Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How many Holy Spirits are there?

Towards the end of a CNN report on the ABC's Pentecost letter is this section in which Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut says,

"Bishop Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut called Williams' statement "significant" but "not as punitive as it might have been."

He said it was an affirmation of the three moratoria, and he made clear that other churches, not just the U.S. Episcopal Church, will be affected for having broken promises as well.

"Many churches across the Anglican Communion because of conscience or their belief in what the holy spirit is up to in their local context have lived beyond the moratoria," Douglas said. "While the moratoria are still before us, such actions do have some ramifications. ... If anything, I question the efficacy of the moratoria."

He added, "It's another expression of how we're trying to live with our differences with integrity and not alienate one another. I'm still convinced there's so much more that unites us." (From here. H/T MidWestConservative)

I do not know Ian Douglas but everything I read about him suggests he is a shining star in the firmament of TEC. He is a learned man, and, he is, or has been, and may yet be still, a TEC rep on the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.

Committed to integrity, not alienating one Anglican from another, and convinced that much unites Anglicans, nevertheless Ian Douglas here gives expression to a demanding conception of the workings of the Holy Spirit. So demanding that I suggest this conception raises the question whether there is more than one Holy Spirit.

"Many churches across the Anglican Communion because of their conscience or their belief in what the Holy Spirit is up to in their local context have lived beyond the moratoria"

(I blame CNN not +Ian for no caps for Holy Spirit in the CNN article. 'Moratoria' refers to the requests in the Windsor Report that uninvited episcopal incursions from one jurisdiction to another, same sex blessings, and ordinations of same sex partnered persons to the episcopacy cease for the time being).

What does the Holy Spirit get up to in 'local contexts'? Implicit here, reading against the back story of developments 'beyond the moratoria' in North America, is this understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit:

(1) The Holy Spirit is leading TEC to affirm a new understanding of the holiness of sexual relationships previously unknown in the universal church, and ahead of leading other churches with the same guidance (i.e. other Anglican churches, Eastern Orthodox churches, the Roman Catholic church),

(2) This new understanding through the Holy Spirit is likely a new understanding all churches will catch up with in the course of time (or, alternatively, will be revealed to be in rebellion against); but certainly it is an understanding coherent with a specific development in the local context of North America, state and social support for same sex partnerships.

(3) Nevertheless the Holy Spirit is not at work in the formation of ACNA (another North American development 'beyond moratoria') since TEC, astute at recognising the work of the Holy Spirit in new ways in local contexts, is vigorously opposed to Communion recognition of this phenomenon.

(4) Nor is the Holy Spirit at work in all local contexts in which the church believes it to be at work, so developments in Africa, in which draconian legal measures are variously proposed or implemented (against same sex partnerships, such as a recent imprisonment in Malawi of a couple followed by release upon outcry), are expressions of evil injustice, not of the Holy Spirit working locally.

In short, implicit in what +Ian Douglas says is this understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding God's people: the Holy Spirit can reveal universal truth (the things which unite us, the injustices which all cry out against with one voice, false claims made by churches) and local truth (the things which are right for our church in this place and time, even though not also discerned by other churches). Further, the Holy Spirit is at work in guiding TEC so it knows these truths, both universal and local truths, when other churches do not know them. Thus the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Southern Baptist churches (and, we may mention, ACNA) working in the same local context as TEC, but determining different responses to the local context, logically, are either not hearing the Holy Spirit (a wilful and serious act of disobedience), or are being guided differently by the Holy Spirit.

Now, it is a simple truth of Christian life that on many matters the Holy Spirit does guide us differently. Thus I may be guided towards overseas medical missionary service while you may be guided into a teaching career in local high schools. Mary is led by the Spirit to belong to the church to the south of her home, but her neighbour Bill is led by the Spirit to the church to the north. And Mary's church in its local context may be guided by the Holy Spirit to focus its mission on the needs of children while Bill's church may be guided to focus on the care of the elderly. On many matters the church (i.e. all Christians) believe the Holy Spirit works in diverse ways, the great mission of God to perform. In the midst of these matters is an indifference (adiaphora) to doctrinal or ethical concerns.

