Monday, December 15, 2008

Do Anglicans have to be muddled thinkers to be Anglican?

Its hard to know where to begin with this piece on salvation by the Dean of Perth (Down Under - most Western branch!!), John Shepherd, published in The Times of London (why there?). A starting point in response could be to ask about the standards of logic and content applied to what The Times sees fit to publish? But inevitably one questions standards of theology in churches not one's own and wonders about the diplomatic protocols of critiquing clerics in neighbouring countries!! Here is the heart of the piece:

"At least three things stand out. The first is that this salvation is experienced corporately, not individually. The Old Testament writers speak in terms of a community in which the presence of God could be experienced within a fellowship bound together by devotion to God. For the writers of the New Testament, Jesus was never to be thought of as a personal saviour, as though He were our personal toothbrush.

We are not saved individually, as though by some private act of divine indulgence. It is within the community that we can find forgiveness for the past, and hope for a way of beginning again.

Second, there is no evidence to suggest that what is required for salvation is an intellectual assent, a signing-off, which would effect a once-for-all change in us, whereby salvation is instantaneous, and we are passive recipients of its benefits.

It would be wrong to imagine that salvation occurs in a single act of religious fervour. The most usually quoted example of such an apparently swift transformation is Paul’s conversion. Yet, according to the account in Acts (ix, 1-19), it was not suddenly on the Damascus road, but only after the laying-on of hands by Ananias in the context of the care of the house of Judas, and after the scales had fallen from his eyes, and his sight was restored, that Paul was baptised, and his strength returned.

Salvation cannot be confined to one cataclysmic event; it requires engagement with a process in the context of a community — the Church. The transformation of human life that salvation suggests takes time, and needs to embrace many aspects of Christian insight and understanding.

Third, salvation is not about who is in or who is out — who are sheep or who are goats.

Can we really imagine the God of all creation, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, being fussed by the status of everyone’s individual belief? Salvation is concerned with the transformation of life. All life. Barriers to the flourishing of all human beings are to be overcome, whatever stage people are at in the awareness of this life-giving dynamic. What matters is that we have all been freed to be all there is in us to be. Otherwise Christ has died in vain."

Why 'corporately, not individually' and not 'corporately and individually'? Shepherd is quick to cite part of the Old Testament while overlooking Ezekiel 18 which discloses God's recognition that individuals are responsible for their own wrong-doing and not for that of their ancestors.

Does anyone who thinks of Jesus as their 'personal Saviour' think of him in terms commensurate with their 'personal toothbrush'? The latter concerns the toothbrush belonging to me and carrying my own germs which you probably do not want to share with me. The former concerns the Saviour who relates to me as one person to another. In that sense the New Testament writers most certainly understood Jesus to be their personal Saviour!

We can agree that salvation is not confined to one cataclysmic event, though personal life-changing encounters with the risen Lord Jesus have not been confined through the centuries to just Paul's Damascus Road experience. But salvation is about 'who is in or who is out'. At the least that is the implication of many of Jesus' parables, including the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25.31-46. If salvation is not about who is in or who is out then its difficult to understand why anyone should bother to respond to the gospel, engage with the corporate life of the church, or sacrificially work to flourish the lives of others in the name of Christ. For, if salvation is not a question of who is in or who is out then either it is a question of everyone being out (i.e. the gospel hope of salvation is not true in any sense) or of everyone being in (i.e. the choices we make matter little in the eternal scheme of things because God will save everyone in the end).

More can be said; suffice to conclude for now that this is very muddled thinking by the Dean of Perth. Such thinking is neither new nor surprising in Anglican Land. I wonder if to be 'in' the Anglican church one needs to be a muddled thinker ... clear thinking belonging 'outside', to Baptists and Catholics!!!!!

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