Saturday, August 30, 2008

The potential depth of "canonical"

I have realised that a potential key to understanding, and therefore, praising, critiquing, and improving the Jerusalem Declaration on interpretation of the Bible, is the meaning of the word 'canonical' in the phraise 'plain and canonical' in clause 2 (see post below).

Here I observe that 'canonical' could mean, either or both of:

(i) "of the canon (i.e. agreed books) of Scripture" - any interpretation of one part of the Bible should be consistent with the overall reading of the whole of the Bible (i.e. not reading one part of Scripture repugnant with another);

(ii) "of the rule (i.e. 'canon') of the church's faith" - any interpretation of any part of the Bible should be consistent with the theology of the church (here defined in terms of clauses 3 and 4 of the JD (i.e. councils, creeds, Thirty-Nine Articles).

So, one question about clause 2 is whether it offers clarity about the meaning of 'canonical'? I think its meaning is not clear and this is a weakness in the clause which could be tuned up. Potentially 'canonical' offers some rich possibilities for how interpretation is understood within the JD. Yet it does not provide for guidance for how the church resolves issues of difference of interpretation within a canonical context of understanding.

More to come ...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Interpreting interpretation in the Jerusalem Declaration

Recently I have reread the Jerusalem Declaration (made as part of the final statement of the GAFCON Conference in Jerusalem, June 2008). It is a fine statement. If it is not applied too rigorously as 'the' standard of Anglican orthodoxy then it may need no particular improvement. But it needs some tuning, IMHO, if it becomes the standard of Anglican orthodoxy (which, as I read the final statement, is a 'plain' reading of that statement in respect of the tenets of orthodoxy and who holds them and who does not). Here (and it may take a few posts to work out) I offer some thoughts on the JD and the question of interpretation of Scripture.

The relevant clauses are:

"1. ...
2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.
3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today."

The strengths of these clauses are (a) the connections made between Holy Scriptures // the Word of God written, and between Holy Scriptures and the 'catholic' faith of the church expressed in the 'four Ecumenical Councils', the creeds, and the 39A; (b) steering clear, in a thoroughly Anglican way, from issues re infallibility/inerrancy (which are tricky to define) while nailing down 'contain all things necessary for salvation'; (c) capturing five important modes of Bible usage (translation, reading, preaching, teaching, obedience) and seeking to articulate the 'how' of this usage in terms of concepts of 'plain', 'canonical', 'historic' and 'consensual' reading.

Yet there are weaknesses, even interesting omissions. The first weakness which concerns me is that these clauses do not give much steer as to how to resolve disputes over interpretation. The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, for example, involves a plain, canonical reading of Jesus' words 'This is my body', respectful of the church's historic and consensual reading. Protestant alternatives involve plain, canonical readings which, at the time of their introduction in the 16th century were not actually respectful of the then historic and consensual reading of the church! A second weakness is a lack of definition of 'plain', for there are certainly parts of the Bible where a 'plain' reading is (so to speak) what everyone reads and parts where different 'plain' readings emerge. For example, within evangelicalism there have been several 'plain' readings around eschatological matters (a-, pre-, post-, pan-millenialism).

Then, finally, for today, I note the interesting omission of the (to me) important concept of 'Scripture interpreting Scripture'.

Soon I will post on my suggestions for fine-tuning the JD on interpretation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Worlds Apart

The Archbishop of Canterbury has published a Pastoral Letter to the Bishops of the Anglican Communion. Its a follow up summary to Lambeth 2008. One paragraph which interests me is this:

"Second, on the controversial issue of the day regarding human sexuality, there was a very widely-held conviction that premature or unilateral local change was risky and divisive, in spite of the diversity of opinion expressed on specific questions. There was no appetite for revising Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998, though there was also a clear commitment to continue theological and pastoral discussion of the questions involved. In addition to a widespread support for moratoria in the areas already mentioned, there was much support for the idea of a 'Pastoral Forum' as a means of addressing present and future tensions, and as a clearing house for proposals concerning the care of groups at odds with dominant views within their Provinces, so as to avoid the confusing situation of violations of provincial boundaries and competing jurisdictions."

This is in line with the line of his final Presidential Address which challenged innovators to justify their innovations.

But a world away, in time zones and in temper, is this announcement from the Diocese of New Westminster:

"The Diocese has taken steps under Canon 15 towards removing clergy who have left the Anglican Church of Canada rather than accepting the decisions of the Diocesan Synod and General Synod.

The Diocese has invoked the provision that returns control of the parishes to the Diocese, an action that was approved by Diocesan Council.

The parishes are St. Matthew’s Abbotsford and St. Matthias and St. Luke, Vancouver. Former diocesan clergy who have continued working in the parishes are Trevor Walters, Michael Stewart, and Don Gardner at St. Matthew’s, and Simon Chin at St. Matthias and St. Luke.

No steps have been taken at present at Good Shepherd, and at St. John’s Shaughnessy, Vancouver, two other parishes where former diocesan clergy remain who have left the Anglican Church of Canada.

In a memorandum to diocesan clergy, Commissary (Acting Bishop) Peter Elliott wrote that implementing this canon is a time consuming process, hence at this time the diocese was only proceeding with two parishes.

George Cadman, chancellor (chief legal officer) of the Diocese, said he hopes that the former clergy will now decide to leave voluntarily and that resort to the courts will be unnecessary, even though the possibility of litigation was raised in letters from the former officials at St. Matthew’s. No communications have been received from St. Matthias and St. Luke since its priest left the Anglican Church of Canada."

I understand that 'legally' the Diocese of New Westminster thinks it is acting righteously: Anglican clergy are bound to obey lawful legislation of the synod and general synod, thus those who disobey may, legally, be moved against. But these clergy (as far as I understand the situation) are protesters against legislation which is contrary to the mind of the Anglican Communion and the guidance of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Why is the Diocese of New Westminster not expending time and energy on a revisitation of its own synodical acts in the light of Lambeth 2008rather than pursuing clergy?

These clergy, incidentally, are bound to be found by an 'international Anglican court' (save that we do not have one) as acting in accordance with Anglican polity and practice as conceived through the ages.

New Westminster and Lambeth Palace are worlds apart. We watch to see if these worlds come closer!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It ain't easy being evangelical

Get three evangelicals together in a corner and they will hold four views between them. Get four evangelical Anglicans in a corner and one will earnestly tell the others how important unity among evangelicals is, especially 'at this time'.

And our unity is important. But it is under strain on one or two important matters. Suzanne McCarthy, for example, in her blog Suzanne's Bookshelf underlines significant differences over teaching on women in marriage, ministry, and modern life, including this specific report re teaching in a 'hotspot' evangelical Anglican church.

On the one hand evangelical Anglicans' quest for transformation of the overall direction of the Anglican Communion involves standing in solidarity with such 'hotspot' parishes. On the other hand we find ourselves acknowledging some significant points of differentiation. Suzanne McCarthy, for example, battles for 'egalitarianism' and against 'complementarianism', and in that general battle it can seem as though it is a 'debate' and not a 'dialogue'. For evangelical Anglicans, in the context of our quest with respect to the Communion, it is vital that we find a way to exchange views with each other rather than fire views at each other. (Incidentally, in that exchange of views re women in the church, we will find that there are complementarians, egalitarians, and those who are neither ... and among those who are neither there will be further nuances of difference!)

The variety of views on women in ministry, marriage and modern life held by evangelical Anglicans, and the sharpness of difference between some of those views, also draw attention to the ways in which evangelicals interpret the Bible. My general argument is that evangelicals can read Scripture evangelically and draw different conclusions on some matters such as women in the church. A particular argument is that the recently published Jerusalem Declaration offers an inadequate recognition of the issue of interpretation of the Bible. I am an unabashed critic of the JD because it is very important in the long term that such declarations are as perfect as humanly possible. In this case I am hopeful that the JD is seen as a work-in-progress that needs some fine tuning; rather than as 'the' statement for a long time to come for defining Anglican orthodoxy.

In sum: we have work still to do on areas of our evangelical life, and one of those areas is our teaching on women in the church. It ain't easy being an evangelical, IMHO, because unity on that subject (and on others) is not proving easy to achieve.

[This is a revised version of an earlier posting under the same heading].

Communion, Canterbury, Covenant (1 John 3:4-10)

Resuming a very irregular meditation series on 1 John and the Anglican Communion, our next verse is 1 John 3:4:

"Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness."

The main message of 1 John 3:4-10 is straightforward. The one who abides in God, who has seen or known the Son of God, does not keep on sinning; thus the one who keeps on sinning, despite appearances and claims to the contrary, is of the devil and not of God. Right at the end the apostle adds a coda which clarifies that 'sinning' is lovelessness as well lawlessness: "whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother" (v. 10).

The challenge for the Communion is also straightforward: since there is no Communion with God and between believers where there is continuing sin, it is imperative to discern rightly what is sin and what is not, both in terms of 'righteousness' or 'lawfulness', and in terms of loving one another. Perhaps a particular challenge of this passage is to confront the question of discerning sin: some Anglican talk at this time is about 'listening' ... to one another, to Scripture ... hermeneutical projects and the like ... but such talk pulls back - for all sorts of understandable reasons - from 'deciding'.

