Sunday, July 31, 2011

What is happening to our prayer book?

Kiwi Anglicans are often flattered by rave reviews of our A New Zealand Prayer Book, though here on this site some less than enthusiastic comments have been made about that. Actually, whether it is a good, bad, indifferent, all of the above prayer book it is our prayer book and we (licensed clerical and lay worship) leaders in ACANZP have obligations to use it. Those obligations are matched by process in making changes to NZPB which acknowledges the need to have as much participatory buy-in to decisions as possible. To change even a word in NZPB requires a "twice round" of our General Synod making a decision, our diocesan synods confirming that decision, and the next General Synod re-confirming the decision.

Bosco Peters at Liturgy has raised into the open the possibility - not so far denied - that somewhere in the bowels of our church's administration and between-General Synods governance - a plan has been agreed to which would see the presentation of Collects in NZPB changed in the next printing of it (stocks are running low on this popular book) without going through the twice round process. I think I can understand the logic going on if, indeed, there is such a plan: previously our General Synod has received (but not sent on "twice round" process) a choice of collect for each Sunday in the RCL, now, perhaps, our GS Standing Committee thinks that enough to warrant printing the collects rather than pointing to them. Currently NZPB offers two lectionaries, a two year cycle, and a three year cycle (sort of RCL derived but ...*). For the former it supplies generally three collects; for the latter it simply points to a given Sunday in the two year cycle and leaves the choice of collect to the minister (e.g. today, 18th ordinary Sunday, Year A = "Collect of Lent 4", same Year B, and Year C = Pentecost 4).

Here is the problem: when three or so collects are given there is a high probability that at least one will be satisfying in respect of theology and liturgiology (i.e. the classic character of collects being Trinitarian in structure and simple in making just one request). Conversely there is a high probability that at least one collect will be sophisticated nonsense. Constitutionally we should not place our licensed leaders of worship in the position of being obligated to pray nonsense prayers.

Today actually is quite a good example of the problem of the varying quality of our collects (that is, following the three year cycle within NZPB and being pointed to the Collects for Lent 4, p. 578):

Heavenly Father,
you see how your children hunger for food,
and fellowship, and faith.
Help us to meet one another's needs of body, mind and spirit,
in the love of Christ our Saviour.
I think this is a nonsense collect: no one can meet another's needs of 'mind and spirit'; 'food, and fellowship and faith' as a trio are not straightforwardly cross-matched to 'body, mind and spirit.'

O God, giver of life and health,
your Son Jesus Christ has called us
to hunger and thirst to see right prevail;
refresh us with your grace
that we may not be weary of well-doing;
for the sake of him who meets all our needs,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
This is a well written collect, pivoting around the simple and straightforward request 'refresh us with your grace', though (like all collects here) missing any reference to the Holy Spirit, but, nevertheless, standing firm in the tradition of Anglican collects through the centuries.

God of the hungry,
make us hunger and thirst for the right,
till our thirst for justice has been satisfied
and hunger has gone from the earth.
This verges on nonsense, but otherwise is banal. Why is God the 'God of the hungry' and not, say, 'God of the hungry and victims of injustice' or 'God of justice' given that the prayer is more concerned for righting injustice than for ending hunger? The prayer reads well as a set of words flowing through themes of hunger, justice and satisfaction but on closer inspection it is "all about us" and not about those who suffer hunger and injustice: it only asks "make us hunger and thirst for the right" and thus makes significant presumption that when that prayer is answered we will be well on the way to ending hunger and injustice ... speaking just for myself and not for others, I would like God to be less reliant on me solving the immense difficulties of the world, but I would be keen to join with God in God's work in the world.

Incidentally, I see that on closer inspection of our Lectionary published for 2011, the direction re the collect to be used today is very specific: 4:3 is directed to be used.

Hmm ... I hope I won't be forced into canonical rebellion today!

All in all: absolutely agreed, for my part, we need some basic revision to our prayer book re sprucing up the collects, and also (see asterisk below) bringing our thre year cycle into line with our published annual lectionaries. But the revision needs to be open for all and sundry to participate in, confident that the process will be governed by our constitution.

Why, if not careful, the next thing we know we could be agreeing to the Covenant, out of line with good process ...

*According to NZPB the epistle today is Romans 8:35-39, but in our Lectionary (RCL based) published for 2011, the epistle is Romans 9:1-5.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Changing of the Guard in the NZ House of Bishops

In this past week Anglican Taonga has reported on two significant episcopal developments in our church, both relating to senior bishops. First the sad news that Archbishop Sir Paul Reeves is retiring from public life in order to fight a cancer and to spend time with his family. Although Sir Paul was last an active, licensing bishop in our church some 26 years ago, he has been a towering and influential figure in our life, called upon to take on challenges in our three tikanga church which require the leadership of someone able to transcend our cultural differences. Most recently Sir Paul headed up a commission reviewing our theological college and made the presentation of their report at General Synod 2010 one of the highlights of that synod. Secondly the not unexpected news that at the age of 68 Bishop Tom Brown, Bishop of Wellington, will retire in January 2012.

With these two senior figures moving out of episcopal duties (Bishop Tom is making it clear that he envisages a quiet retirement in respect of episcopal activity) there will be a changing of the guard in the ACANZP House of Bishops. The young turks are on the rise! The two bishops in the Auckland Diocese, for instance, will have a combined age of less than 100 :)

Our church is very, very different to the one Sir Paul was ordained a bishop in (early 1970s), and very different to the one +Tom was ordained a bishop in (early 1990s). What will it be like when Bishops Ross and Jim in Auckland retire?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gloomy Friday?

Casting my eye around the net, this seems to be a bit of a gloomy Friday! I won't bother with links as some of these stories are well-known (and multiply reported) or easily found via Google. John Stott is dead. Homophobia, supported by churches, is on the rise in Ghana. The US has not yet solved its most immediate financial crisis (because it does not know how to solve its medium and long-term crises?). Europe is in deeper financial trouble than most of us think (something about 'ten year spreads' and how they are telling experts the news is very bad). The horror of Norway's deaths is repeatedly linked to the killer being a right-wing Christian jihadist. The Diocese of Sydney's financial woes continue with further reductions in income.

We live by faith, not by sight!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Stott - Exemplary Evangelical

Go away and something is going to happen. I have arrived home to find that John Stott has gone to be with the Lord. Here is an excerpt from a Langham Partnership email sent today:

"Today at 3.15pm UK time (2.15am NZ time), John Stott went to be with the Lord. Close family and friends were with him during the morning, and they listened together with him to selections from Handel’s Messiah, including “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, and read through 2 Timothy. He died very peacefully during the afternoon. He had become very weak and weary in recent months and we thank God for a merciful and peaceful ending to his earthly pilgrimage.

John Stott reached the great age of 90 in April this year. During his lifetime, he became known worldwide for the clarity, faithfulness and relevance of his writing and preaching, combined with extraordinary integrity and humility. A man of remarkable global vision and strategic insight, he was instrumental in the establishment of many thriving Christian agencies. Countless people around the world can testify to the personal encouragement they have received from ‘Uncle John’. His ministry took him to every corner of the globe, and thus his influence was truly global.

It was no accident that in 2005 John Stott was listed by TIME magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. The tribute to him at that time was written by Billy Graham [not on the list], who concluded by saying, “He represents a touchstone of authentic biblical scholarship that, in my opinion, has scarcely been paralleled since the days of the 16th century European Reformers.” "

John Stott's writings have been influential in my life. He has modelled for me clarity in thinking allied with evangelical convictions. However today is about him not me. Thanks be to God for his life, his teaching and his evangelical example.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Light posting, light snow and light costs

Light blogging coming up, comments posted when I can. Snow is in the air which may or may not affect a trip today. Many things are in my diary over the next few weeks so posting will be if, when, and maybe. Meantime the world is going to pieces slowly - Europe is either coming unstuck or becoming sucked into German monetary control - the USA is either one large Las Vegas casino gambling recklessly before a looming deadline or a film set in Hollywood where no one knows whether a comedy or a tragedy is being produced. Here is a Down Under sign of how crazy the economics of the present time are: our dollar is slowly creeping up to parity with the US dollar.

