Monday, August 31, 2009

Church attendance

Some correspondence below about resisting the liberal tide leads me to post re church attendance from a different perspective, partly because commenters have raised questions about what is going on in ACANZP re attendance, given that we do not publish our own church attendance figures (except in diocesan yearbooks which are not readily available outside dioceses).

One way to look at NZ statistics for Anglican church attendance is to ask, which are our large churches and why are they doing well?

It is a widely agreed fact that (a) our cathedrals do well re attendance, though generally more progressive in theology than conservative, but special factors come into play as all kinds of "civic, military, etc" services are held at cathedrals which local parishes do not hold; nevertheless most of our cathedrals are also 'parish' churches and have good congregations in their own right, (b) with one, maybe two exceptions, a dozen or so parishes with annual attendance around the 20000 mark (i.e. 400 per week) are all identifiable as working to the beat of a conservative theological beat (mostly evangelical (and most of those 'charismatic evangelical'), a few more catholic (or, if one wishes for great precision, 'catholic evangelical'),* and (c) in all seven NZ dioceses (i.e. 'Tikanga Pakeha'), the predominance among the largest parishes (c. 200-400+ p.w.) is strongly weighted, if not exclusively weighted to the conservative end of the theological spectrum.

Incidentally, my anecdotal understanding of the situation in the Diocese of Polynesia is that church attendance is going well. But, relative to the challenges in NZ, that is not surprising as the general cultural climate in Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa for church attendance is highly favourable. In Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa, church attendance figures, whether recorded faithfully or not, would need very careful discernment: low Sunday figures, for example, would tell nothing of a particular Maori emphasis in ministry on 'marae-based' ministry, especially for tangi (gatherings to mourn the dead over several days culminating with a funeral service). Nevertheless relevant facts are that (a) there are very few congregations sustaining stipendiary priests - aside from the five bishops, and several educators, most Maori clergy receiving a stipend are principally employed in a military or hospital or prison chaplaincy role, (b) Sunday congregational attendance (anecdotally) is very low.

It would take a lot to provide a definitive argument (say) that conservative theology produces, on average, the best church attendance. So I will not attempt that here. But I will offer this observation from my years of attendance at policy and planning meetings in our church: it is very rare to ever hear our leaders say that we ought to spend more time and effort researching what makes conservative parishes successful and even rarer to hear talk of either applying any such learning to the general life of our church, or embarking on a more active recruitment policy for conservative ministers and missioners for our church.

This observation can be turned to a question for ACANZP: do we wish to grow our Sunday attendance figures or not? If we do, then some things (maybe many things) can be done differently, with lessons learned from our larger churches waiting to be applied.** If we do not, will we ever have a conversation among ourselves when we admit to ourselves that we have no urgent commitment to pro-actively grow our attendance figures?

*Most of the vicars of the c. 400 parishes gather annually for a meeting of 'The Four Hundred Club'.

**That we might have lessons to learn from our larger parishes does not mean they have stumbled on some perfect formula for church growth. I am confident that the vicars of these parishes would readily admit to (a) having learned some difficult lessons through experience because no parish perfectly develops according to some theory of church growth, and (b) yet having much to learn. (One big challenge, incidentally, for these parishes and their bishops, is finding great successors)!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The oddness of atheism

The Christchurch Press makes its way up to Nelson overnight and arrives at our front entrance between 7 am and 7.30 am most mornings. Saturday's paper is the biggie of the week. A regular columnist is Martin Van Beynen. Last week he wrote a promotion in favour of atheism, against the rationality of the existence of God, and against religion in general as a waste of time.

Having received a few letters - perhaps quite a few letters because he can single out a few as written by people whose 'tone and gentle attempt at persuasion made me feel like a nasty mean atheist' - Van Beynen decides to have another go at God and religion! (Page C10 - no link yet)

You can probably guess the gist of the line he takes: science makes religion redundant and 'The science most destructive to religion is of course the theory of evolution.'

One challenge this line has to overcome is the phenomenon of ethical humanity. In his initial attempt to tackle this hurdle, Van Beynen cites a reviewer of Dawkins' The God Delusion to the effect that even virtues such as loyalty, charity and honesty can be explained by evolution.

Supposing this to be so (which I do not), another challenge is why we should respect each other, committing to the sacredness of life, rather than, as the occasion arises, 'getting rid of a few here and there so we can improve our chances of survival'?

A good question requires a good answer, but I find Van Beynen's answer quite odd, and very unconvincing. This is what he says:

"The answer is that such actions are wrong because they breach the very thing that makes us different [to other species]-our fundamental humanity. These are the common virtues which define us and which ensure our collective wellbeing. Our humanity is a code in itself and contains the resources we need to create better lives for ourselves and others without recourse to superstition and supernatural forces."

This is incredibly weak as an argument. Notions of 'fundamental humanity' and 'code' in this context imply an all-governing, inexorable moral force shaping our human destiny as strongly as the life force of evolution which drives us to mate with each other in ways which improve our DNA's chances of survival through improved fitness from generation to generation. But in fact we rebel against that force, often taking up the opportunity to get rid of a few here and there (actually, in the case of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong, two at least of whom count among the more famous atheists, many millions).

I think I shall stick with Genesis 1 as the key to the ethics of respect for human life,and Genesis 3 as the definitive account of why we rebel against the finest of virtues!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Unzipping the world with Plato and the gospel

I really appreciate the wisdom and insight of the site More than a via media (which has no named author but can be described as a post liberal Anglican living in Northern Ireland; I shall call him or her "MVM"). In a recent post MVM neatly skewers the critique of ++Rowan and +Wright by the Modern Churchpeople's Union:

"MCU declares that Anglicanism must be open to change:

"While holding fast to tradition is sometimes the right thing to do, at other times we are called to welcome new developments and insights".

So change, innovation is a good thing in the eyes of the MCU. Yes? Well, er, no.

The MCU encyclical takes aim at +Canterbury and +Durham for their support of the Anglican Covenant. But according to MCU, the ecclesiology of the Covenant is to be condemned as ... wait for it ... an innovation.

"It has never been a formal part of the Anglican Communion's governance ... To make the governance of the Anglican Communion fit this idea would ... be a major innovation".

"New developments and insights", it seems, are good and positive only when they accord with a revisionist agenda - communion for the unbaptised, lay presidency at the eucharist, the ordination of those in same-sex relationships. As for developments which serve Anglicanism's catholic and evangelical witness, they are to be rejected 'major innovations'."

But MVM's latest post makes a point I had not thought of but which corresponds with a lurking concern in my mind as I follow debates in the Communion: are we a Communion with a clear and confident sense of the transcendance of God, of God as Being able to break into our world with revelation, power, and judgement? MVM's point is that a lot of thinking about God presupposes the 'closed universe of the Enlightenment'. Although MVM's concern is how we go about evangelism, I think his observation also applies to much Anglican theology. The solution? According to MVM it is to rediscover Plato! I won't reproduce what he has to say ... please read it all for yourself!

Kind of changing the topic, but there is also an excellent post to read from John Richardson on the seemingly endless question "What is an evangelical?" I like the way he pushes the priority of evangelism to the forefront of the distinctive features of evangelicalism. I am sure Plato would approve :)

PS John Richardson's post on being evangelical is part of a series - read them all!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Resisting the liberal tide in Anglicanism

In this blog I attempt to offer reflections as an evangelical seeking to uphold the catholicity of the Anglican Communion. I am conservative, but not so conservative that I am unchallenged by fellow conservatives, nor so open-minded as a conservative that I am unchallenged by liberal or progressive commenters. Sometimes conservatives are motivated by a desire to uphold the truth of the gospel (and care little for whether anyone is convinced or not). In my own case I hope I am motivated by a desire to uphold the truth of the gospel. It's just that I recognise so many competing claims, even within that narrow band of the universal church called the 'Anglican Communion', as to what the truth of the gospel consists of that I pay attention to what is persuasive of people. Popularity does not make something true, but it makes it worth thinking carefully about whether it might be true!

