Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Improve the Covenant!

The final statement of the 2nd All Africa Bishops Conference is published (H/T Thinking Anglicans). More than a Via Media offers an excellent reflection on it here.

I simply draw attention to two statements. One about the Covenant. The other about Anglican voices.

"5. Whereas we accept the rationale for an Anglican Covenant, we realise the need for further improvement of the Covenant in order to be an effective tool for unity and mutual accountability.

7. While we will always be prepared to listen to voices from other parts of the global Communion, it is pertinent that the rest of the world listens to the unique voice of the Churches in Africa. In this context, the Anglican Churches in Africa commit itself to a renewed engagement in global mission, recognising that in the 21st Century mission goes from ‘everywhere to anywhere.’ "

In other words, that final draft is not the final draft of a Covenant which is going to be agreed to by Africa. And the final final draft, if agreed to by Africa is unlikely to be agreeable to TEC. As well, the continued interchange of support, networking, and fellowship between African Anglican churches and ACNA and AMiA will continue.

Oh, and just in case anyone is wondering about the significance of Archbishop Bob Duncan being present at the conference, note this:

"Our meeting was honoured with the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Anglican Communion, The Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Dr. Rowan Williams; the Chairman of the Global South, the Most Reverend Dr John Chew (Primate of South East Asia) and the Most Rev Bob Duncan, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America."

Difficult to see this group of bishops heading to Lambeth 2018 without their colleague coming too ...

So I think we can expect some pretty serious discussion at the Primates Meeting in January about the Covenant. African drums are beating for change.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the road to the south

The CAPA meeting in Africa is over and various statements have been issued (see here, here, and here). One of the communiques is from the Primates of CAPA: their communique is now published courtesy David Virtue. Relating to the Communion I note, in particular, these paragraphs (with my italics):

"4. We were very happy and appreciated that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, accepted our invitation to attend the 2nd All Africa Bishop's Conference. We were encouraged by his word to us. We also appreciated the opportunity to engage face-to-face with him in an atmosphere of love and respect. We shared our hearts openly and with transparency, and we have come to understand the difficulties and the pressures he is facing. He also came to understand our position and how our mission is threatened by actions which have continued in certain provinces in the Communion. We therefore commit ourselves to continuously support and pray for him and for the future of our beloved Communion.

5. We were very saddened with the recent actions of The Episcopal Church in America who went ahead and consecrated Mary Glasspool last May 2010, in spite of the call for a moratorium(1) and all the warnings from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion and the 4th Encounter of the Global South.

This was a clear departure from the standard teaching of the Anglican Communion as stated in Lambeth Resolution 1.10. We are also concerned about similar progressive developments in Canada and in the U.K.

6. Being aware of the reluctance of those Instruments of Communion to follow through the recommendations of the Windsor Report(2) and taken by the Primates Meetings in Dromantine(3) and Dar es Salaam(4) we see the way ahead as follows:

A. In order to keep the ethos and tradition of the Anglican Communion in a credible way, it is obligatory of all Provinces to observe the agreed decisions and recommendations of the Windsor Report and the various communiqu├ęs of the past three Primates Meetings, especially Dar es Salaam in 2007. We as Primates of CAPA and the Global South are committed to honor such recommendations.

B. We are committed to meet more regularly as Global South Primates and take our responsibilities in regard to issues of Faith and Order.(5)

C. We will give special attention to sound theological education as we want to ensure that the future generations stand firm on the Word of God and faithfully follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

D. We are committed to network with orthodox Anglicans around the world, including Communion Partners in the USA and the Anglican Church in North America, in holistic mission and evangelism. Our aim is to advance the Kingdom of God especially in unreached areas." [End of citation].

Nothing new or unexpected here, save for one interesting detail re "the UK" being brought unambiguously into the ambit of concern, but an underlining of the following facts relevant to the future of the Communion:

First, a large section (a majority?) of the Communion's bishops continues to define 'orthodox Anglican' in terms which excludes most of TEC, possibly Canada, and now, possibly, the Anglican churches of the United Kingdom. Machinations on the Standing Committee of the AC will change nothing in this understanding.

Secondly, there is a reiteration of where orthodox Anglicanism is to be found in North America: 'the Communion partners in the USA and the Anglican Church in North America.' Again, a large section, if not a majority of the Communion views as thoroughly Anglican those whom TEC now views as thoroughly not Anglican enough to be part of the Communion. Is it merely a matter of time before the inclusion of ACNA in the 'beloved Communion' will come to a vote? Are the Global South primates biding their time: when they are sure of a majority on the matter in the relevant forum will they force this issue forward? (Admittedly the situation is complex: as David Virtue and others observe, two (Southern Africa, Central Africa) of twelve provinces represented at CAPA have dissociated themselves from an 'anti-TEC to the point of excluding them, pro-ACNA to the point of replacing TEC' line - see here - but this raises certain questions. Is the CAPA Primates Communique essentially also a Global South Primates' communique? (Global South is a much larger grouping than CAPA). What would the voting be if the motions were (a) include ACNA as a member alongside TEC? (b) include ACNA as a member, but exclude TEC as a member? The dissociating statement suggests any motion along the lines of (b) would fail, but (I suggest) leaves open the question of success for (a).

Thirdly, if nothing changes in the way the Communion does its business on 'Faith and Order', a sizeable section of the Communion will simply continue to meet, and 'more regularly', to do this business. Indeed, on this matter it will be 'the Global South primates' who take their 'responsibilities' seriously, that is, a larger section of the Communion than simply the African primates.

In the end it looks like the Communion will conform to the lead of the Global South or the Global South will evolve into the largest organised grouping of Anglicans around the globe.

Two roads are diverging in the wood, the thicket of Anglican controversy. Which one will churches such as my own travel along?

Incidentally, the conference was not all about Communion issues. Jan Butter tells us that the most pressing concerns addressed were human concerns in a continent full of troubling challenges.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Cranmer I Never Knew

Notwithstanding my professed conservatism on things Anglican, I have not known much about Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, other than the usual things: hero of the Reformation, martyr, English prose stylist par excellence, slightly wobbly at the end of his life on what he did/did not believe. But now I am getting up to speed with the aid of Diarmaid McCulloch's superb, and impressively dense yet well told story of his life. (Currently at the point where Henry is about to die). Readers here probably read MacCulloch years ago. Some thoughts from me might serve as revision for you.

