Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Anglican Covenant rears its head against innovation

I shouldn't have been surprised but I was. Two days ago I posted on the appointment of Digby Wilkinson to be Dean of Wellington Cathedral - an innovative appointment, taking a 'hybrid' Anglican priest and Baptist pastor from a Baptist pastorate and placing him into a significant Anglican ministry. Yesterday a friend drew my attention to this Facebook post from one of our parishes/vicars raising significant negative questions about the appointment. [LATER: The post has been pulled]. For those unable to access the post, it begins with this line before linking to the announcement,

"And now for the latest from Disneyland (oops I mean the Bishop of Wellington) we have the prodigal dean."

Further down, the questioning begins,

"I just think it’s bizarre that the Anglican national cathedral now has a dean who knows nothing about Anglican worship, tradition, or the breadth of Anglican theology. I can believe that Baptists help make this world a better place, and can believe that even in Wellington that could be so, but why try this Baptist experiment with the Anglican Cathedral? "

What I was surprised but shouldn't have been surprised about is that the parish is St Matthew's in the City and the vicar commenting is Glynn Cardy.

OK. We live in a free church where questions may be raised about decisions. And 'Disneyland' or 'bizarre' may not be the worst thing ever said about the decisions of Bishop of Wellington. But Glynn's approach raises a few questions about the character of our church.

For instance, implicit (even explicit at certain points) in this Facebook post is a presumption that being Anglican is 'this' rather than 'that'. But what on earth could give Glynn Cardy the confidence that he knows what Anglicanism is and what it is not? Why would 'Anglican worship, tradition or the breadth of Anglican theology' matter, unless he assumes that there is a common Anglican mind, a shared set of Anglican values that these things matter? Against what Anglican 'thing' could a Baptist be a threat? Could it be a 'thing' which Anglicans wish to cherish, to defend and to exclude non-Anglicans from?

My answer to these questions, given here previously (e.g. here) is that an informal, unwritten Anglican Covenant controls significant tracts of Anglicanland. Whenever we Anglicans say something along the lines 'true Anglicanism is this' or 'that doesn't seem to be true Anglicanism' it is implicit that there is an idea or set of ideas which determine what we assert 'true Anglicanism' to be.

The (likely) defeat of the written Anglican Covenant will be a triumph of the unwritten Anglican Covenant.

This unwritten Anglican Covenant is a marvellous document in the hands of the hegemony which adheres to it: as seen here, it can be used to oppose innovation  when it suits, but it can also be used to support innovation when it suits, e.g. innovation about blessing same sex partnerships.

Much better, I suggest, to have a written Anglican Covenant since that is participatory (all may know its contents) and just (people may be held to account to a standard they know in advance). The inherent disturbance to the body politic of an unwritten Anglican Covenant is that it is elitist (it is largely in the hands of a self-appointed hegemonic Sanhedrin of claimants who know what true Anglicanism is), unjust (supporting innovation as it suits and not when it does not), and ill-mannered (so a bishop can be taken to task for appointing a licensed priest to a deanship but a priest can not be taken to task for using the epithet 'Disneyland' to refer to the bishop).

Incidentally, the Baptists, who have obviously lost one of their finest ministers, by contrast have been nothing but gracious, as you can read here.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Senior Baptist Pastor Nek Minute Anglican Dean

I have no idea why it has taken so long to publicly announce what has been a piece of "good news" clergy gossip for weeks now, that Digby Wilkinson will be the next Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, Wellington. But now, at last, the announcement has been made, via this article on Taonga.

As you will read there, this appointment is in keeping with the expectation that under Bishop Justin, life in the Wellington Diocese will take new, bold, and radical directions.

Digby is an Anglican priest who (as I understand things) has been performing licensed ministry in the Wellington Diocese, regularly presiding at 8 am communion in a Palmerston North parish church. So far nothing bold, radical or new about appointing him to be Dean.

But his current stipended ministry role has been as Senior Pastor of Palmerston North Central Baptist church. That more than hints something new, bold and radical about this appointment.

Is it a new = unprecedented thing for the whole history of the Anglican Communion for a Baptist pastor to become Dean of a cathedral in his next appointment?

Digby's appointment is bold because it means the Cathedral and Diocese has been willing to look outside the normal field of candidacy for such positions (i.e. currently stipended Anglican priests doing a sterling job in an Anglican context).

It is early days to predict that it will prove to be a radical appointment, but his background suggests that he will come into the role with eyes that will see clearly what the fundamental mission and ministry of a cathedral is, and work to reinvigorate that.

Watch this space!

Postscript: I have felt no need to comment on what could be diplomatically described as Digby's 'colourful past', but I now note that the media have risen to the bait. NZ Herald's headline is, "Convicted Burglar to Lead Church". Sometimes the media conform to stereotype!

Later: a more responsible headline is in the Dominion story: 'Grace and disgrace' led to new dean's rebirth.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

This snub is worth it

Here is a tricky Anglican controversy to reflect on.

