Friday, January 29, 2010

What is the gospel?

It is good to be back in Christchurch (city) and Christchurch (Diocese). People are being very kind, and the weather is being kind too, though in a frustrating way, with cloudy starts and some summer warmth finally emerging mid-afternoon. Slowly I am absorbing the differences (and similarities) between the Diocese of Nelson and the Diocese of Christchurch. One of those differences is the greater diversity in theology and churchmanship (is that the right term these days?). Sometimes, and perhaps without much care in reflection, we laud diversity when we should be critically appreciating it by asking the question, What is the gospel on which my/your theology is based?

Also starting a new role in this same week as me is John Day. His title names his role's key emphasis, 'Archdeacon for Mission'. Working with John is going to be great personally, as well as theologically, because I will always be confronted with the question, How does this, or that educational intenton forward the mission of God? And it's clear already from discussions that the Diocese of Christchurch, like the other dioceses of these islands, has no grounds for complacency about mission. But that also means that the question, What is the gospel at the root of your/my theology, is not only an interesting question, but a vital question. Unclear, contradictory, and incomprehensible answers are not helpful at such a time as this for the church.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Random thought

The rain has stopped in Christchurch and some semblance of order is being created in the Carrell household. The house we are living in is definitely the creeperest house we have ever lived in - 'creeperest' means 'lots of creepers growing around the house, property and even the odd tenderil sneaking into the house'; it is quite different to 'creepiest' meaning scary.

Yesterday in church for reasons which escape me twenty-four hours later I was thinking about Jesus and Paul, the charge made by some that Christianity really began with Paul, not with Jesus, and that what we call Christianity, even if it began with Jesus, is the result of a Pauline Hellenization of the original Jesus movement and teaching. The thought which came to my mind reflecting on this old chestnut of early theological development is that Paul was necessary to God's plan. The plan, after all, was to save the world. Jesus came to God's people Israel and began the implementation, but inevitably it was received by Jesus' followers with a mindset locked into Israel being saved, restored and resuming its Davidic glories. A break of the mindset was needed, and that was unlikely to occur within the minds of Palestinian Jews.

Now that break did occur in Peter's mind (Acts 10) but he was not going to be the best person to spearhead the international (Gentile) mission of the church. For that an international Jew would be better; thus, Paul of Tarsus was recruited. On this line of thinking Paul was not discontinuous with Jesus but continuous (and the New Perspective on Paul can be understood to undergird that continuity).

These thoughts occurred before the readings. You might imagine my amazement to find that the epistle was taken from Acts 9, the Conversion of Paul. (Yes, I realise that if I was in touch with the lectionary I would have no need to be amazed, but I plead feeling disconnected with such things during the move).

Friday, January 22, 2010


I am now in Christchurch about to unpack our worldly goods and settle into our new home prior to beginning my new role as Director of Education for the Diocese of Christchurch.

We have had an eventful few days packing up and cleaning our Nelson house. It is good to cleanse! No more dust, dirt, and accumulating detritus.

We are having a lousy summer in NZ and today is unexceptionally wet.I guess one problem with the case for global warming is that the conclusions of scientists become public convictions when the public experience the world of the senses with some kind of continuity with the work of science. Today is not a good day for deepening global
warming convictions.

As for things Anglican? The Brown win in Massachusetts is a reminder that in the long-term the centre tolerates no extremes. I remain convinced that the Covenant represents the centre of the Communion.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Haiti is much in people's minds ... now that an awful devastation has occurred ... but emerging from the rubble is a realization that the devastation is the worse for the state the country was in before the earthquake struck, and hope for recovery and restoration - in some observers' minds - is lower than has proved the case with, say, Banda Aceh after the 2004 tsunami.

From the ever fertile mind of Ephraim Radner comes this plausible (albeit crazily plausible) scheme for assisting Haiti (the Diocese of Haiti, by the way, is a Diocese in TEC):

"In the face of the tragedy in Haiti, I want to make a proposal. It’s not a realistic proposal, I grant; but it is a serious one. My proposal is this: that all those Anglicans involved in litigation amongst one another in North America — both in the Episcopal Church and those outside of TEC; in the Anglican Church of Canada, and those outside — herewith cease all court battles over property. And, having done this, they do two further things:

a. devote the forecast amount they were planning to spend on such litigation to the rebuilding of the Episcopal Church and its people in Haiti; and

b. sit down with one another, prayerfully and for however long it takes, and with whatever mediating and facilitating presence they accept, and agree to a mutually agreed process for dealing with contested property."

It could work. Where there is will ... a way.

Radner points out that the litigation sums in view are millions, not small change.

From far away all schemes which unite the Communion are worth considering. Go Ephraim!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Disconnect: It's the theologies

Peggy Noonan, notable US reporter, writes in Disconnect: It's the Policies that there is a disconnection between President Obama and the American people at the moment which is not as some are making out - not due to his personality, his perceived lack of emotion when making certain pronouncements, his soaring rhetoric - but is due to his policies. The disconnect is actually about substance and not about style. Substance, for a politician, comes when laws are enacted. At that point 'the people' tend to 'get it' about what is really going on. We are not stupid! We understand that politicians get carried away when making speeches, especially when those speeches are made in pursuit of office. We make allowances for the disconnect between rhetoric and reality. But what disturbs the American people right now, Noonan argues, is the disconnect between proposed legislation and the will of the people. It is the President who does not 'get it', this difference between what the law may make real on healthcare, for instance, and what the people want to happen.

Meanwhile, also in the US, a court hearing is taking place about marriage in the State of California. Might 'marriage' be inclusive of all couples, straight and gay, or not? Despite the will of the people of California voting for marriage to be between a man and a woman, the hearing will consider the matter against the values of equality for all enshrined in the US constitution. Gung ho for the State of California judiciary ruling for inclusivity is Susan Russell, leading Episcopalian (and Californian) priest. Her latest blog reflection is here.

My sense of where the whole of TEC is at on this matter, which is, let us not beat about the bush, about a redefinition of marriage as commonly understand throughout history and across all cultures, is that it is not wholly with Susan Russell. But it is heading that way. And that has me thinking about TEC in relation to the Anglican Communion. Might it be fair to characterise the situation as one of 'disconnect'? And, pace Noonan, is it possible that the disconnect is not due to personalities (Akinola, Schori, Jensen, Williams, heaven forbid that they should ever be in a lifeboat together trying to work out how to be saved from peril on the seas!!) or to rhetoric, but to theologies?

The thing is, Americans as Americans when trying to work out social policy rightly reach for their Constitution, call in a lawyer or two, and seek through legislature or judiciary or executive office, or any combination thereof, to work out the best way forward for themselves. Mostly this has been extraordinarily successful and one of the reasons why millions of people not in the USA try to emigrate there. But Christians as Christians when trying to work out how we should live normally reach out for the Bible, call in a theologian or two, and seek through our synods, commissions, presbyteries, and councils to work out the way forward.

That reaching out for the Bible is common to all Christian traditions, not just the preference of 'fundamentalists' or 'literalists'. At the root, for example, of Roman Catholic theology and Eastern Orthodox theology is ... the Bible. How we use the Bible varies across traditions. Some will call in more theologians rather than less to interpret the Bible, some will draw in more resources from past interpretation of the Bible (i.e. tradition), and some will be more rational in the way they weigh up what the Bible says, but, at the end of the day, Christians work out decisions theologically and that theological work engages with the Bible. That's what Christians do, and it is what makes us distinctive from atheists, Muslims, Hindus and Star Wars fans!

So if one group of Christians heads in a policy direction which is doubtfully grounded in the Bible, there is likely to be a disconnect with those who remain (or believe they remain) firmly grounded in the Bible. On the specific matter of the definition of marriage, it is doubtful that anyone, even the most brilliant theologians among us, can ground into the Bible a redefinition of marriage which includes two men or two women. This is a different matter from whether or not one can ground into the Bible a theology of acceptance of the differences between people, or a theology of tolerance of the frailties of people as relational beings (the theology which acknowledges the need to permit remarriage after divorce being extended to acknowledge the value of faithful, stable same-sex partnerships). These theologies can be grounded into the Bible - though not all will agree, there is and will be much debate - and there are prospects that over time, with patience and grace, we might as a Communion find common accord on such theologies. (We might not; but we might). But redefining marriage? I cannot see the Communion ever agreeing to that. Not because the Communion is intrinsically homophobic, but because such redefinition is intrinsically difficult, if not impossible, to ground into the Bible.

Now I could be wrong on these matters! I could be "misoverestimating" the lead TEC clerics such as Susan Russell are giving. But what if the future of TEC as a whole is with rather than against Susan Russell, moving beyond a theology of tolerance of diverse relationships to a redefinition of marriage: would there then be a disconnect between TEC and the Communion which is substantive?

