Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Disappointment does not begin to express it

Be worried. You should be. The Anglican Communion is in convulsions about sexuality. Its situation cries out for theology, the bringing of God's perspective into human dilemmas. Our convulsions are due to a lack of theology and a surfeit of anthropology. The Covenant was (is?) an attempt - a bold and courageous attempt - to balance the anthropology with theology. A slight catch up on Roman and Eastern Christianities would befit our notion that we too are one of the great branches of the Christian tree: they understand the importance of theology as the binding which holds their respective ecclesial communities together.

What better place to start the catch up than with a document on marriage. What better document on marriage than one produced by the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation (IALC). We Anglicans are the Christians who express our theology through our prayers, who set down right believing through rite practice. Is that a tremor of excitement I see as you learn that ACC Auckland is receiving an IALC document on marriage? It is called "Rites Relating to Marriage: A Statement and Resources from The International Anglican Liturgical Consultation" and it is accessible here, all 31 pages.

The beginning is always the tone setter for such documents, the substance is in the sentence which opens the argument. Here it is, from p. 5, under the heading "Theology of Marriage":

"1.1. The origins of marriage lie in instinctive patterns of human behaviour. Amongst those patterns is the tendency to partnership and pair bonding of women and men. Such pair bonding appears to be for a variety of reasons, including procreation, mutual support, creation of community, affective love between partners, and the cohesion of society. From this also issues the potential of stable family life supported by the two partners; such functional family life is itself the foundation of a healthy society. And there is reciprocity here: a healthy society will also nurture stable patterns of marriage and family life."
Nooooooooo! I will not go on, but point you to an excellent critical analysis of the whole document at Liturgy. The point of theology is to start with God not with instincts - start with instincts in a theology of work and everyone will be staying in bed in the mornings! Theology first then anthropology. Disappointment at the starting point for this (potentially) important document does not begin to express my response.

If you would like to restore your Anglican theological balance on marriage, an alternative could be to read a sermon on marriage by another colleague of mine, Fr Hugh Bowron. Here is an excerpt from a sermon on the recent gospel text Mark 10:2-16 which nails down that marriage is the creation of God not the invention of our instincts:
"What Jesus does, as so often, is to avoid the trap by going back to first principles, and reorienting the whole issue so as to look at it from a God’s eye point of view. Looking back to the Genesis text we started with this morning he asks, what did God intend in creation, why did he divide humankind in to two different genders, why did he create marriage between a man and a woman, what is human sexuality for in the Divine reckoning of things? 
This, in my opinion, is where we should start from in our consideration of all the controversial issues before us as they relate to human sexuality and Divinely sanctioned partnerships. The questions that matter are: what does God expect of us in this situation, what does God call us to be, what standards does God set for us in our sexual habits, and what does God intend for us for us in our intimacy lives? 
If that sounds like an obvious place to start then I am afraid to report that it is a perspective that is rarely ever heard. The New Zealand Anglican Church has bent over backwards to accommodate itself to its surrounding secular society. It has wanted to see itself in alliance with, and on the cusp of, progressive change in each of its unfolding stages. In wanting to distance itself from its anglophile origins, it has tried to make itself deeply at home in what it sees as a distinctively New Zealand culture. 
But the problem is that the more our Church has identified itself with its surrounding secular culture the more it has lost its cutting edge as a unique and distinct entity that is shaped by a Divine agenda. We are in the salvation business - that is what we do that nobody else can. But now we are suffering from a kind of mission drift in which we risk being seen as a faint echo of the last bright idea of progressive elites. 
As an example of what I am talking about I think back to a recent article in our national magazine Taonga, in which retired Bishop John Bluck argued that secular New Zealand society had easily and painlessly adapted to civil unions and same sex partnerships, and it was time for our Church to get with the programme. There was no hint of an argument from Scripture, or of a solidly argued theological case for doing this. The line of argument was - where secular New Zealand society goes we go. 
Even if you take this line of argument on its own terms, it ignores the reality that our secular New Zealand culture is changing in rapid and unpredictable ways that are not necessarily helpful to the way God intends human flourishing. The Labour Party is congratulating itself right now for being first off the blocks on same sex marriage, but it has also got a private members bill waiting in the wings promoting euthanasia, and of course one of its MPs was the promoter of the legalisation of prostitution. As a result some young women now think that this is a socially acceptable way to earn some extra money. 
I agree with the American Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson that divorce proceedings are now under way between the Church and its surrounding western culture. Western culture is less and less influenced by Christian values, and is in fact pursuing some re-paganising agendas, while under the illusion that it is doing this for the best of progressive reasons. The problem for the Church is not only that it now swims in a culture that has little understanding or sympathy for its message, but also that often its membership has their world view and essential values shaped by this de-Christianised culture. 
Which is why I don’t think our surrounding culture should set the norms or the agendas for our mating habits, or our intimacy lives. What pagans, secularists, and unbelievers get up to in that respect is their business. Things are different in the Church. Christianity is a counter cultural affair. God sets a higher standard for us. The Holy Spirit calls us to be holy, set apart, different, sanctified, trying to be in our own small way a little bit like God."


