Thursday, April 30, 2009

Changing seasons, challenging times

Thanks to two correspondents I have been alerted to two fascinating pieces.

One is by John Woodhouse, Principal of Moore College, Sydney, openly, honestly, and courageously fronting challenges the College faces, including criticism about it's "formula" (e.g. constrained to: residential, four year, full-time study), it's (alleged) lack of connectivity with Sydney's multi-cultural population, and with changing values among younger generations of Christian leaders.

The other is by Mark Galli, writing in Christianity Today, making a telling point that the keys to numerical growth of churches do not lie in a simple explanations such as "conservative theology, narrowly defined = growth". I will not spoil other things he has to say which are thought-provoking.

Between them the two pieces represent conservative Christianity reflecting in a profound way on change in society, culture, and church.

Not a case of 'read and enjoy' but 'read and reflect and, as the case may be, act'!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Episcopal Church or The Evasive Church??

Philip Turner (eminent American theologian) is one sharp thinker. He puts the screws on a few folk in TEC with a series of questions about the recent ignoble publication of emails concerning a Communion Partners statement (noted in a post here a few days ago). Here are two questions:

"8. Given the frequently repeated objection that a diocese is in fact not free to sign onto the covenant even if The Episcopal Church refuses to do so, and given the fact that The Episcopal Church is defined in its Constitution as being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the claim being made that a diocese that wishes to remain in communion with Canterbury even in circumstances where The Episcopal Church status has been compromised must simply submit to seriously impaired or broken communion?

9. To put the question another way, if The Episcopal Church were to refuse to sign the covenant and its status in relation to Canterbury and the other Provinces of the Communion were compromised, is it being suggested that dioceses that believe their Catholic character to have become questionable should not seek an uncompromised relationship?"

What can I do while I wait for answers?

You cannot make this stuff up

Here is an excerpt from a statement by a group called 'The Chicago Consultation' responding to the recent ACI statement re the polity of TEC, in conjunction with the recently released 'Ridley Cambridge' draft of the Covenant:

"The Chicago Consultation believes that, like the church’s historic discrimination against people of color and women, excluding GLBT people from the sacramental life of the church is a sin. Through study, prayer and conversation, we seek to provide clergy and laypeople across The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion with biblical and theological perspectives that will rid the church of this sin." (Whole piece here)

So, we can know what a 'sin' is. Indeed we can bring a 'biblical and theological perspective' to bear on our knowledge of what a particular 'sin' is. Further, we can be as clear as the light of a sunny day about this, as the Chicago Consultation is.

Oh, that's right, quite a few Christians, reading the Bible, think that sex between people of the same sex is a sin. Apparently quite a few have no doubts about that, indeed their 'biblical and theological perspective' offers great assurance that they are correct.

I wonder if the Chicago Consultation and its ilk within the Communion will ever 'get it': definitions of sin cannot be advanced on the basis of what 'we believe'; only on the basis of what God reveals through Scripture. The Consultation would be better advised to engage with the interpretation of Scripture than snide attacks on bishops and theologians of integrity based on self-confidence that they know what sin is and the rest of us do not!

Primus non pareil

The former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Richard Holloway, is in NZ. According to the following it is difficult to work out whether he constitutes a (temporary) Anglican Down Under or ex-Anglican Down Under:

"While they might seem like odd bedfellows, [Richard] Holloway actually has much in common with [Richard] Dawkins, who is famous for his outspoken views about the non-existence of a supreme being and the irrational nature of religious faith. Holloway has written 12 books, including Godless Morality, which was controversially denounced by the then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey after its publication in 1999 for daring to suggest it is not necessary to be religious to be moral.

Holloway left the church in 2000 after suffering a crisis of conscience. Although he now refers to himself as a "Christian agnostic", he still keeps some ties with his erstwhile profession.

I'm still a member of the Christian community as it carries many beautiful values, tropes, metaphors and narratives. I've changed my mind so many times in the past that I now handle what I say with a certain provisionality. I'm not done yet - who knows where I'll end up? - but one of the things I have learned is the virtue of uncertainty. If you absolutely know the mind of that mystery you call God then it leads you to do terrible things because, of course, God is on your side." (Hat-tip to a commenter below; Titus One Nine).

I hasten to add that it is not the church which has brought him here.

Of course, notwithstanding the sincerity of his remarks above, we can be absolutely certain that Richard Holloway will not end up a conservative evangelical!!!!!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Unscriptural Anglicanism?

Giles Fraser is a very sharp, learned priest, blessed with an enviable skill of writing short, sharp, provocative columns (and, for all I know, much longer pieces, but I know him through columns such as this from The Church Times):

"THIS WEEK it is 900 years since the death of Anselm of Canterbury, arguably most noted for his invention of the ontological argument, and for putting up the scaffolding for the theory of penal substitution, only really finished off by Calvin in the 16th century.

Now, while I think the ontological argument is a pretty harmless parlour game for brainboxes with too much time on their hands, penal substitution is a very bad thing indeed.

Some Christians get very worked up by anyone’s having a go at penal substitution. This is largely, I think, because they confuse this medieval-cum-Reformation reading of salvation with the gospel itself, and just cannot see that penal substitution is one reading of the text among others.
The basic idea is that human beings owe God an unpayable debt on account of their sin, and that Jesus pays off this debt by being nailed up on a cross. To many of us, this account turns God into a merciless loan shark, deaf to our pleas for forgiveness. Whatever happened to “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Hosea 6.6, Matthew 9.13)?

Another weakness is that it gives the resurrection nothing to do in the overall scheme of human salvation. If we are saved on the cross, then there is no saving work left for the resurrection to do. Thus it gets sidelined as a spectacular after-party to the main event, which gets wrapped up on Good Friday.

That just can’t be right. Those who insist otherwise might like to take a closer look at Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo? (“Why a God-Man?”), where he sets out his understanding of salvation. It is made up of 47 mini-chapters; all have titles, but not one of them refers to the resurrection. Indeed, the resurrection hardly merits a mention throughout the whole book — a book on human salvation. No wonder so many of us find penal substitution so unconvincing.

My views on all this are mild and moderate compared with some of the things said about penal substitution by members of the Orthodox Church. Take Dr Alexander Kalimoros’s celebrated essay on Eastern Orthodox soteriology, The River of Fire, where he insists that “The ‘God’ of the West is an offended and angry God, full of wrath for the disobedience of men, who desires in his destructive passion to torment all humanity unto eternity for their sins, unless he receives an infinite satisfaction for his offended pride.”

This theology, Dr Kalimoros asserts, is the work of the devil, leading Western Christians to atheism. That may be a little strong, but it might just wake some people up to reconsider Anselm’s dubious legacy.

Canon Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, in south London."