First, I had not appreciated how complex, how uncertain, and how controversial the progress of the English Reformation was through the period of Henry VIII's and ++Cranmer's joint presidency over the Church of England. At times the pathway between being burnt for evangelicalism or being burnt for catholicism was very narrow indeed. Cranmer himself narrowly avoided execution prior to Henry VIII's death. One reflection is that if ++Rowan Williams has read this book too (surely he has), then he must sleep well at night. Like Cranmer he faces ever shifting shades of opinion, and the prospect that overnight the political landscape of Anglicanism will change dramatically. There is no new Archepiscopal territory Williams is exploring through these years ... and he does not have to worry about being burnt alive. He can even proudly walk in public with his wife!

Secondly, I had not realised how far Cranmer travelled in his own theological journey, how long he held onto certain convictions before changing them, and how many times those convictions changed significantly (especially on the meaning of the eucharist). There is a sharp reminder here that to be a 'Cranmerian Anglican' is best done with a full knowledge of the range of possible forms of being Anglican which could be described as 'Cranmerian', along with a need to have reasons for being the particular form of Cranmerian which one is, (i.e. other than 'if Cranmer believed it, it is good enough for me.' That only raises the question 'the Cranmer of which year?'). On the one hand, Cranmer's journey in theology is something of a licence for Anglicans to change their minds as time goes by and reasons for doing so come to hand. On the other hand, Cranmer's clarity of expression of his theology is potentially helpful, and may set him apart from other Anglican theologians: 'I follow Cranmer at point X because he clearly sets out why X is true. No one else does this so well as he.'

Thirdly, it is clear to me (now!) that there never was a golden era in Anglicanism when all Anglicans not only believed the same things, but did so joyfully and without nostalgia for a different day and age. In any endeavour to secure the imprint of truth upon a human society the ideal is that all should freely agree to the truth. Taking just the Henrician period of Cranmer's reforming archepiscopacy, the most obvious observation is that the battle for hearts and minds was not won by Cranmer and his evangelical fellowship of courtiers and clergymen. They tried. They preached. Some even gave their lives in the cause. But they did not win all to their side. Not hard to be reminded that in today's controversies in the Anglican Communion it is important to attempt to win hearts and minds if some kind of security of establishment of doctrine is to be achieved. Conversely, without that security, we should expect that a familiar pattern in Anglicanism will continue: one controversy after another, though hopefully without the burnings.

But Cranmer is no less a hero for my better knowledge of his life. He grasped the revelation offered him concerning justification through faith in Jesus Christ and stuck to it. A true evangelical, if ever there was one.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One or the other or both?

Can the Western Anglican churches of the Communion have their cake and eat it too? Kendall Harmon on T19 publishes this excerpt from a Riazat Butt Guardian report on the meeting of African bishops in Uganda:

'The archbishop of Uganda yesterday urged hundreds of African bishops to shake off their fears, shame and superficial dependency and re-evangelise the "ailing" churches of the west.

In a rallying cry to the biggest constituency of the Anglican Communion, the Most Rev Henry Orombi said it was time for Africans to "rise up and bring fresh life in the ailing global Anglicanism".

His call came on the same day that US Episcopalians published a guide on liturgical and ceremonial resources for clergy and same-sex couples.'

[CORRECTION: Riazat Butt has written erroneously here, as pointed out in a comment below by Mark Harris. The guide was published by the United Church of Christ. The connection to TEC is that Bishop Gene Robinson has written the foreword. But that does not make it a 'US Episcopalian publication.']

Nice juxtaposition of "ailing global Anglicanism" and "US Episcopalians published a guide ..."! When 400 bishops gather in Africa at such a meeting, the "ailing" description does not refer to the African (or Asian) part of global Anglicanism. It is meant to point to Western Anglican churches where we struggle with numbers that at best are not increasing, and aging profiles that are not decreasing for typical congregations. The "US Episcopalians published a guide ..." line in some minds is always about whether TEC (in particular) has caused its own ailing by wrong-headed moves, and other churches (such as my own ACANZP) are ailing because of similar wrong-headed moves. "Wrong-headed" of course being some kind of foolish, self-destructive embrace of progressive theology.

There are many reasons why Western churches, including Western Anglican churches are either in decline or treading water. Embrace of progressive theology is just one of those reasons. But there is a searching question here which does not readily go away: if we are interested in stemming decline, reversing decline, and generally not "ailing", can we both embrace progressive theology and strategies which lead to growth? Is it one or the other or both?

Back to the Guardian article. Look at the photo. Seated in the front row are the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop of TEC as the twin heads of the Communion's leading Western Anglican churches the Archbishop of ACNA. Now there is another interesting juxtaposition to consider ... in a dynamic future for healthy global Anglicanism, distinct from "official" Anglicanism via the Standing Committee (where TEC is healthily represented), will TEC play any significant role?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

That's the thing about prison, it does not change a man

I wonder if the NZ Herald writer intentionally, or accidentally wrote the following byline:

"Freed double murderer John Barlow says 15 years in prison hasn't changed him a bit."

Bit of a worry that. A double murderer, unchanged, now loose in the community ...

Meanwhile, Across the Tasman

Possibly in order to distract from the Australian rugby team being thrashed, yet again, by the All Blacks, a discussion is arising about the consistencies of the Australian Anglican legal approaches to certain questions of the day. Cunningly, the recent election in Australia, producing a hung parliament - somehow appropriate following the 'political execution' of Kevin Rudd - has also been contrived in order to distract from this imminent thrashing. The lengths some people will go to ... :)

Anyway, the Anglican discussion is well captured by David Ould and posted on Stand Firm. In essence it boils down to this question: has the 'Tribunal' level of examination of the question of women bishops taken a generous view of the wording of the canons of the Anglican Church of Australia to permit women assistant bishops*, but taken a miserly view of the wording of the canons to prohibit diaconal presidency at communion? (*I understand that no amount of expansive interpretation of the canons could support women diocesan bishops. All agree that this would require actual change to the canons by synodical process of the church).

Naturally, a dispassionate, overseas Australophile observer such as myself is intrigued by this discussion.

Intrigue (1): the Sydney Diocese, via its Synod, has also been very keen on lay presidency, but this does not seem to figure in the discussion. Why not? If lay presidency and diaconal presidency are being supported on the basis (as I understand it) that Scripture does not prohibit both and so neither should the canons of the church, why a concern that focuses only on diaconal presidency?

