Saturday, June 12, 2010

If the Spirit is at work in the Communion

... then perhaps we should only claim this much is true about what the Holy Spirit is doing in our midst:

(1) Working with us on what it means to be a Communion.

Probing us with questions about whether we are a fellowship, a church, or something more than a fellowship and less than a church, if the Spirit is at work in our midst, then we are being worked on through this first part of the twenty-first century towards an answer agreed across the Communion.

(2) Facing us with the question how we know and how we determine that we know what is the leading of the Spirit into all truth.

If there is a one significant issue present in the exchange of letters between the Presiding Bishop of TEC and the Archbishop of Canterbury, an issue of the kind that the whole Communion should be engaged by it, it is the question of what is the leading of the Spirit.

If we are a fellowship or a church or something in between, it is the one (and only one) Spirit of God who binds us together as a body of believers in Jesus Christ. The question of how we know what the leading of the Spirit is remains the same question whatever it means to be a Communion.

Nevertheless, historically, the churches of God have tended to resolve questions of what the Spirit is saying to the church in one of two ways: through a single leader (or papacy) or a council (an approach called conciliarity). A hallmark of Anglicanism is eschewing the first way. A great challenge for Anglicanism is embracing the second way. We do this quite well in our member churches (synods and conventions). A great question related to the two posted above is how we might be conciliar as a worldwide something.

The irony of the position espoused by Presiding Bishop Schori, that the Spirit of God is leading TEC into new truth, is that the determination of this leading is primarlily conciliar, through General Convention.

Why not a General Council of Anglicans worldwide to determine the leading of the Spirit?


spicksandspecks said...

Hi Peter,
I think we need to grapple with the bigger issue of Scripture interpretation if we're going to get anywhere on discerning the Spirit's leading. Some in our Communion think the Spirit can 'update' or 're-contextualise' the Bible's message. Others do not. In theory, our diocesan Synods, provincial Synods, and then Lambeth Conference are meant to do the function of determining the Spirit's leading and Biblical interpretation for today. Many of these have theological review committees or panels to advise them. If they can't do it, I'm not sure a new body will.
Andrew Reid

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrew,
Well, even if we focus on 'interpretation of Scripture' as the key step in discerning the Spirit, we still need a body to determine the correct interpretation.

My 'General Council of Anglicans' would be, at least, the bishops gathered in conference, i.e. the Lambeth Conference acknowledged as a 'council of the church' not as some advisory body to be ignored at the first sign of its teeth showing bite marks!

Howard Pilgrim said...

"If the Spirit is working in the Communion..." Everything flows from that big "If". How are we to know whether or not this premise is true? Aye, there's the rub.

You have been developing a line of argument recently that accuses TEC of arrogant claims to being led by the Spirit, appealing to an presupposition that all such claims should be muted until something like a majority is in agreement. SO TEC is wrong to believe that the Spirit is leading them to full acceptance of gays and lesbians within their own provincial life, because a majority or provinces have not as yet come to agree with them. Further, you disallow any testimony to the Spirit's leading in their attempt to persuade that majority of their integrity and depth of conviction, in order to win at least provisional suspension of judgement about their actions.

I want to counter your critique with two questions.
1. Is there not a valid place for such claims in disputes between Christians? Claiming the Spirit's leading is a way of upping the ante, by calling on God as a witness. It is a form of testimony to a depth of experience that has been so profound that it can be justly described as the presence and initiative of the triune God. Action taken in response to such transforming experiences may be misguided - we can always be deluded about our encounters with God - but is not arrogant to explain them in such terms. This is simply an integral part of our human condition, our fallible attempts to respond to God. Would you banish all such experiences of spiritual renewal from the Church, to be replaced by majority opinion, authoritative rulings from prelates or the weighty pronouncements of theologians as to what constitutes the mind of the Spirit?