Of course, if you set up a straw man, you can always burn him with little more than the flick of match. But agreeable though his argument is that an account of the meaning of Jesus' death should include the significance of the resurrection; salutary though it is to realise that Orthodox theology might play up a different perspective (and thus we have something to learn in the West), and important as it indeed is to realise that orthodox theology ascribes several meanings to the death of Jesus, and does not clearly identify one as supreme, the fact is that Anselm (like any good Anglican theologian) has Scripture behind and beneath his explanation. (That, please note, is not the same as saying that each and every detail of Anselm's explanation is consistent with and required by Scripture. Theologians have and will continue to argue the merits of Anselm's particular explanation).

According to Scripture God is wrathful; and Jesus did die in our place!

'In our natural condition we, like the rest, lay under the dreadful judgement of God. But God, rich in mercy, for the great love he bore us, brought us to life with Christ even when we dead in our sins; it is by grace you are saved.' (Ephesians 2:3b-5)

'For God designed him to be the means of expiating sin by his sacrificial death, effective through faith.' (Romans 3:25)

Both citations from the NEB. Even the second, unhappy for many evangelicals because 'expiation' rather than 'propitiation' is used, signifies the substitutionary action of Christ.

Kalimoros, cited by Fraser, correctly dispatches the offended God of Anselm's contemporary view that God was bound like a medieval monarch to a system of honour when evaluating the consequences of sin.

But so what? What we would be interested in hearing is Kalimoros on 'the dreadful judgement' of Ephesians 2:3b!

Anselm is important to Anglicanism (one of our greatest theologians and Archbishops of Canterbury), but more important is listening to Scripture!

Update: for a superb post on Giles Fraser's column, go to David Ould's post and to John Richardson's most recent post on Giles Fraser's column (his other posts on the matter also being excellent)!

A bit of a to do about something

In my post below, 'Much ado About Nothing', I suggest that a brewing brouhaha in North America re a recently published ACI paper concerning the true character of the voluntary compact of the dioceses of TEC may be a lot of huffing and puffing.

Anglican Curmudgeon offers a different, and somewhat persuasive view: the 'left' of TEC is reacting strongly to the 'right' of TEC because there is something to fuss over, namely the political control of TEC. The left is poised to complete the takeover during the course of GC 2009. The right has offered a challenge to the plan, a reasonable sized obstacle to the juggernaut, and thus the left are alarmed. But Curmudgeon offers them the comfort that they have the numbers to swat off all such challenges.

Except in the end, as he astutely observes, they might win control but lose the church.

Here is the opening paragraph:

"Perhaps no event in current memory has so well brought into focus the aims and aspirations of the LGBT wing in ECUSA as the recent publication of the Communion Partner Bishops' Statement, in conjunction with the Anglican Communion Institute. The Statement, and the circumstances surrounding its publication, served as a filter of sorts, eliminating all the usual background noise and hiss, and allowing one to perceive in its raw and unmitigated form both the political ambitions of the Episcopal left, as well as the sheer fury of which they are capable over any attempt to thwart them."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A turning point for Graham Kings

One of the intriguing characters in the Anglican imbroglio is Graham Kings. Right now he is the Vicar of St Mary's Islington and Secretary of Fulcrum, the organisation and website which seeks to articulate the evangelical centre in the Church of England. He is intriguing because while standing in the centre (as far as he and Fulcrum can discern it!) he seems to draw a certain amount of opprobrium from both the left and the right. As well as the usual criticism about who he thinks he is to define the centre etc.

I have had the privilege of meeting him and found him to be, like most characters in the Anglican imbroglio I have met face to face, modest, charming and somewhat unassuming!

Well his days as Vicar of St Mary's Islington are numbered as he has received the Right Royal Order of the Boot Up the Stairs to Sherborne, i.e. Gordon and Her Majesty are in agreement that he should be the next Bishop of Sherborne.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Anglican stretch under stress

Apropos of the post below, featuring Susan Russell's diatribe against otherwise sane, orthodox bishops and theologians, as harbingers of homophobia, sexism, etc, I have been thinking about the implications of her post for the breadth of thought the Anglican Communion, if it remains unified, is being expected to incorporate:

Marriage or celibacy AND Marriage or celibacy or faithful, stable, permanent same sex partnerships

Marriage = of a man and a woman AND Marriage = of a man and a man, of a woman and a woman, of a man and a woman

Ordination of women AND no ordination of women AND selected ordination of women (to diaconate but not to priesthood or episcopacy)

Presbyteral presiding at the eucharist AND lay presiding at the eucharist

Reformed evangelicalism AND evangelicalism of other varieties

Low church AND High church and Broad church

Evangelicalism AND Anglo-catholicism AND Liberalism (i.e. thinking of schools of theology rather than styles of worship)

Puritanism AND Pentecostalism AND Post-modernism

It's quite a lot to attempt to incorporate into the one body of Christ. Perhaps it's not unexpected that some name calling has taken place (however inexcusable).

Memo to self: I am a cretin

Further to my post below about turmoil in TEC which I describe as 'Much Ado About Nothing'.

One of the leading TEC bloggers, and general leader of things TEC is Susan Russell. On a site not her own she described the bishops and theologians connected with the recently published ACI policy paper as 'cretins'. On her own site she makes reference to this and offers an apology or, perhaps more accurately, an 'apology':

"Finally, I'm taking flak for being quoted using the word "cretin" in the Washington Blade. As is often the case with the secular media (and yes, I should know by now to be more careful!) context counts. And while I could and probably should have chosen my words more carefully, the context for that particular comment was exposing the actions of those who mask their homophobia, sexism and and entitlement with a veneer of civility and rapprochement that belies the lengths to which they'll go under cover of darkness to maintain their power and the status quo.

So, for the record, I do regret using the word "cretin." I regret it because cretin infers ignorance -- and I will not grant the architects of this schism the cover of ignorance.

They know precisely what they are doing. And the fact that they doth protest so much when their schemes are brought to the light only serves to make that point."

Remember, these people she has labelled offensively are members of TEC who want TEC to remain in the Anglican Communion!!!!!!!!!!

One of them is Bishop Howe. Responding to another label, that these matters are 'tawdry', he writes in this way:

"Dear Ann,

How is this a tawdry story? The Presiding Bishop has been promoting a version of the structure of The Episcopal Church which simply cannot be supported either constitutionally or historically. The Bishops who have signed today's Statement to the contrary are not willing to have the structure of our church subverted either by fiat or by court action.

We have not one iota of desire to promote schism. Our desire is to protect our constituent membership in the Anglican Communion. The Executive Council has said that the only body that can act upon the Anglican Covenant is the General Convention. We do not believe that is accurate. We believe that dioceses and even parishes could decide to "opt into" it.