Intrigue (2): is the matter important to the Diocese of Sydney? It has been noticed on the blogosphere that the person fronting the Sydney case has been [Assistant] Bishop Glenn Davies, not Archbishop Peter Jensen himself. Perhaps one rather than the other is inconsequential. But is it at all possible that Archbishop Peter's credibility in the wider Communion needs him to be less rather than more associated with diaconal presidency? If so, is it possible that one day Sydney might 'get' the point that priestly presidency is Anglican, diaconal presidency is, well, something else?

Intrigue (3): Why the focus on the minutiae of canonical interpretation? Is there not a bigger theological picture here? Surely the two questions the Australian church should focus on, in a spirit of Anglican collegiality and communion, is whether (a) bishops being male, and (b) presidents at communion being priests or bishops is essential to being an Anglican church or not?

Still I may be misunderstanding things here. Including this fourth intrigue:

Intrigue (4): Is the Australian Anglican church one church made up of dioceses or a collection of dioceses which functions from time to time as one church?

Keen on the Communion as I am, and hopeful that one day we might become a worldwide church, even I have to recognise that if the answer to the question immediately above is the latter rather than the former, then the future unity of the Communion has a very, very long way to go, because, perhaps, it first has to start in Australia.

Perhaps if we let them win the next rugby test they will feel better about things and more open to change ... :)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Let's get this right

The ACI has made a helpful suggestion about the body which is key to the effectiveness of the Covenant, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. This is the introduction to their essay:

"As we have noted several times in recent months, the final text of the Anglican Covenant assigns important tasks defined in Section 4 to a committee designated the “Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion.” There is currently no committee in the Anglican Communion bearing that title or capable of performing those tasks. The ACC standing committee was briefly referred to by the Section 4 title, but that name was not given it by the ACC. In any case in July 2010 the standing committee of the new company intended to replace the former ACC, noting objections to the title, agreed that it would be known simply as the standing committee.

Moreover, the ACC committee cannot fulfill the role defined by the Covenant, which makes the Section 4 committee “responsible to” both the Primates’ Meeting and the ACC, in the case of the latter as it was defined by its former constitution. Under the ACC’s new corporate arrangement, the members of its standing committee now comprise the entire membership and management of the ACC for legal purposes. Nor is there any meaningful way in which that committee could be said to be responsible to the Primates’ Meeting as contemplated by the Covenant."

Read it all here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Apparently congratulations are in order ...

... a leading voice in the Anglican Communion is engaged. (H/T others ... I am the last to know these things!)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Anglican Voices Today

No time to write further this weekend on the gospel or Anglican or Christian unity and the Covenant ...

But others are writing, and I draw your attention to two very different, but very Anglican issues:

Just what is going on in the upper echelons of the Anglican Communion's governance and management? ACI continues their persistent, and so far largely unanswered questioning of the Anglican Communion Office and the process of changing the constitution of the ACC.

Just what is going on in the eucharist, as Anglicans understand it? Among many learned voices on the matter, Cranmer's continues to speak with profound insight and challenging wisdom. More than a via media offers a reflection on Cranmerian eucharistic theology here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Covenant Clarification, attempted

From a previous post a commenter has raised some questions about what I am trying to say via comments on a (now quite long) thread of comments ... I partly plead in my defence that I find 'comment' become somewhat rebellious when too much is written!


(1) Am I confusing two matters? "... you have two different threads running currently on your site. One is your passion to have a well-defined, distinctive Anglicanism with clearly defined boundaries of in and out all neat and tidy. An Anglicanism clearly distinct from other Christians. The other is your passion for a single, unified Christian church which includes all Christians regardless of current background. You may understand others, possibly without your agility, may struggle to hold this tension as you appear to do."

(2) Am I painting my opponents' position (re the Covenant) unfairly? "It does not help the discussion to keep moving one’s own position flexibly around and yet paint positions differing to your own moving one in words that they themselves might never consider using. Here the Covenant ceases being for you the opportunity to henceforth make Communion-wide decisions (which you claim we have done previously also – but I cannot find a single one) and now the Covenant “could play a powerful role in keeping focus on what being Anglican means”. The suggestion that those uncertain about the efficacy of the Covenant can’t articulate “what being Anglican means” is IMO grossly unfair. I think that the first three clauses of the proposed “Covenant” are quite a good brief summary. ... I think we have already been given enough, including God’s covenant, and the danger is that by adding more we will actually be diminishing."


(1) Yes I am trying to work forward to unity among all Christians. I think it would be a help on this journey if Anglicans became more united, and I think the Covenant could be a means to secure greater unity because taking the Covenant seriously forces us to think about what unites us and to consider changing what currently divides us. A united Anglican Communion could then work more effectively as an ecumenical agent - a distinctive role it has enjoyed in the past, but one for which we seem to have lost our way at this current time. The Covenant would not necessarily define an Anglicanism distinct from other Christians: it could help Anglicans to become more truly Christian! We keep forgetting that on one presenting matter, the holiness or otherwise of same-sex partnerships, some Anglicans hold a belief which is considerably at variance with most Christians!

(2) Yes I may have painted my opponents unfairly. Of course non-Covenant proponents can articulate what being Anglican means. But it is interesting that 'what being Anglican means' seems to vary from liberal or progressive opponents of the Covenant to conservative opponents of the Covenant. One point of the Covenant is that it could - if we get behind it, but not if we do not - help 'what being an Anglican means' to be something we are united on, rather than something we are not (even) united on.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

There is one gospel, only one, because there is only one Jesus Christ

The gospel is about Jesus Christ. It is both the message Christ proclaims and the message which proclaims Christ. It is one message because there is only one Christ, not two or three or more. Only one Christ has spoken to us, and only one Christ has died on the cross and risen again for our sakes. The fact of Christian disunity is at variance with the uniqueness of Christ and of his gospel. The deconstruction of disunity and reconstruction of Christian unity is urgently required as testimony to the uniqueness of Christ and the singularity of the gospel. Plaintive cries about the value of diversity in Christianity and the celebration of difference between Christians can hide a lack of understanding about the calling of those who claim to be followers of Christ, those named Christians after the one Christ: the calling is not to be divided but to be one body.

'There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.' (Ephesians 4:4-6).