Here I note, returning to verse 4 above, that the apostle John rigorously defines sin as 'lawlessness'. That interests me because John otherwise in this epistle appears little interested in the Old Testament (though shortly, in 3:11-15, he will recall the story of Cain and Abel). Invoking the 'law' takes readers back to the Old Testament. The coming of Jesus Christ has an appearance of 'newness', but his coming is in complete continuity with the past of God in relation to humanity (cf. 2:7, "I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.") To go back to the Old Testament, through invoking 'law', also takes us back to covenant - God's commitment to fellowship with God's people - and from there we might consider aspects of current Anglican life.

One aspect is the apostle's insight on the importance of the past for understanding the present situation of the church. If we embark on a similar backward's look, thinking in terms of lawlessness, commandment, and covenant, we recall that the great moment in Anglican history of the English Reformation involved a quest to discern what was sin or not (Henry VIII's troubled mind on the lawfulness of his marriage to his brother's wife). This quest (however ambiguous and laden with sinful desire) brought forth to the light of day the gift of God of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Through Cranmer the Church of England re-formed itself in harmony with Scripture. The covenantal aspect of the re-formation took some years to 'settle', the vicissitudes of testing the spirits (1 John 4:1) of Mary Tudor's Catholicism and others' Puritanism needing to be passed through. Thus the post-Reformation Anglican church is a church embedded in a history, not simply based on an idea. There is therefore a case for any version of Anglicanism wishing to be a continuing Anglicanism to be an Anglicanism in communion with the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. In such communion we testify to the peculiarity of our life as one shaped by history and not merely by an idea.

The temptation to break communion with Canterbury is strong at this time, for both the 'left' and the 'right' of current issues. From both sides, for example, a 'post colonial' critique emerges of Canterbury and the Church of England's role in the Communion. Autonomous Anglican churches founded in the colonies of England which bend, even slightly, towards the authority of Canterbury, are vestigiously colonial, and this should cease. But this would be a mistake. The peculiarity of our life as one shaped by history includes all that is unfortunate about colonialism. But the response to that unhappy history does not necessitate rupture with Canterbury or the Church of England. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, as we deal with the injustice of colonial disruption to Maoritanga, including currupt dealing over land and taonga, we deal between Crown and Maori. We do not dissolve the Crown and then, somehow, work between Maori and some new reality of government which has not historical continuity with the Crown.

At the heart of communion with Canterbury lies a thankfulness for what Canterbury has meant to the Anglican church, first in England, and then spreading through the world: in the vision of Cranmer the church was re-formed in a godly manner, with new strengths and without old weaknesses. In terms of 1 John 3:4-10, the lawfulness of the Anglican Communion flows from the great work of Cranmer (and, of course, many others). A clear and present danger of breaking communion with Canterbury is the possibility of lawlessness - in the sense, at least, of becoming a set of ever dividing churches claiming in various degress to be "Anglican".

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Challenge to NZ Anglican bishops

Who said this?

"As I understand it the Anglican Church, in this province [ie. ACANZP], recognises two ways of life. One is marriage, which is between a man and a woman. And the other is celibacy."

Bishop Victoria Matthews said it in a newspaper interview published today in NZ. She is right. This is the standard for sexual relationships for people in licensed ministry in our church, as agreed by our bishops.

The challenge for our bishops is this: to live by their own agreement. Further, to embrace the necessary dimension of being bishops of a catholic church which means (a) no unilateral actions (b) abiding by the teaching of the church (c) making the onus of proof for innovation fall on the innovators ... to say nothing of embracing the necessary dimensions of a reformed church which means accepting the authority of Scripture as greater than tradition or reason, though both tradition and reason contribute to our understanding of Scripture.

Anyway, welcome to Down Under, Bishop Victoria!
Clearly Bishop Victoria is well informed about what is what and what is not in our church, and our hopes are high that she will underline the catholic and reformed character of our church in meetings of the bishops.

PS for those readers who look up the whole interview, I am passing over, in dignified and diplomatic silence, her disagreement with my bishop!!!

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Lovely to hear our Bishop, Richard Ellena - yes, he of 'Lambeth most expensive exercise in futility' fame - reporting back to his clergy last night. Some fleshing out of the reasons for feeling extremely frustrated were given in Bishop Richard's wonderful warm, humourous, and passionate manner.

Some citations of Archbishop Rowan's presidential addresses prompted me to a reflection or two. Particularly I want to underline here the challenge given in the last address to those seeking innovation:

"And this is not by any means to say that a traditional understanding and a new one are just two equal options, like items on the supermarket shelf : the practice and public language of the Church act always as a reminder that the onus of proof is on those who seek a new understanding."

In my mind I connected this with my previous posting on Jeremiah: the new covenent of God involves a new method (so to speak) of receiving God's revelation but does not involve a new content. It was good to check the comments on that post for moderation and to find a reminder of Jeremiah 6:16, "look to the ancient paths"!

It has been said by people such as Graham Kings and Kendall Harmon that (in my words) the tragic flaw in TEC's position is that it has pushed for innovation without offering theologically coherent reason for doing so. (At best it has offered, 'our canon law does not forbid it').

But here in ACANZP we have a related flaw in some thinking among our leadership. We have embarked on a seven year series of hermeneutical hui ('conferences') in an endeavour to find a common mind in our church. But I am now thinking that the presupposition here seems to be, "a traditional understanding and a new one are just two equal options, like items on the supermarket shelf". Archbishop Rowan has exposed the inadequacy of this. The onus in the seven years is on the innovators to advance for examination the case for theological justification of innovation.

As I understand some thinking going on re the blessing of same sex relationships (and the consequent possibility that a person in such a relationship may therefore be deemed 'chaste' and thus satisfy our canons on ministry standards if accepted for ordination) there are pragmatic, pastoral reasons being advanced: compassion demands we do not withhold such blessing ... with such blessing partnerships are strengthened ... acceptance of committed partnerships provides a better 'option' than a forced singleness which may find expression in promiscuity.

But the quest for theological coherency in the case is a quest for something more from a church which normally acts with, and not against, the grain of Scripture and its interpretation worked out and received as the church's tradition. Questions I do not see being answered, in TEC or in ACANZP, include:
- what Scriptural basis authorises the church to bless a sexual relationship apart from a marriage between a man and a woman?
- where, in the long history of Israel and the church, both as written down in Scripture, and recorded through Christian history, does the tension between faithful marriage and committed singleness of leaders of Israel and of the church extend to the possibility that God calls leaders who are in committed same sex partnerships?
- given the fact that the situation in Western society now is such that the quest for 'acceptance' of homosexuality includes a growing agenda (gay, lesbian and bisexual and transgender; same sex couples rearing children with the aid of a third person as biological father or mother), where is the 'positive' basis in Scripture and the tradition of the church for acceptance of the whole agenda being advanced?
- how is the church to theologically sustain either of the following situations: being a church in which ministers may teach that the blessing of same sex partnerships is wrong and ministers may live in a blessed same sex partnership OR being a church in which both ministers may live in a blessed same sex partnership and ministers may not teach that such blessings are wrong?

If it is doubtful that Scripture authorises the blessing of same sex partnerships, it is incomprehensible that Scripture forbids ministers of the Word from teaching that such blessings are wrong! That is, the onus is on the innovators to demonstrate that the previous sentence is wrong!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

The heart of covenant

A few posts ago I drew attention to the respective roles of Josiah and Jeremiah. The former cleans up Israelite religion, ridding it of shrines, idols, and false priests. The latter is not satisfied and rails against the hearts of his countryfolk. The idols may have gone but idolatry has not been repented of; and thus, for lack of repentance, disaster is coming. I attempted to make the point that the Anglican Communion could have a Covenant but fail for lack of change of hearts of Anglicans.

Yet even Jeremiah envisions a future in which there is drastic difference. In many ways the climax of the book is in Jeremiah 31:31-32, "Behold the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers ...". In this new covenant the law of the Lord will not be written on stone but "I will put my law within then, and I will write it on their hearts" (31:33). Sinc the outcome of both covenants is exactly the same, "And I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (31:33), the drastic difference lies in the transformation of the people of God envisaged in terms of "their hearts".

Here two further aspects of the new covenant are relevant to our Communion considerations of an Anglican Covenant. First, the 'new Covenant' does not move on from Scripture, or involve a new law; rather the law is embedded in the life of believers in a new way. Some Anglican voices seem intent on arguing that the Holy Spirit is keen to teach us new truth beyond the bounds of Scripture. But is there a clear basis in Scripture for this? (Citing Jesus from John's Gospel re the Spirit leading us into all truth is not a clear basis ...). Secondly, in Jeremiah 32:39, the new covenant is expressed in this way, "I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever." Here is a striking critique of our Anglican lauding of "diversity". Diversity is appropriate to the people of God, but in tension with 'one heart' not in opposition to it. Some objections to an Anglican Covenant follow from fear of stifled diversity, including fear of suppressed 'local options'. But the proper starting point for consideration of an Anglican Covenant is desire to find 'one heart and one way' together!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"I kissed a girl" and our identity in Christ

Its pretty cool being a parent. There are few dull moments with children around. One such non-boring moment was a few weeks back when a bouncy song was playing on the car radio and the girls were singing along with Katy Perry’s “I kissed a girl and I liked it”. Well, that could be my song, couldn’t it?! Except after quite a long nanosecond I realised it was a girl singing the song. So we talked about that, had a few laughs, and joked about whether lip gloss really does taste nice or not. It is a great song by the way. No wonder it is now No 1 in a few places that matter.