But what of doctrinal or ethical concerns when they impinge on the life of the church. Can the one Spirit guide different churches to believe different things? No. There is one Spirit and one mind of Christ. The promise in the gospel reading for Trinity Sunday just past is that the Spirit will guide believers into 'all truth' (John 16:13), not into 'multiple truths'. That there are differences between churches on doctrinal and ethical matters is a question of discernment of the truth. Some of us are discerning the Spirit correctly, some of us are not. Reading Scripture, the inspired Word of God, our differences in interpretation are not a set of equally valid readings, but a set of readings simultaneously claiming to correctly discern the Spirit's revelation of the mind of Christ.

The point, therefore, about "belief in what the Holy Spirit is up to in their local context" is that this is belief about what the one Spirit is up to in that local context. If another church has a different belief, then both cannot be right. TEC in North America, if guided by the Holy Spirit, is simultaneously calling into question the discernment of all the other churches which disagree with its belief in what the Holy Spirit is up to.

That is, though +Ian Douglas says what he says in a disarming and mild manner, the concrete truth claim within his words to the media is as extraordinary a truth claim as any church can ever make: we know the truth, other churches do not; we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit on this doctrinal or that ethical matter, other churches do not.

Enter ++Rowan Williams. As good a theologian, I wager, as +Ian Douglas. As he leads the Communion's reflections on TEC's claims to truth, ++Rowan understands the extraordinary nature of these claims. Rightly he asks of the Communion: are these truth claims being made by TEC also being discerned universally across the Communion? The answer is 'no'. Despite giving quite a significant amount of time, as well as space (in meetings, conferences) for consideration of TEC's truth claims, the Communion, itself a discerning-of-the-Holy-Spirit body like TEC, does not share TEC's discernment. Hence the appropriateness of a 'Pentecost' letter calling time on this period of discernment. The Holy Spirit, the letter is saying, is non-contradictory. The demanding conception of the Holy Spirit implicit in +Ian Douglas' expression of TEC's understanding of the Holy Spirit's contextual work in North America is too demanding. It collapses under the weight of what it is made to bear.

But then, I could be wrong, along with ++Rowan ... there is an alternative explanation of the apparent contradictions involved: there is more than one Holy Spirit!?


Suem said...

There have always been differences in belief, approach and practice among different churches and denominations. It does not mean that there is more than one Holy Spirit! I cannot see the Holy Spirit as a force that pops down and tells us what to think on the social issues of the day but rather as God within us.

We are told that the fruits of the spirit consist of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness , gentleness and self control. There is no law against these and the Spirit operates outside of human laws and societies. I suggest that where we find the fruit, the Spirit may be there.
Is it possible to believe same sex love is wrong and have the Spirit - I would say "yes"( even though I consider the belief misguided.) Is it possible to believe same sex love is good and holy and to have the Spirit - I would say "yes".

Where we see hatred and violence, the torture, rape and persecution of LGBT people, I do not believe those actions, or the mind set behind them is informed by the Spirit.

It is not our views on this one particular issue that determines whether we have the Holy Spirit, but our ability to love and work with each other despite this might be a sign of his prescence?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem
To try to be clearer on my part: my argument here is not 'who has the Holy Spirit among those who claim the name of Christ?' but 'when claims are being made that the Holy Spirit is leading Christians in direction Y rather than direction X, which claim is correct?'

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, I think Suem is justified in finding the title of your post unhelpful, along with those parts of your subsequent argument about how many Holy Spirits we think there are. When Christians disagree about how the Spirit is leading us on our shared mission, the issue becomes one of who is discerning the mind of God more clearly, given that the Spirit is speaking to both.

Case in point - the Jerusalem conference over the place of circumcision in Paul's mission. Luke in Acts 15 reports a happy agreement, but gives no indication of what might have happened if agreement had not been reached. Would Paul have hung around, or accepted a moratorium? His own account in Galatians 2 indicates that he would not have submitted to a requirement that he circumcise his converts. He can thus be seen as backing a local responsibility for mission option when wider agreement cannot be reached.