Friday, January 15, 2010

What would Jesus say

Reflections emerging from the horrifying news of the Haitian earthquake include an article by Craig Uffman on Covenant, also on Fulcrum, with a developing thread on Fulcrum Forum. Even after six posts that thread is nicely juxtaposing the main varieties of responses Christians have arrived at through 2000 years (prominent theologians cited include Calvin, Aquinas, and a contemporary of ours, David Bentley Hart who recently had a book published which is a response to the horrific tsunami-and-earthquake destruction wrought on Boxing Day 2004).

Coincidentally one poster draws attention to a passage that has come to my mind this morning, Luke 13:1-5, where Jesus speaks of man-led suffering (Pilate murdering some Galileans) and (possibly) man-made mixed with nature suffering,

"What about those eighteen people in Siloam who were killed when the tower fell on them?"

If we invoke - as some Christians do - the idea that "God is in the suffering" then the theological foundation is (normally) incarnational: God has already identified with us in suffering by being incarnate in human flesh through Jesus Christ so God understands fully what this particular instance of suffering means for the sufferers. That - for me - heightens the possibility that any such thinking should be extended to incorporate what the Word made flesh may have said when in the midst of humanity. Funnily enough, the Gospels do not give us many words from the lips of Jesus on the question of human suffering. Luke 13:1-5 is a rare passage if we seek what Jesus would say to the Haitian earthquake sufferers and to those around the world with questions about God's whereabouts when tragedy strikes.

But what to make of these words? What conclusions could we draw? Is the mystery of suffering much lessened by Luke 13:1-5?

A helpful prayer by Diana Macalintel can be found here (H/T Bosco Peters).

Here is a perhaps provocative thought for Kiwi readers of this post: we live in a land where earthquakes frequently occur, mostly coped with by virtue of having developed some of the most robust earthquake proofing measures in the world for our buildings, but always we live with the knowledge that 'the big one' could occur tomorrow. (If the big one were of magnitude 8+ as we are told has happened in Haiti even our well-constructed buildings would be under severe pressure and loss of life if likely). So, as far as it goes, we Kiwis have made a choice to make a life in our fair islands with a known risk built into that choice: tomorrow we may have cause to wish we had chosen differently. When the big one comes will we be questioning God about God's absence from the event or ourselves choosing to be present in these Shaky Isles?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Could Anglicans agree on at least this ...

... that Pat Robertson is wrong!

Sad, unhelpful, disturbing.

(LATER: placing Pat Robertson's remarks in a wider historical context is this interesting post from a non-Christian who blogs at Heresy Corner (H/T Cranmer).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


While my own arguments for a theology of unity based in Ephesians and John 17 are hopeful that the Covenant will be signed by all member churches, the Communion will hold together and will find ways to draw into its fellowship Anglican churches not currently members of the Communion, I fear that intransigence over two convictions will prevail. Realistically the Covenant may not be signed by all current members.

Although the Communion could remain intact with a mixture of Covenanted and unCovenanted member churches, a formal, definitive schism in the Communion is a real possibility we must reckon with when the two convictions below are acknowledged. The situation is, of course, complicated when we note that in some member churches (say, the Church of England) both convictions are held to and it is not crystal clear whether a majority holds to one or the other, and whether that majority would be a decisive one.

The two differing convictions lying at the heart of difference in North America and in the wider Communion are:

(a) there is inherent goodness in the faithful, stable, permanent partnership of two people – any two people of any gender – so this goodness can be blessed in the name of God by the church and a baptised person in such partnership, all other things being equal, may be ordained in the diaconal, priestly or episcopal service of the church. This, as far as I can determine, is the majority view in TEC though this view is not yet fully bedded down in the canons and liturgies of TEC. It may yet prove to also be the majority view in ACCan.

(b) With all peculiarities and variations in the biblical and ecclesial tradition acknowledged about polygamy, concubinage, divorce and remarriage, the Christian standard drawn from biblical and ecclesial ethics is monogamous marriage for life between a man and a woman or celibate singleness with this standard applying at least to those members of the church set apart for ordained ministry. This, as far as I can determine, is the overwhelming view in ACNA though it is also the case that some latitude is permitted for acceptance of remarried divorcees as ordained ministers.

In the history of the church we have had divisions over things which are seemingly little but which amount to a lot. ‘Proceeds from the Father’ or ‘Proceeds from the Father and the Son’ is a significant part of the division of Western and Eastern Christianity. Baptism extended to believers’ children divides Baptists from Presbyterians and Anglicans. Bishops divide Presbyterians from Anglicans (or should that be lack of bishops divide Anglicans from Presbyterians!)

Carving up the Anglican Communion into a ‘married or single’ sub-Communion or ‘married or single or same-sex partnership’ sub-Communion would not be a schism notable for being over seemingly little and actually amounting to little. It would be a schism over a lot – a different reading of Scripture, a different stance on ecumenical relationships, a different appreciation of the relationship between culture and theology, and a different understanding of Anglican heritage.

Intransigence over theological conviction is an admirable quality - to a point! We can admire, for instance, those Greek theologians who were unpersuaded by the logical charms of Augustine's explanation of the Trinity - many Western Christians are unpersuaded by that or other aspects of Augustinian theology. It cannot have been easy to be a Baptist in England not just for a few difficult decades but for several centuries. But the question arises whether, measured against an Ephesian theology of unity, intransigence is totally admirable. If God is one, and wishes for a unified church and world, but our understandings of God are two or more, and God's church is now many churches, has something gone wrong with God or with us? There used to be a bumper sticker, 'If God is not close to you, guess who moved?'. A new bumper sticker might be, 'If the church is not united, guess who divided it?'

On the verge of possible schism, is there a need to take a very deep breathe and commit to a very long pause in which we begin our theological work on human sexuality again, resolving to find a common theology ... however long it takes? Or will intransigence prevail!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Deciphering TEC's Decline

An interest in the fortunes of The Episcopal Church of the USA (TEC) from Down Under is a fraught exercise. It can be difficult to understand what is going on from so far away but easy to jump to the wrong conclusions. It can be tempting to go with interpretations of the situation from critics of TEC without given due consideration to apologists for TEC. But I think it is worth pursuing the interest for at least two reasons. First, at this stage in the life of the Anglican Communion, a lot hangs on what is happening in North America. Understanding the fortunes of TEC, ACCan, and ACNA helps me to get a feel for where the future of the Communion might be heading. Though right now I am not at all clear whether that will be a Communion-with-TEC, without-TEC, with-ACNA, without-ACNA, etc. Secondly, given the strong ties between my church and TEC, it is at least possible that TEC is a kind of laboratory experiment for my church. If its commitment to progressive theology is numerically successful then the future of our church could be bright; but if it is numerically unsuccessful then that might be reason to pause in our admiration for the direction TEC is taking.

I do not think there is any doubt that TEC is in numerical decline. Neal Michell (from inside TEC) offers this key statistic in an article entitled Royally in Denial.

"Consider this: in 2007-08 our average Sunday attendance declined by 60,000 people. Ponder that reality: 60,000 people who were worshiping in Episcopal churches in 2006 were no longer there two years later. That represents losing the combined dioceses of Atlanta, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Upper South Carolina."

But there is debate about deciphering the decline. Thus one commenter on BabyBlueOnline's post about Neal's article suggests this figure equates to those who have left TEC for ACNA. The implication being that, once the realignment has ceased, all will be well in TEC (i.e. at least as well as it can be these days for Christianity in the West). Then there is the point, touched on in a post two below, that Christianity in the West is in decline, measured not only in TEC but in the C of E, my own church, other Anglican and non-Anglican churches: isolating TEC's numerical decline from this perspective is simply unfair.

However there still remains the question which can asked of any particular church, including my own, Is there something that is being done or being not done which is contributing to people leaving the church, becoming less regular in worship, or which is an identifiable barrier to people joining the church? In the case of TEC there are questions about decisions being taken on a range of matters which might, when all is said and done, yield the answer, 'This way has been unproductive.'

Certainly Neal Michell in his article expresses the conviction that TEC is both complacent about the situation it is in and is making poor decisions:

"During the previous triennium the State of the Church Committee told the truth about the condition of our church. It did an excellent job of reporting the difficulties of an aging, financially challenged denomination. It acknowledged further losses due to conflict in our churches, particularly over sexuality issues that have exacerbated the decline in attendance and membership. The committee made recommendations for addressing these challenges.

"Were their recommendations heeded? No. Our General Convention had no real strategy in its decisions. The cuts in the triennial budget were hailed as “fair” and “across the board.” But they weren’t strategic. Seemingly strategic staff positions of three years ago and even one year ago were eliminated with little dissent. The convention passed all evangelism-related resolutions while at the same time eliminating the church’s evangelism officer.

"So many of our dioceses are in financial difficulties. Some of the financial shortfall in diocesan income is due to the recent recession. But remember, giving to the Episcopal Church by the dioceses is based upon previous years’ income. The most recent financial shortfall for the Episcopal Church is attributable, not to the recent recession, but to decreased income to our collective dioceses in the past three years.

