Thursday, December 23, 2010

Seasonal Greetings: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany

On whatever day you read this, through this period of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany celebrations, may your joys be many, disappointments be few, and sorrows be seasoned with hope and love.

Posting over the next few weeks will be light - probably just pointing to significant Anglican news, should anything emerge - as fits the season. Readers have other things to do (well, perhaps some stuck in snow in Europe and North America have little to do!), and this writer needs to write some other things when not soaking up the sun :)

Best wishes, and thanks for reading through 2010.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The end is near but what will emerge is unknown

A few days before the first Christmas only a few knew anything was going to happen of note, and no one knew that the end of an era and beginning of an aeon would take place in Bethlehem. The end was near and what would emerge was unknown.

Reading a little about Luther last night reminds me that at another point in history, in the history of the church, one man made a huge difference. Not only did he trigger the European Reformation, he spawned a global church (these days, set of churches) bearing his name. In a lesser way, Cranmer became a towering figure in the change from the catholic Church of England to the catholic and reformed Church of England. Before each character arrived on the scene, the end was near for the old order, and what would emerge was unknown.

Are we at a similar point in the history of Anglicanism? The order we know is about to become the old order. New wine can only be contained in new wineskins. I raise this question - not the first time an Anglican has raised it since 2003 - because I am deeply troubled that I cannot raise the question of Anglican unity here without response that 'unity' is 'imposition of unity' or 'institutional unity' and we do not want that. To say we are 'Anglican' yet have no shared enthusiasm across the 'Communion' for Anglican 'unity' is, frankly, a travesty in respect of New Testament teaching on the church as the body of Christ. To raise barriers to progress to unity by, say, invoking the spectre of an unholy trinity of an Anglican version of papacy, curia, and magisterium is a failure to engage with the challenge of being one Anglican Communion. To continue to assert national sovereignty of member churches of the Communion is to work with half a loaf of ecclesiology: the other half is true interdependence in the body of Christ. To claim that there is only one church of Christ (true) and then offer nothing more than 'prayer' to progress the unity of the visible expressions in our world of that one church is - I think, but I think St Paul would agree -  a loss of nerve, vision, and will. My question is this: can we expect a Communion of churches to remain intact when it is both generally divided and even divided on what it means to be united? With no shared vision of our future together why would we expect to remain a Communion?

Here I am proposing that the present Anglican Communion, visibly falling apart, will continue to do so unless it finds the will to do otherwise. The end is near but what will emerge is unknown. My surmise is that a Luther or a Cranmer is going to arise in the next fifty years. There will be a new wineskin. Even my musing about 'Three Federations' a while ago was a musing about one old wineskin transmuting into three old wineskins.

Note carefully, however, the difference between Luther and Cranmer and the new wineskins that followed them in Germany and England. Before the former there was no Lutheran church and after there was. Before the latter there was one form of the Church of England and after (and after the temporary Mary Tudor reverse) there was another form of the English church. Will a new Anglican Communion emerge, or another church altogether?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It is a gift of God, do not strive for it. Yeah, right!

Justice: all too often we fall into the trap of thinking and acting as if it is our responsibility to work for justice. Justice, however, is a gift of God for which our prayers must never waver.

Healing: all too often we fall into the trap of thinking and acting as if it is our responsibility to work for healing.
Healing, however, is a gift of God for which our prayers must never waver.

"All too often we fall into the trap of thinking and acting as if it is our responsibility to hold the Church together. Unity, however, is a gift of God lived into as we are faithful to God’s redemptive mission for a hurting, broken, and alienated world. It is in our common service to God’s mission beyond the Church that we will better understand our unity “en Christo.” In these discussions let us keep the cart behind the horse. Our common life in Christ is for the sake of God’s mission; by God’s grace we understand the unity of the Church to follow." (From here).

"Our unity does not belong to us, but is a gift for which Christ prayed to his Father, and for which our prayers must never waver. We are called to love and honor one other as possessing part of the Divine Truth, the wholeness of which will be revealed in Christ’s blessed kingdom." (From here).

No, I am not convinced that unity is something we pray for but do not work for, which we assume will follow when we dive into mission without first asking whether it is a common mission.

In Scripture we read this:

"... walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called ... eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit ... And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God ... Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, ... makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." (Ephesians 4:1-17)

"Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ ... that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel ... So if there is any encouragement in Christ ... complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." (Philippians 1:27-2:3)

There is a clear and unmistakeable duty laid on those whom claim to be in Christ to work with the Spirit of God on being one in Christ, of one mind of Christ. Naturally we should pray for unity - it is not easy - joining our prayer with the Lord's prayer ut unim sint. But it is an easy pass to ascribe unity to the area of 'gift of God' no further work needed here. Imagine saying that justice or healing were also in that area!

The two citations above are from two responses to a challenge posed by Christopher Wells and Leander Harding at the beginning of an online forum offered by The Living Church. Here is their question:

"A number of leaders in the Episcopal Church express a desire to encourage the minority, reassuring us that our presence and voices are both welcome and necessary as the loyal opposition. But what would real encouragement look like? Granting that we cannot easily resolve our disagreements at present, is there nonetheless some gesture that might begin to restore a shared sense of identity and common purpose?"

Their whole post is here. Over successive days running up to Christmas they will post responses to their proposal from a variety of leading thinkers within TEC.

My concern from Down Under is that, again, we see the cleavage between TEC and many Anglicans around the globe. We cannot even agree that unity is something we might bother to do more than pray for. If we do not even have unity about unity (so to speak!), what a fine mess we are in ...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Correspondence between Earth and Heaven?

Why do I believe in the God of Jesus Christ? Many reasons, one of which is the sense that the experience of beauty on earth corresponds to existence of another reality. That reality both creating beauty and offering the fulfilment of the aching desire that beauty creates. There is correspondence between earth and heaven where God with Christ is beginning and end, alpha and omega, first and last.

Last night the grab factor which beauty has - grabbing us through our senses and transporting us out of the ordinary - took hold of me when in the midst of a very fine Carols and Lessons service, one of the musical parts was a recording of Unto us a Child is Born from Handel's Messiah. The extraordinary beauty of the music hit me - again as if for the first time - and reminded me of one of the reasons I am not an atheist!

Here is a recording - I think it better without distracting video of singers and musicians:

Of course just about any part of the Messiah does this particular trick of transporting to heaven!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Oddly No Covenant?

John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar rightly draws attention to the latest round of reasons to say No to the Covenant from the No Covenant coalition blog Comprehensive Unity. 'Rightly' because these ten reasons are not very good reasons. Here I attend to one which I find particularly odd: unevidenced, and highly ironic.

It is no. 2 on the list: "Under the Covenant, churches will be inhibited from undertaking new evangelical or mission initiatives for fear of offending other Communion churches and becoming embroiled in the disciplinary mechanisms set up by the Covenant."

Interestingly this reason, unlike the other nine, has no additional unemboldened comment.
Perhaps this reason needs no further comment; or, perhaps this reason is so vacuous, no additional comment can be given!

Nevertheless this reason for saying 'No' is worth examining: on the face of it, if this reason is based on truth about the Covenant, then the Covenant is truly a terrible thing.

There is, in fact, no evidence for this reason for saying 'No' to the Covenant. Further, it is highly ironic: 'disciplinary mechanisms' speaks of a Communion with rules. But every member church of the Communion has rules. Every member church gets on with mission and evangelism within the framework of these rules. Are the No Covenanters saying, or trying to say that rules in a church or Communion necessarily inhibit mission? This is a very odd position to take for an Anglican group. If member churches having rules does not impede mission, why should a Communion having rules impede mission?

In any case, this reason skips a step in Covenant thinking! The Covenant is not concerned with fear of giving offence, but with common accord as member churches of one Communion. The only fear a member church need have in respect of the Covenant is the fear of stepping out of common accord, for instance on the meaning of mission, or understanding of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. To step out of common accord could be to risk a member church asking a question as to whether this step is consistent with shared Anglican understanding of mission and gospel. Actually, there is nothing to fear here, because we would want to be in common accord with one another in a Communion, wouldn't we?

You can see the response coming a mile off: but, but, but, Anglican diversity and all that, we might not be in common accord as we do our thing and they do their thing; we have the Spirit, they have the Spirit, the Spirit can lead in two different directions at once, but that blasted Covenant will set up a perilous situation where diversity will become uniformity, and the Spirit will not be monotoned down to a shadow of its former rainbow self ...

In other words, the real reason for saying 'No' to the Covenant is that we do not agree that Anglicans should be accountable to one another for assertions as to what Anglican mission means because whatever our life in common means, it does not mean accountability for our common life.

As often asked by me on this blog, do we want to be a Communion with things in common or a Something in which diversity knows no bounds?

Those wishing for the former should welcome the Covenant as yet another bond. Those wishing for the latter should be saying 'No' to Communion fullstop.

The Appointed Readings

Okay, I preached today on Matthew 1:18-25, and felt emboldened to explain at the beginning why we were having this reading on the Sunday before Christmas rather than Christmas Eve or Day itself - thank you Bosco Peters for that explanation in a comment on my post below.

