Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What kind of orthodoxy?

Another aspect to questions of 'orthodoxy' concerns the tightness of any definition, not just with respect to writing a dictionary but importantly in respect of fellowship: with whom will I fellowship on the basis of shared commitment to common truth?

The other day these two analogies came to my mind, relating to the search for a spouse.

Some people looking for a spouse (analogy to 'other Christians with whom I will fellowship') have a set of criteria in their mind, perhaps even buried in the subconscious. Must be beautiful/handsome, brainy (but less so than me), established career, same life goals, values and beliefs, and ... ideally someone who so shares my mind that we never argue, and must be pure and unspotted with respect to the past.

Others looking for a spouse are less fussy. Must be a reasonable looker, not dumb (certainly not as dumb as me), think they know where their life is going, similar life goals, values, and believes, ... ideally not too argumentative, but I guess we will have some difference, and, let's be realistic these days, at least 'over' whatever has happened in the past.

One of the difficulties in the world of conservative Anglicanism these days is we have quite a few people acting out the former scenario. At the moment that's taking them away from the Anglican Communion (too messy, not very pure, lack of common mind, too many arguments). But if there is a new 'marriage' will it last? That search for a completely common mind is well, as one of our beer ads used to say, 'It's a hard road finding the perfect woman, son!'

Personally I accept that orthodoxy needs a certain breadth rather than tightness in its definition if I am to fellowship with more people than can fit in a telephone box. Brian McLaren coined the term 'generous orthodoxy'. Perhaps an associated phrase could be 'messy orthodoxy'! Some of us conservatives need to think carefully about our criteria for fellowship. The first scenario above is attractive: it fits with Scripture's teaching on contending for the truth, and with current mantras about truth being more important than unity. But the second is more workable. Yes, it leaves open questions of bounds to 'messy orthodoxy', but it brings to the table a greater willingness to really truly and deeply engage in dialogue. To say nothing of the possibility of a longer lasting marriage!

Monday, May 26, 2008

What is orthodoxy?

In all my gleanings from reading numerous postings on the internet re Anglican Communion troubles I think one big lesson I have learnt is to avoid using labels loosely. 'Orthodox' is one of those. Evangelical Anglicans know they have support on certain issues from (say) conservative anglo-catholics, so rather than a long description of the larger combination its tempting to say 'orthodox Anglicans'. By 'orthodox' is meant creedal, Scripture is authoritative, Trinitarian, believing in the Resurrection means the tomb was not empty, God answers prayers and works miracles today Anglicans. And the antonym of 'orthodox' in current contexts of controversy is often 'liberal'. Anyway the lesson I have absorbed is that a number of liberal Anglicans think they are also orthodox and would we mind not thinking they are not. (The point of difference being that we might only disagree on issues in human sexuality). In the course of these bits of the dialogue one can seek to sharpen up the definition of 'orthodox'.

But one can also reflect a little on what counts as 'orthodox'. One of the things I have been aware of lately is that if 'orthodox' is used of Anglicans who might also be described as 'conservative' then either orthodoxy includes heresy, or we have not got a tough enough definition of orthodox operating. Let me explain. In conservative Anglican churches one can work through a liturgy which is fully creedal, Trinitarian etc (tick for 'orthodox') and then hit a speed bump at the sermon. The 'prosperity' gospel, for example, in one or other of its forms fits into 'conservatism', but it is not orthdoxy. Yet lots of people who lap up such sermons would be aghast to be told their vicar was not orthodox. Such teaching, and related cognates are jolly good candidates for the label 'heresy'. Such pseudo-orthodoxy (being generous) can do untold damage to Christians. But do conservative Anglicans turn their guns on the prosperity preachers and their like with as much passion as on 'liberals'?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Where with Mouneer?

In the last few days Archbishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt and North Africa has declared he will not go to GAFCON. Some aspects of the debate around the interpretation of what he said in his letter, and indeed the significance of the declaration itself, can be followed up here.

What is emerging in the build up to Lambeth is a recipe for perfect Chaos. Consider these ingredients: Lambeth without all bishops (heading for the three-quarter mark), Lambeth deliberately designed to emit no resolutions (environmentally-friendly), GAFCON without all conservative bishops, TEC unrepentant on any front (New Hampshire, litigation, property disputes), ditto Canada, and in the Anglican blogosphere some pretty cruel things being said by conservatives against other conservatives. Now Chaos might prove to be a very satisfying dish in the long run. But right now I have a hunch that many Anglicans would like the Lambeth recipe to yield a dish called Clarity. I find it hard to see that coming out of the oven!