Still, that has to be good for buying theological books from Amazon!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Not at all keen

I am not at all keen on raising funds for pipe organ repairs and restorations. The quakes here in Christchurch have caused quite a bit of pipe organ damage and some signs are emerging of, well, let's just call it quite a lot of dollars being required to repair and restore the damaged organs (with complications in some cases as to whether new church buildings are going to be 'the sort of building that will take a pipe organ'). Now my strong commitment to our freedom in Christ means that I am not going to stand in the way of anyone wishing to donate money towards organ funds, nor am I going to argue against individual parishes making choices as to whether they are going to raise funds required over and above any insurance payouts.

However I am free in Christ too, and I offer the following propositions for consideration:

(1) The virtues and comparative affordability of the latest electronic organs. Most pipe organ restoration and repairs I hear about are more expensive than a superb electronic organ. Once a restoration job is done it is only a matter of time before it needs doing AGAIN and again and again.

(2) Jesus never said anything about the necessity of pipe organs for worshipping God.

(3) It is worth asking the question whether God's kingdom is advanced by restoring and repairing pipe organs.

(4) One decent pipe organ per city is sufficient unto the day thereof. In your city it might even exist in a town hall, not a church, and be maintained by your city council. How good a deal is that!

(5) The future of Christian worship does not require pipe organs and will be managed by a range of instruments way cheaper than a pipe organ.
But the big issue here for the churches of Canterbury is pretty simple: what role do pipe organs play in 21st century mission, and what is that role worth in basic monetary terms?

Friday, July 22, 2011

In hindsight, our church was pretty crazy way back then

Just outside my door at Theology House is a display of new books for our library. One of those is the recently published Living Legacy: A History of the Anglican Diocese of Auckland, edited by Allan K. Davidson. It's a substantial volume, and I know it is the culmination of a considerable effort on the part of its organisers and writers. Browsing in it the other day I came across the following story. Its setting is the charismatic renewal of our church in the 1970s which arguably reached a high point around the year when this synodical moment occurred. The Diocese of Auckland has ever been diverse, and just as some of the most inspiring stories of charismatic renewal are about parishes in that diocese, some of the most vibrant example of liberal activism also stem from there. Here is the story:

"In 1980 Tony Georgietti and Murray Spackman move in Synod 'that this synod asks Archbishop Paul [Reeves, Diocesan] and Bishop Godfrey [Wilson, Assistant] to lead our diocese in revival'. George Armstrong and Andrew Beyer sought to append to the motion the words: 'in the Holy Spirit in terms both of the transformation of our capitalist materialist, white-racist, male-dominated society and church and also our own inner personal selves'. This was lost when Don Battley, Vicar of Pakuranga, ever the peacemaker, offered a gently amendment, 'in the Holy Spirit both in the transformation of our society and Church and also of our own personal selves'. This was carried unanimously." [p. 261]

I cannot imagine such an Armstrong-Beyer amendment being proposed in today's church. On the one hand we have moved from understanding problems in society and church in such absolutist terms which blame distinctive groups (capitalists, whites, males) and let others off the hook. We are both more nuanced, noting that racism is not the preserve of whites only, and we have changed, with males less dominant ... and still we have many problems in our society. On the other hand I think we are smarter: we do not now think the best way to attack male dominance is to have two males move a motion! But I can imagine that motion being moved in 1980. That was a crazy era. Various Isms were beginning to drive through agenda in synods and at St John's College. Students came out of St John's College (where George Armstrong was a lecturer) radicalized and ready for action, by which was not meant pastoral visiting and cups of tea with best bone china.

Still, the whiff of nostalgia from any era is a comforting smell, and Living Legacy in this passage offers a particularly stimulating reminiscence of heady days of a bygone period in our life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Time for a new Anglican church?

I am wondering about starting a new Anglican church. Its working name in full is 'the Anglicans who take theology really seriously Church.' I think that name would be transparent about its membership and its distinctiveness. One person who would be very welcome is the writer of this post. He takes up a post by Mark Harris at Preludium which picks up a past challenge of Kenneth Kearon's about whether TEC shares the Faith and Order of the Anglican Communion as well as my post yesterday. Mark, like one or two commenters here, defends +Gene's assertion ("“I know Jesus to be the son of God,” he told a group of about 50 people, “but what a small, limited God we would have if that was the only manifestation.") It is a weak defence: no one acclaiming that Jesus is the 'only manifestation' does not understand that God is manifest in other ways narrated in the Bible. 'Only manifestation' with reference to whether God is 'small, limited' in a statement which goes on to question Christians' 'spiritual arrogance' concerns whether the fullness of God is revealed in Jesus Christ or revealed in Jesus Christ and other notable religious figures. I am struggling to understand how +Gene in what he said and those who are defending him are taking theology at this point with any particular seriousness in respect of our Nicean and Chalcedonian creedal foundation. (For clarity: that does not mean that on other matters these Anglicans are not serious in theology).

Here is the thing: even if God revealed nothing of himself to Abraham, Jacob, Moses and Elijah and only revealed himself in and through Jesus Christ, such an 'only manifestation' would still be the manifestation of a very big, indeed unlimited God: that is the point of purple passages in Scripture such as John 1:1-18; Ephesians 1-3, Colossians 1-2, Hebrews 1:1-4. In fact what these and other passages point to is that the manifestations of God in the Old Testament are manifestations of the God who is the God of Jesus Christ. The christological richness (one might also say 'thickness') of Scripture is precisely that there is a single manifestation of God, most clearly and fully comprehended in Jesus Christ: I am the light of the world - no one comes to the Father but by me - I and the Father are one.

Now if this new Anglican church came into existence I think the world of Anglicanism could be a very happy world. Those who do not take theology particularly seriously would be free of engaging with annoying people like me. Those like me who have been getting increasingly agitated by the lack of serious theology in the Anglican Communion would stop annoying people who want to be free to move Anglican-ly where the Spirit takes them.

Naturally the Covenant would be at the heart of this new Anglican church: it is a very good document which takes theology seriously. Incidentally, there would be no confusion as to which Anglican thing was which. The Anglican Communion which remained would be free to call itself by that name. This new church would unashamedly be known by its short title 'The Anglican Church'.

It would have a very clever and up to date magisterium: a collection of seriously theological Anglican bloggers would discuss each and every issue which arose, in a spirit of free enquiry within the scope of the Covenant. Part of the genius of this magisterium is that, across the globe, it would be at work 24/7, and it would incur no costs, being a voluntary workforce :)

As for leadership? It might be time to adopt a very good idea of Presbyterians: annual Moderators. The Anglican Church would have one. No anglo-papistry involved. How would the Moderator be chosen each year? I am toying with the idea of one of the bloggers being chosen on a popularity 'Who had the most hits last year?' basis. The likely first moderator would be the host at Liturgy!

As for which liturgy would be used by The Anglican Church? Well, here also we can only bow to popularity as the means by which the decision is made. Which current Communion member church's prayer book is most widely admired, if not used (legally or illegally) in most Anglican churches? There is one clear winner ... A New Zealand Prayer Book.

Well, that is the new worldwide Anglican Church pretty much sorted.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

+Gene and Why the Covenant is a Great Idea

Some talk about the Anglican Covenant focuses on homosexuality as in 'Your high-minded talk about the Covenant is just a cover for wanting to exclude homosexuals from the Anglican Communion' or 'The proposed Covenant is useless, it will never deal with progressive Anglicans who wish to ditch Scripture and tradition on homosexuality.' Although sometimes feeling like I have failed to achieve anything, on this blog I have attempted to argue that the Covenant is timely because within the recent history of the Anglican Communion in crisis over homosexuality we have recognised that we are a Communion so theologically diverse that we strain credibility that we have enough in common to warrant being described as a 'Communion'. That the Covenant is primarily a theological document restating what Anglicans believe is timely for the larger, theological crisis the Communion faces.

Every so often someone comes to my rescue and provides evidence that we do have theological diversity which strains credibility that all Anglicans belonging to the Communion share a common core theology.

Here is a report on something +Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire said recently,

"“I know Jesus to be the son of God,” he told a group of about 50 people, “but what a small, limited God we would have if that was the only manifestation."