Please explain to all of us how the desire of an Anglican diocese to remain Anglican is a "tawdry story."

The private emails that Mark Harris has posted do not reveal any attempt or desire to subvert the authority of the Bishop of Colorado. They envision a possible visitation that would take place only with his explicit permission and agreement.

I am saddened that a member of the Executive Council would publish emails that were not addressed to him, without even discussing them with the principals involved.

It is interesting to be called a "Cretin" by Susan Russell. To my knowledge none of us have ever used any such epithets against those with whom we disagree. (It is good to be in such an "inclusive" church!)

Warmest regards in our Lord,

The Right Rev. John W. Howe
Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida"

Indeed, it is a good and pleasant thing to dwell in unity in an inclusive church. How may this cretin join?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Much ado about nothing

The Anglican blogosphere is agog with leaked emails, rushed publications of plans and policies about the true status of dioceses, presiding bishops, archbishops, covenant signatures etc. Check out Mark Harris, Ruth Gledhill, Thinking Anglicans, and Titus One Nine to see if you can make sense of it.

As you do keep in mind these things: the authors of the leaked emails/of the policy statement published here want to remain in the Anglican Communion to which they currently belong, and they want to sign up to the Anglican Covenant being drafted, revised and improved even as we speak. But for some in TEC (e.g. read the comments to Mark Harris' post) these bishops and theologians (all of good standing in TEC) are some kind of 'enemy' of TEC, even though they have not left TEC (unlike others), and have no plan to do so. They are also being dumped upon despite putting out a carefully argued position paper on the relationsip of dioceses to TEC, and of the Presiding Bishop to the bishops of TEC.

Why do I think it is much ado about nothing? If a diocese can make a decision - dioceses do - then it can decide to sign up to the covenant, or not. All the huffing and puffing by canonical lawyers and blogging pundits does not change that. A province or member church of the Communion could decide not to sign up to the covenant, but could it prevent a diocese from signing up? It is hard to see how it could do so. Of course the Communion could decide that the covenant cannot be signed up to by any body other than a 'church' or 'province', but if that is so, then that is not a decision of either TEC or any group of bishops and theologians. Again, much ado about nothing.

It would, incidentally, be extremely odd, would it not, for the following scenario to occur: the Communion as a whole proposes and circulates a covenant; Anglican church X rejects the covenant, but Diocese Y within X accepts the covenant; X then seeks to discipline Y. Presumably X's grounds for discipline of Y would be some kind of illegality with respect to Y's constitution. But Y's grounds for signing to the covenant would be commitment to Anglicanism. At this point the true bearer of Anglicanism would be Y and not X. Morally, at least, X would cease to be Anglican in the substance of its faith!

For a different reading of the current situation, John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar has a very interesting view on the Communion: it's already in schism because the prospect of it is no longer news.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

GAFCON appreciation of Covenant

In the midst of our annual Leadership Conference (clergy school), only time for briefest of posts. With hat-tip to Graham Kings of Fulcrum, I draw attention to this appreciation of the latest Covenant Draft, by Stephen Noll, a leading theologian who is also, so to speak, a leading GAFCON theologian.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Well done New Zealand

Anglican Down Under, in a world seething with comment via blogs, tweets, bebos, facebooks, etc, tries to offer something distinctive by focusing on Anglican matters from a 'Down Under' perspective. But occasionally one feels like making a little note about the wider world.

In this case, well done New Zealand for NOT attending the UN conference on racism.

Courtesy the BBC, here is President Ahmadinejad on Israel, speaking at the conference:

"Following World War Two, they resorted to making an entire nation homeless on the pretext of Jewish suffering. They sent migrants from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world in order to establish a totally racist government in the occupied Palestine. In compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive, racist regime in Palestine."

Yes, it's just this sort of condemnation based on untruths, half-truths, and miscontruals which leads to world peace.

NZ - a few days out from another ANZAC Day commemoration - knows that world war is always imminent when the ranters get their grip on real military power. As Iran, apparently, is not far from doing.

May the Lord have mercy on us all!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Theology holds the key

With Hat-tip to Arts and Letters Daily, this excerpt from a larger essay by Terry Eagleton published in Commonweal makes interesting reading in the face of the New Atheism's assault on religion:

"In theology nowadays, one can find some of the most informed and animated discussions of Deleuze and Badiou, Foucault and feminism, Marx and Heidegger. That is not entirely surprising, since theology, however implausible many of its truth claims, is one of the most ambitious theoretical arenas left in an increasingly specialized world-one whose subject is nothing less than the nature and transcendental destiny of humanity itself. These are not issues easily raised in analytic philosophy or political science. Theology’s remoteness from pragmatic questions is an advantage in this respect.

We find ourselves, then, in a most curious situation. In a world in which theology is increasingly part of the problem, it is also fostering the kind of critical reflection which might contribute to some of the answers. There are lessons that the secular Left can learn from religion, for all its atrocities and absurdities; and the Left is not so flush with ideas that it can afford to look such a gift horse in the mouth. But will either side listen to the other at present? Will Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins read this and experience an epiphany that puts the road to Damascus in the shade? To use two theological terms by way of response: not a hope in hell. Positions are too entrenched to permit such a dialogue. Mutual understanding cannot happen just anywhere, as some liberals tend to suppose. It requires its material conditions. And it seems unlikely these will emerge as long as the so-called war on terror continues to run its course.

The distinction between Hitchens or Dawkins and those like myself comes down in the end to one between liberal humanism and tragic humanism. There are those who hold that if we can only shake off a poisonous legacy of myth and superstition, we can be free. Such a hope in my own view is itself a myth, though a generous-spirited one. Tragic humanism shares liberal humanism’s vision of the free flourishing of humanity, but holds that attaining it is possible only by confronting the very worst. The only affirmation of humanity ultimately worth having is one that, like the disillusioned post-Restoration Milton, seriously wonders whether humanity is worth saving in the first place, and understands Swift’s king of Brobdingnag with his vision of the human species as an odious race of vermin. Tragic humanism, whether in its socialist, Christian, or psychoanalytic varieties, holds that only by a process of self-dispossession and radical remaking can humanity come into its own. There are no guarantees that such a transfigured future will ever be born. But it might arrive a little earlier if liberal dogmatists, doctrinaire flag-wavers for Progress, and Islamophobic intellectuals got out of its way."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Does this blow your socks off?

"Fundamentally the Gospel is obsessed with the idea of the unity of human society."

So said E.Masure, cited by de Lubac, cited by Paul McPartlan in The Eucharist Makes the Church: Henri de Lubac and John Zizioulas in Dialogue, p.14.

That's a sentence to roll around in your mind while you are looking for your socks.