Consequently I am a bit of a numbers freak. OK, 'freak' sounds scary: 'very interested in numbers'. Are our churches growing or declining? If the former what is contributing and may be able to be replicated elsewhere? If the latter what might be changed, improved, or reformed?

I am particularly concerned that in the future there is an Anglican church to belong to, especially in these islands, rather than a history book which tells of the rise, decline and demise of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. On the one hand not all conservative approaches to being Anglican are numerically fruitful, but some are! On the other hand there are signs that our numerical decline as a whole church must be connected with a liberal bias to the broad character of our theology (e.g. how come, while we are declining, conservative churches are growing?)

Long story short, one reason I attempt to resist (what I see as) a liberal tide in sectors of our church is that I want our church to survive, better, to flourish, rather than die.

For a snapshot of one Anglican church in the Communion which may not be successfully resisting the liberal tide, go here. NOTE ADDED LATER: One needs to read this article and the comments carefully. The statistics provided are a little confusing. What does not seem confusing, however, is that the linked article works from an alert in an editorial in the Anglican Journal which appears to have grave concerns about church attendance in Canada.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Being faithful

Back on the West Coast for training. This time focusing on worship leading. Many of last night's group were part of a Coast training group I inherited from Bob Barrett in 2001-02. I am always encouraged to find, over the course of time, that brothers and sisters in Christ have been faithful to Christ and the ministry to which he has called us!

A great storm howled through the night. The rains came down and, no doubt, somewhere in the rivers roundabout, the floods have come up. The house in which Mark and I are staying has stood firm. In the teaching of Jesus the foundation to faithfulness is the Word of God. In the storms around us of a spiritual kind, the church as the house of God can only remain firm where the Word of God is both taught and obeyed.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An Anti-Nicene Father?

One way to source the writings of the church fathers is through the extensive series known as the Ante-Nicene Christian Library (ANCL). Fossicking around in such materials one might come across one of the Nicene Canons which says there should only be one bishop in each region. A commenter on this site has repeatedly made the accusation that my church, ACANZP, is in contravention of this ancient ecclesiology with the arrangements we have agreed to in the Diocese of Waikato which means there are two bishops there as 'full bishops' rather than one being diocesan and the other assistant or suffragan. Perhaps we do have an Anti-Nicene father in our midst! This article, published widely in NZ media certainly bears witness to (a) a proud ownership of a unique episcopal arrangement, and (b) a clear sense in which each bishop has his own cathedra since there will shortly be two cathedrals for the diocese.

My questions are fairly innocuous relative to the strong accusations made against ACANZP by the commenter:

(i) might the Taranaki region within the Diocese of Waikato one day become a separate diocese?

(ii) does the Archbishop of York who is coming to the dedication festivities for the new cathedral know he is walking into an ecclesiological minefield?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Smack in the face does not cause pain

Sometimes I can get really annoyed by spin. One piece of spin is annoying today. Before telling you about it, let me explain, for overseas readers, a minor drama in the body politic of NZ. Until a year or three ago our criminal law code permitted the defence of reasonable force in respect of parental correction of children. Sadly some cases of correction which went to court let parents off the hook who used physical instruments such as a plastic pipe to beat their children. So pressure mounted to reform the law and one of our politicians called Sue Bradford led the charge and, with other politicians fearful of being branded 'supporters of violence', a change was passed which outlawed smacking as part of parental correction, though permitted reasonable force not applied for corrective purposes (e.g. to drag a child away from a fire, or a fight with a sibling). Along with the law change a clear message was given that police were encouraged to overlook 'light smacking' when reported to them and not proceed to charge parents.

The fact remains that, in the words of the law, smacking parents could become criminals. So pressure mounted the other way with a petition gathering sufficient signatures to force a (non-binding) referendum on the question, "Should a smack, as part of good parental correction, be a criminal offence in New Zealand?" In the run up to the referendum we had the usual suspects mounting the usual misinformation in a campaign to ask people to say 'yes' to the question. The misinformation, in my view, is the line that says smacking is 'hitting' children. This neat equation between one aspect of parental discipline, effective in many parents' experience, and the actions of abusive and violent criminals plays one category of life against another. It's intriguing in NZ, rugby mad that we are, that no politicians would dare to miscontrue tackling, rucking, and mauling, violent though these actions are, as criminal actions!

Last night the results of the referendum were announced. A stunning 87.6% of respondents (in a 54% turnout, very good by NZ voting standards) said "No". Smacking as part of parental correction should not be a criminal act. If ever there was a smack in the face for our politicians this is it. But do they feel the pain?

One politician in particular does not, Sue Bradford the leader of the charge to reform is impervious to this massive rejection of her reform. According to,

'Ms Bradford said she had expected a majority "No" vote. She believed some people were so confused by the question they accidentally voted the wrong way. "Because the question is so flawed, the result is flawed. It's not a clear indicator to the Government of what it should do, if anything."

Other voters had told her they had scrawled abusive comments on their ballots instead of answering the question, which could have spoiled their votes, she said.

She accepted some people were still uncomfortable with the law, but said it should stand because "it's a law about protecting our most vulnerable citizens".'

This spin that the question was 'so flawed, the result is flawed' is particularly annoying. It implies that most NZer adults are stupid. (It's on a par with Democrat politicians in the States these days casting all opposition to Obamacare as the result of either extreme right-wingers or people susceptible to the lies of extreme right-wingers. Duh.)

We are not stupid. We know when the wool is being pulled over our eyes. Living Down Under we still understand what is the Right Way Up! Not to worry, as we say here, this smack in the face has nevertheless caused no pain to Sue Bradford!

Why mention this on Anglican Down Under? Well there is the slightly embarrassing fact that church leaders (including our archbishops) encouraged people to vote 'Yes'. 11.8% respondents agreed with them. I wonder what they are thinking now? In the case of ACANZP, my humble suggestion is that we reflect on whether we might have polled a wider range of Anglicans before committing our church to the line taken by our archbishops. Whichever way one does the maths on 87.6% saying "No", it is significantly bigger than the percentage of Christians in NZ who are conservative, at least in the sense that they read the Bible as supportive of physical correction of children (about 5% of the general population, in my estimate), and it will have included a significant number of Christians who failed to heed the lead of their leaders. This will have included many Anglicans who are not confused about the value of smacking as part of parental discipline yet who are just as committed to ending criminal abuse of children in NZ as church leaders are.

Postscript: an excellent series of points is made by David Farrar of Kiwiblog in this post, an excerpt reproduced below (italics mine):

"[Prime Minister John Key's] own view was that the law was “working as it is now”.

But on Monday, he would take to the Cabinet “options which fall short of changing the law but will provide comfort for parents about this issue”.

There will be a lot of interest in these. However I believe that the law should be changed. The reason is quite simple.

The criminal code is there to reflect the views of the public on what is and is not acceptable behaviour. And almost every provision in the criminal code would have 99% of adult New Zealanders say this should be a criminal offence. 99% say it is wrong to murder, it is wrong to rape, it is wrong to beat someone senseless, it is wrong to steal etc etc.

But here we have 88% of adult New Zealanders (who voted) saying this should not be a criminal offence. If Parliament does not heed the views of voters on this issue, then we have an awful precedent where Parliament is sits as rulers rather than servants of the people, imposing their private criminal code, rather than society’s.