I appreciate what I have been learning from the discussion on that thread. In summary:

(1) It is a difficult to draw up any scheme for systematically reading the Bible, and I could be more appreciative of the work which goes into various lectionaries adopted by our church (including the RCL), including the fact of the great lectionary tradition which lies behind (and is included within) current lectionaries.

(2) Where readings are omitted from lectionaries (as in a 2:1, 7-9, 15-16 type reading) the reasons may have nothing to do with an ecclesial version of political correctness, and may have everything to do with the lectioners (is that the right term?) determining that, within congregational worship, that reading may be smoother, occasion less puzzlement and, obviously, be shorter, than if 2:1-16 were set down as the reading.

(3) Not a new learning, but reinforced here, the great achievement of lectionaries, and a special achievement in our era through the RCL for Sunday and daily eucharists is the uniting of Christians around the globe in reading together from the one Scripture.

I remain, however, a questioner if not a critic! Take the (hypothetical) example above or the real RCL example of Sundays 10, 17 and 24 July 2011 where successively the gospel readings are Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, 13:24-30, 36-43 and 13:31-33, 44-52. The first choice is logical inasmuch as it runs the Parable of the Sower and the interpretation of the parable together; ditto the second with the Parable of the Weeds and its interpretation. Likewise the second set: a sequence of four parables plus Jesus lovely saying about scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven. But notice two things. First, this is not what Matthew himself has done in laying out the sequence of his parabolic material in Matthew 13. Secondly, omitted in this set of three Sunday readings is Matthew 13:10-17, and 13:34-35. The first is a difficult reading in any preacher's estimation, and the second is a kind of footnote. Have they been omitted from the whole year? (Sorry, dear readers, no time today to look through the other 49 Sundays to see if it occurs). It looks like preachers and readers of Matthew throughout the world are being given a pass on confronting Matthew 13:10-17. Even if a reader tells me this reading (or 13:34-35) is found on another Sunday at another part of the year, there is still a question about why these passages, crucial to our understanding of Jesus' teaching through parables, are not found in their natural Matthean context.

Naturally a question arises about what it means to be in a church such as my own which specifies in Sunday prayer book services that 'the appointed readings follow', that is, that the readings set down for the day according to the lectionary ought to be read (albeit several legitimated possibilities then could apply). Would it be disobedience to add in Matthew 13:10-17 on one of these Sundays?

More seriously, my reflections at this point on the lectionary are focused on 'the appointed readings', and include these questions (for the whole of ACANZP to consider):

(a) Should we have a church requirement which does not conform to widely practiced reality, or should reality be made to conform to requirement? Please note here that I am not talking about how most in our church follow the lectionary (to some degree) and a few do not. I am raising the question about the fact that (in my experience, across more than one diocese) parish churches following the lectionary (i.e. to one degree or another) mostly do not have four readings (psalm, OT, Ep, Gospel). Most (in my experience) have the OT or Ep and the Gospel: two readings! Some, perhaps with a handy choir to help, will have three readings: psalm and OT or Ep, and the Gospel, or OT, Ep and the Gospel. Rare is the quadrilection (is that a word?).

A further note: I observe these things about the lectionary not being followed with a great deal of sympathy, not as some kind of liturgical 'policeman'. In my experience of being Anglican in Kiwiland I cannot think of one church which actually follows the lectionary as prescribed in every service. All may be well, for instance, with the morning eucharist, but the evening readings are shortened. Usually the readings are followed but, today there is a baptism - something has to give, and it is one of the readings. All such decisions by vicars are understandable, but strictly speaking they are not according to 'the appointed readings follow'! Hence my next question:

(b) Is it more helpful to have a prescriptive rule (i.e. the literal force of the blunt words, 'the appointed readings follow') or a permissive rule (i.e. the effective manner in which the rule is treated in practice in many parishes)? I am sympathetic to a permissive interpretation because getting parish worship 'right' is very, very complicated these days, and flexibility around a fixed framework is needed according to the challenges of the moment.

(Final note: I acknowledge that when we raise the question of 'appointed readings' we have an additional problem in our church of 'which appointed readings?' as there are so many of them. Let that one alone for now: the questions framed above would remain even if we had only one lectionary to follow).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Anglican Down Under likes this news

Is it presumptuous to think that God might like this news too?

Lectionary Teaser

This Sunday I, and many others, will preach according to the RCL readings. The gospel is Matthew 1:18-25. Whoops, that's the reading for Christmas Day, isn't it? No. I have checked again: that is the reading for Sunday 19 December, 2010. But shouldn't it be a Christmas Day reading only and not six days beforehand? Fair point, but do not worry, there are fine readings from Luke's Gospel for Christmas Eve/Day services. Wait. Just hold on a minute there. I am sure this is the Year of Matthew (beginning with Advent, not on 1 January 2011). Surely there would be a Matthew reading for Christmas Day in the Year of Matthew? Well, there is: if you have Morning Prayer. What? Matthew-without-eucharist or eucharist-without-Matthew? Looks like it.

Seems strange, but I suppose it is one of those quirky things whereby in the Year of Matthew there is not a Matthew gospel reading on Christmas Day but in the Year of Luke there is a Matthew reading. Er, stupid. In the Year of Luke (last year) it was Luke readings all the way through: last Sunday before Christmas, Christmas Day.

Let me be clear here for local readers: as a paid up licensed clergyperson of ACANZP which includes rubrics about 'appointed' readings in its liturgies, I am a supporter of lectionary adherence. But I struggle to understand some things about the RCL readings. I do not understand some of its omissions: they look, for all the world, like 'politically correct' decisions (but that is a topic for discussion on another day). Here, I do not understand why the Year of Matthew does not drive forward the gospel reading chosen for one of the great festivals of the church calendar.

I get it, that on Christmas Eve/Day, Luke's Gospel provides a longer birth narrative yielding a better set of consistent (from one gospel) readings than Matthew's briefer account. I understand the choice for Luke year on year. But I think it is a poor consequence that in the Year of Matthew pretty much every preacher is going to feel a need to explain why Matthew 1:18-25 is the reading for six days before Christmas. When we explain we lecture, when we lecture we lose the attention of our congregations.

Who is in charge of revising the RCL?

It is not our General Synod.

What? There is something in the life of our church in which we are beholden to decisions made elsewhere in the world? Quelle horreur! How unAnglican to submit to a written document controlled by others beyond the shores of our fair islands and the control of our General Synod.

Advent (or Early Christmas) Blessings!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anglicans should take care about 'new Truth'

I am intrigued that in the post below I am taken to task by fellow Anglicans for criticising a serving bishop of our church for embracing the possibility of 'new Truth' according to his understanding of the meaning of Jesus' words in John 16:12-13a: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth."

Anglicanism did not begin with the Reformation but it has been distinctively shaped by it. The Reformation was nothing more or less than a resounding 'No' (let me repeat that, 'No') to 'new Truth' developed through centuries of interpreting Scripture to the point where the church believed or behaved in ways contrary to Scripture: some excessive forms of veneration of Mary, indulgences, defining the mystery of the eucharist in terms of transsubstantiation, investing ultimate ecclesial power in the hands of one papal office, masses for the dead. That kind of thing.

I suggest that the Roman response to this 'No' vindicates the Reformation for close inspection of this response is renewed attention to Scriptural arguments for the matters on which the Reformation theologians said, 'This is contrary to Scripture.' We who stand on the Reformation side of things may be unpersuaded by Roman arguments from Scripture, but we can recognise that honour and respect is being paid to Scripture by mounting such arguments.

The question for any Anglican bishop, whether a +John Robinson or a +Gene Robinson, is whether their claims to the veracity of 'new Truth' pass the basic Anglican test of whether or not these claims are contrary to Scripture.

Incidentally, it is unpersuasive that any Anglican seeking to move our understanding of Scripture begins their case with the words 'I take this to mean'. The very least we owe ourselves as Anglicans is reading Scripture together and coming to a new or renewed understanding as a community of readers.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

+Robinson reveals reason for rift in Communion

+Gene Robinson has been writing on the Bible and homosexuality in The Washington Post. The first in the series is here, and from there you can link to the succeeding posts. In this post I do not want to engage with +Robinson's interpretation of seven 'texts of terror' concerning homosexuality per se: the ground he traverses is well worn, and the manner of his walk (the arguments he offers) offers nothing new to the ongoing debate about these texts. But I do want to engage in one argument he offers which, in turn, I argue goes to the core of the division in the Communion. This is what he writes in his first post:

"In John's Gospel, which is largely made up of the conversation Jesus has with his disciples at the Last Supper, Jesus says: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16: 12-13a) I take this to mean that Jesus is saying to the disciples, "Look, for a bunch of uneducated and rough fishermen, you haven't done too badly. In fact, you will do amazing things with the rest of your lives. But don't think for a minute that God is done with you - or done with believers who will come after you. There is much more that God wants to teach you, but you cannot handle it right now. So, I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into that new Truth." "

At the core of the division is the question of truth: around what understanding of truth are we united, that is, what is the basis of our fellowship? In a sense the Covenant addresses a subsidiary question: in what manner will we address differences in understanding of truth? The primary question for Anglicans is 'What is truth?' The normative answer for Anglicans has been 'the Word of God, written for us in Scripture, clarified through tradition and reason.' An answer, incidentally, which is the same for all Christians, with some important differences between us in the content of 'Christian truth' arising from how we define Scripture, tradition and reason (e.g. differences between Protestants, Romans, and Eastern Orthodox in the canon of Scripture).