Anonymous said...

Wow - great sermon there from Hugh. Well done! Thanks for sharing.

Father Ron Smith said...

"Our convulsions are due to a lack of theology and a surfeit of anthropology." - Dr. Peter Carrell

I wonder if that what the Father of the God/Man Jesus thought when he ensured that The Word (theology) became flesh (anthropology), and dwelt among us - so that, as God assumed the nature of Man, humanity assumed the nature of God?

Surely, without God's Image and Likeness in humanity, there might be no need of theology?

Anonymous said...

Brilliant sermon Hugh! In just that one passage quoted here Hugh has set forth clearly and powerfully everything that is wrong with Liberal Angicanism, and provided a real theology of marriage and a God-centered hermeneutical foundation.

The NZ Anglican Church needs far more ministers and theologians like Hugh, and far less of the superficial tripe promoted by John Bluck.

Peter Carrell said...

A moderated comment from Susan:

Liturgy notes that there appears to be a lot of broken glass lying around the Anglican glasshouse! Fr. Hugh confirms this observation. He reviles many others, including his whole church, but makes no reference to his own [life's journey].


[Dear Susan, I am satisfied that what Fr Hugh has written (albeit somewhat robustly) is entirely concordant with his life's journey. If you wish to take up your own view of his life's journey with him, his email is easily trackable via the St Peter's Caversham website. Here I prefer to moderate specific details of another person's life story unless published elsewhere. Peter.]

carl jacobs said...


The Covenant was (is?) an attempt - a bold and courageous attempt - to balance the anthropology with theology.

Definitely 'was.' To coin a phrase:

It's passed on! This covenant is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life. It rests in peace. It's metabolic processes are now history! It's off the twig!
It's kicked the bucket. It's shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisibile!!


with apologies to any Norweigen Blues who might be pining for the fjords.

liturgy said...

There is much good in Hugh’s sermon, but, like the IALC document on marriage, it is a curate’s egg. The flaw of Hugh’s address turns on his shallow exegesis of Mt 6:19 & 34.

Hugh seeks to justify our disobedience to Christ’s teaching on divorce whilst belittling those who would bless committed same-sex couples by using, as a paradigm, our supposed disobedience to "take no thought for the morrow" and "lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth" in planning for our retirement.

Let us put to one side Hugh’s having no explanation why he would pastorally countermand the dominical commandment against divorce, but not bless committed same-sex partners, of which Christ makes no mention, and focus on his reasoning that planning for retirement means one can allow divorce.

In fact, planning for one’s retirement, is not per se disobeying Christ.

Without even going into Middle Eastern cultural analysis of the time, it is notable that μὴ θησαυρίζετε ὑμῖν θησαυροὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς (Mt 6:19) is obviously a play on words around the concept of “treasure”. θησαυρίζω, Hugh’s “lay up”, in fact clearly has the sense of “treasure” and is rooted in that concept. It is the treating of the earthly as treasure that is at issue – not the planning for tomorrow, which in other places in the Scriptures is seen as a virtue – not a vice.

μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε εἰς τὴν αὔριον (Mt 6:34) is similarly misconstrued. μέριμνα is about being anxious – not about Hugh’s taking “no thought”.

Neither dominical imperative is against planning our retirement. And that we plan for our retirement is, hence, not an argument for allowing divorce and remarriage, nor an argument against blessing committed same-sex couples.