I’m not an advocate that Parliament in every circumstance should do what public opinion wants. The referendum on the number of firefighters was a classic case. Economic issues can be similiar as the public can vote for cutting taxes and increasing spending without the responsibility of having to balance the budget.

But when it comes to our criminal code, I find it hard to offer up a reason why Parliament would insist on criminalising something that not only lacks majority support for being a criminal act, but in fact has massive and sustained opposition.

The public understand this issue. Hell, it has been debated for two to three years. They know exactly what they voted for. The percentage who spoilt their ballot papers was a miniscule 0.3%.

There is a simple solution to all of this. The Borrows/Boscawen amendment/bill. It will in fact provide greater protection to children (as it significantly lowers the level of acceptable force for non-correctional situations) but remove the insulting differentiation between smacking for preventing disruption and for correction."

Friday, August 21, 2009

When the dust settles, the matter does not go away

A post on More than a via media is a timely prompt to raise a question or two about same sex partnerships. One of the difficulties conservative Anglicans do not have is raising dust about resolutions such as General Convention D025 and B033. But when the dust settles, when we cheer the TEC train out of the Communion station on Track no. Two, we have an ongoing matter to attend to, namely, how we respond to the phenomenon which is fairly new to Western society, the presence of stable same sex partnerships which society makes both legal and respectable.

In one post I do not want to attempt to sort the matter out. It would be arrogant to think I could do so. In any case, even if I did have a 'solution' of the kind, say, which one day would be recognized universally, the matter of holding the church together would remain an urgent question. But here are some things I have been reflecting on:

- Is there not 'goodness' in a stable same sex partnership, notably the good of human companionship and friendship?

- Is it not a very good thing when society through law protects each and every member of society from prejudice and discrimination on an arbitrary basis? (I was reminded, reading something the other day, of a classic instance of non-arbitrary discrimination: a lingerie shop is allowed to specify female applicants only for vacancies!)

- Consequently, can the church find ways to affirm human companionship and friendship, and to celebrate good laws operating in society?

But all this is better expressed, and with a little more 'bite' by More than a via media - in full here, an excerpt towards the end of the post follows:

"Radner does not address to what extent the contemporary Christian tradition has actually reneged on the Scriptural and traditional prohibition of usury - rather than seeking to apply in a pastorally sensitive manner the Scriptural critique of usury.

What is intriguing about his suggestion, however, is that it does perhaps imply that the new pastoral reality of the emergence of permanent, faithful, stable same-sex relationships in late 20th/early 21st century Western society could be compared to the increasingly legal status of usury in 17th century Europe and the Church's response to this. As O'Donovan hints at the conclusion of his A Conversation Waiting to Begin, the debate could then "bulk less threateningly than it once did ... It is a problem reduced to its true shape and size".

In other words, same-sex relationships are not something which our public teaching can affirm or which the liturgy can bless - but a social reality in which the Church's pastoral ministry can seek to encourage the application and growth of a Christian understanding of the virtues."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Heaven on earth

I have a great day job. Okay it's also my night job, but it's still a great job. Last night and today I am with my colleague, Mark Chamberlain, on the West Coast of the South Island. Yesterday the Coast was typically grey, damp, cloudy and misty. It was raining during our fantastic training session on Lay Preaching - fantastic because we had some wonderful lay preachers present and engaged in the session - and Mark had secured some excellent clips from YouTube which added new dimensions to our material.

Then through the night the wind blew the clouds away and today is also typical of the Coast - brilliantly sunny. As we drove to the south of Greymouth to visit our clergy we could see the snow-capped Alps in the distance, including the giant of our mountains, Aoraki. To the side, waves broke on the shore, themselves capped in brilliant white foam. Heaven on earth!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What can we change in the church?

As the South Carolina oak seeks to weather the storm of discontent in TEC (including discontented South Carolingian Episcopalians who think the Diocese should up and leave for ACNA, and discontented Episcopalian observers who think Bishop Mark Lawrence is stretching the point of his professed loyalty to the captain and crew of the good ship SS TEC), a question worth pondering for a moment or two is this: what can we change in the church?

If the church is, in fact, one, apostolic, catholic, and holy church, then, as a matter of simple logic, changes in the life of the church, beyond style and touching on substance, must raise the question whether the result is 'the church' or some other entity. In the second and third centuries, for instance, changes to the gospel via gnostic teaching led to movements which, by one means or another, became another thing. In our lifetime we are recognizing that changing the gospel in the direction, say, of 'prosperity teaching' or of extreme liberalism, leads to a thing which bears little resemblance to 'the church'. Prosperity teaching transforms the church into a self-help movement, extreme liberalism empties many churches to the point where buildings are put up for sale. They look like a church, but their business on Sunday mornings is coffee and brunch.

Of course, prior to the point where the church becomes something else there is plenty of room for conflict: "If you teach this theology then the church will become something else"; "No it won't"; "Yes it will"; etc! This, I think, is the situation in broad terms in which Anglicanism in North America (but not only there) finds itself in. The Diocese of South Carolina, via Bishop Mark Lawrence, is challenging TEC: will you be a genuine expression of the one, holy, apostlic, catholic church if you continue along the path you are choosing of tampering with the faith once contended for, the tradition faithfully handed on from one generation to the next? Obviously the immediate answer to this question by many in TEC is going to be 'Yes, we will remain the church'. But is that answer correct?

On the face of it, especially in the light of social change in liberal Western democracies, it appears straightforward to alter the doctrine of marriage to incorporate same-sex relationships, and, making the point that the question of doctrinal change in the church is not about a single issue, to change eucharistic doctrine so that baptism into Christ is no longer a requirement to share in Christ's meal may appear a simple calculation between concepts of feeding, inclusion, and welcome. What if things are not so straightforward? What, for example, if untethering the doctrines of marriage and eucharist from their apostolic and catholic moorings lifts the anchor holding the whole church onto its foundations in Scripture and tradition?

Incidentally, when these questions are raised as questions of doctrine in the context of being 'one, holy, apostolic, catholic' church, we are alerted to a fallacy in the sociological argument that since the church once endorsed slavery then changed it's mind, ergo it can do the same re homosexuality. There never was an apostolic and catholic 'doctrine of slavery' which the church changed in the 19th century!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The oak that weathers the storm: Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina

A few posts back I asked for prayer for the Diocese of South Carolina as it makes its response to GC 2009. Bishop Mark Lawrence has delivered a strong and substantial address to his clergy in which he charts the way forward for his Diocese to be truly Anglican, Trinitarian, obedient to Scripture, etc, within a framework of TEC in which it plays a prophetic role while reaching out in fellowship to other orthodox Anglicans in the States. Here are several paragraphs in which Bishop Mark reaffirms the doctrines of the church while ruthlessly highlighting the dissonance not only between the majority of TEC and these doctrines but in some cases between TEC and its own canons:

"We face a multitude of false teachings, which like an intrusive vine, is threatening The Episcopal Church as we have inherited and received it from our ancestors. I have called this the false Gospel of Indiscriminate Inclusivity because I see a common pattern in how the core doctrines of our faith are being systematically deconstructed. I must by necessity be brief and cannot give any of these concerns the attention they deserve.