Many Anglican ministry units seek funding from sources outside the church, including from 'pokie charities', i.e. from funds derived from people playing pokie (gambling) machines.

Recently my colleague and friend, Jolyon White, has spear-headed a campaign against the proliferation of pokie machines.

The pokie industry has reacted by rejecting funding applications from Anglican ministry units, including one from our own Christchurch Cathedral.

The NZ Herald has a report here.

For what it is worth, I am with Jolyon. I do not think churches should receive funds from the gambling industry. Fullstop. I certainly do not think we should receive such funds if we ever think we are going to speak out against gambling.

What do you think?

Monday, June 24, 2013

And we think NZ Cricket has problems?

Next to God and godliness there is sport and sportiness.Your humble blogger has much to be humble about, as a follower of NZ cricket. Our heads have hung in shame recently, with poor performances on the pitch and (apparently) management and governance issues off it. Meanwhile mighty Australian cricket has marched on triumphantly, avoiding our mistakes and failures ... no, wait, that is not true ...

If you thought NZ cricket has problems, spare a dollop of sympathy for the state of the play of the West Island and its cricket association.

Our very own Richard Dawkins?

I am growing to like the weekly writing of Rodney Hide, Herald columnist who is famous in NZ for being a colourful politician. He writes well, with  lovely humour, clarity of thought and a well crafted final sentence.

But a Christian he is not. Here he is in full flight as NZ's Richard Dawkins!

What he does not seem to realise is that most Christians don't believe in the 'god' he doesn't believe in.

On the one subject that really matters ... we pass

In part, posts and comments here are on the state of the Anglican church. Sometimes the focus is global and there is much to despair about, since the global Anglican work is that of a 'Communion' and currently we have a Communion mostly in name only. Sometimes the focus is local, life in these islands, with an occasional nod to Anglican life in the West Island, also known as Oz.

When the focus is local, there is also much to despair about. With what statistics we can muster - we have no internal whole-of-church-in-these-islands attendance stats - (including census figures) we are at the very, very best on a plateau. Likely guess is that we continue in statistical decline. If we look aroundabout and see that the booming churches of our cities and major towns are nearly always non-Anglican churches, we might stop and ask what could we learn. In my experience we mostly do not stop, let alone learn. I think we do think about where we are going on the debate over same sex relationships, there is a rather long pause going on because we fear (and especially our bishops fear) division, and yet nobody has - to my knowledge - advanced a way forward which is hopeful for a future together. Then there might be temptations to localised local despair: the way one's diocese is going, the inability of the parish to agree on some detail of a building project, and the lack of harmony in the choir. The usual stuff of ecclesiastical despair!

However I am not personally despairing at all. Optimism is my middle name. Here is a particular reason why.

A privilege of the positions I have held in ministry education for 12+ years in two dioceses is the ability to visit parishes, here and there, town and country, anglo-catholic, broad church and evangelical, early and mid-morning services, and sometimes evening services (though few of these exist these days). I have had, as you might imagine, some interesting experiences of Anglican worship through these years. One service I went to might be the only example in the world of an ecumenical service featuring Roman Catholics, Brethren and Anglican. Another memorable service involved travelling to one of the most remote places of worship in NZ (two hours drive from the nearest town) for a service with a half dozen people. There have been services which have owed little to Anglican liturgical principles, services which took an unbearably long time (I cannot recall any services which were too short!), services in unbearably cold churches, and, yes, services which have inspired and lifted me to heaven. Out of all those services one thing stands out.

I was thinking about this one thing yesterday when in a new-for-me church (where, to my pleasure, the liturgy was excellent and the sermon superb). That one thing is love. In every congregation I can recall, there has been love. The liturgy may have been all over the shop, the sermon have dismally failed to engage the congregation, the music been too loud and the heaters inadequate for the winter frost. But there has been love. It was present in bucket loads yesterday. The secret of the continuing life of local churches is the love each has for the other.

Statistically, we Anglicans in these islands should be worried, much more worried than our leaders ever seem to be about the future. Liturgically, we Anglicans should be exercised, much more exercised than we ever seem to be, over what Anglican liturgy in Kiwiland should look like in the 21st century - especially in respect of inter-generational worship services. Homiletically, we could simply work harder at being better preachers, engaged effectively in connecting Scripture to life and life to God. Controversially, we could search our collective soul much more deeply than we are currently doing, about how we become a church which casts no one out. Yes, we could do better in the areas where we are failing.

But on the one matter which matters above all else, our love for one another, I believe we are succeeding.

And love covers a multitude of (ecclesiastical) sins!

Postscript: for a possible future of the church getting in touch with culture, try this ...

Andrew Brown's comment is here.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"If I was Jesus, which my wife often thinks I think I am ... "

So, how bad is the state of the church?
"I think we're moving into a place of more appropriate humility in the church. We're not that flash, we're not always getting it right in many cases. And we can no longer believe in a Christendom where the church must be the centre of society. That's well and truly gone. I think it's good for the church to stop resting on its history."
It seems as though +Justin of Wellington agrees with the direction of my previous post!
Anyway, the brilliant Dominion article about +Justin, from which the title and cited words above are taken, is here (H/T Taonga).

