Sunday, May 31, 2009

How to evangelise. Not.

Over in Florida a Roman Catholic priest, with a high media profile, has been found sunbathing on a beach with his girlfriend. His name is Fr Cutie - I am not making this up! Well one thing leads to another in romance. You guessed it correctly: he has joined the Episcopalian church. (Shame on you if your thought I was thinking about a different romantic consequence - this blog is resolutely focused on Anglican matters).

It's become a mushrooming story on the internet with everyone getting in on the action, including some criticising others for the way they are running the story: try Ruth Gledhill, Damian Thompson, and Christopher Johnson.

One can have some sympathy for Fr Cutie. When cupid's arrows strike, life can be confusing; maybe especially so if one has taken vows of singleness in respect of service in the church. (Though we might have little sympathy for his alleged bad manners of not informing his superiors of his intention to submit to the authority of another bishop). But can we have any sympathy for his receiving bishop, Leo Frade, of Southeast Florida? On the one hand he has set back ecumenical relationships between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. On the other hand, he has said some things which, well, ... you be the judge! Try these comments (italics are mine) and rate them on a 1 - 5 scale, where 1 is Intelligent and 5 is Stupid:

[A] "''Father Cutié is removing himself from full communion with the Catholic Church and thereby forfeiting his rights as a cleric,'' Favalora [local Catholic bishop of Fr Cutie] said, later adding that Cutié is still ``bound by the promise to live the celibate life which he freely embraced at ordination. Only the Holy Father can release him from the obligation''

Not so, Bishop Frade said Thursday afternoon. ''That promise is not recognized by our church. If you can find it in the Bible that priests should be celibate, that will be corrected,'' Frade said. ``The only thing we can say is that we pray for ecumenical relations. . .I am sorry they are sorry, and we love them.''" (From a Miami Herald report)

[B] A letter from Bishop Frade to his clergy: "Dear friends,

As many of you know the Rev. Alberto Cutié has been received into the Episcopal Church as a layperson in the Diocese of Southeast Florida. News surrounding this move has received a lot of attention in the press. I have had several phone calls from newspapers and many emails from people all over asking about how they can join the Episcopal Church. My guess is that this Sunday many of our churches will be visited by people who are just learning about us. So I am writing to suggest that you prepare yourselves and your leadership to receive them. I recommend that you make copies of brochures about the Episcopal Church and that you might consider a forum after church to answer questions.

The scandal surrounding Padre Alberto and his girlfriend was unfortunate but because of his joining the Episcopal Church it has brought us to the attention of the public. I pray that we might be able to take advantage of this appropriately but without throwing this in the face of our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church." (As reported on Stand Firm by Greg Griffith)

Yes, that is the Anglican way to evangelise: welcome in Roman Catholic priests with a colourful media profile. The cuter the better. Not.

And then some in TEC wonder why Anglicans outside of TEC keep wondering just what TEC is doing in the Anglican Communion ... it seems like another religion ... with evidence appearing again and again.

UPDATE: OK, I have to admit that a truckload of people turned up for Fr Cutie's first sermon in an Episcopal church, as the Miami Herald reports here, including people returning to church for the first time in years. But did they turn up in droves at all Epicopal churches in Florida?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Here's a New Calvinism worth celebrating

Perhaps I was too hard on New Calvinism a la North America a month or two back. Apparently another New Calvinism is in the engine room of church growth in China ... as Andrew Brown reports; a taste of which is here:

"Many of the missionaries who tried to bring Christianity to China before the communists took over where presbyterians, and other sorts of Calvinist. But that does not explain why Calvinism should be the preferred theology of the house churches and the intellectuals now. Dr Tan suggests that this is because it is Protestant: that is to say it can be made much more convincingly native than Roman Catholicism, since presbyterian congregations choose their own pastors. This is, I suspect, enormously important at a time when China is recovering from a century and a half of being the victim of western powers; the pope's insistence on appointing Catholic bishops is unacceptable to the government and perhaps to the people too.

If she goes to preach at an official church, she says, "There will be perhaps 1000 people and 95% of them are over 65. So it's a sunset church. But if I went to house church – there would be 1000 people; perhaps 20 of them in their 50s, and all the rest are youngsters. The older ones will all be professors at the universities. So these are the future of the churches. They have registered pastors, and no access to seminaries: But they have youth, and future, and money."

Calvinism isn't a religion of subservience to any government. The great national myths of Calvinist cultures are all of wars against imperialist oppressors: the Dutch against the Spanish, the Scots against the English; the Americans against the British. So when the Chinese house churches first emerged from the rubble of the Cultural Revolution in the 80s and 90s "They began to search what theology will support and inform [them]. They read Luther and said, 'not him'. So they read Calvin, and they said 'him, because he has a theology of resistance.' Luther can't teach them or inform them how to deal with a government that is opposition."

And, though the communists stigmatised Christianity as a foreign religion, they also and still more thoroughly smashed up the traditional religions of China: "The communist, socialist critique of traditional religion, and of Confucianism has been effective", she says: "The youngsters think it is very cool to be Christian. Communism has removed all the obstacles for them to come to Christianity."

The most conservative estimates of the new converts to Christianity is 500,000; there is a new church built every month. Calvinist Christianity has a culture of phenomenal industry. Calvin himself, in his time in Geneva, preached every day and twice on Sundays: shorthand writers at the foot of his pulpit took down 108 volumes of his sermons, though most of these have been lost and his reputation rests on the books and pamphlets that he wrote himself. In China now, this kind of Christianity is seen as forward-looking, rational, intellectually serious, and favourable to making money."

Science and Religion: Friends not Foes

Is science on the verge of extinguishing religion through the vanquishing of faith with an army of facts? Paul Ewart, a visiting Oxford scientist at the University of Otago (Dunedin, NZ), argues the contrary. His piece, published in the Otago Daily Times, includes this:

"Christianity's claim that "human rationality is a gift from God" is a profound metaphysical statement that Prof Blakemore misunderstands completely.

Astonishingly, he claims that recent research in brain science has shown that free will and conscious intentions, including sin, are illusions created by brain function.

So our thinking is nothing but physics and chemistry in the brain.

This is scientifically doubtful and metaphysically nonsense.

Martin Heisenberg, also a biological scientist, points out the scientific flaws in such claims in his article "Is free will an illusion?" in the science journal Nature (May 14, 2009).

The problem of rationality was recognised by J. B. S. Haldane, the great evolutionary biologist, who admitted that if thinking were just the motion of atoms in our brains we have no reason to believe our thinking to be true, and no reason to believe our brains to be made up of atoms.

As C. S. Lewis pointed out, the materialist cuts off the branch he is sitting on.

I would add that the validity of our reason cannot be established by an argument based on evolution alone.

If reason is in doubt you can't use reason to defend it.

The existence of rationality points beyond itself to an underlying rational principle or Logos of the whole universe.

There are no knockdown proofs one way or other to the "God Question".

Christianity, however, makes far more sense than atheism.

First, it makes sense of our rationality - its source is ultimately God.

Second, it makes sense of morality - God provides the ultimate reference of what is good.

Third, it makes sense historically.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is evidence that he was the Logos, the Word made flesh i.e.

God expressing Himself in human form.

Fourth, it makes sense of my personal experience of God's forgiveness, an experience shared by millions of men and women in transformed lives down the ages.

Such evidence can't be lightly dismissed.

The great danger in reducing spiritual and moral values to illusions is that moral warnings may be ignored when it's politically expedient.

Witness the horrors of Communist and Nazi tyrannies of the last century."

Tolerance not persecution

Living in New Zealand one is never quite sure when the latest craze from North America or Europe is going to become embedded in our culture and politics. So we keep an eye on the wider world since to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

In the United Kingdom a fairly draconian piece of legislation is being worked on which will more or less restrain Christian churches and organizations from refusing to employ gay or lesbian people in front-line ministry roles and from speaking up for what the Bible teaches about human sexuality. (Technically it is legislation which will affect all religious groups, mosques and Islamic youth organizations included. Yeah, right!)

Melanie Philips gets the issue about right in this column: the legislation moves a liberal Western society in which tolerance is a significant virtue (tolerance of homosexuality mingling with tolerance of religion) to a totalitarian state in which dissent is not only morally intolerable but will be persecuted through the application of the law. Here's her introduction, but please read the whole.

"The Equality Bill currently going through Parliament is the latest and potentially most oppressive attempt to impose politically acceptable attitudes and drive out any that fall foul of these criteria. Since the attitudes being imposed constitute an ideological agenda to destroy Britain’s foundational ethical principles and replace them by a nihilistic values and lifestyle free-for-all, they represent a direct onslaught on the Judeo-Christian morality underpinning British society.

The most neuralgic of these issues is gay rights. This is because the tolerance of homosexuality that a liberal society should properly show has long been hijacked by an agenda which aims at destroying the very idea of normative sexuality altogether – and does so by smearing it as prejudice. The true liberal position, that it is right and just to tolerate behaviour that deviates from the norm as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, is deemed to be rank prejudice on the grounds that homosexuality is not ‘deviancy’ but normal. ‘Normality’ is thus rendered incoherent and absurd and accordingly destroyed altogether. The agenda is therefore not liberal tolerance but illiberal coercion against mainstream moral values, on the basis that the very idea of having normative moral principles at all is an expression of bigotry. So anyone who speaks out against gay rights is immediately vilified as a ‘homophobe’ and treated as a social and professional pariah.