• The Trinity. One of the doctrines under barrage in our Church is an orthodox understanding of the Trinity. At the last three General Conventions I have been concerned about the lack of Eucharists according to the rites in the Book of Common Prayer. Even this I might be able to overlook if the rites that were employed were not so devoid of references to God the Father. In more than a few of these worship services the only reference to God the Father actually in the liturgy was the Lord’s Prayer. In the name of inclusion there’s the perception by some (a variant of radical feminism I suppose) that the references to the Father, and the pronoun “he” is some lingering patriarchal holdover. Yet it has always intrigued me that in all of the Hebrew Scriptures there are only a handful of references to God as Father. If one wants to locate the authority of the Church to worship God as Father one need look no further than Jesus himself. It was he who called God “Abba” and taught the disciples to prayer “Our Father.” Frankly, if Jesus got that one so wrong, why should we turn to him for anything? As many of you know there is more here than I have time to explore this morning.

• Uniqueness of Christ. In my opinion the current Presiding Bishop has repeatedly been irresponsible with her comments regarding the doctrine of the Uniqueness and Universality of Christ. This will not surprise you, for I said as much to her when she visited us shortly after my consecration. In answering questions about the Uniqueness and Universality of Christ she has repeatedly suggested that it is not up to her to decide what the mechanism is God uses to save people. But, quite to the contrary, it is her responsibility as a bishop of the Church to proclaim the saving work of Jesus Christ and to teach what it is the Scriptures and the Church teach. Anything less from us who are bishops is an abdication of our teaching office. Otherwise how will the world know to whom to come? How will the unschooled within the Church know what they should believe? I do not cite this to be controversial but to reference the pervasiveness of this inclusive gospel that would, in its attempt to include all people and all religions, fail to rightly delight in, celebrate and worship him before whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. It does not honor another religion to not be forthright about one’s own. As the English Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali observed , “Fudging important issues and attempting a superficial harmonization gives a sense of unity that is untrue and … prevents real differences from being acknowledged and discussed.” And we haven’t time to discuss brief swipes toward confessional approaches to the faith except to ask—wasn’t the Lordship of Christ the first confession of the faithful—even in the face of Caesar’s claim to Lordship? Did not St. Paul teach that if we confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord we shall be saved? Does not the baptismal rite require such a formulaic statement of the individual before the assembled body who witness it? Such statements, unfortunately, make it necessary for us to correct rather than to support leadership.

• Scriptural Authority. This is such a comprehensive dimension of our present crisis in the church that one hardly knows where to begin. But one can hardly do better than St. Ambrose’s statement that “the whole of Holy Scripture be a feast for the soul.” How seldom one hears upon us who are bishops in Tec such glowing statements about the Bible. In my experience all too many of our bishops and priests seem to mine the scriptures for minerals to use in vain idolatries. There is too little confidence expressed in its trustworthiness; the authority and uniqueness of revelation. Indeed, as J.V. Langmead-Casserly once put it, “We have developed a method of studying the Word of God from which a Word of God never comes.” Too often supposed conundrums or difficulties are brought up, seemingly in order to detract from traditional understandings, never considering the damage to the faithful’s trust in God and his Word. Ridiculous arguments such as shellfish and mixed fabrics are dragged out (long reconciled by the Fathers of the Church, as well as the Anglican Reformers) in order to confuse the ill-taught or the untutored in theology. And those who are intellectually sophisticated, schooled in many academic disciplines, but dreadfully untaught in the Bible and theology, are, through little fault of their own, except for naively trusting generations of slothful priests and bishops, are led astray. We must be willing to speak out against this.

• Baptismal Theology detached from Biblical and Catholic doctrine. The phrase heard frequently at General Convention 2009 was “All the sacraments for all the Baptized”. One suspects that great Catholic teacher of the 4th Century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem would have been unconvinced for he wrote tellingly of Simon Magus, “he was baptized, but not enlightened. His body was dipped in water, but admitted not the Spirit to illuminate his heart. His body went down and came up; but his soul was not buried together with Christ nor with him raised.” (see Acts 8:9-24) Nevertheless, this inadequate baptismal theology was used to argue for the full inclusion of partnered GLBT persons to all the orders of the Church—deacons, priests and bishops. What it singularly misses is the straightforward teaching of the catechism, not to mention of the New Testament’s “teaching that baptism is a dying to self and sin and a rising to new life in Christ.” (N.T. Wright) Even if one would turn to the simplicity of the catechism one would encounter this question and answer: Q. What is required of us at Baptism? A. It is required that we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Since when has baptism been the ticket to ordination in the Church? The Archbishop’s perceptive comment in section 8 of “Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future” is pertinent here.

• Human Sexuality. While it has been a clever device of some in recent years to refer to the varied approach to marriage in the different epochs of biblical history, often done in ways that are intended to bring more confusion rather than clarity, (ignoring that well honored hermeneutic of interpreting the less clear passages of Holy Scripture by the clearer, or not interpreting one text in such a way that it is repugnant to another) we are back with that tendency of ordained leaders of the Church and professors of religion to confound the faithful rather than to instruct—it has been used repeatedly in this current debate regarding Human Sexuality and the establishment of an inclusive moral equivalency of GLBT sexual unions with the Christian understanding of marriage between a man and a woman.

• Constitution & Canons—Common Life. These, and other examples that could be cited, are illustrative of this “new gospel” of Indiscriminate Inclusivity that began with a denigration of the Holy Scriptures, then, step by step has brought the very core teachings of the Christian faith under its distorting and destructive sway. Thus, if the Scriptures should teach something contrary to this “gospel’s” most recent incarnation, (take for instance the full inclusion of GLBT) then the Scripture’s broad themes or individual passages, which plainly oppose current understanding of same-sex genital behavior, must be deconstructed. And if the bonds of affection within the Worldwide Anglican Communion are a hindrance to this gospel of inclusivity then the moral authority and role of the Instruments of Unity are downplayed. Most recently at GC’09 when the BCP’s marriage service, rubrics, and catechism, as well as the Constitution & Canons speak of marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, therein conflicting with this inclusive “gospel”, resolution CO56 was passed contrary to our own order of governance and common life—thus one by one, the Holy Scriptures, the teachings of the Church, the Anglican Communion, the Ecumenical relationships with the other bodies of the Church Catholic, and now even our own Book of Common Prayer and Constitutions & Canons are subjugated to this “new” gospel. It is a foreign vine like kudzu draping the old growth forest of Episcopalianism with decorative destruction.

As I wrote in my post-Convention Letter to the Clergy ”There is an increasingly aggressive displacement within this Church of the gospel of Jesus Christ’s transforming power by the “new” gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity which seeks to subsume all in its wake. It is marked by an increased evangelistic zeal and mission that hints at imperialistic plans to spread throughout the Communion. This calls for a bold response.” It is not in my opinion the right action for this diocese to retreat from a thorough engagement with this destructive “new” gospel. As the prophet Ezekiel was called by the Lord to be a Watchman, to sound the alarm of judgment—to warn Israel to turn from her wickedness and live. We are called to speak forthrightly to The Episcopal Church and others, but even more specifically to the thousands of everyday Episcopalians who do not yet know the fullness of this present cultural captivity of the Church. Clearly this is not about the virtue of being “excluding”; it is about being rightly discerning about what is morally and spiritually appropriate. As the Archbishop of Canterbury suggests the Church’s life cannot be “wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal”."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Is Rome a Two Tracks church?

I may be misunderstanding the point of this post of Ruth Gledhill's, which incorporates a long post by Chris Gillebrand who is some kind of expert on Roman liturgics, but it seems to be saying that Rome is a Two Tracks church, similar to our Communion being a Two Tracks Communion. The post is entitled "Rome brings order out of 'liturgical chaos'", but the way that order works is that there are Two Tracks for worship, Up to date liturgy in your own language, and Out of date liturgy in Latin, or, if you prefer, Ersatz liturgy and Real liturgy (I leave you to work out which is which).