Fast forward to yesterday. I am listening to the car radio again, but this time its our “serious” Radio New Zealand National radio, and Jim Mora raises with his panellists the news that Katy Perry’s parents have denounced the song as shameful and disgusting. Then the plot gets a bit thicker, because when I mentioned this at home I was informed that her parents were Christian pastors, and, like, they did not agree with the lesbian character to the song.

So today I have hunted around on the internet for a bit more information. You can read about it on nearly a zillion news sites, so here is just one which has some nice pics, including one of Mum. But on one site I read this interesting bit of news,

I Kissed a Girl has caused massive controversy in the US with conservative groups claiming it encourages homosexuality among young girls and gay rights groups saying it is exploitative.”

Why would such a “positive” song for celebrating lesbian experience be exploitative? I presume it is because Katy Perry is not a lesbian, so singing as though she is one and making pots of money exploits the experience of genuine lesbians. But the point which most intrigues me here is the strong sense of group identity which lies behind a group claiming it is exploited by a non-member. It is precisely the kind of statement a tribal group makes when (say) a non-tribal person or entity exploits for money some exclusive element in the tribe’s culture.

Now fast forward with me out of this very popular song’s controversy to Anglican Communion troubles. Part of our troubles are through confusion about the question of ‘identity’. On the conservative side I think we generally fail to recognise that although some gay and lesbian people exist in our midst as individuals, and perhaps invisible ones at that, many have taken up a specific tribal identity as (say) ‘members of the gay and lesbian community’. With this identity their situation in respect of the gospel has shifted in their perspective from questions of ‘morality’ to questions of ‘inclusion’. To be gay and lesbian in today’s world has become like being Samoan or Inuit or Welsh. The church does not discriminate against the Welsh or the Inuit or Samoans, so why should it discriminate against gays and lesbians … so the argument goes.

But some recent comments on posts below have underlined for me the converse failure to recognise that Christians who read the whole of Scripture can scarcely deny that the one and only identity which matters for this life and the life to come is our identity ‘in Christ’. Galatians 3:28 offers a vision of the indifference being ‘in Christ’ has in respect of gender, tribe, and class. Philippians offers a vision of the decisive importance in the face of death of a life devoted wholly to Christ and dedicated to knowing Christ while counting all else as rubbish. In the gospels Christ calling us to take up our cross and deny self, losing our life in order to find it, draws us into a life in which we leave behind elements of human identity – our nationality, our family, our achievements, and our ambitions. The anonymous commenter on this site reminds us that those ‘in Christ’ do not seek to be accepted into the church as ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ with whatever agenda for living implied by that, but seek only to live by the agenda, or law of Christ.

Now, much more can and should be said. Even those ‘in Christ’ appreciate the ‘identity’ given through marriage and family, for instance. Others would draw attention to the fact that an Indian Christian does not cease to be Indian, nor a Christian woman cease to be a woman, with all that may mean for celebrating being Indian or woman or both. But there is a challenge to be considered: what is our identity as Christians? What element in that identity is more important than any other element? Is there any part of my being which I am unwilling to let go of in order to be found ‘in Christ alone’?

As for Katy Perry and her parents? Maybe they all need to see some light!

Wright or wrong?

Over at The Ugley Vicar (aka John Richardson, theologian) you can find a series of posts over recent days, along with erudite comments, on issues in the theology of Bishop Tom Wright. John Richardson is particularly concerned to tease out the question of Wright's theology of salvation. He (and others) do not see that Wright clearly teaches the 'imputation' of God's righteousness, or God declaring the believer to be righteous on the basis of Christ's death on the cross as a complete sacrifice for sin and not on any other basis such as the consequent good works of the believer. In Richardson (and others') view, the teaching of the imputation of righteousness is a divider between true evangelical theology and inadequate or non-evangelical theology. If Wright is wrong on this then at worst he is not deserving of the description 'evangelical' and at best he keeps company with various people who can properly be described as 'evangelical', however inadequately, such as Arminius.

I am not expert enough in the writings of Wright to know whether he is an 'imputer' or not. I know enough to know that he is a doughty fighter so I would like to see his response!

But there is another point to be made (and if you follow the comments on one post you will see I have tried to make it there). Often we evangelicals debate questions of salvation in respect of the 'point' of salvation: baptism or faith or both? justification 'imputed' or 'imparted' (as in Catholic theology)? once saved always saved? In this debate I am with imputation, the decisive importance of faith in Jesus Christ, and the complete 'one perfect' sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But I find things get a bit murkier when we consider the 'process' of salvation. If we shift from Romans to Philippians, for example, we find Paul saying things like 'You must work out your own salvation in fear and trembling' (2:12), 'if only I may arrive finally at the resurrection from the dead' (3:11), and 'I press towards the goal to win the prize which is God's call to the life above, in Christ Jesus' (3:14).
Here Paul seems to be saying that to fail to remain in the 'process' of salvation (i.e. working out salvation, pressing forward into Christian maturity, obeying Christ and undertaking the good works he has set for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)) is at best to risk losing salvation and at worst to definitely fail to enter into the fullness of eternal life.

Now a whole lot of questions emerge here which I will not attempt to answer; suffice to observe that if Wright is wrong, the challenge remains for evangelicals to articulate the 'role' of good works, growing maturity, and following Christ in the process of salvation. Is it possible that evangelicals focusing on 'imputation' of righteousness can readily delineate ourselves from alternatives, but when our discussion extends turns to working out our salvation we find it hard to delineate ourselves from alternatives?

Final notes:
- John Richardson is very careful to distinguish critique of Bishop Tom's "theology" from Bishop Tom the person. That is a good model for evangelical debate.
- though the debate of Bishop Tom's theology is pretty sharp edged in England itself, where Bishop Tom, as Bishop Durham and as a major church figure in the media, is hugely influential, it is well worth paying attention to the debate Down Under ... Bishop Tom is influential here also, and there are some pointed debates occurring in these parts, for example here on The Sola Panel

Monday, August 18, 2008

A Down Under Bishop at Lambeth

Its a bit difficult defining the full geographic extent of 'Down Under', but there is a good case for the Church of Melanesia being included in it, not least because of strong and continuing historical links between it and ACANZP. Here are some words spoken at Lambeth by Bishop Terry Brown of Malaita, as published already on Anglicans Online - I have highlighted those words which I think we need to ponder carefully as we work our way through the Anglican crisis:

"Intervention by Bishop Terry Brown, Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, in Hearing on Lambeth Reflections Draft, Lambeth Conference, July 30, 2008

I was confirmed in The Episcopal Church, by a black bishop of Massachusetts.

I was made deacon and ordained a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada, in the diocese of Fredericton, a Loyalist diocese, by a bishop whose ancestors ran away from the American Revolution because they distrusted liberalism, political and otherwise.

I was consecrated a bishop in the Church of the Province of Melanesia, a global south diocese, where all the Millennium Development Goals score about 3 out of 10, even though we are great dancers.

And to make matters worse, my own sexuality is "dodgy".

I live in and am a part of all four worlds -- The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of Melanesia and the pained world of gay and lesbian laity, deacons, priests and bishops.

Yet I am a bishop of a diocese that is full of life and has had much growth. In my last 12 years as bishop, I have confirmed 10,000 candidates. The diocese is deeply involved in evangelism, education, medical work, liturgy and peace and reconciliation.

My life as a bishop in all four worlds is possible only because of my faith in Jesus Christ. I had a conversion experience in which I felt deeply loved by God. That, the Eucharist, the life of Christian friendship and community, and Scripture, have sustained me through thick and thin.

From my perspective, do I have any suggestions for the text of the final Reflection?

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you". There are many other competing kingdoms, do not bow to them.

As much as is in you, try to maintain communion and friendship with all, whether inside or outside the church, however deep the disagreement.

Reject the Puritan option. We are Anglicans, not Puritans.

Exercise restraint and urge others to do so, whether locally or globally. Not everything has to be said or written about.

Be very careful in using typologies to classify people, theologies and churches. We are all the children of God, redeemed, with all of creation, by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you have not done so, accept all the gay and lesbian people in your midst, in all their complexity, pain and celebration.

Finally, let the conversations (even debate) continue. Television has finally come to the Solomon Islands, so we now have the privilege of seeing BBC interview both Gene Robinson and Greg Venables. In our case, I do not think the church will thereby collapse. But in other situations, that may not be the case, and the endless talking to the media of both may be destructive. That is my final suggestion -- remember that whatever you say publicly in this wired age, will go to every corner of the world. Honesty and prudence are both Christian virtues. We need to learn to balance them.

Thank you."