With respect to the Anglican Communion, and to individual member churches of the Communion, we are a very long way from appreciating these simple facts of the Christian faith. For a long time now we have had bishops and theologians who have shied away from public commitment to the centrality and uniqueness of Christ. At all levels of the church we have had a rising chorus of affirmation of 'diversity' unchecked by any control through unequivocal commitment to one gospel and one Lord Jesus Christ. Further, we have utterly failed to work resolutely towards Anglican means of ensuring that our Communion together is based upon one gospel and one Christ. Mention the possibility of a doctrinal commission with teeth, propose a Covenant which could reinforce and renew our understanding of unity in truth with binding and loosing powers in respect of disunity, then stand back and wait, for about a second, for outrage and scorn (at worst) or doubt and objections (at best). We are in a fool's paradise if we think that we can renew our communion together while we have 'Instruments of Communion' that are not co-ordinate with each other, and the greatest energy of some of our most intelligent theologians and bishops is spent on pointing out all the reasons why we should not have a Covenant, let alone an Anglican magisterium!

Thanks to an American correspondent, this post (which is far from the final one in this series!) can conclude with this fine essay on the one gospel by Williams Porcher Du Bose:

"My own firm conviction is that the variant conceptions of the Gospel in the New Testament, so far from being different gospels, are consistent and mutually completive aspects of the one and only Gospel. In proportion as we conceive the Gospel of God in its entirety and in its immensity, in just that degree do all scriptural, as well as all truly Christian and catholic, statements of it, no matter how partial and seemingly contradictory in themselves, fall into their proper places and serve to magnify the greatness and harmony of the whole. If the Gospel is divine at all, it is the divinest fact of the universe, the final cause of creation, the end for which all else exists. Mistake any one fragment or aspect of it for the whole, and all the other fragments and aspects will be involved in confused and hopeless contention with it for the usurped position. Let the whole stand out for itself in its complete proportions, and every part falls of itself into its proper place, and is confirmed and supported in it by every other part. . . .

I have recognized the fact that even within the narrower limits of the Gospels which give us our record of the Gospel, there are not only possible but actual diverse impressions of what the Gospel is; and that not only is full justice due to each such impression, taken by itself and for its own sake, but that the very fullest justice to each is the only way of arriving at the truth of all, or at the truth of the whole of which they are the complementary and necessary parts. The one great lesson that must forerun and make ready the Christian unity of the future is this: that contraries do not necessarily contradict, nor need opposites always oppose. What we want is not to surrender or abolish our differences, but to unite and compose them. We need the truth of every variant opinion and the light from every opposite point of view. The least fragment is right in so far as it stands for a part of the truth. It is wrong only when, as so often, it elevates into a ground of division from the other fragments just that which in reality fits it to unite with and supplement them. . . .
So let us agree to disagree, if conscientiously we must, in all our manifold differences; and, bringing all our differences together, let us see if they are not wiser than we, and if they cannot and will not of themselves find agreement in a unity that is higher and vaster than we.

From the preface to The Gospel in the Gospels by William Porcher Du Bose (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908)".

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Back to the Gospel

Resuming some thinking about the Gospel as the core message of the Christian faith.

So far:

- the gospel is something true with grave consequences.

- the gospel is not:

(1) One thing for one people group, or one era in history, and another for a different group or era.
(2) A message for some (those disposed to live by it) but not for others (those disinterested in it). Another way of putting this: the gospel is not the charter or constitution of a hobby group or club called 'church'.

(3) A human proposal up for debate because, like all human proposals it has flaws, needs revising for the needs of the day, etc.

Putting these observations together, the gospel is truth revealed from God for every human being in every generation which has grave consequences.

But what is the content of this non-trivial truth? What does it contain that cannot be deduced from looking around the world and out into the universe? What makes it truth with grave consequences?

The search for answers to these questions is complicated when we read the New Testament. On the face of it the answers we find if we confine our reading to the Gospel according to the four writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are different to the answers yielded if we confined our reading to the epistles of Paul. (To an extent this observation explains some significant differences about the gospel between churches through the ages). The challenge is to find the one gospel in the midst of its diverse expressions in the New Testament.

Here I offer just one proposal about the content of the gospel: it is about Jesus Christ.

More soon ... but I may be distracted, as in the previous posts, by beautiful books and seductive sojourns into Communion politics!

Monday, August 16, 2010


From Hendrickson's Advertisement:

"The Codex was hand-written in Greek by fourth-century scribes, only 300 years after the time of the New Testament, making it one of the earliest and most reliable witnesses to the biblical text. It contained the Old and New Testaments in Greek, the text adopted by early Greek-speaking Christians.

The Codex was preserved for centuries at the monastery of St. Catherine’s, Mount Sinai, until Constantin von Tischendorf drew worldwide attention and notoriety to it in 1844. In the years following, its pages were divided and dispersed. Now, over 160 years later, after an extraordinary and historic collaborative effort by the British Library, the National Library of Russia, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Leipzig University Library, and Hendrickson Publishers, all the extant pages of Codex Sinaiticus have been brought together in print form to a worldwide audience in this handsomely bound, one-of-a kind, facsimile edition.

Drawing on the expertise of leading scholars, conservators, and curators, and painstakingly photographed using the latest high-quality digital technology and a careful imaging process, this facsimile provides a life-like view of the original pages of the Codex. The delicate beauty of this important text—its parchment, inks, and scars, all visible in incredible detail—allows the fascinating textual history of the Christian Bible to come alive in a fresh, meaningful way. The generous trim size, protective cloth covering, and slipcase make this facsimile an attractive part of any biblical scholar’s library. Accompanied by a 32-page booklet, the Codex would be a stunning addition to a church, university, or seminary library, as well as to a museum or personal collection.

What texts can I find in the Codex Sinaiticus?

As it survives today, Codex Sinaiticus comprises just over 400 large leaves of prepared animal skin, each of which measures (13.6 inches) wide by 380mm (15 inches) high. On these parchment leaves is written around half of the Old Testament and Apocrypha (the Septuagint), the whole of the New Testament, and two early Christian texts not found in modern Bibles. Most of the first part of the manuscript (containing most of the so-called historical books, from Genesis to 1 Chronicles) is now missing and presumed to be lost. .
The Septuagint includes books which many Protestant Christian denominations place in the Apocrypha. Those present in the surviving part of the Septuagint in Codex Sinaiticus are 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, 1 & 4 Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach. .

The number of the books in the New Testament in Codex Sinaiticus is the same as that in modern Bibles in the West, but the order is different. The Letter to the Hebrews is placed after Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians, and the Acts of the Apostles between the Pastoral and Catholic Epistles. .

The two other early Christian texts are an Epistle by an unknown writer claiming to be the Apostle Barnabas, and ‘The Shepherd’, written by the early second-century Roman writer, Hermas."