Also 'normatively' Christians have been very, very wary of claims to 'new Truth' beyond the pages of Scripture, pointing to salutary lessons from church history when our ancestors in the faith have gone astray.

But here we have one of the leading bishops in one of the chief protagonist churches in the Communion proclaiming the virtue of 'new Truth'. (Note also the blithe manner in which +Gene moves from 'all truth' to 'new Truth', unconstrained by the possibility that 'all truth' is deeper insight into the truth revealed in Scripture!).

It is quite reasonable, sober, and sensible for Anglicans around the globe to be very concerned that, when all is said and done, TEC is on a pilgrimage to 'new Truth' and not on a path of ever deeper, ever renewed understanding of plain, traditional, Scriptural orthodoxy, confined to the bounds of Scripture and our creedal understanding of Scripture. A new approach to homosexuality is simply one expression of the will to embrace 'new Truth.' The big picture here of Anglican alarm is not the issue of homosexuality, but the lack of will to commit to faithful orthodoxy.

What is the nature of the truth around which we fellowship as Anglicans in the Communion? Is it the old, old story of Jesus and his gospel, or is it the new Truth of +Robinson and his peers? It cannot be both. We are in a rift because truth is non-contradictory. The future of the Communion, ultimately, will be as an orthodox Christian community or not. Right now we are in a grace-filled phase (well, sort of!) in which we are giving the benefit of the doubt to each other: perhaps TEC is right, perhaps it is not, as it claims to be just as orthodox as the rest of us. But this phase will not last forever: the truth will out. We will be a TEC-shaped Communion, or a Communion which constrains TEC (i.e. relegates it to the second tier, suspends it, or even expels it), or TEC will repent of its Robinsonian toying with new Truth. I can think of no fourth possibility for our long-term future.

Right now I am very doubtful that TEC will repent, doubtful that the Communion will constrain TEC (because of the absence of a significant proportion of primates from the Primates Meeting in January), and thus view our likely future as a TEC-shaped Communion. While I object to the boycott of the primates, I understand that they may feel tired and worn out trying to combat the propensity of ++Williams and other primates to not confront 'new Truth' and judge it for what it is: heresy.

I am grateful for +Gene Robinson for his honesty and frankness in revealing once again why there is a rift in our Communion. It has nothing to do with bigotry and homophobia, and everything to do with fundamental concerns about the theological commitments defining Anglicanism in the 21st century.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ordination grounded in Scripture

Last night I preached at a diocesan ordination service in which four men were ordained as deacons. I do not think it helpful to reproduce the whole sermon as the whole sermon is also the way it was delivered, and the small ad libs within it as it progressed. But at the heart of the sermon was a theological argument for one understanding of ordination rather than others. The essence of the argument is that some understandings of ordination lurk in our church - more strongly lurking in some periods and places than in others - which do not measure up to Scripture itself, in this case to Acts 6:2-6 and the development of ministry recounted there.

"At least two mistaken views of ordination have been toyed with in the life of our church. They may even be lurking undetected in some of our minds tonight.

I am going to call one view ‘bureaucratic.’ Ordination, on this view, is a quaint way of becoming an Anglican minister. It is really just an administrative step with symbolic actions in order to become a minister. Other churches make ministers in other ways, but this is the Anglican way, so we need to go through it in order to be a minister in this church.

The other view I will call ‘mechanical.’ Ordination, on this view, is part of a system of salvation. Guarantees of salvation via baptism, absolution and eucharist rely on ordained priests to make these actions valid. Being made deacon tonight is a necessary step on the way to becoming priests. Once made a priest one can contribute as a working part of the machine of salvation.

I suggest that neither such view is true to Scripture. In our readings tonight we are confronted with God as the author of mission and chooser of missioners – the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, Stephen, Philip and others. Ordination is responsive obedience to God ordering the life of God’s mission.

In the Acts reading, the needs of God’s mission determine who is chosen to assist the mission in its growth and development. The initial order of ministry, the apostles, cannot cope with growth and its consequences. A new order of ministry, in today’s words we might say, ‘a new layer of leadership’ is developed.

Those ordained neither go through a necessary bureaucratic procedure nor become part of a machine of salvation. Hands are laid on them to draw them deeper into the dynamism of God’s work in the world, as well as to set them apart for specific tasks in the life of the church.

The view of ordination here in Acts is dynamic, not bureaucratic or mechanical: the Holy Spirit works flexibly as the church develops new needs; and the Holy Spirit works powerfully and unpredictably through these seven ordained men."

I went on to observe that Acts never describes these seven deacons as actually serving at table! They perform miracles and preach the gospel powerfully. Discerned as full of the Spirit, after ordination they have an even greater fullness of the Spirit.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A TEC-shaped Communion or a Communion-shaped Communion?

Philip Turner offers an excellent analysis about the 'deep' level of what is going on in current Communion machinations re the role of TEC in respect of the Primates Meeting and the Standing Committee. The race is on for the prize of a Communion with two integrities rather than two tracks. Here is a slice of the larger analytical pie:

"Sensing the radical implications of what TEC seems to be up to, there has been considerable push back from around the Communion. In response, TEC not only continues to assert its autonomy, it also aggressively argues that the basis of communion is not so much common belief and practice as it is common mission understood primarily as the alleviation of human suffering and the pursuit of greater social justice. The doctrinal aspect of communion is reduced to a list of talking points, namely, the outline for ecumenical discussion set forth in the Chicago/Lambeth Quadrilateral. The heart of communion on this view comes down to perpetual dialogue coupled with “mutual ministry,” understood largely in moral terms.

The problems with this view of communion are numerous and fatal. First, as previously noted, by placing unity in faith at the margins of communion, TEC has taken a stance in direct contradiction to its own history and to the position it has assumed in its ecumenical conversations. Thus, for example, in TEC’s own foundational documents and in her conversations with the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches communion is understood first as communion in Christ expressed in common belief, order, and worship.

Second, the Quadrilateral, which TEC’s defenders hold up as a sufficient standard of faith, was never intended as an adequate statement of Christian belief. It was formulated as an outline by means of which ecumenical conversation could be focused and (it was hoped) moved forward. To say, for example, that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation and are the rule and ultimate standard of faith says nothing about the way in which they are interpreted. Again, to say that one believes the Nicene Creed is a sufficient statement of Christian faith says nothing about the way in which its various articles are understood and exposited. In short, TEC proposes as an adequate statement of belief, an agenda for a conversation about adequate belief. This is precisely the position she takes in the councils of the Communion. Communion is a matter of sustained conversation–an extended indaba process.

Third, communion is defined largely in moral rather than theological terms. This position follows naturally enough from the reduced role of common belief just set forth. No one wishes to underestimate the importance of shared ministry in service to the poor, but it is hard to see, when push comes to shove, why communion as TEC defines it is communion in Christ Jesus. In the end, Jesus is no more than a good example that might be replicated in many other historical figures. He is more an example of a moral ideal than he is a savior apart from whom we can neither know nor serve God as God wills."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Three Federations?

Sarah (I assume, Sarah Hey) commenting on The Anglican Competition post below makes this prediction:

"I think we'll have three different medium-sized entities at the end of the day: raving revisionist TEC and her allies, fumbling [and still clueless about the juggernaut of TEC's revisionism and what delights will be in store in the coming decades from that diminishing organization] "we'd sign anything if it could only go away" moderate COE and her allies, and the rest of the traditional Provinces."

Now, so comments do not get stuck on the language here, I am going to take up her comment and recast it as fairly and as diplomatically as I can. (So don't bother commenting here about her comment!)

Whereas I often write as though the future will be some form of GAFCON/Global South federation and the remainder of the Communion as another federation of Anglican churches (and it will be federations because neither in the first nor in the second will key churches submit their understanding of Anglicanism to the judgement of others), Sarah proposes three entities. I think there could be something in what she says.

(1) If we drop loaded terminology such as 'raving', 'revisionism', and 'juggernaut' we can still fairly raise the question whether TEC is on a steady trajectory towards a manner of Anglican life which is distinct from both traditional Anglicanism (measured, for instance, by the embrace of same sex partnerships as equal of marriage) and much modern Anglicanism (measured, for instance, by the ease with which members (individuals, parishes, dioceses) are let go of). No other Anglican church I am aware of, save perhaps for Canada in parts, is as willing as TEC to let go of its dissidents.

