Sunday, February 28, 2010

Behold he cometh

In the beginning there was no Word, and besides that, there was no God for the Word to be with.

Nothing was made through the Word that was not, and everything was made without him.
Life was not in him, but from mistaken belief in him emerged the Delusion.
The Delusion shines with the dullness of darkness and as yet the light has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from some compelling force in the universe whose name was Charles. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world and the world was made in a way discovered by Charles and perfected by him, yet not everyone in the world was convinced of this.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his message, he gave the right to become children of the Enlightenment, who were born not of baptism, nor of tradition, and certainly not of the Bible, but of primal natural forces pulsating through their parents.

And the true word, the light seeking to overcome the Delusion became a traveller, and descended Down Under. And we in Christchurch will see his luminescence and hear his wisdom on March 11th.

By coincidence the Archbishop of York is in NZ about the same time (and in Christchurch 12th - 14th March). I do not suppose they will share a platform together, but surely it is possible to get them on the same TV or radio show?

Tomorrow I plan to post some thoughts on Dawkins, atheism, and belief in God today.

Friday, February 26, 2010

When Anglicans read Scripture ...

... we do so, or should do so with due care and humility. Thus, for instance, our orders of ministry (bishop, priest, deacon) we understand to be consistent with Scripture but not required by Scripture (and thus we acknowledge the valid claims of, say, Presbyterians to assert that their ministry orders are also consistent with Scripture). We follow the practice of baptizing the infants of believers because we understand this to be consistent with Scripture, an ancient practice of the church, and a sacramental action justified by theological argument of the Reformers. But we are not so silly as to assert that we are commanded directly and unequivocably in Scripture to so baptize.

Thus when we examine the question of 'headship', taken up in some comments below on my post A Successful Model of Ministry, particularly as Anglicans, we might ask careful questions of Scripture as to whether the principle of male headship is a principle required by Scripture or simply consistent with Scripture.

Here are some Scriptural facts which the principle of male headship as an organising principle for church life seems to overlook:

(1) In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 the argument Paul weaves with reflections on God/Christ, Christ/man, man/woman leads to this conclusion, "Judge not for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? (11:13-15, ESV). Nothing is said here about leadership in the church, nor about women not preaching/teaching to a mixed gender congregation (indeed, it is presupposed in 11:5 that women will be praying and prophesying in mixed gender congregations). Further, as a matter of experience, the specific practice Paul urges here, women having covered heads and long hair, is not followed in most Anglican churches today, including most Anglican churches asserting the principle of male headship.

(2) In 1 Timothy 2:1-15 nothing is said about male headship in church or in the home.

(3) In Ephesians 5:21-33 it is clearly stated that 'the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church' (v. 23 ESV), but nothing in this passage (or its near equivalent in Colossians 3:18-19) mentions male headship in congregational life. In both Ephesians 5:23 and Colossians 1:18 the clear, direct, unequivocal statement about the 'head' of the church is that Christ is the head of the church.

That the combination of texts cited in (1) - (3) above is consistent with the principle of male headship as an organising principle for congregational life is not in doubt. But it is simply not the case that this principle is required by Scripture in general, or these passages in particular. Let's state this another way: nowhere in Paul's letters, and certainly not in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy or Titus, is there a sustained theological argument aimed towards the singular conclusion that human heads of congregations must be male.

Further, it is exceedingly strange that the one thing these passages push very close to requiring* in respect of church life, the covering of the heads of women and that their hair be long (and men's hair be short) in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, is not required in many of the churches of God these days. Actually I know no Anglican congregations where this is required. (*I say 'push very close to requiring' because Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 11:16 seems to hold back from saying 'this must happen'). On what basis is this clear outcome of the passage minimised and the unclear deduction of the principle of male headship maximised?

(As an aside, it is worth noting that in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Paul mounts a powerful theological argument for a custom in respect of clothing and hair length, which most of us feel free to ignore in a time and place which is different to first century Corinth, but in 1 Timothy 2:12-15, when evangelicals raise the question whether the ruling drawn from this passage (Woman may not teach or rule men) applies beyond the particularities of ancient Ephesus, evangelicals adhering to the principle of male headship insist that Paul's supporting theological argument (i.e. 1 Timothy 2:13-14) means we cannot ignore the ruling!?)

Back to the principle of male headship as an organising principle for congregational life: it may be claimed as a principle which is consistent with Scripture; it may not be claimed as a principle required by Scripture.

Finally there is this consideration: as the principle of male headship is being applied in Anglican churches we are finding these developments in practice. (1) An absolute law that no woman may ever or in any circumstance teach or lead a mixed gender congregation. (That is, the application of the principle is not (say) 'Ideally congregations would be led and taught by men, but we acknowledge that in practice it is hard to achieve this in all congregations on all Sundays of all years'. No, it is an absolute prohibition.) (2) A response to our time in which women are being educated theologically and upskilled practically in the arts of teaching and leadership whereby women's conventions are being organised at which the best of women speakers speak to women. Ironically this means that there are women speakers emerging with well recognised gifts of teaching and leadership, including the ability not present in all teachers, of holding a large audience, yet whose gifts are not transferred into mixed gender congregations.

The simple question to ask of Scripture is this: if the principle of male headship is not required of Scripture, on what other basis may we understand 'I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man' to be an absolute ruling governing the life of the church in every time, place, circumstance and culture. Is it conceivable that Paul the affirmer of Phoebe, Prisca, Euodia, Syntyche and Junia, as well as the acknowledger of women praying and prophesying audibly in congregational worship, intended his ruling in 1 Timothy 2:12 to mean that an able female teacher of Scripture in the twenty-first century - so able, for instance, that she can speak profitably to hundreds of women at a convention or can write down her teaching clearly and convincingly in pamphlets or books accessible to men and women - could never, ever teach a mixed gender congregation?

I will only permit comments arguing against this post from members of churches where women have long hair covered when they worship :).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Scriptural unity for the Anglican Communion

One of the phrases of Anglican life which we can neglect occurs in the Thirty-Nine Articles. It is 'contrary to God's Word written', in Article 20, Of the Authority of the Church. The full article reads:

"The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation."