I like the way Bishop Terry can identify across different groupings within our Communion. He reminds us that our crisis is not best accounted for by dividing the Communion into two parts, liberal and conservative. He does not see himself as fitting neatly into any one category. His whole set of reflections on Lambeth can be read here. Hat-tip to Titus One Nine for the alert to their existence.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Super Saturday for Anglicans Down Under

Many Anglicans I know down under are very keen on sport. So great rejoicing today, waking up to news that our NZ sportspeople won five medals on Saturday 16th August at the Olympics (gold, two bronzes in rowing, gold in shot put, silver in cycling) - more medals than we have ever won before in a single day at the Olympics! Australians can rejoice in this success 'cause it means they do not need to feel sorry for us (we had won no medals before yesterday)!

But something else was super for Anglicans Down Under - yesterday the Christchurch Press published a major feature article on evangelical Anglicans in the Diocese of Christchurch, with respect to the Communion crisis and its local impact. You can read it here. Its one of the few articles I have ever seen in a secular Kiwi newspaper which has been both fair and friendly to evangelicals. And it ended on a positive note about the imminent beginning to Bishop Victoria Matthews' ministry in the Diocese. Excellent!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Building cohesion among evangelicals

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, Anglican evangelicals have some things in common with evangelicals in the Church of England, Church of Australia etc, and some things differently. One of the things in common is a range of views from "ultra conservative" to "open" to "liberal" evangelical; another is those for and against women's ordination. One of the things which is different is that we do not have an organisation for each part of the spectrum (as seems to be the case in England). So right now as we talk about being Anglican and evangelical in the large context of Communion troubles, as we talk about local matters such as theological education and ministry training, and as we weigh up the impact of the installation of Bishop Victoria Matthews in one of our larger dioceses (she will become the Bishop of Christchurch on Saturday 30th August) which happens to be a diocese in which some have openly stated reservations about the ordination of women, we are having a conversation which is less about how group X might relate to groups Y and Z (cf. some conversations on the Fulcrum site) and more about how 'we' might relate to each other across our differences.

Our challenge is to find unity in our diversity, and to build cohesion across our differences. Here I want to reflect on some aspects of this challenge. (That is an intentionally modest statement - if I could meet the challenge in its entirety I imagine I would have Benedict and Rowan and co lining up at my door!!).

Its not rocket science. Cohesion must build on common ground (we call ourselves 'evangelicals', there must be something we hold in common). It requires comprehensive communication (email and internet postings are brilliant for opening up communication but limited in quality of communication because lacking the means to adequately convey feelings, so some face-to-face meetings are required ... and that is costly in time and energy and travel expenses). 'Comprehensive' communication includes 'deep' communication - probing and elucidating presuppositions: Wittgenstein (I am told) once said there were no problems in philosophy, just unclear presuppositions!

Then these conversations need salting with grace. In my experience of evangelicalism we have a default mode of 'suspicion'. Formed and honed by years of wrestling with encroaching liberalism in the Anglican church, we find it hard to relate to fellow evangelicals in a different mode. Out of suspicion flows defensiveness or aggression which lends itself to strategies of isolation or differentiation. There is another mode of reception of other voices in conversation. Its called 'appreciative inquiry' and it works by looking first for what we can appreciate in others. I think this is more in tune with grace than our typical hermeneutic of suspicion! (Disclaimer: this paragraph cumulatively reflects decades of involvement in evangelical conversations - it is not aimed at any individual (other than myself) or any particular group(ing)).

Then there is the question of 'me'! The Lord knows that I am as much at fault in contributing to evangelical difficulties as anyone. Can I ... can you ... can each of us engage in a different manner than hitherto?

Then there is the small matter of cohesive evangelicals engaging in a cohesive manner with fellow Anglicans ...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Josiah and Jeremiah: covenantal difficulties and hope

Preparing for an Old Testament class tonight, my 'ex-Bible College of NZ, now-Laidlaw College' notes alerted me to something I had never thought of before.

When Josiah embarks on the Great Reformation of Judah and Israel, he does so with all the fervour of Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer combined. Bad religious practices, including idolatry and cultic, male and female prostitution were driven out, burned and scattered as the case required. A new reading of Scripture is instituted upon the discovery of the Book of the Law (Deuteronomy?). Politically, Josiah attempts to reunite the northern and southern kingdoms into a renewed Davidic Israel. Excellent!

But, and its quite a big 'but', when Josiah dies the old ways creep back in. Cut to Jeremiah. He is quite affirming of Josiah (which says something, because compliments and Jeremiah did not occur often in the same sentence!). He is prophetically critical of the true state of the then State of Israel: post-Josiah they are disobedient, feckless, faithless, stoney in heart, etc. Through Jeremiah the LORD eventually moves from the difficulties to the possibilities. A new covenant will be instituted, a covenant of the heart, empowered by the Spirit, full of new life.

Now cut to the Communion today. Lambeth has reaffirmed the process towards an Anglican Covenant. Many bishops have come from Lambeth recognising that, though the difficulties real and imagined are many, the proposed Covenant is the "only" way forward. Personally I have been and remain wholly supportive of this next step in the development of the Communion's formal self-understanding. But the 'Josiah and Jeremiah' narrative gives pause for thought. For a Covenant to "work", with all the biblical importance attached to the concept of Covenant, then adherents need to sign with hand and heart. The triumph of Covenant in 21st century Anglicanism is not getting people round a table with pens signing dotted lines - it is getting Anglicans living out what the Covenant means.

That could mean that the Covenant evolves into a more or less meaningless document because that is the only one divided Anglicans can agree to sign. But it could mean the reconfiguration of Anglicanism will take place first, so that the Covenant is a binding, heartfelt agreement between Anglicans of sufficiently like mindedness.

Today, however, we are told we are some years away from signing any document. That suggests a need for continued prayer: both for the Covenant Design Group and for each and every one of us - that we might have a heart for the proposed Covenant. That heart, of course, in Jeremiad terms will be of flesh, not stone, full of the true Spirit of the living God!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Barking's Bite

My sense of where Lambeth has ended up is in a more traditional, conservative place than many predicted before the Conference began, especially with many conservative bishops known to be absent. This is a huge achievement, but more quiet than some have wished for. I see that the Bishop of Barking, David Hawkins is of similar views (hat-tip to Titus One Nine):

"What emerged through the listening and reflective process could not have been predicted at the outset of the Conference. In spite of the absence of approximately 200 Gafcon Bishops the centre of gravity of the conference settled in a ‘traditionalist’ position with regard to interpretation of Scripture and a desire to find a covenantal expression of Anglicanism. This was also the quiet and consistent lead given by the Archbishop.

What this means is:

1. The communion retains Lambeth 1:10 in its entirety with a call to do more effective listening to the different positions with regard to human sexuality.
2. We shall press ahead with improving the St Andrew’s Draft of the Anglican Covenant.
3. ‘There is widespread support’ for the three moratoria of the Windsor Process.
4. ‘There is a clear majority support for a pastoral forum along the lines advocated by the Windsor continuation group and a desire to see it in place speedily’"

As already implied in previous posts, I predict that this manner of ending, rather than some kind of Conference ejection, relegation, or discipline of TEC and ACCan, will be more productive in the long-term. If TEC and allies reject the calls for moratoria then they lose moral ground. If they accelerate directions they are heading in then the distance between them and the majority of the Communion will be revealed by their own actions. That could mean TEC etc take responsibility for their actions and the consequences of those actions. If we found ourselves evolved rather convovulated towards a new configuration of our Communion, might we not praise the ABC for his brilliant leadership, and look back on Lambeth 2008 as the conference with bite as well as bark?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Winchester's Wisdom

Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt, outstanding Bishop of Winchester, has published this report on Lambeth, (printable form here) including these passages which I personally see as very instructive as we try to make sense of Lambeth and its aftermath:

"But on the final afternoon Archbishop Rowan decisively tipped the balance for the first time in the Conference. Affirming the uniqueness of Christ as the Way, the Truth and the life, he re-affirmed Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as the teaching of the Anglican Communion on sexual behaviour, and the Primates’ 2007 call for moratoria on blessings of same-sex relationships, on the consecration of any more priests in same-sex sexual relationships like Gene Robison, and on incursions by bishops into the dioceses of others; and he again backed work on the Anglican Communion Covenant as the most fruitful way for the Communion to manage its life together. “The onus of proof”, he said, “is on those who seek a new understanding.” And later: “The vision of a global Church of interdependent communities is not the vision of an ecclesiastical world empire - or even a colonial relic… The global horizon of the Church matters because churches without this are always in danger of slowly surrendering to the culture around them and losing sight of their calling to challenge that culture.” And then he went on to speak memorably of the Church’s “truthful Christian witness in situations of profound social corruption and disorder”, instancing Zimbabwe; and by implication of the imperative upon Christians to pray for and to stand with those everywhere who are the concern of the Millennium Development Goals."