But these are not the only distinctives to note here: TEC's great claim is to be led by the Spirit, even when that direction is different to the rest of the Communion. TEC may prove to be right (and thus, effectively, it will be the rest of us who will have been the real 'revisionists') but at the moment what is interesting is the distinctiveness of their pathway. This pathway is distinctive because (a) they make that claim though it contradicts where the majority of the Communion is at; (b) they are unwilling to test the claim in the court of the Communion as a whole, (d) within their ranks are voices expressing preference for the Communion to break up rather than any reversal of commitment takes place, yet (c) they wish to remain part of the Communion rather than to walk apart. This distinctiveness means it is not at all clear to me that (2) below will be a close ally of (1) as we go forward into the future.

(2) Then there is - always, because we are Anglican - a group of moderates, perhaps best represented by the CofE, who really, really hope that the Communion can be held together, and will conjure up all manner of band aids, rubber bands, and bits of string to hold it together. Covenant, diplomacy, refusal to exclude, hints of inclusion (to ACNA), revisioning Lambeth (and now, it seems, the Primates Meeting), and generally expressing goodwill to all and tolerance of everything: the moderates are just about exhausted, both in energy and in ideas. The Great Moderate is of course the ABC himself. This mass of moderates may fall apart, especially if the Covenant is not well supported across the Communion, but I think the genuineness of their inclusiveness - the will to retain opponents - may be the superglue which holds all together.

(3) Then Sarah's 'the rest of the traditional Provinces': in disagreement with TEC, in dissatisfaction with moderate Anglicanism (often arising out of contexts of strident challenges from other religions), many provinces want to stick close to Anglicanism-as-inherited. From this perspective anglo-catholics and evangelicals can find common cause: "We are agreed that Anglicanism has a past we should learn more from than current claims about the Spirit's leading; we may disagree on what that past consists of, but we are united in what it cannot accommodate from the present," could be their statement, as well as this, "We have a gospel to proclaim: it is not what TEC claims is the gospel, and it is clear and unequivocal, in contrast to the understanding of the muddled moderate middle of Anglicanism."

Three Federations? If we can find the right language to describe what is happening in our midst, we may be able to give this hypothesis a fair hearing.

Bible bashing

Thanks for some comments made in recent days. All thoughtful. At least God knows where the Communion is heading!

Back from the ANZABiblicalStudies conference where the Bible got a bashing, in the best sense of the word: lots of papers with detailed explorations and exegeses of the text. Always interesting to reflect on how much unanimity exists in the world of biblical scholarship: we are united in wanting to study Scripture in depth, bound by unwritten protocols to be polite to each other even as we ask robust questions, and keen as mustard to enjoy our refreshment breaks and annual conference meal!

Coming up on Sunday we have a diocesan ordination service - four to be ordained deacons. I am working on the sermon for that. How to be non-soporific (the opposite is a tendency with academic papers!), non-controversial (not really the occasion to upset people), non-confusing (bound to be some friends and family present who do not quite understand the difference between, say, a deacon and a priest), and non-indulgent (the service is about the laying on of hands, not about the sermon)? Positively, how to speak up for Anglican orders, challenge those ordained to fulfil their calling, and encourage all with confidence in God building the church ...?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wright's righting of wrongs against Wright

Am about to participate in our annual Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies conference. One of those papers end on end conferences, punctuated by the conference dinner tonight. A wonderful set of people who will not mind in the least me saying that none will present with quite the verve and swerve of N.T. (+Tom) Wright ... because no one else in the world does. He is the hapax legomena [single usage] of biblical scholarship when it comes to style! Anyway, have just come across a rarity in the world of Wright, a posting on a blog - The Ugley Vicar no less. Here is a flavour, but please read the whole. Marvellous.

"I hope all this is reasonably clear. I didn't know whether to be amused or insulted by the chap on your blog who said I must be unclear because I'd never been a parish priest. (I suppose being Dean of a cathedral doesn't count either.) I would like to show him the files and files of letters, postcards, emails and so on from the Old Mrs Joneses of this world who have thanked me heartily for explaining things, in sermons and books, in a way they can understand and in a way that their own vicar had never made clear . . . But maybe he doesn't realise (some don't) that the NT Wright of the academic books is also the Tom Wright of the Everyone series...

I was also struck by the attempt by Ro Mody to systematize a Wright-says-this and Reformed-says-that view. It really doesn't work like that though I haven't got the time to explain why. But please be it noted: I have always, always, stressed penal substitution as being right at the heart of things, both for Jesus and for Paul. I do that in preaching and teaching as well as writing. It is one of the saddest slurs I encounter when people suggest I don't really believe or teach this. It's a way of saying 'we don't understand Tom Wright and he's saying things we didn't hear in Sunday School so he's probably a wicked liberal, and since wicked liberals don't believe in penal substitution he probably doesn't either.'"

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Anglican Competition

A couple of posts below I make the slightly radical suggestion that a way forward for the Anglican Communion would be to suspend Anglican Communion operations (committees, commissions, conferences) for twenty years or so and see what happens. Mark Harris has noticed this and (I think) assessed it as the wrong way to go. Fair enough, though I notice his way forward has a certain amount of prescription which to all intents and purposes implies some kind of covenanted restart to the Communion!

Either way, we are in a period of Anglican Competition: competing ideas for the way forward (muddle on, suspend operations, suspend even expel a member or two), competing proposals for how we might be bound together (Covenant or not, in Communion with the ABC or not), competing notions of what form our binding together might take (global church, communion, federation), competing groupings (GAFCON, Global South, TEC and its allies), and competing alternatives to Anglican-by-virtue-of-formal-membership-of-the-Communion (ACNA, Anglican Ordinariate).

It is very hard, I suggest, to see a way forward here in which the Anglican Communion as we know it currently is not considerably weakened. With each passing month we see further fragmentation and deeper disagreement. If 10 primates do not show up at the Meeting in January 2011 then we have a significant underlining of the crisis we are in. More importantly, their absence will almost certainly (based on past performance of the ABC in the presence of the PB) lead to no decision which clarifies the future of the Communion. It will muddle on, failing to grasp the challenge of formally suspending from membership either the protagonists or the antagonists in the present crisis, and lacking the power to insist that all member churches front up at the same table of discussion.

The way will open up for some form of GAFCON and/or Global South to pursue more vigorously a vision for global Anglican life which will be at variance with the vision (or, for that matter, lack thereof) of the official Anglican Communion. Bit by bit that vision - given a fair wind and some carefulness in articulation - will draw in other dioceses and parishes from around the Communion. Effectively the Communion will formally work in two tracks (even three) because there will be the track of the Communion itself (three quarters of the primates, roughly one quarter of the people membership) and the track of those not on that track.

It is not as though the vision of the official Anglican Communion, dominated by a progressive theological agenda, will not have some attraction itself. It will be supported, but it will be on a downhill slide as long as its major supporters are member churches in the Western hemisphere. Uniformly these Anglican churches are declining in numbers ... and numbers matter when it comes to some things: keeping churches open, paying for ministers, funding costs of administration.

Over time, my guess is that the present Anglican Communion will wither on the vine. A different Anglican entity will dominate in 2100. It will be closer in spirit and organisation to a global Anglican Church. It may be scarily fundamentalist. If there is some form of the Anglican Communion still in existence it will be like the SCM in our NZ universities: it still exists, no one knows how it keeps going, and it is virtually invisible.

Historians will look back and wonder why in the first part of the 21st century Anglicanism lost its way with irretrievable consequences as a catholic-and-reformed church, with a liberal heart. They will conclude that an unwillingness for any leading figure, apart from the ABC himself, to compromise was the principle reason for the demise of the Communion.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Well done

I thought the Pike River Miners' Memorial Service yesterday at the Omoto Racecourse, Greymouth was very well done. You can link to a report, order of service, brief video and full service video. The last is over 1.5 hours long.

The Reverend Tim Mora led the service exceptionally well. Carolyn Williams, and her daughter Sarah, sang beautifully. Speakers, including our Prime Minister John Key, and local Mayor Tony Kokshoorn captured the mood of the occasion brilliantly.

I am particular impressed with Tim's homily which unflinchingly witnessed to the God we meet in Jesus Christ. The service included explicitly Christian songs, prayers and blessings. Our agnostic Prime Minister's address began by talking about all the praying Kiwis had been doing. "New Zealand's the most secular nation in the world. Yeah, right!" (with apologies to overseas readers unfamiliar with our 'Tui beer' adverts!!)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Suspend the Communion?

If I were the Autocrat in charge of the Communion (and if the Communion would do what I said) what would I do? Thinking about that initially led me in the direction of some complex arrangements (i.e. of a kind that a committee would never agree to, but a creative Autocrat could determine!) but I think something quite simple might be the order of the day. It would not need an Autocrat to be appointed to make the decision, just a collective will to act. The simple recommendation works from a post of Christopher's Johnson's which in turn reflects on a post by Cranmer.