Style and substance

I once saw Martin Crowe, one of NZ's greatest batsmen, score 50 runs or so (i.e. for those not blessed with a heritage in the British Empire, playing cricket). It was a scratchy innings; yet even on a below par day his style was breathtaking, easily distinguishing him from the lesser mortals around him in the team. Style does not make a batsmen great, there has to be substance too - Martin Crowe provided that with many high-scoring innings.

In the world of blogging some individuals stand out for the style as well as the substance of their writing. For me one of those individuals is a fellow Anglican 'down under', Kelvin Wright, author of Available Light, Vicar of St. John's, Roslyn, Dunedin, N.Z. Currently he is on a pilgrimage through Europe. Apparently there are internet cafes over there, because he is writing as he goes. Here is an excerpt from Rome:

"More uplifting was to stand in the Sistine chapel, albeit in company with about two thousand others, and look upward at that ceiling. It is so familiar and there it was, with God in the middle of it, reaching out for Adam. God is on his cloud and he is straining forward, so far he is almost falling out of the sky. The angels struggle to keep him safely in place. His arm is taut with exertion as he reaches for Adam, his gaze directly at the man he has made. Adam by contrast rests on his back, glancing at his maker out of the corner of his eye. One hand is languidly flicked up to God, and just fails to make contact. Every fibre in God's being; all his body language and posture screams "Adam! Here I am! I love you!" "

Read the whole piece here. It brilliantly juxtaposes the evil of humanity's inhumanity represented in the Coliseum with the grace of God found in the Chapel. It is a triumph of style with substance!

Friday, April 17, 2009

I am depressed (in the Communion-sense of that word, not the clinical sense)

Have been away for a 24 hour tramping trip with my son. (In 24 hours we saw just four people, and this on a trip which began about 20 minutes from Nelson's city centre: if we Kiwis are so proud of our great outdoors, why do we not visit?). Back to the computer and a glance here and there in Anglican blogland. Also read the e-version of this week's Church of England Newspaper. Reactions to the latest draft of the Covenant seem muted. GAFCON Primates have met and made the expected statements. Its all a bit depressing.

Yeah, I know, a few days ago I said I was hopeful. But more than me need to share the hope!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter Testimony

There is a lot of chatter these days about how anti-Christian Britain is becoming (including in the article below!!). Nevertheless the censors let the odd blast of fresh Christian air through to the public. In this case A.N. Wilson - well-known English literary figure - writes of re-finding faith in the risen Jesus Christ. Here is an excerpt of his remarkable testimony which doubles as a wonderful apologia for the Christian faith. (Hat-tip to Titus One Nine for an alert to this article):

"For ten or 15 of my middle years, I, too, was one of the mockers. But, as time passed, I found myself going back to church, although at first only as a fellow traveller with the believers, not as one who shared the faith that Jesus had truly risen from the grave. Some time over the past five or six years - I could not tell you exactly when - I found that I had changed.

When I took part in the procession last Sunday and heard the Gospel being chanted, I assented to it with complete simplicity.

My own return to faith has surprised no one more than myself. Why did I return to it? Partially, perhaps it is no more than the confidence I have gained with age.

Rather than being cowed by them, I relish the notion that, by asserting a belief in the risen Christ, I am defying all the liberal clever-clogs on the block: cutting-edge novelists such as Martin Amis; foul-mouthed, self-satisfied TV presenters such as Jonathan Ross and Jo Brand; and the smug, tieless architects of so much television output.

But there is more to it than that. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known - not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

If Easter is a time of hope, what hope for the Communion?

I am hopeful for the Anglican Communion, even as reality tells me that it has problems. I think the 'big picture' unfolding may be this: for a long time Anglicans have been confused about the role of doctrine in the life of Anglican churches, but that is about to change. Our confusion stems from twin forces, one a force promoting experimentation and envelope pushing, the other a force promoting conflict avoidance (meaning: experimenters and envelope pushers were not disciplined).

In the nineteenth century the Oxford Movement, then later anglo-catholics pushed the envelope of ritualism and novel interpretation of the 39 Articles. Though there was a trial or two, the church as a whole did not engage in conflict resolution which concluded with 'this is Anglican, this is not'. However welcome some elements of anglo-catholicism to the whole church have proved to be, we welcomed something into our life which has been unhelpful in the long run: we determined our character was to be diverse.

Then in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there has been considerable unchecked theological experimentation with its roll-call of Cupitt, Spong, the early John A.T. Robinson, and David Jenkins. In this experimentation anything and everything may be questioned, turned on its head, and disbelieved or believed as the individual chooses. Through this we determined that our character is to be diverse without limits.

But a combination of factors in the early twentieth century are causing Anglican soul searching. The massive protest against the ordination of Gene Robinson in 2003, however exaggerated, homophobically driven, or even sheerly hypocritical it has been according to its critics, has registered in the minds of Anglican leaders. That the protest has been strongly driven from Africa has emphasised, perhaps as no other thing might ever have done, that the centres of popular Anglicanism are not London or New York but Lagos and Kampala. Can Anglicanism ignore the voices of its people in favour of the voices of its elite? Then there are factors of secularism, Islamism, and the New Atheism: together they focus attention on what Anglicans believe. In what way is Anglican belief different from such -isms, none of which offers concordance with Anglican belief in the way in which in the past (say) Communism, Humanism, and even 'a-theism' could be held together by the Spongs, Cupitts, Robinsons etc.

What is emerging, I suggest, is a new Anglicanism which is setting its character to be limits-to-diversity. One official, formal sign of this new character is the work towards an Anglican Covenant. One unofficial (or, not yet official) sign is the number of 'noes' emerging in TEC during the consent process for the so-called 'Buddhist bishop-elect' Ken Thew Forrester. Moderate bishops in TEC are saying through their negative responses that there are limits to the diversity of what Anglicans may believe.

Another sign, incidentally, but less obvious to the eye is this: where are the English bishops who believe next to nothing of the orthodox creeds? I suggest there are none (or, at least, none being visible). Contrast a generation or two ago when one or more bishops was good for a naff headline at Christmas or Easter denying the Virgin Birth or the physical resurrection.

An Anglican Communion resolute about applying limits to diversity has many issues to sort out, including human sexuality with special respect to North America, orders of ministry with special respect to Sydney, and the harmony of proponents and opponents of ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopacy. But, at least as it works on these issues, it will not be doing so as a complete jellyfish as in the past.

But watch for this factor at work in our future. To recognise the importance of limits to diversity is to raise the question, what are those limits? who defines those limits? on what grounds are limits defined? These questions are questions of doctrine. The future of the Anglican Communion will be a future in which doctrine plays a more significant role than it has played since, arguably, the sixteenth century. We found a way then to negotiate between extreme doctrinal forces. We will find it again - that's in our DNA - but will we subsequently lose our way again?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Excellence at Easter

There is no need to bother blogging about Easter when others do it so well!