Friday, June 21, 2013

What is a little Anglican pain to God?

"Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone. Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God but walked in the customs that Israel introduced." 2 Kings 17:18-19

Reading these verses brought a new perspective on the 'exile' of Israel. The definitive, shattering event, to my mind, has been the Babylonian Exile, the 597/587 BC destruction of Jerusalem, Temple, and nationhood by exiling most Judahites to Babylon. But from God's perspective the 'removal' of Israel from his sight began with the exile of Northern Israel (i.e. 'Israel' above) in 721 BC and ended with the removal of Southern Israel (i.e. 'Judah' above) in 587 BC. A process of shattering all Israel  as a matter of divine discipline took 134 years.

Whatever is going on with the Anglican Communion this past decade or so may not be worked through any time soon, much and all as we might want it to be. God's timetable is rarely ours.

The above verses are sobering because they also demonstrate that God's anger against his people can override his commitment to them, to the point where a death occurs. Yes, later there was a resurrection, a restoration from exile, but it was for a remnant. Greater Israel died between 721 BC and 587 BC. God's commitment was overridden by his anger, but not absolutely. Is God committed to the life of the Anglican Communion?

I do not know the answer to that question but I would not rely on some vague sense that God might like Anglicans as a foundation for future Anglican life.

Israel was removed from God's sight because it had removed God from its sight, cluttering its vision of God with a plethora of idols and a haze of smoke from sacrifices unwanted by God.

An Anglican future may depend on the clarity of our vision of God. Is our vision cluttered and obscured by a haze of smoke?

Israel post exile was somewhat chastened. Right up to the end of Jerusalem, there was a chirpy confidence that all would be well. Jeremiah tried to confront this false confidence but failed because there was a smidgeon of theological base to it. Events proved Jeremiah right.

Might God be chastening Anglicanism around the globe? We are somewhat chirpily confident, are we not? Here in NZ we Anglicans act at times as though we are the state church, even though not formally established like the C of E is. But I have noticed a chirpy confidence to Anglican churches in other places. Perhaps it is the effortless superiority of our heritage in all things English. Or maybe the superiority of believing that we are the best church, being both catholic and reformed?

Now we are in a pickle. We won't be bound by a Covenant. Bonds of affection are fraying as affection gives way to anger. Post colonial churches are refusing to fall into line with former colonial masters. Diversity is everything, many Anglicans cry, lauding differences to the point where ability to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy is zero. On great issues of the day, women bishops and gay marriage, we seem unwilling to find a catholic and reformed way forward: some catholics seem intent on reforming the church to the point where it will divide; some reformed seem intent on avoiding the compromises which could yield a catholic solution! Why wouldn't God give us a shake down in order that we become humble about our role in the great plan of God?

Postscript: The above reads somewhat negatively but it is about the state of global Anglicanism. I think that state is less hopeful than it could be. Yes, today there is news of Hong Kong agreeing to the Covenant. But that does not change the fact that other Anglican churches are not agreeable to it, including notable churches such as TEC and the C of E. The state of local Anglicanism - ministry units, dioceses, missions yields many more positive assessments. Deo gratia.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Te Dium

In my community we always sing the Latin Te Deum. I have nothing against singing it in Latin, but it does drag on. The brethren often refer to it as the Tedium.

For the rest of this lovely interview of the cleverest Catholic writer in English today, head to here (H/T to catholicity and covenant).

Who is our Anglican pundit who can find the middle between the extremes and paint hope into the picture of Anglican futures?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Inexorable law of congregational life (extended)

Visiting several parishes recently has been an excellent re-acquaintance with the style and substance of parish life in our diocese. Fourteen months as priest in charge of one parish was a wonderful experience but left me out of touch with the rest of the parishes.

Not for the first time, I have been struck by the importance of music for the character of Sunday worship. One difference between parishes faithfully following the prayer book as the substance of the regular liturgy is in the music used in the service. Here is 'choral eucharist', there is 'eucharist with hymns', over the way is 'Hillsong eucharist' and down the road is the eucharist with 'Belfast mod hymns'. Of course within some parishes such differences may apply to multiple services.

Each form of service has arguments in its favour, not least that each service actually takes place since that means that a body of people are willing to gather, and some instrumentalist or a group or choir are committed to making the music. There are arguments against each service, not least that some parishioners make it very clear that "8 am" or "9.15 am" or "5 pm" are "not my cup of tea."

But what interests me, reflecting on the big picture of Christian life in our country, statistical trends re belief and commitment is which services are populated by younger generations: children, youth, young adults, parents with young families. The under fifties, in other words. By 'populated' I mean that the dominant presence in a service is the presence of younger generations.