Luke shows a strong preference for unity, but even he reports on Paul and Barnabas going their separate ways when had a "sharp disagreement" about Mark's reliability, and this report has a rather neutral rather than disapproving tone. Even for Luke, disagreement is undesirable but no sign that either party lacks the Spirit. We just have to agree to disagree and get on with our mission more separately, hoping that God will bring us back together eventually.

Not a very Anglican approach maybe, but since we no longer have a Henry or Elizabeth to force an old style political "settlement" on us, we live in a different world where we may have much to adopt some more Pentecostal norms. All backed up by scripture, of course!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
I grant myself a certain amount of journalistic licence: "How many Holy Spirits are there?" is likely to yield a few more passing readers than a mundane "The leading of the Holy Spirit: questions to consider" :)

I would like to challenge you on your (key) remark: "We just have to agree to disagree and get on with our mission more separately, hoping that God will bring us back together eventually." My challenge is this, what to do in instances when that is not straightforward?

In Anglican terms this especially arises in respect of the role of the bishop. What if we are not agreed that we can disagree on whether the bishop should be living with a same sex partner? A certain unity under our bishops is a requirement of being Anglican (a certain diversity is also possible). It is hard for that unity when there is such a sharp difference of view about the propriety of the bishop living in a relationship which is neither marriage nor singleness.

[By the way, I will simply not engage with any response from commenters along the 'ah, but what about female bishops' since (i) that is a red herring relative to the specificity of the above issue, (ii) in my personal experience, agree-to-disagree is possible in respect of female bishops].

Howard Pilgrim said...

OK Peter, I will take up your challenge, in the probing spirit it is offered, and with no need to allow for journalistic licence.

Bishops engaged in intimate relationships that are not marriage: that is indeed a weighty matter. But is it weighty enough to justify turning disagreement into schism, as many have done? When does a de facto decision to go separate ways for a time turn into bitter division that is impervious to the one Spirit's ongoing healing?

I ask you again to consider the precedent of Paul deciding, rather unilaterally, that the biblical law of circumcision was no longer operative in a Spirit-led mission to Gentiles. That was a massive challenge to Jewish boundary markers. What right did he have to treat uncircumcised converts as full members of the faith community, contrary to centuries of sacred tradition traced back to God's word to Abraham, "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." (Gen 17:14) That was bigger than big - it was a huge breach of the tradition, largely taken for granted by Christians after 2000 years, but not by Jewish Christians of the time, many of whom then isolated themselves from this innovation. Paul forced the issue, based on his own sense of mission and his reading of the Spirit's leading in that mission, and he yielded to no one.

We no longer see circumcision as a moral issue, unlike 1st century Jews, but that should not lessen its status as a divine commandment. For many Jewish Christians at the time, the issue was indeed "straightforward" - Paul was simply wrong, and the Jerusalem apostles who permitted his policy innovation were deluded. These conservative believers eventually broke ranks with the innovators, loyal to their biblical principles, and remained unreconciled for at least a century. They were convinced that the matter involved a fundamental biblical principle, and there was little scriptural material to prove them wrong.

You seem to be saying that the issue of bishops in same-sex relationships is not straightforward, unless I am mistaken. But given your framing of the matter, where marriage (traditionally defined) and singleness are the only permissible states, that must be just about the end of the matter. Walk apart from the transgressors and their innovating supporters! Join the modern Ebionites, in faithful obedience to biblical clarity.

That is not your conclusion, I know. So where am I getting your logic wrong? See what happens when you challenge me? I get all confused!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
A hidden premise in your surmises is that the innovators are always right and the resisters are always wrong. Logically it is possible that sometimes the innovators are wrong and sometimes they are right!

An important point, you yourself make, is that Paul's conviction that innovation (re non-circumcision) was shared by the Jerusalem apostles: a unified conviction of the conciliar church.

What shared conviction of the conciliar Communion are you able to point to as an innovation agreeable to the Communion in respect of human sexuality?