If you have little to do today except read, and have not already come across these articles and posts, then I commend:

Cranmer on Sunday 12 April 2009 posting on Quem quaeritis?

E.J. Dionne on 'A Resilient Christianity' from Real Clear Politics, making the point that the true strength of Christianity does not lie in 'numbers' but in costly discipleship.

Then, who else these days, N. T. Wright-and-Tom Wright (i.e. scholar-and-bishop in one) on "The Church must stop trivialising Easter
Christians must keep their nerve: the Resurrection isn’t a metaphor, it’s a physical fact". Superb.

Finally, read this brilliant review of (an anti-religion film by American comedian Bill Maher) Religulous, by Brendan O'Neill. Here is a taster:

"Having disabused viewers of the idea that mankind is anything more than a bundle of genes (presumably Maher was born with the Unfunny Gene), he then argues that the central problem with religion is that it is distracting us from the real threat facing the planet: no, not Satan coming to destroy it with hellfire, but, er, manmade global warming coming to destroy it with hellfire. Without even a whiff of irony – and I am not making this up – Maher concludes the film by giving a sermon on a mount in Jerusalem in which he talks about climate change and war and terrorism and religious craziness, and says that as a result of these things ‘the world could actually come to an end’. Humankind must ‘grow up or die’."

The whole is devastating in its critique of the New Atheism of Dawkins, Hitchens and co. O'Neill opines: "Maher shows how depressingly biological, even bovine, the New Atheism is, and how stultifyingly soul-destroying The Science can become in the hands of political activism." Former altar boy O' Neill remains an atheist but longs for some recognition of the distinction of humanity from animals to grace atheism in its latest phase!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

You won't find many better explanations of propitiation than this

For the meaning of Easter how about this post from This Lamp ... read the whole. I reckon it's a great explanation of 'propitiation' and the issues surrounding the translation of hilasterion in Romans 3:25.

Holy Saturday

It's a picture perfect peach of a day in Nelson. Holy Saturday is a good day to take stock, utilizing the peace and stillness made available in the mercy of God. A word which comes to mind is 'mystery'. The journey of Jesus to the cross is full of mystery. Why, for example, does our sin require this solution, rather than another? If the gospels and epistles give a strong sense that Jesus went to the cross because this was God's purpose, the mystery remains of what the specific human factors were which led to Jesus' arrest and then, given the weak nature of the charges brought against him, why the arrest was followed by execution.

But there is also the mystery of tomorrow, the Day of Resurrection. What actually happened on that first day of God's Resurrection? Each of the gospel accounts has striking differences from the others in the details, even though the broad outline (visitors early to the tomb, tomb empty, encounters with an angel or angels or Jesus) is similar. (Note, in the last sentence, that one cannot even say that all four gospels record an appearance of the Risen Lord to his disciples. Mark, notably, in 16:1-8 being deficient in this respect).

Yet the liturgical emptiness of this day (save for the possibility of celebrating an Easter Vigil this evening), which recognises that little happened on the day after Jesus died and was buried, is sobering. If nothing succeeded Jesus' death and burial, would anything remain of Jesus and his story, save for a line or two in the Talmud? Would not everyday for ever afterwards be a day in which nothing happens involving Jesus?

Something happened to upset the normal human script: someone dies, there is a ceremony of farewell, life goes on, but there will be talk, from time to time, of what X meant to us, what X would do or say were he/she with us now. Easter Day is the declaration that something did indeed happen to upset that script. A living Jesus is encountered by his desolate followers in such a manner that the day of discovery is thereafter celebrated; in fact, eventually, the Day of Resurrection changes the timetable of Christians: Sunday is the new Sabbath. Further, Christians live and act as though the risen Jesus lives in their midst everyday, not just on that one day of resurrection.

So, Holy Saturday is a taste of what life would be without the risen Jesus, even as it is also a foretaste of life with the risen Jesus.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Passing By Jesus With Lamentation

Perchance reading Lamentations 1:12 this Good Friday morning,

'Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.'

Note also 1:14:

'My transgressions were bound into a yoke;
by his hand fastened together;
they were set upon my neck;
he caused my strength to fail;
the Lord gave me into the hands of those whom I cannot withstand.'

The words 'all you who pass by' reminded me of an aspect of the calvary story which we recall today:

'And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him ...' (Matthew 27:39-41; parallel Mark 15:29-31).

The scholar within wonders whether Mark or Matthew (one copied the other) had Lamentations somewhere in the mind when writing (bearing in mind that Luke writes down a description of the mocking, but omits 'passed by').

The theologian within ponders the nature of Jesus' death as a propitiation for sin. An action, that is, which receives and transforms the full force of God's 'fierce anger' against sin.

Propitiation is non-PC these days. Yet the world is full of sin. Some of it makes some of us very angry: greed and stupidity destroying hard-earned wealth; careless consumption causing collapsing ice shelves here and great droughts there; indiscriminate killings in response to pain of being sinned against (say) through an unfaithful partner.

What do we expect God's response to sin to be? Indifference would be unloving and lead to no justice.

On the cross God's twofold response to sin was poured out: judgement and grace. To this day people pass by Jesus and mock God's work through him. For Christians, though we celebrate the achievement of the cross, Good Friday is a day when we suspend celebration and engage in lamentation that our sin came to this end.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

This is the day the church began

Any time we count as the formation day of Israel, arguably, could be the day the church was founded. Pentecost is often celebrated as the birthday of the church (including by me once with a birthday cake and candles, a spark from one burning a small hole in my alb)! But how about Maundy Thursday as the day the church began?

According to the gospels, the four of which, along with 1 Corinthians 11, make for interesting variations when we read their accounts of the Last Supper side by side, Jesus:

- laid down some rules and regulations concerning future 'post-Jesus' leadership

- gave the central commandment of Christian worship, 'Do this in memory of me'.

So, possibly, today is the day the Lord made the church!

I love the services through 'The Three Great Days' (or, for Latin speaking Christians, Triduum). In some ways the Holy Thursday evening remembrance, even re-enactment of the Last Supper of our Lord, is my favourite. (See here, Wednesday 8 April, 2009, and scroll downwards to A Very Difficult Dinner Party, for a reflection on Maundy Thursday services).

Round up of things worth reading (UPDATED)

As we get close to Good Friday, this is as good a reflection on the Cross as you will find anywhere - John Richardson at his clearest and crispest best!

Iowa has been in the news this week for legalising 'gay marriage'. As this article by William Murchison superbly points out, it's a nonsense, but sadly we think judges and politicians don't do nonsense. But they do. Sadly, in time, we can expect the other states to follow suit.