On that score there is simply no doubt, not a scintilla of evidence otherwise, that the younger generations are in services where the music style reflects the general music style of the younger generations. Whether we love it or loathe it, Hillsong/Belfast mod hymns/Matt Redman and the like supply the music for the services where the present younger generations gather and chart the direction of the future services for the elderly (those who are 53 years old and rising). There will be no choral eucharists on Sunday mornings when I am in a rest home.

In the services I have visited, from a church growth perspective many aspects have been done well and are uniform in standard across the parishes: warmth of welcome, hospitality offered after the service, relevant preaching, quality of service leadership, provision of programme for children.

The measurable difference in respect of services with many rather than few younger generations has been the style of music. Already stated here in the past and worth stating again: the age profile of a congregation reflects the music style of the service. It is the inexorable law of congregational life today.

Extension (Wednesday): I am delighted to have what I said above subject to critique in comments below. I also enjoyed a reflective conversation yesterday on my main idea. All of which leads me to add a few words, hopefully clarifying what I am trying to say.

(1) First and foremost I am proposing a law which is descriptive of congregational life in NZ parishes rather than prescriptive: this is the way things are, where there is a congregation well populated by the under forties, the music is appropriate to younger generations. There are no congregations so populated in which most of the music sung is from the English Church Hymnal or the Book of Common Praise, led by organ or piano.

No comments made thus far have provided counter evidence to this law as a matter of description of our life.

(2) Secondly, I am happy to then make a certain amount of prescriptive recommendation based on this law. Here are a couple of examples, relevant to our local situation in post-quake Christchurch.

- a congregation seeking renewal of the generations gathering for worship should address the question of the music style of its service. Preach your heart out. Add cream buns and cheerios to the morning tea. Train welcomers. Bring every aspect of the service such as readings and intercessions up to an excellent standard. Establish a children and youth programme. A certain advance will occur. But my hypothesis is that if the style of music does not change to the style appropriate to the younger generations, full congregational renewal will not take place.

- when we establish new congregations in new housing areas we should aim from the start to provide services in which the music is in keeping with the younger generations. This means, for instance, that if we are planning on appointing a church pioneer to establish a new congregation with a staff which includes a youth worker and a children's worker, we should also be recruiting a music leader, a guitarist, keyboard player and drummer.

(3) Comments herein focus on services of worship as elements of congregational life. I am making no comment about how to plant a church from scratch. The way forward there might include many steps before a service of worship is formed (e.g. praying, forming a group for prayer and Bible study, surveying the area, visiting people, social events for meeting and greeting people). Nor am I commenting in respect of existing congregations seeking renewal in respect of the first steps to take which could be, say, prayer and developing the preaching; or prayer, developing the preaching, reconfiguring the building. But only so many steps can be taken before the question of music needs to be addressed if we wish to see a change in congregational profile.

(4) Something which came up in conversation yesterday: the importance of music style being advocated here is an importance in its own right for any church seeking to be a church with which younger generations can identify. There is an alternative approach in which Anglican churches seek to imitate the music style of the 'successful' church down the road with the hope that similar 'success' is achieved: I am NOT talking about that. I am not talking about that, not least because in my observation, Anglican churches which set about such imitations are somewhat poor at doing it. No, what I am talking about here has nothing to do with the music which is being played at another church (save that one might gain some great songs by listening in) and everything to do with making the connection between church culture and general culture.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Just a thought about dots (expanded)

Nothing to do with Anglican life but I am wondering if news of the Murdoch divorce today is connected in any way to a strange story a couple of weeks ago about a scandal affecting the heart of the British government (though not involving any cabinet ministers) - a story which involved strong legal threats about publishing any details (other than the ones  noted above).*

On the big story of the global week, one reason for supporting the continuation of the Prism project is that this man wants it stopped!

For a bit of light Saturday entertainment, and in homage to the British and Irish Lions rugby team touring Australia at the moment, here are some improbable tales, or even true ones, about boys being boys.

Sunday: there is nothing 'light entertainment' about the tragic civil war in Syria. So this is a bit of sober Sunday reflection, coming from Andrew Sullivan. He is a prolific commentator and on many issues I disagree with him. But he gets 100% pass mark for this on Syria.

*If you have read around the internet this weekend, or perhaps in today's Sunday papers, you will have seen speculation about a third party - vigorously denied etc - but speculation that doesn't join the dots with the British cabinet being spooked. So my money remains on another explanation for the divorce.

A very witty insight into the matter is here in the New Yorker.  On Friday night I went to a talk where conversation included a familiar topic for Christians reflecting on the state of the world: the alliance between big business interests and the media, combining to suppress the real truth about who controls the global economy and who benefits from it. Everyone there was too civilised to mention Satan and his spawn. But, really, is there any difference between the riff the New Yorker piece plays and the New Testament's disclosure that the dark secret of the world is Satan organising it through the rulers of this world?

ADU has no particular interest in the marriage of one couple among the world's billions. But it is interested if we are about to have a revelation about the nefarious coupling of political power with media power. The connection between the Murdoch story, the NSA story and Obama's decision re arming rebels in Syria, the line through the dots, is the hidden story of who, how, and why decisions are made in this world which determine whether people live or die, but are not engaged with by the people.