If we are to progress positively we are going to have to do more than mutual backslapping and reinforcing prejudices, by going deeper than either the IALC document or Hugh Bowron’s exegesis.



Mr. Mcgranor said...

The Church is not guided by God. I think this is evident. And this is a case for an evaluation of this evident failing. It is the reactionary faithful that are guided. Only they in Christ will preserve.

Peter Carrell said...

Slightly redacted comment from Shawn:

This kind of attitude, that ministers like Hugh have no right to speak on marriage because their own lives have not been perfect, is appalling, but sadly expected. I do not know who ??? was referring to in his diatribe, but it struck me as rather nasty and ungracious.

Keep proclaiming the Faith Hugh! Ignore the attempts by pro-homosexual Pharisees to silence dissent!

[Shawn: You mentioned a name where I have put question marks. I do not see the "diatribe" you mention as being given by the name you mention so I feel it better not to publish a possible mistaken identity. In general terms I think words like "diatribe" and "pro-homosexual Pharisees" are not fruitful contributions to any debate about the nature of human life and its dignity in our Fallen world. So your comment as a whole has only just squeaked through. P]

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
My memory is hazy re the inclusion of a CANA bishop as an advisor for an AC committee. I think it is either a case of Nigeria appointing someone, or of Kearon choosing an expert who could be from any church (e.g. Baptist, Presbyterian - it does not need to be an Anglican [however that is defined]). If the latter I assume the committee has something to do with Islam as that is an area of expertise on +Julian's part.

http://kiwianglo.wordpress.com said...

With reference to Fr. Hugh Bowron's sermon on Marriage and Same-Sex Partnerships; One wonders how Hugh can so easily accept Divorce (which was explicitly outlawed by Jesus), and yet refuse to believe that Same-Sex relationships (never mentioned by Jesus) may have been excluded from the provision of a Loving God?

I guess all prohibitive conjecture has to be matched by one's personal discipline.

Bryden Black said...

Top marks Bosco for a good stab at richer exegesis; thank you! In this case, re that section on the Sermon on the Mount re “Give us today our daily bread”. Of course, back to the topic of marriage, there are two real points to make:

1. In the Mark 10 passage, Jesus, by suggesting (v.12) that a woman can divorce her husband, is honouring women in a way then impossible in Jewish legal understanding. Which then secondly ...

2. Helps us greatly in understanding the Matthean exception in both Matt 19 (the parallel to Mark 10) and Matt 5:32 (back to the Sermon). I.e. women have the capacity to rupture the marriage bond as much as men do.

Both these technical points then balance the equation re spouses in marriage, set against the culture of the times: both are equally responsible for the delights and faults, joys and sorrows that might eventuate.

Sadly, the reality is still with us: our human hearts, male and female, are “hard”. And while the basic principles of Gen 1 & 2, to which Jesus assuredly points us and commands us to exemplify to the hilt (the six antitheses of Matt 5 should be allowed to make their point too!), the question Bosco is ever how to actually live. That is why I have come to the conclusion that remarriage, in certain quite specific and carefully monitored pastoral situations, is perfectly licit. It’s called redemption! No; this does not justify today’s sequential polygamy and polyandry; I grant you this! Rather, it situates one more time the entire programme of Christian virtue.

For at root, may I ask, from your evident exegetical appreciation of Matt 6, what is your overall rhetorical understanding of the whole Sermon? I am sure you appreciate the question. There are countless attempts to grasp the point of the whole: an ideal? an eschatological ethic? a general command? For whatever one’s conclusion here, this will affect also one’s very understanding of the very Matthean exception and so one’s general views on divorce and remarriage. Theology via Scripture is ever so.

Peter Carrell said...

Yet, Ron, God's loving provision, as you suppose, did not extend to offering clarity that the absence of mention should be equated to permission, nor did it extend to a passage such as Mark 7 which offers dominical variation on Levitical law.

What a strange God we serve!

Anonymous said...

If we are going to progress positively then we must start from the position that we cannot under any circumstances bless sane sex marriages. Full stop.

There is no room for discussion or dialogue on that point. It is a deal breaker. Scripture is crystal clear on the matter of Biblical, God ordained marriage is one man and one women for life. Disobedience with regards to this teaching is disobedience to Christ.
Neither the Churches, nor any individuals failing with regards to divorce, is an excuse for promoting same-sex marriage.