Not unrelated to either the Cross of Christ or the question of 'gay marriage' is the quest for the best draft ever of the Anglican Covenant. The latest 'Ridley Cambridge' draft can be read here. I make no comment as I have yet to read it. Do I need to make comment? You can be sure to find plenty of responses on Thinking Anglicans, Titus One Nine, Stand Firm etc!!

UPDATE: here is one particularly instructive thread, from Episcopal Cafe, with v. interesting comments from Ephraim Radner, a member of the Covenant Design Group. (Incidentally, also an example of grace in conversation)!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Equal, Different, Free to Serve as Called and Equipped

One response to postings below re women in Christian leadership alerted me to (a) the possibility that 'equal but different' is a fairer description of the 'complementarian' approach than 'equal but subordinate', and (b) an organisation based in Sydney called 'Equal But Different'.

A perusal of Equal But Different's website certainly makes interesting reading. It appears to be as clear, as concise and as fair a statement of the so-called 'complementarian' position on men and women in marriage and in church ministry as one might find anywhere.

On the one hand I am struck by the last clause of its statement of faith:

"11. that we unconditionally reject the use of God’s purposes for marriage as an excuse for violence against women, whether physical, emotional or spiritual."

To me that is a bit of a red flag about the complementarian position: does a true biblical understanding of men and women require this kind of health warning? Should not the presence of such a statement flag an urgent need to re-examine what the Bible says? The goodness of marriage as an ordinance of creation given by God, when expressed as a theological position of the church, should not require such a clause. Well, that's what I think, but many notable teachers in North America, Sydney, and England seem comfortable with a position that requires a clause 11.

On the other hand I am struck by the incongruence of the complementarian approach being acclaimed as 'biblical' while intruding into its statement of belief words and phrases which do not come from the Bible.

Consider clause 9:

"9. that men are called to loving, self-denying, humble leadership, and women to intelligent, willing submission within marriage;"

You may read your Bible a thousand times but you will not see submission in marriage qualified by the word 'intelligent'. I presume this is a get out of jail card with respect to the reality of our culture which looks askance at any position in relation to marriage which implied a blind, unquestioning submission. Now recognising the reality of present day culture is a good thing. It's just that the complementarian approach can be very critical of the egalitarian approach on the grounds of the latter, allegedly, being more driven by current culture than by the Bible.

The good news here is that acceptance of the notion of 'intelligent, willing submission' opens the possibility of fruitful dialogue between the two positions. 'Intelligent, willing submission' speaks to me of a relationship in which there is communication, discussion, and negotiation - all elements of the mutuality in marriage which is an important emphasis of the egalitarian approach.

Then there is Clause 10 to consider, but I give it here with preceding clauses which build up to this clause:

"6. that God calls everyone, female and male, to a life of whole-hearted service to Him, and of self-sacrificial ministry to His people and to the world in whatever context He places them;

7. that both men and women are to use their gifts and exercise ministry in a joyful and committed way;

8. that God’s purposes for humanity include complementary relationships between the genders;

9. that men are called to loving, self-denying, humble leadership, and women to intelligent, willing submission within marriage;

10. that within the church, this complementarity is expressed through suitably gifted and appointed men assuming responsibility for authoritative teaching and pastoral oversight;"

Again, you may read your Bible a thousand times but you will not find any statement which straightforwardly makes the connection between complementariness in marriage and complementariness in church ministry. Note carefully that this observation does not make clause 10 invalid in itself. Clause 10 may be true and the final word on the matter but if this is so, then it is because its truth as a theological reflection on biblical material is recognised by the church. But Clause 10 is not a straightforward 'biblical' statement. It is a conclusion reached through the process of theological reflection on the Bible. Such theological reflection is, however, always a matter of contestability. That is, it is not the conclusion all readers of the Bible will reach. It ought not to be described in a manner which implies it is the only standard for 'biblical relationships'.

Here also is good news for the dialogue (and debate) between the complementarian and egalitarian positions. If both can recognise and respect each position as beginning with the Bible but drawing different conclusions, rather than acclaiming one position as 'biblical' and the other as not (as, for example, a notable exponent of complementarianism, Wayne Grudem is wont to do), then it is possible that the process by which each position reaches its conclusions could be brought into discussion for mutual reflection and examination. By 'process' here I mean the logical steps each argument takes on the way from the text of the Bible to the theological conclusions reached. All too often as Christians we do not consider these details and thus miss important matters which affect the positions we reach and the manner in which we make judgements about 'the other side'.

In this case I would be intrigued to hear more about the introduction of the word 'intelligent' and the reasoning why 'complementariness' in marriage also applies to church leadership. I am sure 'complementarians' would like to know more about the reasoning why 'egalitarians' would propose 'Equal, Different, Free to Serve as Called and Equipped' as a biblically-based alternative to 'Equal but Different'.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Walking through Holy Week

And, for preachers, perhaps picking up some material for the weekend's sermons!

The Times of London is offering reflective pieces by an array of top writers and scholars in a pilgrimage via media through Holy Week.

Try here for Day One.

I will leave it to your own initiative to follow up during the week with the rest!

Monday, April 6, 2009

No waning here of enthusiasm for an Anglican Covenant

Work quietly goes on towards the establishment of the Anglican Covenant, a new draft about to be presented to the next meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, 1-13 May, in Jamaica.

I am very keen to see an Anglican Covenant adopted by member churches of the Anglican Communion. One of my reasons is this. The duty of teachers of the church is to teach what the church believes, not what the teacher determines to be worth teaching or adjudges to be a true interpretation of Scripture. But what does the Anglican church believe? For a long time now we have gotten by on one section of the church believing quite a lot (conservatives upholding Scripture, creeds, prayer books), another section believing very little or, at least, believing very little is essential to Christian belief, and another section believing that quite a few things can be believed, including things belonging to other faiths, even no faith. But we have come to a fork in the road: the ordination of Gene Robinson highlighted an issue we had not yet confronted, is there any solid body of Anglican doctrine to which all Anglicans can turn in order to teach what the church believes and not what individual Anglicans believe?

So that Gene Robinson does not bear the whole load of concern here, we can draw attention to someone we have learned about in recent days: the new Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, Katherine Ragsdale, who preaches that 'abortion is a blessing'.

We cannot go on like this in the West, unless we want to become a tiny sect of people who splash a bit of God on a secularist foundation. We need to renew our understanding of Anglican doctrine, what it is, and what it is not. It is no good critics of the covenant saying that we already have this and that in place to describe our doctrine - creeds, quadrilaterals, articles, and what have you. We have deluded ourselves about these, in any case, because for too long now we have treated non-adherence to doctrine as a tolerable exercise in Christian freedom.