Whatever view Anglican churches around the Communion take on the role of the 39A, the fact is that we all adhere to Scripture as the document at the heart of our life, especially of our weekly liturgical worship and the daily office. Scripture is only meaningful if it is not only read, but also applied to our lives. Fundamentally, to live Anglicanly 'contrary to God's Word written' would be to unravel Anglicanism.

Hence it is crucial to the future of each Anglican church as well as to the Communion as a whole that we not only read Scripture, but also live by it, which necessarily means we do work on interpreting the Bible so that we live consistent with Scripture and not contrary to it.

Thus we observe the following taking place around the Communion at this time. (1) Some situations in which Anglicans are waking up to the fact that this work has been neglected and must now be done before it is too late: Bishop Pierre Whalon, in a post noted below, is the siren sounder on this for TEC. That TEC is not as far down this pathway as some of us have supposed is intriguingly represented by the ifs, buts, and maybes of this resolution of the Diocese of Virginia! (2) Robust debate on the internet (at least) about whether ordaining women as presbyters and bishops is contrary to Scripture or not, with this bite to the debate, How will the Church of England introduce women bishops into its life?

With respect to that question for the C of E I suggest it would be timely to renew engagement with the scriptural basis of Anglo-Catholicism. I should quickly say that much of Anglo-Catholicism (as with much of Roman Catholicism) is consistent with Scripture. But is it all? I raise this question because if the way forward for the C of E introducing women bishops is also to preserve a request for at least two sectors of its life (e.g. Forward in Faith, Reform movements) to not have to experience the sacramental or preaching ministries of women bishops, a bare minimum reason for positively responding to the request is that Anglo-Catholicism adheres to the spirit and principle of Article 20, that we should do nothing contrary to God's Word written.

Mutatis mutandis, the question needs to be asked of Reform, in the light, for instance, of Tim Harris' comment in a post below, whether it is in fact ministering contrary to God's Word written, at least inasmuch as it may sincerely but mistakenly believe that the principle of male headship is taught in Scripture. Is the establishment of a ministry based on the principle of male headship, allied with a request to the church to preserve this ministry consistent with Scripture or contrary to it?

There is work to be done. Careful, painstaking exegetical and hermeneutical work. But it would be worth doing. Christian unity, ultimately, is unity around shared truth. The distance, for instance, between Reform and the (general tendency of the) Church of England might be better overcome by returning again to the study of Scripture rather than by legal arrangements made under the threat of withdrawal of funding.

In one sense I agree with those critics of the Covenant who say that it will not bring about unity in the Anglican Communion. True unity in the Communion will not be achieved while individual member Anglican churches are not united. The unity of the Church of England and the unity of Anglicanism in North America is a concern for us all. A key step forward is to return to the study of Scripture. My general point here is that we may need to study it with greater intensity and care than we have hitherto done so.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A successful model of ministry

A couple of posts below a debate started about various things to do with the continuing question within Anglican evangelicalism of whether women may be ordained to the priesthood or the episcopacy. In the course of that debate some comments persisted in making the claim that what Scripture teaches about women in ministry, male headship etc is 'plain'. My attention was also drawn to a pamphlet published by Reform and written by Carrie Sandom, a member of the Reform executive council, in which the case is set out for an approach to women's ministry in which women always work under the leadership of a man, and minister to women, youth and children, but not to men. This not only being in accordance with Scripture but also important for the encouragement, if not prodding-into-action of men to take up their God-ordained responsibilities.

Consequently I have read two pamphlets by Carrie Sandom. One is entitled The Role of Women in the Local Church, the other is entitled The Biblical Pattern for Women's Ministry - Limiting or Liberating?

The first thing we can and should say is that the pattern for ministry where a man is always leader, a staff team includes women, and women in ministry exclusively focus their service on women, youth and children, is having extraordinary success around the world. Associated with this pattern (in my experience) is careful attention to sound ministry of the Word, strong commitment to excellence in ministry, special attention to family life, including forming and running great Sunday Schools and Youth Groups. One important outcome of this pattern of ministry is a special emphasis on ministry to men in an environment where male leadership is exercised without apology: men get involved in these churches and it is true (in my experience) that when the father/husband is involved there is a greater chance of the remainder of the family joining in than when only the mother/wife is involved.

My question is whether this pattern of ministry should be just that, a pattern of ministry, one which can be followed profitably in many churches, or a rigid rule of ministry which admits of no exceptions? My answer is that it is the former not the latter. But that answer is not the answer of some of the commenters on the post below, nor does it appear to be the answer of Reform within the Church of England. On the Reform approach no women should be a presbyter or bishop: there are no exceptional women (Deborahs and Huldahs of our day) who might be considered, nor are their exceptional circumstances in which consideration might be given to appointing a women as ministry team leader. I do not mind being criticised for being critical of this approach, but I hope it might be conceded that such rigidity in application of understanding Scripture bears careful scrutiny. After all it is rare in the New Testament for any rules to be laid down which admit of no exceptions (or of no change as the circumstances of life change).

Reading Carrie Sandom's pamphlets I am struck by several things which are of interest as I have followed the comments made on the post below.

(1) The question, already voiced in some British blogs, of the grounds on which a women may not teach men verbally but may teach them through writing (as Carrie undoubtedly does in these pamphlets). Where in Scripture is this distinction made?

(2) The question of when a child becomes a man. In the pattern above women may teach other women and may teach children but not men. I notice that in the second of the pamphlets mentioned above, Carrie says, "although the CYFA venture I help lead means I am involved in teaching teenagers of both sexes". There are various definitions of 'child'. I understand, for example, that a UN definition is 'under 18'. But others might demur. Young men, not children, for example drive cars at the age of 16. It seems strange (on the pattern being promoted in the pamphlet) that a woman may teach young men but not older men.

