Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The end is near but what will emerge is unknown

A few days before the first Christmas only a few knew anything was going to happen of note, and no one knew that the end of an era and beginning of an aeon would take place in Bethlehem. The end was near and what would emerge was unknown.

Reading a little about Luther last night reminds me that at another point in history, in the history of the church, one man made a huge difference. Not only did he trigger the European Reformation, he spawned a global church (these days, set of churches) bearing his name. In a lesser way, Cranmer became a towering figure in the change from the catholic Church of England to the catholic and reformed Church of England. Before each character arrived on the scene, the end was near for the old order, and what would emerge was unknown.

Are we at a similar point in the history of Anglicanism? The order we know is about to become the old order. New wine can only be contained in new wineskins. I raise this question - not the first time an Anglican has raised it since 2003 - because I am deeply troubled that I cannot raise the question of Anglican unity here without response that 'unity' is 'imposition of unity' or 'institutional unity' and we do not want that. To say we are 'Anglican' yet have no shared enthusiasm across the 'Communion' for Anglican 'unity' is, frankly, a travesty in respect of New Testament teaching on the church as the body of Christ. To raise barriers to progress to unity by, say, invoking the spectre of an unholy trinity of an Anglican version of papacy, curia, and magisterium is a failure to engage with the challenge of being one Anglican Communion. To continue to assert national sovereignty of member churches of the Communion is to work with half a loaf of ecclesiology: the other half is true interdependence in the body of Christ. To claim that there is only one church of Christ (true) and then offer nothing more than 'prayer' to progress the unity of the visible expressions in our world of that one church is - I think, but I think St Paul would agree -  a loss of nerve, vision, and will. My question is this: can we expect a Communion of churches to remain intact when it is both generally divided and even divided on what it means to be united? With no shared vision of our future together why would we expect to remain a Communion?

Here I am proposing that the present Anglican Communion, visibly falling apart, will continue to do so unless it finds the will to do otherwise. The end is near but what will emerge is unknown. My surmise is that a Luther or a Cranmer is going to arise in the next fifty years. There will be a new wineskin. Even my musing about 'Three Federations' a while ago was a musing about one old wineskin transmuting into three old wineskins.

Note carefully, however, the difference between Luther and Cranmer and the new wineskins that followed them in Germany and England. Before the former there was no Lutheran church and after there was. Before the latter there was one form of the Church of England and after (and after the temporary Mary Tudor reverse) there was another form of the English church. Will a new Anglican Communion emerge, or another church altogether?


Suem said...

Unity is very worthwhile. But there are different types of unity. Many dictatorships achieve unity (or conformity) because nobody is allowed to step out of line. That sort of unity is not the same as harmony.
Do you think the Covenant will bring harmony? Perhaps you think harmony is not achievable and conformity (on your terms, of course) is at least preferable for the greater good. Well, that is perhaps not unreasonable, but at least be honest about it.

You say you are "deeply troubled" that you cannot raise the question of unity without that unity being challenged. Is it only the presumption and "wrongness" of those who challenge you that you have troubled yourself about? Have you taken the time to trouble yourself about your own views? Have you troubled yourself whether we might have a point and the Covenant is actually about coercion dressed in a guise of harmony?
I hope you have.

Mark Harris said...

Peter, when you are on, you are on. Yes, it may very well be that something new will come of all this. When it does your careful concerns to honor the joint needs to clear out the rubbish and not clear out the essentials in this round as in round one (The Reformation) will not go unnoticed.

You and I see things very differently, in part because of where we are located, but als because (I thinks) of where we are located spiritually. And yet, with all the troubles we cause oneanother at times I do believe you have the desire I have, that whoever our kin may be down the road, they might look back at us and say that we tried in our times to keep the faith and that somehow collectively we were carriers of that faith for them.

We, I don't think, will be blessed to be part of a unifying generation, but perhaps some of the way in which we comport ourselves in this age in which there are many false starts and strange endings will be remembered.

Blessings to you and yours this Christmas. I look forward to the odd conflict and odd agreement with you in the year to come.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
I am looking forward to, and raising the question of a unity which is embraced not coerced; and of the consequences if we do not find a unity we embrace.

I certainly do not think 'conformity' on my or anyone else's terms is desirable. But I desire that we might all conform to the mind of Christ.

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Mark for your good wishes: may your Christmas be good in whatever way 'good' fits with your context, thinking more climatically than theologically! Here we are in a terrific spell of 30+ Celsius degree heat: the golden summer we think is ours of right Down Under (but often doesn't actually happen)!

I agree: it is not likely to be our privilege to be part of a unifying generation.

May such agreements be many in the new year!

Anonymous said...

"In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart: I have overcome the world."