Currently the Communion is experimenting with suspending the full involvement of some members of some committees as a consequence of excursions from orthodoxy and incursions into other bishop's jurisdictions. One problem with this approach is that some see it as too little, too late: thus the GAFCON Primates are doing their own bit of suspending in turn, suspending themselves from the Primates' Meeting in January 2011. So here is the idea, which extends the concept of suspension. Let's suspend the whole Communion: all committees, all Communion wide roles. Let no committee meet and no primates travel on 'Anglican Communion' business. Say for twenty years.

During that time Anglicans will make choices about meeting together, about inviting this one and that one to preach and to preside, and about conferences of various kinds. Choices will also be made about ordinations and liturgical services. After twenty years some clarity will emerge about which Anglicans want to be in a formal relationship with each other and which do not. Or, indeed, clarity may emerge about never again attempting to maintain a formal "Communion". During those twenty years the evolution of global Anglicanism will take place without current stresses and strains, and without displays of pique and hurt about who is in and who is out.

In short: rather than a Communion polity in which a few are suspended because our formal life cannot contain our diversity, how about suspending Communion polity itself?

What do you think?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Counting down to Thursday's Memorial Service

Back from Dunedin, and an induction service in Tinwald last night at which we did not sing In Christ Alone! Over on the West Coast intense preparations are taking place for the Memorial Service for the Pike River miners - 2 pm Thursday. Trains, planes, buses and cars are being organised to take people there. Please pray for church and community leaders preparing the service. Three messages/sermons have been posted on Taonga: by +Richard and Hilary Ellena, Robin Kingston, and Tim Mora.

The service will be broadcast live on radio and two TV stations. It is a curious feature of 'secular' Kiwi life that when the chips are really down: the death of a major figure (in recent times one thinks of Sir Edmund Hilary and the Maori Queen), or now, a major tragedy, Christian ritual and spirituality come to the forefront. Faltering though our corporate witness to Christ may seem to be (e.g. looking around and seeing churches for sale), we are faithful and thus ready to serve in the bad times as well as the good times.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Miners Memorial, Blog Boycott, Tune Trifecta

Keeping an eye on plans for a memorial service for the twenty-nine miners killed at Pike River Coal Mine, 2 pm Thursday 2 December. Update here. I think the nation will stop still, as the service will be telecast. It will be an intriguing sign that this nation is less secular than we sometimes tell ourselves.

Boycotting my own blog? Sort of. The penny dropped this morning that slow access to the internet might be because our ISP limit for the month has been reached. Checked the meter. Sure enough. Culprits easy to detect, and it wasn't me. Might be some students returned home from nirvana (i.e. university) where the internet is as limitless as sand in the Sahara. Anyway, what with slow internet and some research to do on Revelation for a teaching course next year, the next few days may see few signs of life here.

Tune trifecta ... that will be me on Tuesday night seeing whether my third induction in nine days yields a third time of singing a fave song. Will let you know.

Anglican Communion thoughts: thinking about what I would do if I were the Autocrat over the Communion. Post soon!

Saturday, November 27, 2010


Last night was a momentous and lovely occasion at St Barnabas' Fendalton, the neighbouring suburb to the one I live in here in Christchurch. The Reverend Mark Chamberlain was instituted as Vicar of Fendalton. Archdeacon Peter Beck led the service (in the absence of Bishop Victoria who is in Capetown for an IASCUFO meeting) and Bishop Richard Ellena of Nelson preached. From July 2002 till the end of January 2010 Mark and I worked closely together on the staff of the Bishop of Nelson. When I left in January, one of the hardest things was leaving that successful working partnership behind.

But God moves in mysterious ways and ten months later Mark and Pip and family, having made the momentous decision to take up a new ministry challenge right here in Christchurch, are settling into a new vicarage and parish.

There was a good turn out of clergy, both locally and from the Diocese of Nelson. Always good to catch up with colleagues and friends! The music was outstanding and that leads me to make one observation. It concerns the extraordinary popularity of the hymn In Christ Alone. Last night was the second institution of a new vicar I have been to this week. On both occasions we have sung In Christ Alone. And, yes, it was the 'wrath of God' version each time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Praying with and for Greymouth

From Tim Mora and the Greymouth Ministers' Association re the Pike River coal mine tragedy

Press Release and Prayer Request for Denominational Networks - 25/11/2010

Firstly thank you for your prayers over the last few days. They have truly made a difference. Many have asked how I personally am holding up and I have genuinely been able to say very well, I'm fine and then it dawned on me. There are probably tens of thousands, if not more, people praying for myself and the pastors and clergy of this town. I am fine because I am being upheld by your prayers so please keep on praying. God is at work.
On Wednesday the 24th at the 4pm family briefing we were told of the second explosion and there was an immediate outpouring of grief as the reality of the news hit people. In itself this showed how much people had been holding onto hope, a hope which was now gone. There was also anger from a minority who felt that things could have been done differently and they expressed themselves loudly and vocally as they stormed from the building. The majority however supported Peter Whittall and the Pike staff because what they had feared all along happened. Imagine a rescue team in the mine when the second explosion occurred and the ramifications of that. The families and wider community are now in the various stages of the grief process and we along with many others are supporting them the best we can.
So on behalf of our community we request prayer for the following

- For the families who have lost their loved ones. For the Holy Spirit to come and bring comfort and peace to individuals and families, to ease their pain, to help them through the grieving process and that they would continue to seek out help and support as and when they need it.

- Give thanks for the wisdom of those directly involved in the rescue process. Their caution probably saved more lost lives.

- Continue to pray that God's people will follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in offering comfort, care and support to those in need.

- Pray for the recovery of the bodies. The families and wider community all want and need their men back. It will make the grieving process easier and bring a better degree of closure. Pray therefore for the efforts of Pike Staff and the Recovery teams as the seek to render the mine safe enough for the recovery of the bodies.

- Give thanks for our national media who have been excellent but continue to pray for the overseas media in particular that they will be compassionate and gentle in their quest for information. Not intrusive and invasive. To see the people and not just the story.

- Pray for the pastors and clergy of the community, for wisdom in handling the media, sensitivity and compassion in dealing with families especially now as they support families in their grief and in time begin to prepare for funerals. Continue to pray for strength and the Spirit's sustaining for the duration. Pray especially for Rev. Tim Mora chairperson of the Greymouth Ministers Association and for the clergy from each denomination who are ministering on the Coast.

- Continue to pray for those struggling emotionally, especially now with the news of no survivors for those with survivor guilt, unresolved and also for those with now re-opened grief from previous mining tragedies and for those providing counseling and comfort.

- Pray for the the work colleagues of those lost who because of the common bond are feeling this more than most apart from the families themselves. Some are struggling with the thought of returning underground to work and others because of their more informed knowledge will be wrestling with how that impacts what they say to people in relation to chances of recovering the bodies, the future of the mine and so on. Pray for wisdom here.

- Pray for all those supporting families that they would offer appropriate care and support that would be of real benefit to the families.

- Pray for our town as the Spirit leads. This will leave a scar and shape our identity for the future but we want the processing of our communal and wider grief not to leave us crippled and dysfunctional in the future but rather stronger and more resilient as a community.

- Pray for the "Community Remembrance Service" on Thursday the 2nd of Dec at 2pm at Omoto that it will be a fitting service for the families and the wider community as they wait for their loved ones to come home. That those organising and fronting the event will have real wisdom in shaping the service and in selecting the words they say. Pray too that there will be a fitting balance between local and national needs.

Tim Mora

Chairperson, Greymouth Ministers’ Association

Anglican Communion: Dissolved for lack of Strong Glue

Cranmer says some things about the Covenant and the future of the Communion very well:

'Perhaps the Covenant is un-Anglican, but the very fact that it is a development in the Church’s doctrine of ecclesiology actually renders it rather Anglican.

If we are to avoid the ‘piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion’, do we not need a bit of glue?

It’s a certain fact we’re out of whitewash.

And what on earth could be wrong with a framework which demands consultation?

How can one resolve disagreements without dialogue?

The bizarre thing is that the Anglican Church actually practises what the Roman Catholic Church pretends to: subsidiarity; notwithstanding that the very concept is a Roman Catholic invention. It is to do with governance at the lowest level, and the Anglican Communion has historically been constructed on devolved localism. Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell [two Euro-sceptic politicians] would be proud.

But it hasn’t worked.'

Future historians will judge the Communion failed because a mistake was made about the glue required to hold us together. A common heritage of roots in the C of E is insufficient: the church is not an historical association, it is the body of Christ guided by the mind of Christ. Some kind of shared understanding of and shared commitment to common doctrine is the glue we need. It is insufficient response to this requirement to dismiss it for fear of some kind of 'unhealthy dogmatism' shaping Anglicanism. If we do not wish to dissolve we need doctrine (commensurate with our heritage in the ancient and reformed church, consistent with creeds and Scripture). If we take doctrine seriously we will commit to some form of discipline.