(3) Is the teaching of the Bible 'plain' on matters concerning ministry, marriage, and headship? I do not think it is. Some of my critics think it is plain. But I am pleased to find that Carrie Sandom agrees with me and not my critics. Read the first pamphlet cited above and note that at the end of the pamphlet is a section entitled 'More difficult passages to consider'. She cites 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:26-35, 1 Timothy 2:14, and 2:15. Then note the frequent use of the word "seems" through each explanation given, as well as 'some would argue' in one explanation. In other words, some of the key texts are not plain to understand. Not only do they require explanation, but the explanation is given with tentative language.

(4) Noting that no passage alone in the New Testament intentionally teaches "the Biblical principle of male headship which is to be modelled in the church" - it is a teaching we deduce from reading several passages together, is it appropriate to elevate the principle of male headship to the status of 'God's law'?

In the pamphlet The Role of Women in the Local Church, the explanation of 1 Timothy 2:14 says this,

"Paul has just warned Timothy to avoid the false teaching of two men (1 Tim 1:19-20) so this cannot mean that women are more likely to lead the church into error - if that were so why would Paul encourage them to teach women? Verse 14 seems to follow straight on from the reasoning of v13 and serves as an example of the disorder that ensues when God’s law is disobeyed."

The phrase 'God's law' here begs a number of questions about the nature and character of God's law in the New Testament era, to say nothing of the question of whether the principle of male headship which we deduce from Scripture is properly described as 'God's law'.

It is possible, in other words, that a very successful model for ministry in the church, organised around the principle of male headship, strains credibility when it offers a theological justification for the model. In so far as that justification is represented in the two pamphlets cited above I remain unconvinced that it has been achieved.

Please, dear readers, note that raising these questions is primarily about the rigid imposition of the principle of male headship. I am as keen as anyone on great male leaders leading churches, running youth groups, taking up responsibilities in public prayer and so forth. I accept entirely that the future life and health of the church depends on men being involved as well as women. But this passion and commitment to see men in church does not require the rigid imposition of a model in which women may not lead or teach men. Christ came to set us free from the law! We should view with the utmost care any attempt by any church to lay down a new law of God.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How to grow declining churches?

Perhaps unexpectedly we get an answer to the question in the title from the Episcopal New Service (h/t Episcopal Cafe). In Mary Schjonberg's report is an honesty about decline in TEC stats which will be pleasing to those critics (within TEC, by the way) who feel that TEC's declining stats may, at times, be hidden from sight (my italics):

"The Episcopal Church's Executive Council heard here Feb. 21 that church membership and Sunday attendance continued to decline in 2008, but also heard a call for the church to promote knowledge of the characteristics of growing congregations.
During his statistic-laden hour-long report, Kirk Hadaway, the church's program officer for congregational research, told the council that congregations grow when they are in growing communities; have a clear mission and purpose; follow up with visitors; have strong leadership; and are involved in outreach and evangelism.

Congregations decline, he said, when their membership is older and predominantly female; are in conflict, particularly over leadership and where worship is "rote, predictable and uninspiring."

.... Hadaway suggested that "if we're going to turn this around -- or at least turn around the decline -- more attention needs to be paid to the things that result in growth, rather than to the broader cultural factors that are affecting our current patterns." Those cultural factors include such things as an aging population with declining birthrates and an increase in the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation."

To which, a little voice from the Antipodes says, 'Yes'! I think, even in our different cultural milieu, that Kirk Hadaway's analysis and diagnosis is spot on. I would expand on one point. When Kirk says, "have a clear mission and purpose" I suggest the preaching needs to reflect that in a compelling manner. As I (settling into a new diocese) tour round parishes I am finding that where I am most encouraged and inspired by what I experience on a Sunday (and, thanks be to God, there is much encouragement) the preacher presents a compelling message. I want to come back to hear more next week compellingness!

Churches are growing in the West. Churches are declining in the West. Sometimes I am amazed at how little the latter desire to learn from the former. Kirk Hadaway rightly points us away from anxiety about cultural factors towards learning from 'the things that result in growth'.

POSTSCRIPT: Bosco Peters at Liturgy reflects on this report with perceptive insight.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: "But it’s as plain as day that en masse the American bishops are catastrophically failing at that core task — as indeed are their colleagues in the other mainline denominations. In the parlous state of today’s Episcopal church, every dime a diocese spends and every minute of a bishop’s working day needs to be focused on local congregations. The church is melting before their eyes and many bishops seem to be passively watching it happen; at most they hope to manage decline as smoothly as possible."

Just another critic from within TEC ... Walter Russell Mead!

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Good Childhood

Tonight (Monday) two new ventures for Theology House, Christchurch begin. At Theology House itself we will host the first audio conference for Christchurch based theology students enrolled with Otago University. It is a small beginning - a few students and just one course this semester out of a possible four - a small beginning, that is, for TH being Christchurch host - Otago has delivered distance teaching via audio conferences for years. But I am looking forward to this start: I love theological teaching. Although I won't be teaching anything, I am glad to have the opportunity to facilitate this new opportunity for theological learning.

Down the road, at St Margaret's College - an Anglican secondary school with an amazing chapel-in-the-round capable of seating 500 or so - the first of a six part conference begins on A Good Childhood. The six weeks will explore a variety of topics related to the bringing up of children in the context of NZ society - a society sadly which has seen over recent years some appalling treatment of children, including callous murders, at odds with living in a sub tropical paradise. One of the things which gives me special pleasure about this conference, which, I should hasten to add, I have had hardly anything to do with organising - it was set well in motion before I arrived at TH - is recognising that two of the speakers demonstrate a particular faithfulness to God. Let me explain.

Many years ago when I was an undergraduate student I was involved not only with the local Christian Union, but also with the national evangelical student movement known as TSCF (Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship). In the context of conferences and council meetings I got to know many other Christian students. In those years, under the leadership of one of the most inspiring Christian leaders I have ever known, Gavin MacIntosh, a strong theme woven through talks and Bible studies was the importance of being Christians in the world as well as in the church. God was calling some of us to church ministry and to overseas mission, but God was also calling some of us to be Christian teachers, doctors, accountants, etc. We had a clear understanding of what it meant to be salt of the earth and light to the world: God's mission was everywhere and for every Christian in every sphere of life.

