenting church, a reconciling church, a reproducing church and a relentlessly compassionate church. This is the church we want to be.

We were reminded that the purpose and mission of the church is to make known to a lost world the glorious riches of the gospel by proclaiming Christ crucified and risen, and living faithfully together as his disciples"


Focus on the supremacy of Christ was where things got ecclesiologically interesting because that supremacy leads to comments I noticed as the Conference unfolded which are mundane in one perspective and dynamic, Communion changing in another perspective.

Mundane: it is a simple matter of logic that if Christ is supreme, aka head of the church, then no bishop or archbishop or Protestant-pope-in-the-pulpit or Roman Pontiff is head of the church. All leaders in the church, leaders of churches are at best to be respected, never to be venerated, always to be subject to scrutiny through Christo-centric lenses. And so forth. Agreeable. Nothing to controvert on this level.

Communion changing: thus Church Times reports:

"THE fourth gathering of the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) is under way in Kigali, Rwanda, uniting breakaway Anglican leaders and some of those still within the Communion in their rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the “spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion”.

In his presidential address on Monday evening, the chairman of Gafcon, Dr Foley Beach, said that “with broken hearts, we must say that until the Archbishop of Canterbury repents we can no longer recognise him as the first among equals. It’s time for the whole Anglican establishment to be reformed anyway.”"

GAFCON disagrees with a recent decision of the CofE, about blessing of couples in same sex marriages or partnerships, over which the ABC presides, and so the ABC is no longer worthy to be the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, no longer primus inter pares (first among equals) for the episcopal leadership of the Communion. He has been judged and found wanting.

By the end of the Conference, as written in the Kigali Commitment, this rejection had stiffened to all the Insturments of Communion:

"We have no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him (the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meetings) are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency and authority of Scripture. The Instruments of Communion have failed to maintain true communion based on the Word of God and shared faith in Christ.

All four Instruments propose that the way ahead for the Anglican Communion is to learn to walk together in ‘good disagreement’. However we reject the claim that two contradictory positions can both be valid in matters affecting salvation. We cannot ‘walk together’ in good disagreement with those who have deliberately chosen to walk away from the ‘faith once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). The people of

God ’walk in his ways’, ‘walk in the truth’, and ‘walk in the light’, all of which require that we do not walk in Christian fellowship with those in darkness (Deuteronomy 8:6; 2 John 4; 1 John 1:7).

Successive Archbishops of Canterbury have failed to guard the faith by inviting bishops to Lambeth who have embraced or promoted practices contrary to Scripture. This failure of church discipline has been compounded by the current Archbishop of Canterbury who has himself welcomed the provision of liturgical resources to bless these practices contrary to Scripture. This renders his leadership role in the Anglican Communion entirely indefensible."

But, reading through the whole final communique, one and only one issue sets GAFCON (and, now, likely Global South) against the Instruments of Communion: any approach to permanent same sex partnerships/marriages which softens the strict discipline of celibacy for gay Anglicans. No disagreement on this issue is possible. No deviation from the GAFCON-party line. Thus no respect for the Instruments of Communion which have sought to engage with differences among Anglicans in response to certain realities in both human sexuality and in civic life of different societies.

Particularly disturbing is to read all the antagonism to the Instruments because some gay Anglicans wish to marry but NOT ONE WORD AGAINST THE UGANDAN PRIMATE who as recently as his Easter message, here, publicly supported the proposed legislation in Uganda's parliament which could lead to the execution of gays.


Whether we like this hardline against the Instruments or not, it is what it is, and it looks like a significant joining of forces is taking place between GAFCON and Global South so that a key word to consider in  the Kigali Commitment is "reset":

"Resetting the Communion

We were delighted to be joined in Kigali by leaders of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) and to host a combined Gafcon-GSFA Primates meeting. Together, these Primates represent the overwhelming majority (estimated at 85%) of Anglicans worldwide.

The leadership of both groups affirmed and celebrated their complementary roles in the Anglican Communion. Gafcon is a movement focused on evangelism and mission, church planting and providing support and a home for faithful Anglicans who are pressured by or alienated from revisionist dioceses and provinces. GSFA, on the other hand, is focused on establishing doctrinally based structures within the Communion.

We rejoice in the united commitment of both groups on three fundamentals: the lordship of Jesus Christ; the authority and clarity of the Word of God; and the priority of the church’s mission to the world. We acknowledge their agreement that ‘communion’ between churches and Christians must be based on doctrine (Jerusalem Declaration #13; GSFA Covenant 2.1.6). Anglican identity is defined by this and not by recognition from the See of Canterbury.

Both GSFA and Gafcon Primates share the view that, due to the departures from orthodoxy articulated above, they can no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as an Instrument of Communion, the ‘first among equals’ of the Primates. The Church of England has chosen to impair her relationship with the orthodox provinces in the Communion.

We welcome the GSFA’s Ash Wednesday Statement of 20 February 2023, calling for a resetting and reordering of the Communion. We applaud the invitation of the GSFA Primates to collaborate with Gafcon and other orthodox Anglican groupings to work out the shape and nature of our common life together and how we are to maintain the priority of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of all nations.