"With ever-increasing decline in attendance and giving and ever-increasing costs of doing business at the congregational level, assessments paid to the Episcopal Church by our dioceses will likely decrease even more within the next six years. In other words, this current financial shortfall was a long time in the making, and it will likewise be a long time in the remedying.

"As a denomination, we need transformational change, not incremental change. Incremental change represents business as usual. Incremental change represents “just trying a little harder.” If we continue doing things as we have done, we will continue our decline, continue bleeding off the endowments of previous generations, continue to congratulate ourselves on the pockets of vitality while we become a church pastored primarily by retired and part-time clergy. One recommendation of the previous State of the Church Committee was that some members be reappointed to provide for some continuity with the previous committee. Was that advice heeded? No. Not one member of the 2006-09 State of the Church Committee was reappointed for 2009-12."

Neal Michell's article could be usefully read in tandem with Anglican Curmudgeon's description of TEC finances.

Neal Michell's criticism may be off target. Evangelism can work well without an Evangelism Officer. Growth can happen without a strategic plan. A wholly new committee may have more wisdom than a committee with continuing membership.

Nevertheless an Anglican Down Under can connect a few dots in the situation and be concerned lest his own church follow a certain pathway: the ordination of Gene Robinson allied with prevarication and ambiguity in response to the entreaties of the Anglican Communion has precipitated the loss of a statistically significant number of members of TEC, subsequent legal battles over property which have incurred significant expenditure which cannot be disconnected from the spending decisions of TEC in other areas of its life (again, see Anglican Curmudgeon for details).

I get the point that it is not for an observer far away to make judgments about whether TEC should or should not have done what has been done, and should or should not continue to litigate over property (with, of course, the associated question of whether ACNA members should or should not be forcing the question of litigation by insisting on taking property with them). But I think it is appropriate for an observer far away to wonder if his own church is right to take continuing care about being precipitate in forcing the dilemma over homosexuality in one direction rather than another.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

They threw away the mould

Mark Goodacre on NT Blog gives notice of the death of Michael Goulder, British New Testament scholar, at the age of 82.

In recent years I have paid more than a passing interest to the Synoptic Problem to which Michael Goulder contributed distinctively with his development of Austin Farrer's theory that Luke knew and used Matthew's Gospel, as well as Mark's Gospel. So considerable was this work that what is known as the Farrer Hypothesis is also known as the Farrer-Goulder Hypothesis.

But some years before this interest I had the privilege of sitting in a seminar at a British New Testament Conference at which Michael Goulder was present. I briefly met him and the memory remains strong of a very, very engaging man with a vivid, expressive turn of phrase - something represented in his writings. He is the best writer of biblical scholarship I have come across. A colourful character was Michael. In my personal experience of scholars he is sui generis, a hapax legomenon of characters. RIP.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The bigger picture, the greater challenge

I am grateful for two commenters, Kurt and Kanice, enlarging my vision! Kurt reminds me that the decline of TEC is part of a larger story of the decline of Western Christianity - a decline that provides as much challenge for conservative churches and for liberal churches. Janice has pointed me to a superb (but, be warned, very demanding) article on Radical Orthodoxy - a theological attempt to right the listing ship of modern and post-modern theology which always takes us to the 'big picture' of the whole development of theology in the West and from that big picture offers a new totalising vision of the role of theology in the whole of life.

The article is entitled The Radical Orthodoxy Project, it's by R.R. Reno, and it was published at First Things in February 2000. Here I simply published the last few paragraphs (which are not quite so demanding to read). These paragraphs 'locate' our Anglican situation within the larger picture of the tendencies of Christianity in our era: the italicised words are the points to which I wish to draw your attention ...

"Anglicanism has no monopoly on failure. To a great extent, the magisterial Protestant churches in Europe and North America, and, to a lesser extent, Roman Catholicism, have been diminished. Those of us bitten by the Augustinian ambition cannot help but war against that diminishment. However, in our protest, we must recognize how difficult and narrow is the way of a postmodern recovery of orthodoxy.

Many offer courageous and articulate warnings against the modern "culture of death," and Christian witness does provide an alternative that has weight and substance. Nonetheless, no triumphant vision of peace emerges out of what late–twentieth–century Christians actually say and do. Christianity, its Holy Scriptures and ecclesial practice, seems unable to hold all things together. Against the weakness of the gospel—in churches that seem not to hear and in a culture increasingly blind—we are tempted by theory. We imagine that by sheer theological genius and intellectual virtuosity we can reconstruct an all–embracing Christian culture, we can uncover and make present the glue that holds everything together. But guided by what might be rather than what is, we come to correct and perfect that which we have received in word and sacrament. As the editor’s blue pencil excises and adds, violence and the will–to–power reemerge. We turn to apostolic teaching and practice with an eye to improvement, correction, and enhancement. If the gospel is weak, then we will make it strong. Our theorizing, our "new theologies," will hold together what Christ and his Church seem unable to encompass and embrace.

Against this temptation, we must keep our noses close to the ill–smelling disaster of modern Christianity, articulate about its failures but training ourselves to dwell in enduring forms of apostolic language and practice. Diminished vision may be the price we must pay. We may no longer be able to see our culture, stem to stern, through Christian eyes. We may no longer be able to see the complex shape of our contemporary churches as a creature of the gospel. We can only see what has been given to us to see. But paying this price is necessary in order to train our eyes to see the identity of Christ in the witness of Scripture and the practice of the Church. For no matter how high we might soar in theological reflection, and despite our hope that from such heights we might recover a vision of the full scope of the truth of Christ, we will be disappointed. Christ is in the concrete faith and practice of the Church, and only he can give power and potency to a postmodern theology that is genuinely orthodox. For the Son holds all things together in the Father.

To escape the patterns of theological modernism, therefore, the first task is not to imagine and invent. Instead, we must train ourselves in that which modernity rejects most thoroughly and fatally: the discipline of receiving that which has been given. We must eat the scrolls that the Lord has given us, and dwell amidst his people. Only then will the scope of an Augustinian ambition recover the intense, concrete, and particular Christ–centered focus that gives it the power of good news. Only there can we taste God’s peace."

Friday, January 8, 2010

How to ensure the Covenant will pass muster ...

... resort to these kinds of arguments:

"I was struck by the irony that the so-called conservatives are pushing for the most radical redesign of the Anglican Communion imaginable. Instead of a fellowship of Churches united by bonds of affection and a common heritage, these wide-eyed revisionists and radicals would have us become a legalistic bund, with central control by a secretive and thoroughly unaccountable star chamber. If one were to take the worst excesses of Pius IX, Joseph Stalin, Joe McCarthy and Oliver Cromwell, you couldn't have come up with a worse system."

Thanks Simple Massing Priest for your contribution to the cause!

But better by far would be some solid logic re the Covenant, as Neal Michell offers,

"we need a Covenant that allows our ecumenical partners—most notably the Roman Catholics and Orthodox—to be able to know who is actually authorized to speak on behalf of Anglicanism in ecumenical conversation. How can any trustworthy ecumenical agreements be had with representatives of the Anglican Communion if there is no Communion-wide consensus as to whether a certain individual or individuals actually shares the covenanted concerns of the Communion in such as way as is recognizable and accepted by all other parts of the Anglican Communion."

with some solid Anglican history undergirding the argument such as,

"The draft version of the original American Book of Common Prayer, prepared in 1785, called for some major changes from the 1662 version of the English prayer book upon which it was modeled. Among other changes, the proposed American version called for the deletion of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, the removal of the phrase concerning Christ’s descent into Hell from the Apostles’ Creed, as well as alterations to the baptismal service, matrimonial office, and other similar changes.

How did bishops in England respond? Richard Peters of Philadelphia met with the archbishop of Canterbury and filed this report:
I find that we can have no Bishop till we let the prelates see what Church we have made. I think it would be prudent in our Church, to put off any material alterations till we have Bishops consecrated; if we make any substantial alterations they will be carped at by those who will make the Bishops uneasy, and so, to keep peace at home, they will refuse to meddle abroad [that is, to consecrate bishops of the church in America]. The Making of the First American Book of Common Prayer, Marion Hatchett, p. 65.

These English bishops refused to consecrate any bishops for the Church in America until the American church remedied these errors in their proposed prayer book. In effect, upon the objections of the Archbishop of Canterbury and other English bishops, all of the major revisions were abandoned in favor of conformity with the English prayer book, except for the continued omission of the Athanasian Creed.

The aim of the first drafters of the first American Book of Common Prayer was to establish a church that preserved the unity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America with the Church of England. The words of the Preface to this prayer book state this intent: “this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship . . .”