Most people have been intimidated into silence under this onslaught. ‘Society has changed – get over it’ is the uncompromising message which few now dare gainsay. It is certainly the motto of the Tory Cameroons. But the people who find themselves in acute difficulty with this are religious groups whose faith prevents them from accepting these new sexual and moral anti-norms.

There has been growing concern that Christians in particular are being unfairly targeted by discrimination laws, following a number of high-profile cases of Christians finding themselves in difficulties – members of adoption panels having to step down because they oppose gay adoption, for example, or the nurse who was suspended (although subsequently reinstated, after protests) for offering to pray for a patient -- by standing up for their faith."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Diversity leads to disunity, unity proceeds from profession, profession from confession

Our hui last week was yet another occasion when our church (ACANZP) confessed its commitment to diversity. But how far can we go with our diversity and remain a church, that is a fellowship based on common purpose flowing from common belief? At what point do we need to nail down our commitment to unity and our reasons for it?

The argument was made last week that Anglicans prefer 'profession' of faith to 'confession' of faith as a way of expressing our unity in belief. That is true as far as it goes: we profess our faith together by saying the creeds, conscious that we may not all mean the same things as we say them. But there are likely to come occasions in our life together when a shared confession behind our profession is required if our fellowship is to deepen rather than to divide. One example is the Sonship of Jesus Christ. In a purely Christian society we have permitted ourselves the luxury of diverse understanding of Sonship: for some Anglicans Jesus in relation to God is barely distinguishable from what Jehovah Witnesses or Muslims believe. But (as I understand it) in a dominantly Muslim society (where much of the Western world is heading) such diversity is impossible: a Christian confesses a full Trinitarian/Incarnational orthodoxy about Jesus Christ as Son of God.

In short: if the unity of the Anglican church is our concern, we must attend not only to our profession but also to our confession of faith. I think we can do this without becoming a fully-fledged 'Confessional' church, but we cannot do it without acknowledging the role confession plays in unity. John Richardson underscores all this in an excellent post ... an excerpt is given below:

"And there is another insidious factor arising out of this. For if unity is not maintained ‘in the truth’, then it must be maintained, ultimately, by force. The denomination which tolerates an ‘anything goes’ approach to belief must, in the end, use its institutional rules, regulations and sanctions to preserve its unity despite disagreements.

We need to remind ourselves —certainly Anglicans need to remind themselves —that our denominations do, for the most part, have confessional origins. In the case of the Church of England, this produced not only the Thirty-nine Articles but also the Book of Common Prayer which expressed a theology in sharp contradistinction to what had gone before.

In short, in denominations with a confessional basis, we are entitled reassert the importance of the confessional statements in the interests of gospel unity. Anglicans should be especially glad that the GAFCON Jerusalem Statement and Declaration reassert doctrinal significance of the Thirty-nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal, and those of us in the Church of England with a concern for the gospel should do all we can to align ourselves with this, because they give a clear signal both that we do not embrace unlimited theological diversity and also that we do not regard such diversity as inherently Anglican.

GAFCON, however, also reminds us that provided the boundaries of the Church have some substance and definition, you can actually work with a diversity of expressions of the faith. So, to the annoyance of many of its critics, GAFCON saw Anglo-Catholic Africans sharing the same platform as Puritan Australians.

Some saw this as a betrayal of principle. I would want to argue, rather, that it is entirely principled, provided there is a common acceptance of a shared confessional heritage. In the same way, evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in this country can work together —albeit in a sometimes-limited way —provided we do so as confessionally committed Anglicans.

Unity in the truth, however, does not come automatically. It has to be deliberately sought and systematically maintained through the structural provisions of the institution, and ultimately the responsibility for it rests with those who are empowered to be the doctrinal ‘gatekeepers’."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

An interesting comment on the Church of Scotland situation

(H/t to David Ould) Carl Trueman makes some interesting observations on the Church of Scotland crisis (not all of which I agree with!). What he says may have something to say to us in the Anglican Communion. Here's an excerpt:

"Secondly, Dr Philip informs his congregation that he refuses to acknowledge the authority and judgment of the Assembly in this matter, that the denomination is not the church, and that from now on he will fellowship only with those churches in the C of S that he considers to be biblically faithful. As a sign of protest, his church will no longer give money to central funds.

This is strange ecclesiology indeed. In fact, it is not Presbyterian ecclesiology at all. All ministers in the C of S have no doubt taken vows to honour and uphold the governance of the Church of Scotland. Those who disagree with the GA ruling would seem therefore to have three options if they wish to be truly Presbyterian and to act in a manner consistent with their vows: either they can appeal the decision, if such a mechanism exists (and I believe something like this may well be in the works, if reports in the Glasgow Herald are accurate); or they can leave the church in protest, something which would be no act of schism if they regard the laws and courts of the church as incapable of upholding orthodoxy; or they can accept the ruling and stay within the church. All three are legitimate, legal options from the perspective of Presbyterian polity. What they cannot do, however, is stay within the church but in some strange state of permanent protest against, or rejection of, the church authorities; nor can they take advantage of those bits of being in the C of S they like (the name, the buildings, the public profile etc) but thumb their noses at the legally established authorities of the C of S. That is contumacious and rebellious, requires the surrendering of any claim to the moral high ground, and, if everybody does it, leads to anarchy. What they cannot do, in other words, is have their cake and eat it too. Ironically, that is, of course, precisely what the evangelicals often accuse the liberals of doing —buying in to those bits of the church and its confession they like, and rejecting those bits they don’t. Yet this is precisely what the minister of the Tron seems to be suggesting as the strategic way forward for evangelicals. ...

In short, if it looks like an independent church, acts like an independent church, and strategises like an independent church, then it is probably an independent church. The only thing that surprises me is the unwillingness of some to acknowledge this and make the obvious ecclesiastical move.

One further thought: one is left wondering what the Tron policy has to offer to the small evangelical C of S churches; or to the evangelical ministers of liberal congregations; or to the evangelical congregations with liberal ministers. Not much, one should imagine. Once again, the decades long policy of the big churches doing their own thing and the little guys having to make do with an annual conference while being beaten up by all and sundry looks set to continue for the indefinite future."

The whole can be read here.

Trueman's last paragraph is particularly telling. The potential split in (say) ACANZP is not a neat divide as in X dioceses become two groups of Y and Z dioceses; or M parishes peel away from Diocese N. No. What would happen is one or two parishes leaving more or less intact, various people leaving from other parishes, and some clergy feeling utterly torn between wanting to leave and having no post to go to, knowing that their congregations will not leave with them. Better to find another way? Better not to be frogs croaking in the pond (see post below)?

Frogs in the pond

Identity is important both for each of us as individual people (man/woman, Kiwi/other nationality, I am a bus driver, what do you do?) and for groups we belong to (evangelicals, for instance, in the church; 'Westies', for instance, in the city of Auckland; Muslims, for instance, in the people groupings of the world).

Of course individual and group identities get mixed up: a slighting remark from a liberal could upset me as an evangelical (i.e. offend me the individual) or upset me on behalf of the group of evangelicals ('you do not understand us'). In identity politics we assert claims about our own identity or against the identity of others in a manner that makes 'identity' the determinant of good and evil, rather than specific actions or ideas advanced by the other person or group. At least, this is how I understand 'identity politics'. I may have it wrong ...

Vilifying all Muslims as extremists is 'identity politics', as is advancing the wisdom of women as more virtuous than the wisdom of men (a slight hint of which is being taken up as reason to critique Obama's nomination of Sotomayer to the Supreme Court).

Within the church one of the things which intrigues me these days is the reaction I sometimes get when I self-identify as an 'evangelical'. It's difficult to describe the reaction save to say that it does not please people; and as I try to discern why, I am left wondering if it is because by putting myself in a 'box' others are concerned either that concomitantly I am putting them in an identity box or I am fostering a climate of conflict in the church between groups, each seeking dominance.

Even if I am entirely wrong in my understanding of this reaction, I think I need to be clearer when speaking to the wider church as to what I mean (and do not mean) by self-identifying as an evangelical. One aspect of that clarity, for instance, could be to offer 'evangelical' as meaning a commitment to remind the church of certain doctrines which otherwise have been readily forgotten (so I read church history since the Reformation!!) more than as an intention to divide the church into groups at odds with each other.

Anyway, against that background, and all difficulties in the life of the churches today, not just the Anglican church, around 'identity politics', it may be helpful to note this bon mot of Augustine of Hippo (h/t to Timothy Radcliffe, What is the Point of Being a Christian?, p. 181):

"The clouds of heaven thunder forth throughout the world that God's house is being built. But these frogs sit in their pond and croak: 'We're the only Christians'."

(From: Enarratio in Psalmum XCV, Augustini opera omnia, Vol IV, Migne, p. 1234.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Will we ever learn wisdom?