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, how did you detect this idea in anything I wrote? "A hidden premise in your surmises is that the innovators are always right and the resisters are always wrong". I gave you a single instance of an innovator (Paul) being right in retrospect, and am asking you to consider several striking parallels with the situation between his situation and the one in which TEC finds itself.
1. Both innovators are firmly convinced that they are being led by the Spirit to conduct their mission in a new way, whatever others are doing.
2. Both would like approval from the wider church but are determined to press on regardless.
3. In each case they are flying in the face of explicit scriptural commandments, with very little wriggle room for reinterpreting them, although Paul would go on to spiritualise the commandment by speaking about a "circumcision of the heart" (Rom. 2:29, drawing on Deut. 10:16, 30:6, and Jer. 4:4).
4. In each case the scriptural principle adduced by the wider church (as enunciated by James in Acts 15) is one of inclusion, using the prophetic tradition to set aside explicit commandments.
5. A stricter combination of the prophetic and halachic materials would have been to rule that as it was God's intention to bring the Gentiles into Israel, the surest sign that their hearts had been cleansed would be a willingness to take on the law's easy yoke... just as the prevailing Communion view seems to be require Christian gays to embrace celibacy.

What I am challenging you to consider is what might have happened if the decision of the Jerusalem apostles and elders had gone against Paul. My reading of his own account in Galatians is that he would not have submitted to their judgement, which is why he went to them privately. It was by no means "a unified conviction of the conciliar church", but rather one involving "much debate" in which Peter was Paul's main ally and a definitive ruling was given by James (as the senior elder?).

Paul got the decision he wanted, but the Church was by no means unified, as the subsequent history of Jewish Christianity attests. Luke does not tell that subsequent story of disunity, focusing instead on Paul's mission as the success story it became. The pain of ongoing disagreement is left out of view by Luke, but was unavoidable whichever way the decision went, given the momentous nature of the biblical principles at stake. Pain is unavoidable in our current situation, for very similar reasons.

In your challenge to me, you asked what we should do when an issue is not "straightforward". I have adduced this scriptural example to argue that we all have to get on with our mission as best we can, seeking unity but remaining true to our convictions, and trusting that the one Spirit leading us is in charge of the future. Calling a moratorium on mission until we find a more perfect unity is not an option, and never has been.

Suem said...

I think we have to respect each others integrity in saying, "this is where the Holy Spirit seems to be leading me/ us." I don't think we should say to each other, "I have the spirit and you do not."

This is why I believe that we need that acceptance of a diversity of views that we allow on other issues without accusing each other of lacking God's spirit, or wisdom or holiness.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
Agreed, it is not helpful to go around saying who has the Spirit and who has not.

On the leading of the Spirit: it is important to note that the Spirit does not contradict the Scripture it inspired. So some diversity is possible - where that diversity is provided for by Scripture. But some diversity just does not work, if it contradicts Scripture. In short: discerning the leading of the Spirit is a hermeneutical task!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
In this comment I acknowledge that I went a bit far with talk of 'hidden premise'. More accurate, in terms of my reaction being described, would be to observe an apparent degree of confidence that innovators in Christian history turn out to be right ... a confidence I do not share!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
To the substance of your argument: I think it rests too much on a hypothetical possibility that if the Jerusalem agreement had not been reached, Paul would have struck out on his own.

I also suggest you make too much of the apparent difference between Paul and the rabbis on Scripture: one of Paul's great achievements was to develop a scriptural argument for the gospel inclusion of the Gentiles.

Then a third critique: Paul's great point about 'his gospel' was that he received it by 'revelation'. He claimed to have received it in his conversion encounter with Christ. 'Leading of the Spirit' per se was not the claim which supported his gospel's validity. Is there anything in the progressive case for the ethics of human sexuality being formally altered which has the imprint of such an encounter with Christ on it?

Howard Pilgrim said...

Right then Peter, continuing with the substance of my argument, and your three objections in particular ...