Now this is a media reported statement not a theological essay or paper, so I am not going to declare this to be evidence of heresy. But, on the face of it, here is an Anglican bishop making a christological statement which, putting it diplomatically, falls below the Nicene and Chalcedonian par.

The least we could expect of Anglican bishops around the world is that, different and diverse though they may wish to be on human sexuality, whether Hooker meant this or that re Scripture, reason and tradition, and what robes should be worn on which occasion, they all subscribe to the common ecumenical creeds.

The statement above is not unique as a sign that not all Anglican bishops are completely convinced of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of the Father in whom the fullness of God dwells.

One reason for agreeing to the Covenant is that we recognise all the way around the Anglican globe that some common belief is needed for our communion as a Communion to have concrete meaning.

The Covenant may or may not have implications for +Gene in other respects (as some fervantly wish the Covenant to do or not to do). But I hope the Covenant, when established, would lead over the course of time to a weeding out  from the life of our Communion, bishops who fall short of theological faithfulness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. (For clarity: church law is way too complicated to try to weed out current bishops on doctrinal grounds;, by 'weeding out' I mean that in the fullness of time Anglican dioceses guided and inspired by Covenanted Anglicanism will elect bishops adhering fully to orthodox, creedal Christianity).

Hint to commenters here: if you are tempted to use words such as 'totalitarian', 'dictatorial' or 'inquisition' in your comment, please also tell us how you understand the basis for Anglicans who believe that Jesus Christ is unique and those who do not are to break bread together. Thanks in anticipation!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A few thoughts on headship, ruling elders

Along with Christian marriage, ACANZP's new commission re same sex partnerships, and sundry other matters such as whether to take that trip to Mars in October ("Avoid grief at the World Cup. Leave now!"), I am continuing to reflect on recent conversations about headship and ruling elders in the church. Here are a few thoughts, not systematically put together.

(1) When Paul writes most of his letters, he does not address church leaders (as titled leaders) nor does he lay out instructions for leaders(hip), and in such letters, perhaps especially noticeable in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians, Paul has a very strong sense of the Holy Spirit leading the church and of the church being Christians walking in step with the Spirit. If 'ruling elders' were leading these churches, why not address them directly with expectation that in turn they would teach apostolic doctrine?

(2) Following from (1) it is noticeable in the longest list of named people addressed in any church in the New Testament (Romans 16), the names of men and women are intermingled. Neither women nor men are named as bishops or elders, though one woman is named as a deacon (Phoebe) and one woman is referred to in connection with the apostles (Junia). With the Spirit leading the church (Romans 8), having distributed gifts across the body (Romans 12), can we say that 'clearly' the Roman church had a definitive 'male ruling eldership'? It is, I suggest, at least as likely that men and women shared leadership in mutuality.

(3) In one Pauline letter "bishops and deacons" are addressed, along with all members: Philippians. Intriguingly, when Paul later in the letter names some people in specific remarks intended to direct them towards resolving some problems, the names include the names of women, Euodia and Syntyche. Again: no male is specifically named as one of the 'bishops'. Can we say with 'clarity' that the Philippian church had an exclusively male episcopacy?

(4) Re-reading 1 Timothy, it is noticeable that Paul within the first few words declares a particular concern which permeates the remainder of the letter: false doctrine versus sound doctrine (1 Tim 1:3-11).  Little is said about the Holy Spirit at work in the church in this or the other two 'pastoral letters.' Has something happened to knock Paul's confidence in the church in Ephesus walking well in the Spirit? Is the strong emphasis on order in 1 Timothy, down to details about how the lives of widows should be ordered, a needed correction to a specific problem or set of problems there which were not problematic for other churches Paul wrote to?

(5) Who was Chloe? In 1 Corinthians 1:11, Paul mentions by name the first person he knows in the church in Corinth: Chloe, in the statement 'it has been reported to me by Chloe's people'. Why would Chloe have a group around her referred to as 'Chloe's people' if she were not a leader of this group?

(6) How can any teaching about eldership be considered 'clear' when the New Testament is clearly flexible about church leadership roles. 1 Timothy is an outstanding example here: chapter three tells us about bishops and deacons, who are never referred to again; chapter five tells us about pay scales for elders "who rule well"; a chapter, incidentally, which may refer to female elders (5:2). Intriguingly, 2 Timothy uses different language again, 'worker' (2:15) and 'servant' (2:24), while Titus 1:5-9 speaks of elders in language reminiscent of 1 Timothy3's description of a bishop.

(7) Who was 'the elect lady' addressed in 2 John? Yes, it is possible that 'the elect lady' is the church itself; or a woman with a house (v. 10) in which the church met. But is not such an address consistent with this woman being the elder of the church meeting in her house?

(8) In talk about women and apostleship, we can tend to get stuck on whether the women who were witnesses to the resurrection were or were not apostles. In John's gospel there is a woman with a mission which is apostolic in character, but we meet her a long time before the resurrection: the unnamed Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well in chapter four who tells her compatriots about Jesus.

In sum: there is a rich and varied character to the leadership of the churches of the New Testament. So varied, I suggest, that we scrutinize with the utmost care any claim to know what was 'clear' about leadership in the churches of the apostles. I am also left wondering through this survey whether we are truly alive and alert to the full possibilities of being a church 'led by the Spirit'!

Monday, July 18, 2011

On Christian Marriage

Humming away, it seems to me, in the background of any church move today towards some kind of formal endorsement of ordination of partnered gays or blessing of same-sex partnerships, is the question of Christian understanding of marriage. Also, I suggest, right at the beginning, so not to lose sight of it, is the question of Christian understanding of friendship.

What is marriage? Is Christian marriage distinctive relative to other understandings of marriage?

Here I simply introduce a few thoughts by way of a question or two:

Is Christian marriage ...

- between a man and a woman

- monogamous

- exclusive to the couple

- for life?

Must Christian marriage be open to producing children?

PS: See also this post and posts linked to it at The Conciliar Anglican.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

One great Auckland announcement, one worrying notice

Hard on the heels of the announcement that Tim Harris, Principal of Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson will become Bishop for Mission and Evangelism in Adelaide, comes the announcement that Jim White, Dean of the College of the Southern Cross at St John's College, Auckland will be the new Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Auckland.

That is a great announcement, for Jim and for Auckland.

Perhaps not so great for the College itself - they lose a wonderful academic leader through this election.

In the Anglican Taonga report linked to above I note this:

"Jim will continue as Dean of Tikanga Pakeha at St John’s College until the end of the year.

According to the College Commissioner, Mrs Gail Thomson, the vacancy created by Jim’s election will be advertised shortly, and a new dean will start at the beginning of the 2012 academic year."
Given that our General Synod in July, 2012 will give further consideration to the question of the structure of governance over and management of St John's College, I wonder if it is a mistake to advertise for a replacement for Jim. My own suggestion would be to appoint an Acting Dean for a one or two year period, to see the Tikanga Pakeha (College of the Southern Cross) side of College life through to the point when (one can only hope and pray) the future of St John's College is more settled.

Here is a question for NZ Anglican Trivial Pursuiters: has there ever previously been a sequence of two episcopal announcements about NZ academic theologians becoming bishops?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fraught future?

Bosco Peters @ Liturgy takes up the news of recent days that our church is gearing up for an attempt to find some resolution moving forward from an impasse in our church re the ordination of partnered gay ministers. In the course of a developing thread there, Bosco poses a good question:

"Why, I regularly wonder, is this particular issue so fraught? Am I wrong in understanding that there was not such talk of schism and the possibility of needing “alternative episcopal oversight” with alterations to allow marriage of divorcees, ordination of women, about which the Bible appears clear – possibly clearer. (I could continue: opening communion to all the baptised, dropping the requirement of the Office for clergy, having three bishops equally oversee the same geographic area, etc.)"