Anyway, it's all good from an Anglican perspective, ++Rowan and ++Benedict marching harmoniously to the same two beat tune!

Incidentally, recall that ++Rowan's latest missive declares that Anglican unable to sign up to the Covenant will not represent the Anglican Communion at ecumenical discussions and the like? I get the impression that Romans signing up to the minority liturgical track won't be fast-tracked to represent His Holiness at those same ecumenical occasions!

Why stay in TEC ... could be reason to stay in the Communion too!

Philip Turner is a stayer and explains why in an inspiring and challenging essay. Here is an excerpt. I agree with this man.

"I just can’t bring myself to say, “I have sinned, but I am going off with a crowd that’s decided it can place itself outside the consequences of that sin.” This statement leads me to my fourth reason for staying. I believe that the way to confront error is to speak the truth in love and live in a different manner. When all is said and done, witness of this sort is the only solution. Political strategy, not even political victory, can right the ship that is the church and carry it to harbor in the midst of a storm. Truthful witness and willingness to bear the consequences of that witness are the means by which God changes not only the world, but also his church. One must be willing to say with Christ, “But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53) and then leave the rest to God."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Once to die then comes judgment

Here is an excellently presented gospel message from St Georges - Tron Church Glasgow (H/T Joshua Bovis)

Through this presentation runs one of the fault-lines of 21st century Christianity. When everything modernism and post-modernism wishes to say about the Bible (as a revelation of ultimate truth) is said, one saying it is doubtful, the other saying it is one option among many, does it speak truthfully?

The verses highlighted in the presentation include Hebrews 9:27,

"And just as it is given for humankind to die once, and after that comes judgment ..."

Is this true? Is there (or will there be) a judgment of God in which humanity will be divided into two, the sheep and the goats, those destined for heaven and those destined for hell?

If it is not true, then, given that quite a bit of the Bible is about sin, judgment, and salvation (where salvation is being saved from the eternal consequences of sin), is any of the Bible true? Better, given that the Bible has some unexceptional wisdom and morality within it, is anything distinctive in the Bible (say, that God is love) true?

If it is true, that God one day will judge the world, what difference does that make to much that embroils us in the Anglican Communion?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Two Tracks Communion and being a Catholic Communion

A rich ore of theological reflection has been laid down by Archbishop Williams in his response to GC 2009. A teasing tension is set down when he can speak on the one hand in this way:

“two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency.”

Then on the other hand the Archbishop can also say,
“9. … So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.”

Clearly ++Rowan’s ideal church is ‘the Church Catholic’ in which certain matters are agreed and adhered to by the ‘whole’. Implicit here is a longing for the pure Church Catholic, the church of churches, but the fact is that, in the meantime, ++Rowan’s first loyalty is to ‘the Communion’ in which are number of things are agreed and adhered to which are shared with many other churches (including the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches), but some things are not so shared, including, for instance, the possibility of being a married bishop (as ++Rowan is). Also implicit here is a desire that, as far as possible, the Communion should be at one with the Church Catholic. Thus his recognition of the fact that for the foreseeable future there will be ‘two styles of being Anglican’ cannot be a congenial matter for the Archbishop.

Indeed ++Rowan does not treat the two styles or tracks as being equal and opposite or equal and complementary states of affairs. Only one track can supply people who will have a ‘representative function’ for the Communion. This incidentally, is a just situation according to the logic at work in ++Rowan’s ecclesiology: one track is characterized by prioritizing local autonomy ahead of interdependence with other members of the Communion. On this track Anglicans neither enter into the fullness of the meaning of ‘communion’ nor do they follow the ‘public teaching’ (one might also say ‘common teaching’) of the Communion. True representation of the Communion follows only from full participation in the Communion. In this ecclesiology one cannot say ‘I am a participant in the Communion but I do not listen to the Communion’ (a point on which, incidentally, my church ACANZP should do some penitential reflecting since it has ignored the Communion’s voice on at least one significant occasion).

By distinguishing between ‘the Church Catholic’ and ‘the Communion’ (while longing for the Communion to be at one with the Church Catholic), ++Rowan allows for the Communion to differ on some matters with the Church Catholic. One matter, not mentioned in his response, is the ordination of women. It would be difficult for ++Rowan to say that on this matter the public teaching of the Communion endorses ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopacy (I think, given Sydney’s acceptance of women in the diaconate, we can now say that the Communion endorses women as deacons). But he could say that the public teaching of the Communion is flexible on the matter. (An analogy, in my mind, is the question of a married and a celibate priesthood in the Roman Catholic church: it is flexible on the matter, teaching in the West that the priesthood is to be celibate (with rare exceptions), and the East that it may include married men). ++Rowan would also observe that disagreement over the ordination of women has not divided the 'wholeness' of the Communion.

(This does not mean that within individual member churches of the Communion there is flexibility about the ordination of women. In some churches (not the Church of England) the consensus reached is that their public teaching is that women may be ordained to all three orders of ministry without reservation. In this case ‘representative function’ belongs to those who adhere to the teaching of their churches. An interesting question for such churches is whether the consensus means that the representative function of priesthood is open only to those who will faithfully and publicly represent the teaching of their church on this matter or whether it is also open to those who feel unable to publicly support this teaching.)

One day the Communion may reach a position on which its public teaching on the blessing of same-sex unions is similarly flexible to its teaching on the ordination of women. But that day is not today. It will not be tomorrow unless some new way is found in which theological arguments in favour of such blessings gain the attention and approval of the Communion as a 'whole'.

Postscript: a step in the direction of how such theological arguments might unfold is set out in this sermon by Joseph Cassidy (h/t Paul Fromont).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

How can a Communion work along Two Tracks?

Last night I had the privilege of seeing an extraordinary artist at work. His name is Daniel Carter and he is an artist with a rugby ball. He can do things lesser mortals cannot do such as kick the ball with pin point accuracy. But what makes him a genius is his ability to make the complicated moves of running, kicking, catching and passing simple. In the televised game last night (Auckland versus Canterbury) his half-back threw him a wild array of passes, but Daniel Carter caught every one of them as though he had been thrown the perfect waist-high pass. Even making his regulation kicks, Carter shows that he is a cut above the rest: he kicks with great speed, thus clearing the ball more quickly away from the outstretched arms of opposing forwards.

Archbishop Rowan Williams is just about a Daniel Carter of Anglican theology. He is an extraordinary theologian, he can think thoughts and write words lesser mortals cannot do. He is certainly thrown a wild array of challenges by his English church and world Communion. But the recurring criticism of the Archbishop is his failure to make the complicated simple. In that respect he is not quite Daniel Carter's equivalent as a genius. Nevertheless he has played one of his best hands with his response to the American GC in Anaheim. Let's go back to two key paragraphs in that statement (my original post on it is here):

"23. ... But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

24. It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely."

Here ++Rowan Williams offers a generous recognition of those, such as TEC, who proceed down a pathway in which it proves that 'local autonomy' is greater than participation in a 'covenantal structure': each way is respected for they constitute "two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage" or "two styles of being Anglican". When he then goes onto deny the possibility that each way can be represented at "ecumenical interchanges and processes", he is simply noting that the majority viewpoint rather than the minority needs to represent the whole of the Anglican Communion at such meetings. This is not 'two tier' Anglicanism, but conciliar Anglicanism in which the council of Anglican views and doctrines is represented by the majority (i.e. those signing up to the Covenant) and not by the minority.