On Titus One Nine for the USA's Memorial Day, Kendall Harmon has posted the video below (along with some others). The video features Peter, Paul and Mary, and Pete Seagar singing Where have all the flowers gone?, one of the most poignant songs about war ever composed, highlighting the folly and stupidity of war (and all the more poignant as North Korea tells the world it does not object to waging war by nuclear means). Below the video I post two comments made on Titus One Nine, and Kendall Harmon's response ... and then make a note myself!

"4. recchip wrote:
What would possess anyone (especially someone as intelligent as Dr. Harmon) to consider a song by 4 anti-war hippie traitors as appropriate for Memorial Day. Why not just have a video of Jane Fonda next time!!

I am VERY disappointed in this being labeled as Music for Memorial Day. SHAME!!!

May 25, 9:47 pm | [comment link]

5. Sarah wrote:
Well, it is a beautiful song, and it does express the sorrow of losing young people in war. That’s how I listen to it anyway. Heck, I think John Lennon’s song Imagine is beautiful even though i have no desire for his expressed wishes to actually come true! ; > )

May 25, 11:42 pm | [comment link]
7. Kendall Harmon wrote:
#5 has the reason for the song correct, and #4 is a good exemplar of American identity politics on display. Since I do not like or agree with x or y about the messenger, there goes the message. But surely in a world where everyone is bent, then soon nothing gets heard.

It is a good song."

I am grateful for Kendall's wisdom; and floored by comment No 4. If we cannot get beyond 'identity politics' can we ever be a united church offering a model of human unity for the world to see? In a world trapped in identity politics war is inevitable!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When the facts change I change my mind. What do you do?

So said Lord Keynes in a devastating reply to opponents. Churches are grappling with some changed facts about life and the pressure is on for a change of mind!

One way of looking at the question of the role of women in the church and in marriage is to acknowledge that the facts of life for men and women have changed. Education, for example, has opened up for women new vistas of opportunity both to develop and to apply intelligence and learning. Logically, no area of 'work' is now denied women who can become soldiers, doctors, politicians, and drain layers. Consequently marriage has changed, adjusting to the fact that a wife might be the bread winner or jointly bread winning along with the husband. That churches now find themselves opening up new roles for women in ministry is unsurprising (e.g. in the Roman Catholic church, women may be lay pastoral administrators of parishes).

Are the facts changing about homosexuality? The recent meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland over the past weekend considered two motions in respect of homosexuality. One was to confirm the appointment of Scott Rennie, a gay man with a partner, as Minister of Queen's Cross Parish Church in Aberdeen. I understand that the first motion was concerned with the technicalities of the process of application and approval of the appointment and it was unexpectedly passed as all the boxes had been ticked. The other would have banned acceptance of gay and lesbian ministers. But in a move not entirely satisfactory to both sides of the issue the General Assembley concluded as reported in The Scotsman:

"THE Church of Scotland last night effectively gagged its members from public discussion of gay ministers and postponed a potentially divisive vote on the issue for two years in a desperate bid to avoid a schism.
A debate on a call to ban openly homosexual people from appointment to the ministry was torpedoed by an 11th-hour motion that dominated the General Assembly yesterday.

Instead of proceeding with the vote – which many traditionalists had warned could split the Kirk – members agreed to establish a commission to study the issue and report back in 2011.

Until then, no more openly gay ministers can be appointed and no members can speak in public on the issue of openly homosexual, non-celibate ministers."

Might this be something ACANZP needs to do?

Wait, there is more. In this report in The Times, Scott Rennie speaks about his growing up as a gay man, frightened by bullying against homosexuals. He married, had a daughter, became divorced, but remained friendly with his wife, and supportive of the daughter, both of whom are very supportive of him and his partner David (met subsequent to the divorce). Interesting parallels with the Bishop of New Hampshire!

"The Rev Rennie said that the process of coming to terms with his sexuality had been painful. “As a young man growing up in a conservative church, it felt impossible to deal with issues around my own sexuality.

“It did not feel like a safe environment, and certainly not one in which I could have found support and understanding. So, I came to believe that I had to ignore it and do what I thought was the right thing at the time - live a heterosexual life.

“At school, I witnessed first-hand homophobic bullying, and the menace that anyone who even seemed gay was subjected to. It was not a pretty sight, and I wasn't brave enough to risk facing the bullies.”

He said the row over his appointment had left him feeling strong, but battered by speculation about his private life. He was also deeply moved by hundreds of messages of support.

“Although the present discussion centres around my own response to God's call, all the correspondence over the last few months has reminded me that there is a large body of people, like me, in a similar situation, in the Kirk,” the Rev Rennie said."

One question for conservative churches, and for conservative wings of Presbyterian and Anglican churches, is whether what we have understood to be the 'facts' of homosexuality are changing? Touched on in the paragraphs above are these 'facts':
- that homosexuality is a transformable condition of life in all cases
- that conservative churches are loving, safe environments in which homosexuals are safe to openly identify their situation in life
- that Scripture makes no discrimination between casual and paedophiliac (a la Hellenism) homosexual relationships and permanent, faithful, same sex partnerships.

Are these facts changing before our eyes?

Perhaps they are; perhaps they are not. Where do conservative Christians discuss these matters in freedom? The whole environment around these matters, in both church and society has become politicized to the point where 'speaking the truth in love' is all but impossible. But does not the love of God impel us, despite these great difficulties, to ask some questions about those matters we have presumed are facts? How safe, for example, are our churches for people to be honest about who they are?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Apostolic Church of England and its Doctor

One of the convictions I have come to in recent years is that the beginnings of the Anglican church do not lie in the complexities of Henry VIII's mutually reinforcing desires for a beautiful wife and for a male heir. No our beginnings lie in the days of the apostles when slaves and soldier brought the gospel to Britain. Thus, like the Eastern Orthodox churches, we may claim to be continuous with the faith of the New Testament. What do you think?

Part of our heritage is somewhat ecumenical, enjoying the blessings of both Celtic and Roman Christianity for a season. One towering influence, beneficiary of both those seasonal blessings, was Bede (673-735), the only English Doctor of the undivided church.

"Bede once compared human life without faith to a sparrow flying through a banqueting hall in winter, where, as he wrote, “the fire is burning on the hearth in the middle of the hall and all inside is warm, while outside the wintry storms of rain and snow are raging”. Then “a sparrow flies swiftly though the hall. It enters in at one door and quickly flies out through the other . . . So this life of man appears but for a moment; what follows or indeed what went before, we know not at all.”

The image may chill us. It may seem all too likely. However, Bede was using the image to suggest that there is more to life than that brief flight through warmth and light from darkness to darkness. And his own life was devoted to exploring that deeper possibility.

In his monastery he gave himself up to scholarship. He has declared that he loved to learn, to teach, and to write. And he was fortunate that at that very time great monastic libraries were being assembled, placing at his disposal the resources he needed. So among his many writings there were commentaries on Scripture, lives of the saints, and in particular that Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which many regard as his greatest work because of the new standards it set: its sense of time, its instinct for a good story, its mastery of readable Latin, and the start it even made in using sources critically. And those three strands of writing can be seen as linked. What is brought out by contemplating and studying Scripture is made real in the lives of holy men and women, the people who come to be recognised as saints. And the saints themselves are not to be viewed simply as individuals; their lives are a part of the Church’s life, its complex, sometimes blemished, history."

This whole piece on Bede, by Monsignor Roderick Strange, can be read here.

Bede is buried in the Galilee Chapel in Durham Cathedral, a place of fond memory for me. There you may read this lovely prayer of Bede:

Christ is the morning star
Who when the night
Of this world is past
Brings to his saints
The promise of
The light of life
& opens everlasting day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Still thinking about our hui

A few more reflections are percolating through the filters of my mind.


In a Three Tikanga Church such as our own the role of culture is very important. With the best will in the world Pakeha culture (mostly European/N. American/Western in derivation) cannot refrain from dominating the shape and character of our church unless the cultures of Maori and Pasefika are structured to have equal opportunity to contribute to our life. Consequently our default mode as a church is to celebrate culture and to embrace ways in which the gospel affirms our respective cultures (which it does in many ways). But the gospel has always changed the cultures of its converts: before God no culture is perfect, all can be conformed to the righteousness of God, the gospel is 'good news' for all cultures. To what extent are we as a church in these islands also in a mode to critique our cultures?

In the context of the three Hui, this is a specific question about the culture shared among us concerning matters of human sexuality which (as I interpret it in its broad expression through the life of our church) endorses values such as tolerance, diversity, human fulfilment, personal choice, and the sacredness of each individual's journey through life while simultaneously refraining from exalting Christian tradition and Christian Scripture as it speaks to the working out of discipleship as sexual beings. (To be clear: I am not saying we are a church which ignores tradition and Scripture. But I am proposing that it is difficult to see signs which point to a strong desire to live under the authority of our tradition and Scripture. One sign is the difficulty we seem to have to embrace the concept - largely uncontroversial when placed against the whole history of theology - that Scripture is the Word of God written.)

Mission worked out through a Political Theology or a Pastoral Theology

One of the charges brought against the commitment of this church, indeed of the whole Communion, to ongoing conversation re human sexuality, is that it is a ploy by a liberal dominated hierarchy to wear down conservative opposition to change. I am firmly of the conviction that there is no 'ploy' at work, rather a genuine desire to ensure that the claim of the gospel to be a message to the whole world - a message of God's saving love to every person - is a claim which has integrity because the church excludes no group from its midst. That is, the mission of the church, because it is the mission of God, must necessarily offer a welcome to all without condition.