2. Is surety about the leading of the Spirit more likely to arise within the life of a small or larger group? We all know how deluded sects can be about their access to special revelations, but that does not mean that bigger is always better when it comes to an epistemology of the Spirit. I want to say that we primarily come to know and trust the Spirit within the fellowship of God's people at the relatively local levels where we each serve God day by day. That primary sense of divine presence and guidance can then be confirmed or challenged as we encounter wider settings of fellowship, but we will all hang onto what God has given us in the setting where we have come to trust it most. That is how faith works. This is why Nelson diocese, for instance, hangs onto a shared sense of having something lacking in most of ACANZP. They bear witness to something distinctive, which they believe is from God, and I applaud them for their surety. I may have different convictions, but I do not count theirs as arrogance. They have a shared conviction, they believe this comes from God, and they may act on it even if they find themselves out of step with the rest of the province. We structure our canonical relationship within the province to allow for such freedom of local action. Why can't the Communion cut TEC some slack to do likewise, especially when it addresses the majority with a solemn claim to having encountered God in this matter, and to acting in obedience to that encounter? This claim lifts their independent action into a higher realm where God alone is judge. They are now playing for higher stakes, so why can't we all step back a little, make like Gamaliel, and await the outcome? God will either teach us all a lesson from their obedience, or humble them for their presumption. If we deny their right to undergo this test, we are the ones being arrogant in the face of God.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
I stand by my pursuit of the agenda that great humility is shown by anyone or any church claiming the leading of the Spirit.

(1) The leading of the Spirit is a leading into all truth; truth being measured by Scripture; Scripture being interpreted by Scripture, tradition (itself the tradition of interpretation), and reason. A claim to be led by the Spirit away from Scripture, or, indeed, against Scripture, is an extraordinary claim which requires extraordinary checking. Rather than focus on whether such a claim is arrogant, I would focus on what has been the church's historic way to attend to extraordinary claims about the leading of the Spirit. One important and widely recognised way is through the calling of ecumenical councils.

(2) The leading of the Spirit as claimed by TEC is problematic in two important ways:
(i) it has the appearance of making a claim which renders the Spirit to be self-contradictory. To this possibility I see nothing in your response which renders the Spirit non-contradictory.
(ii) (alternatively to (i) it has the appearance of making a claim that it is right and the rest of the Communion is wrong. Such a claim, merely as a matter of natural justice, requires a forum in which claim and counter-claim are nutted out.

Better by far, in my view, would be the dropping of the claim to be led by the Spirit, and simply, honestly, and robustly to claim that the course of action being taken is pragmatically determined by the circumstances of local context.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Now you have me even more puzzled, Peter. Taking your points in order:-

1. "A claim to be led by the Spirit away from Scripture, or, indeed, against Scripture..." Who in TEC is making any such claim? Who is saying, "The Spirit is leading us in a direction which we understand to be against Scripture" or anything equivalent to that? Rather, I hear TEC voices saying that as a result of, and integral to, experiences of being led by the Spirit to an open acceptance of gays and lesbians in their midst, they now read relevant parts of scripture in a new light, and place more weight on some other parts of scripture (as evidenced in the sermon you referenced yesterday) that might not have previously seemed relevant to this issue. Light breaks forth to an obedient reader, and all that. I am not implying that other readers are disobedient, just as I trust your definition of "against scripture" is not equivalent to "against the prevalent understanding of scripture". Differing readings of scripture, born out of our differing reflections on experience ("reason" in classic Anglican theology), are inescapably part of our human condition, even as Christians with the best will towards God and one another.

2. (i) Where does TEC's claim to a revelatory experience make the Spirit contradictory? They believe that God has lead them in a new direction, in his sovereign purposes (H/T J.Calvin), and will eventually lead the rest of us in the same way. What is self-contradictory about that belief, or about the Spirit's sovereign action? Must we all be led in a given direction at the same time? Can God not call some of us to forge a new path that others will eventually follow? Self contradiction would only happen if TEC were saying something like, "We believe the Spirit is leading us to do this thing and equally leading you to oppose us." What am I missing here?

2.(ii) This is more plausible as an interpretation of TEC's assertion, for the reasons I have just given, but your consequence does not necessarily follow. TEC have been saying for most of the last decade that they have been unable to find an effective and just forum to resolve the matter. They cannot afford to wait around any longer to be heard, and believe that God is giving them a mandate to act in the meantime, trusting that the imperfect means of dialogue available within the Communion will eventually lead to the unity we all value.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
For 2000 years the church universal, including the Anglican church worldwide has believed that Scripture teaches for marriage or singleness and against same sex sexual relationships. 'Incompatible with Scripture' I believe was the phrase used at Lambeth 1998.

Of course TEC does not think it itself is going against Scripture, choosing to read it in a different way; but it cannot pretend that what it considers to be the leading of the Spirit is not considered by others to be a leading against Scripture. Consequently, to persuade other Anglicans of the Spirit choosing to lead them and not us is, as a matter of logic and, so to speak, rules of argument, to offer a higher level of proof than 'we think we are right'.