It's true that the Anglican Covenant could go the same way as the doctrinal standards we have had that have been ignored more than adhered to. That's why the Covenant needs some teeth. I hope ACC, including our ACANZP reps, are alert to what is at stake and give the Covenant some teeth.

Let's commit to the Covenant!

Now let's get this straight

And try to avoid mixing our arguments like two kinds of cloth in the one garment when arguing the toss on women in ministry (as per recent threads on Fulcrum and The Ugley Vicar, but also, in my experience, in various other kinds of discussions that arise from time to time).

Here is my attempt at clarity.

(1) Our gospel ambition to reach men for Christ has nothing to do with the question whether a woman may be ordained an Anglican priest. Reaching men for Christ with the gospel requires appropriately motivated and equipped men doing the work of evangelism. (It can employ men and women, cf. Priscilla and Aquila). Female priests within the life of the church do not impede the mission of God to men by virtue of that presence. Concerns about weakness in our outreach to men should be addressed, but they do not constitute in themselves an argument against ordaining women as priests.

(2) Concerns about reaching out to men with the gospel may be reason for an appointing body to prefer to seek a male priest as the next vicar of a parish. But in reaching this preference there is no need to drag in arguments against either ordaining women as priests or appointing women as vicars. The gender of the vicar is not the essential issue in outreach to men: some female vicars in my experience have led parishes with effective ministry to men; some men have led parishes with ineffective ministry to men. Nevertheless an appointing body should have the freedom to reach the conclusion that at this time, for a variety of reasons, a man should be appointed as the next vicar.

(3)Ordaining women as priests, appointing female priests as vicars is a matter of theological consideration in view of what Scripture says, and tradition has taught (especially in anglo-catholic contexts). But that is the only consideration which matters. Whether women as leaders of churches have been wildly successful or dreadful failures is neither here nor there. Men have been both and we do not question whether men might be ordained or appointed as vicars!

(4) There is a genuine, not easily resolved problem of how Anglican churches include both those supporting and those opposed to the ordination of women. It is not easy, for example, to move forward as one community of Christ which includes both male and female leaders if some leaders think that female leaders should not be part of that community. That is as much a pragmatic observation about 'harmony in the team' as it is a theological observation about our unity in Christ. Nor is it easy to be genuinely 'inclusive' as Anglican churches if we (effectively) exclude genuine Anglicans with convictions different to others on the matter of women in leadership of parishes and dioceses.

(5) One evangelical approach, championed eloquently by (e.g.) Archbishop Peter Jensen, of categorising the question of the ordination of women as a 'second order issue' has a number of merits, but it does not make the resolution of the pragmatic 'harmony in the team' issue any easier. It's power lies in enabling (say) two parishes with different views to work together on certain common matters, or two different provinces joining together in GAFCON. But it contributes little to resolving specific issues such as a male vicar refusing to allow a female staff member to preach, or developing a diocesan policy on the ordination of women-and-the ordination of men opposing the ordination of women.

(6) The big issue is not about the future of a church overwhelmed by female vicars and underpopulated by men (though that possibility is an issue, but can be addressed other than by refusing to ordain women). The big issue is whether the church should have a rule or not which forbids a woman from being ordained a priest or bishop or being appointed as vicar solely on the grounds of being a woman.

My own view is that it does seem extraordinary that we can contemplate a world in which some Anglicans applaud Margaret Thatcher as one of the greatest national leaders while denying that an equivalent in ministry can be appointed as vicar. It is also extraordinary that a number of churches, including some conservative Anglican churches have reached a position in which women may take up any and every leadership role except that of vicar or bishop.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

And apparently all religions follow the same god

Here is the Taliban's version of Islam in action. Not nice.

Then there is life for a Shiite woman in Afghanistan. Not to worry, the Marines are coming to save you. No, wait, they have already put into power the man who signed this new law into existence.

But, hey, some Christians are toying with interesting ideas around women, arguing (a) for the 'eternal subordination of the Son', then (b) that the eternal subordination of the Son means the eternal subordination of women to men (as Son to the Father so wife to the husband). See Re-vis.e Reform's latest alert here.

So, um, perhaps all religions do follow the same god and he has it in for women.


Postscript: Oh, someone might want to comment: 'Peter, how can you even think of a possible equation between the Taliban and good Christian brothers and sisters who happen to think differently to you about women in church and in marriage'.

Well, no, I am not making an equation. I am saying that there are a range of approaches to the subordination of women under the umbrella of religion. The Taliban seem to be universally recognised as being at one extreme of the range. At the other end of the range are Christians promoting 'subordinate but equal' or 'equal but subordinate' understandings of women in a male-led faith community. No doubt there will be no beatings and no school burnings at that end. Nevertheless many inside and outside the church are not persuaded by the line 'equal but subordinate' since it denies that a woman with equal gifts, abilities and sense of calling to leadership can be a leader (as in 'leader-in-charge'). Seemingly, 'equal but subordinate' means 'equal in some things, not equal in others, but either way subordinate'. So the effect of denial of women taking up any of the roles which a man may take up in an 'equal but subordinate' community is linked, albeit distantly, with the burning of schools as a means of denying the education of girls so they may not take up roles men take up.

As Christians we have the opportunity to develop communities in which (a) women are equal to men in respect of opportunity to engage fully in the mission of God (b) differentiation in roles of women as wife/mother and men as husband/father is not extended to the ministry of the church (c) subordination and submission are activities all Christians engage in within a mode of being church which is marked by mutuality and not hierarchy (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:16).

Let's show the world that the God of Jesus Christ who died to make us one people through the Holy Spirit is unlike the god of people who beat women and destroy schools for girls. This God is an eternal unity not an eternal hierarchy - a point well-argued here.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Don't shoot the donkey

John 12:12-19 is an enthralling Gospel reading - a possible alternative to the Markan one for tomorrow, Palm Sunday. Intriguingly it has a 'sandwich' - a pattern familiar to readers of Mark's Gospel - which makes me wonder whether John is, oh so subtly, telling his readers, 'see, I know Mark's Gospel too'. The sandwich is actually in the greater passage, John 12:9-19 and goes Lazarus - procession into Jerusalem - Lazarus.