It is the next stage of this missional thinking which is causing controversy among us. Beyond the point of welcome, for instance, do we require repentance or not in order to (say) take up a role in the church? In New Testament times, to give an ancient example, some thought church members should repent of eating food offered to idols, others did not. In current times the knowledge that an officer of the church is also a Freemason can stir up intense debate with painful pastoral consequences. One of the matters which came up in my small group at the hui is the question of (so called) 'open table fellowship': is participation in the Lord's Supper open to all present at the service of Communion, or only to the baptised? (Intriguingly this question is one for which both liberals/progressives and conservatives are willing to affirm the former. Me? I am for the latter!!).

Keeping this post to reasonable length I'll simply conclude in this way: the challenge of what the church does with all who come to her, beyond the initial stage of welcome, is being driven forward in some quarters by a 'political theology' (emphasizing things such as human rights, rights of the baptized, changes to canons and liturgies, an ongoing history of liberation through slavery, women's roles, and, now, homosexuality) and in other quarters by a 'pastoral theology' (emphasizing the importance of finding a place for all in the church while remaining committed to the authority of Scripture and tradition). Obviously this is very sketchy ...

A question for the conservative part of our church is this: are we moving forward in the development of a pastoral theological response to the issues of our day? Sometimes it seems to me like we are not; that our intense focus on the upholding of orthodox theology overlooks the challenge of our mission to all. To put it a little bluntly: we could end up with an orthodox Anglican church which concomitantly says to gay and lesbian people, 'Do not come here, you are not welcome.'

How can we, like Jesus (John 1:17), be both gracious and truthful?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hui Post 5: Final Reflections

Perhaps the best way to offer reflections which arise from the experience of the Hui is to pose a series of questions - to be clear, these are questions emerging in my mind; aside from informal conversations over a cup of tea etc, most were not discussed as the business of the hui; oh, and by the way, there is no particular priority in the questions listed below:

(1) What is driving forward the issue of human sexuality in our church? Is it parishioners in the pews or the leadership?

(2) What do parishioners in the pews think about possible outward, formal changes in our canons re human sexuality? What if we found that there is a 50:50 divide? Quo vadis?

(3) What question or questions are we trying to answer? (Why do some of us frame some questions one way and others another way?)

(4) Do we have to answer any questions, change anything?

(5) What is the role of Scripture in our church? How can we read so much of it in our worship and be willing to discuss how much of it no longer applies to our lives? In what ways is Scripture formational and transformational in the life of the church?

(6) What does it mean to offer grace to people in the name of Christ? Clearly it involves welcome and hospitality. Are there limits to this grace, for example, if all are welcome into the house of God, are all welcome to participation in the eucharist?

Aside: framed in that way the last question (to me) readily requires the answer 'yes'! But there are other questions! For example: is baptism the means of grace by which people enter into the communion of the church as the body of Christ? Of course, if the answer to that question is 'yes' then it is the baptised who are welcomed to participate in the eucharist and not simply 'all'. Back to questions ...

(7) How do we interpret Scripture? What is the relationship between Scripture, reason, tradition, experience, culture, creation and, for that matter, anything else we think relevant to the hermeneutical task?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hui Post 4: Last Day in Wellington

A lovely end to a lovely hui, with presentations from Hone Kaa, Bishop Winston Halapua, and myself on Anglican ecclesiology in practice; some questions; a wrap up reflection by Bishop Victoria; small groups on two questions: one thing to take home, one hope for the church; eucharist; lunch; shuttle; plane; home.

But was it too lovely? We certainly practised respectful conversations well. But the topic (church and scripture) was soft relative to the next hui (sexuality and scripture). How deeply did we engage with Scripture? I think we found in some groups (at least) that it was easy to move from reading Scripture to discussing the topic at hand. But Hermeneutics is a 'thick' reading of the text in which the text is read more than once, read in conjunction with wider reading of related resources (Bible dictionaries, commentaries etc), and (where possible) read in original languages. The read again and again to test a proposed understanding of the text to see if it is coherent with the text. A challenge for next time, and between now and then, back in our dioceses and hui amorangi, will be to do some serious hermeneutical work. These two hui have given us some tools, some insights, and some motivation ... let's get on with it!

In another post I will offer a few more reflections which work from remarks made here and there in formal and informal settings; remarks which I judge to give insight into the mind and mood of our church. Here is one reflection to finish this post with: what is going to be more important to us as the conversation continues, our personal stories or the story of God revealed through Scripture? There were signs (emphasise: signs, not more than that) that our mood as a church is to bring out our personal stories as a response to the story of God revealed through Scripture, should one seem to be out of synch with the other.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hui Post 3: Day Two in Wellington

Peace continues to prevail at the hui. Someone asked me how I was finding it compared to the previous hui. I said it was more enjoyable and less exciting. (There was a bit of edgy tension at the last hui which created a frisson of excitement, and even some sharp debate). There is disagreement and debate occurring here, especially in our small group discussions (which took up the best part of the afternoon), but it is civil, polite discourse as far as I can tell.

Jenny Te Paa got us off to a good start today, sharing her views on what it means to be Anglican, with special reference to the Three Tikanga (i.e. cultural streams) life of our church. For not the first time she raised the question whether it is time to revisit our arrangements. In some groups this call was picked up. In our group I think we accept and support our arrangements, since they are helpful and necessary for development of church life, while simultaneously wishing to have more fellowship between our tikanga.

Fereimi Cama (Dean of Suva Cathedral, Fiji) and Tim Harris (Dean of Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson) also spoke on being Anglican. Both spoke from the heart - a reminder that being Anglican is not just a matter of a well worked out rationale for being so. (Though Tim provided an excellent power point with headings and citations from Cranmer and co which set out a particularly good rationale)!

Others contributed to a lovely panel (Bishop Victoria Matthews, Hone Kaa, Amy Chambers, and Tom Innes) and Sue Burns chaired them and us gently through proceedings, all according to the method known as Respectful Conversation.

The tie in with hermeneutics? Our group work in the afternoon began with 1 Corinthians 12 and, for those who ran out of things to say on that great chapter, continued with Ephesians 4:1-16. After afternoon tea a variety of other NT passages on the church were dispersed to the groups. Engaging with such passages was intended to provoke discussion. I suspect the extent of engagement varied from group to group: Christians do not need the Bible to start a discussion!

But what we found is that we are open to Scripture being at the centre of our discussion, that we can respectfully converse with each other, and that even when we disagree we can eat together in table fellowship.

All this is excellent practice for the third hui on the delicate subject of human sexuality.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hui Post 2: First Day in Wellington

Irenic. That would be a good word to describe our first day together. Helped I think by a high proportion of delegates from the first Hui in 2007 returning. That meant it has felt more like a gathering of 'old friends' than anything else.

Powhiri. Eucharist. Lunch. The blessed trinity of hospitality and welcome helped ease us into the swing of things. Archbishop David Moxon led us through a recap of progress through the first hui. Then I delivered my paper on Jesus and the Word (see brief excerpt below). I felt this amazing freedom in the Spirit while delivering. Rob MacKay and Howard Pilgrim responded - disagreeing with me on various matters, some of which will certainly lead to me making a revision or two. All in a good spirit and we went into a time of group discussion which went along ... irenically!

In this afternoon's session on Jesus and the Word my own summing up of the key issue is this: what is the relationship between the book we call the Bible and the Word of God? My paper argued that the Bible was properly described by the English Reformers as 'the Word of God written'. The responses, which ranged over a number of matters I had mentioned, effectively made the point that other descriptions of the relationship take better account of the development of Anglican theology since the Reformation.

In other words, the challenge for our whole church (i.e. not just the delegates here at the hui), is to dig a little deeper on how we understand the Bible in relation to God. It's not an easy question to answer, but it is an important question in our quest for a common understanding on what Scripture has to say to human sexuality in the 21st century.

Well, enough of me, and enough from me! Hopefully more to post tomorrow evening.

Hui Post 1: The Word of God written

This afternoon I have the privilege of delivering a paper under the general heading of Jesus and the Word. It's aim is to begin the series of presentations and workgroup discussions by reflecting on our Lord Jesus and his own approach to Scripture.

Here is a tiny taster of the paper (which is about 10 pages in length):

"Our particular task at this hui is to read Scripture together to discover common understanding of the church according to Scripture. In doing so we build on our first hui in 2007 in which we engaged with some basic steps in the hermeneutical task: learning, for example, to read the text with the worlds in view which lie behind the text, within the text, and in front of the text.

Today, under the heading of Jesus and the Word: an evangelical perspective on Christ, Scripture and the church I want to speak to these four sub-headings:

Jesus Christ at the centre of Scripture
Jesus Christ the hinge on which the meaning of Scripture turns
Jesus Christ and continuity of scripture in Scripture
The Christ of Scripture and the body of Christ

I will then conclude with a reflection on the role of theology and Scripture in the life of the church. My overall argument is this: theological reflection on Jesus, Scripture and the church supports the wisdom of the English Reformers that Scripture is the Word of God written. This conclusion, if accepted, decisively shapes any Anglican church project to understand Scripture and undergirds the claim that Scripture has authority over our church."

