Sunday, March 13, 2011

Talking ourselves down to the grave

I am increasingly disappointed by what Archbishop Rowan Williams has to say these days. Please note very carefully that I have not said I am disappointed in the man nor that he himself is a disappointment as ABC. He is doing his best to bring his considerable talents to bear on the role. But I imagine him to be constrained by what other leaders around him permit him to do and to say. If the others have said that tomorrow they are returning to home base to watch the footy, there really is no point issuing a command to go over the top of the trench in an offensive against the enemy. What ++Rowan says these days is what he feels he is able to say as truthfully representative of the reality of our life together (and apart) as Anglicans and thus my disappointment is with what the Communion is allowing him to say.

Take this published letter to the Primates, following the recent partially attended Primates' Meeting. It says this and it says that. Much is unexceptional, talking about our solidarity with one another in prayer and other support in the difficult times we are experiencing. It says an almost tautological thing about the aims and achievements of the Primates' Meeting: we did not set out to do X and so we did not achieve X; previously we had not thought about whether we can do X, though we acted as though we could do X and now we have given it a bit of thought, we think we cannot do X, so that justifies not setting out to do X, and thus we did not achieve X. (It doesn't say that the primates who might think differently would have steered the discussion in a different direction).

Here is the big gaping whole in what ++Rowan says: he does not address why we should value our actions and prayers for fellow Anglicans compared with engaging in action with and prayer for fellow Christians. Lots of Christians in Christchurch, Japan and Libya are NOT Anglican. Why not pray for them? Why not act with them in solving problems? What is special about Anglicans reaching out to Anglicans? It is that we have more in common with each other than with other Christians.

So when we find we have differences, where and how are we going to sort out our differences with a view to making ongoing fellowship among Anglicans more worthwhile than fellowship with other Christians? As far as I can tell from this excerpt from the letter, there is no answer to this question!

"The recent Primates’ Meeting in Dublin did not set out to offer a solution to the ongoing challenges of mutual understanding and of the limits of our diversity in the Communion. But it is important to note carefully what it did set out to do and what it achieved. In recent years, many have appealed to the Primates to resolve the problems of the Communion by taking decisive action to enforce discipline on this or that Province. In approaching the Dublin Meeting, we believed that it was essential to clarify how the Primates themselves understood the nature of their office and authority. It has always been clear that not all have the same view – not because of different theological convictions alone, but also because of the different legal and canonical roles they occupy as Primates. Some have a good deal of individual authority; others have their powers very closely limited by their own canons. It would therefore be difficult if the Meeting collectively gave powers to Primates that were greater than their own canons allowed them individually, as was noted at the 2008 Lambeth Conference (Lambeth Indaba 2008 #151).

The unanimous judgement of those who were present was that the Meeting should not see itself as a ‘supreme court’, with canonical powers, but that it should nevertheless be profoundly and regularly concerned with looking for ways of securing unity and building relationships of trust."

The last part of the last sentence is particularly disturbing. The Meeting won't do anything substantive to change the situation but the situation needs changing and the Meeting should do everything it can to make anything other than a substantive change. Non-sense?

Or, another critique of this important sentence: when we ask what secures unity and builds relationships of trust we come back (in this context) to commonality of vision, belief, values. What is the Meeting going to do when it finds that is cannot look for ways to secure unity and build relationships of trust without tackling "the ongoing challenges of mutual understanding and of the limits of our diversity in the Communion."

At the heart of what the Communion is asking its chief spokesperson to say on its behalf is a contradiction: a refusal to act on what it knows it needs to act on.

We are talking ourselves to the grave. Individual Anglican churches may survive this corporate act of ecclesial suicide but the Communion itself is talking itself to death. It can only take so much contradiction before it vapourises into thin air. It would not be the first time in church history that a collection of churches with great promise has disappeared into the sands of time.

Remember, in recent days, we have been seeing a serious attempt in an Anglican church to formalise communion without baptism. If that takes place some Anglicans will move to a position of having less in common with other Anglicans than with many other Christians who insist on reasonable, Scriptural  and traditional eucharistic discipline.


Anonymous said...

"The unanimous judgement of those who were present was that the Meeting ..."

That bit is the really important bit. The ABC has acted in such a way that those who would have seen things differently had already left, and were not at the meeting. And the very clear impression he has given is that he was more than pleased to see them go -- certainly whereas he has made compromise after compromise to keep the US there, he has made absolutely no attempt to find any way that the others would have been there.

I hope he enjoys playing in the ever diminishing pool ...


Father Ron Smith said...

"We are talking ourselves to the grave. Individual Anglican churches may survive this corporate act of ecclesial suicide but the Communion itself is talking itself to death"
- Peter Carrell -

Peter, I'm longing to hear some traditional Gospel assurance from your Evangelical perspective, but you do seem to major on all of the negatives you discern coming out of Canterbury these days.