We tend to lust after the things we want but cannot have. Hendrickson's Advertisement tells me that there are seven hundred and ninety-nine reasons why neither I nor the theological institute I work for are likely to get our hands on this masterpiece.

When will Kiwi Anglicans find out what advice has been given to us about the Covenant?

Readers may recall from our General Synod in May that legal advice was to be sought from the Communion as to the compatibility between the Covenant and the ACC Constitution:

"4. Requests the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion to obtain an opinion from the Legal Advisor to the Anglican Consultative Council and from the Chancellors and Legal Advisors Committee of this church regarding the appropriateness of the provisions of Clause 4.2.8 of the proposed Covenant in relation to decisions regarding membership of the Anglican Consultative Council;"

According to the ACI and a recent posting there regarding continuing questions, seemingly without adequate answers, about the legal status of the Standing Committee of the Communion, this is where we are at:

"we note that our original paper dealt in large part with the possible incompatibility of the new Articles with the Anglican Covenant now being considered by the member churches. Canon Rees does not even mention the Covenant in his interview, notwithstanding the fact that he has just rendered legal advice to the standing committee in response to a question raised by the province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia suggesting that the Covenant and ACC constitution are not compatible. This advice has not been made public even as the Covenant is being considered for adoption by the member churches. How can they make an informed decision on adoption when this issue has been addressed by the legal advisor but not all the churches have been informed of the answer?" [my italics]

So, where is that advice and when will we, the hoi polloi of ACANZP find out?

Now, to the north-west of Down Under, Michael Poon joins with ACI in asking questions of Canon Rees. And offers this tantalising comment (noticed on Stand Firm):

"The controversy on the new ACC Constitution may well derail the already difficult processes in the adoption of the Anglican Communion Covenant. Churches in the southern continents may well be tempted to look for more radical alternatives for a more permanent solution to recent Anglican disputes." [my italics]

The thing about Anglicans is that, in the end, we do not like sectarianism in our midst. We crave 'communion'. And we prefer it to be on satisfactory terms!

Sharpen up, team ACO!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The gospel is truth

From an unexpected quarter comes some help in reflecting on the question, 'What is the gospel?'

A couple of days ago the biggest and most popular ski-field in my province of Canterbury, Mt Hutt, was hit by 200km/h winds and not only had to stop skiing but also close down its access road, resulting in 900 or so people spending an unexpected sleepover in the ski-field cafe! Now the inquest begins, with the question, Given the weather forecast, should the ski-field have opened at all that day?

"It was a big call to close the skifield on a weather forecast as they often proved wrong, [Mt Hutt Ski Area manager Dave Wilson] said.

"We've seen them predict 120kmh winds and it gets to 70, and when you're sitting there in the morning and saying they're predicting that but it's calm now, we could be closing a lot more if we took it as absolute gospel," he said.

MetService chief forecaster Peter Kreft said a severe-gale forecast was the strongest wind level and indicated mean wind speeds of at least 90kmh."

Absolute gospel!

Here gospel is a synonym for 'truth', but it is used in a context of making an important decision with grave consequences (possible financial loss, skier frustration, risk to life). The speaker would not have talked about 'absolute gospel' if asked whether it was true that 2+2=4 or that a cup of coffee in the skifield cafe costs $4.

What is the gospel? The development of the English language has preserved an important part of the answer: the gospel is something true with grave consequences. A significant, non-trivial truth! Even in a post-modern world, 'gospel' naturally draws to its side the word 'absolute.'

More soon ...

Friday, August 13, 2010


I use 'chicanery' here in the motor-racing sense of trying to get from A to B by making some deft steering manouvres. This is what Right Reverend Dr Glenn Davies appears to have attempted in presenting the Sydney case for the legality of its synodical decision to authorise diaconal and lay presidency. Smart racing drivers do not drive into obstacles but around them so it is interesting to read that +Glenn offered no arguments in favour of lay presidency. But his attempts to justify diaconal presidency involve chicane driving around the words 'administration' and 'assist'. But to no avail. The Australian Anglican church has waved the red flag.

You can read about it briefly here at Thinking Anglicans (and then links to news media reports), read the Tribunal's report here, or read all the Tribunal's reports here.

What the gospel is not!

Trying to answer the question 'what is the gospel?', it may be useful to first set down what the gospel is not. But before that, a brief acknowledgement that what the gospel is involves some diversity of expression (as we will see in future posts). Then, a possibly helpful analogy to get us going.

Take the concept of 'health'. Some diversity of expression of 'health' is reasonable. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, for instance, we have found it useful to understand 'health' for Maori and 'health' for Pakeha (European-background Kiwis) in different ways with consequences for different approaches to diagnosis and treatment. To give a one example, the communal aspect of Maori culture means that the presence of whanau (extended family) with a patient in hospital, to the extent of several people sleeping near the patient each night, can be vital to recovery. But these differences should not obscure the fact that a cancer growing inside a Maori body is the same as a cancer growing inside a Pakeha body, and if radiotherapy will treat the cancer in one, it will treat it in the other. So some difference of expression of 'health' between Maori and Pakeha is reasonable, but what is not reasonable is to say that one with cancer is 'healthy' and one without cancer is 'healthy'. What 'health' is not is that health means one thing to one person and another thing to another.

So, to what the gospel is not. Briefly, and without citation and argument. I hope things are fairly obvious here!

The gospel is not:

(1) One thing for one people group, or one era in history, and another for a different group or era.

(2) A message for some (those disposed to live by it) but not for others (those disinterested in it). Another way of putting this: the gospel is not the charter or constitution of a hobby group or club called 'church'.

(3) A human proposal up for debate because, like all human proposals it has flaws, needs revising for the needs of the day, etc.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What is the gospel?

Who needs a Stalin or Pol Pot to destroy Christianity when apparently it can do so of its own accord?

"And now congregation, put your hands together and give thanks, for I come bearing Good News. My country, Britain, is now the most irreligious country on earth. This island has shed superstition faster and more completely than anywhere else. Some 63 percent of us are non-believers, according to a 2006 Guardian/ICM poll, while 82 percent say religion is a cause of harmful division. Now, let us stand and sing our new national hymn: Jerusalem was dismantled here/ in England's green and pleasant land.

How did it happen? For centuries, religion was insulated from criticism in Britain. First its opponents were burned, then jailed, then shunned. But once there was a free marketplace of ideas, once people could finally hear both the religious arguments and the rationalist criticisms of them, the religious lost the British people. Their case was too weak, their opposition to divorce and abortion and gay people too cruel, their evidence for their claims non-existent. Once they had to rely on persuasion rather than intimidation, the story of British Christianity came to an end."