We are free to reject doctrine and discipline. But there will be a consequence. The Communion will dissolve.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Communion as We Know It is Dead

From a GAFCON Primates Council release:

'5. For the sake of Christ and of His Gospel we can no longer maintain the illusion of normalcy and so we join with other Primates from the Global South in declaring that we will not be present at the next Primates’ meeting to be held in Ireland. And while we acknowledge that the efforts to heal our brokenness through the introduction of an Anglican Covenant were well intentioned we have come to the conclusion the current text is fatally flawed and so support for this initiative is no longer appropriate.
6. We also acknowledge with appreciation the address to the Nicean Society meeting in Lambeth Palace on September 9th of His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations. We welcome his call to all churches of the Anglican Communion to step back from the abyss of heresy and reclaim the revealed truth that is at the heart of our historic understanding of Christian faith and moral order. We share with him the conviction that failure to do so will endanger our common witness and many important ecumenical dialogues but we would also point out that there are many within the Anglican Communion who have not ‘bowed the knee’ to secular liberalism and who are determined to stay true to the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’ whatever the cost. '

On the day when the CofE GS approves the Covenant provisionally, sending it to the Dioceses, major Global South provinces declare they are out of fellowship with ... basically TEC as the bastion of what is called 'secular liberalism.' There is no way back from this to the Communion as it was until there is repentance or an expulsion. We can be sure that TEC will not do the former and the ABC will not drive the latter.

I have been saying for a while now that the Anglican Communion will become a 'white person's club'. More or less that has happened. We have lost most of Africa and Asia.

Everything here is sad. Including the illusion of the GAFCON Primates Council that there will be a future global Anglican Communion to 'love:'

'10. We are also grateful for the recent conference sponsored by CAPA in Entebbe, Uganda, where we witnessed the growing strength of the Anglican Churches in Africa and their commitment to wholistic mission. We believe that GAFCON/FCA must expand its ministry through the inclusion of other Anglican provinces that share our faith conviction and love for the Communion. We also applaud the efforts of the Global South Provinces to find common ground and opportunities for common mission. We are committed to doing all that we can to strengthen our common witness.
11. We remain convinced that the unique character of GAFCON/FCA with its diversity of cultures and its embrace of the Jerusalem Declaration as a common theological confession is a vital contribution to the future of the global Anglican Communion. We are persuaded that we must offer new initiatives to more effectively respond to the crises that confront us all. We must strengthen our communication capabilities and we are also looking to build partnerships with other denominational churches that share our faith convictions.'

There will be two global Anglican entities going forward from here. Let's get real folks.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A dark day for Greymouth

Today all hope of any miner surviving from the Pike River coal mine wa snuffed out when a second, and larger explosion occurred at 2.37 pm. Twenty-nine miners have been declared dead. Greymouth, the West Coast and Aotearoa New Zealand are in mourning. It is moving to find that the church is at the heart of the pastoral response to this tragedy, one report of which is below. Thank you readers for your continuing prayers.

'Hundreds of people have gathered at Holy Trinity Church in Greymouth, following this afternoon's confirmation the 29 Pike River miners are dead.

Those among the congregation include mine boss Peter Whittall. He has been hugged by Daniel Rockhouse - one of the two men who walked out of the mine after Friday's explosion. Daniel's brother Ben Rockhouse is one of the men who lost their lives in the mine.

The Reverend Marge Tefft says it is a devastating day and she has paid tribute to Peter Whittall.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn presented a message sent earlier from the Pope. The Pontiff says he shares the anxiety of the miners' families, and has them in his prayers.

The Prime Minister is now looking at the possibility of having two memorials to mark the deaths of the miners. Mr Key says planning has not yet started, but his intention is to have one memorial in Greymouth and another national memorial, probably in Christchurch. He says we are a nation in mourning and that needs to be addressed.

Parliament will rise early tomorrow and flags will be flown at half mast.'

NZ Herald

Yes, we Anglicans can discipline each other when we want to

Some opponents of the Covenant rip it because it is 'punitive'. Some proponents of the Covenant (myself included) prefer to emphasise the disciplinary possibilities of the Covenant: that is the ability of the Covenant to enable the Communion to insist on limits to diversity, consequences for moving too far or too fast in respect of matters of common life, all with a view to better learning what it means to be a Christian within the life of the Communion. But even such a considered perspective on being a disciple of Christ is opposed. 'Discipline' as well as 'punishment' can be made to sound like very bad things which Anglicans in particular should have as little to do with as possible.

The simple fact is that Anglicans do discipline each other, do understand that some things are intolerable in the conduct of Anglicans, and do hold to standards of behaviour and belief for which there are consequences if an infraction occurs.

Even an Anglican bishop can be disciplined, believe it or not. +Pete Broadbent, much reported around the world, as noted in posts below, has said things about the Royal Family which are intolerable and (IMHO) inaccurate and unfair. Despite apologising, he is now suspended* from his ministry according to this report in which a letter from the Bishop of London is published.

The question is not whether we are capable of discipline, or whether the will to discipline lies in our corporate Anglican character. We are and it does. The question is what we consider to be the line beyond which discipline lies and behind which it does not.

*Legally he has not been suspended as that would require a specific process according to church law, but the bishop's letter says, 'I have asked him to withdraw from public ministry until further notice.' That, practically, is suspension.

The extraordinary claim of the opponents of the Covenant

In a completely surprising move (not!) the Archbishop of Canterbury has come out at the General Synod of the Church of England with a powerful, knowledgeable, and clear address in favour of the Covenant!

The Covenant is not what its opponents constantly deride it as being:

'The Covenant text itself represents work done by theologians of similarly diverse views, including several from North America. It does not invent a new orthodoxy or a new system of doctrinal policing or a centralised authority, quite explicitly declaring that it does not seek to override any province's canonical autonomy. After such a number of discussions and revisions, it is dispiriting to see the Covenant still being represented as a tool of exclusion and tyranny.'

As often stated here at ADU, the alternative to the Covenant is continued disintegration of the Communion:

'It is an illusion to think that without some changes the Communion will carry on as usual, and a greater illusion to think that the Church of England can somehow derail the entire process. The unpalatable fact is that certain decisions in any province affect all. We may think they shouldn't, but they simply do. If we ignore this, we ignore what is already a real danger, the piece-by-piece dissolution of the Communion and the emergence of new structures in which relation to the Church of England and the See of Canterbury are likely not to figure significantly. All very well, you may say; but among the potential casualties are all those areas of interaction and exchange that are part of the lifeblood of our church and of many often quite vulnerable churches elsewhere. These relations are remarkably robust, given the institutional tensions at the moment, and, as I've often said, many will survive further disruption. But they will be complicated and weakened by major fracture and realignment.'

The Covenant is realistic: it offers the possibility of something better than division but does not promise that unity in the Communion is easily achieved:

'The Covenant offers the possibility of a voluntary promise to consult. And it also recognises that even after consultation there may still be disagreement, that such disagreement may result in rupture of some aspects of communion, and that this needs to be managed in a careful and orderly way. Now the risk and reality of such rupture is already there, make no mistake. The question is whether we are able to make an intelligent decision about how we deal with it. To say yes to the Covenant is not to tie our hands. But it is to recognise that we have the option of tying our hands if we judge, after consultation, that the divisive effects of some step are too costly.'

Lest we forget: Anglican opponents around the globe protest much about the Covenant. It is not what it seems, it is punitive, it is unnecessary to the future health of the Communion itself. Oh, and by the way, we are Anglicans through and through (and, in North America, we are real Anglicans, not like the ersatz crowd over at ACNA).

Interesting then to ponder this: these real Anglicans, these thoroughgoing Anglicans with the Communion's best interests at heart, know better than the Archbishop of Canterbury what those best interests require!

Given that the Archbishop of Cantebury is the cornerstone in human terms of the Communion, since it is defined in terms of communion with the See of Canterbury, and that the ABC by virtue of roles in the Communion and its meetings knows more about the Communion than any other living Anglican, it is an extraordinary claim opponents of the Covenant are making: we know better than the Archbishop of Canterbury what is good for the Communion!

Yet I am not without hope. In this last week the leading opponent of condoms offered a smidgeon of a sign of changing his mind :) If he can see the light, so can opponents of the Covenant.

Has +Pete Been Suspended?

According to Cranmer, +Pete Broadbent of Willesdon has been suspended from his public ministry as a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of London. But in the same post Cranmer notes that +Pete says he has not been suspended. We shall see. I find it extraordinary that a bishop of the C of E could be so naive as to (1) think that Tweets and Facebook comments would not be public, and (2) make deprecatory remarks out of sorts with his vows and obligations as a bishop of the established church.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Praying for Pike River miners, families, and communities

From Rev Tim Mora, Regional Dean of Mawhera (Greymouth and surrounds) and Chair of Greymouth Ministers' Association:

Press Release and Prayer Request for Denominational Networks - 23/11/2010

On Friday the 19th of November an explosion ripped through the Pike River coal mine between Greymouth and Reefton leaving 29 miners and contractors unaccounted for below ground. Because of the size and close knit nature of our community virtually everyone is affected in some way. Rescue efforts are ongoing but are dependent on various gas readings reaching safe and consistent levels. Despite the length of time already passed the possible convergence of a number of factors could mean that there are still survivors.