You have admitted that Abp. Rowan is a person of integrity, and you have admitted he has a difficult task. This can be seen from the tremendous pressure he has been getting from sodialities like the GAFCON - who have even issued their own manifesto on what they see as (their own) 'Anglican' stance on 'orthodoxy'. The numbers game that they constantly play is obviously having its effect upon the time and attention of our Primus-inter-pares. But, do give him a break. He is not an idiot.

It may be that some sort of covenantal relationship might separate the wheat from the chaff.
For instance, I can see is as not at all impossible that TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada will sign up to the Covenant. This will inevitably cause GAFCON to make the movement they have always been threatening to make (and this is what the ABC and the ACO have hitherto been scared of - but maybe no longer, crying 'wolf' only works for a limited time).

This will then leave the Churches that do not subscribe to the puritanical ethos of homophobia and misogyny to come together as the renewed face of the Anglican Communion - Inclusive and Gospel-oriented - and respectful of one another's missional context.

This needs a culture of communal convergence rather than the stark separatism that emanates from the GAFCON Provinces.

Andrew Reid said...

I feel a bit like the AC is becoming like the crowds that Jesus encountered - "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Mt 9:36). Our shepherds are now so divided, we have become multiple flocks rather than one flock. And then, the "senior shepherds" decide their meetings will be about mutual encouragement and discussion, rather than the crisis facing the flock. The more the official instruments of the Communion fail to address this problem, the more the unofficial groupings like GAFCON and the Global South will address it by doing their own thing. Initially, I thought the orthodox Primates should attend Dublin and try to take over the meeting agenda, but when I see this drivel I realise they were right to boycott.

On your point about Anglicans being able to have closer fellowship together than with other Christians, I wonder if that's true these days. In may ways, I enjoy closer fellowship with those of my Baptist, Presbyterian and other friends who hold to the same gospel of repentance, forgiveness, faith and new life that I do, rather than the Anglicans down the road who hold to a gospel of inclusion. Because our fellowship is in Christ Jesus, holding polar opposite views about Him precludes close fellowship.

Suem said...

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was moved by the letter to the Primates, and blogged on it. We wear asked to "bear with each other" (not something I always find easy to do, but then I if I want to be borne with, then I must bear with others.)

Many people want Rowan Williams to be like "superman" - to sweep in and "rescue" the Anglican Communion, rewarding the "goodies" and sorting out the "baddies" with a plan of action! The reality is that he is neither ABLE to practically and logistically, nor willing to. I am not sure he sees any of us as goodies or baddies, more all of us as fallen human beings? He is Archbishop to the whole communion, not just a part of it and the demands of one set of people differ radically from the demands of another.

I don't agree with the Anglican Covenant, I know but it seems to me that his letter suggests that the solution to our problems lies not in his hands, but in our hearts.

That I do agree with.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron and Suem,
I note that neither of you engage with the questions I raise in this post:
- is there a contradiction or not in what ++RW says on behalf of the Communion?
- why should Anglicans forge greater links with Anglicans when they have more in common with non-Anglican Christians?

I would also be interested in whether you think communion-without-baptism is a justifiable missional strategy for Anglicans? (And, if so, how do you square that with Anglicans continuing to claim that we are part of the 'catholic' church?)

I look forward to your responses.

Suem said...

I'm not quite clear what you mean by those statements. For what it is worth, I think that Anglicans should try to forge greater links with other Anglicans but should also try to forge links and build relationships with other Christian denominations but also with non Christians. Aren't we always told the church exists for the benefits of those who do not belong to it?

You ask, "I would also be interested in whether you think communion-without-baptism is a justifiable missional strategy for Anglicans?"

Again, I am unsure as to the detail of these "recent reports." I hate the thought of communion as "the meal which divides". If I were a priest I would want to give communion to any person who asks for it, whether they were baptised or not, whether they were a tramp off the street - whatever. I am no theologian, but to me the eucharist is a visible sign that Christ died for us and can redeem us. He is not constrained by whether that person has been baptised!
If you are asking whether I would do away with baptism - most emphaticallly not! I would expect anyone asking to formalise their Christian faith to be told the importance of baptism as a sacrament and symbol.

However, I believe rituals are there to create meaning for men and women and aid them in their search for God. Just as Christ said the sabbath was created for man, not man for the sabbath, so I would say that the sacraments were created for people, not the other way round, and not to be used as barriers or badges of approval.

I don't know if this is the sort of engagement you were looking for? If I have answered the wrong question or misunderstood - then I apologise.

What about the other things Rowan said - about bearing with each other? What was your response to that?

Suem said...

"Why should Anglicans forge greater links with Anglicans when they have more in common with non-Anglican Christians?"

I forgot to say that I think it is MORE important to forge links with those you do not believe you have things in common with. You know, like Christ hanging out with tax gatherers, prostitutes and sinners, as well as the Pharisees, like loving your enemies and praying for them. Perhaps spending a little time talking to them as well wouldn't hurt, praying with them even?