"Notwithstanding Archbishop Rowan’s magnificent final Address, I continue to see a negotiated “orderly separation” as the best and most fruitful way forward for the Anglican Communion. The experience of this Lambeth Conference, underlined by that final Address, has again convinced me that the Anglican Communion cannot hold in tension convictions and practices that are incompatible, and so not patent of “reconciliation”, without continuing seriously to damage the life and witness of Anglican Churches as much in “the Global South” as in North America and in other provinces that have followed the lead of TEC. The experience of this Conference cannot have encouraged any participant to imagine that the latter are about to turn their backs on a generation or more of development in directions foreign to the life and convictions of the vast majority of Anglicans, let alone of other Christians, across the world. I cannot see that the members of an “international family of Churches” can thrive and grow and offer a clear witness to Jesus Christ as Lord while offering contradictory teaching, on a matter as central as the character of the Holy Life, in different parts of a world knit together by instantaneous e-communications."

"If this may be the future under God of the Anglican Communion - a large “orthodox” majority continuing to look to its historic roots (I pray and hope) in the See of Canterbury yet maintaining some defined relationship with a “separated” and more “liberal” Communion of Churches centred on TEC – much now depends on the GAFCON Primates and the rest of the “Global South” quickly mending the relationships between them that have been put at risk, and on all of them together reacting positively to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s stated intention to call a meeting of the Primates of the Communion early in 2009.

By then they, and the rest of us, may have a clear sense of how TEC and others are going to respond to Archbishop Rowan’s calls in his final Address on August 3rd; and the Archbishop may himself be in a position to judge whether there is a will for the Anglican Communion to go forward together in Our Lord’s service – or whether he faces the terrifyingly difficult decision between initiating negotiations that may make for “an orderly separation”, or watching a still more destructive separation take place around him."

Also in this report, Bishop Michael refers back to a statement he made on an earlier occasion, one which is closely in tune with my own thinking:

"I continue to judge that the Church of England’s House of Bishops was right in 1991, in Issues in Human Sexuality, to teach that although people who judge it appropriate as Christians to live in same-sex relationships should be made welcome in our parishes, the Church should not affirm their life-style, still less consider them for ordination into its sacramental and teaching ministries. In the same way, while we know that there are people in many of our churches who are living together but are not married, we do not accept such people as candidates for Reader ministry or for training for ordination. Issues… had, I believe, both ways of living in view in its paragraph 5.13: “the world will assume that all ways of living which an ordained person is allowed to adopt are in Christian eyes equally valid”.

I see no future for the Anglican Communion as we know it, or for the Church of England as we know it, if either deserts this teaching."

Hat-tip to Thinking Anglicans and Global South

How great is the love

Building on the post below about the gospel, and resuming something from many posts ago, a series of reflections on 1 John and the Anglican Communion, we may find some leads for present guidance through pondering the character of the God of the gospel, who is Love, creating humanity out of love, for love, that is, for communion with God, which necessarily is a communion with each other.

Thus the natural language of John, who is the specific vessel for the simplest and profoundest disclosure of God, "God is love" (1 J 4:9), is saying things such as,

"How great is the love that the Father has shown to us! We are called God's children, and such we are; and the reason why the godless world does not recognise us is that it has no known him. Here and now, dear friends, we are God's children; what we shall be has not been disclosed, but we know that when it is disclosed we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope before him purifies himself, as Christ is pure" (1 J 3:1-3).

God's love is great, those responding to that love are drawn into God's family; that response is dividing between responders and non responders, yet the greatness of God's love does not finish with acceptance of us as we are, but opens the future in which we shall be more like God and less like our current selves, encouraging us to do what we can now to be pure as Christ is pure.

For the Anglican Communion we are encouraged that we have been well named - the church of God is a people drawn into communion with God, for Love can only relate in mutual love between lover and loved. Yet this 'love' and the God who is 'Love' is spoken of in terms distinct from worldly definitions of 'love' in terms of tolerance, acceptance, encouragement to be one's self. Love is restless with who we are, drawing us into a future in which we 'shall be like him', and motivating us in the present to 'purify self'. A true Communion of the people of God is impelled by the God who is Love to never accept itself as it is but to be open to the future of God which is not yet fully disclosed, except in the general disclosure that we shall be like Christ.

Thus, at any time in the history of the Communion, and certainly at this present time of fractured union, we should have no pride in the quality of our communion, but be continually purifying ourselves. And we should be concerned lest the world recognises us and commends us, for that could mean that we were insufficiently reflective of the distinctive character of God.

Yet for our continuing discussion on the present state of our life together, in which vitriol, haughtiness, and rudeness feature, we should be asking whether this tonal quality to our speech is loving, reflective of Christ, and indicative of being 'pure'? The apostle John both praises and proclaims the infinite love of God when he opens this part of his epistle with, 'How great is the love which the Father has shown to us!' To be a Communion is to understand, at least in part, the extent of that greatness. Is that understanding motivating how we speak the truth in love to one another?

Monday, August 11, 2008

What is the gospel?

I find myself returning frequently to the simple question, ‘what is the gospel?’ Without the gospel there would be no church, not even a less institutionalised movement of Jesus’ followers. But what is the gospel? Intriguingly, Scripture itself offers a complex answer to the question. Reading Paul we can quickly conclude something like, ‘our sins separate us from God, but the death of Christ overcomes that separation for those who believe in Christ.’ Reading the Gospels we head in slightly different ways between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel. The Synoptics lean towards, ‘follow Jesus in order to be within the sphere of God’s rule, with promise of life to come beyond judgement’, while John emphasises ‘believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God in order to have eternal life.’ I suggest each version of the gospel is ultimately the same, and the variations enable us both to enter more deeply into the experience of being a gospel person, and to be flexible in how we present the gospel in different cultures and contexts.

This past week I have had a kaleidoscope of experiences in five different cities and towns of our fair land, including conferences, committee meeting, funeral, and many conversations. I found myself thinking about the ‘deep’ picture of human life underlying the gospel.

One form of the deep picture goes like this: ‘we are very materialistic, but we find within ourselves a yearning for something more – a spiritual side to our lives which is unable to be filled by materialism.’ In this view of humanity and its major problem, the gospel is a message that God through Christ is able to meet our spiritual needs. Interestingly, this understanding involves little or no talk about sin or the need for the cross, yet it is a fairly widespread understanding in churches keen on Scripture and the gospel. It is a view which places each human individual at the centre of the universe!

Another form, truer and closer to Scripture, is this: ‘God was complete in God’s own being yet out of love created human beings to enlarge the communion of God. Exercising the God-given gift of choice, human beings have distanced themselves from God and broken communion. The gospel message is that Christ dying on the cross and rising to new life enables communion to be restored: separation is overcome, barriers between God and humanity are broken down.’ On this view ‘sin’ is at the core of the definition– the separation factor- and the cross is essential to restoration of communion. Also, God is the beginning and the end of the gospel. Our response to the gospel is not about our fulfilment but about the life of God filling us: Christ in us and we in Christ. This understanding of the deep structure to the gospel is keyed to words such as ‘harmony’, ‘fellowship’, ‘union’, and ‘communion.’

On this understanding the unity of the Anglican Communion as a gospel church matters. Schism means the effect of the gospel has been undone, and the most powerful human action as witness to the gospel is damaged.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tebbit's theology is not tepid

I lived in Britain 1990-93, through the end of the reign of the Iron Lady and the beginning of the much underestimated John Major's premiership. A colourful figure in the Toryarchy was Norman Tebbit. Still alive, his thinking is razor sharp, and as provocative as ever. Writing in the Mail he tackles the confusion in the mind of Archbishop Rowan. You can read the whole here, and some excerpts below - excerpts which I suggest bear some very very careful reflection:

"The Archbishop might reflect that over the thousands of years since the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus set out the code of ethics on which Christianity was founded, our Western society has been built on the basic, but vital, institution of family.

Not just any old group of people shacked up together for a while, but the exclusive partnership of one man and one woman bearing and bringing up children. That way, the traditions, rules and customs of society have been passed from one generation to the next and children have been cared for in a safe, nurturing and responsible environment.

The Christian West is not alone in following this format. Every lasting civilisation has done so and, for that matter, so have most of the birds and mammals around us. It is, in short, a formula that works.

So why meddle with it? In recent years, the family formula has begun to disintegrate - and with disastrous results. The downgrading of marriage and the shattering of the family unit that has inevitably followed the granting of equivalent status to other forms of partnership are already having an effect on the levels of crime, unhappiness and deprivation among children. And the damage they suffer will be passed on to the next generation.

We know that however well many single parents - and most are dedicated and loving mothers and fathers - bring up their children, youngsters from stable, conventional families are more likely to do well at school, well at work and to stay out of trouble with crime, drink and drugs than those from so-called broken homes.

For this reason, it is deeply sad that the Archbishop of Canterbury has given comfort to the liberal permissives who have long been attacking and undermining not just the institution of marriage but the very idea that children should be brought up in traditional families, with a father and a mother.

Surely a man with the talents, and huge responsibilities, of Dr Williams should see that in his confused attitudes to homosexuality he is being dragged along on the insidious coat tails of the 'anything goes' moral relativists.