Two people will be responding to the paper before workgroups get to discuss the matters raised. I have seen one of the responses. Already it is shaping up to be a lively hui (for our overseas readers, a hui is a gathering or conference).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hermeneutical Hui 2009

The second in a series of three which ACANZP is holding begins tomorrow, Tuesday 19th May. If possible I will blog on the Hui each day.

The theme is: How Can We Read Scripture Together as a Church

Here is the programme:

Tuesday 19 May

How Can we Read Scripture Together as Church?

10.00 a.m.
Gather/morning tea followed by:


1.30 p.m.
Community Building (Archbishop David Moxon)
followed by Groups’ Reflection upon Hui

3.00 p.m. Afternoon Tea

3.30 p.m.
Bible Study: Jesus and the Word presented by The Reverend Canon Dr Peter Carrell with response from The Reverends Rob McKay and Howard Pilgrim followed by:


5.15 p.m.
Active Listeners’ feedback followed by:
Evening Prayer (Tikanga Pasifika)

Social time

6.00 p.m. Dinner together

Wednesday, 20 May

Difference in Community around Scripture

9.00 a.m.
Morning Prayer (Tikanga Pakeha)

Being Anglican (Dr Jenny Te Paa, The Reverend Dr Tim Harris and The Very Reverend Fereimi Cama)

10.15 am. Morning tea

10.45 a.m. Being Church:
The Reverend Amy Chambers, The Venerable Dr Hone Kaa, The Reverend Tom Innes and Bishop Victoria Matthews

Midday Prayer (Tikanga Maori)

12.30 p.m. Lunch

1.30 p.m. Gather

2.00 p.m. In Hui groups for Bible Study:
1 Corinthians 12 & Ephesians 4: 1-16

3.00 p.m. Afternoon tea

3.30 p.m.
What sort of community did Jesus call us to be? In Hui groups using Bible Texts

4.30 p.m. Plenary (The Reverend Canon Sue Burns to chair) with Active Listeners’ feedback followed by:

Evening Prayer (Tikanga Pasifika)

Social time - 6.00 p.m. Dinner together

Thursday, 21 May
How does Anglican ecclesiology work in practice?

9.00 a.m.
Morning Prayer (Archbishop Brown)
followed by Plenary: 3-Tikanga Reflection:
Ven. Dr Hone Kaa
Rev Dr Canon Peter Carrell
Bishop Winston Halapua

What does this mean for being Anglican in our Church today?

10.15 a.m. Morning Tea

10.45 a.m.
Closing Reflections:
Bishop Victoria

11.30 a.m.
Closing Eucharist followed by lunch

Working with the grain of the Communion

Excerpted from a comment I posted on Fulcrum:

"In the end the challenge for all named organisations and each major tendency in Anglican churches is to gain the support of the majority of Anglicans, not to wrest political control of either the Communion or of individual member churches, since political control has no long-term substance without majority support. The reality of our life is this (both in the C of E, in my own church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia and in the Communion): the only proposal for our future which has majority support in the pews is that we do not divide.

The challenge for our leaders, and for those of us with the facility with words to make comment in the worldwide Anglican conversation via the internet is to work with that support rather than against it, irrespective of our convictions on the interconnected issues of human sexuality, Scripture, and false teaching."

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Eternal Subordination Distorting Evangelicalism?

There was a time when arguments about the ordination of women and the role of wives were solely exegetical. Increasingly they are taking a theological turn, to be precise, a Trinitarian touch is transforming the foundation of arguments that men and women are equal but different, or, equal but one is subordinate to the other. Consider this title of an article by a doyen of the Eternal Subordinationists, Bruce Ware, published in the movement's flagship journal, Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood : "Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead".

The title gives the gist of what is going on: a re-examination of orthodox Trinitarian theology, which is founded on a rejection of Arianism, meaning the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father because the Son is created not fully deified, now reveals that:-

Father Son and Holy Spirit are 'Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles'
but between Father Son and Holy Spirit as the Three Persons of the One Essence
there is 'Eternal Functional Authority' exercised by the Father
and 'Eternal Submission' exercised by the Son and the Holy Spirit
but not to the detriment of 'the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead'.

Since much of this kind of argumentation exists within movements for the subordination of women within the church and within marriage, or in debates with those concerned by such movements, it is all but impossible to distinguish talk of 'Eternal Subordinationism' from talk of 'Female Subordinationism'

Nevertheless I am going to have a go making the distinction here, and in a post or three in the future, because the pure Trinitarian question of eternal subordinationism interests me, whether or not it is linked to 'biblical manhood and womanhood'. Here are some questions:

(1) Given that there is some kind of 'order' in the Trinity (e.g. we feel we should always speak of Father Son and Holy Spirit rather than of another ordering of the three; the Father sends the Son, and not vice versa; and the Spirit proceeds from the Father (all Christians agree) and the Son (Eastern Orthodox Christians deny this), what is this order? Does it imply subordination? If it does, what kind of subordination? Eternal or temporal? Functional or ontological?

(2) What does Scripture say which requires us to understand the relationship of the Son to the Father as characterized by eternal subordination?

(3) Should we not be sceptical about any claim to a 'new' understanding of creedal matters of orthodox faith? If so, is eternal subordination something which has been understood and taught by the great theologians since Athanasius? If it has been taught, has this been clear or obscure within their body of teaching?

(4) Is evangelicalism on the point of division over eternal subordinationism (ES)? Are those promoting it adopting it into their understanding of evangelicalism so that it will become a matter of evaluation of identity? (That is, if one denies ES will one be considered either a non-evangelical or a dubious evangelical?)

(5) Given that Eternal Subordinationists today vigorously deny the charge of Arianism (and accepting that denial), is there a danger that tomorrow an ES evangelicalism will evolve into Arianism?

Barth and Calvin: do they make theologians like them any more?


In Auckland Airport today I met two friends who were returning home from a conference on the theology of Karl Barth (tragically I was unable to go). One of them recounted a story of Karl Barth which is most apt as I prepare to join with a host of Anglicans from our Dioceses and hui amorangi at the Hermeneutical Hui next week. I have tracked the story down to here. It is told by Robert C. Johnson and goes like this:*

In one of Barth's seminars in the late 1950s a white hot, long argument erupts among the students over Barth's method. Barth puffs his pipe, sips his wine, and says nothing. Just as the second hour of the argument is about to begin it occurs to one of the students

'that there was a potential consultant present, a resource person who might conceivably be able to shed some light on the problem or adjudicate the dispute. This student turned and ricocheted the original question that had begun the debate to Barth. Not to be dramatic, but simply to report: there literally was a full minute of heavy silence, in which everyone simply stared at the table. And then Barth said, looking across the morass of complex issues that had been spread on the table (and to all appearances he was entirely serious),

"If I understand what I am trying to do in the Church Dogmatics, it is to listen to what Scripture is saying and tell you what I hear".'

A lovely story, and just what I am going to attempt to do at the Hui!


Also this week I have been engaged in a strenuous debate, on a blog thread with some Australians, over the subject of 'eternal subordination'. I have pulled out on the grounds that to convey my position satisfactorily I would have provide a full treatise on the Trinity. But as I made my withdrawal I was prompted to look again at some material in Calvin's Institutes. In 1.13.24 Calvin makes a point about his opponents:

"If they grant that the Son is God, but only in subordination to the Father, the essence which in the Father is unformed and unbegotten will in him be formed and begotten."

A little further on Calvin clarifies the difference between 'essence' and 'person' in this regard (1.13.25):

"The Scriptures teach that there is essentially but one God, and therefore that the essence both of the Spirit and the Son is unbegotten." By contrast "the Father in respect of his person is unbegotten" whereas of the Son he says, "his person has its beginning in God" (i.e. the Son in his person is, as John says, 'begotten').

There are places where Calvin speaks of 'order' between the persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), and this is underpinned by the distinction between the Father being 'unbegotten' (as a Person) and the Son being 'begotten' (as a Person), but Calvin's insight into the glory of Christ as God includes this intriguing description (2.14.3),

"But when, as partakers of the heavenly glory, we shall see God as he is, then Christ, having accomplished the office of Mediator, shall cease to be the vice-regent of the Father, and will be content with the glory which he possessed before the world was. ... God will then cease to be the head of Christ, and Christ's own Godhead will then shine forth of itself, whereas it is now in a manner veiled."

Putting all this together means that Calvin is no supporter of 'eternal subordination'. In this case order in the internal relations among the Persons of the Godhead does not imply eternal subordination; at best it implies temporal subordination.

I intend to post again on this subject, and in particular on the dangers eternal subordination is posing for conservative Christianity.