So on behalf of our community we request prayer for the following

- For the families of those underground. For the Holy Spirit to come and bring comfort and peace to individuals and families, to ease their anxiety, to enable them to persist in patience. To seek out help and support as and when they need it and not to give up hope.

- For those directly involved in the rescue for wisdom in their decision making in the way they go about the rescue, support the families, handle the media and so on. May they be ready to listen, consult and work well together and that they too are supported.

- That God's people will follow the leading of God's spirit in offering comfort, care and support to those in need.

- For things beyond human control for example for a supernatural reduction in gas levels, for a barometric high to develop over the area, for mist and wind to reduce to enable safer flying for the helicopters, and so on.

- For the media that they will be a compassionate and gentle in their quest for information. Not intrusive and invasive. To see the people and not just the story.

- Pray for the pastors and clergy of the community, for wisdom in handling the media, sensitivity and compassion in dealing with families and strength for the duration. Pray especially for Rev. Tim Mora chairperson of the Greymouth Ministers Association and for (enter here your own denominational details ... local Anglican clergy include those in Reefton (John and Dawn Stringer), Greymouth (Marge Tefft, Robin Kingston, Tim Mora), and Hokitika (Ruth Dawson, Vivien Harber, Elaine Richards, Norman Richards, Vivien Simkin, Frances Stapleton)).

- Pray for those struggling emotionally, for those with survivor guilt, unresolved and now re-opened grief from previous mining tragedies and for those providing counseling and comfort.

- And to pray for those trapped underground. Assuming that they are alive and together that they would support and sustain each other and make wise decisions of their own around survival and if they have not survived to begin preparing the hearts of families for the worst. That they will be surrounded by those who can support them if and when news of the worst kind finally comes.

At the time of posting there continues to be no change in the situation: poisonous gas remains in the mine and no rescue attempt is being made.

+Gene right and wrong

'Those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad' springs to mind as a few days ago +Gene Robinson said that 'it is almost as if aliens have come and taken Rowan away from us'. This considered judgement was made in respect of the change between the professorial Rowan Williams and the archepiscopal ++Rowan Williams. But a few days later it is becoming clearer that +Gene was both right and wrong. The aliens have come and have abducted one of the British bishops, but it was not ++Rowan, it was +Pete Broadbent of Willesdon, London. As reported in this pillar of truth and bulwark of historical record (The Daily Mail), the aliens have entered +Pete's mind and deleted all knowledge that the Queen, her successor son and grandson, are present and future Governors of the church of which he is bishop:

'A prominent bishop has provoked a storm of outrage by likening Prince William and Kate Middleton to ‘shallow celebrities’ and predicting their marriage will last just seven years.

On his Facebook page, Church of England Bishop Pete Broadbent describes the Royal Family as ‘philanderers’ with a record of marriage break-ups who ‘cost an arm and a leg’.

'Disrespectful': The Bishop linked William and Kate Middleton to 'shallow celebrities', predicting that their marriage wouldl last just seven years

He also denounces the ‘nauseating tosh’ surrounding the ‘national flimflam’ of the ­wedding and says the basis of the Monarchy is ‘corrupt and sexist’.

In a reference to the 1981 marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, he adds: ‘I managed to avoid the last disaster in slow motion between Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll, and I hope to avoid this one too.’

There is more in the vein, as you can read here. The aliens have been enjoying themselves! Unlike some people having a good time, the aliens know when to stop, so now they have made +Pete apologise:

'Pete Broadbent, the Church of England Bishop of Willesden in north London, said he was sorry for referring to the royal family as "philanderers" and sent his best wishes to the couple, who announced their engagement last week.

"I have conveyed to Prince Charles and to Prince William and Kate Middleton my sincere regrets for the distress caused by my remarks and the subsequent media attention about the forthcoming royal wedding," he said in a statement.

"I recognise that the tone of my language and the content of what I said were deeply offensive, and I apologise unreservedly for the hurt caused." '

What? No apology to the late, great Diana for calling her a Porcelain Doll?

The aliens have done their work. That bishop will not be ++Rowan's successor :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Waiting, hoping, praying

My friends and colleagues, Rev Marge Tefft and Archdeacon Robin Kingston are in the eye of the media storm around the Pike River Mine explosion. Lloyd Ashton of Anglican Taonga is running a story on their roles here. An excerpt:

"Marge and Robin – who was Vicar at Holy Trinity for almost 20 years – and who helped the Coast through the Cave Creek tragedy [when fourteen young adults died in a tragic accident in 1994], have found themselves at the epicentre of a media storm.

“We’re just getting slammed,” says Marge. “We’re not media savvy. But since Friday evening, we’ve probably done about 20 interviews.”

Mostly, those requests come from New Zealand media, hungry for new insights, new angles on the Pike River drama. But Australian radio, TV and newspapers want to hear from Marge and Robin too, and Robin has also been interviewed by the BBC’s Radio 4.

“We’ve allowed the media in to the church for the services,” says Marge.

“But a journalist asked me today: ‘Is anybody praying in there now?’ I said ‘No. But even if there was, I’d ask you to wait outside.

“This has to be a sacred place.

“’When people come out, and they want to speak to you, that’s fine.

“But inside is a sanctuary – and providing that seems to be really important.” "

Thank you readers for your prayers. Still no news as I write this, almost 72 hours after the explosion.

Paradox in Kiwi Anglican Objections to Covenant

Here in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia we have three member tikanga (or cultural streams of self-organising, limited self-governing churches) which are bound together to work interdependently on matters of common doctrine, liturgy, and order, while being free to work out ministry and mission autonomously among the differing peoples drawn to identify with our respective tikanga - to the point where in the city of Auckland there are three overlapping episcopal jurisdictions providing for the confluence of tikanga. These arrangements stem not from goodwill or bonds of affection but from a binding covenantal commitment to do so according to the revised constitution of our church. That covenantal commitment was provoked by decades of active reflection on the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi, itself a form of covenant between Maori and Pakeha (NZers of European origin or descent).

The advantages of working together within this covenantal relationship include mutual support, encouragement, and people resources, as well as joint access to certain funds belonging to our whole church, these funds being administered by three tikanga committees and boards. The disciplinary consequences of failure to maintain a common life are difficult to define because, to date, such failure has not arisen. We have had some dramatic moments at our General Synods, but when tensions and difficulties have occurred we have found a way to move forward together. An important aspect of this resolve to continually find common ground is the simple fact of the power of our relationship as defined by the constitution: any one of the tikanga may veto a proposal. That is, generally our life together as interdependent tikanga works on bonds of affection but we work out a way forward when those bonds are strained because we know the way of effective veto would prevail if we did not agree together.

In sum: ACANZP works out its communion as three diverse tikanga in one church in a manner which has striking resemblances to the proposed Covenant-led life of the Anglican Communion. Paradoxically, some of the stronger voices objecting to the Covenant are Kiwi voices.

POSTSCRIPT: parallels, non-parallels between ACANZP's structure and the Communion

(1) We have multiple primates (three) who seek to work together and to speak with one voice, consulting and collaborating together.

(2) Our General Synod Standing Committee is proportionally unrepresentative of active Anglicans: it includes the primates and three Polynesian members, five Aotearoa members, and seven NZ Dioceses (Pakeha) members. But 3:5:7 does not represent the proportions re active Anglican involvement which would be more like 1:1:20 for the three tikanga. And, within the NZ Dioceses' representation, each diocese whether 'large' or 'small' gets one representative on the Committee.

(3) General Synod Standing Committee does function as 'synod in session between sessions' which is different to the AC's Standing Committee (which consists of ACC reps and primates, but is not Lambeth Conference in session between Lambeth Conference).

(4) General Synod and General Synod Standing Commitee have limited authority over the tikanga, and over the diocesan synods within the tikanga, but members of General Synod must ratify with a straight majority any nomination for bishop from an electoral synod.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

How to undo an Infallible decision: slowly!

The thing about Pope Benedict XVI is not to underestimate him. He has a brain, he has lived a long time, and he may just know exactly what he is doing when he says or writes something. In this report (being noticed across the world) he says something in a published interview which acknowledges the faint possibility that a condom might have its uses:

"Church teaching has long opposed condoms because they are a form of artificial contraception, although it has never released an explicit policy about condoms and HIV. The Vatican has been harshly criticized for its opposition.

Benedict said that condoms are not a moral solution. But he said in some cases, such as for male prostitutes, they could be justified "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection."

Benedict called it "a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way of living sexuality."

He used as an example male prostitutes, for whom contraception is not an issue, as opposed to married couples where one spouse is infected. The Vatican has come under pressure from even some church officials in Africa to condone condom use for monogamous married couples to protect the uninfected spouse from getting infected."

Note the careful wording here. Not condom use as a contraception but as a prophylactic. A risky move raising the hypothesis of a male prostitute using a condom, but steering clear of the context of married, potential-for-procreative sex. But why say this at all?