Iran has had an election this weekend. To many observers in the West it will appear to be rigged in some way in favour of the real imamic powers controlling that country. But can we in the West be sure that our elections are not rigged by the controlling interests of media, business, military and politicos?

Out back, the real pope is called Walter

In our crazy world it is possible to live a life in which every day is a good day but the world as a whole is sliding into dark chaos. In that darkness, Christians remain obligated by Christ to shine as lights. Our disadvantage compared to recent past is that Christendom has long gone. There is no lighthouse shining powerfully into the darkness. Just us, little candles flickering in the night breeze, sometimes blown out by the gales winds of militant Islamism, strident secularism, or even the gusts of indifference.

But the light we shine is a sign and the crucial challenge of the 21st century for Christians everywhere and of all kinds is how the sign is understood. In terms of language we have a message to speak. But what language will we use so the message is heard? We know what we want to say. We need to find the translation that connects with our hearers. Aramaic was translated to Greek. Nearly two hundred years ago in Aotearoa NZ, English was translated into Maori. Today, especially in a Western world prone to hear the gospel as yesterday's news, we need to find the language that speaks new good news. It is not good enough for us to shine the light of Christ. The world can see something else. We have all heard stories about lights in the sky which are misinterpreted as alien spacecraft. (As it happens, for many, Christians are seen as aliens!)

One particular light shining in the darkness is Walter Kasper. Office wise he is a cardinal of the Catholic church and once was prefect of a congregation, i.e. right at the top of the Roman hierarchy. But for our purposes today his importance is as a theologian. During Benedict XVI's papacy I sensed that Walter was being pushed ever so slightly to the outer. He represented commitment to fostering and furthering the impact of Vatican II while his boss seemed intent on constraining, even undoing that impact. But the wheel has turned again. Francis seems comfortable with Rome re-finding its bearings in the 21st century with Vatican II as its compass. Has Walter Kasper succeeded and Benedict failed? In the back room of Roman politics, the back room where ideas drive policy rather than the back room of wheeling and dealing, is the real pope called Walter?

Thus when the Living Church publishes an article on Walter Kasper, we Anglicans might profit from paying attention. Here is Kasper's single quest(ion) set out (re a recent conference celebrating his theology) by the article's author, Michael Cover:

"In her opening remarks, conference organizer Kristin Colberg (St. John’s, Collegeville) noted that, by his own admission, Kasper’s theological work has proceeded from a single question: How do we translate Christian tradition in the modern context and the modern context through the Christian tradition? In setting these questions at the forefront of his inquiry, Kasper clearly stands in line with the theological concerns of the Second Vatican Council. But Colberg was quick to point out that Kasper’s quest for relevance never led him to reduce the Church to another social-transformative institution. Rather, the Church achieves its relevance solely by insisting on and preserving its distinctive identity. As such, at the heart of Kasper’s translational theology is what Colberg calls the “identity-relevance dilemma.”"

Kasper writes theology but always connects it to the gospel in the world, as this next citation notes:

"Kasper’s theology represents a turn away from the intramural concerns of neo-Thomism to a dialectical theology, rooted in human experience and aimed at “rendering an account of the Christian hope to every human being” (cf. 1 Peter 3:15)."

Therein lies an interesting measure of the work of all would be theologians: have we rendered an account of Christian hope, accessible for all human beings? (!!)

But the quest to communicate the gospel is the quest not of individual disciples but of the body of Christ, the church, so a related question arises whether the church in continuity with its own tradition can develop new forms of ministry for a new world.In essence, this is the significance of Vatican II:

"For Kasper, Vatican II is very much still in its initial stages of reception. As Kasper noted: “If the documents of the Second Vatican Council represent a faithful compass for the Church, the needle of that compass is still wavering wildly.” Hailed as too liberal by some and too conservative by others, Kasper represents a unique middle voice in the translation of the council, calling for “new forms of ministry” that stand in striking continuity with the tradition. For Kasper, Pope Francis serves as an icon of the kinds of changes the council intended."

Now the article goes on to say some other things (about the Anglican Covenant, about the guidance of the Spirit). We may come back to those another day. For this post, let's sit with the question of the task of theology, taking care not to become "intramural" but world facing, developing a 'translational theology', and the shape of the church as bearer of the gospel, developing new forms of ministry (mission?) for a new century.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A light shines in the darkness

I do not know how you view Western civilization but I see it rushing like a certain herd in a gospel story over a cliff into the deep sea. Somehow our political leadership has become a bunch of people with no leadership skills of the kind that lead nations and the world into a better future.

The European Union is a mess with no one having the courage to do the obvious thing and deconstruct the Euro.

Is there any US politician capable of seeing the forest and not the trees? In Australia, Julia Gillard is leading the Labour Party to electoral oblivion but the alternative includes a politician who recently descended to such awful misogynistic depths re Ms Gillard that I refuse to publish a link to the story. (Or did he? In a comment below there is a link to a refutation of the story. But does the refutation stack up? Either way, Oz politics includes some shameless characters. Bit like the Oz cricket team).