Johann Hari's diatribe continues in similar vein here, under the heading "The slow, whining death of British Christianity."

There is, of course, great nonsense at work in the citation above. To say, without qualification, "For centuries, religion was insulated from criticism in Britain. First its opponents were burned, then jailed, then shunned," is to overlook the centuries when opponents of Christianity were converted to Christianity, as well as to overlook the centuries when the British people widely embraced Christianity (but had trouble, for about one century, coping with internal dissent and difference without resorting to bonfires). Then there is nonsense at work in these sentences:

"Their case was too weak, their opposition to divorce and abortion and gay people too cruel, their evidence for their claims non-existent. Once they had to rely on persuasion rather than intimidation, the story of British Christianity came to an end."

I suggest it is far from clear that "opposition to divorce and abortion and gay people" has contributed much to the "story of British Christianity" coming to "an end." Nor is it accurate to pit "persuasion" against "intimidation" as the only dynamics at work in the public face of Christianity in British society over the last few centuries. When the intimidation of the 16th and 17th centuries ended, the story of British Christianity did not come to an end. For starters, it had some vigorous new life in it - Methodism, evangelical revival, the Oxford Movement, the Alpha Course - the last mentioned reminding us that the story is far from over!

Having got that off my chest, I acknowledge that mixed in with the nonsense is a telling point. That point is the ebbing away of belief in the existence of God among British (and Western) people. Almost certainly contributing, since the Enlightenment, has been a perception that we have a "weak case" and "non-existent evidence."

Also contributing, I suggest, has been the confusion we have sown in people's minds by being divided churches. I wonder how many people have wondered, "If Methodists think Anglicans are wrong who think Roman Catholics are wrong who think Pentecostals are wrong ... perhaps they are all wrong!" But those divisions have also reflected our uncertainty in Western Christianity about what the gospel is. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, but has God's power been inhibited in the world by uncertain notes being struck in the proclamation of the gospel? If Christianity is weak then chances are that we have failed to proclaim the gospel with the vitality, urgency, and persuasiveness that in previous times has made Christianity strong.

What is the gospel?

That is the great question Western Christianity needs to focus on in the 21st century. An extremely modest contribution by me will be a few posts over the next period which engage with the question.

Back to Hari. He concludes his diatribe with these words:

"As their dusty Churches crumble because nobody wants to go there, the few remaining Christians in Britain will only become more angry and uncomprehending. Let them. We can't stop [sic, I think he means "let"] this hysterical toy-tossing stop us from turning our country into a secular democracy where everyone has the same rights, and nobody is granted special rights just because they claim their ideas come from an invisible supernatural being. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Holy Lamb of God to carve into kebabs - it's our new national dish. Amen, and hallelujah."

Since we are talking about British Christianity and secular democracy in Britain, it is astounding that he should imply here that Christianity as privileged by legislation is the last barrier to the imminent triumphant establishment of secular democracy in every corner and layer of British society. Reference to "kebabs" might have alerted him to the presence of another strong religious force resistant to that triumph which he will have to deal with! I cannot see Islam "crumbling" anytime soon in Britain.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ad Lucem: the Future of St John's College, Auckland

All education is an exercise in seeking light - knowledge, insight, enlightenment - and theological education and ministry training is no different an exercise. The future of education is always a moving from the relative darkness of the present to the light of the future. In certain ways our church's oldest and best endowed residential theological college, St John's College, is in a shadowy place, having been deemed by our General Synod to be inadequately functioning in governance and management. But its future is 'ad lucem' with new governance and management structures being put in place. Today I believe is the day when the new Commissioner of our residential theological college, Gail Thompson, begins her duties. [Later: a profile is published here in Anglican Taonga]. Were she to talk to me, what would I say to her? Here are five things.

(1) The single most important decision any college of education can make is the appointment of a principal. Gail Thompson knows this already as she has a strong and distinguished background in secondary school principalship (including, most recently, running schools which have fallen on hard times). But I would underline the importance of General Synod's decision in May to bring to an end the dysfunctionality of trying to run our college with three principals and I would press upon her, should it not already be clear, that the single priority of her time between now and General Synod in 2012 is to model with excellence a single principalship of the College. We need our church to be united in agreeing to move from a Commissioner leading the College to appointing a single principal to lead the College beyond 2012.

(2) Notwithstanding any messages our church may have given the College over preceding years about what it wants from the College, what the College most needs to achieve is outstanding graduates who have been well-educated for Anglican ministry and mission. Useful though it has been for St John's College in certain individuals' lives to be a dormitory so they can pursue studies or training in other professions, the one thing which distinguishes St John's College from the multitude of educational institutions which dot our landscape is the opportunity it provides for an outstanding and well-supported education for Anglican ministry and mission. There should not be one residential scholarship at St John's College which is not focused on gaining education and training for ministry and mission.

(3) In relation to (2) the question needs to be asked with vigour and frankness, What will it take for St John's College to be recognised throughout our church as the premium college for ministry and mission education? Or, put in a different way, What will it take for bishops in our church to be beating on the Commissioner's door demanding that the College take their prospective students, only to be told that there is a waiting list for places? The building blocks are already being put in place for a positive answer to these questions, but more needs to be done. Hence (4) and (5).

(4) There is an urgent need for a communications strategy for St John's College. Ad lucem, remember! Too many Anglicans outside of Auckland (perhaps inside as well!) are in the dark about what is happening at the College and, worse, think they know what is happening at the College. Except what they think is happening, and cheerfully tell others is happening is, actually, what was happening two, five or ten years ago. But to be fair to them, when there is no regular newsletter from the College to its alumni, when there is no particular effort made to promote the College or to disseminate news about the College (had you heard about the Commissioner's appointment before reading it here?), then how would anyone know accurately what is happening at the College? Good things are happening at the College, great things are around the corner ... but our church needs to know this.