Here we have the beginnings of what it means to be a transoceanic and worldwide Communion: the proposed innovations of the Americans to their Book of Common Prayer so departed from the English bishops’ understanding of the faith that the latter could not in good conscience consecrate bishops for the American expression of the Church of England. Because these proposed revisions would have shaped a church ostensibly consonant with the Church of England but actually departing from her in some “essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship,” the English bishops refused to consecrate American bishops until the American church came into conformity. To use the Windsor Report language: Autonomy submitted itself to Communion."

I did not know about that example of interdependence. Did you?

Buddhism versus Christianity: You are on your own, Tiger!

Interesting to find that the debate ignited by Britt Hume's comment that Tiger Woods should turn to Christianity in order to find redemption is reported here in NZ with a strong pro-Buddhist flavour, including this:

"So how do the world's 350 million Buddhists deal with infidelity, marital strife and sin?

They follow the example of Siddhartha Gautama - the Buddha - a wealthy prince they believe became enlightened in the sixth century B.C.

"Buddhism starts with the premise that we suffer," said James Shaheen, editor and publisher of Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine. "At the foundation of Buddhism is ethics. An ethical life leads to a life of less suffering."

Buddhism's code of personal conduct is just as strong as other major religions: followers should not kill, steal, gossip, use intoxicants like drugs or alcohol or commit sexual misconduct.

"Adultery is as much of a sin in Buddhism as it is in Christianity," Thurman said. "The ethics are the same in both traditions. Adultery is a sin and causes the kinds of problems that Tiger Woods is in."

Where many Westerners stumble is that Buddhists' definition of sin - and what happens after it - differs from the Judeo-Christian tradition, as the consequences of Buddhists' actions are a result of a person's thoughts and deeds rather than divine punishment. Believers have to look to themselves and turn to an ethical way of life for redemption, although there are savior figures within the faith who do their best to help a Buddhist in need. There is no one, omnipotent "creator god" to bestow redemption as in Christianity.

Said Stephen Prothero, a Boston University professor on Buddhism and the author of "Religious Literacy: What Americans Need to Know:"

"You have the law of karma, so no matter what Woods says or does, he is going to have to pay for whatever wrongs he's done," said Prothero. "There's no accountant in the sky wiping sins off your balance sheet, like there is in Christianity."

Certain Buddhist traditions believe that if a person misbehaves, he or she will be reborn into various realms of hell. Others believe the justice is much swifter, that the penalties will be suffered in this life.

"What causes you to do what Tiger Woods did is ignorance," said James William Coleman, a professor of Buddhist studies at Cal Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "If you do what he's done, it comes back and hurts you. You wouldn't do that if you weren't ignorant."

Brad Warner, a California-based Zen priest and the author of the book "Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate" suggests that Woods return to his Buddhism roots and become introspective.

"I would first tell him to sit with the problem, look into himself and try to see clearly for himself what he needs to do," Warner said. "The problem is something he's got to work out for himself." (End of citation from

But is this not quite revealing about the deep character of Buddhism in relation to the West? The essential message of Buddhism within this report is absolutely individualist, 'Tiger, you are on your own in the mess you have created; you can work your way out of it, but it is up to you. By the way, if you do not find yourself helping yourself, then there is an iron-cast law of consequences from which you will not escape.'

Here is a religion not only with no god, but also no mercy. A religion characterised as one of gentle tolerance yet with no room for error. A religion many would contrast with the absolutism of fundamentalist Christianity and Islam yet what is this if not absolutist, "You have the law of karma, so no matter what Woods says or does, he is going to have to pay for whatever wrongs he's done"!

Yet who is being vilified as the 'bad guy' with his talk of a better way, of a redeemer, and of the mercy of God? That's right, Britt Hume is the bad guy who dared speak of the faith which in the West, especially in its media, dare not speak its message!

I know Christians in the West are in danger of being paranoid about unfair treatment; and maybe our past record does not entitle us to fair treatment ... but I think there is sufficient evidence around to be entitled to wonder if, maybe, we are getting a bit of a media kicking.

Anglicanism This Week

Here is my sense of where the blogosphere debate is at: Anglicans who want to be part of a Communion in which there is interdependence and mutual accountability for what it means to be Anglican, conceived on a reasonably broad basis (but not on an infinitely diverse basis), are fully committed to the Covenant. The outstanding, and powerfully inspiring sign is the indication that the Global South, some 20 provinces, will sign the Covenant. Anglicans who want the Communion to be something else - some kind of talking shop, for example, or who will not allow local autonomy to be compromised by anything, or, contrastingly, who want the Communion to be tighter in discipline and narrower in theological basis are fervently committed to not having the Covenant.

In short: the Communion as a viable, visible, non-vacuous entity will be a Covenanted Communion. Without the Covenant the slow break up of world Anglicanism will continue unchecked.

Question (pace Yeats): the centre ground of Anglicanism is crucial to the future of the Communion, but will the centre hold?

Challenging story of the week re our Anglican troubles: Gene Robinson blesses the partnership of two women. Here is life in TEC chugging along on an track further and further away from Lambeth 1998, Windsor, and the Covenant. Should we follow - especially we in the liberal West, alert and alive to the claims of fellow Westies to the rights and privileges of Western civilization? It is attractive to see the solution to our troubles as following Gene rather than resisting his agenda. But here is a little check on the spirit of acquiescence, courtesy of Stand Firm. It's a graph of the attendance, membership and giving of the church in which the blessing took place - the church where one of the woman used to be rector and where her successor is also a lesbian. According to the graph around 25 people regularly attend worship at the church and (I am guessing) their giving is not enough to sustain a full-time stipend for their rector. This neatly illustrates one of my great concerns about progressive Anglicanism: it leads to a tiny church, it does nothing to grow the church of God.

In other words, even were I as a conservative to grant that progressive Anglicanism is theologically correct, as an Anglican I reserve the right to be very anxious about whether progressive Anglicanism will grow Anglican churches or gut them. Not only in New Hampshire, but also in New Zealand the signs are that it is the latter and not the former.

But the New Hampshire story's challenges do not end there. Dissing this blessing (as conservative Anglicans are wont to do) and highlighting the statistical undergirding of concern about where a progressive Anglicanism might take us, does not inform our future that much. Somehow our future needs to be both firm in our commitment to an orthodox Anglicanism and fair to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ. I do not have an easy proposal to offer. Do you?

JUST IN: Ruth Gledhill reports on the posting of a motion re the C of E and ACNA ... February's GS for the C of E will be riveting!

BB on Covenant speaks plain Kiwi

From Titus One Nine:

"BB from New Zealand Chimes in on the Covenant

Posted by Kendall Harmon

(Please note that this response refers to the thread below on the blog on which there are currently over 50 comments. If you have not read that thread I would encourage you to do so--KSH)

This thread must be one of the best T19 has witnessed, IMHO. Thank you to the many participants: I have benefited greatly from the discussion - not least the rigour and candour of much of it. Even if I disagree with those who do not favour the Covenant Process ...!

In my present little part of the Lord's vineyard, we have a really intriguing situation developing. For New Zealand is not generally known for its conservative style Anglican ethos (ven if it does have a strong CMS history)!. Yet, as we face the run up to its General Synod in May this year, some lines are starting to be drawn which will determine our long term future, for better or ill.

The Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia runs a quarterly national magazine called Taonga. The name is Maori for "prized treasure", a reference to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus. The latest Advent edition ran two articles on the Anglican Communion Covenant, one pro and one against. As with this Church's official response to the RCD, it mostly wants a 'bob-each-way' - even as it tries to be fair in its debates! See and the third set of links beginning with "Dr Williams hails latest Covenant".

I refer the T19 readership to these links especially since the article in favour reaffirms some of the stronger points made in this thread, while the one against - by a retired bishop please note - shows very starkly why the AC seriously needs such a mechanism as the Covenant, to arrest the dribbling into the sands of endless ideological pluralism. And it is clear to me at least the G[lobal]S[outh] leadership has grasped this western ideological nettle very firmly, to refute it, as it seeks to bolster the Covenant Process to achieve an AC that still might be a vessel of worth in the Lord's hands for the global mission of the Church in the 21st C. Enjoy!"

ADU likes BB's style and substance. Then there is this comment to ponder in response:

"1. Ian Montgomery wrote:
From the retired bishop a canard. The point with the ordination of women is that it did not go forward until a consensus said to do so. The 1944 ordination in Hong Kong was rescinded. It took another 20 years for consensus to allow it to go forward. There was neither consensus not patience with the issue of Gay ordination and thus the fabric of the Communion was torn by a Bishop in Canada and by the TEC in its assent to VGR despite the consensus against such. Indeed Lambeth 1.10 became an overwhelming statement against and +++RW is still using it as the Communion Standard (Thank God!) I am not sure where the retired bishop gets is one third against number it was eventually voted 526:70, thus representing a huge consensus. That mind of the Communion has now been effectively concretized a division by being arrogantly flouted by the immensely wealthy but numerically tiny TEC province.