Back to Mouneer. I do not know if he feels confident there is a way to mix the ingredients to get Clarity. Nor do I know if he has an ingredient or two in the back of his pantry which might lead to Clarity, or even to any dish other than Chaos. But I think we can be sure that he is uneasy about the GAFCON ingredient in the recipe. Good on him for professing that uneasiness. If we are going to end in Chaos, let's get there with courageous honesty. But I think Mouneer is pointing out something else with his decision: the church is the church (in this case the Anglican Church is the Anglican Church), and difficulties in the church ultimately need to be addressed by the church. A conference of some of the church may be a helpful event in resolving difficulties shared by the whole church if the conference findings are communicated to the whole. But the particular hurdle GAFCON has got to jump if it is really really serious about the whole Anglican Church is demonstrating how its wisdom will be taken onto Lambeth. Some bishops are going to both. How much better if all at GAFCON were also at Lambeth - not just some, because Lambeth is all the bishops meeting.

Mouneer's critics will say he should be at both, setting an example, as it were. I suspect part of his non-attendance at GAFCON is a prophetic judgement-action against the fact that GAFCON bishops have not resolved en masse to go to Lambeth.

We shall see where Mouneer's lead takes us.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Shaky Theodocies

A photo of the devastation caused by the recent earthquake in China, juxtaposed with a photo of a mother lying grieving beside her stiff dead child, sharply challenge loose thinking about the role of God in human life.

How can God preside over the killing of tens of thousands of people in the Irrawaddy delta through cyclone and in China through earthquake … and the even larger number in the Tsunami of 2005? And, if tempted for even a moment to think God is slightly less committed to care for (mostly) non-Christian populations, think of the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 which struck Christian Portugal when people were in church and many were killed as churches collapsed onto their worshippers.

Answers to this question - theodicies - include God being uninterested (the Deist Creator who then has nothing to do with creation), destructive (King Lear’s “as flies to wanton boys so are we to the gods”), determinative (some are predestined to death, some to life), disciplinarian (either sin must be punished, its surprising we are not all dead; or those people must have been really bad) or dead (there never was a God, says the atheist, and its time the idea of God died).

I happened upon Isaiah 24 this morning which is a prophecy about judgement for the whole earth, including through earthquake (‘he will twist its surface’, v. 1), and one can imagine its sharp relevance as the whole earth heads towards total ecological catastrophe for which (arguably) we are all to blame. But our question here concerns discriminate destruction of a portion of the earth and its population. Is God wanton? Are some people worse sinners than others? Is there no God (or gods) yet nature is itself a power over us, and a randomly acting one at that?

For Christians these question are provocative of our belief in a gracious and loving God. We believe in this God precisely because God intervened in the affairs of our world through the Incarnation. We do not believe in an uninterested or destructive or dead God. We have some beliefs about the action of God which force us to wrestle with questions of the will and discipline of God (see e.g. Ephesians 1 and Hebrews 12). And even if we conclude that great earthquakes have nothing to do with God’s will or discipline, we are still left with urgent questions about the power of God (is it limited?) and the love of God (is it of spiritual effectiveness alone?). And we can scarcely escape wondering whether the force of evil in this world is in fact a serious rival to God.

Curiously, if we look to Jesus himself as theodicist here, we find something interesting. In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus talks of two incidents of terrible suffering. In one some Galileans have been killed by the Roman ruler Pilate, in the other eighteen people were killed by a falling tower in Siloam. Jesus asks the question whether in each instance those killed were worse sinners than others around them. He answers in each case, ‘No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’ Our point of interest is Jesus’ lack of interest in theodicy. No attempt to explain why the people died, or what purpose their deaths served, or the reason for God’s inaction. I am not sure that another passage, John 9:1-7 (which also features ‘Siloam’) takes us much further. Except perhaps that putting both passages together we could conclude the following. (a) Jesus acknowledges that bad things happen both at the hand of man and through the agency of nature. (b) The most important response to tragedy is not theodicy but repentance. (c) Where possible Jesus works the work of God which is to save people from bad things.

Well there is more to say but I am tired. So here is a fine substitute paper to ponder! It’s called Tsunami and Theodicy by David B. Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian. Shaky theodicies are dispatched and a Dostoevskian flavoured one advanced. But has Hart correctly discerned the heart of theodicy?

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Latin Mass and GAFCON

What does Pope Benedict’s enthusiasm for the Latin Mass and the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in June have in common? Each represents an attempt to find a purer version of Christianity– closer to a classical conception of what, respectively, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism should look like. But is this desire for a purer expression of faith, closer to classic versions from the past, the right way forward for the church in this century?

First up, we can understand this desire. The accelerated rate of change is spinning the world away from the worlds in which Christianity was formed, and in which Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism took their classic shapes. We have no control over the world but some control over the practice of our faith. It’s easier to change our faith by purifying it than to change the world! But it is not the best way forward. If a religion has an agenda to win the whole world to its side then it must face the world as it is, not as it wishes it to be, and communicate its message to it.