1. Paul makes it rather clear what he would have done in the face of a ruling mandating the circumcision of his Gentile converts: he did not consider himself obliged to submit to such rulings, and goes to some pains to communicate this to his Galatian audience, by making these points:-
a. his gospel came direct from God by revelation, not from the apostolic tradition (1:11-12).
b. he began his mission three years before conferring with any Jerusalem authorities. (1:15-17)
c. even then he consulted only Peter and James. (1:18-19)
d. After fourteen years he, with Barnabas and Titus, consulted the Jerusalem pillars, but only at his own initiative and on his own terms, not out of any need for further authorisation, as "those leaders contributed nothing to me." (2:6).
e. Rather than legitimizing his mission, they merely recognized that God had already done so: "they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised."(2:7)
So far from hypothesizing that Paul would have "struck out on his own" as you put it, I simply draw the simply conclusion that Paul would have responded to disapproval from Jerusalem by continuing with what he had already been doing for so long, more or less on his own ... a Gentile mission without circumcision. In fact the Galatians letter gives evidence that disapproval from Jerusalem, with border-crossing intrusions into his churches, was just what he did get for some time afterwards, despite James' approval. Those who imagine that the Jerusalem meeting produced "a unified conviction of the conciliar church" need to attend to Paul's own testimony more carefully.

2. "...one of Paul's great achievements was to develop a scriptural argument for the gospel inclusion of the Gentiles." I couldn't agree more, and also agree with those scholars who highlight how much this belief was shared by the early rabbis. The point of difference for Paul, I argue, is that inclusion of the Gentiles within Israel could happen without circumcision as its sign and Torah-keeping as its substance.

3. Your third question really gets to the nub of the argument: "Is there anything in the progressive case for the ethics of human sexuality being formally altered which has the imprint of such an encounter with Christ on it?" Paul's testimony to his encounter with Christ is central to his claim that the fact of his mission and the mode in which he insists on operating it (ie, without circumcision of Gentile converts) has been authorized by God and is thus not subject to human (ie apostolic) approval. This is an argument from experience pure and simple. He is saying, "This is what God did to me, and this is what he has done in the lives of my converts - take it or leave it." When liberals report on meeting Christ in the lives of sexually active gay Christians, or even more importantly gay Christians testify to their own redemption, this is commonly dismissed by conservatives as an argument from experience that cannot be true as their mode of life contradicts scripture.

In short, do you really want to hear about the encounters with Christ you are asking for? If so , why haven't you been hearing this testimony already, given that they are all around us? Isn't this what the "listening process" was meant to be all about over the last decade? And isn't it the surfacing of just such testimony after centuries of enforced silence that has precipitated our current crisis (as opposed to some liberal political agenda).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
It is a pleasure to argue back and forth with such considered and thoughtful counter-arguments!

(1) It is not rocket science to think that Paul would have continued his particular mission whatever the Jerusalem Declaration. But my point is slightly different: the recorded history of the church as handed down to us is of a united church via the Jerusalem agreement; the conference for which authorised the parallel missions to Jews and to Gentiles. If that agreement had not been reached, and Paul had continued his merry way, we have no way of knowing that we would have known that. Each mission, separated and divided in disagreement from their beginnings may have faded away into the sands of time, at best a footnote in the religious history of the Roman Empire.

(2) Good.

(3) In your response you shift the nature of 'encounter' from the paradigm altering one which blinded Paul and commission his global work in an instant, to the myriad lives of Christians demonstrating Christ at work within them. My point is that Paul's mission did not proceed from a sense of the leading of the Spirit as he faced specific local contexts, but from a dramatic revelatory encounter with Christ received and endorsed both by deed (response to the gospel) and by word (the agreement of the apostles). I know of no similar encounter driving forward change to global Anglican understanding of human sexuality. Please bear in mind here that the argument is about how change proceeded in the early church, and whether that constitutes a good analogy for today. (Certainly not an argument about whether the Spirit of Christ is at work in Christians - a limited argument, I suggest, re change in the church, e.g. the Spirit of Christ is at work in the Catholic church, but that does not mean the papacy is the correct form of church government!) If you agreed with me [:)] then we would simply be back at the hermeneutical task: what is the meaning of Scripture for the church in its life in the world today.

Howard Pilgrim said...

I agree that this debate is pleasant Peter, but you are not meant to concede my main point so readily. "Good" is an inadequate response to my previous point 2. Let me spell it out more clearly.

