Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jerusalem or Athens?

In one way, at least, the GAFCON (see posts below) is appropriately linked to Jerusalem. As I continue to reflect on what is happening in the Anglican Communion, and why it is happening, I find that, when I get beyond my concern that this individual is pushing for that course of action, I think I am seeing a series of convulsions which go beyond individuals. One convulsion concerns the source of revelation for Anglican theology. When I read of bishops denying that Jesus Christ is the one way of salvation, or note internet pundits treating Scripture as one voice in the life of the church, or observe comments which support an approach to sexual ethics indistinguishable from the ethics of the postmodern Western world, I infer that many Anglicans treat our surrounding culture as a valid, authoritative source of revelation. By contrast many Anglicans, however inconsistently or badly argued, are committed to Scripture as the one source of revelation of God's truth for humanity. The contrast between the two underlying foundations (i.e. 'Scripture' and 'Scripture plus culture') is sometimes likened to the contrast between ancient Jerusalem and ancient Athens. The former the dwelling place of God, the latter the seat of human philosophy.

These underlying foundations may be likened to the tectonic plates of the earth's surface. Outwardly we see mountains and valleys and islands and continents. But underneath are moving plates across the surface of the earth. When one plate moves away from another plate, old land may be swallowed up and new land created. In the present controversy Anglicans may see 'half a dozen texts of Scripture on homosexuality', proposals concerning 'the blessing of same-sex partnerships', and accusatory descriptions of 'pro gay' and 'homophobic'. But underneath lie two or more different approaches to the source(s) of theology. These plates have been moving uneasily against each other for a couple of centuries. But now a rupture is occurring. The question is, 'Can the Anglican Communion contain two sources of revelation?' The answer is, 'In the Reformation the church of Europe found it could not do this (i.e. contain 'Scripture' and 'Scripture and tradition'), so it is likely that it cannot happen again.'

Now, to be consistent with posts below, I want to be clear that I remain committed to finding a way forward for the Anglican Communion to remain intact, even at the price of living with great tension. My reflection here is that something may be going on 'beneath the surface' which is greater than the machinations of individuals, the (alleged) conspiracies of episcopal leaders, and the circus of conferences and consultations and meetings of the great and the good.

Changing metaphors: I cannot think of one country that has two capital cities. The challenge for the Anglican Communion is that two claimants for our capital city are emerging, Athens as well as Jerusalem. The claims, arguably, have always been part of our landscape. But the claims were either disregarded or too muted to be heard. Now the claims are so loud we have to make a choice. Some would like us to make everyone happy by having two capitals. That cannot work. The GAFCON organisers and the hierarchy of TEC have one thing in common: they are committed to just one capital. Athens or Jerusalem, which will it be? The problem for ++Rowan and those of us who support him is that the Anglican Communion is a strange country: it has no agreed parliament through which decisions of such importance can be readily worked through!

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