The problem with the Latin Mass is not whether many Roman Catholics will welcome its return and appreciate its virtues: they will. The problem is that Latin is not the language of the world. The invitation of the gospel is not to join a movement in which the language of worship is a tongue other than one’s own. The world needs to be engaged by a mission in its local languages not in Latin.

GAFCON is a conservative response to some problems in the Anglican Communion which have sapped the confidence of some that the Communion can be an effective vehicle for the mission of God to the world. Some predict that GAFCON will lead to a new Anglican global structure which will be an alternative to the current Communion led by the Archbishop of Canterbury. If that happens, many Anglicans will be thrilled, feeling that a dead weight has been taken off their shoulders. (But note that for some ‘liberals’ the dead weight is the ‘conservatives’ heading in a GAFCON direction; and vice versa)!

My question, however, is how will this enhance the mission of our church to the whole world? A conservative version of classical Anglicanism, perhaps insistent on not ordaining women, certainly offering an exclusionary message to gay and lesbian people, will win adherents all right. But it will not win the world which is now accelerating away from the world of 1950, to say nothing of the world of 1550. To win the world for Christ we need to understand the world in order to engage in effective mission. Speaking as a conservative Anglican I know that liberal Anglicans (and those in between) understand dimensions of the world which I do not. It will be fascinating to see whether GAFCON acknowledges the missional strength of a broad Anglican Communion and pulls back from splintering it into narrow pieces.

(This is also my Witness column for the Diocese of Nelson monthly magazine, June 2008)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Keeping up with Communion and Covenant

The Anglican Communion Institute fellows (Seitz, Radner, Turner) are redoubtable critics of TEC, defenders of the idea of a Covenant, and workers for peace in the Communion through transformation from within TEC. Christopher Seitz' latest essay is worth reading. It has a great prescription for the future. But will it be followed by the patient? Does the patient think they need a prescription? Sarah Hey, equally redoubtable, thinks not and provides a challenging critique of Seitz' essay on the Stand Firm site.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Jesus loves you more than you can know Gene Robinson

In the song it was ‘Mrs Robinson’ so my title does not scan that well! I think its time to do something I want to rarely do on this blog, and that is engage with the topic of homosexuality (or, at least, 'homosexuality in its context of Anglican controversy'). The spur here is a series of interviews currently being posted on different media sites as Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, tours the UK promoting his latest book. This interview by Paul Handley in the Church Times caught my eye.
About the same time I read this interesting and provocative essay on ‘Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism rejected Homosexuality’ by Dennis Prager. Its worth reading both and doing some reflection on them and the tension between the two directions they take.

Here are some things Gene Robinson says in the Church Times’ interview, followed by my comments. Ihe interviewer's comments/questions are in bold type.

But conservatives say it’s not about sexuality: it’s a scripture issue.

"Well, I would believe that if the person saying it were keeping kosher, if they weren’t wearing two kinds of cloth on their bodies at the same time, or not planting two kinds of seed in the same field . . . because those kinds of proscriptions are in Leviticus, and yet somehow they don’t have eternal binding authority the way these two verses have been pulled out.
A piece of scripture which I have only noticed in the past year, which I know I must have read a thousand times, is in John’s Gospel where Jesus says to his disciples: “There is much more I would teach you, but you cannot bear it right now; and so I will send the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth.”
If you look back over the last 2000 years, the Church has changed its mind about what scripture means, the most notable example being that, out of Jesus’s own mouth come the words that remarriage after divorce is adultery, and yet the Church has changed its mind."

Comment: This is a bit sad in respect of understanding Scripture. It’s a cheap shot handling Leviticus in this way. There are sound reasons for setting aside some parts of Leviticus and adhering to others. It’s reasonable to expect a bishop to know and engage with these reasons. Quite what John’s Jesus meant by ‘lead you into all truth’ is a matter of much discussion, suffice to say that its unlikely to be anything which flatly contradicts Scripture. (It’s likely, actually, to mean a fuller understanding of Jesus Christ, such as John’s Gospel seeks to express in its inimitable way). Finally, it’s misleading to talk about the church changing its mind about what Scripture means in respect of Jesus and divorce. The church understands that Jesus meant to say that remarriage after divorce is adultery. If it now plays down or never mentions that it is not because the meaning has changed! The church has changed its mind about what it will say about divorce and remarriage, and some churches, but not all have changed their minds about presiding over the remarriage of divorcees. Surely the safer path for Gene Robinson to traverse would be the role of the church in applying Scripture to the changing circumstances of life?
Further, note the weakness of Gene Robinson’s understanding of the strength of the opposition against his episcopal appointment and how it might be overcome. The strength derives from a reading of Scripture which requires engagement if it is to be transformed into support for Gene. Airily wafting the matter away achieves nothing.