Resetting the Communion is an urgent matter. It needs an adequate and robust foundation that addresses the legal and constitutional complexities in various Provinces. The goal is that orthodox Anglicans worldwide will have a clear identity, a global ‘spiritual home’ of which they can be proud, and a strong leadership structure that gives them stability and direction as Global Anglicans. We therefore commit to pray that God will guide this process of resetting, and that Gafcon and GSFA will keep in step with the Spirit."

Practically, it looks like the following consequences are now facing us:

1. When ++Welby calls a meeting of Primates, there will be fewer Primates than previously turning up.

2. When ACC meets, there will be fewer faces.

3. The next Lambeth Conference, should there be one, could consist of mostly white faces.

Nevertheless there is time and water to flow under the bridge. If, say, the next Lambeth Conference has a Kenyan-type response (the Primate would not attend Lambeth 2022, bishops were free to make their own minds up re attendance; contrast party-whipped boycott by Nigeria), then it could be fascinating to see who does follow the GAFCON line and who does not.

However, the signs are that the Communion is being "reset", that a significant, but yet to be fully measured, part of the Communion will walk away from commitment to meeting together when called to do so by the Archbishop of Canterbury - the communications and invitations of the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet will be ignored and rejected by a now larger number than previously.

We may feel inclined - I do! - to be highly critical of what is going on here - for example, of a cleavage between "doctrine" and "history", of a shift from an Anglicanism focused on "relationships" to an Anglicanism focused on "texts - but I do not think such criticism will amount to more than a whistling in the wind of change. What we can do is pray (for as much Communion-unity as possible) and resolve to take up invitations to meet (busyness at home is no longer an excuse!!)


The challenge is to "stand firm" in what we (who are not GAFCON, who do recognise the ABC as "primus inter pares") believe and are committed to. 

The sanity of the centre has a lot to commend it! 

Focus on global Anglicanism as primarily relational and only secondarily textual is a worthy commitment. 

Whether we be few or many, there are moderate Anglicans and not only in North America, Europe and Oceania. God loves moderate Anglicans as much as God loves GAFCONites :).

Although there are (effectively) two Anglican communion/federation/networks in the globe today, they are not the same. A bit more time will be needed to tell which is which. It will be confusing because of a resolute commitment to the naming rights of "Anglican" (at least in countries apart from those such as the USA and Scotland where a happy distinction between "Episcopal" and "Anglican" exists). But the simplest distinction, it now appears is between those who are with the Archbishop of Canterbury and those who are not.

POSTSCRIPT a few thoughts on GAFCON's divorce between theology and history with its cancelling of the ABC:

The Kigali Commitment is an ecclesiological divorce between theology and history (and, yes, I am well aware that the Church of England committed such action in the 16th century - there is no need to do this twice!).

If the ABC is found theologically wanting and thus is replaced, what happens to the replacement? A certain nervousness that she or he (it won’t be a she, will it?!) must toe the theological line because respect is only gained and held if doctrinally orthodox. 

When we divorce history (the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the senior bishop of the Church of England and thus the senior bishop of the Anglican Communion) from theology, we change our ecclesiology: Anglicanism becomes solely confessional: whomever confesses the right confession is correct; and leadership is only granted to those who make the right confession. 

Either the purist of the confessors (Nigeria? Uganda? Sydney?) will be primus inter pares; or some kind of election among the purer confessors is held. But no sense of history may intrude such proceedings. Anglicanism may not - on this understanding - be nostalgic for the mother church; nor consider any office of the church significant because of the past, that is, because of how that office came into being. 

A certain kind of existentialism becomes GAFCON Anglicanism: what counts is the now of doctrinal purity. Ironically, “history” plays a role in doctrinal purity: the Anglican church is considered to have once been doctrinally pure, but now, alas, no longer. The historic doctrine of the church (on GAFCON logic) judges the present incumbency of significant office; but the significant office of the church is permitted no room to develop that historic doctrine through time. 

Even though we may and should observe that historically there was no moment in the past when the Anglican church said, “we now have reached doctrinal orthodoxy”, it is reserved to ourselves (our GAFCON selves) to determine that there was such a moment. 

But when was it? Was it 1549 or 1552 (when Cranmer presided over two different publications of liturgy en route to a certain “moment” in 1559, no, wait, 1662! Was it when the Geneva Bible or the Bishop’s Bible or the King James Bible was published? If it was, say, the King James Bible (1611) combined with the BCP (1662), what on earth led modern Anglican evangelicals to embrace, say, the NIV through the last quarter of the 20th century or the more recent ESV? Perhaps weight is put on the Forty-Two Articles? Of course not, they were just the forerunner to the Thirty-Nine Articles!

Put another way: the historical continuity of the Anglican church could be a continuity of pure doctrine, though that is a tricky case to argue (because life keeps changing, and churches keep changing, even GAFCON ones: do they all use only the BCP (1662) every service? Of course not!). 

The better historical continuity is around offices, acknowledging that there will be bumps along the way because no ABC is a clone of a predecessor, and none of the predecessors was perfect.