I agree that the Church should take a far stronger stand with regards to divorce. The excuses made for the current lax approach are unconvincing.

But again, that is not justification fir promoting that which God in Scripture gas clearly condemned.

And I am happy to congratulate those ministers like Hugh who are brave enough to take a clear stand against the homosexual lobby in the Church. Regardless of any flaws in his argument, he is absolutely right on the issue of homosexuality, and deserves support for that.

Bible believing Christians need to practice deep discernment in these times. The pro-homosexual lobby willl use any excuse, from others personal failures or sins, to attempts to twist and pervert Scripture, to promote their cause.

Bryden Black said...

What is really very disappointing Peter is not only the methodology adopted. Rather, it is a case of the same old same old ...

For far too long now - for those who have half an eye on historical theology these past two hundred years, and especially these last 50 years in the West - the anthropological premise has been powerfully and gloriously addressed. And addressed as well with as much balanced rigour to embrace naturally and fully any human component in matters of the Christian life, including marriage. Theology has as its premise the sheer glory of the Lord God; period! Or as Gregory Nazianzen said of theologia), “the scope of our art” (σκοπός) “is to give wings to the soul”; or again, as Augustine expresses it at the end of De Trinitate, “Let the soul (or mens) then remember its God to whose image it was made, and understand and love him. To put it in a word, let it worship the uncreated God.”

So; it is not only “disappointing”; it is also sloppy, lazy and weak. No wonder our AC is in such dire straits. If “marriage” gets reduced to mere “instincts”, then no wonder we have lost sight of its true sacramental nature, in “signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church” (BCP).

Anonymous said...

Shawn: "If we are going to progress positively then we must start from the position that we cannot under any circumstances bless sane sex marriages."

I agree. Sex in my experience has never been sane.

Tim Chesterton said...

Shawn says: And I am happy to congratulate those ministers like Hugh who are brave enough to take a clear stand against the homosexual lobby in the Church.

I suppose I might be prejudiced, as the father of a person who might be considered to be a member of the 'homosexual lobby'. Except that my daughter has never been a part of any lobby group. She has simply wanted to commit herself in lifelong loyalty to the person she loves. I may or may not agree with her choices, but I find it demeaning and insulting to see them classified as evidence of membership in a political lobby group.

Father Ron Smith said...

And that's a real problem, Tim, when political advocates have no room for humanity in Incarnated Christianity.
I suspect such people may be more at home in social politics than serious incarnational theology. The mystical seems to be missing from their nature

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

By Lobby I did not mean homosexuals generally, as some that I know personally are fine with the traditional teaching on marriage. I meant by the term a loose political group that includes mostly heterosexuals.


I have no problem with incarnational theology nor any problem with the mystical union of Christ and His people. But good incarnational theology does not contradict Scripture, and nor does it invent out of thin air "new revelations" concerning marriage.

That is neither incarnational theology nor mysticism, but social politics.

Anonymous said...

"If we are going to progress positively then we must start from the position that we cannot under any circumstances bless sane sex marriages. Full stop.

There is no room for discussion or dialogue on that point. It is a deal breaker. Scripture is crystal clear on the matter of Biblical, God ordained marriage is one man and one women for life. Disobedience with regards to this teaching is disobedience to Christ." etc.

Let me get this straight , Shawn, and others of his ilk; a day or so ago several of you sola-scriptura, couldn't agree on basic salvation stuff - and that is fine because there is room for discussion or dialogue on that point. Salvation is not a deal breaker. Scripture is not crystal clear on salvation. But it is crystal clear on blessing sane sex marriages; there is no room for discussion or dialogue on that point; it is a deal breaker; scripture is crystal clear on the matter. Have I got this right?

The best test for orthodoxy is not salvation. The best test for orthodoxy that God has left us is our attitude to gays.

Just checking. Have I got this right?


Bryden Black said...

Let me get this straight , Shawn, and others of his ilk; a day or so ago several of you sola-scriptura, couldn't agree on basic salvation stuff - Susan.