It has to be at least possible that wily Benedict is opening the door to a softening of the Roman view on contraception which is the least popular, least adhered to teaching of the church of recent times. He may not say anything more in his lifetime but he has thrown the next pope a lifeline. Bit by bit of undoing and reversing is the way to undo an infallible decision without looking too obviously like admitting to fallibility!

A Plague on Both Yer Houses?

That the Covenant might just be the right document for the Anglican Communion at this time is evidenced by its opponents. When a progressive and a conservative challenge to the Covenant agree in judgement that it is the wrong document for the Communion, there might just be something in favour of it. I call it 'the silent majority'!

Anyway, Andrew Goddard, whom I anoint as unofficial spokesperson for the centre of the Communion (and please direct concerns about how the centre is defined to him ... :), having recently taken on the English progressive challenge, takes on Sugden and Samuel's conservative, let's-hear-it-for-GAFCON challenge to the Covenant. Here are the final two paragraphs:

"One suspects that the authors may hope that GAFCON/FCA will benefit if the covenant fails but the weaknesses in that approach are already becoming clear in multiple ways. Its internal tensions are increasingly evident in, for example, the decision of AMiA to change its status in ACNA, the decision of a diocese in the Southern Cone to seek membership in another province following the province’s decision - on what is supposedly a ‘matter of indifference’in GAFCON - not to permit it to ordain women priests and the departure to Rome of some involved in the launch of FCAUK. It has also failed to build out from its original base and attract more Primates from the wider Global South to its Primates’ Council. More fundamentally, it is possibly fatally weakened by its failure to complement its proper confessional concern with the sort of practical commitments to patterns of common life and processes of common discernment found in the covenant.

If GAFCON and its supporters are genuinely seeking to be not an alternative Communion hoping for the breakup of the existing Communion but a reform movement within the Communion then rather than majoring on the covenant’s minor weaknesses and disparaging and distorting its content they should be embracing and working with the covenant as a reform which moves us in the right direction. Although not without its problems, by God’s grace and through our patience and perseverance the covenant holds out the prospect of gradually bringing greater faithfulness and order to global Anglicanism and so strengthening us to share in the mission of God."

The whole critique is here.

Coast Disaster

After the Christchurch earthquake killed no one, we Kiwis and others around the world wait anxiously for news about the fate of 29 miners in the Pike River Coal Mine on the West Coast. An explosion due to methane gas has occurred but so much poisonous gas remains that a rescue team cannot enter the mind. It is being pointed out that this is a different kind of mining disaster to the recent Chilean disaster which ended in all surviving. Pike River is near to Greymouth, a town at the south-western edge of the Diocese of Nelson. Last night a special service was held in Holy Trinity church. NZ Herald picks up the story:

"More than 200 people filled the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Greymouth last night for a special service to help people cope as they wait for news.

Vicar Marge Tefft said the large turnout was an incredible display of "uncertainty, concern, and sorrow and hope".

She told the congregation she had noticed how people were helping each other and giving support and "doing practical things" for others in the time of need.

Archdeacon Robin Kingston said he wished he could say it was unfamiliar territory, in reference to the mining tragedies that have hit the West Coast in past years.

"Coasters have experienced so many tragedies over the years, you would think we are hardened by it. But we never are."

Special services were planned at churches in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch today.

Australia was sending a team of rescue experts to assist, Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd said.

Earlier in the evening, the police officer in command of the rescue effort said he had no option but to hold back the rescue team, consisting of experienced miners, many of whom had family inside in the mine.

District Commander Gary Knowles said: "I'm not going to put anyone else underground until I'm satisfied that it's safe and we're going to get people out."

Although they repeatedly referred to the operation as "search and recovery," Knowles and the mine's chief executive, Peter Whittall, insist they can find men alive.

"I'm the eternal optimist; that at the end of the day we're going to find these guys and bring them out," Knowles said.

The rescue attempt could begin as soon as tests showed the gases - including methane, ethane and carbon monoxide - were clearing.

"We don't work on gut feelings," he added.

Whittall, showing the strain of more than 24 hours without sleep, said the men's families were drawing comfort from one another at the local Red Cross emergency centre.

"They're spending a lot of time with each other and there's not much they can do," Whittall said. "It's much like the rest of us, they can only wait."

A source at Valley Longwall Drilling, a company contracted by the mine, said the more time they spent underground, the less likely they were going to be pulled out alive.

"The problem is the air is no good - when there's an explosion the flame sucks up the oxygen so we just don't know what they'd be breathing down there," the source said."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cavalcade of Comment on Covenant

There is a lot of comment around on the Covenant these days. Here are three things which have caught my eye, with gratitude to those who alerted me to them!

(1) An enlarged Goddard exposition of the Covenant's virtues in reponse to the English campaign to expose its vices. Here for the whole (it is longish). An excerpt (from the conclusion):

"In summary, their response to the covenant reveals that they are far from being the authentic voice of Anglicanism or the Church of England. Instead, they are at risk of seeking to remake the Communion in their own particular Western liberal image and thus make it captive to what Oliver O’Donovan described as The failure of the liberal paradigm in his first Fulcrum sermon on subjects of the day (now published by SCM as A Conversation Waiting to Begin). At root, their ill-informed polemic suggests that ultimately they cannot accept that their own tradition in Anglicanism must – like evangelical and catholic perspectives – also learn ‘to live with certain tensions or even sacrifices’ if it is to be truly Anglican. As a result, they rail against a covenant one of whose main strengths is precisely that it prevents any one part of Anglicanism from heading where they sadly risk heading - ‘in a direction ultimately outside historic Anglicanism’."

Then two provocative comments on Titus One Nine responding to posting +Graham Kings' Fulcrum/CiF column:

(2) From Sarah's comment:

"I certainly wish that it weren’t so. But since the Covenant does nothing to fix the AC’s issues—TEC will still be representing the AC with vim and vigor as a full member no matter what it does—it appears that there will simply be permanent division within the AC. The informed middle right has made it clear they aren’t leaving. So what we have is the informed middle right coupled with Sydney-type folks [by that I mean the folks who never needed “the center” to hold anyway] over there in one segment. And then the foaming raging heretics over here in one segment. And then the uninformed moderates just sort of standing about.

I look for those chasms to deepen and broaden, and for participation in the various official bodies of the AC to continue to greatly decline, since there’s no real reason to participate in such bodies with gangrenous TEC."

In posting this I am not agreeing to each and every adjective used! But I think Sarah captures well the sense that some observers have that nothing is going to change for the better, with or without a Covenant. We're doomed to disintegration!

(3) From Chris Seitz's comment:

"One thing I do not understand is the so called progressive position on this. I accept that they view with great caution/loathing the covenant (though one can wonder why, especially since the present SC is completely on their side). What is unclear is what kind of global anglicanism they envisage. It is not like default to the status quo, by killing the covenant, is workable. The communion is shattering. Is the point that this is all OK, and that then everyone gets to do what they want? Global associations will get reconfigured to track with this? The churches in various provinces will divide and splinter? This is the price for moving ahead with SSBs and it is worth it?

The covenant sets forth a vision for Communion, in continuity with what the Communion has been and reliant on healthy instruments (which aspect is now not present). If not this, what do the progressives want in terms of international anglicanism of a workable sort? One can get the impression that ‘all is well’ so long as the dreaded covenant is defeated. But all is not well. Unless one just wants to say those were arrangements we never liked anyway, and goodbye to them."

Chris Seitz (yes, the one involved with the ACI) makes a point well which I share. No Covenant could well mean No Communion. Are we happy with that? Some seem to be! Perhaps we should get used to the idea ... especially if Sarah is right and we are doomed.

Then, added Friday morning (NZ time), an article by Chris Sugden and Vinay Samuel (H/T Virtue):

(4) "The current Covenant process interminably delays judgement and leaves little hope of discipline and thus of consistency. We are left in a permanent state of dialogue and conversation. This has practical implications at parish level when churches have to decide how to relate to same-sex couples requesting blessing and bringing surrogate children for baptism. If the covenant process in the Communion becomes the state of affairs in the Church of England, its practices could be so contradictory that chaos would result. Endless appeal could be made to conviction, openness, listening and time while practices and actions continue which go against the teaching of the church whether in a parish or whole diocese.

The above argument could therefore suggest abstention in the vote in General Synod next week for the following reasons:

The Communion needs recognition of orthodox teaching and for proper and appropriate boundaries. The Covenant does not achieve that purpose but substitutes conviction for truth. Some wish to travel further in the direction in which the Covenant is supposed to point, but do not wish to support the very weak approach of the current Covenant. Where the current Anglican Communion process is going today could be used to allow for English Dioceses to move in TEC's direction tomorrow on the grounds that this is accepted Anglican practice."

On this analysis we are doomed to (endless) dialogue! There could be worse fates, and disintegration would be one of those. But I am challenged here to think of an aspect of the Covenant process, that it could allow for even basic creedal beliefs to be put up for consideration (i.e. if and when one member church developed teaching contrary to the creeds) and thus plunge the Communion into a long, if not endless discussion over matters (apparently) settled many centuries ago. Whereas I had thought that S1-3 of the Covenant confirmed that settlement.