But how does the Church change its mind? How does it square inspiration with democracy?

"I think it happens over time. And the first person, or the first few people, who articulate a new understanding never meet with particularly positive reactions. It takes time for any kind of consensus to build.

You go back to Acts, and you have Gamaliel talking about the disciples’ teaching in the marketplace, saying: “You know, we ought to give this some time. If it’s not of God, it will go away. And if it is of God, do we want to be opposing it?” I think we’re in the middle of that now. All of us want it to be over, but the fact of the matter is that it’s going to take us some time to settle this."

Comment: Funnily enough, I too think Gamaliel is relevant to what is going on in the Anglican Communion these days. But Gamaliel’s advice cuts both ways. A challenge for those who believe it is of God to welcome and bless same sex relationships etc is whether the church which does that will grow or wither. There is some evidence of withering! From my conservative perspective I wonder whether conservatives are trusting enough of God through these days of controversy. If God is against Gene and co, why not leave that to God to sort out? We are an anxious presence in the church about these things, busily trying to change what we do not agree with. But is not God able to do something about that which is not according to God’s will? (Incidentally by speaking of God sorting these things out I do not mean God to smite anyone. I am thinking of God working out his purposes over time – and certainly beyond the present excitement which distorts the sense of what the long-term steady state of open, transparent involvement in the church of gay and lesbian people will turn out to be).

Incidentally, note the certitude of Gene Robinson that things will turn out the way he wants them to. Part of resentment against conservative Anglicans is resentment against their certitude (about what Scripture means etc). But certitude abounds on all sides in Anglicanism even though it allegedly loves ambiguity, doubt, and indefiniteness!!

If Rowan Williams came up to you at Lambeth and said: “We’ve changed our minds. Will you come and speak to us?” what would you say to the bishops?

"I would want them to know how amazingly orthodox I am. I think both the conservatives and the liberals would be shocked by that.
Because one of the things I’ve learned — and I’ve learned this from the most conservative people in our House of Bishops — is that they perceive that the fuller inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the Church is the precursor, the sort of camel’s nose under the tent, to the deconstruction of other essentials, whether that be the divinity of Christ, or the Trinity, or the resurrection. That could not be further from the truth about me."

Comment: Here I think Gene Robinson misunderstands the bigger picture. (Is ‘misunderstanding’ an emerging theme?). Gene may not himself be the thin end of a heretical wedge. But the support for him which agrees that Scripture is wrong on human sexuality seems questioning of other important Christian beliefs. Opponents within TEC ceaselessly highlight theological deficiency among the ‘liberal’ bishops of its hierarchy.

And then there is this ‘wedge’ aspect to support for Gene Robinson: we can notice that the support for gay and lesbian Christians is much spoken of these days in terms of an extension of a 'gay and lesbian' agenda to a ‘GLBT’ agenda. That is, the church is being asked to support and affirm gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-sexual Christians. Some are asking, where does this stop? Will polyamory Christians be added to the list? Others draw attention to the ambiguity involved in the notion of support for bi-sexual Christians: is this support for the inner struggles of a bi-sexual as they work through diverse feelings of attraction, or is it support for exploration of bi-sexuality with one partner of one gender then a partner of another gender? The latter, of course, being a little difficult to square with a commitment to monogamy! My point here is not to dismiss the possibility that the questions and issues at the thicker end of the wedge can be resolved, but to note the over-simplification of Gene Robinson’s account of conservative thinking.

But it’s not just a personal consideration. It’s a political question.

"I could tell you stories that would make you weep about what life is like for them, and the fear with which they live: the difficulty in having their bishop come to dinner at their home, with their partner, have a lovely time, and the bishop be fully affirming of them — and to have the bishop say: “You know, if this ever becomes public, I’m your worst nightmare. I will see to it that you are punished.” Now that does something not just to the bishop and to the couple; that does something to the Church."

Comment: if this has happened in the life of the church then surely this is rank injustice against gay and lesbian clergy.

But the thought of having two or three openly gay bishops must be attractive.

"It would be a wonderful thing. It’s a pretty lonely place to be, and I probably never feel lonelier than at meetings of my own House of Bishops. Not because I don’t have support, because the support there is extraordinary; but, perhaps more than at any other time, I feel that I’m the only one carrying this particular load in this particular way. I just long for the day when the next two or three come along.
It’s not unlike being the first person of colour, or the first woman — it’s why Barbara Harris is such a mentor and a hero to me. It would be nice to have a brother or sister to share this with."