One might ponder how the move to women’s ordination might have fared under the proposed Covenant. Given the continuing staunch opposition to such ordinations in some parts of the Communion today, an exclusively male priesthood and episcopate might still persist.

The Rev. Dr. Black from the other point of view, writes about interdependence which really is at the heart of the issue. TEC has been a bully on the Anglican scene and sadly still wants to be so. The Covenant may be our best chance to prevent such future bullying. It cannot heal the divisions. It may bring a newly defined Communion in which those participating can move on. We shall see. It is about interdependence and mutual accountability.

By contrast with any federalism, our own Church’s Constitution in its Preamble (18) already speaks of our being “part of and belong[ing] to the Anglican Communion, which is a fellowship ... in communion with the See of Canterbury, sharing with one another ... life and mission in a spirit of mutual responsibility and interdependence.”

It will be interesting to see how NZ resolves itself. Sadly the face of the NZ Church most seen in the US is the lady professor whose utterances make me cringe."

It is always good to find Kiwi or Kiwi-friendly supporters of the Covenant. It would be good to find some Aussie supporters too ...

Actually while scouting about on the original T19 thread on which BB's comment makes reference I noticed this paragraph in a much longer comment by Ephraim Radner (no 49):

"I remain convinced that those leaders—bishops, clergy, and laity—who can order their service to the church for the long haul, steadily and solidly faithful, ordered, engaged in commonly established processes of ecclesial life, honest and charitable, and perseverant in their commitments within and for the sake of the people shared (not just locally), will prevail. That is a promise of the Lord, it seems, to “those who endure to the end”. People like Abps. Chew and Mouneer Anis presently, or Gomez recently; and others. And, for all my concerns about this and that, Rowan Williams too has demonstrated a perserverence that is bound to his faith in Christ Jesus as Lord, and not to self-interest. From that certainly I can be strengthened. So should others be, whether or not they can affirm his decisions in this or that particular matter."


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Finding God on Hope Street

Carl Somers-Edgar, Vicar of Caversham, Dunedin, NZ, writes beautifully, and profoundly at Gallican Anglican ... when one remembers that his colleague Kelvin Wright, Vicar of Roslyn, Dunedin (for just a few more days prior to consecration as the next Bishop of Dunedin), writes superbly on Available Light, one wonders what is in the water of Dunedin which is missing from, oh, I do not know, say, the waters of Wellington or Auckland? (Cue steady stream of blog addresses previously unknown to me of excellent Anglican writers in those places).

Carl offers a superb apologia for belief in God while telling a moving autobiographical story of life in his religiously mixed up family. Read and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bruce Kaye on the Covenant, not!

Bruce Kaye, former General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Australia, editor of the Journal of Anglican Studies, knows about as much about the Anglican Communion as anyone, certainly more than I do. He is not at all keen on the Covenant, having created a blog World Anglicanism Forum to set forward his critique via a succession of posts. I am not convinced by his arguments - though it is also possible that I do not understand their profoundity. His latest post is plainly titled, THE FINAL TEXT OF THE COVENANT IS STILL AN INADEQUATE RESPONSE TO THE CONFLICT IN THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION. No ambiguity there!

However I am with Bruce on this point:

"12. The real issue is what kind of connection and commonality is appropriate to this kind of fellowship of churches, and in that context what is the appropriate way to deal with conflict between the member churches."

If 'Communion' means (say) a discussion forum or informal network or social club of churches with historic ties to the Church of England then the means of dealing with conflict is going to be different to the situation where 'Communion' means mutually interdependent churches open to being drawn ever closer into a true union of the body of Christ, that is, to being a worldwide church. As I read across the blogosphere such a progressive) view of the Anglican Communion's journey is less likely to be shared by liberals and more likely to be shared by Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals entranced by Paul's theology of unity in Ephesians.

I commend Bruce's posts to all readers of Anglican Down Under. He is, after all, a fellow beneficiary of life Down Under (well, the diminished version of it, you know, over the Tasman ...)

Letting a hundred flowers bloom

Being conservative theologically yet somewhat centrist in church political outlook runs the grave risk of being misunderstood. A fellow Kiwi cleric, for example, on the current Thinking Anglicans thread on the Covenant places me with GAFCON and Sydney plotting to take over the Communion(!!), which is two mistakes, incidentally, because I am not with them and they are not plotting.* But it is also possible that one is cast into being among those with little or no imagination or radical edge to one's thinking: let a steady Christian train of thought run along a narrow track to an already known destination, could be a description of conservative-and-centrist Anglicanism!

The alternative can seem, well, just a little more exciting. Mark Harris of Preludium, just returned from a trip to India, so no doubt stimulated in all sorts of ways by the experience, offers an apologia for TEC's radical decisions of 2003 with a hurry up for his Epicopalian brothers and sisters to be ever more bold in their mission. One point of lift off in his lyrical essay is the prophetic writings of William Blake:

"What is at stake here is whether or not the General Convention in these actions was in reception of the Spirit of Prophecy. To deny that it might be so is to take away any hope we have that the church will move beyond “the same dull round” which condemns and does not give life. The answer to the demand that we present ourselves at the bar is to either go believing in our hearts that we have been receptive to the Spirit of Prophecy or to stand condemned for having made the decision without warrant, for without the faith in the presence of the One who pulls us forward into the light there is no vision, and finally nothing new at all.


By an agenda of “poetic sensibility," I envision Anglicans as having a Christian vocation to understand the Word, biblical and otherwise, and compassionate action, from a poetic standpoint, in which we expressed their meaning in ways that open our imagination to the new world for which they are the signs. The poetic sensibility is vital to the project of carrying the Good News in Jesus Christ into a world beyond the edges of western enlightenment thinking, in which the same “dull round” of theological debate continues ad nausea.

For us as Episcopalians and Anglicans, in the forest of our night the Tyger burning bright has come: action beyond the edges of rational biblical theology has been engaged. With small hesitating steps, the Episcopal Church moved beyond the dance of rationality and into the prophetic and poetic moment. It is, I would suggest, our agenda, and perhaps our vocation."

Essays such as this are very clever! They tempt the conservative into critique, but the critique is bound to be mundane and non-poetic, asking dull epistemological questions such as, 'How would we know the Spirit of Prophecy was upon us?'

Let me instead simply acknowledge the potency of this essay by Mark to inspire Anglican minds. In the spirit of Mao, when he said, "Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land", perhaps this kind of thinking needs not critique but space, with elapsed time being the ultimate judge as to whether it is a blossoming flower that gives way to fruit.

But it is interesting, is it not, if I might make one imaginative observation, to consider what the state of play might be in 2035. Will we look back and say '2010 was the turning point in the life of TEC which has grown in all sorts of ways since, including numerically', or '2003 is now recognised as the point on its journey with the Spirit of Prophecy from which TEC never recovered'? Not myself having the Spirit or spirit of prophecy I give no answer, but suggest this reflection is worth noting on the fluctuating fortunes of the United Methodist church.

* I would like to think I share many good things about being conservative, evangelical and Anglican with GAFCON and with the Diocese of Sydney. But I am not 'with' GAFCON to the extent that it is distant from the Anglican Communion; nor with Sydney on matters such as being a diocese which has many parishes not permitting women to preach or lead mixed gender congregations as well as a diocese which will not appoint women as rectors or priests-in-charge of parishes. Given that GAFCON includes bishops who stayed away from Lambeth, and that Sydney is but one diocese in a larger province, and it is provinces which are member churches of the Communion, it is absurd to suggest that GAFCON and/or Sydney are plotting to take over the Communion. Pressing for the Communion to be different, yes ... but so are many groups within the Communion. Committed to change via the Covenant? I fail to see where either GAFCON or Sydney has made a significant push for the Covenant. As many searching questions about the Covenant seem to come from such quarters of the Communion as they do from their liberal counterparts!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thinking about Scripture: God's Gracious Truth

The former Bishop of Singapore and Archbishop of South East Asia, Moses Tay has had a go at quite a few bishops, including, by implication, his successor, John Chew. The latter, we might recall from just a day or so ago, has been at the forefront of the Global South indicating they will deliver up some 20 signatures to the Anglican Covenant. But in an interview reported in the Christian Post Moses Tay has this to say,

"“The Anglican Covenant cannot be of God because if you try to keep the light and darkness together, righteous and immoral together, to say we are a church, it’s disparaging the meaning of covenant… the covenant is a very sacred thing… [It is] God saying, ‘You will be Mine.’ … If you are using the sacred word to include dirt; that use of the word is an abomination. ... “I cannot see how Bible-believing people can agree to the covenant,”"

Underlying what Archbishop Moses Tay says is an unerring conviction that God has spoken definitively, once and for all, upon the matter of homosexuality. Allied with a conviction that Bible-believing people recognise this voice, the conclusion is QED: either no badly behaving homosexuals in a Covenanted Anglican church, or, a Covenanted Anglican church with badly behaving homosexuals 'cannot be of God'.