Of course, there is another alternative, in which the minority breaks away from the majority, or the majority expels the minority. But, with respect to ecumenical ventures, would that be advantageous to the minority? I think not. It is hard to see Rome or Constantinople opening up negotiations with both Canterbury and New York! (Even if Canterbury, following some posturing of English liberals, folded into TEC's camp, would a New York-Canterbury Anglicanism be invited to Rome or Constantinople?)

In turn, this takes us to the extraordinary effort of ++Rowan to be realistic rather than idealistic. With phrasing such as "It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are" and "if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely", the Archbishop offers the unremarkable assessment that this is the best we can do under the circumstances by way of a Communion in which disagreement has already led to a degree of schism. Tina, girlfriend of many a political leader is at hand here, 'there is no alternative'!

If there is an alternative, ++Rowan's critics have not produced it. Blathering on about taking on the conservatives, selling the LGBT movement down the creek, etc, are simply recipes to split the Communion not only in two, but in an irrevocable way. ++Rowan's respectful yet realistic way of describing the future, two Anglican ways, but both will not pretend to be the mind and voice of the Communion, has the singular advantage of keeping the door open to a renewed unity in the future.

But a question or three remains. How does a Two Tracks Communion work in each aspect of the Communion's life. Discussions at ecumenical meetings is only one aspect that life. Will the ACC meet together in the future as at present? Will Lambeth 2018 be like many conferences, with a conference for each Track meeting simultaneously, and occasional plenary sessions for all delegates?

But more pressing for lesser mortals such as myself, and perhaps you, dear reader, is what all this might mean on the ground as parishes and dioceses work out their futures. In broad terms, especially in the West, but not, I think, only in the West, many parishes and dioceses have a majority and a minority within with respect to attitudes to homosexuality. If, say, a minority of parishes wish to distance themselves from their diocese which wishes to overtly signal its agreement with the Covenant (whether or not a diocese can sign the Covenant, surely it can advertise itself as 'Covenant aligned' or similar), will such a grouping be able to do so?

These and many other questions are going to trouble us. I want to suggest that they will be less troublesome to answer within a Two Tracks Communion than from any position engendered by a split Communion.

Postscript: A very thoughtful and clear response posted by the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy effectively critiques the approach I am taking in this post. I note, however, that their post does not offer a clear way forward for dealing with TEC.

Prayer request for the Diocese of South Carolina

The after shocks of TEC's GC 2009 continue, and the sharpest of them is shaking up the Diocese of South Carolina. It is seeking to make a wise yet robust response to the future direction of TEC by articulating clearly the changed shape of the relationship of the Diocese to TEC. It will not be business as usual. What the nature of that change will be is being determined through a series of meetings for which prayer has been requested.

Please pray for Bishop Mark Lawrence and diocesan leaders as they seek the mind of God for their future.

Postscript: for insight into Bishop Mark's thinking in the post GC 2009 period, read this post of a transcript of a TV interview. It does not sound like the Diocese of SC is heading to ACNA anytime soon, yet it also sounds like there will be a change in relationship with TEC.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Would Jesus smack? A local referendum and a global Communion

Here in NZ we are in the midst of a referendum on smacking children. Our current law, recently revised, provides enough confusion to make a referendum on it worthwhile. Notwithstanding the eminent people who assert the law is not confusing, it is. The confusion begins when these eminent people tell us (for example) that we may smack our children lightly so long as it is not for the purpose of correction. In my mind I understand this to mean a child about to place their fingers in a heater might have their hand smacked away from the danger, but a child who poked their finger into their siblings eye may not have a swift correction of their crime with a smack but instead may have some innocuous response such as 'time out'.

The referendum question is about whether smacking should be a criminal offence and we have Christians arguing both sides of the issue. Far be it from me on one side of the issue to dispute with our Archbishops who are on the other side of the issue ...

Also confusing, I suggest, is that there are really two issues involved in the referendum. One issue is the presenting one, should parents be able to lightly smack their children as one form of discipline?, the other issue is the horrific spate of children's deaths in recent years through abusive actions from parents. We are a violent country. Many Kiwis do not think smacking should form any part of parental discipline and are resolutely against any law which permits it. They will vote in the referendum consistently with their belief. They would do so whether or not the other issue existed.

But there are other Kiwis who are not against smacking per se, but wish to support any action, however indirect in its effects, which influences our parents away from abusive actions towards their children. They also will answer the referendum question supportive of retaining the current law. In the end, whatever the referendum yields, we will be left with two issues: the best and most effective range of means to discipline our children, and the tendency of parents to ignore or forget the law in a moment of intense anger and strike out murderously at their children. For Christians to engage effectively with these issues, by the way, I think we need to do more than ask the question, Would Jesus smack?

I see something similar in our Communion as discussion around the globe wrestles with the issues of homosexuality, Two tracks, Communion or federation and so on. That is, we can forget that whatever we decide in 'law', we are still left with issues that do not go away.

One issue is the continuing presence of gay and lesbian people in society and the church, a presence which is an ineradicable fact of human nature, and one which is increasingly constituted not by quiet, almost invisible individuals whom we have marked with the question, "Funny thing how X has never married", but by same-sex couples visible in their social status as couples. What is the conservative church, for instance, "to do" about such couples? Nothing ... acknowledge and include them ... condemnation and exclusion ... liturgically bless them? A decision not to liturgically bless them leaves plenty of work to do on "nothing or acknowledge and include them or condemn and exclude them". Are any conservatives anywhere in Anglican Land doing that work?

Another issue is the decline of Anglican congregational numbers in the West. Aggressive talk coming out of England expressed in these sentences from Ruth Gledhill, "The liberal fightback against Anglican conservatives and the Archbishop of Canterbury has begun. Open warfare is now declared", is all very well, but does it assist the future life of the church or hasten its death? One difficulty is that this question is not easy to answer. On the one hand we live in Western societies which seem to mark the church down if and when it's policies and practices exclude people (whether in perception or reality). Connecting with society has not proved to be easy post the Enlightenment, and we may be making the chasm wider. On the other hand people who actually make the effort to participate in churches in the West have plenty of choice, and the vehicles to give expression to that choice. Why stick with the Anglican church sliding away from biblical and traditional teaching when down the road is another option, with better heating and sound systems to boot?

In other words, arguments can be made for mission being enhanced by pro-gay theology and being damaged by pro-gay theology, but in the meantime people actually going to church seem to be growing conservative churches, not progressive ones. That tendency will not change however we resolve the dilemmas of the Communion!

I could go on. Suffice to say again, I think ++Rowan's Two Tracks approach to Communion life is the best we can do at this time and in the face of issues that will remain with us.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The choice is before us

My friend and colleague, Bryden Black, with a view to a motion re the Covenant going to his local synod in the Diocese of Christchurch (NZ), has written an excellent essay on the importance of the proposed Covenant for reaffirming the bonds of affection of our Anglican Communion. The whole is here as a PDF file. Below I offer two excerpts which, in my view, are central to the future of the Communion. The italicised headings are mine.

Our unity is in the gospel. Anglican understanding of the gospel is established through our 'recognition' together of the content of the gospel. Our joint recognition of the gospel will be enabled by the Covenant:

"The safest way of guarding our Gospel heritage is paradoxically, yet typically, not to hold it too tightly to ourselves, but to allow once more an even richer inter-penetration and cross-fertilization of what we bring to the table of fellowship and what others have discovered of the inexhaustible riches of Christ.

Yet, there is a problem, it has to be admitted: How might we recognize what others bring as indeed pertaining to the Gospel? Not all that claims to be of Christ is indeed fruit of Jesus’s love and truth. The history of the Church is littered with claims both good and true, and claims that turn out to be counterfeit and false. And the key word is “recognize”. Once more, I refer to the Archbishop of Canterbury - this time to his Advent Pastoral Letter of 2007.