(5) Stay focused on offering an excellent theological education (via B. Theol. studies available right now at SJC) and an outstanding ministry and mission training programme (via the Anglican Studies programme available right now at SJC). But ask what it will take to draw a long line of applicants to want to enrol for these opportunities (in line with (3) above). Explore how staffing might be developed which excites and inspires future student enrolments: there have been significant retirements in recent years so the College has potential to appoint staff in areas of biblical studies, Christian thought and history, and aspects of ministry training. Speaking of the last of those, some think preaching in our church is pretty dire. What if the College were to appoint a 'Director of Preaching' of such calibre and stature that we in the dioceses without fail sent our budding preachers to learn from this person? And, while I am at it, I suggest thinking creatively about possible appointments. Perhaps (because of the way various things are structured about B. Theol. education), there is no great room for appointing a teaching member of staff in (say, because lack thereof is often lamented) systematic theology, but why not appoint a researching member of staff. One day the Archbishop of Canterbury will retire. A change of scene as Research Professor of Theology at St John's College might do him, and us, good. I can guarantee some keen doctoral students lining him up for supervision!!

So, one final point, communicate well with the St John's College Trust Board. They finance the College to a certain budgeted point each year. But that point can be broken. It has often been said that the Board will fund worthwhile, well-justified theological education and ministry training at the College. Now may be the time to explore the openness of the Board to funding a new vision for St. John's.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Do we want to be in the church we wish it could be?

Not much going on in my mind right now. But John Richardson has been doing some thinking about his troubled Church of England and the two 'parties' within it most affected by the consequences of imminent legislation. An excerpt from the whole which is here:

"The Catholic movement did not get where it did by waiting for the Church to enact legislation to provide what it wanted. Yet today it has four dedicated bishops and a dozen or so sympathizers, hundreds of clergy, a multitude of buildings and a host of people. Why, then, is it so much on the back foot?

Now for the Evangelicals. Our problem is simply this: many of us don’t really want to be Church of England, and it shows. As a result, we’ve never organized ourselves to be an effective force within the institution. Instead, we’ve laughed at bishops and ploughed our own individual parish furrows. We’ve never had a vision for the Church of England, because we’ve never really had heart for it. Indeed, for some of us, the prospect of ‘ejection’ is greeted not with gloom but elation, confirming as it does all our prejudices."
A vision for one's church? Now there is a thought! We have a lot of emphasis (in my experience) on vision for one's own local church. Want to grow your church, o vicar? First of all, get a vision, speak it out and make it happen ... but that is always about the parish, scarcely about the diocese, let alone the whole shebang. John Richardson's challenge is to 'think big.'
It is not as though far away Down Under we have no need of that big encompassing vision ...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Baptism before eucharist: the table is not open to the unbaptised?

A strong line of support for baptism of infants (of believing parents) in Anglican theology has involved covenantal theology in which some analogy is drawn between circumcision and baptism.

Thus I find it interesting to read this text:

"If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it." (Exodux 12:48, italics not original).

Just saying ... (to those here and elsewhere in the Communion who advocate 'open table' welcome to the unbaptized to share in the eucharist).

Unity in the gospel: actually organization, practise, and doctrine matter

Picking up on a some comments made to my previous post, I suggest that unity in the gospel in line with Jesus' prayer in John 17 requires organizational unity, commonality in practice, as well as in doctrine. That we settle for less in most ecumenical discussions is understandable: our allegiances are so strong. But should we settle for less when Jesus himself did not? Should we accept the flawed understandings, to say nothing of unredeemed behaviour in the church which has both led to and sustained our divisions? If we do, it is not credible that we can claim to be living worthily of the gospel or walking in the way of Christ. 'There is one body ...'!

As noted below, it is true that substantial unity between Christians can be shared across denominations (e.g. evangelicals working together in common mission) and within a denomination in which orthodoxy and heterodoxy (e.g. Arianism) mingle. I am all for finding and working with as substantial unity between Christians as can reasonably be found; and I myself have enjoyed hugely and profited immensely from shared unity across denominations, and within my own theologically diverse Anglican church.

But I am not naive about limits to such unity. Evangelicals, for example, working together evangelistically often have to negotiate tricky issues around what happens to converts when 'converts' includes baptised-as-infants persons coming to 'adult faith': evangelical Baptists and evangelical Anglicans take different views on whether or not such conversions should be followed up with baptism! Within Anglican churches Arians and non-Arians mostly get on fine ... until, say, liturgical revision comes up and Arian proposals to sideline the creeds, or to rewrite them  get short shrift from a church which remembers it is constitutionally orthodox and not Arian!

Or, to take another example, relating to organization of churches, a lot of very fruitful church ministry and mission takes place ecumenically across denominations, including formal joint or co-operative churches (typically in Aotearoa New Zealand, in some combination of two or more of Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist churches). Excellent. But push on further in deepening that unity ... we find, again and again, that Anglican commitment to episcopacy through an ordained-for-the-rest-of-their-lives individual is a point of division from churches which understand oversight differently (e.g., as I have had it explained to me, the Presbyterian concept of the presbytery as a shared, conciliar episcopacy).

I appreciate, as I have tried to note in posts below, that doctrinal agreement via a 'lists' approach is unlikely to enhance unity. But that does not mean that doctrinal agreement is not important for Christian unity. Regaining unity among churches currently divided by baptism, eucharist, and the ordering of ministry necessarily involves doctrinal agreement. If it is not about agreeing to 'lists' then I suggest it is about refinding together what Christ intended for his church in respect of baptism, eucharist and ordering of ministry.

I readily appreciate that Jesus looking upon his church rejoices at all expressions of unity between Christians. I do not believe that the Spirit of Jesus working in us is satisfied with the present situation. I am raising through these posts the question whether even the most ecumenically minded among us is willing to settle for an understanding of unity which falls short of Jesus' own understanding as expressed in John 17 and reinforced through the epistles. 'There is one body ...'.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Unity in the gospel: it is not about lists!

A helpful set of questions re unity has been posed by my friend and colleague, Bosco Peters:

"Is it just possible that it is the attempt to list off, in ever tighter "detail" "beliefs" rather than living the way Jesus lived that inevitably leads to ever greater division and has always done so? And that, hence, the search for lists of agreed beliefs is not going to lead to unity?"

I suggest, in response, that it is not difficult to answer both questions affirmatively while acknowledging a further question lies within the citation: what does it mean to live the way Jesus lived?

It is not just that we need to quickly set aside a whole lot of things that Jesus did which no serious follower of Jesus thinks we need to do (live as a first century Jew re religious practices; live as a first century Palestinian re cultural mores; undergo the baptism of John; only celebrate eucharist once in a  lifetime), but also that we are faced with (at least) two things to ponder carefully.