Well, what has happened since then, now some thirty years later? Unexpectedly we have scattered to the four corners of the earth. Some have become ministers and missionaries. Most of us (as far as I can tell) have settled into life in the usual ways - married, with children, mortgages, worries, local church responsibilities. In some cases the ideals that we would marry a wonderful Christian partner and live happily ever after have been shattered. Sadly, some of us are no longer involved in visible church involvement. A few among the circle of those years have nurtured the particular flame of those years, of being a Christian in the professions, working diligently and visibly in society, seeking to influence society from the vantage point of being the best we could be in the sphere into which God has called us.

Two of those contemporaries are among the dozen or so people who will speak during the next six weeks. They stand at the top of their professions which, as it happens, are directly concerned with the well-being of children and youth. I am looking forward to hearing them, and I thank God for their faithfulness to his calling. That thankfulness also extends southwards - one of the professors of theology at Otago is another contemporary from those years!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

From bad arguments to possible renegade action against women bishops in England

Rachel Marzselek very helpfully reproduces an excellent letter by Matthew Grayshon in the CEN challenging Rod Thomas'/Reform's recent letter which threatened this and that should women bishops become a reality in the C of E. I have been a little involved in a thread on The Ugley Vicar where there is also concern about women bishops, and have noticed that David Ould has taken Christina Rees of WATCH to task. One constant theme of this kind of evangelical concern is that the arguments for women in presbyteral and episcopal ministry are unscriptural and thus inadequate because cultural, experiential or otherwise. The letter cited above is a very good response to these concerns. I have another.

Those against the ordination of women to be presbyters or bishops are (logically) confident that their churches conform to Paul's vision for the church. But suppose Paul were to write to the Reform churches in the Church of England today. When he got to the 16th chapter which women would he address and salute their ministry? Who is the Phoebe who would be first to be named and the Prisca who would be second to be named? The fact is that in 21st century Reform type ministries, although women are involved in ministry (virtually always as ministers to women), they are fairly anonymous. But women in the Pauline mission and churches were not anonymous! Is there further work to do on understanding the full implications of Paul's whole corpus of writing on church life? As the letter writer cited above says,

"We are trusted with an emerging pattern not a fixed pattern."

Then, Julian Mann of Cranmer's Curate, blows the whistle on "Plans involving 'senior figures' are now underway to consecrate a group of Conservative Evangelical bishops for the UK". (Perhaps everyone knows about this over in the UK so it is not strictly blowing the whistle, but it is the first I have seen mention of it in recent months). But maybe that explains the sudden surge of internet interest in these matters!

Friday, February 19, 2010

If majority rule rules then why cannot the majority rule?

One thing going on last week at the C of E GS was the circulation of material in favour of TEC's or in favour of ACNA's accounting of the ways in which breakdown and departure have taken place within American Anglicanism/Episcopalianism.

Now published - thanks to Stand Firm and Titus One Nine - is an important memo by C. K. Robertson, Canon to the Presiding Bishop, in which he lays out, not to put to fine a point on it all, the egregious sins of ACNA, including grave deceit in their telling of the story. It makes plausible reading - the least we could expect from a man with a Durham Ph. D.

But now in counter-balance, and with a few more supportive facts, I might add, is a reply from one of the people most savaged by C. K. Robertson's missive, Marc Robertson, the Rector of Christ Church Savannah.

This thought strikes me: a significant justification of the directions TEC has taken and will take on same sex blessings/ordinations is that the majority has spoken decisively when votes have been taken on resolutions and on consents. Majority rules, in the true spirit of Western democracy. But Marc Robertson's account clearly lays out the significant majority agreement which was reached at Christ Church Savanneh to secede from the Diocese of Georgia. Is this not also decision making by majority rule?

When Calvin is read in a balanced way he is balanced in what he says

Can we do Catholic one day and then Calvin the next? Yes, we can. The pursuit of the truth has no fear of whence it is penned and preached! Gerald Bray is one of the most luminous minds in the Anglican Communion. His editorials in The Churchman are a thing of beauty to behold: he writes like the wind and serves up substance in a delectable manner. If I might note one slight tendency, unfortunate in my eyes, it is to regularly include a sideswipe at N.T. Wright. This latest editorial is no exception, whether considered from the angle of style, substance, or sideswipe. It is entitled 'Living the legacy' and is a reflection on the true greatness of Calvin, whose 500th birthday was celebrated last year.

Bray writes as a sympathetic scholar of Calvin. Alert to the extremities of positions taken by some Calvinists, he offers us a balanced reading of Calvin's writings. Calvin on this reading is not just a balanced theologian, but seen properly as the truly great theologian he is. Here is the briefest of excerpts:

"Calvin’s importance for us today lies in the fact that he realised more clearly than most have done that there are three pillars of Christian teaching that must be distinguished, developed and kept in the right balance. The first of these pillars is biblical exegesis, the theme of his many commentaries. The Bible is the source of Christian doctrine and must therefore be studied carefully and consistently. It is no good reading only parts of it or interpreting some things in it in a way that makes them contradict other statements. Nor is it true that everything is of equal value in every circumstance, regardless of the context. Without good exegesis, it is possible to have a developed systematic theology and even a comprehensive pastoral practice (as Roman Catholics do) but the foundation of these is insecure. Today, the study of the Bible has progressed in ways that Calvin could not have imagined, but the task of the exegete remains as significant now as it ever was. The sad fact is that much of what passes for exegesis today is little more than special pleading for one cause or another."

Along the way of this editorial, Gerald Bray makes the excellent, often overlooked and therefore misunderstood point that, Anglican theology represented in the Thirty Nine Articles is more Calvinist than we care to admit. He goes on to stress that the true development of Anglicanism did not therefore mean we should have become Puritan. Whitgift, he notes, was a Calvinist all the twenty years he was Elizabeth's ABC, and implacably opposed to Puritanism!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When will Rome catch up with the reality of communion with Anglicans?