'The Communion is a voluntary association of provinces and dioceses; and so its unity depends not on a canon law that can be enforced but on the ability of each part of the family to recognise that other local churches have received the same faith from the apostles and are faithfully holding to it in loyalty to the One Lord incarnate who speaks in Scripture and bestows his grace in the sacraments. To put it in slightly different terms, local churches acknowledge the same ‘constitutive elements’ in one another. This means in turn that each local church receives from others and recognises in others the same good news and the same structure of ministry, and seeks to engage in mutual service for the sake of our common mission.'

Eighteen times in all Rowan Williams uses words of recognition and recognisability, etc. They run through this Pastoral Letter like a mantra. And well they might. For once again because the Gospel, and the Church to which it gives rise, is all sheer divine gift and not from ourselves, “a human construct”, so essentially are we placed on the receiving end; and our due response is one of grateful acknowledgement, of recognising the situation for what it is: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9), which prompts our “Yes and Amen!” (2 Cor 1), an expression so beloved of The Gift of Authority from ARCIC of a decade ago.

The Covenant is essentially a tool for such recognition. It authorizes us to say of each other, church to church: Yes, you too have the specific marks of Jesus Christ upon you and your life and upon your ministry and mission. We are enabled to acknowledge we share certain basic “constitutive elements” in common as Anglicans."

There are no alternatives to being a Communion which are as good as being a Communion - choose the Covenant as the means of ensuring we remain a Communion:

"Yet, should we descend into a motley conglomeration of federated churches, linked by mere association, then our fellowship and exchanges would be governed to a large degree by self interest and ideological conformity among the few. A new form of ecclesial Balkanization would have appeared indeed! For if no Covenant, to which the majority sign up, then no Anglican Communion henceforth either.

So; as I say: the choice is before us. Just what is our “vision of the kind of Church to which we would wish to belong” as the diocese of Christchurch? Are we part of a whole? And does that whole truly consist of both Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia and the other 37 provinces who presently make up the Communion? Or shall we allow ourselves to be detached from this present whole, only to associate with some like-minded grouping? For let us also not be naive at this point too. If this were to happen, we can be sure that “we ourselves” would cease to be any coherent local whole very quickly.

Some of us would ally ourselves with this group, and others would ally themselves with that group. And we would have an entire series of Alternative Episcopal and Provincial schemes of Oversight.

We’d become a veritable congregationalist set of churches that ceased to resemble anything catholic at all, that ceased also to portray anything evangelical at all. For principles of association other than the Gospel itself would rapidly overtake us all. For the Evangel of Jesus Christ is essentially catholic.

We as the historic Anglican Communion are properly not some typical construct of western pluralism’s plasticity, moulded according to individual choice and autonomous forms of so-called freedom’s fancy.

We are bound to the One Body through the Cross of Jesus Christ; and if so bound, we are bound also to each member of that One Body. Incarnating this Cross in our organizational life means, according to the Spirit of Philippians 2 at least, a life of humility and a mutual submission to the One Lord of that Body, whose mission is ever the glory of his Father and our Father, his God and our God (Jn 20)."

Thank you Bryden!

Voices along the line

Communion or federation? A way through the mess or throw in the towel? Can we live with two tracks? Here are some voices worth a listen to ...

Mark Harris raises the question of leadership in the Communion at this time (and offers other posts below this one). In a running dialogue (or debate?) with Mark Harris, the ACI offers this vigorous apologia for the Covenant, and calling the bluff of the GC and its interpreters.

Nick Baines offers support for the Covenant as more or less the only way to hold the Communion together. His starting point is a post by Maggi Dawn which is worth reading in its own right for insight into where the C of E GS is heading on the Covenant.

Then Graham Kings reasserts the importance of Communion over federation in this article.

Colin Slee, Dean of Southwark Cathedral, poses some thoughtful questions about what it means to be Anglican, Scriptural, and embroiled in controversy in this sermon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reason or sentiment taking us down the line?

Last week I was embroiled in a vigorous conversation about Open Communion. Reflecting on that a week later with a friend I was intrigued to have this sentiment put to me (in my words), “It doesn’t matter how many reasons you put up for baptism-then-eucharist, I am convinced that Open Communion is the right and loving thing to do.” It has struck me that I am slow to “get” certain things (as indeed I am). Here is highlighted my continued determination to find reasons for actions and beliefs, when others are unconcerned about this. To coin a phrase, there are “twin tracks” to Anglican theologizing, reason and emotion, head and heart.

In my previous post I drew a distinction between the track TEC is on and the track the C of E is on (under ++Rowan’s leadership). Perhaps now I have a better understanding of the propelling fuel in each case. ++Rowan, for all he is castigated for being obfuscatory and oblique in his logic, is attempting a faithful rendition of the great Hooker for the 21st century: articulating each and every step of the Anglican journey with reasoned reflection on Scripture and tradition. TEC’s fuel will not run out (as I proposed yesterday) because it shows signs of poor reasoning based on bad exegesis. Rather, it’s real fuel is the powerful mix of heart and emotion, responding to the presence of homosexuality with a wide open heart and an openness to follow that heart wherever it may go.

So I take a step back, wonder what all this means for ACANZP, where we are definitely a railway company with two tracks (probably more!).

… and, just wondering, as all rationalists do, what the heart-and-emotion folk open to homosexuality say to the heart-and-emotion folk whose sentiment is against open expression of homosexuality in the church? A stalemate which can only be broken by the head-and-reason types?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

TEC will have to make a decision how far down the track it goes

Here is one scenario for the future of TEC.

In 2020 its House of Bishops consists of 20% bishops in same-sex partnerships. This group, with counterparts in the House of Deputies makes a move to end "heterosexual privilege" in TEC through revision of the gender specific language of marriage services, and through modification of the role of Scripture (in which hetero-normativity is pervasive) in the life of the church. Hints of this future point of consideration were present in some talk I noticed at GC 2009 (but not in any actual resolutions passed), and is present in the address of one of the candidates for the Los Angeles episcopal election, mentioned in the post below.

Would the TEC GC in 2021 say "no" or "yes" to such a move? If it said "no", on what grounds would it do so? If (as I think likely) it said "yes", it would represent the seal on Bishop Gene Robinson's description of TEC as 'the gay church'. Would this seal be part of the growth or decline in numbers of members of TEC?

That last question is important. I suspect it has been considered by ++Rowan and the answer he has arrived at is "decline". He is simply too smart not to have worked out that the church which centres its identity around its gay and lesbian (and transgendered and bisexual) membership is a church with a fast shrinking membership as "hetero-normative" members peel away, or do not join as new members. Both in his own person, and as a responsible bishop, he cannot endorse the track TEC is on. When the Presiding Bishop of TEC does not understand the missional imperative of the gospel to convert people to Jesus Christ, ++Rowan knows that TEC is unlikely to grow through evangelism. He also knows that once Scripture is played fast and loose through revisionist reading (such as the episcopal candidate does in the link in the post below) it has no power to fuel the church. TEC's train is unlikely to crash. It will slowly come to a halt. Its track will have become a siding.

Far from "betraying" the partnered gay and lesbian clergy in the C of E, ++Rowan is doing them the great favour of working to ensure there is a viable church for them to belong to!

In love for TEC we must allow it the opportunity to take the course it is choosing without expelling or excommunicating it from the Communion (though also without the pretence that "full communion" and "participation" in all Communion events is possible).