I offer a four point response to that question (which you can discuss there if you wish), but I note another possible response within a writing justifying the formation of the AMiE for the Church of England. In that writing, Richard Coekin says,

"The Bishop [of Southwark] was utterly pleasant and reasonable, and he understandably came to the meeting hoping to talk about issues on which we could agree and seek reconciliation. So did I. But we cannot accept oversight from any Bishop who is not orthodox on such fundamental matters of morality which imperil the salvation of the unrepentant.* I genuinely came to the meeting in hope of orthodox oversight. But Bishops are required to teach sound doctrine and refute error and we need leaders to be speaking up on these vital contemporary issues as clergy have to do each Sunday to their congregations. We need support from our leaders in Biblical mission. He has repeatedly insisted that the Diocese of Southwark is no different from the Diocese of London where we operate in glad and full submission to the oversight of the Bishop of London. I have repeatedly explained that the difference is that the Bishop of London has assured us publicly that he believes and teaches that homosexual practice is sin and can be quoted as so doing. We need leaders to whom we can look for support when the Bible is being challenged by our society." [Italics mine].
Here then, within an expression of conservative evangelicalism on the other side of the globe is one reason why proceeding with the ordination of partnered gays is 'fraught' and may or does indeed raise the question of alternative episcopal oversight (or, alternatively departure through schism): to do so would be a sign of false, unorthodox teaching by the bishop concerned and thus affect the ability of those licensed to that bishop to receive oversight from that bishop. Logically one way forward is for oversight to be given by another (true teaching, orthodox) bishop (alternative episcopal oversight), another way forward is to resign one's licence (departure, which, I suppose, if done as a group, is schism).

In my view, here in ACANZP we likely have some within the community of conservative Anglicans who more or less would share what we could call 'the Coekin analysis'. 

Note also that in my estimation I do not think 'the Coekin analysis' by any means would be shared by all conservatives in our church. For instance, whereas Coekin seems focused on the dioceses in which his network is working, some conservatives here working happily in one diocese could be disturbed by actions in another diocese which they disagreed with. For another instance, I think some conservatives in our church will remain under the oversight of their bishop whatever happens.

* Elsewhere in the article, Coekin elaborates what is meant at this point: "As a matter of conscience under the Biblical command to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” with those “who change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality”, we cannot accept the oversight of a Bishop who refuses to teach such fundamental Biblical doctrine. The Bible is clear that un-repented wickedness (including homosexual practice) prevents us from inheriting the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The refusal of church leaders to teach this truth with compassion and clarity imperils the salvation of gay people we seek to love in our community by suggesting that repentance isn’t necessary."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Couldn't happen to a nicer bloke

From Bishop Richard Ellena, Bishop of Nelson, NZ

Greetings everyone,

Overnight the Archbishop of Adelaide, Archbishop Jeffrey Driver, sent this message out to his Diocese:

"I am pleased to be able to advise you that I have invited Archdeacon Tim Harris to return to Adelaide as Bishop for Mission and Evangelism. Tim is presently the Dean of Bishopdale Theological College in Nelson and Archdeacon for Theological Education and Ministry Formation in that Diocese. Tim has done a wonderful job helping to re-establish Bishopdale College. He has become a respected figure throughout the New Zealand Church and it will be a joy to welcome him, along with Fiona and John, back to Australia.

While having some involvement with general episcopal responsibilities including confirmations and ordinations, the Bishop for Mission and Evangelism will focus on the development of “fresh expressions” of church, congregational planting and parish renewal. He will have a place in the academic life of St Barnabas College, lecturing in New Testament and will have an involvement in ministry formation, particularly around mission and “fresh expressions”.

We are planning for an episcopal ordination in St Peter’s Cathedral on Sunday November 20 (Christ the King) at 4.00pm. Please pray for Tim, Fiona and John as they prepare for farewells and look towards returning to Adelaide."

I am thrilled for Tim and will be travelling to Adelaide to present Tim, and preach at his ordination.

Tim has been ‘chewing through’ this possibility with me since early in the year and I know that he has struggled over the decision to accept it because of his love for this Diocese and his commitment to the dream of Bishopdale College.

However he has done what he came to do; establish this College as a real alternative in the life of the Anglican Church in New Zealand, Aotearoa and Polynesia – a College that is very highly regarded nationally. This is a consequence of the staff that Tim has drawn around him, but also at his own personal ability as an academic, a vision caster and a leader.

Tim has played a key role in my formation as your Bishop during his time here and I will always be deeply grateful for that.

However, as much as I will miss Tim and Fiona and Jon, I know that this is the right decision and I rejoice with them. It will certainly cement our close relationship with the Diocese of Adelaide and Archbishop Jeffrey.

Tim is very highly respected provincially also and I acknowledge his work at the national level.

We will always be sincerely grateful that he responded to the call to come and be with us during these recent years of change and development.

Can I invite you to join with the Diocese of Adelaide in praying for Tim, Fiona and Jon and also pray for Bishopdale Theological College which is now very strong thanks to Tim’s leadership and commitment.

With every blessing

Definitely Nelson's loss and Adelaide's gain!

Squaring the circle

In the post below we have a resolution of our church's General Synod Standing Committee about a commission being set up to lead our church towards resolution of the situation in which we are formally undecided about ordinations of partnered gay ministers. This commission will face a numbr of challenges. Arguably these challenges cumulatively constitute the proverbial challenge of squaring a circle. I reserve the right to change my mind, but today this is how the challenges look to me:

(1) How to permit what a significant part of our church (let's say at least the three dioceses which are planning to bring motions to General Synod in 2012) wants in respect of an ending of the moratorium on ordaining openly gay ministers, while not driving a wedge through the life of our church?

(2)  How to define 'chaste/chastity' (a word used within our current canon on ministry standards) in respect of same sex partnerships? I note in recent days two quite different approaches by US bishops to same sex partnerships, one insisting that partnered clergy in his diocese get married, the other insistently refusing to tell his clergy what to do (see, e.g., here). 

(3a) How to be a theologically inclusive church? In my experience a lot of our ACANZP talk of inclusiveness is about including certain groups of people but not all people. 'All people' actually means including those who believe that Christians in general, and ministers in particular should be either single or (heterosexually) married. It is not, I hasten to add, that I think we as a church have set out to have a limited vision of inclusiveness, it is just that I do not think we have yet engaged rigorously with the true meaning of inclusive in respect of our church and the diversity of its life.

(3b) Another way of expressing this challenge is, How do we remain catholic and avoid becoming sectarian? 'Sectarian' here would be a church which had ended up making attitudes towards homosexuality the defining issue in respect of who receives a bishop's licence.

(4) It would not surprise me in the least if this particular challenge was overlooked: the challenge of being a church in a Communion seriously considering a Covenant in which we seek as much interdependency with one another as possible.

Simply musing as I see things today I venture a couple of predictions in the light of the challenges above:

(P1) ACANZP will end up with a something or other (i.e. a resolution or canon or guidelines) which is focused on permitting individual dioceses to make their own way forward as their bishop(s) and synod are agreeable.

(P2) ACANZP will open up, to one degree or another, the possibility of (for want of a better term) alternative episcopal oversight.

Something like P1 and P2 together could keep us from schism.

P1 would be in keeping with the lovely Anglican concept of 'all may, none must, some should' re a course of action and would respect the fact that (say) the Diocese of Polynesia may wish to move in these matters differently from the Diocese of Aotearoa; the Diocese of Wellington differently to the Diocese of Waiapu, and so forth.

Consequential on P1, there is an argument for P2 to be instituted by General Synod because P2 would allow those who, because of P1, felt at odds with their own diocese's polity. A conservative parish within progressive diocese X or a progressive parish within conservative diocese Y could, depending on the precise details of 'alternative episcopal oversight', work out (just to focus on) ordinations which continued the particular character of the parish.

Nevertheless I am talking about 'squaring the circle': I am not predicting that we will resolve challenges (1) - (4) above satisfactorily to all. If we cannot square that particular circle, then P1 and P2 may never surface.

