Sunday, October 30, 2011

As big a Communion tent as can be?

In the end, as I re-read some comments posted this past week when I posted about the Communion and the risks some groups are posing to it, I am unconvinced that these matters rending the Communion are sharply binary: what has Sydney to do with TEC? The Communion must become liberal or conservative, not a mixture. Opposing views on (e.g.) homosexuality or the ordination of women are impossible to contain within the the one Communion tent. Our problems are about two gospels defining the Communion when Communion can only be based on one gospel.

Here are the facts of Anglican life, experienced previously and currently: we have great differences contained in our tent, partly because they are contained in smaller tents within the larger tent (so Sydney lives first within the diverse Anglican Church of Australia, and then in the Communion which also includes TEC); opposing views are possible among Anglican groups (there are those who ordain women and those who do not in Global South; people who think divorce equates to adultery (and thus remarriage is blessing sin) and people who think oppositely live within the same churches, even in the same NZ dioceses!); the Communion and many of its member churches have always had two or more camps within  and lived to tell the tale - they just haven't always been called 'liberals' and 'conservatives'; and the problem of perceptions of two gospels at work in Anglican life is something which has also been lived with for a long time.

The last issue, two gospels, is, in the end, the sharpest and most important matter before us. But here, I suggest, are several issues which need to be worked through before I, you, or both of us make a definitive pronouncement that there are two gospels and thus there must be two Communions.

... to be continued (I accidentally published this in incomplete form, but not to worry, it can be completed another day!)


Suem said...

Are there two (distinct) gospels? Can you define them?

I ask because I know that you and I differ a great deal on certain issues, but I *think* we share the same gospel?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem
Your making a comment alerted me to the fact that I had 'published' this by mistake, rather than 'saved as a draft'. I intend to continue writing about this, so your comment serves as a pointer to the next paragraph etc :)

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, as I discern it, there is only one Gospel. At the heart of it is this declaration: "Jesus Christ came into this world to SAVE SINNERS" -
that's all of us - not just the good!

Have a Joyous ALL-Saints-tide!

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

As to the question of whether or not there are two gospels afoot within Anglicanism (and more broadly?), here are a couple of blog postings that might be within the ballpark:

Two Movements Within the Anglican Communion

Contemporary vs. Apostolic Christianity

Peter Carrell said...

Golly, Bryan, I had forgotten about the first of those posts you link to! Thank you for both links :)

Father Ron Smith said...

Here again, Peter, for me, and for many open-minded Christians, the Dominical sayings of the Gospels are primary - so that Jude's words, in his letter, cannot be equated with the final words of Jesus before his crucifixion - such as we find in the gospel of John16:11-15.

Jude, In the later N.T. scriptures, is probably dealing with a particular situation, where Greek Christians in the Early church are falling short of their calling, cf verse 4: "Certain people have infiltrated among you, and they are the ones you had a warning about, in writing, long ago, when they were condemned for denying all religion, turning the grace of our God into immorality, and rejecting our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ".

Are you suggesting that parts of the Church have 'denied all religion, turning the grace of our God into immorality, and rejecting our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ"?

That would be a very tough judge-ment to make of a particular part of the Anglican Communion of churches at this time. I know that certain puritanical 'believers' are currently charging parts of the church with 'immorality' but that is surely a subjective judgement, and not ours to make.

Jesus makes no such judgements of homosexuality in the gospels. He makes reference to hetero-sexual relationships (i.e. in marriage) as being capable of being betrayed, but not a word about gays.

It might be worth having a look again at his words in St. Matthew's Gospel chapter 19, verses 10 to 12, where Jesus mentions 'eunuchs, born from their mother's womb' I ask you: Who are they?

False judgement is one of the more heinous sins, because it robs God of what is clearly God's prerogative. And it may just be that the puritanical judgement of the LGBT community is based on an entirely false premise.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,

I think the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) is a great help here in discerning what are crucial matters on which we must agree to be in the same Christian community (live in the same tent), and what are secondary matters on which we can disagree and yet remain happily in fellowship together.

Then, the issue was: Is circumcision and the law of Moses a fundamental part of the gospel? The apostles reviewed the events in the light of the Scriptural evidence and the decided no it wasn't. However, they asked Gentile Christians to abstain voluntarily from four certain practices that were likely to offend their Jewish brothers and sisters.

Now, the parallel isn't exact because the Anglican Communion is a sub-set of the Christian church with a particular approach to ministry and worship. However, I would argue that when we look at the Scriptural evidence, some of our disagreements fall into the category of fundamental aspects of the gospel. We argue about issues like the authority of the Scriptures, the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus, salvation by grace through faith and holy living as outlined in the Scriptures - all issues that our creeds, doctrines (39 Articles) and prayer book espouse with clarity. Many of our "presenting issues" today are symptoms of these deeper disagreements e.g. approval of divorce and remarriage, teaching of universal salvation, law suits between believers, and homosexual practice.