We are not promised harmony or peace in this world, much as we long for it. How was it for Perpetua and Felicitas of Carthage, killed before a baying crowd? How was it for Thomas Cranmer? Even that patron saint of Evangelical Anglicanism, Charles Simeon, had a hard time of it, bringing the unpopular message of the Gospel to Cambridge. Has anything really changed?
Well, yes. The epicenter of world Christianity (and Anglicanism along with it) has moved south and east, while the 'North' (or 'West') has sloughed it off in large measure. This is what is emerging, and is already with us. The 500 year history of North Atlantic Anglicanism has had many glories. If it is passing into the night (as the 500 year old Church of North Africa has also done, though it gave us Perpetua and Felicitas, and Augustine and Cyprian), then that is a cause for great sadness; but as one of that number would have said, "the City of God remaineth".
Every blessing for this Nativity-tide on you and yours, and on your work as ministry educator. As Simeon would say: Promote holiness. Humble the sinner. Exalt the Saviour.
Al M.

Suem said...

I feel like I am always having a go at you, Peter. do seem to think that only you and those who think like you can possibly be blessed with an understanding the mind of Christ, and that in that confidence you have no problem in dealing out "consequences" as you term them.

It confirms my suspicion that the Covenant is about me having to believe and act as you would - or else!

Please tell me I'm wrong?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,

I may be right or wrong; ditto you!

I think an important question about the mind of Christ is 'am I willing to conform to it?' - a question every Christian should ask. Another important question is 'how do we know the mind of Christ?' The first question is prior to the second, and I think the first question should be answered without anxiety about the answer to the second question.

If we (and all Anglicans) are agreed on an affirmative answer to the first question, then we move to the second question. On the basis of present differences among us, that question is difficult to reach an agreed answer on. But three things strike me.

First, it is worth pressing forward to find agreement. If Christ exists and is present among us by his Spirit, we could expect to reach agreement! (If we cannot, perhaps he has left the building!)

Secondly, it is a possibility that one who thinks they are 'right' at present and the other whom the first thinks is 'wrong' are both limited in their understanding: it may take a future generation to find the synthesis which represents Christ's mind.

Thirdly, it is difficult to conceive of the mind of Christ being contradictory. On some matters there is no possibility of a synthetic truth emerging from two antitheses (e.g. if you claim 1+1=2 and I claim 1+1=3 there is no synthesis whereby 1+1=2.5. You are right, I am wrong. Forever!)

So in this present situation, seeking the mind of Christ: we might both be missing the emerging synthesis; or one and only one of us understands the mind of Christ.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Al for your greetings and affirmations.

The North African church is always a sobering reminder that while God builds the church, no guarantees are offered individual churches or particular regional churches. (One might also think of NT churches in Ephesus etc ...)

Stand firm!

Suem said...

I personally think Christ is more interested in how we treat each other than in the specifics of what we believe. No, I am not saying that belief does not matter at all.

I know people who think homosexual practice is wrong, but I know that they grasp "the mind of Christ" because I see this through their conduct to others. Nobody can claim a definitive understanding of the mind of Christ anyway!

I personally think that to fight each other over specific issues (women priests, divorce and remarriage, prayer to saints, sexuality) and insist we all agree about agreeing that we have the "mind of Christ" before we can be in communion is actually rather far from the mind of Christ anyway!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
When you put things that way I scarcely disagree with you and would hope other Anglicans see things similarly. Yet the sliver of disagreement between us at this point is important. I put it this way: some disagreements matter between Christians and affect our fellowship around the Word and Sacrament. I use 'Word and Sacrament' deliberately, because I think the matter is not just about whether I will take communion with another person but also about whether I would invite them to preach.

The question then is what character of disagreement affects fellowship. Take the question of ordaining women. I can understand someone who says "I can be in fellowship with the person who thinks women should be ordained priests and bishops, but I cannot be in fellowship with a presiding woman priest (because I do not think a valid eucharist is taking place)." Further that person may be full of grace even as they live out their convictions, so it may not be a 'black mark' against them that they are unwilling to share in the eucharist.

On the Anglican Communion front, and, e.g. Primates not sharing in communion with one another, I can understand those who cannot see any difference between them mattering so much that communion should be impaired; but I understand those primates who think the differences matter. (Whether I share those differences is not material to the future of the Communion, what is material is whether we are willing to encourage, support and strive with (e.g.) the Primates to refind unity in Word and Sacrament.

Suem said...

Hi Peter,
I hardly think we disagree on any of that. If someone cannot take communion from a woman bishop (or a gay bishop) nor invite them to preach, well so be it. I want to see a flexibility in belief and conscience within reason. But to wish to bring "relational consequences" to another church or province because they allow for (openly) gay bishops or female bishops seems to me wrong.

Anyhow, hope you have a happy and blessed Christmas.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Suem! Merry Christmas :)

Anonymous said...

" wish to bring "relational consequences" to another church or province because they allow for (openly) gay bishops or female bishops seems to me wrong."