Comment: Here Gene Robinson indirectly goes to the heart of the chasm which divides the Communion at the moment. In his mind, and I am sure in the minds of virtually all other gay and lesbian Christians, being gay or lesbian is a matter of identity and not iniquity. 'I am the only one of my people group in the House of Bishops,' is the effect of what Gene is saying, 'so when can we get more of the group in to share the load?' By contrast Gene’s critics are saying, 'You are an unrepentant sinner; you should not be a bishop; there is one too many of you in the House of Bishops.' This is a gulf in categorisation I do not know how to bridge. Do conservatives need to suspend judgement about the iniquity and think more imaginatively about identity? Do gay and lesbian Christians need to think more deeply about our identity in Christ?

How often does the issue of your sexuality come up in your normal ministry?

"Oh, almost never. I keep saying to people: if you want to see what the Church is like after we’ve finished obsessing about sex, come to New Hampshire. We’re so over it. Really, we are getting on with the gospel, and this occupies almost none of it. It’s what keeps me sane."

Comment: Perhaps Gene is right about the land Beyond Obsession. But his critics say there are less and less churches there!

Now, back to the essay cited above, ‘Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism rejected Homosexuality’. This essay makes the singular point that a great contribution of Judaism to the world was the change it wrought in human sexuality from a free for all practice without distinction between heterosexuality and homosexuality, often deeply enslaving and depraving of those who became what today we would call victims of abuse, and/or who were caught up in pervasive temple prostitution, to a practice in which sexual expression was constrained towards and expressed within marriage. Its subsidiary point is that Judaism’s refusal to embrace the indiscriminate sexual practices of the cultures around them, that is, to distinguish between homosexuality and heterosexuality, and to prohibit the former, was a leap forward in human social development. Our question today, in the light of that argument, could be this: is the homosexuality of Gene Robinson’s lifestyle (faithful, sober, stable lifelong partnership) a reversion backwards before the time of Leviticus, or a necessary adjustment to Leviticus? That is, is it possible for the Judeo-Christian tradition to accept a form of homosexuality which is different to the pre-Leviticus form because it parallels the constraint of sexuality towards marriage?

Without presuming to answer a significant question like that in a sentence or two, I will finish with this observation. Exemplary though Gene Robinson’s lifestyle appears to be, after its own fashion, it is a lifestyle being lived out in a larger context in which human sexuality according to the path laid down by Judaism (and continued by Christianity and Islam) is under severe strain and stress (to give one trivial example, this is the week in which topless news readers make their debut on NZ television, albeit on a reasonably obscure channel; another example might be that this is also the week in which Sex in the City: the Movie makes its debut). My sense is that the ‘liberal’ support for Gene Robinson downplays the significance of the larger backdrop of socio-sexual change against which the drama of his episcopacy is being played out, while ‘conservative’ opposition to Gene Robinson at the very least is right to ask whether socio-sexual change when embraced by the church ultimately leads to a better society and church.

Nevertheless Jesus loves us all, Gene, me, anyone reading this blog, more than we can know. Our greatest challenge as Christians is not to resolve intricate moral questions, but to make that love known through deed and word. Gene Robinson is committed to doing just that. Maybe that is common ground for our future together in the Anglican Communion?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Addendum to headship and helping

One advantage of studying the New Testament in Greek is that sometimes a Greek word strikes the reader with a force greater than the English equivalent. Yesterday in a small Greek NT group we worked our way through 1 Timothy 5. In the course of instructions concerning widows Paul signals his wishes in respect of younger widows and one word jumped out at me in connection with my previous post about ‘Headship and Helping’.

‘So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander’ (v. 14).

The Greek for ‘manage their households’ is the verb oikodespotein. It is unique in the New Testament but is related to the noun oikodespotes found several times in the Gospels where Jesus tells stories involving stewards or managers of households. If you are thinking this word also relates to our English word ‘despot’ you are right, but the Greek is talking about an everyday manager of household affairs and not a bullying tyrant.

Now we cannot build castles in the air on the basis of this word. Presumably a married woman oikodespoting her house is (a) focused on some concerns which her husband has left to her discretion (The kitchen? Control of the servants? Aspects of the children’s upbringing?) and (b) doing so alongside her husband’s oikodespoting (recalling 1 Timothy 3:4,5, and 12’s injunctions about bishops and deacons managing their households and children well, though using a differing verb to oikodespotein).