I do not here wish to engage in discussion about what the Bible says about homosexuality (that will be an emerging theme on Hermeneutics and Human Dignity through 2010), but I want to reflect a little on Scripture - this book which can lead a fine man such as Moses Tay to one set of convictions, Gene Robinson to another, and John Chew to other conclusions (though I assume there is a greater overlap between Tay and Chew's sets than Robinson's and Chew's).

On my laptop I have the draft of a book about Scripture, but it is kind of sitting there because I am not satisfied with my ideas and arguments. In the usual way I want to say something about the authority of Scripture, and about how we interpret Scripture. In doing this I want to engage with the relationship between Scripture and the Word of God, and Scripture and the church (Does Scripture make the church? The church make Scripture? Or both?).

Of course, being evangelical I have a slant on these topics, yet I am alert to the complexities of varied approaches to Scripture: for instance, Catholics are Bible-believers too (they take 'This is my body' more seriously than most Protestants, as literally true, but I don't think Moses Tay was thinking of Catholics when he mentioned Bible-believers); so are the Orthodox, by the way, at least if my Orthodox Study Bible is anything to go by!

Even a half-decent book on Scripture needs to reckon with the hard words of Scripture - the exterminations of peoples at the command of God, for example, or, apposite at this time of the year, the slaughter of the Innocents as a consequence of the coming of Jesus. Then there is the vexed question which keeps rumbling through theological interpretation of Scripture, the relationship between law and grace - also a very pertinent matter for the Anglican Communion at this time.

One idea I have is that Scripture makes sense in terms of one key idea when we think of Scripture as God's Gracious Truth. Another idea is that we will have made progress in our understanding of Scripture when we recapture the Psalmist's love for the law and dispense with our modern and post-modern tendency to question, doubt, and even mock Scripture.

I sometimes think that, at least in Western Anglicanism, there is a schizoid approach to reading Scripture: a slavish adherence to reading it according to the Lectionary and a sovereign freedom to ignore it when we do not like the lesson it teaches. How might we arrive at a more coherent approach? This is where thinking about Scripture as the revelation of God is important: has God spoken through Scripture to us? Does God speak to us today through the words of Scripture, as the living Word embedded in Scripture?

Finally, picking up the idea of a 'theology of unity' from my Living Church post on the Covenant (see below), something should be said about a 'hermeneutic of unity'. Diverse readings of Scripture are great ... but is the resultant divided church great?

Do critics of the Covenant wish to be part of a united Communion or not?

Reading comments on threads such as this one on Thinking Anglicans (which incidentally will also lead you to a wide array of posts/articles on the Covenant) or this one on Fulcrum, or reading an essay such as this one by Father Jim Stockton, I am a little confused as to whether critics of the Covenant wish to see the Anglican Communion united or divided!

One emerging theme is that the Covenant will not unite an already fractured Communion. This is, I think, a fair line of criticism to pursue. It is consistent with a commitment to unity to ask of a proposal, 'Will this, in fact, unite us?' It would, of course, assist people such as myself to learn what the better alternative to the Covenant is! It would also be true, I suggest, that a will to unite combined with the Covenant would see the Covenant working well, whereas a lack of will to unite combined with the Covenant will not see the Covenant working well.

Another emerging theme is that the Covenant is not (really) intended to bring unity but is the outwardly respectable face of a hidden conspiracy to enable the expulsion of TEC from the Communion and thus, by implication, is also an anti-GLBT measure. Thus for various reasons from commitment to GLBT rights to basic Christian compassion to simple respect for local Anglican autonomy, the bluff of the Covenant should be called by rejecting it. I and others dispute this interpretation of the Covenant. But, being this far away, Down Under at the Bottom of the World, there may be a conspiracy at the heart of the Covenant going on which I am unaware of - a remarkable conspiracy because it features ++Rowan at the centre of it, and has even involved the Presiding Bishop of TEC who has been present at key Communion meetings supporting the Covenant.

Personally I prefer to trust the non-conspirational involvement of ++Rowan in the Covenant and to interpret the Covenant as (among other things) a fair call by the Communion for TEC to convince the whole Communion of the theological justification for the moves it has made in recent years. That is, the Covenant is an opportunity for member churches of the Communion to walk together, talk together, and be mutually accountable one to the other ... which, of course, is not only an opportunity for TEC but also for Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda, my own church, Sydney-within-Australia - all those who have embarked in recent years on courses of action which have raised questions about whether they are Anglican or not - to account for their actions!

But critics of the Covenant do not see the Covenant in this way. Fair enough. But I see the force of their criticism, if prevailing, as leading us further away from unity as a Communion rather than closer to it. The future of the Communion could be bleak because the critics are offering nothing to stop the fracturing.

Essentially criticism of the Covenant boils down to this (as I reflect on the critics): local autonomy of member churches of the Communion is a more important Anglican value than the interdependence of Anglican churches in a Communion. Ultimately this means the Communion will die.

The Covenant and the Fullness of Time

"In the course of a very long sentence, full of visionary flight and theological ballast, Paul tells us about God’s plan “for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10 NRSV). The unity envisioned here is breathtaking in its cosmic scope. Everything will be gathered up in Christ in the culmination of God’s plan being worked out through history.

The implication is inescapable: the Church anticipates the end of the plan by living in peaceful unity here and now. Unsurprisingly Paul follows the theological first half of Ephesians with an application second half in which he begs his readers “to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called … making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:1,3). There is more, much more, in a similar vein in this chapter (e.g. “the unity of the faith,” v. 13).

The situation of the Church in the world today is a travesty of the vision articulated in Ephesians, itself a vision in harmony with the prayer of our Lord “that they may be one” (John 17:11,20). For the Anglican Communion as a particular expression of God’s Church, what Paul says in Ephesians is, or ought to be, a sober dose of theological medicine healing our ills of division.

It is not just that the Communion should be unified, but also that the whole Church of God in the world should be one Church. All this, incidentally, is not only so the mission of God may be strengthened through the witness of a united Church. A united Church, as a precursor to a united world, is the mission of God. For the Anglican Communion to continue fracturing is a sign that collectively we do not understand God’s will for the world. If this line of thought is correct then there is a deep irony when the final text of the Covenant talks of “the ecumenical vocation of Anglicanism to the full visible unity of the Church in accordance with Christ’s prayer that ‘all may be one’ ” (from 2.1.5). The Anglican Communion, with its roots not only in the Catholic and Reformed but also ancient orthodox Church in England, is uniquely placed to fulfill this ecumenical vocation. Yet at this time the Anglican Communion is unable to offer itself, let alone other churches, a sure sign of vocation to “the full visible unity of the Church.”

At precisely this point a huge strength of the proposed Covenant is identifiable: it is a document intended to serve the full visible unity of the Anglican Communion in accordance with the ultimate plan of God."

Read it all at The Living Church.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Wallis Wallops Wall Street ... graciously

"The foreclosure crisis has become both a personal and a pastoral issue for us, and we are struggling to make sense of the fundamental unfairness that underlies it. The banks and other financial institutions whose behavior is most responsible for this crisis have been saved from failure by the American taxpayers, while many of those least responsible are losing jobs and homes.

As I grapple with this contradiction, I keep coming back to the concept of grace. When the government tried to save the economy from meltdown, real grace was extended to the big banks -- but now the banks seem unwilling to extend grace to anyone else, including homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments. I am reminded of one of the parables of Jesus, wherein a master forgives the debt of one of his servants out of pity for his circumstances, but then that servant refuses to forgive the debt of another servant who owes him a little money. The master gets angry and throws the unforgiving debtor into prison. The money-changers in the temples of Wall Street would do well to take note."

Jim Wallis always has something to say worth listening to. Read it all here from the Washington Post.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

An Inch at A Time

OK, I know that is the name of the blog of a reasonably well known TEC priest, Susan Russell (the link connects you to my previous post), but it is also a good title for a post slightly off topic for ADU, about the progress of an application for sainthood. The applicant is the late Suzanne Aubert, and a reason for her making an appearance on this blog, is that her Postulator is our local Roman Catholic priest in Stoke, Nelson, Maurice Carmody:

"Rome has appointed a New Zealander – Nelson-based professor in church history Maurice Carmody – to the role of Postulator, the person who pushes the Cause along. Normally, this person is based in Rome.

Gorman said Carmody's predecessor didn't speak any English, which made communications between New Zealand and the Vatican difficult. Carmody is fluent in Italian.

Carmody was reluctant to give a timeframe for Aubert being deemed "Venerable", but said the signs "are, so far, very encouraging.

"What we're looking for next is beatification [and] we would hope sooner rather than later."

Holding up the process is the appointment in the Vatican of a new Relatore, to whom Carmody reports. The previous Relatore has retired and Carmody has yet to hear of a replacement."