Here in NZ we have an opposition Labour Party that includes hypocrisy the depths of which cannot be plumbed: excoriating Sky City (a gambling conglomerate) one moment, nek minit accepting their hospitality at a rugby match. In another saga, over one politician doing what (apparently) nearly all of them do, leaking stuff to the media, the depths of triviality also cannot be plumbed as they turn on one another.

If we head back to Britain we have the absurd spectacle of a nation which gave us the intellectual powerhouses of Oxford and Cambridge proposing that 2014 be a Year of Pretence in which no one will mention that Germany was responsible for the beginning of World War 1. Perhaps this is a practice run for 2033, the centenary of the rise of Hitler to power and thus the beginnings of the Holocaust, and for 2039, the centenary of ... oh, let's see, Poland causing the start of World War 2 because it had insufficiently armed itself as a deterrent against German aggression territorial ambition. Cue John Cleese's famous Fawlty Tower scene about not mentioning the war.

Meanwhile parts of the world are slowly being taken over by a rising tide of extreme Islamism. Not all Islamic societies are a worry, but some are notably troublesome. Here is Hamas intent on strangling the remnant of Arab Christianity which remains in Palestine. Syrian rebels executed a child the other day for alleged blasphemy. Daily the situation grows worse for Christians in Egypt and Iraq. Yet many Western politicians view Palestinian aspirations as uniformly good and beyond critique, while others want to arm the Syrian rebels and refrain from comment on other situations. There is something worrying about the manner in which Islamic loyalties can trump loyalties to countries that provide a new home for people, as in this example from Australia in which the beheading of Lee Rigby is justified because his actions affronted the Islam nation.

We face the prospect of a world in which beheading could be the normative response in many places to affronts to ruling authorities. But don't worry, our politicians have it all sorted ... once they can work out how to tell the truth, stop denigrating at each other, and acquire greater leadership skills than how to leak to the media without getting caught.

Where does light shine in the darkness enveloping us?

Hopefully it shines in and through the churches. In many ways it does, and for that I give thanks to God. If 2014 is the centenary of the lights going out over Europe, it might be the year in which the lights go on for Western Christianity and we really wake up to the fact that we live in a Post-Christendom world. In that world, the gospel is now just another story competing for attention. And little attention is being paid to it. For NZers, 2014 is the bicentenary of the first preaching of the gospel. Samuel Marsden spoke in English at Oihi on Christmas Day 2014. Ruatara translated for him.

English was then the language of Christendom. Maori was the language of those for whom the gospel was new news. In a Post Christendom world we need to translate the gospel for those for whom it is new news. Who is our Ruatara?

The next post will explore one important contributor to the role of translator of the gospel for today's world.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Most Dangerous Man in England

Whoops. That title should be "The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England."

Melvyn Bragg has produced a documentary on William Tyndale, with that title. He writes about Tyndale in the Telegraph.

What a genius of the word, that Tyndale was. Never one for using multi-syllables when just one would do, Tyndale's Bible translation could have been re-titled, How to Launch a Homespun Phrase into the English language For Eternity.

What a life Tyndale lived. He was the James Bond of Reformation theologians. Except unlike James Bond, the baddies killed him.

What kept him going? He lost his life that the plough boy might know the Bible in his indigenous language. In short, and still relevant to Christianity today, Tyndale stood up for the Bible as God's revelation and for the importance of readers accessing it according to the greatest possible accuracy in communication.

Apropos of Anglican matters in our day, Tyndale stands for the importance of God's voice being heard through Scripture, with the volume of the voice of tradition turned down as low as possible.

UPDATE: Catholicity and Covenant takes a different line to me above. I think it nonsense and have said so in a comment!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Boundless Informant on Global Anglican Surveillance

UPDATE: Are cracks appearing in the story of the whistleblower? Is the journalist he talked to, Glenn Greenwald, reliable? Check here.

ALSO: Edward Snowden should not have broken his vow to keep a secret. But should the Director of NSA have told the truth rather than a direct lie? Read here.

ORIGINAL: Before anyone outs me, I confess. Barack and me have got this thing going, keeping an eye on global Anglican affairs with the aid of a nifty iPhone app called Boundless Informant.

However there are limitations.

"Current technology simply does not permit us to positively identify all of the bloggers or locations associated with a given communication (for example, it may be possible to say with certainty that a communication traversed a particular path within the internet. It is harder to know the ultimate source or destination, or more particularly the identity of the person represented by the TO:, FROM: or CC: field of an e-mail address or the abstraction of an IP address)"

Also, Barack and I admit that some Anglican gossip permeating the internet has affected the course of blog discussions:

""The continued publication of these allegations about highly classified issues, and other information taken out of context, makes it impossible to conduct a reasonable discussion on the merits of these programs.""