So who is left? Watch out for the challenge from the mosques. An Islam with a modern face will soon begin to present itself as the natural home for those who long for moral certainty and a new sense of discipline within society. The calls for a caliphate, a religious state based on Sharia Law, will be toned down, the firebrand preachers will be done away with by the moderates, and there will be talk of the founding of a secular Muslim state, as in Turkey.


The task for the imams will be to exploit the fatal weakness of the multicultural society and replace a Christian church that has lost its sense of history and direction with a Mosque that has a strong, ingrained sense of both."

Liberalism expresses something important in Christian theology: a need for mercy, compassion, and tolerance. But a whole society built on liberal ideologies lives in a moral vacuum, for mercy, compassion and tolerance presume legal and moral standards from which mercy etc flows. Into a moral vacuum morality will slide, then flood back in. Victorian Britain was a reaction to the profligacy of 18th century Britain. In large sections of Europe and Britain, Islam is poised to provide the morality of the late 21st and early 22nd centuries and - if the history of Islam is anything to go by - every century subsequently. Much as I admire Archbishop Rowan, and understand the See of Canterbury to be foundational to Anglican identity, I would wish him to be decisively for family and marriage, and against tolerance of sharia.

An Anglican Down Under Theologian writes

Bryden Black, Anglican priest of Christchurch Aotearoa NZ has been published on Global South (and subsidiarily on Titus One Nine). Here's an excerpt, the whole worth not only reading but marking and digesting:

"If the Church has felt it necessary to anathematise certain G/gospels derived from non Nicene understandings of deity, then mutatis mutandis why should the Anglican Communion be predisposed to endless debate - “keeping the questions alive” - regarding the significance of human being created in the image of the Triune God? For surely, when it comes to “essential questions”, an aspect of God’s mercy and kindness is that we humans have neither been kept in the dark nor “as orphans” (Jn 14), but God has come among us with sufficient “perspicuity”. True; to “the crowds” much remains in parable and riddles (Mark 4, Matt 13). Yet for those who have been gathered around Jesus, a community of acknowledged insight and faithful interpretation has grown and developed. Surely therefore the onus of proof is ever on those who seek to legitimise new beliefs and practices contrary to these traditions of learned discernment."

For me this underlines the need to explore what questions in the current controversy can be ended quickly and what cannot. My own sense is that we need engagement with explicit theological differences in our midst - the anti-Nicene elements in TEC, for example - and move through Primates and ACC to some decisions "now". But some elements of pastoralia may not settle so easily. Suppose, for example, conservatives were willing to engage with forms of support for stable etc same sex partnerships which fell short of synodically authorised liturgies, could that discussion be done and dusted in a short time? There are many pitfalls, and many suspicions when these matters are advanced, and no guarantees that there will not be retreats!

The Anglican Mission to secular society

The Christchurch Press, Saturday 9 August 2008, offers an editorial headed, "Anglicans should resist extremes as they struggle for unity". It is percipient in a manner suggestive of an Anglican writing it! I can imagine that some Anglicans in the Diocese of Christchurch may find some of its phrasings not to their taste, but I hope all Anglicans there, and elsewhere in western societies, ponder statements such as these from the editorial.

"[noting conflicts centred on the ordination of women and homosexuals] but those issues represent the much wider and more fundamental issue of how the Anglican Communion is to express its beliefs and conduct itself in a world increasingly secular, sceptical or organised religion and deaf to its message of salvation."

"But the Christchurch Diocese, like the wider church, cannot allow itself to be paralysed in the conduct of its mission by minority dissent that is uncompromising. The church must maintain its traditional openness to change and its ability to address the needs of its contemporary communicants, while toerating a wide expression of views within its fold."

Our gospel mission must go forward, not be diverted by conflicts which, relative to that mission, are petty.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bizarre Anglican Reformation

This blog hesitates to criticise anyone, so here is a question, What was Ruth Gledhill trying to achieve when The Times published these old letters from Archbishop Rowan's well-known past as a 'liberal' on gay relationships? Perhaps she was disappointed with Lambeth's lack of schismatic action? Having published the letters there is then an article by Ruth headed "Dr Williams 'has made a split inevitable in the Anglican Church'".

It looks more like Ruth Gledhill has made a split inevitable! Except that cannot be right - true church reformations are the result of theologians not journalists! No, we must keep calm and cool under media pressure. No split is inevitable. Any split will damage our mission more than not splitting. Not splitting is our opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the gospel of Christ which is a message of reconciliation.

Sorry, Ruth, it will have to be another day in which your case for beatification is presented.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Out of Africa

NZCMS has announced its new General Secretary, to replace Rev Tony Andrews. The new appointment is the Rev Steve Maina, currently General Secretary of the Church Army in Kenya.

Steve, who is an ordained Anglican priest, with two degrees, is expected to take up his position early in 2009.

This is a bold appointment for NZCMS which has never before appointed a full-time General Secretary who was not an NZ citizen. Steve however is not the first African to be appointed - Michael Lawrence precedes him on that score. But Steve will be the first Kenyan, and, at 37, one of the youngest General Secretaries appointed.

The post Lambeth challenge for conservatives

I see Lambeth 2008 as a triumph for the centre of the Anglican Communion. It gave no great traction to TEC, Gene Robinson, the plethora of GLBT activists. It offered 'intensification' of centre ground initiatives such as Windsor and the proposed Covenant. It offered gracious statements re GAFCON and missing bishops but did not seem beholden to their voices. It kept rather than dissolved the tension between pastoral care of homosexuals and theological affirmation of the teaching of Scripture - noting again the reaffirmation of Lambeth 1998 1.10. It has dared both TEC and GAFCON to remain at the table of discussion - notably with the promise of a meeting of the Primates in 2009. Will they all come? Finally, the conference, through the Windsor Continuation Group offered the possibility (however vague and dependent on the goodwill and flexibility of TEC) of re-inclusion of breakaway Anglican groups: the centre reaching out to the edges?

A challenge, perhaps 'the' challenge for conservatives, both 'moderate' and 'strong' (I am rejecting 'hard', 'extreme', and 'ultra' in favour of 'strong'!), is to consider ways and means of building alliances and associations with the centre, rather than disturbing or distancing the centre. The temptation for conservatives is to so emphasise conservative priorities that the centre is disturbed enough to consider the alternative vision for Anglicanism offered by 'liberalism' (albeit the moderate rather than strong version).

The centre, I suggest, likes Scripture and clear explanation of its content and meaning. Traditionally conservative preachers meet this need very well (a good example being a visiting English preacher, Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbes in Oxford, speaking at Latimer Fellowship and other events this week in Christchurch and Hamilton). But the centre does not like messages which diminish the personhood of women and homosexuals, being open to the ordination of women and to (limited) tolerance of homosexuals.* Conservative approaches to issues of the ordination of women and the pastoral needs and aspirations of homosexuals sometimes fail to understand the mood of the centre. Matching conservative clarity about Scripture with the centre's clarity about its sense of the mind of Anglicanism is an intriguing challenge in the days ahead!

Cohesion between conservatism and the centre is one key to Anglican unity. What resolve do we have to build that cohesion? What ability do we have to shape our language towards cohesion rather than dissonance?

*Its my understanding of the centre of Anglicanism, at least in the West, that it is ultimately limited in its tolerance of homosexuals. Its not averse to the general proposition of homosexuals in partnerships being ordained, but it gets a bit anxious when the next vicar being proposed is a homosexual (i.e. a NIMBY character is part of the centre ... in some instances we see this also happening on the ordination of women).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

C’mon Conservative Anglicans: Cheer Up!

There are many different reactions to Lambeth running around the world. But conservative Anglicans should take huge heart from Lambeth, despite some hand-wringing, for these reasons:

(1) The Anglican Communion held together through GAFCON (which did not walk away) and Lambeth (which did not break apart). Conservatives have said we value the Communion and are committed to its future. If it does fall apart it looks less likely to be due to conservative action.

(2) Lambeth in various ways, not least through Archbishop Rowan Williams, reaffirmed that Lambeth 1998 1.10 is the ‘mind’ of the Communion. This is a significant advance. The detractors of 1.10, who argue that it is a non-binding resolution, now have to reckon with how they can be ‘anglican’ while denying the ‘anglican mind’. Legally nothing has changed, but psychologically a lot has. The claim that blessing of same-sex relationships is ‘prophetic’ (i.e. a justifiable innovation) now rings very hollow. Five years after the ordination of Gene Robinson and the New Westminster initiatives on same-sex relationship blessings, the Communion is saying, “Hmm, prophetic actions need testing, and this far they do not pass the test.”

(3) The Global South network grew in size and stature during Lambeth. Their role and influence vastly outweighed the - in the end - peripheral roles of Gene Robinson and the lobbyists of the Lambeth marketplace.

(4) TEC and ACCan asserted its right to self-determination on their prophetic actions (they have that right anyway) but did not receive Communion support for doing so. Instead the Communion called for moratoria in these matters. If the moratoria call is ignored then (a) TEC and ACCan’s reputation will be further damaged, and (b) the African interventionists scarcely need to heed the call the refrain from further intervention. The ball is in North America’s court!