For those who have never visited both our cathedrals in Christchurch - Catholic and Anglican - I can assure you that you are in for an aesthetic treat when you visit both. Neither can pretend to be an ancient foundation like their European counterparts but both, in different ways, Renaissance and Gothic respectively, represent the glories of European architecture with extraordinary finesse. I also suggest you would be in for a spiritual treat. It is hard to be in either building and not to have your heart drawn heavenwards.

So it was last evening to be in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament sharing in a joint Catholic-Anglican Ash Wednesday service. Brilliant. Liturgically. Musically. Sacramentally (if I may call the imposition of ashes a sacrament). Part of the brilliance was to see the clergy sharing the leadership at the front of the church: a female priest, three male priests, a female bishop, and a male bishop. All called by their proper titles in the written order of the service. Ministries recognised, we could say. The preacher, incidentally, was Bishop Victoria Matthews.

You will understand, given my bias towards Christian unity in the spirit of John 17 and Ephesians, that I particularly noticed when Catholic Bishop Barry Jones introduced the Sharing of the Peace with these words (more or less as I recall),

"Through baptism we have communion with Christ, and therefore with one another. Let us therefore share a sign of peace with one another."

For Catholics and Anglicans on the ground in places such as New Zealand but also in many places throughout the world, these words accurately express the sentiments which surround our relationships: we are in fellowship with one another through Christ - a fellowship in which we actually recognise each other's ministries - though respectful of authority, the rules prohibiting full sacramental sharing of ministries are not broken.

But Rome does not see things that way. Anglican orders are "null and void". Eucharistic communion may not be offered to those with whom the Catholic Bishop of Christchurch has said he is in communion through baptism in Christ.

When will Rome catch up with reality on the ground?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To have and to hold, from this time forward

One way of viewing TEC-and-homosexuality in relation to the rest of the Communion is this: TEC has done the right thing consecrating Gene Robinson, taking itself to the verge of authorising formal blessings of same sex partnerships, how long before the rest of the Communion 'gets it' and catches up?

But here is another view of TEC-and-homosexuality: it has gone about things the wrong way; it has not sorted itself theologically on homosexuality and it has confused majorities at General Convention with the mind of God for the church today.

Hold that comment, "Peter you do not know what you are talking about ...".

Here is a thoughtful bishop within TEC (my italics):

"While I do believe that a case for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people that rests on faithful arguments from Scripture, theological anthropology, etc., can be made, the fact is that this church has not officially done so. Not that our official theology is deficient, but in fact, we have none, other than the traditional teaching still theoretically in force that love is to be sexually expressed only within the bonds of Matrimony between husband and wife. Of course, there are plenty of theologians writing theologies, lots of people composing liturgies of same-sex blessings, and partnered gay clergy are fairly commonplace. But while there are General Convention resolutions that anticipate such developments, no official teaching backs these actions. ...

... It is my conviction that wherever one is on the spectrum of opinion, to have no theology for full inclusion, while more or less practicing it, is worse than having bad theology. Bad theology cries out for better theology. No theology, however, calls the whole enterprise into question."

This bishop is Bishop Pierre Whalon, the Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. He astutely observes some of the effects of this lack of theology (my italics):

"It is precisely because we then provided no rationale as a church for this change that we were asked to practice "gracious restraint." It is not that the whole rest of the Anglican Communion disagrees with us—that is simply not true. But even those elsewhere who agree with a full inclusion position do not on the whole support how we have gone about it. While General Convention is the final arbiter of what The Episcopal Church believes, simply relying on bald resolutions and election results does not spell out its teaching. ...

... In a peculiar way, political implementation basically has gone before theological acceptance.

This political, non-theological way of going forward is great ammunition not only for the schismatics within our church, and their foreign partners busily violating in deafening silence the third Windsor moratorium on cross-border interventions, but also for those supporters of punitive measures against gays in Africa. It seems lawless. In other words, it gives the appearance that shadowy avatars of some putative "gay agenda" really do rule our church behind the scenes, instead of Scripture and communal Reason, informed by Tradition."

The final paragraph is no less stirring in its challenge than what has preceded it (my italics):

"Some have said that the moratoria will end when we act to end them. Such an action, undefended, would only perpetuate the present anomie, and raise a real question about a “General-Convention fundamentalism”—“the majority voted it, therefore God said it, and that settles it.” Rather, we need to continue to keep "gracious restraint" until we have done the necessary work in order to end it. We do not have to wait for the rest of the Communion to approve our arguments, of course. But it is terrible that we as a church have continued to avoid that work, and all therefore continue to pay a heavy price, both within and without The Episcopal Church. If we go on blessing same-sex unions and consecrating people in those partnered relationships, and yet continue to refuse to do that work, will that mean that we cannot justify our actions? And if we cannot, then what — in God's name — do we think we're doing?"

Read the whole essay at Anglicans Online here.

Now you know someone like Pierre Whalon is onto a well made point when Jim Naughton views it sympathetically (see here and here with the second including a reply by Bishop Whalon and both pieces generating interesting discussion in the comments).

This is grist to my theological mill: if we are to be a communion of common minds on homosexuality then we need to have a theology which we hold together in order to move forward; or at least have a theology which we agree to disagree on. Bishop Whalon exposes the emperor's clothing in respect of TEC's theological work on homosexuality. If they have not done that work and owned it officially, we can be sure other provinces in the Communion are well behind!

Postscript: reading the comments at the initial offering of Episcopal Cafe (Jim Naughton) makes my Anglican heart sink! Apparently Anglicans do not need to arrive at a theology agreed by its General Synods or Conventions. Indeed it might be dangerous to do so because one such theology would lead to 'Inquisition'. On other matters, e.g. the ordination of women, we do not have that theology, but we are fine to have pressed ahead. But what takes the biscuit is a line 'We would never get agreement - those absolutists will never agree, no matter how long we run a theological commission on these matters.'

Umm, on the last point, such disagreement could be due to other reasons such as the improbability of securing agreement on a sound theological argument when tested against the full weight of church processes, as opposed to putting sound bites on the internet and getting a publisher sympathetic to one side of the argument to publish a book making the argument.