*Citation above re Barth: from Johnson's article "The Legacy of Karl Barth" in Karl Barth and the Future of Theology, edited by David L. Dickerman (New Haven: Yale, 1969), pp. 3-4, but I am citing from an important new book on Barth, Karl Barth's Theological Exegesis: The Theological Principles of the Romerbrief Period by Richard E. Burnett (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), p. 10 n27.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Zealand to host next Anglican Consultative Council

If it is not abolished, as I think it should be, the next ACC meeting will be in Aotearoa New Zealand, in 2012. One venue for consideration could be Waiouru, at the beginning of the Desert Road. Okay, bad joke. By contrast here is an excerpt from a good sermon by outgoing ACC Chair, Bishop John Paterson (soon also to be outgoing Bishop of Auckland, as he has announced his retirement as from 31 March 2010):

"And they got the shock of their lives. The stone was already rolled away. ‘The stone was rolled back’ – an example perhaps of Mark’s use of the passive voice to avoid speaking directly of God. We are to understand that the entire event is God’s doing.

I like to ponder about that stone. Mark makes the point that it was extremely large, yet when the women arrived, they found that it had been rolled away. Are there any large stones in our lives? “Who will roll the stone away?” the women asked. Who can roll the stone away from the death, from the negativity that so easily causes us to stumble and even to stop? Who will roll the stone away from those places where death and decay have us locked in, have us trapped? Are we looking for the experience of triumph or hoping for the experience of presence? Does the empty tomb represent the assurance that God is present in our times of limits and losses? Have we manufactured any large stones and are now unable of our own strength to roll them away? Have we manufactured a large stone called ‘An Anglican Covenant’ that will seal off creative, faithful life in the Communion? I trust not. Perhaps there are other large stones with different labels that we might wish God to roll away – stones that might be labeled ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, ‘orthodox’, ‘Windsor’, ‘Gafcon’ – are a few possibilities. Will God roll those stones away in order to let new life, new light, new hope emerge."

It's more upbeat than the Presidential Lament of Archbishop Rowan Williams. It includes a restatement of the importance of ACC. I disagree. The ACC is not wholly representative of the true theological diversity of the Communion and of its member churches. It should go. I am available to pronounce the last rites in 2012!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Should we be preparing for a new Communion future?

Reading Archbishop Rowan's Presidential Address to the ACC at Jamaica (Lament would be a better descriptive title) I must ask whether we should now be preparing for a new Communion future, one which accommodates our commonality (there is still a bit), our differences (several and deep), and our intransigence (it will be a long time before this new future morphs into a better one).

The odd thing about raising this question is that ACC has proved that we do not have the institutional means to make any decision about real change in our life together. To prepare for a new Communion future will be about groups within the Communion showing initiative (a la GAFCON) and meeting together; it could also be about individual bishops and provinces withdrawing from some of the institutional bodies.

What might this new Communion future look like? Conceivably it could be a little like Eastern Orthodoxy with its patriarchies: Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Antiochene Orthodox, and theologically different from the first three, Coptic Orthodox. Thus we might have North American Episcopalian, North American Anglican, Global South (with Global South and North American Anglican, with others, meeting together for mutual benefit as GAFCON), an established Church of England and an Independent Anglican Church in England, etc. I do not want to hazard a guess where ACANZP might go - though we might well stay together as we are so small anyway!

We should be warned, of course, if not aware already, that the patriarchies of Orthodoxy are often riven with bitter infighting. Just as the patriarchies can and do meet together (I understand) for conferences about this and that on which agreement is likely, so one can imagine (as ++Rowan also does) that whatever the future, there is still a place for 'the Anglican Communion'.

But there is another question in the midst of all this, posed to me today by a correspondent. (In my own words) it is this: is there an Anglican future worth staying the course for, which today, at least, Archbishop Rowan is pessimistic about, especially in a day when denominations seem less and less important, and, if so, what form will it take?

This is my answer (briefly). One should be careful to understand that there is no 'pure Christian church, solely governed by Scripture'. Save for short terms of revival and refreshment of church life, all churches experience the challenges of difference over the interpretation of Scripture, training of new ministers, and the organization of church life in order to constrain the power of dominant individuals (if not the power of abusive individuals).

The Anglican church is an expression of church in which some elements of interpretation of Scripture have been resolved (e.g. there are bishops, infants may be baptized), some elements remain open to exploration (e.g. we include both protestant and catholic theologies in our midst), and other elements are controversial (e.g. over human sexuality and marriage). It has an established method, centred on its bishops, for calling, discerning, training, ordaining and appointing ministers, and it has a carefully worked out method through its canons and synods for organizing its life in such a manner as to minimize the damage and destruction of dominant individuals.

In short, the philosophy of all this, i.e Anglicanism, is worth believing and worth preserving unless one believes differently or one doesn't mind living only for the moment - and it may be an exciting moment - in which some pure Christian church, solely governed by Scripture captures one's heart and mind.

But that leaves open the future shape of the church in which the beauty and truth of Anglicanism is to be found: will it be in the church as we currently experience it, or somewhere else if the current church disintegrates? That question is very difficult to answer. In part it depends on what is happening in each parish and each diocese, as well as in each province and in each significant grouping within the Anglican Communion. Writing this from the centre of the Diocese of Nelson, especially with a reasonably recently ordained bishop and a new theological college, the future shape of the church looks good because, whatever happens in the wider world, I think we can keep going. But writing from the edge of (say) the Auckland Diocese (electing a new bishop in November), or in rural Southland (with no stipended clergyperson for miles around), or in the confused state of affairs in Pittsburgh or San Joaquin (different claims and counter claims being made about which is the true 'diocese') would feel very, very different! Nevertheless I would depart for nowhere in a hurry, wherever I was. Impatience is not a virtue. I would encourage myself and others to keep praying and to keep looking on the bright side. Most of the time most of our parish life keeps trundling along, no matter what silly or stupid stuff is happening over the horizon. The faithful ones who keep company with me in worship and fellowship, they are the ones who matter.

Yet if someone is motivated to work in a wider sphere for a new future shape for the Anglican church, I would encourage them to make this decision: work for the widest form of the church you can live with, and then a little bit wider. Do not give into the temptation to gather only with the ones you agree wholeheartedly with. It is not in keeping with Anglicanism to seek the narrowest and tightest of confessional bases for the Anglican church as we would have it. It is Anglicanism when we recognize that the person we disagree with may have something to teach us for it is our character to be humble in our estimation of our grasp of the truth. Yet this does not mean there are no limits to what Anglicans may believe ... but defining those limits is another story and I must stop here for now.

Rowan speaks

Archbishop Rowan Williams does have a way with words. His words may infuriate, inspire, or illuminate, but they are always worth pondering. Here is an excerpt from his closing Presidential Address to the ACC Meeting:

"Now, who are the people who bear the deepest costs in our conflicts in the Anglican Communion? It’s a question to which there is actually no short answer, but I simply put it before you for some reflection. But there are some who would say that in this conflict the credibility of Christianity itself is at stake.

There are some who bear the cost in this way: they will say that Christian credibility is shattered by the sense of rejection and scapegoating which they experience, and that includes a great many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. The cost they feel is often they cannot commend the Christianity that they long to believe in because they feel that they are bound up in a system and a community where scapegoating and rejection are very deeply engrained.

And then there are those for whom the credibility of Christianity is at stake in another way, those for whom the cost is felt like this: that the decisions that others have made in other parts of the world have put them in a position where they cannot commend the Christianity they long to share with their neighbours with any ease or confidence because they feel that fellow Christians have somehow undermined their witness. Deep cost – different costs – but here is the first big challenge. How can those who share that sense of cost and that sense of profound anxiety about how to make the Gospel credible – how are they to come together at least for some recognition and respect to emerge? How are they to come together so that they can recognise the cost that the other bears, and also recognise the deep seriousness about Jesus and his Gospel that they share? As with so many observations of this sort, I have to add immediately I know that won’t solve the problem. All I know is that it’s part of the imperative of dealing with this in a Christian way, not just in terms of managing something or glossing over something."

The whole is obtainable here.

This plea for clemency does not work

Two days ago I said the ACC should be abolished. This post by Chris Sugden on Anglican Mainstream is worth reproducing in full since it includes apologia for the confusing process of debate re the Covenant by its outgoing Chairman (and Anglican down under) Bishop John Paterson of Auckland.

"Today the outgoing chairman of ACC, the incoming chairman and their legal adviser admitted that the ACC had no formal procedures for debate in order to facilitate open conversation. “A great weight is placed on the chairman” said Mr John Rees their legal adviser. “The chairman has extensive powers for steering the debate”.

It was noteworthy that the legal adviser came to the press conference unannounced to deal with any questions that arose about procedures. Most of the questions from the press, starting with the Episcopal News Service were on the matter of procedures.

The chairman, Bishop John Paterson, admitted that the significant amendment with the key clauses that delayed the covenant, was initially resisted by him when it was at last put. However “ The president came to my rescue, “ he said. “He had foreshadowed that parts of it might be placed in the resolution. He sensed what he felt might have been the view of the meeting.”

Bishop Tengatenga, the incoming chairman, said that “people want to look at different resolutions differently. Sometimes take them clause by clause, and at other times they take the whole thing.”

Bishop Paterson indicated that some of the criticism had come from people who had viewed the meeting on TV but had not been in the room at the time.

Bishop Paterson was asked how as chair he could have made the debate less confusing.

“ I tried to be as fair as possible by being measured and slow. With the benefit of hindsight I could have been more deliberate and slow. The council is made up of intelligent people. They knew what they were voting on . My style of chairmanship allows them to ask questions of me and they did not.”