1. The case against circumcision argued by Peter and accepted by James in Acts 15 is on the grounds that the prophetic scriptures envisioned an influx of Gentiles into Israel, in God's good time.
2. The case not argued from scripture is that this could happen without the requirement for circumcision and a commitment to Torah. This was an enormous change for Second-Temple Jews, bigger than our current issue around gay sexuality.
3. The implicit argument accepted by Peter and James is one from experience: it seems plain to them that the promised time has arrived and that God is prospering Paul's mission. They draw the conclusion that God approves Paul's abandonment of the circumcision requirement.
4. The apostolic recognition of Paul's authority is described in very general terms in Galatians: "James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me." (2:9). In Acts 15, James makes his decision on the basis of the report from Paul and his companions of "all that God had done with them" (15:4) backed by Peter's reminder that God had done much the same thing with him separately (15:7-9). They focus on the fact of the Spirit's moving to bring Gentiles to God. The reality of this experience (essentially recognising they got the same spiritual cleansing as we did) was all James needed to hear to void the circumcision requirement.
5. What is absent from either account is any sense that Paul established his credentials by relating his experience of conversion: unlike us, the Jerusalem apostles and elders had not already read Acts 9 or Galatians 1. They accepted his apostolic authority on the basis of his missional results, not the manner of his appointment.

What I am trying to establish here is the validity of a mission-focused report from experience that God is pouring his Spirit upon people X without seeming to require their observance of commandment Y, as evidence that Y is not subsequently required to authenticate their conversion, even when no explicit scriptural grounds can be found for disregarding Y.

If Gentiles could enter God's people Israel without undergoing circumcision, then it is a smaller matter for gays to enter the Church of God without taking on celibacy. Now, where did I lose you this time?

Peter Carrell said...

As I understand the situation, Howard, a crucial step upon which our ways may part company is the role 'experience' plays in determining that the (apparent) guidance of the Spirit trumps, or adjusts the (apparent) meaning of Scripture - captured for me, in your latest comment, in these words,

"The implicit argument accepted by Peter and James is one from experience: it seems plain to them that the promised time has arrived and that God is prospering Paul's mission. They draw the conclusion that God approves Paul's abandonment of the circumcision requirement."

Within this statement is the question of what 'prospering Paul's mission' means? In the Acts of the Apostles, this included manifestations of the Spirit, church planting, and church plants which prospered (AKA people responding to the gospel by turning from false gods to the God of Jesus Christ), as well as signs and wonders attending the preaching.

Perhaps our paths diverge, then, on the question of what would constitute 'prospering mission' today; noting that in the context of this conversation 'prospering mission' would mean something which convinced you, me AND a lot of other people that God was at work in a significant, visible, and verifiable way sufficient to overturn 2000 years of understanding of Scripture.

I do not see those signs in the Western church today. Observers (both friendly and critical) of TEC (as a particular church engaged in the specific question of change to the ethics of human sexuality) often observe (a) declining numbers, (b) rare church plants. It could be an uphill battles to make the case that TEC is evidence of 'prospering mission' in similar degree to the prospering of Paul's mission.

But then it might not ...

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, I should also respond to the third section in your last comment, which focuses on the significance of disagreements. As you remarked, the Catholic Church has the same Spirit as we share, without thereby having a perfect ecclesiology, or perfect anything necessarily. Think about that some more, if you will.
A few centuries ago, the Pope and his followers, which is to say the Western Church in its united form at the time, did not agree with the Reformers, who eventually went their own ways. Both had the same Spirit, right? The majority were in error on the issues dividing them, we Anglicans would now say. The majority were unimpressed by the scriptural arguments brought forward by those who wanted change, and were not prepared to either change themselves or else allow the reformers to get on with their new way in peace. So how did change proceed?
And why do you derive any assurance from being part of an intransigent majority? Resistance to change is no sin, but nor is it necessarily a virtue! :-)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
At the time of the Reformation, and since, Christians whether Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox have agreed on many things while on some things have differed sharply to the point of being divided.