Personally I remain convinced that good theology is worth doing as Anglicans, and pragmatism is a recipe for ultimate disaster for any Anglican province, let alone the whole Communion. I say that, incidentally, as a member of ACANZP where there is too much pragmatism, and the resultant bite marks are beginning to be seen on our posterior!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mission Shaped Mixed Economy Freshly Expressed Church

Paul Fromont has posted a (mostly) Steve Taylor post about the Anglican church and its mission shapedness.

I think he is right!

Archbishop Jabez Bryce and the territory of Polynesia

Archbishop Jabez Bryce, Bishop of Polynesia and one of the three Archbishops of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, has died in Suva. As Anglican Taonga reports, at the time of his death Archbishop Jabez was the longest serving bishop in the Anglican Communion, having been consecrated in 1975.

Like his biblical namesake, Jabez of 1 Chronicles 4:1, Archbishop Jabez Bryce "enlarged the territory" of Polynesia. During his episcopacy Polynesia became one of the three tikanga of our church, established the College of Polynesia within St John's College Auckland, and increased its number of bishops, including one ordained to serve the needs of Polynesian Anglicans in Auckland. There is much more to be said about the many ways in which Archbishop Jabez served God as bishop, on both Anglican and ecumenical endeavours. I refer you again to the Taonga report.

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Lord God Made Us All (Anglicans)

Yes, God made Anglicans who give promotional space to a former RC priest who no longer believes in God. (Christopher Johnson's barbed wit is as sharp as ever on this story).

And God made Anglicans who tell women to submit to their husbands. I will hazard a guess that story A above would not take place in the church of story B!

Then there are Anglicans who worry about the differences between tunicles, dalmatics, and chasubles. God made them too.

Then there is me. I think all three groups of Anglicans above would assure me that God made me also. But I would not give promotional space to a non-believer, I do not think I should tell wives to submit to their husbands, and I cannot dredge up an ounce of concern for a debate about robes ending in "-les" or "-ics".

I wonder what God makes of his creations?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

I would be surprised if the door was shut

Much analysis of the C of E GS motion about ACNA is going on. A wedge in the door for ACNA? Nothing to be concerned about for TEC and ACoC? I think the latter misses a point: the final motion may have kicked ACNA's desire for communion with the C of E (the initial motion) for touch, but it did not stop the game being played on (which the Synod could have done with, e.g., 'let's move to the next business').

As TEC moves to (almost certainly) confirm the Glasspool election, and as it appears to be making a move against South Carolina's subsidiary authority to decide what happens to property within its own diocesan boundaries, the wider Communion, to say nothing of the C of E itself, will be pressed to come up with an adequate answer to this question: is the Communion inclusive of conservative Anglicans or not?

I take it that a refusal to condemn TEC by the likes of the C of E GS is a measure of a reluctance to exclude those trying to find ways to be inclusive of gay and lesbian Anglicans. But that unwillingness to be exclusive of progressive Anglicans is very likely to also be an unwillingness to be exclusive of conservative Anglicans.

Providing ACNA holds together, and wishes to be in communion with the Communion, I would be surprised if the C of E shut the door on thoses wishes anytime soon.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Where have all the Methodists gone?

Not long after I arrived in Christchurch in 1971 I saw notice of a new Red Shield (i.e. Salvation Army based) scout troop being established. I had been a Red Shield Cub in Dunedin, so I decided to join this particular scout troop. To get to our weekly meetings I had to bike past St David's Methodist Church, a kilometre or two up the road from our home.

Within three weeks of arriving in Christchurch nearly 30 years later I have learned that the nearest Methodist church to where I work in Merivale, Rugby Street Methodist has been sold, and two days ago, perusing the property pages of the Press, I spied that two other Methodist churches are for sale: St David's, and the Clarence Street Methodist church in Riccarton. In idle conversation someone has suggested that all Methodist churches in Christchurch are for sale: I presume that is not accurate, that some will survive this selling frenzy.

I take it for granted that when all is well in a church there are not multiple sales of church buildings. When all is well, there might be individual sales of buildings because a church here is bursting at the seams, or a church there is non-viable. But I would be surprised to have a commenter appear here and tell me all is numerically well with Methodism in Christchurch, or, for that matter, the rest of New Zealand.

One could leap to all sorts of conclusions about what has contributed to decline in NZ Methodism which would not spring to mind as one of our more conservative denominations. I think it not unreasonable to suppose that somehow they have lost their way on the matter of decisive missional engagement with society.

We Anglicans down under may or may not be finding our way on that matter. If we do not find it, I believe we will have multiple sales of our churches. I am hopeful that we will find it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

There are three Anglican churches in North America

Thanks to David Virtue, we can publish the C of E's General Synod resolution concerning ACNA for you:

“That this Synod aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America, recognize and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican church in North America (ACNA) to remain within the Anglican family; acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.”

David also records "The final vote was 309 in favor, 69 against and 17 recorded abstentions." (The official text of the resolution is here).

So there you have it: more than 75% of the GS recognises that there is a third Anglican church in North America, that it is a serious candidate for consideration for a formal relationship with the C of E and for inclusion as a member of the Anglican Communion.

I suggest it is now up to ACNA do so some serious soul searching. If this resolution is to be taken further following the Archbishops reporting back to Synod in 2011, there would need to be an unequivocal commitment by ACNA to be in communion with the C of E (recall: there are ACNA voices which are negative about the leadership of Canterbury), and to apply for membership of the Communion (recall: there are ACNA voices which appear to call for their inclusion to involve TEC's exclusion. But there is nothing in the C of E's motion which implies the C of E would support TEC's exclusion).

Of course there is a bit of soul searching for TEC to do as well. Could it acknowledge, beyond the "distress" of the situation, that there are significant differences in North American Anglicanism which are better accommodated by three churches than by two?

Just before I am shouted down on that, might I ask why there are two Anglican dioceses in Europe?

I presume their existence is testimony to differences which exist between two forms of Anglicanism in Europe!!