Naturally that makes us think a bit about Lazarus. Why is he not mentioned in the other gospels? An especially pertinent question when we think about how John explains why there is a crowd to cheer Jesus on - the folk who witnessed Lazarus' resurrection had spread the word so there were, literally, 'crowds' there (see vv. 17-18). Richard Bauckham suggests that the other gospels, being composed earlier than John's Gospel may have omitted Lazarus because he was still a 'wanted' man - something John alludes to in 12:10 - even a decade or two beyond the event of the crucifixion of Jesus.*

We will never know exactly what happened to Lazarus both in real time and in the omission/inclusion of his story in the gospels, but we can see how John puts Lazarus to use in his report of the first Palm Sunday procession. The crowd have seen something amazing with the resurrection of Lazarus. They are excited about Jesus and his potential as The Next Great Leader of Israel. If you can raise a good Jew from the dead, must you not have the power to do the opposite to a bad Roman? Even the disciples do not understand exactly what is going on - only later, as John notes in 12:16, does the penny drop for the disciples. In keeping with all of John's Gospel seeing yet not understanding is entrenched in most human responses to Jesus. In John 12:12-19 Lazarus serves to explain the presence of the crowds as well as their excitement. John uses him to make the point that some people can come close to Jesus and nearly understand who he is and why he came while failing to properly understand Jesus.

John's lessons for us, his readers then tumble out of the reading. Disciples are those who do understand Jesus. Initially there may be a lack of comprehension, but one day, unlike 'the crowds', understanding comes. John's Gospel is written precisely to aid understanding, so that we may 'believe'. Understanding Jesus deepens when the implications of the details of his life are carefully discerned.

The donkey, for example, should lead the inquirer to Zechariah (though John does the actual work by providing the citation from Zechariah 9:9), and that should reveal that Jesus on a donkey is not The Next Great Leader of Israel. He comes in peace, not to make war. The problem of human life is not Roman hegemony but the rule of darkness and the power of sin. Light must destroy the darkness and the Lamb must take away sin's power.

The transformation of life, signified in water becoming wine, a blind man receiving sight, dead Lazarus made alive, and in other signs, is 'eternal life'. The crowds are right to be excited by Jesus the Raiser of the Dead, but for reasons other than those they have. The disciples are yet to understand; Zechariah had foreseen this day; we the readers have been granted the miracle of hindsight.

I wonder whether Obama and the G-20 leaders understand what they are up against? They want to change the world. We, the world, need change. But a trillion here and there will transform no one's heart, change nobody's mindset, and break no hearts filled with the love of money.

The saga of sin continues in the world Jesus came to save. The donkey bore the Saviour on that far off day; 'the donkey' in the story we read bears the secret of salvation today.

Don't shoot the donkey!

*[Noted later] Richard Bauckham, The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple: Narrative, History, and Theology in the Gospel of John, Baker Academic, 2007, pp. 181-189.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

TEC is not beyond hope

With hat-tip to Titus One Nine, this is in from the Seattle Times:

"The Episcopal Church has defrocked Ann Holmes Redding, the Seattle Episcopal priest who announced in 2007 that she is both Christian and Muslim.

Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who has disciplinary authority over Redding, informed the priest of her decision in a letter today.

Wolf found Redding to be "a woman of utmost integrity and their conversations over the past two years have been open, honest and respectful," according to a press release from the Diocese of Rhode Island.

"However, Bishop Wolf believes that a priest of the Church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim."

"I am very sad," Redding had said Tuesday. "I'm sad at the loss of this cherished honor of having served as a priest."

She also said she was sad at what seems to her to be a narrow vision of what the church accepts."

Someone in TEC gets it: you cannot believe A and anti-A simultaneously!

But watch for the wailers and gnashers of teeth (including Ann Redding, above) who think the goodly Bishop Wolf is wrong or, worse, 'narrow'!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Let TEC go from our Communion if it cannot tell the truth

This blog, from time to time, has offered strong criticism of The Episcopal Church (TEC). It has done so, not only because it smells various theological rats lurking in TEC's domain, but also because it is not unaware of the enthusiasm some leaders in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP) have for all things TEC. We do not need their rats down under!

An interesting test case of the orthodoxy of TEC as a corporate entity is underway at the moment. A priest called Kevin Thew Forrester has been elected to be the next Bishop of Northern Michigan. The election itself has raised some eyebrows because the organising committee proposed just the one name to the Diocese for consideration, but that is not our issue here. Currently the process of consent for the election is underway. Thus far three bishops have declined to give consent. They are most wise but the question remains open - for there are many bishops in TEC - whether TEC in its entirety will decline consent or not.

The non-consenting bishops are wise because there are reasons to think that Kevin Thew Forrester has no place on any bench of bishops in any church professing to be a member of the Anglican Communion which, however faintly and shakily, is an orthodox creedal Scriptural church of Jesus Christ. One reason is the commitment Kevin Thew Forrester has to Buddhism. Clever defenders have responded to this concern along the lines of, well, he is a Christian with an interest in Buddhism as a pathway of meditation; and meditation is a good thing for Christians. (Of course this is not particularly clever as Christians may meditate without recourse to Buddhism). But an even stronger reason for declining consent lies in the difficulty of matching Mr Forrester's public teaching with the statements of the Nicene Creed. Greg Griffith of Stand Firm lays this out in a recent post. Here is a sample (I have emboldened the Nicene creed statements. Go to the original for links to sources for KTF's statements):

"And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

"The Trinitarian structure of life is this: is that everything that is comes from the source. And you can name the source what you want to name the source. And our response to that is with hearts of gratitude and thanksgiving, to return everything back to that source, and there’s a spirit who enables that return. Everything comes from God. We give it back to God. And the spirit gives us the heart of gratitude. That is the Trinitarian nature of life." (Trinity Sunday sermon, May 18, 2008)

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

"We are the very enclosure of God. Why does God care for this vineyard that is you? Why does God care for the vineyard that is me? Why does God care for the vineyards of those who are Buddhists or Muslim or Hindu? Because God dwells in them and they dwell in God even when we don’t know it." (Pentecost 22 sermon, Oct 5, 2008 - download audio in MP3 format here)

"We seek and serve Christ in all persons because all persons are the living Christ. Each and every human being, as a human being, is knit together in God's Spirit, and thus an anointed one – Christ." (Already One in God, response to Dar es Salaam communiqué, to which KTF is a signatory, The Church in Hiawathaland newsletter, Sept 2007)

I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins;

"We do harmful and evil things to ourselves and one another, not because we are bad, but because we are blind to the beauty of creation and ourselves." (Already One in God, response to Dar es Salaam communiqué, to which KTF is a signatory, The Church in Hiawathaland newsletter, Sept 2007."

Note the permeating error here is that Kevin Thew Forrester is in charge of the truth. The effect of his teaching is , "You have heard it said that this is Christian truth, but I tell you it is this". Christianity only has room for one Christ!

If TEC in its majority confirms the election it looks an open and shut case that it is a church which tells the truth in a different manner to the remainder of the Anglican Communion.

We should let them go so they may worship 'God' in their own way in their own space.

If TEC were to decline consent to this election then we should rejoice, for a sign will have emerged that TEC can tell the truth and the Communion can continue to unite through the truth.