According to progress is about to progress:

"New Zealand's first candidate for sainthood, a free-thinking French-born nun who worked with the poor and promoted the rights of women and Maori in the 19th century, will this year come one step closer to being officially recognised by the Catholic Church as a saint, according to nuns at the Wellington order she founded, the Sisters of Compassion.

"Mother Mary Joseph Aubert, who died in 1926, has been inching her way towards sainthood since 1997, when the New Zealand Bishops' Conference agreed to support calls for her beatification, the main step in a long and complex process leading to canonisation (official recognition as a saint)."

A couple of brief observations. First, Suzanne Aubert was only a 'freethinker' in respect of her mission strategy and willingness to question her superiors. The reporter presumably has little knowledge of the relationship between, say, French freethinking philosophers (Rousseau, Voltaire, etc) and freethinking nuns who were strictly obedient to the teaching of the church! Secondly, Suzanne Aubert has been buried three times. I once stayed at the Sisters of Compassion where she is interred, or should I say 'currently' interred, for the memorial stone there mentions two previous interments.

Speaking of things Roman, this appointment has been announced:

Reverend Monsignor Charles Drennan"

Just as there are mysteries about how sainthood is enacted in the Roman church, there are also mysteries about how one can be Administrator of a Cathedral (equivalent to our 'Dean') and priest of a parish (although there will be another priest associated with both Cathedral and parish).

Charles was a year behind me at school, has been working in the Vatican for years, and presumably is, shall we say, progressing!

Unity and truth do not need to be at the expense of each other

There is a version of the relationship between truth and unity in Christian life which goes like this, 'You cannot have unity and truth. We disagree on so much that unity means sacrificing the truth. Truth matters more than unity so let's either drop the pretense of being unified or forget talk of unity altogether.' Of course there are variations on this. For example, 'You can have unity and truth but only by recognizing that there are diverse understandings of truth. Thus unity comes not by agreeing on truth but but by celebrating the diversity among us.' Or this, 'Unity is the most important truth for Christians. Only fundamentalists/literalists with their fanatical pursuit of narrow-minded understanding of truth stand in the way of unity.'

My last posts of 2009, working on the theology of unity and truth in Ephesians, imply that a true Christian theology of unity and truth will never pit one against the other, never disparage those brothers and sisters who emphasise one over the other, and always inspire every effort to secure unity-in-truth and truth-with-unity. For the fact is that the mission of the church is both to witness to the truth and to live out the truth through our communion together. For the truth is the gospel and the gospel is the reconciliation of God and humanity, and of human beings, one with one another. Disunity is not just a sin of the church, it is a sign that we have given up on understanding the profound depths of the truth of the gospel. (However, we should be kind to each other when we find that we have given up: we are frail humans, and the challenge of human unity is beyond human strength. Only God's grace is sufficient strength for this weakness.)

Can we refind our mission as a church, as diverse and disunited churches expressing the one church of God in the world? Peggy Noonan has a challenging post on the loss of a sense of mission among the institutions of America through the past decade. She includes this observation of the Catholic Church in the USA:

"The Catholic Church, as great and constructive an institution as ever existed in our country, educating the children of immigrants and healing the weak in hospitals, also acted as if it had forgotten the mission. Their mission was to be Christ's church in the world, to stand for the weak. Many fulfilled it, and still do, but the Boston Globe in 2003 revealed the extent to which church leaders allowed the abuse of the weak and needy, and then covered it up.

"It was a decades-long story; it only became famous in the '00s. But it was in its way the most harmful forgetting of a mission of all, for it is the church that has historically given a first home to America's immigrants, and made them Americans. Its reputation, its high standing, mattered to our country. Its loss of reputation damaged it. And it happened in part because priests and bishops forgot they were servants of a great institution, and came to think the great church existed to meet their needs."

I wonder what Peggy would say about the Anglican Communion and its forgotten mission? Perhaps she would say this: 'The Anglican Communion offered the churches of the world a unique vision, to be a union of churches throughout the world, united not only by a common heritage but also by a common vision of a broad understanding of the width of the gospel combined with a patient determination to walk together in the proclamation of the gospel through deed and word in the world.

'It's mission was both sharing that gospel (like all churches) and working (unlike many other churches) for the reunion of the divided churches of the world, offering a living example of being a communion of diverse but not divided churches.

'But it has forgotten that mission. In part because some member churches have determined that other mission strategies should take priority, to the point where the future of the Anglican Communion will not be as a Communion, and certainly not as a living example of the communion of diverse but not divided churches.'

My continuing argument through the last posts of last year and the first posts of this new year is that the Covenant offers the Anglican Communion the possibility of refinding its mission as a Communion, remaining a Communion, and renewing an Ephesian theology of unity-in-truth and truth-with-unity.

But there are powerful and influential detractors abroad. Here is Louie Crew (of TEC):

"For example, those proposing an Anglican Covenant purport to promote unity, but do so at the expense of homosexual persons and their friends. Scripture can seem on their side: Scripture tells us to value unity. But not above all else."

Then Giles Fraser (of the CofE):

"I object to the Covenant’s very existence. I’d object to it even if I agreed with every word.

"Let me be clear. There is nothing wrong with the expression of mutual commitment, and for this mutuality to have a formal aspect. The marriage service, for instance, is precisely that. But the Anglican Covenant isn’t at all like the commitments of a marriage service. It is more like the anxious and untrust ing legalism of that thoroughly distasteful feature of modern life, the pre-nuptial agreement.

"And no amount of Lambeth Palace spin is going to persuade me that, like the pre-nuptial agree­ment, this Covenant isn’t a way of arranging, in advance, the terms of some future divorce. The only people who are going to love this document are the lawyers."

Contra Fraser, the Covenant defines not the terms of our separating from one another but the theologically responsible limitations on the diversity which the Communion can sustain. Contra Crew, the Covenant determines that a Communion wide understanding of homosexuality should be a Communion wide understanding of homosexuality, not an American one. For both detractors the Communion appears expendable in the name of truth. In neither case is the unity of the Communion a requisite for confidence that we know the truth.

I may be wrong. They may be right. The future of the Communion based on a Crew-Fraser approach to truth-and-unity-but-no-Covenant would be interesting. My sense is that we would become completely fragmented. But I may underestimate the capacity of the unCovenanted Communion to continue in fellowship!

But here is something to ponder. The Global South is lining up to sign the Covenant:

"The Global South Anglican Primates Steering Committee met in Singapore on 1st to 2nd Dec 2009 to discuss and confirm planning details on the coming Encounter.

This 4th Encounter will build on the ecclesiological vision of the 'One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ' we shared at the 3rd “Red Sea” Encounter at El-ein-Suknah, Egypt in 2005. The coming 4th Encounter aims to further develop this in our common life and witness in and for the Gospel. We will explore how we may relate to one another in covenantal and communion autonomy with accountability in matters of faith and order; partnerships and networks in existing and new mission fields; and mutual capacity building for increased self-reliance for greater service.

We aim to affirm the Anglican Covenant as the basis in intensifying the ecclesial life between churches in the Communion, and explore ways churches should stand firm side by side in one spirit and with one mind for the faith of the Gospel of Lord Jesus Christ."

It troubles me that most of the support for the Covenant is coming from a rainbow coalition of diverse cultures across Africa and Asia while most of the criticism seems to come from one culture, and one segment within that culture (i.e. the liberal West).

On one scenario of the future after promulgation of the Covenant, there would be an Anglican Something which on closer inspection was composed of Anglican/Episcopalian churches in (say) England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, USA, Brazil, and New Zealand. To not be part of a rainbow Anglican Communion with African and Asian Anglican churches would raise (SHOULD raise) some searching questions for us Westies. What do you think?

In that rainbow Communion, incidentally, noting the careful language of the Global South statement which refuses to pit unity against truth, we will find a renewed vision of truth and unity!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Actually, forming a smaller communion may not form the perfect communion!

In this early part of 2010 I want to reflect on the issue of Christian unity, the relationship between truth and unity, and how unity and truth questions might be worked out in a Covenanted Anglican Communion.

A good way into the subject is to read and reflect on the missive reproduced below. It is the official Church Society public response to Being Faithful, the commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration, by the GAFCON Theological Resource Group.

Let me summarise the response at this point: there is much good in the commentary, but there are things we either do not agree with or would have to be made clearer in order for us to agree with this interpretation of the meaning of the Jerusalem Declaration.

Read it for yourself and let me know what you think. Personally I think there is a profound disagreement being expressed here. Such disagreement need not be divisive, but it will take some work in the relationship between the Church Society and GAFCON to avoid division, especially if some kind of flashpoint was approached, such as ecumenical dialogue with Roman Catholics and Orthodox (which this response cites as something it is in favour of only if a narrow definition of 'dialogue' takes place).