PS There is a very interesting argument in support of recognition of ACNA here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Oh well

Flicking through Thinking Anglicans, Preludium, and even Fulcrum, in respect of Communion matters, and in particular with the ACNA question coming before the C of E General Synod on Wednesday, it is not at all clear that much will emerge at this time which will build Communion. ACNA has many critics. But if the criticism is deserved, might there nevertheless be some grace shown to them by the "Communion" (i.e. by people called into being through forgiveness and mercy).

Oh, wait, I know from comments made to some things I have said that ACNA has not been particularly nice to Episcopalians, so why should anyone be nice to ACNA?

Yet Anglicanism was always about width, accommodation, tolerance, and latitude. But here's the thing - touched on recently by Archbishop Mouneer - Anglicanism is not very good at tolerating those it deems to be narrow, exclusive, intolerant, and puritanical. So one can find this kind of comment on an Anglican blog, "... fundamentalist evangelical. We hate them ...".

Is the key to a renewed Communion a new learning for Anglicans: how to tolerate the intolerant? Or is Anglicanism basically a club for "people like us" - the us, according to the West, being the liberal majority - so no new learning required, just persistent eradication of the ones not like us?

Despite all the justifications for excluding ACNA from a seat at the Anglican table, I am left wondering whether the wood is being missed for the trees. This is an opportunity for the Communion to show ACNA what a big, generous Anglican heart is all about.

It looks like the C of E will not be paving the way this week. TEC will not do so at this time.

Oh well.

Changes in Auckland

Do not come here for the news if you want to read it early!! Last Friday I was on a very pleasant bus trip with work colleagues touring some churches in my new diocese. But up in Auckland the news was breaking that Glynn Cardy, world famous for the controversy over the Christmas billboard at St Matthew's-in-the-City, will no longer be Archdeacon of Auckland. Only yesterday did I learn this news which is reported here:

"Auckland's Anglican Bishop denies sacking the Archdeacon who sparked controversy with a Christmas billboard depicting Joseph and Mary in bed.

In a letter to a parishioner, Bishop John Paterson says many people found the billboard by Archdeacon Glynn Cardy offensive.

He writes he discussed the matter with the Reverend Cardy at length and asked him to write a letter of apology to his fellow clergy ... and adds he will no longer be the Archdeacon of Auckland.

However Bishop Paterson says the position of Archdeacon was always going to come up for renewal in April and Glynn Cardy's departure has nothing to do with the billboard."

[UPDATE: in a comment below Glynn Cardy disputes aspects of this report, and explains the resignation as archdeacon as customary (i.e. upon the resignation of his bishop, pending the new bishop making reappointments).]

Let's take this at face value. The non-renewal has nothing to do with anything other than (say) time to give another priest a turn in the role ... nevertheless it is a good thing that a priest willing to publicly question the doctrine of the church with the twist of it taking the form of mocking God while sending up a belief that no one actually holds (that God impregnated Mary with divine sperm) is not in a leadership position which is at the discretion of the Bishop.

But wait, there is more. Yesterday I also learned of an interesting sea-change at St Johns College, Auckland (ACANZP's main residential theological college). Until the end of last year most students at the College enrolled for theological degree studies were enrolled for the University of Auckland's B. Theol. degree (a few were enrolled for other theological qualifications obtainable in Auckland city or by distance elsewhere, and a few are enrolled for other courses). But over the summer a signal that there would be a shift in emphasis to the B. Theol. of the University of Otago has been converted to reality: I understand that as many as twenty students at SJC are now enrolled with Otago University (i.e. the university cited in Dunedin).

Otago University for many years has provided distance learning access to its theological degrees, and it has a physical presence with some buildings in other cities. Students taking up this option at SJC will be learning via audio conferences and online communication, associated with face-to-face tutorials with SJC staff members. This is a sea-change at the College. It means that few, maybe in time no students will be learning theology away from the SJC precincts - Auckland's degree studies requiring students to commute into inner city Auckland has been a source of much discussion in our church over the past decade or so.

There is also an element of 'full circle' in this move: once upon a time students at SJC could either take L. Th. courses with SJC lecturers, or, if wishing to obtain a degree, could study for the Otago B.D. at a distance. But in those days distance learning was rudimentary: a course outline, a reading list, and turn up for examination at year's end. A man in Christ I know well decided in those days that he would be better off actually living in Dunedin and attending lectures in the Otago B.D.!!

My own professional interest in the extent of this change relates particularly to the fact that as of Monday 22nd February this year, Theology House, Christchurch will be hosting audio-conferences for Christchurch students enrolled in Otago theological courses. Start in Christchurch, finish in Auckland is a distinct possibility for Christchurch ordinands!

Is Anglicanism a contempt-free zone?

Following on from posting a verse yesterday which caught my eye, here is another which I suggest is pertinent to Anglicans today the world over:

"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt" (Luke 18:9).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Anglicanism's Pauline Problem

Anglicanism in the twenty-first century: diversity is good, autonomy of member churches is bottom-line.

Paul in the first century:

"I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and same judgment." (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Five Minutes to Midnight

One way to think about the Anglican Covenant is that it constitutes a measure of our willingness to be autonomous Anglican churches in communion together in the face of the possibility of formal schism or schisms occurring across the Anglican world. With one measure of the closeness of the world to nuclear conflagration in the background, I suggest that if midnight is the point when we are in schism, then we could assess the arguments for and against the Covenant in terms of minutes before midnight.

In my reading of criticism of the Covenant, most of the criticism stems from an unwillingness to let go of even one iota of autonomy. So when criticism waxes rather than wanes, the likelihood is that Anglican churches, in the end, will go their own way and schism will take place. Right now my assessment is that we are five minutes from midnight!