That's how it seemed to practically minded people with little taste or aptitude for theology in the 4th century who couldn't see an iota's difference between homoousion and homoiousion. But there IS an iota's difference and it makes all the difference in the world when you think about it. If homosexuality is a godly choice for Christians, then you must totally reconfigure the way you think about gender and marriage from the NT teaching. That's the meaning of the sexual revloution: don't you get it, Suem? The gay rights radicals do.
The Christological war didn't end in 325, any more than Lambeth 98 sorted *that issue. It raged on until the Council of Constantinople in 381, and poor old Athanasius endured exiles and attempts on his life for many years to come. Even worse, Arianism fatally harmed much of the Western church, as it had become the heresy of choice of the Vandals and Visigoths who conquered Spain and North Africa, from which the Church was effaced in the onslaught of Islam.

Al M.

Suem said...

I AM a gay rights radical Al M.

God bless you this Christmas!

Anonymous said...

I kinda figgered that. My point was simpy: follow through the logic of a position. Most of us are not very good at this, either because we are not formally trained in logic or because we can't foresee the consequences of something much beyond our immediate world. We will likely be dead (DV) before the fruit of such actions have changed civilizations. (As an aside, do you think anyone really anticipated how the pill and abortion would change western demographics - and immigration policies?)
The issue for Christians (I am speaking to noone else here) can be stated quite simply: is homosexual desire (because everything starts in desire) part of God's good (intended) creation or objectively contrary to his good will?
The Bible and the consentient Christian tradition say it isn't; people like 'Hermano David'(and perhaps you? tell me if I'm wrong) say it is. I counter that people like Hermano David and Tec have privileged modern therapeutic psychology and liberal sociology over the catholic interpretation of Scripture and doctrine; that they are (though they don't realize it) Neo-Montantists, and the more adventurous souls among them, like Richard Holloway and Jack Spong, are really exiting Christianity. David doesn't yet grasp that point, but fello-Mexican Hector Avalos does. So, though I'm an evangelical Anglican, I'm a lot closer to the Pope in his theology than some who claim the name of 'Anglican', foregetful of their own heritage. The acids of modernity and secular liberalism have bitten deep into western Anglicanism (especially in New Zealand) - and into western Protestantism generally (like Swedish Lutheranism).
Yes, may God bless us (and Tiny Tim) this Christmas, not as we think right but as He knows best.

Al M.

Suem said...

Well, I could embark on a lengthy discussion with you, Al, about how we read scripture and how I think homosexual desire is part of the variety of God's creation. But I guess you know what I will say just as I know what you will say, and neither of us will be much convinced. So, perhaps we'll just have to agree on the bit about God blessing us in the way he sees fit and best, which in my case has so far been very richly on a path that has had its fair share of pain but also brought much peace, love and joy.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Al M, no one else but you is quite able to follow through the logic of a position in the way you can, so thank you for always setting the rest of us right throughout the year. The rest of us are Arians, or Monophysites, or Docetists. We are Neo-Montantists, or serve under an unmarried woman “bishop”, or pray to saints, or regard the Eucharist as a sacrifice, or are Modalists, or Patripassianists. Thankfully, although God has struggled to get His obviously crystal clear revelation across to the rest of us sinful mortals, it is always all so perfectly plain to you. May you continue your solitary proclamation of the truth. Who knows, if you can convince only one person the number of faithful Christians on the planet would double in 2011. A thought you might consider from a mere mortal for 2011: I encourage you to publish your clarity in a book or a blog so that people might receive your wisdom systematically rather than the sporadic and piecemeal way we have been getting it here.

Sorry, Peter, to have only been lurking lately – I thought anything particular I was going to contribute was only going to be a repetition of what I had said previously, or what others were saying currently. So much has seemed to go round and round the same few points with no real movement from anyone.

Merry Christmas


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alison - it is tough and thankless being a 'vox clamantis' but someone has to do it.
And thoughtful of you to send your message of support on the Feast of the Protomartyr. Remember why the crowd did him in! :) I would have been glad if a Spong or a Holloway or even a homegrown Randerson or Cardy could have aspired to such exoticisms as Arianism, Monophysitism or Docetism, but alas, their incipient (or actual) atheism could not allow them to entertain such a high view of Christ. Patripassianism today tends to be unintentional and unreflective, in evangelical prayer meetings, where someone casually prays "Thank you, Father, for dying for us". There is the more developed patripassianism of a Moltmann, but this is hitched a little too closely to Hegel for everyone's comfort.
But don't you agree you can put up with a lot - even sophisticated sarcasm - when you know you're right?
However, I suspect I'm not as solitary as you fear, just more outspoken. As they say in the Canada of the South Seas, in the land of the bland, the one eyed man is a tall poppy that must be cut.
A blessed St Stephen's Day to you.
Isn't it wonderful that is followed by the Martyrdom of St Thomas Becket and the Massacre of the Holy Innocents? Must be a theme there.

Al M.