Nevertheless we are left here with an intriguing thought in respect of arguments that because the husband was the leader of the ancient household and the church was envisaged as the household of God therefore church leaders should be men. Is this argument weakened just a little by the possibility of joint leadership of ancient households by husbands and wives?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Headship and Helping

If we set aside 1 Timothy 2:12 from the debate over the ordination of women to the presbyterate and the episcopacy (see post below), then two other (related) arguments bear consideration. I shall conjoin them as one argument with two (perhaps three) aspects. The argument in essence is that the role of leadership over a mixed gender community is not assigned by God to women. One aspect, drawn from the Old Testament, highlights the story of creation in Genesis 2 which places the woman as derivative from the man, and assigns her the role of ‘helper’. Another aspect, drawn from the New Testament, highlights talk in 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 of ‘headship’: the husband is the head of the wife. Here Genesis 2 does not seem to be far away. The primogeniture of Adam over Eve carries through into the life of every family. Husband/father is the head of the household, and rightly so from a creation perspective is the gist of this talk. A possible third aspect is the Trinitarian discussion about the relationship of the Father and the Son as involving equality and subordination, or, if one prefers, equality of status yet differentiation of roles. From this one can affirm the equality of men and women in Christ (cf. Galatians 3:28) while also talking about their distinctive roles, and even the subordination of one to the other.

Perhaps before going further it is important to get a few red herrings out of the way. Let’s not worry here, first, about whether the idea of woman as ‘helper’ is intrinsically demeaning: ‘Helper’, after all, is a descriptive name of the Holy Spirit; and many of us in many instances in life find ourselves in the helping role but not demeaned by that. To be the helper in family or church life is phenomenally important, so let’s not worry before we start about where we might end up in respect of the role of ‘helper’.

Secondly, whatever Ephesians 5:20-22 means in respect of marriage (‘wives submit to you husbands’, does that mean what it looks like it means?), let’s not worry about that here either. In fact for the sake of the particular argument about church leadership with which we are concerned, let’s suppose the (apparently) worst case scenario: wives are to do what their husbands tell them. Our question is whether this kind of talk necessarily forbids women from taking up leadership roles over mixed gender congregations.

The texts which concern us here are fairly clear that man is the head of woman. Take, for example, 1 Corinthians 11:3, ‘But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.’ Or, are they? Reading on in 1 Corinthians 11 we find the thinking of 11:3 extended in 11:8-10, ‘For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman but woman for the man. For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.’ But then we find this in 11:11-12, ‘Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.’ It is interesting that Paul seems to modify the bold ‘creation’ statement re woman in relation to man with a ‘redemption’ statement (“Nevertheless … in the Lord”) akin to Galatians 3:28. In Ephesians 5 we find similar modification when 5:22 ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord’ is read alongside 5:21 ‘submitting to one another in the fear of God’ and 5:23-33 which repeatedly enjoins husbands to love their wives with a Christ-patterned sacrificial love.

Two observations then come into consideration in debate over these passages. One, made by some, is that nowhere in these passages is a direct deduction made that a woman should not lead or teach a mixed gender congregation. (Indeed 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 presumes that women will contribute through public prayer and prophesy to the life of mixed gender congregations). Another made by others is that, nevertheless, we are justified in making a deduction that woman should not lead or teach because the church is understood as the household of faith (Galatians 6:10; 2 Timothy 1:16) and Ephesians 5:20-33 is part of ‘household’ teaching and thus what prevails in the human family should prevail in the church family.

Which of these observations trumps the other? Here I suggest we work from the New Testament itself, no matter how tempting it may be to bring to bear the searching light of (say) feminist criticism. When we reflect on the variety of roles undertaken by the likes of Lydia, Priscilla (Acts and elsewhere), Phoebe, Junia (Romans 16), Euodia, Syntyche (Philippians 4), and the elect lady of 2 John 1, and the affirmation they receive, including Paul’s notable description of Euodia and Syntyche as ‘co-labourers’, I suggest we should reckon with this possibility: that headship of women refers to their relationship with their husbands (or, if not married, with their fathers), and not their relationship with the congregations to which they belonged.

In other words, it is consistent with all the New Testament says about the roles of women and about headship that women contributed to leadership and teaching of mixed gender congregations while being in an appropriate relationship of respect and (mutual) submission to husbands (if married). Putting it in terms relevant to our day: headship with respect to a woman in leadership and teaching roles requires her to be respectful of her husband (if married) but does not require her to refrain from exercising leadership and undertaking teaching.

The counter may then come, ‘but what about the helper role of Eve, does this not signal that God intends men and women, equal as they are, nevertheless to fulfil distinct roles?’ And, if we give an affirmative answer to that question, would that not fit well with the possibility that in the New Testament headship teaching implies women should not be in charge of churches?