When you observe, "They believe that God has lead them in a new direction, in his sovereign purposes (H/T J.Calvin), and will eventually lead the rest of us in the same way. What is self-contradictory about that belief, or about the Spirit's sovereign action? Must we all be led in a given direction at the same time? Can God not call some of us to forge a new path that others will eventually follow?", my response is simply that you are making my point: if TEC does not think that the Spirit is leading us in a contrary direction to them (which would be a self-contradictory Spirit), then it must think it is following a lead of the Spirit which others currently do not but hopefully will later. At best that makes the rest of us slow, at worst rebellious. That is quite a charge to make; especially when it has not been examined by a meeting of the (representatives of the) whole Communion.

I am afraid that this observation compounds the difficulties: "TEC have been saying for most of the last decade that they have been unable to find an effective and just forum to resolve the matter." This could mean they do not recognise the right of majority decision to prevail (which would be interesting for a context otherwise normally disposed to foster democracy); or it could mean they are convinced the majority is wrong and they are right. In which case, we are back at the point: TEC, logically, thinks the rest of the Communion is making a big mistake. How and when does the Communion get to recognise that this is so?

Not every Anglican reads blogs!

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, you have got to be kidding me! Was this change of tack, suddenly placing so much reliance on a seamless 2000 year robe of tradition just an invitation for me or someone else to point out its obvious flaws, known to you as well as to me?

1. The historical tradition of Christian opposition to same-sex unions is nowhere as seamless as you imply, and is in fact on a par with now-debunked assertions that there is no long history of women's ordination. Readers wanting to investigate the history of same-sex relationships and marriage might want to visit this useful index site:-

2. Connecting a history of official opposition-or-silence to a present-day Anglican opposition-or-silence across most provinces of the Communion only serves to highlight the flaws of both arguments. You cannot claim that "the rest of the communion" is united in its opposition to TEC just because a majority of primates or even bishops are opposed to their policy. What about the silenced or even persecuted gays and lesbians within each of their churches? What about the contrary voices coming from all around the globe? "Not every Anglican reads blogs!" True, and not all thinking Anglicans write in them either.

These are only two of the very good reasons why classical Anglican theology places tradition well behind scripture and reason as revealing the mind of God to the Church.

As for convincing the wider church that God is leading TEC in its stand, this is much more likely to happen through communication at grass-roots level than in the flawed councils you revere. And that "incompatible with scripture" clause from Lambeth 1998. What a travesty of injustice that was! Do you know anything about the flawed process leading to its inclusion?

However, I remain confident that you wrote most of your last comment with your tongue in cheek.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,

The evidence you adduce from the Fordham site is neither evidence of a catholic approach to same sex marriage at any point in the history of the church nor is it without controversy; it simply amounts to some occasional episodes in the life of the church when same sex partnerships were tolerated and supported in some limited contexts for limited periods of time. It certainly does not amount to evidence that at any point in the history of the church has the church promulgated official doctrine in favour of same sex partnerships akin to marriage (until recently).

My claim is not that the rest of the Communion is united in opposition to TEC – it obviously is not – but the rest of the Communion is, I suggest, united in not claiming through its episcopal or conciliar/synodical leadership that it is being ‘led by the Spirit’ in the way in which TEC is making that singular claim about the journey it is on ... a journey, note, that even Canada in its recent General Synod has held back from following closely in TEC’s pioneering footsteps.

How on earth could the church measure ‘that God is leading TEC in its stand’ through communication at grass-roots level? Only through our synods and councils can we take stock of where we are at on such matters, and make declarations along the lines of ‘this is what this church or Communion believes’.
It is something of a stock argument these days to say that Lambeth 1998 was ‘flawed’. But a process behind a decision which is later questioned does not in itself mean that the decision made is itself flawed or that, should the decision be revisited, the decision would be overturned. (Pace many resolutions of diocesan synods!!).

The fact is that when the Communion had opportunity in 2008 to revisit Lambeth 1.10 1998 it did not do so but chose another way of meeting which, strangely, leaves 1.10 in place. In the end accusing Lambeth 1998 of being ‘flawed’ is just an accusation. For the charge to stick a future Lambeth (or other general council of Anglicans) needs to overturn the resolution.

So, no, I did not write that comment with tongue in cheek; and I am still left wondering on what grounds the Communion is to come to an agreed decision that God is leading TEC by his Spirit while the remainder of us are not being led by the Spirit if (a) no council is valid to make the decision (b) the determination is to be made by something as vague as ‘the grassroots’!