On the other hand I have had experience of how things work in our pragmatic church. It would not be completely surprising if the commission raced straight to recommending P1 and P2!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Just when you thought our GS Standing Committee was not an executive

it makes an executive decision:

"General Synod Standing Committee, meeting in Nadi in July 2011,

Being mindful of ACC-15 meeting in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2012 as an instrument of Communion, and of the ongoing debates in the world wide Anglican Communion,

And also being aware of at least three potential motions coming to GSTHW in 2012 around issues of same sex relationships, blessing, and ordination, thought it appropriate to prepare GSTHW for discussion and consideration of these issues, and accordingly,


1. That General Synod Standing Committee at its meeting in November 2011 appoint a Commission made up of a small Three Tikanga group of eminent people with ability, credibility, and a commitment to work in prayerful collegiality, to report to General Synod/te Hinota Whanui on:

(a) A summary of the biblical and theological work done by our Church on the issues surrounding Christian ethics, human sexuality and the blessing and ordination of people in same sex relationships, including missiological, doctrinal, canonical, cultural and pastoral issues; and

(b) The principles of Anglican ecclesiology and, in light of our diversity, the ecclesial possibilities for ways forward for our Three Tikanga Church; and

(c) The implications of (a) and (b) on the place of our Three Tikanga Church as a whole within the worldwide Anglican Communion.

2. That General Synod Standing Committee immediately establish a small working group to propose, by 31 August 2011, the membership of the Commission.

3. The Commission will be asked to report progress to the General Synod/te Hinota Whanui in 2012 but in any event to complete its work and report to General Synod/te Hinota Whanui by 2014.

4. The General Synod Standing Committee ask each Episcopal unit to comment on the terms of reference and the membership of the Commission prior to the November meeting of the General Synod Standing Committee.

5. That various bodies of this Church, through the terms of reference, be available to offer the Commission advice on specific matters or questions, including the Doctrinal Commission, the Judicial Committee, the Liturgical Commission, as well as the bench of Bishops. The Commission will be free to take such advice and any other advice that it deems appropriate and to receive submissions. "

I have sourced this resolution from here on Taonga, and you can read an article about the resolution here.

How does Christian freedom and the gospel apply in this matter?

Our freedom in Christ

Recent discussion here and elsewhere on the theological justification for women bishops has challenged me as to the substantive quality of my own argumentation. On another site my argumentation has been called "bunk" and "the most tenuous straw-clutching I have seen in a long time." Taking a cue from Bryden Black's contribution of the potent phrase Crux probat omnia (the cross proves or tests everything, via Luther, via 1 Corinthians 1-4), I plan to offer a few posts in coming days which take up the challenge. Today, a reflection on our freedom in Christ.

My working hypothesis here is this: we are free in Christ to appoint women to roles of deacon, presbyter and bishop. (In other words, there is nothing in the example and teaching of Jesus and his apostles which is universally prohibitive of exercising this freedom).

This freedom is the freedom of the gospel in mission, the freedom that has led the church through the ages to translate the gospel into different contexts and cultures. From Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English to Maori, we have literally translated the words of the gospel. From the parables and sayings of Jesus to the theological exposition of Paul in Romans to the priestly reflections of Hebrews to the apocalyptic figuration of Revelation we have translated the mode of communicating the gospel. From the movement of Jesus sweeping through the villages of Galilee to the fledgling church in Jerusalem making up its structures as it went along to the more detailed organisation of 1 Timothy to the imitation of Roman local and imperial rule from Constantine's empire to the English parish system through to the breaking out of many forms of church and missional activity in the 21st century we have adapted the method of communicating the gospel via individuals and groups.

In the expression of this gospel freedom we have successively broken out of one cultural allegiance into another and then to another. Culturally speaking there is no comparison between the movement of Jesus and (say) the great ceremonies of a High Latin Mass or the rock concert feel of a Hillsong service or the solemn chanting of psalms in a kirk in the Outer Hebrides or the exuberance of an African Pentecostal service in Soweto. The only comparison we can (and should) make is whether in each of these contexts the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ - that he lived, was crucified and rose again for our sakes that we might live for him and not for ourselves - is proclaimed and acclaimed in prayer and praise. Crux probat omnia.

The different cultural allegiances of Christians through the ages and, today, around the globe, represent Christians taking up the challenge of communicating the gospel in the "language" of the world around them. "Language" here is not only the words used to speak the gospel but the presuppositions, conceptions, implications and applications of the gospel which make the gospel plausible to those hearing it, as well as seeing it in action. The early church, for example, faced the challenge of whether or not circumcision was part of the language of the gospel as it moved from Jewish culture to Gentile culture. From the perspective of Jewish culture it was part of the gospel. From the perspective of Gentile culture it was a barrier to the gospel being heard and received. Circumcision made the gospel implausible as it headed across the boundary between Jewishness and Gentileness. Crux probat omnia. Peter, Paul, James and co had to get their heads around whether or not the gospel of the cross included circumcision or not. Circumcision dropped away. The cross was sufficient for salvation.

Why do women in Western churches, with a very few exceptions, neither wear coverings over their heads nor feel anxious about whether they grow their hair long or have it cut short? Indeed, pressing this question further, despite the (pun intended) heady theological justification of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, which seems to invoke order in creation and eternal order in the Godhead for women covering their heads and having long hair, why do women in the West set that theological justification to one side and go to church without hats and with short hair? Crux probat omnia. Without an ecumenical council having been called (!!) we have reached a consensus that insisting on wearing head coverings and having long hair makes the gospel implausible within our culture which is indifferent to whether hair is long or short and which has moved from uniform hat wearing for men and women to hat wearing for specific purposes (to protect from the sun, to mark celebratory events such as weddings and race meetings). Have we egregiously sinned in disregarding Paul's apostolic teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16? No! Have we merely moved with the times, married the spirit of the age and endangered ourselves of widowhood in the next? No! We have embraced the apostolic crux of mission, the core of the gospel: only Christ crucified on the cross matters, everything else is changeable in order that the gospel may be communicated faithfully by Christians and heard plausibly by non-Christians.

The gospel is not Come to Jesus (and, by the way, you'll need to be circumcised) or Believe on the Lord Jesus (and, hey, you had better buy a hat or headscarf) or Follow Jesus (and, incidentally, start learning Latin fast).

In a culture in which we properly celebrate our equality and mutuality together as men and women - properly because that is how we have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that is how we are meant to be in the kingdom of God (Galatians 3:28) - it is an urgent and serious question whether we are using our freedom in Christ to preach the gospel faithfully and plausibly when we place restriction on what women may do in the service of that same gospel.

I can think of no more weighty, substantial, and magnificent reason for appointing women bishops than this: it serves the cause of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in our generation.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In her digital footprint we follow her ways

We are trying hard in our diocese not to contact Bishop Victoria while she is away in England. After a stint of work at the English General Synod she will be on a well-earned vacation. But while working +Victoria is leaving a digital footprint wherever she speaks! In a post below I have detailed two links. Here is another link, to a blog by Rosie Harper at the Guardian, which concludes with this paragraph:

"Rowan was on fire, but alongside him we met another bishop of real stature, tough and humble, intelligent and grounded – Bishop Victoria Matthews of Christchurch, New Zealand. Beneath the tedious manicured York agenda, the issue of women bishops doesn't go away. "Do you believe in women in the episcopate? Why, I've seen it done, and it rocks." "

In More Trouble Than I Thought?

One of my learnings from past blogging is to take care diving into troubles of overseas jurisdictions, especially, in my case, those concerning TEC. On the one hand I may have been obsessive about 1/38th of the Communion (not a good look). On the other hand I may have conveniently overlooked troubles in my own church - admittedly harder to comment on because sometimes I know too much to go to print about, and sometimes involving people I am likely to encounter face to face! Nevertheless I continue to write some things some of the time about TEC because that 1/38th of the Communion has much more influence over the future of the Communion as a fellowship of churches than my 1/38th part. In  such writing I try to find the "Communion angle" on the affairs of TEC and other member churches.

I have been observing in recent days an unfolding controversy involving the Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. Sometimes "controversy" means the standard blogs on the conservative side of things are running with some statement or action which is played out as significant, but which no one else picks up on. Recently, noticed here on ADU itself, such an action concerned a narrative of changes to the PB's Wikipedia entry and the statements made on the CV presented at the General Convention that elected her. No standard blog on the liberal/progressive side of things picked up this issue. The present unfolding controversy is quite different inasmuch as The Lead at the Episcopal Cafe is taking, well, the lead on it, and asking some hard questions of the PB. The story concerns the ordination of a man in the Diocese of Nevada when the PB was diocesan bishop there - a man (1) with a record of sexual harrassment involving youth during previous ministry in another church prior to joining the Episcopal church, (2) [correction: received as an] ordained [as] priest with a constriction placed on him [being licensed] that he not minister around youth, (3) now self-admitting many offences committed during that previous ministry. Present aspects of the story involve the possibility that current handling of the situation involves an ineptitude in media response (e.g. is the PB avoiding making a direct statement - so far she has remained silent - good communications strategy?). The most recent post of The Lead on this matter is here. Its focus question is whether transparency at the top of TEC is being exhibited.