Funnily enough GAFCON exists because relationships in the Communion have become very difficult in respect of disagreements among us. But, on closer inspection, GAFCON has within it disagreements of a profound kind. The Church Society response to Being Faithful raises significant questions about whether the Jerusalem Declaration sets out one gospel on which all signees stand in wholehearted agreement.

I do not think the Church Society will walk apart from GAFCON. Each will work on the relationship with the other. But, conversely, I do not think much will change about the substance of the disagreement: the Church Society will remain committed to its Protestant and Reformed agenda; GAFCON will remain committed to being a group of Protestant and Reformed and Catholic Anglicans. But if the smaller communion of GAFCON can cope with such disagreement, why can it not cope with disagreement in the larger scale Anglican Communion?

Here is the response from the Church Society:

""Being Faithful: The shape of Historic Anglicanism Today"

We are grateful to you for your work, as part of the GAFCON Theological Resource Group on “Being Faithful”, the Commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration. We note that it is commended to the wider church for further discernment. The Council of Church Society has therefore considered and discussed the report and wishes to draw a number of matters to your attention.

The Society was founded in 1835 to uphold the doctrines of the Church of England and to maintain that church as a Protestant, Reformed and national church. We are therefore wholeheartedly in agreement with your emphasis upon the need to uphold Biblical teaching and resist those theological innovations which threaten the integrity and fidelity of the Anglican Communion today.

We have a variety of specific points to make on the Jerusalem Declaration and its commentary, and these are as follows:

1. We believe it is important to affirm unequivocally that Anglicanism is Protestant, and that the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, which constitute our distinctive confession, are also firmly Protestant.

2. It is also important in making reference to the Thirty-nine Articles to state that what is required is assent to them in their plain sense. Much mischief has been caused by attempts to distort the meaning of the Articles so that they bear meanings they were never intended to have. This came to full fruition with people assenting to Creeds or Articles without actually believing in them at all.


3.1 The Council is concerned that the Jerusalem Declaration, in referring to the gospel of justification by grace, through faith, does not affirm that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone. We believe Martin Luther was correct to state that justification is the "article of the standing and falling of the church."

3.2 We had been hopeful that this omission would be rectified by the Commentary, and our concern therefore increased when we read what is stated on page 28 about Clause 1. Article XI is rightly alluded to but the Commentary omits the crucial word “only” (which is, of course, present in Article XI). As you know, the Article states that "we are justified by Faith only" and that this “is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort”. This is a fundamental and distinguishing doctrine of authentic Anglicanism and it is noteworthy that the Article refers to the lengthy explanation of the doctrine in the Homily on Justification (more often called The Homily on the Salvation of Mankind).

3.3 We think that it is essential that the Theological Resource Group affirm the historic Anglican teaching on justification by grace alone, through faith alone and assert that it stands firmly by the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles on this crucial point. The present omissions from the Jerusalem Declaration and Commentary are serious and in need of urgent rectification.

3.4 In addition, Clause 1 does not address the important distinction between conferred righteousness and imputed righteousness. The former (an erroneous Roman Catholic doctrine) should be rejected and the latter should be upheld alongside justification by faith alone as the true, Biblical doctrine of historic, orthodox Anglicanism. Related to this, we note that while neither Clause 1, nor the commentary on it, affirm imputed righteousness, the phraseology actually adopted in both places is ambiguous and blurs the critical distinction between justification and sanctification. In particular, the "fruits of love" and "ongoing repentance" referred to in Clause 1 are not clearly identified as the products alone of new, regenerate life in Christ. As presently drafted, Clause 1 could be assented to by those who wrongly see sanctification as a process evidencing the believer's ongoing justification before God and who therefore deny the Biblical doctrine of justification which refers exclusively to God's objective, forensic judgment concerning a sinner's standing before Him.

The Book of Common Prayer

4. In addition, the Jerusalem Declaration and the Commentary need to give greater weight to the doctrinal purpose of the Book of Common Prayer ("BCP"). The Declaration describes it as “a true and authoritative standard for worship and prayer”, and this point is likewise made in the Commentary. However, in the Church of England, the BCP is more than this; it is part of the formularies and thus, by law, part of our doctrinal standard. This point is made on page 35 of the Commentary where it states of the Articles “They have long been recognised as the doctrinal standard of Anglicanism, alongside the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal”. This is good, but we think it ought to be clearer elsewhere and we regret that the Declaration was not more explicit on this point.

The Atonement

5.1 Clause 5 of the Jerusalem Declaration makes reference to the ‘atoning death’ of Christ. Commenting on this, (on page 44) it is stated that:
In his body Jesus bore our sins, his atoning death on the cross won for us our salvation by restoring our fellowship with God.
While this is correct, we believe that it is important to be clearer about the nature of the atonement.

5.2 First, given the present confusion in the church, it is important to affirm that Christ’s death was substitutionary. He died in our place and the punishment for our sins was laid on Him. This is articulated in the formularies in the BCP service for the administration of the Lord’s Supper. For example the BCP describes Christ’s sacrifice as a “propitiation for our sins” (quoting 1 John 2.1), while in the communion prayer it is asserted to be a sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction. Thus the objective nature of the atonement is clearly affirmed: Christ is our substitute, taking on himself the punishment for our sin. Through the cross the justice of God is satisfied and the wrath of God, which is the right and just response to sin, is turned from us and falls instead on Christ.

5.3 We also believe the reference to the restoration of fellowship with God (on page 44) requires amplification. Restoration of fellowship is a consequence of the atonement, but not its primary effect. The Fall was first and foremost a breach of divine command (Adam and Eve disobeyed God) from which flowed the severing of fellowship with God, leading to the expulsion from Eden. In undoing the curse, Christ was first and foremost obedient to the Father, sin was atoned for by Christ, and consequently fellowship with God was restored in Christ.

5.4 While recognising the constraints of time we nevertheless suggest that the Theological Resource Group should seek to produce a separate paper which articulates the Anglican teaching on salvation.

Working with others

6. In our own work over many years we have drawn a useful distinction between fellowship and co-belligerence. The latter means working with others on issues of common concern both within the life of the Church and in the wider community. Fellowship springs from a shared faith in Christ and necessarily entails agreement on some of the fundamental truths revealed by God. In the western church, faced as we are with radical theological liberalism within the church and by rampant secularism in the world around, we are in danger of claiming fellowship with people who do not agree on the fundamentals of faith, simply in order to feel stronger and appear more numerous. We believe it is far better to admit graciously and candidly where such fundamental differences exist, endeavour to work together wherever necessary, but not to claim fellowship where true fellowship cannot exist.

Anglican Orthodoxy

7.1 The Commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration (and accompanying papers) contains much material on "Anglican identity"; "orthodox faith and practice”, "tradition and churchmanship", "legitimate diversity", "authentic Anglicanism", “Anglican orthodoxy" and "the Anglican via media". However, we remain unclear as what is, in the final analysis, considered to be the necessary core of Anglican belief.

7.2 The GAFCON Statement implies that the Church of England’s Canon A5 forms a minimum doctrinal standard of authentic Anglicanism. The Jerusalem Declaration is presented within the Statement as the basis for fellowship built on this doctrinal standard (Being Faithful pp5, 22 and 23). However, the Introduction to the Statement says, apparently with reference to public confession of the Apostolic faith:

“It is not a test of orthodoxy for all Anglicans. We are most emphatically not suggesting that those who do not subscribe to the same confession are thereby any less faithful Anglicans.”

If this is a reference to the “public confession of the Apostolic faith” then it is unacceptable. We could not count someone as a faithful Christian, let alone a faithful Anglican, if they did not adhere to the Apostolic faith. If there is a core to what it means to be a faithful Anglican then we contradict ourselves if we say that we count as faithful Anglicans those who do not accept that core. We are concerned therefore that this section in the Introduction leaves the door open to doctrinal errors that have undermined orthodox, biblical Anglicanism.

Roman Catholicism

8.1 Section 1.2.2 of the appended report, “The Way, Truth and Life”, produced in preparation for the GAFCON, makes reference to relations with other churches (page 101 of Being Faithful). Reference is rightly made to the fact that the Articles of Religion should be normative, but later in the same section it is said that "Anglican Orthodoxy":

“ is eager to participate in ecumenical dialogue and partnerships, with Roman Catholics… and the Orthodox”

While we have no objection to certain forms of dialogue with Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, it is impossible to think that orthodox, biblically faithful Anglicans can enter into ecumenical dialogue or partnerships with Roman Catholics or the Orthodox Churches. For example, historic Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism have fundamentally conflicting doctrinal positions on essential matters to do with the nature of authority and the very heart of the gospel. The Roman Catholic Church has anathematised some of the truths which we affirm to be essential. There is nothing to be gained by using ambiguous language to conceal this as an earlier generation of liberal ecumenists did (quite apart from the fact that to do so is wrong in principle).

On behalf of the Council of Church Society"