(5) Burrow into the final reflections document. It has some great things to say about Scripture. Recall the huge role Scripture has played at this Lambeth (notwithstanding criticism of the content of the study questions). The Anglican Communion is a Scripture-based Communion. That is both hopeful for a conservative approach to Anglicanism in general, and reason to believe that, in the end, the Communion cannot follow the unscriptural pathway of North America.

The tragedy of conservative evangelicalism is its tendency, sometimes quite a militant tendency, to focus on what is wrong, on the empty portion of the glass, and on what could yet go wrong. But not this conservative evangelical! I am celebrating Lambeth 2008. Will you join me?

PS: To the liberals running round grizzling about scapegoats and sacrifices, there is also a lot of good re Anglican listening to the experiences of gays and lesbians. A uniform testimony across the indaba groups was that ‘listening’ took place! Bishops learned from each other.

Monday, August 4, 2008

What is Anglicanism all about?

Desmond Tutu defined Anglicanism as "We meet". That's pretty good, but perhaps too enigmatic. Here is another offering, this time within a slightly dark piece by Ruth Gledhill about Rowan's discontenters:

"But not all Anglicans like success. Their gospel is the Christ-like one of victory through defeat, preferably crucifixion. In response to his failure to have a good public row and bring about schism, Dr Williams is facing rebellion within the ranks, although all done with the nicest of English smiles, a handshake or two and the Christian "sign of the peace"."

I quite like the definition of Anglicanism offered me by a Brethren observer, many years ago: "accommodation". But these days the accommodation appears a bit run down; some think that dividing the house in two will lead to a better night's sleep, and, according to Ruth Gledhill's whisperers, the landlord might be getting past it. (For the record: I do not think the landlord is beynd the challenge of the future, but I wonder if he deserves to retire himself and let in some fresh legs for the uphill climb of the next few years).

A lot will depend on evangelical Anglican's ability to organise themselves in the next few years. Our ability to do this should not be over-estimated.

Global South Lambeth Statement

Olive branches waved graciously with this statement ... e.g.:

"We were encouraged that the Global South Primates’ Steering Committee at its meeting in March 2008 has agreed to consult one another after GAFCON (June 2008) and Lambeth (July 2008) on how to move the global Anglican Communion substantially and effectively forward. We look forward to the 4th South-to-South Encounter on a broadened representation sometime in 2009. We are encouraged that the emphases will be on the pastoral and missional needs for focused leadership and development, the deepening of collegial foundation and framework for the transformation and renewal of the Anglican Communion.

10. We are committed to work together with one another in the Global South and with all orthodox groups in the United States of America and Canada: to listen together to what Lord Jesus says to his church today, to draw strength and insights from one another, and to take fresh initiatives in upholding and passing on the faith once delivered to the saints.

11. We send our warmest greetings in our Lord Jesus to our fellow primates and the faithful who are not with us at Lambeth Conference due to their principled reasons."

Rowan wraps up reflections

Excellent excerpts from Archbishop Rowan's final presidential address to Lambeth 2008"Christian unity : first and above all, this is union with Jesus Christ; accepting his gift of grace and forgiveness, learning from him how to speak to his Father, standing where he stands by the power of the Spirit. We are one with one another because we are called into union with the one Christ and stand in his unique place - stand in the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our unity is not mutual forbearance but being summoned and drawn into the same place before the Father’s throne. That unity is a pure gift - and something we can think of in fear and trembling as well as wordless gratitude; because to be in that place is to be in the light of absolute Truth, naked and defenceless. St John’s gospel has been reminding us that the place of Jesus is not a place where ordinary, fallen human instinct wants to go. Yet it’s where we belong, and where God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ want us to be, for our life, our joy and our healing.

That’s the unity which is inseparable from truth. It’s broken not when we simply disagree but when we stop being able to see in each other the same kind of conviction of being called by an authoritative voice into a place where none of us has an automatic right to stand. Christians divided in the sixteenth century, in 1930’s Germany and 1980’s South Africa because they concluded, painfully as well as (often) angrily, that something had been substituted for the grace of Christ - moral and ritual achievement, or racial and social pride, as if there were after all a way of securing our place before God by something other than Jesus Christ."

"Does this mean that we are all restricted by each other’s views and preferences, incapable of arguing or changing? It was a problem familiar to St Paul, and you have already, in this Conference, heard something of how he dealt with it. But let me try to say how this affects our current difficulties. A fellow-Christian may believe they have a profound fresh insight. They seek to persuade others about it. A healthy church gives space for such exchanges. But the Christian with the new insight can’t claim straight away that this is now what the Church of God believes or intends; and it quite rightly takes a long time before any novelty can begin to find a way into the public liturgy, even if it has been widely agreed. Confusion arises when what is claimed as a new discernment presents itself as carrying the Church’s authority."

"The theological ground for a plea for moratoria is the need to avoid this confusion so that discernment continues together. The Resolution of Lambeth ’98 was an attempt to say both ‘We need understanding and shared discernment on a hugely complex topic,’ and ‘We as the bishops in council together are not persuaded that the new thoughts offered to us can be reconciled with our shared loyalty to Scripture.’ Perhaps we should read that Resolution - forgetting for a moment the bitterness and confusion around the debate and acknowledging that it remains where our Communion as a global community stands - as an attempt to define what a healthy Church might need - space for study and free discussion without pressure, pastoral patience and respect, unwillingness to change what has been received in faith from Scripture and tradition. And this is not by any means to say that a traditional understanding and a new one are just two equal options, like items on the supermarket shelf : the practice and public language of the Church act always as a reminder that the onus of proof is on those who seek a new understanding. To say that the would-be innovator must be heard gratefully and respectfully is simply to acknowledge the debt we always owe to those who ask unfamiliar questions, because they prompt us to explore our tradition more deeply."

"The vision of a global Church of interdependent communities is not the vision of an ecclesiastical world empire - or even a colonial relic… The global horizon of the Church matters because churches without this are always in danger of slowly surrendering to the culture around them and losing sight of their calling to challenge that culture. The Church of England was, for a long time, so involved in the structures of power in this nation that it had little to say that was properly critical : part of its awakening in the last century and a half is due to its slow but steady recognition that it had come to belong to a global fellowship.

But, more sharply still, think of those churches struggling to keep alive a truthful Christian witness in situations of profound social corruption and disorder. In recent years, we have seen one element in a local church so allied to an oppressive regime and a culture of violence that it became a matter of scandal for all Christians in the country. I’m talking, of course, about Zimbabwe; and I think it is true to say that part of the wonderful recovery of the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe was due to the passion of Zimbabwean Anglicans to stay united with the rest of the Anglican family - and refusing to accept that justice, human rights and public welfare could be defined differently in Zimbabwe from how they were understood everywhere else in the world."

On specific steps in the immediate future Archbishop Rowan says this:

"We have quite a strong degree of support for a Pastoral Forum to support minorities, a strong consensus on the need to examine how the Instruments of Communion will best work, and a recognition - though still with many questions - that a Covenant is needed. We have a strongly expressed intention to place our international development work on a firmer and more co-ordinated footing. Where will the work be done? Before the ACC meeting next year - which will be a significant element in implementing our vision - I intend to convene a Primates’ Meeting as early as possible in 2009. I shall look within the next two months for a clear and detailed specification for the task and composition of a Pastoral Forum, and I shall ensure that the perspectives of various groups looking at the Covenant and the Windsor process, as well as the Design Group for this Conference help to shape the implementation of the agenda outlined in the Reflections document, and are fed into the special meeting in November of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC. We may not have put an end to all our problems - but the pieces are on the board. And in the months ahead it will be important to invite those absent from Lambeth to be involved in these next stages. Much in the GAFCON documents is consonant with much of what we have sought to say and do, and we need to look for the best ways of building bridges here."

This man cannot tell a lie

For truth, plain truth, and nothing but the truth, there is one 'revisionist' bishop at least in TEC who can be depended upon:

"Let me also state strongly that I believe that the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and Primates misunderstood us when they stated that they understood that the HOB in fact “declared a ‘moratorium on all such public Rites.’” Neither in our discussions nor in our statement did we agree to or declare such a moratorium on permitting such rites to take place. That may be true in many or most dioceses, but that is certainly not the case in my own diocese and many others. The General Convention has stated that such rites are indeed to be considered within the bounds of the pastoral ministry of this Church to its gay and lesbian members, and that remains the policy of The Episcopal Church."

That bishop is none other than Gene Robinson, and this quote is carried on Titus One Nine.

Note how much of the reputation of Archbishop Rowan Williams hangs on this statement. His puzzling follow up to Primates' resolutions has rested to a large degree on "understanding" that TEC was in moratoria mode. Honest Gene says, "No. That's a misunderstanding." In the afterburn of Lambeth, let's keep an ear out for what Gene is saying. There lies reality!!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Relaxing about the New Anglican Reformation

I get a bit uptight about where the Anglican Communion is heading, especially in respect of its conservative, evangelical, and evangelical conservative tendencies. Ideally we will all stay in one Communion, failing that we will all move in one direction if some kind of separation takes place.