Anonymous said...

“For 2000 years the church universal, including the Anglican church worldwide has believed that Scripture teaches” that women cannot be ordained (if TEC produced the sort of “quality” of your church’s GS defence of women’s ordination you would have a month’s supply of posts as you attacked it line by line), that marriage is for life (don’t distract us by the Eastern Christian position, which you well know is nothing like your church’s), that there is no longer Pakeha or Maori or Polynesian for all are one in Christ Jesus (was this the first motion ever made by the Anglican Primates Council, still awaiting to be “overturned” by a later meeting of that or any other Anglican Communion body – as you insist in your comment), that we are led by a monepiscopacy, … anyway, you get the picture.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Alison,

A lot of issues, as you aptly point out are not straightforward.

It is not that I am not open to good arguments being brought forward to support, say, dual-episcopacy, or the blessing of same sex marriages. But that does not mean I am open to straightforwardly accepting that this or that is 'the leading of the Spirit.'

I do not know why the Primates have not pressed further with their dissatisfaction with the duo-or tri jurisdictional character of our three tikanga arrangements. It could be useful if they did because, I for one do not believe that our current arrangements should be permanent. Provisional, yes, but not permanent for I see no theological justification for such a state of affairs.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Thank you for you response to my last comment, Peter. It clarifies for me why we are talking past each other to some extent. You are asking how an authoritative determination can be made of the shared mind of the church at any point in time, and your answer is that this happens through various synods and councils. I agree with you on that, but am asking how we can have confidence that any such determination expresses the mind of God, given the 39A's affirmation that councils have erred, even in matters regarding salvation and God.

So when ++KJS reports to the Communion that TEC has been led by the Spirit to its present course of action, you hear a claim that because the General Convention voted to approve this action, that must be the mind of the Spirit. On such an epistemological model, votes of councils determine the moving of the Spirit, and the bigger the constituency, the surer the determination.

I on the other hand hear her claim to the Spirit's leading as a report on the quality of the process leading to the convention's decision, and thus part of a rhetoric asking the wider communion to treat it with respect. To claim the Spirit's leading in such a matter is either an act of obedience or it is blasphemy. As I wrote previously, it ups the ante by appealing to God as a witness and judge. Watch this divine space...

By way of biblical illustration, what do you make of the apostolic pronouncement after the Jerusalem showdown? "It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us ..." (Acts 15:28). Is this simply equivalent to, "We are agreed on our decision, so we are confident that the Holy Spirit is leading us in this new direction", or is it something more like, "We are not only agreed but rather blown away by how we came to agree. For James, our most conservative elder, to change his mind on this issue, involved a transformational experience that we can only report as the leading of the same Spirit we received at Pentecost. This was far more than just us doing our own thing ..." and so on.

A report on extraordinary experience - is that what TEC is claiming? If not, they should lay off the Spirit rhetoric; but if so, we should treat them as those who stand trembling in the presence of God, awaiting further action from above.

Returning to Lambeth 1998 and its resolution 1.10. If the process of bible study and consultation behind the production and voting on that motion had been reported back in transformational terms by returning bishops, we should hold it in high regard, even if only as a temporary determination of the mind of God. What we got instead, was bishops returning with broken hearts, disillusioned by a violation of good process, not just disappointed with the result ... which is why the blessed Rowan was so determined to avoid majority voting in 2008. He does get some things very right.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
Am not disagreeing with "A report on extraordinary experience - is that what TEC is claiming? If not, they should lay off the Spirit rhetoric; but if so, we should treat them as those who stand trembling in the presence of God, awaiting further action from above."

A couple of brief observations: councils can err (as judged by God's Word written), but they can get it right - the 39A recognise that when affirming creeds and such like; some bishops came back from Lambeth 1998 heartbroken but, I suspect, not majority; in general terms we are talking about the nature of confirmation of claims to be led by the Spirit ... and my general point is simply that the more significant the claim the greater the need to check it out!

Howard Pilgrim said...

We seem to have very substantial agreement then, Peter, except for one little detail. I would prefer to amend your interpretation of the 39A formula to what I would take to be a classical Anglican hermeneutic: "Councils can err (as judged by God's Word written, interpreted in the light of reasoned reflections on experience, and taking due cognisance of those who have gone before us in reading the same scriptures)..."