PS You are safe posting comments here. Only 5000 workers in the NSA know where you live and what secrets your computer holds :)

PPS This is the bloke who blew the whistle on the little surveillance op Barack and me had going.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Submissive Marriage

+Kelvin Wright, Bishop of Dunedin, has published a report on a Marriage Hui held there recently. I have now had three reports of the event, none quite agreeing with the other. But then the Dunedin Diocese claims some street cred  'diversity'. One example being their diocesan submission to the Ma Whea Commission - though oddly +Kelvin's post heading is 'My submission ...'. Still, L'etat est moi and all that.

I think the submission makes a good point: diversity can hold together in one group. There is also a nice subsidiary point about leadership :)

Reading Available Light prompts me to link to the Latimer Fellowship submission (co-signed by me as a v-p), and to put up my own submission to Ma Whea:

"A Submission to the Ma Whea Commission, 31 May 2013

From: Rev Dr Peter Carrell. This submission is in a personal capacity as a priest of ACANZP. For the sake of transparency about context I am currently: Director of Education in the Diocese of Christchurch, Director of Theology House, Christchurch, [contact address] , as a stipended role in the church; a Vice-President of the Latimer Fellowship as a voluntary role; and a regular blogger on Anglican Down Under.

I submit with specific reference to the following term of reference of the Commission:
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;

Dear Commission,

I wish to make an observation, doing so because, in my experience, this observation is generally not made.

Preamble: Our church is considering formally making change to aspects of its life otherwise spoken to by liturgy and/or canon, that is, to the ‘status’ of same sex partnerships, with specific reference to blessing of relationship and to acceptance of partnered gay persons for ordained service.

Such change would involve the church making an authorization and raises the question of the authority of the church as an authorizing agent on behalf of God. Do we have the authority to, say, approve the divine blessing of same sex relationships or to change the definition of marriage from a man and a woman to any two people?

My observation: Many questions are raised about what Scripture and tradition says about human sexuality. A question is often raised about the relevance of a law in Leviticus to life today. Or a question is raised about whether the silence of Jesus on homosexuality is a sign of divine tolerance for same sex relationships. Answers to such questions may be given (e.g. many laws in Leviticus continue to be relevant to life today; Jesus was not actually silent about homosexuality because he fulfilled the law of Moses). But these counter-responses are then argued against.

The end result of such questioning and debate needs careful assessment. Let us say we doubt the relevance of Scripture and tradition to a changing world. What does that amount to?

I suggest that it only amounts to the existence of doubt about relevance. But in some minds it appears to amount to sufficient grounds for the authorization of change by the church.

This is an unfortunate assessment as it could mean the church arrives at a position where it makes a false promise to its members. The false promise being that it has the authority to perform certain blessings when it has no basis for making the claim. To doubt the relevance of divine prohibition of same sex partnerships is not equivalent to confidence that the opposite is so.

I thank the Commission for considering this. I do not feel a need to explain myself verbally."

Friday, June 7, 2013

Unsuitable tradition?

Reflecting on whether the Spirit of truth is liberal or conservative, I drew no conclusion to the actual question. And no one commented on that omission. (If pushed for an answer I would say, Anglicanly, "Both.") But in recent comments here (see below) some debate emerged about tradition.

Tradition is a funny thing, is it not? When we Anglicans want tradition we keep it. When we don't, we ditch it. Stuff (unsuitable) tradition!

Let's think about what is going on in the Church of England at the moment. There is a vigorous argument for women being bishops. Yet no one is arguing for the abolition of bishops. Bishops being a tradition we want to keep. There is also a vigorous argument going on for same sex couples being able to be married. Apparently marriage being about a man and a woman is not a tradition many want to keep.

In ACANZP we have our own version of keeping what we want and discarding what does not suit. We want to keep an episcopal church but we do not want to do the hard yards on being one church of multiple cultures, so we have ditched aspects of church unity in favour of a three tikanga model. But in each of the tikanga we are utterly faithful to tradition concerning bishops.

Of course some make a similar play about Scripture. Even accusing me of following Scripture when it suits and not when it does not. Me? How dare they!

Cue removal of faux-outrage. The serious issue here is the question of truth. What is the truth God has revealed to us? If tradition (or a banner being towed behind an aeroplane) tells us the truth, we should abide by it. Scripture also.

If tradition does not tell the truth, we should ditch it, tell it to get stuffed. It is no use. Like a dead parrot.

So hard work continues to lie before us as Anglicans. The catholic bit of us respects tradition enough to check it out rather than ditch it automatically. The reformed or Protestant bit of us questions tradition enough to retain nothing which is not true. We are not bound by tradition but we are bound to seek the truth. We are having a debate about gay marriage in some parts of the Communion, and about women bishops in some places, precisely because the catholic part of us wants to retain tradition and the reformed part of us is willing to change it. But what is the truth of these matters?

It is lazy thinking to appeal to tradition (whether 'tradition' or 'Tradition', whether to an accumulation of the church's understanding of Scripture or to an equal source of revelation besides Scripture) because tradition is no sure authority in itself. Our true authority lies in the truth. Tradition is sometimes handed down truth (affirmed by us when we received the traditions we deem to be Holy Scripture) but often it is handed down speculation, dreamy thoughts, pious legends, habits and practices of the church. These truth claims need checking out.