To not believe that same sex partnerships are blessed by God is not so much to be in an 'intransigent majority' as to belong to the near unanimity of the Christian tradition through 2000 years, the lack on unanimity arising in the past couple of decades amongst as tiny percentage of Christians worldwide.

For the time being I do not see myself shifting into that tiny percentage. The future of that percentage, remember, while we are talking about the Reformation could be that of the tiny sects which arose at that time, flowered, and then faded away, now only warranting a footnote in church history :)

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, it seems that you and I have made some real progress in this discussion, in that we now agree on the hermeneutic principle that experience has a role in changing our understanding of scripture. This seems consistent with what Hooker and Sanderson meant by "reason". The things that can be surely known by a reasonable person from their own life experience are brought to scripture as reliable grounds for understanding the text, followed by "tradition", which is how others have understood it in the past. Working together, they reveal the mind of God with enough surety for Christians to live godly lives.

The thing about experience, as you note, is how much evidence from contemporary life, especially life within divergent sections of the church's mission, is required to change the tradition. A radical change would require some striking facts on the ground, and in the present controversy that is not yet the case.

And in the meantime? Well, Paul lived with a lot of tension in those years before the Jerusalem meeting, getting on with his mission in his innovative way, handling conflict with more conservative opponents loyal to the established tradition, including Peter in that Antioch confrontation over the food laws. When he felt he had established enough facts on the ground in his Gentile churches, he took his evidence to Jerusalem, nervous that he might have "run in vain", which I take to mean that James and the others might still consider it insufficient and the conflict among apostles would continue. In the event, he scraped in on a visionary ruling from the leading elder, but as we know disagreement among the troops and conflict on the field continued for much longer. Eventually the minority experience became a majority one and the traditional reading of scripture changed accordingly. All of which I consider a comforting precedent for our present troubles... except that we seem to lack someone in the role of brave and visionary leader. Perhaps this just means that the time is not yet right for our own Jerusalem meeting, and TEC et al will soldier on until that time comes, which they seem ready to do in good heart.

A question remains about what would constitute sufficient evidence to change conservative hearts and minds and thus avoid a charge of intransigence. How much vigour and thriving would show that God is with TEC in their explicit inclusion of same-sex relationships (in contrast with other Western churches where this is only covert ... another issue we could bring up sometime)?

A principle of proportionality should apply here. This is nowhere as big a shift as Paul undertook, namely disregarding in principle Israel's covenantal commitment to maintaining Torah-observance throughout its generations, along with the rite of circumcision signifying that commitment. We are now talking about whether one commandment within that body of law, concerning male homosexuality, remains binding for the Christian community now that the whole Torah is no longer our tutor. Yes, we have had a 2000 year tradition of carrying that fragment of Torah forward, treating it at times as though it were on a par with murder, but it is, in reality, a very minor aspect of our relationship with God, the world, and one another.

I put it to you that the degree of evidence required for a new understanding of the mind of God and our sacred texts on sexuality is not far removed from that which is emerging steadily within the life of Christian communities not only in America, but all around the world. It may be as simple as the testimony of a single brother or sister, son or daughter. That was enough for me. What would it take to convince you, Peter? Answer that question and we might come to share a surer sense of how the Communion might change its majority opinion in the years ahead.
Arohanui, my brother.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
Here are some possibilities about experience which might not only convince me, but, and this is very important to me, many others in our church:
- TEC's decline is reversed and many new churches are planted and flourish
- Methodist Church in AotNZ's decline is reversed, new churches are planted and flourish
- the C of E, charged these days with obscuring certain facts on the ground about partnered clergy, fronts up with the required canonical honesty etc, and finds itself with a new lease of life.

I appreciate very much that individual experiences of friendship and familial relationship with gay and lesbian people changes a whole lot of perceptions and undoes unfortunate prejudices.

It is not clear to me, however, that such experiences in themselves constitute grounds generally for change to conservative approaches to Anglican theology re ordination and blessing.

I may be wrong - I would like you to be clear about that. But informally/anecdotally, my sense is that conservative Anglicans are not conservative theologically on these matters because they know no gay or lesbian friends or family members, but because they are convinced about what the Bible teaches and unconvinced that experience should change what they believe.