Here I think we need to reflect a little on what the scope of ‘helping’ might be, informing our reflection with the whole range of God’s counsel in Scripture. First, ‘helping’ is not about being confined to kitchen and child-rearing duties. In the story of Mary and Martha, for example, Jesus endorses both Martha slaving away in the kitchen and Mary who takes time to sit at her Master’s feet. Deborah, Huldah, Naomi, Abigail, Priscilla, Phoebe and others show flair for practical organisation (a form of helping) which is not confined to their immediate household duties, and often has significant bearing on the fulfilment of God’s plans for Israel or the church. Secondly, the Bible develops a vision for the role of women which enlarges the scope of helping beyond the home to include planning and completion of commercial projects (Proverbs 31:10-31). Thirdly, we find in Luke 8:1-3 a unique story of a group of women disciples (‘And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities’). Here they are helpers (‘provided for them [or him] out of their means’) but they seem to have wangled a leave pass from home duties (were they rich women with servants at home?). Alongside (and including some of) these female disciples lie the roles of the women who became the first witnesses to the resurrection. Then, fourthly, as we wind our way through the New Testament, we find, already enumerated above, the likes of Lydia and Priscilla and Phoebe and the elect lady who take leading roles in the church. Women form a distinct order of widows in 1 Timothy 5:3-16, and teach children and other women in Titus 2:3-5.

Putting all that together we build up a picture of a biblical account of helping as a wide ranging set of possibilities that are not confined to acts of service undertaken by women who more or less function as subordinate servants. Rather women take leading roles in family, community and church in respect of the outworking of the helping role given to Eve as the archetypal woman.

The question of a distinct helping role leads to this question, is the helping role, broad and wide as it is worked out in the Bible, a legal restraint on women doing one or both of two things, (1) developing the helping role to include helping through leadership, and (2) stepping outside of a female role into a male role, such as leadership (even where leadership is conceived as a ‘non-helping’ role)?

In respect of (1) and (2) it does seem as though women embraced leadership without men saying either ‘this is not right; helping means that but not this’ or ‘you should not do this, go back to your helping role’ (with the exception of 1 Timothy 2:12 – and even that ruling does not tell women they are meant to be ‘helpers’ only). The actions of a Deborah or Huldah or Joanna, wife of Chuza, or Priscilla or Phoebe are never accompanied by any sense of a debate about the appropriateness of their actions or a lurking rule in the background which is being infringed. In respect of (1) alone, the actions of a Priscilla or Phoebe suggest a broadening of the helping role to include leadership responsibility – though it is quite fair to note that nothing is clearly said about either being the sole leader of a church. In respect of (2) alone, the talk of widows in the Bible – they feature in quite a few stories and instructions – raises the interesting question of unmarried women being in charge of households (whether widowed or as unmarried daughters/sisters taking up responsibility when father/brothers not available). There is no New Testament account of the responsibilities of widows which suggests their immediately responsibility was to find a man to lead their household (whether son or brother or uncle or another husband). When we reckon that a woman might be a leader in this way and ask whether a woman ever led a congregation, the story of Lydia in Acts 16 takes on some importance. Lydia was a woman without a husband mentioned, involved in commerce, and keeps figuring in the story of this fledgling church even when men members are mentioned. We will come back to her in a moment. The picture we can build up is that women and men do take up different spheres of ministry, and more men than women are involved in the leadership of the church. But, 1 Timothy 2:12 excepted, we find no rule prohibiting women such as Lydia and Priscilla taking a leading role, and find no evidence that the early church was concerned to demarcate these spheres of involvement.

In fact I think we can go further and say this: from the perspectives of helping and headship we find women embracing a wide range of activity and service in the life of community and church. This range includes leadership. The only exclusion on understanding such leadership being full leadership of mixed gender congregations takes us to 1 Timothy 2:12 as a key statement to consider (as we have already done in a separate post). It does not in fact take us to Genesis 2, 1 Corinthians 11, or Ephesians 5.

There remains one objection I want to briefly consider. This is: ‘nevertheless, there is no clear and unambiguous example in the New Testament of a woman leading a mixed gender congregation – at best there are ambiguous examples of husband-and-wife leadership (e.g. Priscilla and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia).’ I accept this as far as it goes. I would put more weight on the example of Lydia and Phoebe than proposers of this objection would grant, but even then it’s not clear that Lydia remained the leading figure of the Philippian church once established nor that Phoebe’s role as patron and deacon of Cenchreae extended to teaching and presiding at the eucharist. The response which can be made is this, building on observations made above.

The Bible allows for change and development in life and in the church. Different responses are made to different situations, for example, in the course of the mission described in Acts. It is widely agreed that the New Testament with its talk of deacons, elders, and bishops nowhere lays down a single uniform pattern for leadership. Thus churches such as the Presbyterian and Anglican churches claim to have leadership structures which are earthed into the New Testament, and consistent with the New Testament, and yet the differing structures in each church does not contradict the New Testament. It is plausible to think of a trajectory of development, such as this, beyond the New Testament in other areas of life. Slavery, for example, is not specifically banned in the Bible but we now prohibit slavery because we draw that conclusion from our reading of the whole of Scripture as it speaks about freedom and human dignity and equality. (Conversely we continue to understand homosexual sex as wrong because the Bible bears consistent witness in both Testaments to its wrongness.)