Asked how he would direct matters differently, Bishop James Tengatenga answered that ”One learns from what one sees. One of the problems we see ourselves is that when there are different resolutions we have a different process. People want to look at different resolutions differently. Sometimes it takes items clause by clause, and at others we take whole thing.”

John Rees as legal adviser said there was a simple solution: “that ACC develops a large body of standing orders. In a multi-lingual cross-cultural assembly it is difficult if we have a big body of standing orders. We have moved away from that in response to lot of criticism that the process was western parliamentary dominated.”

One can only reflect, that when there is no clear procedure, the door is open for the arbitrary use of power. That does not empower people, since they have no access to appeal to what all have agreed on. In this case, when the chairman sought to follow the normal rules of procedure he was trumped by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The question remains: what confidence can the Anglican Communion have in a body where those who come to make decisions have no given ground rules for how those debates and decisions are going to be conducted ahead of time, but rather are dependent entirely on the will of the chairman and above him of the president to interpret their mind?"

Chris Sugden is right. We can have no confidence in a body which constitutes an 'Instrument of Unity' for our Communion but has inadequate procedures for ensuring that the 'mind of the Communion' is represented through its decisions. If we have no confidence in the ACC it should be abolished ... or, so radically overhauled that it becomes a different body!

Monday, May 11, 2009

When an Instrument of Unity is not united, should it be scrapped?

It is now time to abolish the ACC. Whatever the events of the last few days have revealed about who did what in the excruciating debates and voting over resolutions concerning the Covenant they have revealed that the ACC is not competent to 'indifferently minister justice'. Whether this is through conspiracy or cock up (as Chris Sugden puts it in a very diplomatic way), or money of a certain currency talking louder than sense, including the sense of where other Instruments of Unity had been leading the Communion, matters little. The body is out of sync with the mind and mood of the Communion. There will be repercussions.

And the Archbishop of Canterbury, an Instrument of Unity, himself now seems disunited on the Covenant. I suspect his interventions in the debates of the last day of ACC were well-intentioned, and, under pressure of the moment, not properly expressive of his united and determined commitment to the Covenant. But he now has to reclaim his reputation on the matter.

If the ACC were to be abolished what would replace it? One possibility is nothing. There are other Instruments of Unity. Lambeth, for instance, could meet more often (but for shorter length, spouses only coming every second meeting, etc). Another possibility is an Anglican General Council that is truly representative of the Communion. One weakness of the ACC is that it has variance in its representation relative to the shape and size of member churches of the Communion. Some churches send a representative from each of its synodical houses, some do not. Tiny Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia had three 'normal' representives (bishop, clergy, lay) plus a co-opted member. Its four members trumped three from mighty Nigeria! But even with four members of ACC our church had neither Polynesian nor woman nor conservative representation among the four!

Can anything be salvaged from the debacle? I think so, but it will require tremendous good will on all sides. As I understand the effect of the decision made about the Covenant, one section was not satisfactory, and has been referred on for further work. Committees do that sort of thing all the time with reports from other committees. It need not be a big deal. But what is a big deal is whether or not this next stage in the process will be seen to be the indifferent ministering of justice or subject to the partiality of politics. It is also going to be a very big deal whether some other part of Anglican Communion process can offer a welcome to ACNA and to those dioceses in member churches who want to sign up to the Covenant when their own church does not.

There is still everything to play for, but some of the players are injured. Whatever the result, the ACC should be taken out of the game.

Postscript: if you think I am being a bit tough on the ACC, or miscalling the situation in the final session, note this criticism from the ACI, one of the most vigorous supporters of the Anglican Communion from within the ranks of TEC:

'Friday’s session of the Anglican Consultative Council is an embarrassment to Anglicans everywhere, and a sad display of procedural confusion ... These events unfolded live on Anglican TV to people watching around the world. It is beyond question that these procedures were improper, confusing and manipulative. The credibility of the ACC, already questioned by the Communion’s own advisory groups, has suffered lasting damage.' Read the whole article here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Not so good!


1. thanks the Covenant Design Group for their faithfulness and responsiveness in producing the drafts for an Anglican Communion Covenant and, in particular, for the Ridley Cambridge Draft submitted to this meeting;
2. recognises that an Anglican Communion Covenant may provide an effective means to strengthen and promote our common life as a Communion;
3. asks the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the Secretary General, to appoint a small working group to consider and consult with the Provinces on Section 4 and its possible revision, and to report to the next meeting of the Joint Standing Committee;
4. asks the JSC, at that meeting, to approve a final form of Section 4
5. asks the Secretary General to send the revised Ridley Cambridge Text, at that time, only to the member Churches of the Anglican Consultative Council for consideration and decision on acceptance or adoption by them as The Anglican Communion Covenant;
6. asks those member Churches to report to ACC-15 on the progress made in the processes of response to, and acceptance or adoption of, the Covenant.

Track reports on Thinking Anglicans, Anglican Mainstream, etc to see that there was a lot of argy-bargy preceding this resolution; including some leadership of ambiguous quality.

Note section 3 (= delay); section 5 (= not to dioceses, not to ACNA).

Note also that on this and related resolutions, including some lost motions, voting was tight. At worst that means the Communion is as liable to split as ever. At best that means the ongoing, never ending character of this saga is reflective of a genuinely divided group of churches!

(Postscript, Sunday morning NZ time) For a robust, but I think necessary response, see Mark Thompson/Anglican Church League's statement from Sydney. One reflection I offer is this: each time since GAFCON (mid 2008) the Anglican Communion in some way or another has focused on the gospel, conformed to Scripture, and expressed clear leadership according to orthodox principles GAFCON has appeared to be a conservative over reaction; but each time the Anglican Communion has lost sight of the gospel, veered away from Scripture, and provided example of weak and vacillating leadership, GAFCON has appeared to be what the Anglican Communion ought to normally be. The latter is the case today. Supportive though I have been of ++Rowan, it is difficult to understand some elements of his leadership at ACC. Nevertheless, everything of importance which occurred there was voted on, and conservatives such as myself need to reckon with the closeness of some of those votes in assessing the general character and commitments of the Communion at this time.


From the ENS via Thinking Anglicans

The representatives of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) affirmed May 8 the Windsor Continuation Group’s final report, which includes moratoria on same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate.

The resolution noted the “deep cost” of observing those moratoria and calls the Anglican Communion to “pray for repentance, conversion and renewal; leading to deeper communion.”

The members narrowly rejected (33-32) an attempt to add a fourth moratoria that would have banned litigation over the taking of property by those who leave a diocese or province.

The text of the resolution follows.

The ACC:

1. thanks the Archbishop of Canterbury for his report on the work and recommendations of the Windsor Continuation Group;
2. affirms the recommendations of the Windsor Continuation Group;
3. affirms the request of the Windsor Report (2004), adopted at the Primates’ Meetings (2005, 2007, 2009), and supported at the Lambeth Conference (2008) for the implementation of the agreed moratoria on the consecration of bishops living in a same-gender union, authorization of public rites of blessing same-sex unions and continued interventions in other provinces;
4. acknowledges the efforts that have been made to hold to the moratoria, gives thanks for the gracious restraint that has been observed in these areas and recognizes the deep cost of such restraint;
5. asks that urgent conversations are facilitated with those provinces where the application of the moratoria gives rise for concern;
6. encourages the Archbishop of Canterbury to work with the Joint Standing Committee and the Secretary General to carry forward the implementation of the Windsor Continuation Group report recommendations as appropriate;
7. asks the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order to undertake a study of the role and responsibilities in the Communion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting; the ecclesiological rationale of each, and the relationships between them, in line with the Windsor Continuation Group report, and to report back to ACC-15;
8. calls the Communion to pray for repentance, conversion and renewal; leading to deeper communion.

In other business, Bishop James Tengatenga of the Diocese of Southern Malawi, in the Church of the Province of Central Africa, was elected to succeed Auckland Bishop John Paterson as chair of the ACC meeting. Tengatenga will serve in that role until the conclusion of the 2015 ACC meeting.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Why head East when You can head North?

Amidst the news reports emanating from Jamaica, from which I cannot get a clear sense yet which way ACC is turning the good ship 'Anglican Communion', Kendall Harmon has posted a report on the conversion from Anglicanism to Eastern Orthodoxy of a notable North American Anglican theologian, Edith Humphrey. Here is an excerpt:

"I am writing to you with news that may not be surprising to some, but may require some explanation for others. After over 13 years of discernment, I will be chrismated and received into the Eastern Orthodox Church on Orthodox Pentecost, June 7th. I will be making my church home at St. George Antiochian Cathedral in Oakland (Pittsburgh) along with my husband Chris, who was received in November 2007, my oldest daughter Meredith, my son-in-law Josh, my grand-daughter Katherine, and the child soon to be born into their family. Though my husband and my daughter became Orthodox before me, our attraction together to the Orthodox Church began several years before our move to Pittsburgh.