There is an alternative to schism (as I have been pushing in recent posts): we agree on one thing together, that we are not in fact a Communion and so we will call ourselves something else ... the World Anglican Association, perhaps.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Salient points

The Anglican Communion Institute is characterized by its critics as "four men and a website". Well, I am not sure whether it is the four men or the website, or both, but they must amount to something, otherwise why the vitriol? (I amount to one man and a blog, but no one bothers with me -:) The reality, of course, is that the ACI has the ear of significant leaders in the Communion, so I imagine some of their critics think they may have undue influence. Except the point of the ACI's post, drawn attention to in my previous two posts, is that they do not have undue influence: some aspects of the Covenant have reached a point where the ACI feels the need to point out the influence of others has been "undue". My cursory survey of the blogosphere is that the ACI has a point: in the midst of a welter of 'when will they (ACI, Mouneer, many other conservatives) stop whinging and whining about not getting their own way' there are observations that all may not be well within the (possibly) shadowy world of Communion bureaucracy.

As a matter of my own evaluation I do not think ACI etc are whinging and whining! What is going on is an attempt to openly discuss the present version of the Covenant and its merits, offering critique of argued deficiencies. If the critique is wrong, argue back and praise its efficiencies rather than mount ad hominem attacks (some of which are involving schoolboy boorishness ill-befitting followers of Christ).

Ephraim Radner (one of the four) has risen to the defence of the ACI, albeit with a personal rather than collective response. I note the following salient points:

"When the Covenant’s fate was given over to groups, like the ACC and its Standing Committee, that were disproportionately made up of those whose stated convictions were anti-Covenant, not so much as to determine the content of the Covenant itself as to control its dissemination and adoption process, there was every reason to be concerned and certainly vigilant. When the outcome to this adjudication has been procedural chaos (at the last ACC meeting) punctuated by autocratic resolution, the insertion of new processes based on committees and rules whose provenance is either unknown or questionable, that is cause for disturbed dissent. For the “process” to which the Covenant is now thereby consigned is one that is inevitably shaped by the Covenant’s own enemies. And when that process is itself veiled, only partially declared in its authority, necessarily misunderstood and mistrusted by many, it is faithful common sense to resist it. So I do."

"Thinking through matters in this light and making such proposals is hardly a matter of either attempting to stage a coup or playing footsy with corrupt powers. Rather, I believe it to be a responsible path to follow in what we all know to be a longer, more challenging, and difficult journey in our Communion’s vocation. I do not reject the ACC or its members and leaders; I will question vigorously those of their actions I think are ill-advised; I will resist strongly actions that appear to be improper. But the ACC are not my enemies; they are a part of the church of which I am a part. I do not reject the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is in fact someone whose heart and mind I deeply respect in Christ. I will question vigorously, however, judgments he makes or actions he takes that I think are ill-advised; I will even resist those that appear to be improper, as I would any within the church. But he is someone, quite apart from my personal views, whose role I honor in my very office as an Anglican priest. I do not reject the leaders and members of FCA – among them are individuals I do indeed respect and, out of a similar bond of ecclesial affection and shared ministry, I honor. But I will resist vigorously judgments and actions that seem ill-advised; and I will resist ones that seem improper. I do not reject TEC itself, of which I am formally a member and in whose ordering my ministry is placed. But I do maintain the calling of honesty, necessary dissent, and active resistance where called for."

It is important, if possible, that we Anglicans get these things right. My final observation from Radner concerns the alternative if we do not find a way, however long, to adopt the Covenant:

"throw out the continuities of our common life on the front end, and the hope of reconstituting them at the back end is vain."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Covenant is nothing without a common approach to truth and a clear structure of authority

We now appear to have neither!

Bishop Mouneer Anis' resignation from the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion, along with the significant concomitant criticism from the (normally Covenant supporting) ACI of aspects of the (recently revised) fourth section of the Covenant, particularly highlighting the confusing use of Instruments of Unity (if not inventing one or more as we go along), suggests that a common approach to truth in the Communion is now a fading hope, and that the possibility of some coherent authority for administering the Covenant is all but reduced to zero. Sarah Hey, for example, highlights pertinent aspects of the situation in this post.

Archbishop Mouneer gets to the heart of the matter which disrupts a meaningful sense that a common approach to truth undergirds our Communion when he observes that despite the majority view of the Anglican Communion being expressed in Lambeth 1998 1:10 in this phrase,

"homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture",

it appears to Anglicans such as Mouneer that, "the aim of the Listening Process is to convince traditional Anglicans, especially in the Global South, that homosexual practice is acceptable."

Is homosexual practice compatible with Scripture? Some say No, some say Yes. But together we have not yet agreed to one of two things which would accord with a common approach to truth: either that it does not matter if an open contradiction on this matter is a feature of Anglican life, or that it matters that there is an open contradiction but nevertheless we can live with the contradiction.

Perhaps we should put the Covenant on the shelf for a while and address how we might reach a common approach to truth. Then we might address the question of a clear structure of authority for the Communion. Four Instruments of Unity was always going to be a recipe for confusion when a really difficult contradiction in Anglican thinking was raised. That we muddled through (say) the rise of Anglo-Catholicism or the ordination of women is not a testimony to how brilliant Anglican Communion authority is, but to the low level of difficulty posed by such issues.

But I am not holding my breathe waiting for decisive leadership which demands that the Communion confronts the issue of whether it really wants to be a Communion or not. For the time being I shall try to consistently refer to the so-called Communion as a Confederation. That would be accurate. [UPDATE: I acknowledge Bosco Peters' point that 'Confederation' might not do ... so I shall think of another word].

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Communion will end the way we want it to

After the lull the storm. ++Mouneer Anis has resigned from the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion citing a lack of true willingness on the part of key players in the Covenant process to be committed to the Covenant. You can read his statement here, reaction on Titus One Nine here, and a frankly rude response-plus-comments from Episcopal Cafe over here (but only if you want to).

The ACI was already working on its current concerns about the Covenant while Bruce Kaye has posted his latest critique.

I hope to find a few moments to comment further, suffice to note for now that the Communion will end the way we want it to. If we do not want a Communion that is a communion (a real flesh-and-blood, Christ's body-and-blood fellowship of believers indwelt by the true Word of God), fine. But let's, for goodness sake, stop using the word 'Communion'. World Anglican Association will do. If we want a Communion which is what the label says, then let's work intentionally, whole heartedly on finding the way forward: no more Hegelian logic chopping!