Some of the other issues we have do not fall into this category, and we can still live in the same tent while disagreeing about these - e.g. women's ordination, liturgical style, leadership structures. On these, we may ask particular groups to refrain from particular actions out of love for other believers, but they are not grounds for division.

So, I think we can have a large tent, but we can't have two different versions of our fundamental beliefs existing within it. Evangelicals aren't saying, "Our way is the only way to be Anglican and we want to kick everybody else out". We are saying, "We have to hold on to the apostolic faith as we have received it in the Communion. Those who are not in agreement with those foundational beliefs ought to remove themselves, rather than seek to change those foundational beliefs."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron // Andrew
I think your comment, Andrew, answers the question which you, Ron, pose in the middle of your comment re Jude/Communion issues!

I like the idea of 'foundational beliefs' being a primary area of testing for our fellowship (or not) and will take that up in my next posting.

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Andrew and Peter, for your further clarification of the basic issues involved. 'Foundational' is precisely the area in which 'Faith' is grounded: The Catholic Creeds, for instance, are 'foundational', whereas sexual-orientation is adiaphora.

Sexual behaviour, and it's effect upon viable relationships - whether from heterosexuals or homosexuals - is a matter for moral judgement that impinges on everyone; whereas sexual-orientation is a given.

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Father Ron,

I did mention that authority of the Scriptures was foundational. Those same scriptures declare that God designed human sexuality to be heterosexual rather than homosexual, so I don't agree sexuality is adiaphora at all. Adiaphora relates to issues on which the Scriptures are silent or allow a range of practice.


Father Ron Smith said...

Andrew, I think you will find that the jury is still out on that one - as to whether innate homosexuality is God-given or in some way an acquired 'taste'. modern science does not rule out the fact that Gays are part of God's 'normal'. Scripture is not as clear as you might assert, here, otherwise the arguments would not have been brought by reputable scholars - Biblical and Scientific.

Again, I will ask you: What do YOU make of Matthew 19:12, where Jesus speaks of 'Eunuchs born that way from their mother's womb'. Do you not agree that this could be interpreted to mean 'Gay'? Apart from this - Jesus appears to have said nothing about homosexuality.
If it was at least as important as marital relations and sexual infidelity, which Jesus did speak about, why would Jesus not have spoken of it, implicitly?

Andrew Reid said...

Hi Father Ron,

There are plenty of things Jesus didn't talk about directly - misusing God's name, stealing, and lying just from the 10 commandments. To say that Jesus was silent on a settled issue within Jewish society (ie God's design for sexuality was heterosexual, and thus homosexuality is sinful), doesn't mean we can say he overturned the Old Testament understanding of those issues. On sexuality in general, he strengthened the teaching about marriage (saying divorce was to allow for hard hearts) and said that looking lustfully at others was committing adultery of the heart. Where Jesus does address issues around sexuality, he strengthens rather than weakens the OT teaching.

It also doesn't mean we can ignore the words of his apostles recorded for us in the scriptures, who do speak on this issue. Playing Jesus off against his apostles is a poor approach to Biblical interpretation.

WIth Matthew 19:12, I think we should read it in its plain sense. In the context of Jesus setting a high standard for marriage, his disciples say it would be better not to marry. Jesus then lists 3 categories of people who don't marry - those who are born eunuchs, those who have been made that way, and those who have renounced marriage for the kingdom of heaven. "Born eunuchs", in that culture, means some kind of physical impediment which prevents child bearing. This is shown by the re-use of "eunuchs" to describe those who have been castrated. If "born eunuchs" meant homosexuals, then the second category would mean that some people had been made homosexual by others, when it clearly means castrated servants.

Father Ron Smith said...

Contrarily to you, Andrew, I think that Jesus could have been speaking about three different conditions of human beings not disposed, or able, to become engage in physical parenting of chidren - which would be the normal expectation of a married couple in the Jewish tradition: (1) to remain celibate, for the sake of the Kingdom; (2)because of physical castration; and (3) because of an inborn, innate, attraction to the same gender.

My reasons for this understanding are the result of new insights into gender and sexuality - that were not available to the writers of the Scriptures.

Andrew Reid said...

Fr Ron,

Thanks for the challenge of looking at the Scriptures together on this issue. I agree that new insights can help us understand Scripture more completely, e.g. new insights into physics and biology help us to appreciate Genesis 1-3 and the creation Psalms, archaeological discoveries can give us valuable insight into the context of the Biblical cultures. So, I'm not a Biblical literalist in that sense.

However, I don't think new insights can overturn what is the plain intent of the original writer. It takes a fair leap of logic to move from "born eunuch" to homosexual, and say Jesus was leaving us a clue for when later generations understood sexuality more fully. If we applied that same logic to other texts, we could make the Bible say whatever we wanted it to say.

I guess our disagreement ultimately will revolve around whether Scripture is "the" final authority, or just "an" authority.