I understand that some will not understand why I am doing this, since we have worked together for the health of the Anglican communion, and since many Anglicans are now realigned and looking towards the recognition of a newly formed North American province. Please be assured that my efforts for our communion have always been wholehearted, and hopeful. Once the leaders of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada made it clear that they were not prepared to walk with the historic Church and the rest of the Anglican communion in areas of ethics and doctrine, the Realignment seemed to me the most authentic response for faithful Anglicans: unrepentant heterodoxy must be given a clear answer. While in Jerusalem and Jordan I was very encouraged by the ability of leaders with different expressions of Anglicanism to listen and to learn from each other, and was optimistic that the interplay between evangelicals, charismatics and anglo-catholics would bring about something very good. I pray that God will continue to guide Anglicans who care about orthodoxy and right practice in the Anglican communion."

I first came across this news a couple of days ago. About the same time I was in Auckland for a day at the College of St John the Evangelist - the same day which, according to our NZ calendar, we deem to be St John's feast day. Thus some special effort was made to honour St John the Evangelist at the College eucharist. A highlight was the placement of an icon painted according to a famous theme, "St John the Evangelist dictates the Gospel to his disciple", in front of the Table. I found the presence of this icon immensely evocative, inspiring various reflections about the distinguished role of this Evangelist, his role in the development of Trinitarian theology, and his major role (as I best understand it) in the shaping of Eastern Orthodox theology so that it is both orthodox and never the same as Western orthodoxy in either its Roman or Protestant or Anglican forms.

I make no comment on Edith Humphrey's move. Who knows what any of us would do were we embedded in North America? But I was pleased on Wednesday to move North and find myself in the East!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Have just discovered what game is being played at ACC

With reference to an earlier post today re ACC and the refusal to seat a Ugandan delegate because he is a resident clergyperson within the area of TEC's jurisdiction but not licensed to TEC, I have discovered that the game being played is ... ping-pong. This discovery is thanks to John Richardson's hat-tip to the Chelmsford Mainstream publication of the relevant correspondence.

The correspondence is worth reading. I still think it likely that observers will deduce that some game playing is going on which is not ping-pong but possibly a form of ecclesial chess. Nevertheless it is basically bad form of the Joint Standing Committee to to refuse to seat Philip Ashey. If he is a clergyperson in good standing with the Church of Uganda then they have the right to choose him to be their representative. That he may be licensed in a 'cross-jurisdictional move' in contradiction of the Windsor Report is a matter for the Instruments of Unity to take up with Uganda, not to be taken out on Philip Ashey.

The point is inescapable that millions of Anglicans think there should be Communion recognition and inclusion of ACNA. The Joint Standing Committee understandably may have taken the view that seating of Philip Ashey would be interpreted as a sign of that recognition and inclusion ahead of the proper decision being made by the Instruments of Unity (including ACC). But the situation only heightens the urgency of the Instruments making an immediate decision to recognise ACNA. Within its ranks are Anglicans who wish to belong to the Communion, whose conscience shaped by Anglicanism has led them to withdraw fellowship with TEC and ACCan. It will not do for ACC and the other instruments to offer less comfort to ACNA than to TEC when the former wants to follow orthodox Anglican theology and the latter is comfortable having the principal of one its major seminaries running around saying that 'Abortion is a blessing.'

But I am sorry that Archbishop Orombi in one of the letters used the word 'persecute' to describe the situation within the Episcopal/Anglican divide in the USA. As far as I know no one has been imprisoned, flogged, beaten, or martyred. Unconscionably treated, yes; but not persecuted. Let's keep that word for our brothers and sisters enduring the worst at the hands of, well, those who cannot be named if you live in Ireland.

Incidentally, are we Anglicans making a mountain out of a mole-hill over the issue of homosexuality? In just released statistics here in NZ for 2008, there were 21900 marriages plus 378 civil unions (which may be entered into by same sex or different sex couples). Of the latter 255 civil unions involved same sex couples. Thus out of a total of 22228 legalised unions of couples in NZ in 2008, 1.15% involved same sex couples. I wonder what comparable figures are in North America and in the United Kingdom? Oh, and we must not forget our loved ones in Australia.

Short-term pain for long-term gain?

In that superbly reliable way of hers, Ruth Gledhill has zapped out a post which rounds up waifs and strays of posts and news into a summary report of where Anglican things are at:

"I might have made the mistake in the past of underestimating Gafcon. Like many Catholics who err on the liberal side in the Church of England, I guess I just hoped it would sort of go away.

Well it's not going to, as witnessed to by the poster, above, of the forthcoming 'alternative Synod' in London just a day before the real thing in York. Note that they've dropped the 'fellow ship' of that was FOCA. Now it's just 'Confessing Anglicans'. And note the interesting early retirement of Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, to work with persecuted Christians around the world. Might not conservatives in a liberal church see themselves as one such group?

Dr Nazir-Ali writes one of the most interesting analyses of the covenant in the latest Church of England Newspaper. He questions whether it is 'fit for purpose' and warns that it could lead to the very carte blanche it is designed to avoid. A contrasting view comes from another conservative heavyweight, a man we would normally expect him to be in agreement with, Stephen Noll, of Uganda Christian University. He welcomes it, and hopes that in it the 'real' Anglican Communion will be found in those provinces or 'churches' that participate in it.

Over then to Spread, the website of Charles Raven, a conservative evangelical former Church of England vicar who is now running his own independent ministry but is still very much involved in the debate and was at the Gafcon foundational meeting in Jerusalem last summer."

Click to her post to get the links to these and other matters of interest.

I suggest that what is at stake here is the long-term mission of the Anglican Communion. This mission over the long term will be damaged by splitting. In the short-term there may be gains for (say) both TEC and ACNA as they go separate ways in the USA. But in the long-term the distinctive Anglican interpretation of the gospel will be lost if we splinter. The voice of the Archbishop of Canterbury will carry no weight outside of England, and less inside of England if threatened schism takes place there. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia splitting off Anglican churches will grow over the short-term, but in the long term the "Anglican church" (i.e. the remnant of ACANZP and a series of independent Anglican churches) will be weakened to the point of invisibility.

Here in Nelson we have a salutary story to tell. Some thirty years ago some disaffected Anglicans broke away to form a branch of one of the disaffected Anglican churches abroad in the world. They soldiered on but they could not ensure succession. As their ministers grew old they faced the inevitable and ceased to be a church. One became a Presbyterian, the other a member of the Reformed church. Fortunately it was a minor split and the majority stayed together. Meantime our Diocese has continued strongly, regained some of the evangelicalism which our two friends perhaps felt had been lost, and through its strength has a public witness which is second to none in this region. But I shudder to think where things would be if there had been a series of splits, as threatens to be the case for the time being in the life of the Communion.

Now, perhaps in the purposes of God the loss of the Anglican voice for the gospel will not matter. Perhaps God wants to whittle the field down and we are expendable for the greater good of all Christians. But perchance if we think we might have something to offer could we try a little harder to remain together in fellowship? Could a key to a renewed commitment to fellowship be a new vision for what it means to be the church over the long haul - over the next 500 years and not just the next 5 minutes?

God Gang Fight Back Against Ditchkins

Stanley Fish reviews Terry Eagleton's Reason, Faith and Revolution in an article which should consign Ditchkins (aka Dawkins and Hitchens) to the dustbin of history. But the history of ideas is not always that straightforward. Here's an excerpt from Fish's piece, published in the New York Times:

"“Ditchkins,” Eagleton observes, cannot ground his belief “in the value of individual freedom” in scientific observation. It is for him an article of faith, and once in place, it generates facts and reasons and judgments of right and wrong. “Faith and knowledge,” Eagleton concludes, are not antithetical but “interwoven.” You can’t have one without the other, despite the Satanic claim that you can go it alone by applying your own independent intellect to an unmediated reality: “All reasoning is conducted within the ambit of some sort of faith, attraction, inclination, orientation, predisposition, or prior commitment.” Meaning, value and truth are not “reducible to the facts themselves, in the sense of being ineluctably motivated by a bare account of them.” Which is to say that there is no such thing as a bare account of them. (Here, as many have noted, is where religion and postmodernism meet.)

If this is so, the basis for what Eagleton calls “the rejection of religion on the cheap” by contrasting its unsupported (except by faith) assertions with the scientifically grounded assertions of atheism collapses; and we are where we always were, confronted with a choice between a flawed but aspiring religious faith or a spectacularly hubristic faith in the power of unaided reason and a progress that has no content but, like the capitalism it reflects and extends, just makes its valueless way into every nook and cranny."

The Games We Play

Over in Jamaica there has been a little contretemps over the refusal to seat one of the Ugandan delegates. Turns out the clerical delegate, one Philip Ashey with a postal address in Kampala, is Philip Ashey citizen and resident of the USA, licensed clergyman of the Ugandan Anglican Church, ministering in a Ugandan-aligned parish in the States and, somewhat egregious 'sin' for the context, chief operating officer of the American Anglican Council. You can read the greater detail in The Lead from Episcopal Cafe. Work out for yourselves who is playing games. Funnily enough, it does not seem to be Kenneth Kearon, much maligned by conservatives, since his communication with Philip Ashey was a welcoming assurance that his presence was being looked forward to!

Oh, well, it reminds me of the time when a handy NZer not selected by this church here filled in at ACC for a missing ACANZP delegate, and whose vote on a matter may have been crucial. I hope nothing important gets lost at ACC for want of the Ugandan vote!