Our question, then, with respect to female leadership of mixed gender congregations is whether there is a prohibitive conclusion for all time which may be drawn from Scripture in respect of helping or headship or 1 Timothy 2:12? Our answer here, combined with our earlier post on 1 Timothy 2:12, is that this conclusion is not required from Scripture. In fact, drawing together Scriptural talk of freedom and oneness in Christ, and the distributive nature of the gifts of the Spirit which is never gender specific, we may properly draw the conclusion that a woman may lead a mixed gender congregation and teach it.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecostal thinking on the Resurrection

Reading Acts 2 today I was struck by Peter's comparison between David and Jesus in respect of death and burial.

On David he said, 'he both died and was buried and his tomb is with us to this day' (v. 29).

On Jesus he said, 'he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses' (v. 31-32). He makes no mention of Jesus' tomb.

The effect seems to be: (a) David died, was buried, and his bodily remains lie to this day in his tomb (b) Jesus died, was buried, but God raised him up - witnesses testify to this - and there is no body to visit anymore.

Debate over the resurrection, the empty tomb, and what happened to the physical body of Jesus often courses over the four gospel accounts and 1 Corinthians 15. But here in Acts 2 is some material to also consider. Not least this sermon tells us that the early church had a very clear idea of what a dead and decayed body meant (accessible to sight and to touch) and of what the resurrection meant (a dead body which is transformed, neither decayed nor remaining in its grave).

Friday, May 9, 2008

Iker and Venables Puzzle Me

Read this from the Church Times latest report on bishops going to Lambeth.

"Bishop Venables has been censured in recent weeks for ministering to congregations in Canada and San Joaquin, in the US, without the permission of the Anglican leadership in those provinces, and in contravention of the Windsor process.
He told The Times: “It is clear the division is pretty final. Dialogue is the one thing that is lacking. I don’t think we are going to change people’s minds, but I think it would be wrong for us to get to a point where we acknowledge a division and try to organise it without being together and talking about it.”
The other conservative who has announced his intention to travel to Canterbury is the Bishop of Fort Worth, the Rt Revd Jack Iker. He said last week: “I stand in solidarity with all those bishops who have decided, as a matter of conscience, that they are unable to be at Lambeth. However, given the situation the diocese of Fort Worth finds itself in with the unfolding realignment that is taking place in Anglicanism, I think it is important for me to be there to make our case and to face our detractors.” "

Note words about organise, division ... final ... unfolding realignment that is taking place in Anglicanism ...

But what does this mean beyond North America and Africa (and possibly Asia). We see, indeed, a potential Anglican global organisation emerging consisting of parts of the Canadian and American churches, the Southern Cone (plus Recife), Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and one or two others from Africa (but, note, not necessarily Tanzania, and Sudan, and definitely not South Africa). This looks like it could be a discrete organisation disconnected from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth 2018, the ACC and the ACO, though not necessarily out of communion with the A of C. But what of Sydney? How would it fit into such an organisation: still united with the remainder of the Australian Anglican Church (and thus also a member of the Anglican Communion)? Or something different? And what status might other singular entities (dioceses, parishes) have if they cannot leave their province but wish to be associated with the new organisation? Ironically, it is possible to imagine this new organisation haveing full and associate membership!!

So Iker and Venables' words together become the most revealing and concrete disclosure yet that there will be a new global Anglican organisation. Yet their words also puzzle me because I do not yet see just how this organisation is going to incorporate conservative Anglicans who either cannot disengage from current arrangements, or (such as myself) do not yet see a pressing need to disengage. Yet I would not want to have a diminished fellowship with evangelical Anglicans around the globe!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Covenant and Communion

Where is the process of making an Anglican Covenant heading? Two versions (Nassau and St Andrews) have been made. The latter improving the former in certain ways; each offering slightly different takes on the meaning of communion, covenant, councils, and consequences. We are told there will be five in all, and the process will be completed in 2015. Too long? Possibly, but maybe time allows for cool heads and wise thinking to prevail! Lambeth this year is bound to kick the process in some way (forward or backwards or into touch)! Before that our Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia has its General Synod and a decent period of time planned for discussion of the covenant.

All members could do worse than read this piece of erudition from a TEC theologian Philip Turner.

I remain in favour of the covenant. I remained concerned that some seem to misunderstand the role of the covenant: primarily it is to define the theology of the Anglican Communion as a worldwide church, not to tell individual member churches what to do. Necessarily the theology of the Anglican Communion should shape the theology of individual member churches but it is unlikely that this theology will be detailed to the point of (say) telling our church that it cannot pursue its particular tikanga (cultural stream) arrangements.