On the face of it, the extraordinary aspect of this story is that any bishop would proceed to ordain//receive an ordained someone on whom a restriction in ministry relating to conduct around people was immediately placed. It raises significant questions about judgement, questions which are unlikely to be dispelled by a response which says the restriction was for the priest's benefit. Those questions can and should be played out within TEC's jurisdictional processes. I will not take comments on these questions - you can comment at The Lead.

But the question we can be concerned with here is whether this situation affects the leadership of the PB in two ways relating to the Communion. First, a few days ago a new canon on discipline of bishops came into effect. Some believe this new canon will be used to bring charges against the Bishop of South Carolina, Mark Lawrence, because allegedly there is a case which can be brought against him for the way in which he has handled some situations involving churches leaving his diocese, permitting property to go with the departure, rather than fighting to retain it for the future ministry of TEC. To bring such charges will be of great interest to many in the Communion because +Mark is a symbol of conservative presence in TEC: to charge +Mark would look to all the Communion as though TEC has no particular commitment to the diversity it professes. But now, there is a possibility the canon could be used against the PB herself. Or will both possibilities quietly die away, the embarrassment of the latter outweighing the advantages of the former?

Secondly, future involvement of the PB in Communion affairs will expose her to media questioning. Say, for instance, the PB visits with ++Rowan in England, and afterwards there is a media conference. Journalists there will not hold back on unresolved questions. This particular question will dog her unless it is squarely faced and dealt with. So, will we see the question of past judgement fronted, or will we see the PB's leadership presence in future Communion life hampered?

I will consider comments focused on the PB's role in Communion life, and whether this unfolding story has potential or not to hamper her leadership within the Communion. I make no commitment to publish comments made and will judge each on its merits as a constructive contribution to the life of the Communion.

Addendum: the story that is not going away quickly has now been taken up by The Living Church. I have found this US journal run by Episcopalians to be responsible and careful in its approach to the Presiding Bishop.

Additional addendum (23 July 2011): I see a second suit has been brought against the Abbey where the offending took place (one can say that as the perpetrator has admitted (some) fault) and this suit alleges that the Diocese of Nevada received information such that - if this allegation is true - will be a challenge to explain away. Again, so there is no implication that this is some kind of "right-wing conservative conspiracy" type news agin the PB, check out Jim Naughton here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

All Is Doom and Gloom - Start Mourning Now

I am thinking seriously about important discussions here and working up a post on patriarchal order. But I am also working on the sad reality of the jolts and shakes of this particular year. The mighty Crusaders [Christchurch rugby team] were not so mighty on Saturday night, losing 13-18 to the rampaging Reds [of Brisbane]. The sublime, svelte Silver Ferns [NZ netball team] were not sublime, giving up a 26-20 lead to lose 57-58 in the World Championship final to the audacious and agile Australian Diamonds. So what does that tell us about the World Rugby Cup final in late October, 2011?

Start mourning now :(

+Victoria Matthews in England at Open Synod group

I could imagine a headline "Kiwi Woman Bishop Makes Waves At General Synod" but the English news cycle is dominated by other events these days, what with the demise of the News of the World and the Church of England threatening to sell its shares in News International (what was it doing with share in that beast in the first place?). So I am very grateful to find a blog report on Bishop Victoria's address to the Open Synod Group - a report as it happens by Suem who often comments here. Thank you Suem!

ADDENDUM Interesting discussion and comments on some other remarks +Victoria has made in England at the Ugley Vicar.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Spreading the gospel in post-modernist society

A few nights ago at Laidlaw College Christchurch I heard the second of two lectures by Ian Proven, a teacher at Regent College, Vancouver who visited our city for a few days. In the course of that lecture Ian said something which I have been pondering. In my own words, this is what I have been thinking about:

In a world which is very sceptical about truth claims, which places no value on claims to uniqueness for a large truth claim (compared to plenty of value on other forms of uniqueness such as one's own individuality), for the gospel to be heard as a true story it needs to be able to connect to the story our culture is telling itself about what the meaning of life is. If we wish the gospel to regain the ground lost with the demise of Christendom, how Christians tell the story of the gospel needs to do more than tick the boxes of Christians who hear it. The gospel needs to be told in a manner which is able to be received by a world which neither knows the gospel nor is able to receive as truth the gospel as Christians often tell it. Thus Christians need to understand culture and society around us better and relate the gospel to it accordingly.

In a sense there is nothing new missiologically here: 'when taking the gospel to another culture communicate it in the language of that culture' is a well-established principle. I guess I am reflecting not on the novelty of what Ian Provan said, but on the implication that we Western Christians may be settling to easily for a form of survival as a faith in a pluralist, post-modernist world. Are our ambitions too small? Are we prepared to rethink what the gospel of Jesus Christ is in terms which communicate truthfully and truly to a world which is not the world, say, we grew up in during our formative years?

That in part is what I am trying to get at in my post below re women bishops. To a world without the gospel, how does the gospel make sense? Is it believable if it comes as a package with social and ethical conditions attached which are nonsense to the world trying to make sense of the gospel? Clearly some are going to put their hands up and say 'Yes, it does. Look at how my congregation is growing.' Around our post-modernist world we see varieties of expressions of being the church associated with growth: Roman Catholic churches, conservative Anglican churches, Eastern Orthodox churches, Fresh Expressions, and so on. Perhaps we should be satisfied with these stories of growth, such as it is? In a country such as my own, however, all too often these stories of growing congregations either represent transfers of Christians (so no gospel growth of significant numbers of new Christians) or statistically speaking a handful of new Christians. In broad terms, the number of Christians actively expressing their faith through church attendance is at best a static small proportion (I suggest around 10%, maybe 20% if we allow for irregular attendance) of the overall population. What I heard Ian Provan challenging us to think about, is whether we could have greater gospel impact through better attention to relationship between how we tell the gospel and how the whole population of non-Christians makes sense of any truth claim in this day which is derisive of any claim to tell truth applicable to the whole world.

These are tough questions to raise. Not least because the very raising of them may be inferred by some as criticism of past and present gospel work. That is not why they are raised here. They are raised here because looking at the future of our world - for example through the percipient eyes of a scholar such as Ian Provan - the gospel may be in for a rougher ride than we have ever thought possible. Not the rough ride of persecution, but the rough ride of dismissal, avoidance, and deafness. So I raise these questions hesitantly, but also raise them insistently because I am confident that none reading here wishes to be complacent about the course of the gospel in the twenty-first century and all want to find a way, if possible, to reach many more people for Christ than we are currently doing.

Incidentally, in the RCL readings for tomorrow, the Parable of the Sower is the gospel reading (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23), and one of Paul's great explanations of the gospel is the epistle (Romans 8:1-11). As I prepare to speak on (mainly) Romans 8:1-11, I am struck by the language Paul uses which presumably made excellent sense to his readers 2000 years ago, and require careful unpacking and explanation by the preacher to make sense to hearers today.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fine tuning the case for women bishops

My bishop, +Victoria Matthews is in England as I write, roundabout now contributing to a 'fringe' event at the C of E's General Synod which will make a significant decision about the future of women bishops in that church, as well as what polity surrounds women bishops in relation to those not accepting their leadership. The signs augur very well for an overwhelming decision in favour of women bishops with ten dioceses so far voting in their synods for women bishops.

Naturally arguments continue for and against women bishops so that recently Ian Paul has written in favour and in the last day or so, David Ould has responded with a contrary fisking of Ian Paul's argument.

Without running through all the details of their debate, I generally accept David Ould's point that Ian Paul's argument has weaknesses if not a central weakness inasmuch as it is based on a subjective interpretation of what the Spirit is saying to the church at this time. While many Christians may think such an interpretation is a strong point in favour of any mooted change, evangelicals are typically resistant to such arguments on the positive ground that we want to see the text of Scripture which favours the change and on the negative ground that we see church history as littered with disasters when the Spirit has been followed at the expense of the Word.