If it is any comfort, I am really bad at spending time with those I don't agree with, especially when they condemn me. But I think I ought to do it.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I think you, and others who are arguing in this vein, know that when some of us - who are eucharistic in our theology - speak about an *open table* at the Eucharist, we are not, for instance, descending to the level of the Diocese of Sydney, which opens up the Eucharistic presidency to the un-ordained laity; what we are doing is saying that - in certain circumstance - such as the earthquake situation in Christchurch (and maybe now in Japan), non-baptised persons may be offered our 'Eucharistic hospitality' - which allows them to approach the Lord's Table, to receive God's comfort at a time of crisis in their lives.

Our argument is that, though in normal circumstance, Baptism is the gateway to an informed access to the reception of the supreme gift of Christ in the Eucharist, there may be some occasions when 'unconditional hospitality' might be seen as an authentic response to perceived need.

After all, I don't think that anyone present at a community Celebration of the Eucharist would intentionally want to insult God (or, for that matter, the sensitivities of the host congregation) by receiving the Sacrament 'unworthily'. After all, who of us all, in the end, is worthy?

This why I said in my previous remarks on this thresd that "God can take care of God's-self - especially when hospitality is involved. Jesus made trhat quite plain and obvious in his own ministry on earth. What Paul weas talking about was something else. He was speaking to Christians, whose own preparation for receiving the Eucharist was 'unworthy', i.e. not perceptive of what a wonderful gift this was from God.

What do you think about those un-baptized peopole in 'Acts' about whom the Apostle said "What is to prevent them from being Baptized?" - another gracious act of sacramental hospitality - in response to God's gracious call upon their lives - before Baptism?

I can recall in my own minstry as a parish priets in Auckland, being very surprised to learn that there were new people in the congregation in the habit of receiving the Eucharist, who later said they need to be Baptized!
Was the Holy Spirit at work there, do you think? Sometimes our rigourous *rules* in the Church can turn away thoese "whom the Lord our God may be calling". Now that's not evangelism at its very best.

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, excuse my second bite of the cherry, but you did ask two separate questions on this threead. Having dealt with the 'open table' matter, may I now speak about the other one.

Both you and Andrew Reid seem to be questioning the efficacy of the ABC's efforts to keep us all within the broad concept of what has always been seen to be the 'inclusive' ethos of Anglicanism. I'm not talking here of Evangelisals versus Anglo-Catholics, but something much deeper and far more mportant.

It is obvious that both you and Andrew have far more in common with your non-conformist co-religionists than you do with the traditional broad church Anglican ethos. This has nothing to do with ecumenical out-reach, but more to do with biblical perpective. What you are both forgetting, perhaps, is that there has always been room within broader Anglicanism for these widely-divergent views. Up until the last decade, both perspectives have been accommodated within Anglicanism.

However, since the divergence on the issues of gender and sexuality, cracks have appeared within the Churches of the Communion on 'what the Bible says' about these things. With modern hermeneutics, scholars and others have come to realise that 'what the Bible says' has to be examined very carefully, and evaluated in terms that deal with the reality of life as it is lived in the world of today. We can no longer be ham-strung by social conditions that obtained in the first century, A.D.

What is important, as you, yourself, have been saying, is "What would Jesus do/say in the world of today?"
Only by constant reference to the Incarnation, Life and Death & works and words of Jesus, can we Christians hope to "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" - knowing that our God is a God of Love, whose Love is unconditional; forgiving, healing and redeeming, and always with us!

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Suem and Ron for robust engagement! Just a couple of brief comments:

On the matter of 'open communion' in emergency situations I do not think I would differ much from Ron. But the 'open communion' question is being raised about general life, not just emergencies.

Common accord with other Christians is not the exclusive domain of evangelical Anglicans: catholic Anglicans find that too!

I agree that bearing with others when they are different to us (whether fellow Anglicans, fellow Christians, or fellow human beings is a worthwhile thing to do), but to the extent that this 'bearing with' is within an organisational framework (such as the Anglican Communion) I ask with the ABC whether there are limits to diversity, and despair of the ABC ever offering an answer!

Kurt said...

I agree with both Peter and Ron that non-baptized persons may be offered Eucharistic hospitality in special circumstances. Certainly, the earthquake in Christchurch is one of those. I would go a bit further, though. If someone is seeking faith, belief, etc., as a pastoral response, I think it would be okay for a priest to give a non-baptized person Holy Communion if that would actually help him/her convert his/her life. I generally agree with the traditional approach of Baptism before Communion, but there are exceptions.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Brother David said...

It is humorous to me Peter in that you obviously had an agenda for the Primates Meeting, an agenda that did not materialize because it was not the agenda of those who make up the meeting.

I had no agenda for the meeting apart from that it was meeting and I did not want it to be what it was not, a body exerting any type of magisterial authority. I am happy with the outcome.

What is the source of your last paragraph and to which province does it refer?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
I am referring to this