Friday, June 12, 2009

Has Sydney been inconsistent in its understanding of the Bible?

A comment suggesting I have been captious with my original post has led me to revise this post (and correct a biblical reference).

I would understand that the Sydney Diocese's policy of not ordaining women to the priesthood or the episcopacy is a policy of obedience to the Bible, especially to texts such as 1 Timothy 2:12.

It is somewhat surprising then to learn that a significant contribution to the huge loss suffered by the Diocese's investments during the recent months of world recession has been due to borrowing money. I quote from Archbishop Peter's letter to the Diocese about this difficult situation (italics mine):

"Firstly, I want you to know that we have suffered very significant losses to our diocesan capital. For several years now we have borrowed money to increase the amount invested. This resulted in greater than average returns. In fact, a special 20 million dollar distribution to help purchase land and build new churches was possible in 2007 because of this."

Another Bible text is Romans 13:8:

"Owe no one anything, except to love each other ..."

Right now the Diocese is living by that text literally for the letter continues:

"Our investment position is now stable. All bank debt has been repaid, investment risks have been significantly reduced and our liquidity position is very strong."

But one wonders if for a while the Diocese made a choice to either ignore Romans 13:8, or to follow a line of interpretation in which Romans 13:8 does not preclude borrowing (as argued in a comment below). If the latter, then the Diocese has not been inconsistent in its understanding of the Bible.

Nevertheless the question remains if one can soften the apparent literal sense of Romans 13:8 then might not one do this with another verse or two?

If the former, i.e. Romans 13:8 simply set to one side, then it could be argued that there is an inconsistency. Now in my view most if not all of us who seek to live as far as possible by the Bible do live inconsistently relative to the Bible. It is hard to be perfect! But when we realise we are inconsistent then it may be appropriate to do some soul-and-mind searching. One possible outcome is that we lower the emphasis we place on being 'biblical' and raise the emphasis on 'theological system' and thus honestly acknowledge that our lives are governed by a system of theology rather than the Bible. Many Christians live with debt (Visa, mortgage, car loan) because, in their minds, there is a system of theology which both permits this and explains the limited application of Romans 12:8 (to say nothing of the whole downer the Bible has on usury).

It would be interesting to learn from Sydney what its system of theology is which reconciles applications of 1 Timothy 2:12 (fairly literally, it seems) and of Romans 13:8 (not too literally, perhaps).

This question of 'biblical' versus 'theological system' is not an unimportant matter. In a few weeks time a significant development in the post GAFCON life of the Communion will take place when the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in the UK and Ireland will be launched. As it happens, Archbishop Peter Jensen is one of the featured speakers.

Thus one can presume that a substantive call from this meeting will be for the Anglican churches of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to be reformed to a standard of biblical orthodoxy. But what is 'biblical orthodoxy'? It is a clear, consistent system of theology coherent with the Bible. Many of us want to be biblically orthodox; but do many of us understand that it is difficult to achieve in practice? That difficulty is, I suggest, what the non-GAFCON part of the Communion understands, and inspires patience in the ongoing conversation among Communion partners over our controversies. It will be looking, I am sure, for signs from the inauguration event in London on 6th July that the immensity of the challenge of being biblically orthodox is understood!


Anonymous said...

Peter - little captious, maybe?
First, you mean 13:8, not 12:8.
Second, read v. 8 together with v. 7, where it is clear that Christians *do owe taxes, revenue, respect etc. So it should be clear that v. 7 doesn't mean 'never get into debt' (were that possible!) but 'don't leave debts unpaid' - and Sydney has cleared its debts.
Third, borrowing money per se is not an issue in the NT (see Luke 16:1-9; Matt 18:23f) but usury and dihonesty are.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
Whoops, yes, 13:8, not 12:8.
I think one would have to develop a hermeneutic which moved from the parables which included borrowing to Christians may borrow, notwithstanding Romans 13:8's apparent no-no ... and would that hermeneutic be consistent with approaches to 1 Tim 2:12?

Janice said...

Hi Peter,

We have no control over what taxes, revenue, respect or honour we owe. Circumstances determine that. So I can't see how v.7 allows v.8 to be read as saying it's OK to decide, off one's own bat, to borrow money, particularly not to speculate on the stock market. Buying shares to try to make a profit sounds like gambling to me.

When I was living in the Sydney diocese I once attended a Bible study during which the issue of gambling came up. We discussed minutiae such as whether or not one may buy a raffle ticket and decided it's OK if you decide that in buying the ticket you are making a donation to whatever good cause is trying to raise funds and that you won't accept the prize even if you win it. But a lottery ticket, or a keno whatever-it-is? Never!

But here's another one: Sydney diocese clergy seem to want to be well housed. Of course clergy need a house with a study and they may very well also need a house with a separate, private, family room and a private bathroom. But do they need a house on a quiet street, one that is far away from the church building itself?

That's what the fellow at my mother's last church wanted. The old rectory (next door to the church, of course) is in a residential street and close to a major road and shopping centre, but not appreciably closer than the houses across the street or the one next door. But renovating the place wouldn't do.

I thought it was accepted that rectors of parishes, recognisable because they live next door to the church, might expect to have people, every very strange people, knocking at their door at odd times. As for the traffic noise, there might have been parishioners living in the houses next door and across the road. Can parishioners be expected to be less sensitive to noise?

Might Mt 20:25 apply?

P.S. Your Hermeneutics blog is very difficult to post to. When I select "Name/URL" from the "Select profile" drop down it takes several attempts to enter my name and sometimes I can't get the thing to work at all. I hope you will consider using a less buggy system - perhaps one like the one you're using here.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Janice
Thanks for all that. Clergy can be fussy; I am one myself!

I will look into the Hermeneutics blog re posting; another person has commented on that.

Anonymous said...


"Buying shares to try to make a profit sounds like gambling to me."

Alas, it hasn't worked for me - but the analogy isn't quite right. Buying shares is actually buying part of a company, in the hope that it will appreciate. It's the same as any asset (gold, houses, art). Gambling is most questionable because (a) most participants lose everything and very few gain; (b) it doesn't increase wealth, it just "redistributes" it. I agree with Richard Dawkins on few things, but he is right that state lotteries are " a tax on stupidity".
As for vicars and their housing, why should vicars and their families be singled out to meet all the drunks and beggars of the neighborhood? Isn't this "every ember ministry"? I don't think we can go on replicating old Christendom ideas of ministry, or we might be expecting vicars' wives to be outdispensing calf foot's jelly (whatever that is) to the sick of the parish ....