I may be completely wrong. TEC's great experiment with a new ethic in which hetero-normativity is deconstructed may be a great success. I hope I live long enough to see which of ++Rowan's tracks proves to be the main trunk line. If it is TEC's track then I shall be the first to congratulate it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The standard of biblical understanding we seek in the episcopacy

"... It is God’s steadfast love for his beloved, David, a love that is homosocial and, indeed, homoerotic in its expression, that is the very model of God’s love for Israel and, later, the Church. ... The plot only makes sense if we realize that Jonathan and David’s love unfolds against the background of Saul and David’s erotically charged relationship ... And just as we see David progressing in his experience of love and loyalty as he moves through his relationships with Saul and Jonathan, so, too, Yahweh, who is a rather capricious and unpredictable god at the beginning of the narrative, seems to mature in his capacity for steadfast love and loyalty as he moves through his relationships with Saul and David ..."

Well spotted, Greg Griffiths of Stand Firm! Our confidence in the standard of scholarship of the future assistant bishops of Los Angeles rises with every revelation in the run up to their election. This standard will serve TEC well as it pursues its course along the track it has chosen.

I agree with the Presiding Bishop

According to VirtueOnline (H/T to BabyBlueOnline/Anglican Mainstream), Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori has written a letter to the TEC House of Bishops about the property issues engaging TEC's attention and sparse cash. On one aspect of what she says I am in full agreement:

"I continue to pray that those who have departed can gain clarity about their own identity. If and when they engage a positive missional stance that doesn't seek to replace The Episcopal Church, I do believe we can enter into ecumenical agreements that will make some of the foregoing moot."

It should be no business of ACNA to seek to "replace The Episcopal Church". That is a discourtesy to the family from whence they have departed. TEC is charting a course ACNA disagrees with. ACNA should chart its own course and let TEC's course take it where it will.

I presume that when the Presiding Bishop uses the words "ecumenical agreements", she means "drop the replacement talk and we will talk property deals with you". That is a pretty good offer. Not perfect, of course, but better than "clear off and rent the local school hall".

I hope ACNA can see the grace involved in this offer, and come to the table of discussion. It could help clear the way for ACNA's recognition as a province because there is no chance anytime soon of ACNA being welcomed into the Communion while it's goal is to "replace" TEC.

Seek and ye shall find ... clarity

Is B033 a statement of moratoriumnal intent re partnered gay or lesbian priests becoming bishops in TEC?

Looks like we will soon find out because not all candidates for forthcoming elections in Los Angeles and Minnesota are celibate or married, as you can read here, here, and there.

Looks like the train may be leaving the station on the Amtrak line, pace ++Rowan's astute metaphor of "two tracks".

(Yes, I know there were gay and lesbian candidates on slates in the years 2006-2009. For whatever reason they did not succeed, the moratorium or "moratorium" held. My prediction is that between the two assistant bishops in Los Angeles and the vacancy in Minnesota, at least one partnered gay or lesbian bishop will succeed. This will be a good thing because (a) we need no longer talk about the moratorium (b) certain blogosphere commentators, and British bishops will be proved right in their understanding of the significance of D025 (c) we can talk meaningfully about how the "two track" Anglican Communion can work (or not).)

God supplies every need. Here is a lovely story about two churches apparently not in "full communion" with each other sharing their church buildings, even when one church accepts the ordination of women and the other does not!

You be the judge: quo vadis leads to God?

The Presiding Bishop of TEC speaks on the way to God:

I make no comment. You may do so if you wish.

If some clarifying thoughts are sought, John Richardson is worth a read.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

In praise of ++Rowan's two tracks for the Communion

++Rowan's response to TEC's GC 2009, which is concomitantly a setting out of a vision for the Anglican Communion as a catholic church always open to reunification with the catholic churches of Rome and Constantinople, continues to be rubbished. Thinking Anglicans offers a continuously updated series of links to such rubbish posts, one of which, Simple Massing Priest, offers this cheery thought,

"But I am becoming ever more convinced that Dr. Williams's sincere attempts to save the Anglican Communion will, if allowed to come to fruition, ultimately destroy it."

Here I want to focus on just one aspect of ++Rowan's statement, the idea of a 'two tracks' Communion, expressed in these two paragraphs (italics mine):

"23. This has been called a 'two-tier' model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

24. It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely."

I suggest that Anglicanism is in fact rather good already at doing 'two tracks' as a way forward when there is disagreement and difference, if not dispute in our midst. Call it a little noticed section of the hidden DNA of our life together!

Some examples:

Different kinds of services in the same parish church to accommodate diversity between generations and between liturgical preferences.

The work-in-progress in (e.g.) the Anglican Church of Australia and in the Church of England in respect of acceptance and non acceptance of women priests and bishops.

The movement gathering pace in parts of the Communion to offer "Fresh Expressions" alongside, or at least somewhere in the vicinity of "traditional expressions of Anglicanism" and, sometimes the same thing, often not, various (duly authorised) church planting strategies.

Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism co-existing in the same diocese (and, in some parts of the world, e.g. Tanzania, Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical dioceses co-existing in the same provinces).

I am not here attempting to argue that the twin tracks of an association of TEC, ACCan and other provinces traveling in one direction, and the remainder of the Communion in another direction in respect of human sexuality, is precisely analogous to any or all of the above, merely that Anglicans do "twin tracks" as part of being Anglican.

In my view ++Rowan's approach here is pastorally responsible and encouraging to each track:

"The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency."

Some form of the Gamaliel principle, that God should determine what is of God and what is not, rather than councils and committees, seems implicit here. But I do not think that is ++Rowan's main thrust, rather it is that when a church determines, with due synodical authority, on a course of action disagreeable to the remainder of the Communion, it is a matter of basic human decency, to say nothing of fraternal love, for the local church to be allowed to "pursue" that direction.

Quite how this sensible and respectful proposal for the way forward excites so much opposition is beyond me.

Bleating about how the LGBTs are being sold out or Scripture is being betrayed by ++Rowan's statement misses the point of the situation we are in: the Communion is on the verge of divorce if one side of the argument is pushed forward ahead of the other; ++Rowan is offering an alternative to divorce in which the divided couple move into separate bedrooms in the same house. What is not to like?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Is Tom Wright our Thomas Cromwell?

My knowledge of the English Reformation is a little sketchy but I think Thomas Cromwell was something of a 'Mr Fix It' for an important stage in the Reformation.

++Rowan's recent response to TEC's GC decisions is exciting much comment, not all, shall we say, as complimentary as I myself make. But now +Tom Wright offers a Mr Fix It supportive interpretation, here at the ACI. It is a bit convoluted for my taste (and small brain). What do you think? It does not much excite Charles Raven of SPREAD, who draws this conclusion:

"That such an able and respected theologian [Wright] has to stretch both credulity and church polity so far is symptomatic of the inherent contradictions, increasingly difficult to suppress, in trying to be loyal to the historic Anglican faith and operate within the old wineskin of Lambeth orientated structures. As those contradictions become ever more obvious – as they will on this side of the Atlantic as well as in North America – it must be hoped that while the ‘two tracks’ of Global Anglicanism diverge, there will be grace extended between the ‘two tracks’ of Anglican evangelicalism so that they can converge. An Anglican Covenant which adopted the Jerusalem Declaration might be a good start."

This adoption would be only a beginning, however, of Anglicans getting to grips with a workable authority structure in the 21st century for global and local decision-making (and determining which is which). Charles Raven overlooks the sleeping dog issues such as Sydney's determination that deacons may preside at the eucharist as examples of matters not able to be sorted by the Jerusalem Declaration, nor by GAFCON structures.

Much as I admire the energy and the acumen from +Tom Wright through these days, we actually need something better able to fix the mess we appear to be in!