First, doctrine has mattered to followers of Jesus at certain points in Christian history in which difference has not been about 'lists'. Arians, for example, were serious, devoted followers of Jesus. But something in the following was troubling to the point of dividing rather than unifying. (As I understand it) Arians would not follow the orthodox to the throne of God and worship the Son as one with the Father. Or, to take a more recent example, Mormons are 'latter day saint' followers of Jesus, but something in their following of Jesus is troubling to orthodox Christian followers of Jesus, and so we are not united by merely following Jesus together.

Secondly, doctrine should matter to followers of Jesus in at least this sense: doctrine is about teaching and teaching was what Jesus did! Far from 'doctrine' being pitted against or simply distinct from 'following Jesus', we should ask how doctrine serves and supports our following of Jesus because it lays out and clarifies what Jesus taught (both directly in his lifetime and through the Spirit of Jesus working in the apostles beyond his resurrection). Eucharistic and baptismal doctrine, for example, should deepen our understanding of both Jesus' commands to 'do this' and to 'baptise' and of the support baptism and eucharist provide for our life in Christ. Ecclesiology - as great a dividing set of doctrines as any!! - essentially sets out what it means to be followers of Jesus together.

Well, much more could be said here. My present theme is 'unity'. My point here is that if doctrine as conceived in this church and in that one is dividing us, rather than uniting us as followers of Jesus, then it is very likely that we have developed an understanding of doctrine in relation to following Jesus which is itself divided from discipleship. A root and branch reform of doctrine which ties doctrine to discipleship so that doctrine serves our living like Jesus would greatly assist our reunion as Christians.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Who said the bishop is not the boss?

Miraculously made ill? An atheist who believes in miracles?

For overseas readers: we are having a bit of a contretemps in our main opposition party, whereby one MP (Chris Carter) has told the world (well, us in Kiwiland) that the leader of his party (Phil Goff) is not up to the task of leading his party to victory in the next election. Carter has been expelled from the parliamentary caucus and is under threat of expulsion from membership of the party. In the last day or so he has declared himself to be 'unwell.' Now our Prime Minister - like his Ozzie counterpart, an atheist - has made a few comments, including the pronouncement of a miracle:

"Key said the bid for sick leave was "a bit remarkable".

"Here's Chris Carter, he's told the truth about his leader and now he's in the sick bin for two months," Key said.

"He didn't look very sick to me last week. He looked fairly exercised about the fact that he didn't think Phil Goff could win an election, but he didn't look terribly sick."

Key joked that Carter should have to provide a doctor's certificate - something proposed legislation would require of ordinary Kiwi workers who take three days of sick leave.
"He's going to have to tell the New Zealand public that he genuinely believes that he is sick," Key said.

"He was asked that question last week, and he said no. He said he was concerned about the Labour Party and he was concerned about his leader. Miraculously, that's changed."
Key said he understood Labour was having great difficulty trying to expel Carter from the party and putting him on sick leave was "a way through that". " (From Stuff).

Whether Carter is sick or not I leave to the High Priests and Shamans of our Political Life to diagnose. What I do know is that it is a bit odd that so much attention is being paid to his view that Phil Goff cannot lead Labour to victory in the next election. Every sane, intelligent voter knows that already. They also know that (1) it has nothing to do with who is leading the Labour Party, (2) there is no wonderful/amazing/ prodigious successor to Goff in the Labour Party, (3) it is not helped by twerpish behaviour by certain Labour MPs :)

A second challenge of unity in the gospel: being Christ-centred

Notwithstanding centuries old divisions between Christian churches, to say nothing of millenium old divisions between churches (filioque clause, monophysitism ...), Christian unity in the gospel is possible because Christ prayed for unity among his followers. It is inconceivable that Christ would pray for something not possible to occur. Further, the mature Pauline theological vision of the great purpose of God for the world is summed up in one word: unity.

'according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ, as a plant for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.' (Ephesians 1:9-10)

On the one hand, Christians are divided unnecessarily by conceiving the gospel too narrowly. When the New Testament itself offers at least five versions of the one gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul), our talk of what the gospel is in respect of its content and meaning needs to allow for Holy Spirit-led 'diversity-in-unity.'

On the other hand, Christians are divided unnecessarily by insufficient patience in theological exploration. Many apparent divisions among us represent differences in presuppositions, or understanding of history which, with more care about the starting point for our discussions could lead (should lead) to converging unity in doctrine. To an extent, recent discussions in the past half century or so between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, between Roman Catholics and Lutherans, and between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, along with some World Council of Churches work on 'faith and order' have demonstrated the possibility that with time and a fair wind of the Spirit, we could be one undivided church again. But it will not be in my lifetime!

I want to suggest here that we are also divided because we keep taking our eyes off Jesus Christ and lack focus on Christ as the centre of the gospel. It is a simple fact, for instance, that the church is the body of Christ. All of its ministry and mission flows from Christ. Any division among us over ministry order, sacrament, and the like, is misunderstanding about Christ in the life of the church: it is Christ's episcopacy, for example, and his sacrament. Not ours.

There is diversity in the body of Christ (as Paul teaches, 1 Corinthians 12), but no division, for Christ is not divided. Where there is division in the visible church then something is wrong. Responsible Christianity works to fix the wrong, not to tolerate it, nor to attempt to paper over the division.

(Incidentally, Preludium offers a very interesting post on a divisive issue of the day, women in episcopacy in the C of E. But both Mark Harris, and the men he takes to task, may be missing the point! The question is not whether democracy will prevail or should not prevail, but whether starting with Christ and remaining centred on Christ we discern in unity that his oversight of the church ('the great shepherd of the sheep') may be expressed on earth by any suitable person redeemed by Christ into his body). (Later: with a very good reply by Mark Harris to my point)!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The challenge of unity in the gospel

I subscribe to the view that true Christian unity, the unity Christ prayed for, according to John 17, is unity-in-truth, in particular the truth of the gospel. But the idea of 'unity in the gospel' is challenging in certain ways. For example, it troubles me personally when 'gospel' is so narrowly defined that 'unity in the gospel' means 'our church and just a few others' can work together because, not to put too fine a point on the matter, the others (including a host of churches everyone else in the church views as 'evangelical') do not share the same gospel as us. But I am equally troubled by that widespread Anglican phenomenon in which 'gospel' as a slogan is scrutinized for actual content and found to include multiple versions of the gospel, not all of which are coherent with one another! In short, one challenge of 'unity in the gospel' is defining what the gospel is (and is not).

I think this is 'the' challenge of unity in the gospel. There are some other challenges but I will leave them for another day.