Yet history reminds me of something. In 'the Reformation' a number of reformations took place, each a little different: England was not the same as Scotland, nor Germany as Switzerland, nor (of course) was the Protestant Reformation the same as the Catholic Reformation. Even in the Church of England there were differences in theology: Reformed Catholic, Puritan, Lutheran, and Calvinist elements made up the church of Cranmer and of Elizabeth I.

So I - others too? - should relax about "GAFCON" and "Global South", "Reform" and "Fulcrum", "Wright" and "Nazir Ali" jostling for airtime and visibility. If I do not feel I can sign up to all of the Jerusalem Declaration, I might be on a parallel path, say, with Melancthon who queried aspects of Luther's theology. If I wish conservatives opposed to the ordination of women would lessen their passion for men only in the ordained ministry, I might be treading a track already worn by Calvin, Zwingli and co, as they wished Luther was not so passionately committed to the Real Presence. Perhaps our problem is that, not unlike some of our fierce Protestant forebears, we feel our version of this New Anglican Reformation should win. We make anguished statements expressing our incomprehension that others are not signing up to what we are promoting.

Maybe (lots of hesitancy here) I/we should spend less energy on trying to "win" and more on trying to "strengthen". Global South, as I understand it, at Lambeth, has not sought to supplant or submerge GAFCON, but to build its strength, celebrating overlaps with GAFCON where they occur. No doubt TEC has been working hard at strengthening its base within the Communion (including some of our ACANZP bishops).
So conservatism-for-women's-ordination: press on. Build support. Develop networks. Celebrate what is. Spend no time on what might be if only everyone agreed with me!!

Lambeth Lament

This letter, from my bishop, the Rt Rev Richard Ellena, to our Diocese of Nelson, has also been published on Stand Firm and Titus One Nine:

Hello Everyone

We are now in the last couple of days of Lambeth and I am feeling deeply sad.

I don’t know why at the moment – everything I came here hoping for looks set to be agreed to:

It is very likely that the Windsor Continuation Group report will be approved – which means that a moratoria on gay bishops will continue etc….

And it seems likely that a Covenant process will be endorsed and a draft agreed to.

All this seems good to me and yet I can’t help this overwhelming sadness.

Because I am more convinced than ever that none of this will help us. Those who have stayed away will not agree to it and will continue their ministry in the States. And TEC will continue to bleat that they won’t follow the moratoria while these Africans continue to ignore it.

I believe (at this stage – and there are still two days to go) that this has been the most expensive exercise in futility that I have ever been to.

The Indaba groups have been a joke. I can’t believe that no zulu has stood up and taken us to account for our abuse of this process. ‘Indaba’ is supposed to be very similar to the process our Maori use when they go onto a marae to achieve a consensus. We, on the other hand, arrived in our indaba groups only to be divided off into even smaller groups with little tasks to do – little questions to answer.

It feels as though this is a process to divide and conquer

The Bible study groups have been very good in relationship building – I have met some very special people from within TEC and I hope to keep in touch with some of them. But I’m tired of every study being reduced to the buzz-word around here – ‘What does it say in your context?’ Every second sentence you hear seems to start with the phrase – ‘Well, in my context.’ This is an abuse of the hermeneutical process.

The draft Conference statement that will be released is so full of generalizations it says absolutely nothing. I am deeply dismayed at the spinelessness of the Communion.

So what is good.

I have appreciated networking with some pretty amazing people.

I am so full of respect for Bishops Bill Love and Mark Lawrence (from within TEC) who are not afraid to stand up and call sin, ‘Sin!’

I have the deepest admiration from the Bishops from the Sudan who came to let their voice be heard and have been treated with the most disgusting abuse from a woman Bishop from New York who labeled them ‘wife-beaters!’

I am ready to come home – with little energy for pursuing the Covenant – but will do so because this is my church!!!

But I will be actively building relationships with the Global South which looks as if it will expand and grow beyond this Lambeth to include evangelical Bishops from all around the world.

With much love


Saturday, August 2, 2008

Headline of the week

"Primate expresses ‘frustration’ that Canadian church’s voice hasn’t been heard at Lambeth hearings"

Yes, its true, its the headline for this article

Now, just think about the headline ... Canada's role in the great scheme of things ... what's that you say, "Isn't that the quiet country which lives in the shadow of its rowdy neighbour?"* ... either the headline writer is moonlighting, his/her real vocation is comedy ... or she/he has an unrecognised gift for savage irony!!

* Yes, yes, I know, just like New Zealand.

Lambeth will end in the mourning

Its getting time to draw the threads together of posts here, and numerous other posts sighted by me but not cited here.

I think Lambeth will end reasonably well. Its clear that lots of beneficial conversations have been held; people have actually, really, definitely listened and learnt from one another; and existing networks have been strengthened if not developed (e.g. Global South is going to get bigger). The closing statements may seem bland, even disappointing to those looking for strong "resolutions", but that will reflect the reality of different points of view present and well articulated across the smaller and larger groups. Likely there will be pointers re the Windsor Process and the Covenant Process of a Communion moving towards an affirmation of Anglican theology supportive of good pastoral practice re human sexuality and unsupportive of same sex blessings (since not able to be credibly grounded in Scripture by the majority of the Communion).

But the after party, the post Lambeth life of the Communion will not be happy, and thus this Lambeth will end in the mourning - it may even be the last Lambeth in the present form of inviting all bishops every ten years. It will not be happy because the signs within the present Conference are that (a) TEC and Canada do not have the will to resist internal forces propelling their governing bodies towards authorisation of same sex blessings, and, especially in TEC, towards further elections of bishops who live in relationships which are neither celibate nor the marriage of a man and a woman; and (b) African bishops, together with Archbishop Greg Venables of the Southern Cone of South America, will not desist from intervention in the jurisdictions of Canada and the United States of America.

Quite where this takes the Communion I am not sure. It could be that TEC and Canada quietly secede away from the Windsor and Covenant Processes, and the African provinces prone to interventionism, which have never quite moved closely towards those processes will remain at a distance. It may be that the Archbishop of Canterbury (i.e. Rowan and successors) feels his greatest sphere of influence is in Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, and most of the Global South across Africa and Asia. There is bound to be a lot of time and energy required of the ABC simply holding England together.

What will emerge before 2018 will be (1) a greater awareness that the religion of TEC is not the Anglican Christianity of most other provinces (i.e. the current veil will fall from our eyes and we shall see this clearly) - that will make it easier to let TEC go its particular way, even to the point of becoming The Episcopal Communion, and (2) a series of great Anglican conferences: another GAFCON, two or three very large Global South gatherings, which will nail for the ACC and ACO that the Communion is conservative, and their energies should be clearly and unhesitatingly put into ensuring that it is moderate conservatism rather than hyper conservatism which predominates in the councils. Thus, if there is to be another Lambeth Conference of global dimensions in 2018 it will be as a gathering which comes to affirm the Covenant, including its Appendix of Discipline, because the will to do this has evolved through a kind of 'natural selection' in which one species of Anglican goes one way and the other(s) go another.

In another post, I shall attempt to spell out what this might mean for the complex life of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, with its Three Tikanga, and its theological polarities!

Michael Poon responds to Rowan Williams

The other day I lauded Archbishop Rowan Williams' second presidential address. Michael Poon of Global South has responded with thoughtful criticism, especially of the binary description of the state of the Communion. Here's an excerpt but you can read the whole here:

"More seriously, this second Presidential Address showed a worrying misreading of the ground realities of the Communion. Together with many who come from churches outside the Anglo-American axis, I cannot identify myself with either side the Archbishop portrayed. It put me at a loss. What is the “generous initiative” am I supposed to take in the Communion? More poignantly, am I expected to take any generous initiative at all? Even more pointedly, has the Archbishop – with his best intents – completely ignored the realities outside the familiar Anglo-American perceptions? And so, the many generous acts of love from churches in the southern continents have been dismissed by the sense of “superiority and dependence” in the West, as Gregory Cameron has pointed out. This is to say, British academics and US financiers have the rest of the world all figured out and neatly configured from the vantage points of sanitised settings in the West."

Friday, August 1, 2008

Straight thinking conservatives can be confused

Its hard to know from the world of heteronormativity just what the world outside is like. On the one hand are friends and family we know who live quiet, ordinary lives. On the other hand are people living a racier lifestyle, as reported by Peter Ould. An underestimated problem by those who tend to use the epithet 'homophobic' as sufficient deconstruction of conservative arguments over homosexuality is confusion as to what is being promoted. Is the Anglican Communion being asked to accept any and all expressions of homosexuality? Or is it being asked to accept a monogamous, faithful, permanent, exclusive parallel to marriage between a man and a woman? Peter Ould's post draws out the sense of confusion conservatives feel when some agenda are revealed. Changing Attitudes wants to change too much, methinks.

Meanwhile Bishop Andrew Burnham, guest blogger for Fulcrum, offers a true moderate conservative vision for the conclusion to Lambeth re sexuality:

"The deal I should like to see is that homosexual marriage is a first order issue - a first order disorder - but that how, quietly and pastorally, we deal with disciples in homosexual relationships is a second order issue. We need to leave room for conscience and difference but not explain away the weight of biblical teaching and exegesis in the tradition. Not sure that would work but it has worked in England. There have to be no more V G Robinson cases."