Thus this latest outbreak of this debate prompts me to put down a few ideas of my own about this running argument within Anglican evangelicalism, an argument which is a lively part of the reason for the recently announced AMiE. These ideas of mine could support the strikingly consistent enthusiasm of the English synods for women bishops would be rightly taken up by General Synod.

But also in my mind is a meeting I went to two nights ago in which a young woman gave a Bible study to a mixed gender group which was simply one of the best ever Bible talks I have ever heard in my life. I cannot not ask, I will keep on asking, does the Bible provide clear and definitive evidence that this young woman should not have done what she did, that the organisers of the meeting were in error, and that I should not have received the teaching she gave.

Here are some ideas I think are best avoided

There is evidence for women being presbyters and bishops in the New Testament. If it is there it is hard to find and even harder to get people to agree that it is there.

Jesus only chose men to be the Twelve. True, they were men, but is it straightforward to then conclude that women were not apostles? (Junia in Romans 16:16 constitutes evidence that women may have been apostles.) Further, the Twelve is clearly associated with the sense that Jesus came to renew Israel as the kingdom of God, thus the patriarchs were replicated in the men Jesus chose. But forming that group says nothing about the roles the Miriams, Deborahs, Esthers, and Huldahs of the kingdom of God will take up.

Jesus set up an unchangeable tradition of leadership. There have been changes to the tradition. His primary leadership group of Twelve were Jewish men who were with him and were witnesses to the resurrection. Jewish gave way to Gentilic; 'with him' gave way to those who 'believed in him'; 'witnesses to the resurrection' somewhat naturally died out as the years rolled by; even 'men', noting Junia, may not have been strictly followed. We might also note with specific reference to Roman Catholic invoking of tradition that the tradition changed when celibacy was required of its bishops and priests.

For nearly 1900 years the church misread Scripture. That kind of idea opens up a hornet's nest about the reliability of the Spirit at work within us, about a God who seems uncaring about how long we live in error, and so on.

Here are some ideas I think are worth exploring

Two conjoined questions: Whether the New Testament lays down a fixed schema of church leadership or offers a history of the development of apostleship, episcopacy, presbyterial and diaconal ministry in which flexibility and adaptation of leadership occurred according to changing circumstances? and Whether the New Testament sets out a freedom in Christ for the church to make decisions as it sees fit providing these decisions are not repugnant to Scritpure?

The situation of women in many parts of the world has changed in such a way as to open up the possibility that we should re-read Scripture to ask whether it provides for the possibility of a reformed understanding of Christian leadership in a new age. When women go out to work away from the family hearth and home, when women take up opportunities to learn theology to doctoral level (which is not, of course, the only measure of theological learning), when women are supported by the church in being leaders in business, politics (cf. support for Margaret Thatcher, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann), the arts, education, medicine, welfare and other areas of society, and when women are not constrained to child-rearing duties for most of their lives as they once were when routinely they were mothers to a dozen or more children and life-expectancy was shorter: we are in a new age. When we re-read Scripture with the questions of a new age about the roles of women in respect of church and home, does Scripture prohibit women leading and teaching men in every context and every age?

The situation we face is not one in which the Spirit is contradicting the Word but one in which the Spirit is bringing forth new light from the Word.

To the extent that the concept of 'roles' is invoked in some circles so that men and women are equal but different - equal in status but different in roles, how strongly and clearly does Scripture teach that roles for men and women are fixed for all time?

In respect of ministry, is ministry essentially Christ's ministry? If so, then in a very important sense we are all, men and women, helpers or assistants to Christ in his ministry. It is Christ's priesthood (hiereus), not ours: our presbyteral or 'priestly' (Anglicans/Roman Catholics might say) ministry (presbuteros) is always an assistant's role to the Head of the Church.

There is plenty more to say, of course! But these are a few ideas to consider avoiding and a few ideas to explore further.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Perfect Fear Casts Out All Love for the Covenant

A comment on my previous post asks:

"perhaps you could do a follow up post for those of us evangelicals whose fear is not that the covenant wrecks autonomy, but that it allows churches to remain too autonomous? Some evangelicals might have been signed up to the covenant draft presented to ACC-14 (can't remember its official name) that contained more serious consequences for provinces that strayed too far from the apostolic faith. Not to mention our other fear that the Covenant won't be worth the paper it's written on, because ACoC and TEC have already broken a number of verbal and written commitments not to take the path they have since taken. This breakdown in trust is mentioned time and again by the Global South primates as the deal breaker for them."


One of the problems global Anglicanism is facing is various groups of narrow-minded Anglicans trying to wrest control of the formal apparatus of world Anglicanism. In some cases the 'narrow-mindedness' is a 'single issue' approach to being Anglican, the specific and urgent issue at present being homosexuality. It is extraordinary how both globally, and within some member churches the question of whether one is 'for' or 'against' the two markers of formal change, blessing of same sex partnerships or ordination of partnered gay ministers, is determinative of whether the future is good or bad.

"What? The Covenant will rule out such change!? Do not sign it."

"What? The Covenant will not expel member churches making such change?! Do not sign it."

In other cases the narrow-mindedness is  about a style and substance to the future of Anglicanism which seemingly ignores the history of post-Reformation Anglicanism in which some breadth of approach, tolerance in attitude to one another, and liberality of heart towards others who are different has always featured in our life. I often argue for limits to Anglican diversity but I have never argued for no diversity at all.

So, I say to those who think the Covenant is not tough enough, that an earlier draft was better for holding out the possibility of greater punishment: soften up! Do not fear the future of a toughless global Anglican love. Have some trust that if we sign the Covenant there will be consequences: a changed outlook on being Anglican across the globe which over time increases coherence and commonality among us. What future do you want to be part of? One driven by fear or faith?

Perfect fear casts out all love for the Covenant.

One antidote to fear in this case is grasping that we are a global Communion  so that any such thing as a Covenant, when all drafts are said and done is likely to be a middling moderate, centrist document. And most unlikely to support a narrow-minded agenda. Some trust that when we find the middling way we have potential for significant support, for a majority vote in favour, is a sine qua non of belonging to any organisation. Why cannot GAFCON and the like front up to that? (Ipso facto, the question goes to other groups protesting the Covenant).

Incidentally, Lambeth Palace has a very fine response to the announcement of AMiE's existence. If you want to see a narrow-mindedness in action, look closely at AMiE and ask, Why did three people need to go to Kenya to be ordained, rather than front up to one of the excellent evangelical bishops in the C of E?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Perfect Love Casts Out All Fear of the Covenant

Following debates here, there and elsewhere, re the Covenant, Anglican doctrine: unique/not?, and the nature of the Communion to which we belong, I am struck by the vehemence of opposition to the Covenant in some quarters, aptly represented in the title of Mark Harris' current post at Preludium, "Why the Anglican Covenant sucks."

Ad fons, back to the source. What does the Covenant actually say? Here is a bit which makes me wonder whether some are fussing over nothing.

"4.1 Adoption of the Covenant
(4.1.1) Each Church adopting this Covenant affirms that it enters into the Covenant as a commitment to relationship in submission to God. Each Church freely offers this commitment to other Churches in order to live more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence which is foundational to the Churches of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, of national or regional Churches, in which each recognises in the others the bonds of a common loyalty to Christ expressed through a common faith and order, a shared inheritance in worship, life and mission, and a readiness to live in an interdependent life.

(4.1.2) In adopting the Covenant for itself, each Church recognises in the preceding sections a statement of faith, mission and interdependence of life which is consistent with its own life and with the doctrine and practice of the Christian faith as it has received them. It recognises these elements as foundational for the life of the Anglican Communion and therefore for the relationships among the covenanting Churches.

(4.1.3) Such mutual commitment does not represent submission to any external ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Nothing in this Covenant of itself shall be deemed to alter any provision of the Constitution and Canons of any Church of the Communion, or to limit its autonomy of governance. The Covenant does not grant to any one Church or any agency of the Communion control or direction over any Church of the Anglican Communion."
Fussing Over Nothing?