Please might you indicate how you come to this conclusion; it would help any attempts at an answer - from Shawn or any of "his ilk", for that matter. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

I'm generally not inclined to respond to posts that use terms like "ilk", but this once I will try to answer your concern.

As far as I am aware the discussion on salvation did not entail any disagreement on the major issues taught in Scripture.

Both Bryden and I believe in election, we both believe that Christ's sacrifice saves us fron our sins, we both believe in Heaven and Hell, and we both believe that the Biblical witness at the very least suggests that not all humanity will saved (Bryden, please correct me if I have anything wrong).

So as far as Scripture is concerned we are both clear and in agreement on the fundamentals.

Our disagreement was over the details, or mechanics, of exactly how that works, but that was a disagreement over theological models, such as TULIP, and not over the Bible.

On it's own I do not consider a persons views on homosexuality to be a test of orthodoxy. That said, I do believe that the Bible's teaching on marriage is clear, and that it does not leave any room for blessing same-sex marriage.

Anonymous said...

Bryden, the disagreement is to be found at
You last commented there yesterday. You may feel you solved the conundrums, but I do not see any of the others in the debate persuaded to alter their position to agree with you. Shawn and Carl are not willing to abandon TULIP that for them drips off of the pages of the Bible. I imagine you could go on to spend time debating Lordship salvation; Do Christians sin? Once saved always saved? Is baptism necessary for salvation? So my original question stands. And it would be good to hear not just from Bryden.


Anonymous said...

As I said. the disagreement was over theological models and not the fundamentals of Scripture. I think TULIP is a good model, just as I think the Westminster Standards are a good confessional exposition of Scripture, but I don't confuse them, or any theological model, for Scripture itself. Thus I don't think TULIP "drips off every page.

God in Scripture tells us everything we need to know about salvation, and most Evangelicals, Calvinist, Arminians or Barthian, are in broad agreement about Scriptural fundamentals on that score. God also tells us what we need for Godly living, including the nature of marriage. But God does not tell us everything we might like to know or give us answers to every possible question.

Bryden Black said...

Well; to supplement now Shawn’s response, Susan, with which I broadly agree.

Re the third substantive para: I agree in its entirety - crucially! So that for me TULIP is an unfortunate hermeneutical grid to have arisen historically, as folk have grappled to bring ‘order’ into the complex narratives etc. of the Bible. We all do something like this, as we are creatures who find sitting with deemed contradictions and/or supposed differences difficult.

When it comes to the estate of “marriage”, however, I have come to the conclusion that our current ‘differences’ have set up a contradiction which may not be easily reconciled - if at all. Indeed, it displays basically, I have had to conclude, a tragic irony: a distortion of the Imago Dei no less. Of which of course there are multiple examples of distortion. Yet the desire to bless same-sex relationships is especially tragic, since it comes so close yet is so far away from where authentic humanity may truly reflect the triune Godhead in all God’s beauty, truth and goodness.

Is this issue a litmus test of “orthodoxy”? Well; the Canadian St Michael Report tried to say it was certainly a theological matter and not only one of pastoral concern; it was therefore not adiaphora. It lay somewhere in the middle, seemingly. For they shied away from saying it was an issue of “core doctrine” - as perhaps a matter of “creedal” “orthodoxy”. However, for me, this is not exactly the case, for “marriage” between a man and woman is not only iconic of God’s relationship with humanity/the Church; it exemplifies supremely humanity’s being created Imago Dei. So Gen 1 & 2. And even more notably so, when the beginning is ‘read’ canonically and so from the point of view of the end, when we can declare that very God trinitarian - and so ala the Nicene Creed!

Andrew Reid said...

Just noticed this new report presented at ACC 15 on the Bible in the life of the church.


"After three and half years of worldwide research, the Bible in the Life of the Church project has found that Anglicans around the globe share “a high common ground” over the essential place and use of the Bible in Anglican life."

How can a communion which can't agree on whether it is even God's Word possibly have a "high common ground"? And that's before we get onto interpretation, criticism, contextualisation etc. The authors appear to have done a thorough job in their research, but it doesn't seem to pass the common sense test. Why is our communion falling apart if we all agree on our foundational text and its meaning for us today? Why are we suing each other, refusing communion, establishing parallel structures and living by different morals if how we approach, use and apply the Bible is so similar?