For some the fuss seems to be, If we sign the Covenant we will hand over our autonomy, we will be submitting decisions made (say) by a disciplinary tribunal in our church to the higher power of the Communion's Standing Committee ... that is scary, and at all costs to be fought against. I cannot square that fear with 4.1.3.  Can you?

For those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and love his church, what is in the Covenant which is fearful?

Take 4.1.1. What is objectionable here to a Christian who reads Scripture obediently as it presents Christ praying for the unity of the church, Paul expounding the unity of the body with its diverse members, the writer to the Hebrews urging readers to meet together, and various writers urging Christians to love one another? Is it not intrinsic to being 'in Christ' that we wish to grow more deeply into that state, both by becoming ever more loyal to Christ, and ever more deeply bound to those who are in Christ with us, our brothers and sisters in God's family?

Is it possible that Anglicans as a group of Christians have a particular deficit of knowledge of the theology embedded in 4.1.1? Has, for example, the concept of a 'national church' and of 'autonomy' limited our frame of reference and our horizons in respect of the possibility of commitment to the aim 'to live more fully into the ecclesial communion and interdependence'?

When we love the Lord Jesus Christ we love everything about him: what he teaches, who follows him alongside us, what he is making of those who love him, ut unim sint. Nothing in the citation above from the Covenant is inconsistent with this love.

Perfect love casts out all fear. For those who love the Lord Jesus and love his church, there is nothing to fear in the Covenant.

Monday, July 4, 2011

John Keble was right: there are limits to Anglican diversity

Extreme Anglican conservative evangelicals such as myself have reading tastes confined to the narrowness of minds predicated of us, and thus I find myself restricted to reading books such as Edward Short's Newman and his Contemporaries. Just kidding, we are free to read what we want. But I am not kidding about reading Short's fine book. Last night my eyes alighted on this passage which caught my imagination as one whose blog is based precisely on the presupposition that there are limits to Anglican diversity:

'The "glorious clamour," as Maria Giberne called it, that broke over Tract 90 forced Keble to recognize that the rift in the Anglican Church between those who read the articles in a Protestant and those who read them in a Catholic light could not widen indefinitely. Sooner or later, Anglicans would have to decide whether they wished to subscribe to a Protestant or to a 'catholic' church, and if they chose the latter, they would have to decide whether the English Church truly met the criterion for catholicity. This was the crisis of Tractarianism.' (p. 39)
Today we could say,

'The current controversies in the Communion are forcing people (or should be forcing those who think all is well) to recognize that the rift in the Anglican Communion between those who understand Anglicanism in a conservative and those who understand it in a progressive light cannot widen indefinitely. Sooner or later, Anglicans will have to decide whether they wish to subscribe to a Covenanted Communion or not, and if they choose the latter, they will have to decide whether an unCovenanted Communion truly meets the criterion for catholicity. This is the Communion's crisis.'

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Is there a unique Anglican doctrine?

Fr Jonathan at Conciliar Anglicanism posts on a post by Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction. The former is headed "Anglicanism's Unique Doctrine" and the latter is titled "Thought for 06.30.11." Tobias comments on Fr Jonathan's post, in a debate on whether the latter has understood the former.

What interests me is, first, what Tobias Haller says about the Communion and Covenant; but secondly, with Fr Jonathan, whether there is anything unique to Anglican doctrine or not. (Tobias argues for a unique polity). I may take up what Haller says about the Communion and Covenant on another post, but for now I will confine interest to the possible uniqueness of Anglican doctrine.

With or without reading the two posts linked to above, is there a unique doctrinal contribution of Anglicanism to the theological life of the universal church?

I like Fr Jonathan's observation that some Anglicans, on all parts of the spectrum of our life, tend to think being Anglican is a convenient way of being Christian, or in the words used by many an evangelical Church of England preacher, our church is a good boat to fish from. Is that all there is to Anglicanism?

Debate and discussion on this particular matter is spreading, see, for instance, Creedal Christian.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hostage to Fortune: St Matt's and the Bishop (II)

A little while ago I drew attention to a campaign by St Matthew's to force our bishops to give way to their arguments re alleged discrimination against gay candidates for the ordained ministry. At the time Bishop Philip Richardson wrote a letter setting out the reasons for the bishops maintaining the status quo, as well as the kind of steps that would be needed to take things forward if change is to be sought by our church. While I agreed with and commended the general thrust of the letter, it contained some phrasing (noted here by commenters) which, arguably, frames the main issue our church would need to engage with in an unfortunate way. Here, here, and here.

St Matt's next step is to take for them the original step of putting up a billboard. You can read about it here on Stuff and also see a photo of the billboard. You may have some thoughts about the billboard and its accuracy as a description of how our church makes decisions.

But I see in the report that this is said:

"Bishop Philip Richardson of Taranaki says until the Anglican Church can agree whether homosexuality is a consequence of "willful human sinfulness" or an "expression of God-given diversity" sexual orientation will continue to be a deciding factor in determining potential priests."
At this point the considered and considerable wisdom of +Philip is set to one side, and one element is highlighted as summing up the whole debate our church apparently faces. I suggest the debate we in fact face, in similar simple terms, is this:

Whether homosexuality as a human sexual orientation is an "expression of God-given diversity" or a part of the diversity of human sexuality with no implied mandate to change Christian tradition based in Scripture that disciples of Christ should live as single people or as married people.

Until our church accepts the former as true, the bishops are faithful ministers of God's Word by sticking to the latter.

However, the framing of the debate by +Philip may turn out to be a hostage to fortune. The debate will follow that lead, not the alternative proposed above.

Incidentally, the English bishops have been speaking in the same area of interest.

ADDENDUM (SATURDAY) Finally the NZH has an item re St Matt's and the billboard on its site. Apparently the billboard has been defaced, with the cross-gauge being removed. Duh! Obviously St. Matt's got the position of the cross-gauge wrong :)

Following on from my observation above about unfortunate framing of the issues, here is another, from within the NZH article:

"[Archdeacon Glynn] Cardy said some bishops in New Zealand had in the past ordained gay and lesbian candidates.

``However, following the international furore around the 2004 consecration of Gene Robinson -- an American priest who is gay and in a committed relationship -- New Zealand's bishops have seemed more concerned to promote unity with the majority rather than uphold justice for a minority.'' "

I assume that here "unity with the majority" is at least "unity of our church with the Anglican Communion" but could also be "unity within our church". It is that latter bit which I think is important to get in the framing of the debate St Matt's are trying to push along. Our bishops have a duty of care for the unity and good order of our church. They also have duty of care for the teaching of our church. I am unaware of any teaching in our church, accepted by our General Synod which has concluded that the ordination of partnered gay people is solely about "justice".

I also note an irony in what Glynn Cardy says: there were gay people ordained in NZ before Gene Robinson was ordained a bishop. That ordination has actually led to a reversal of fortune for gay people seeking ordination in our church.

Are Autonomy Alone members of the Communion going to leave?

I find it very hard to work out where TEC is going with its membership of the Communion in the context of "Will we, won't we sign the Covenant?" debates. On some readings of comments at Preludium (e.g. this thread) I sense a spittle-flecked raging against the Covenant and what it is alleged to stand for which does not see a simple logic and its conclusion: if the Communion becomes a Covenanted Communion, member churches opposed to the Covenant do not need to live with its (argued) oppressive consequences, they are free to leave to pursue their vision of Anglicanism.

In a sense to the "solas" of the Reformation (Sola Scriptura, etc) we have an emerging "sola" or "alone" in this new Reformation: Autonomy Alone. This is the stance of churches unwilling to countenance an understanding of 'Communion' in which autonomy is counter-balanced with interdependency and mutual accountability in an Anglican working out of catholicity and unity. All this and more is very well stated in this Catholicity and Covenant post.

Of course we may yet find that the overwhelming majority of member churches do not sign the Covenant. At that point we may conclude that Autonomy Alone is a mark of this new Reformation which applies almost uniformly to Anglican churches. But if an overwhelming majority of churches do sign the Covenant, would it not be a simple consistency of theological commitment to Autonomy Alone for the remaining churches to walk away?

PS. Yes, that may yet include my church ACANZP which I rate 60:40 likely not to sign the Covenant.