It can be lazy thinking to appeal to Scripture. 'Scripture' is, after all, a shorthand for 'a complex body of texts, some of which are reinterpreted by other texts in the body (principally the Old Testament texts in relationship to the New Testament texts). But it is always potentially good to appeal to Scripture because Scripture is the received, accepted and ever after affirmed revelation of God.

In that sense, Scripture is always greater than what the church deems to be tradition. It stands as judge over tradition. Even where we reckon 'tradition' to be the interpretation of Scripture accumulated in the collected wisdom of the church, that interpretation is subject to checks and balances, to the TMO (Third Match Official) which turns out to be, Scripture (re-read, searched, dug deeply into).

The church has privileged Scripture in this way. Made a decision that Scripture is true truth. That does not mean the church owns Scripture, like a publisher owns the copyright of a book and can exercise an authority to later change the contents so a new edition is published. Rather the church has recognised that it has a lord and master while on earth. Its recognition and reception of Scripture is a submission to Scripture owning the church. Not the other way round.

Rightly we read Scripture in our worship, use the words of Scripture in the content of our worship and appoint one of our number to preach to the rest of us, Sunday by Sunday.

In this way we continue our submission to Scripture and remember that we ceded power to Scripture when we recognised that there lies the truth that God has given and we must live by.

OK. That leaves the question of who decides, when difference arises, the answer to Pilate's question, "What is truth?" There also lies a lot of current Anglican angst. But there is an answer. As I shall reveal exclusively here soon. I just need to complete transcription on some stone tablets of the revelation I have received ...

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Remarks made about tradition/Tradition: I cite them for handy reference (without attribution, as far as I can tell it doesn't matter who made these remarks). They are numbered (in no order of priority) for possible ease of future reference:

1. the view that Tradition is the Church’s accumulation of interpretation and commentary on Scripture
2. Eastern Orthodoxy. Their practice of Tradition is again sui generis. It is neither Roman nor Anglican. It does not align itself with the view that Tradition is the Church’s accumulation of interpretation and commentary on Scripture, the view that prevailed well into the second millennium, and normally called “single source”. Nor is it Tridentine, as you point out. Yet to affirm “Holy Tradition completes Holy Scripture” suggests Scripture is not “sufficient”, in direct denial of Article VI.
3. And as for 'sola scriptura', it's a rather circular argument, it seems to me. Where in scripture is the list of books that comprise the scriptures? Answer: nowhere. It's in the tradition.
4. The two-source being the dominant position developing since the Middle Ages. We should have noted as we walked that track, past Trent’s definition, “Any disjunction between Scripture and Tradition such as would treat them as two separate ‘sources of revelation’ must be rejected. The two are correlative…Holy Tradition completes Holy Scripture….By the term Holy Tradition we understand the entire life of the Church in the Holy Spirit.” [Agreed Statement Adopted by the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission, Moscow, 1976: 84]
5. The function of the Christian canon was to separate the apostolic witness from the ongoing tradition of the church, whose truth was continually in need of being tested by the apostolic faith
6. might the notion of the Great Tradition itself have a cut-off date parallel somewhat to the Bible's own canonization? Not a question I've had to put so sharply before. Or is Tradition just some ever rolling stream - that permits even changes of the degree now sought by so-called revisionists and their blessing of SS marriages?
7. OR, is Scripture - without Tradition - the sole reference point for faith in Christ? If so, one wonders how the Faith grew before the New Testament was written and codified.
8. only after such things as “two source theories of revelation” come seriously into play thanks to 14th C canon lawyers and then Trent, do we have the grand “majority Christian position”

Thursday, June 6, 2013

All theology is economic theory

I have always had a slight soft spot for Karl Marx. The pure Marx, unmixed with vile Leninism or evil Stalinism or stinky Maoism (Mao didn't bathe) is a romantic creed. Each man as good as his master (Marx wrote before feminism). Socialise the means of production so that streets do not have impoverished workers living in slum housing at one end of the street while the factory owner lives in unparalleled luxury at the other end. What is not to like? It is pretty much the kingdom of God, articulated in the British Museum. Why wouldn't a Christian support Marxism? Many have, but many others have also recoiled at Marx's treatment of 'religion', his atheism and his unimaginative materialism.

The realist in me these days easily suppresses the romantic. So I am capitalist rather than Marxist. The socialization of the means of production is a disastrous way to ensure distribution of wealth. In reality it is likely to produce less than capitalist ownership and so the poor still suffer. The standard of living for the poorest still rises in capitalist economies, but governments do need to raise a dollar or two through taxes to assist the process. One of the great questions of our day is what a 'fair' tax rate might be, where 'fair' is both about how much one might take from the wealthy and how much the government might take in total without wrecking the 'production' of wealth. It is a question which is tearing American politics apart.

Marx in my view is an important thinker because, whether we love him or loathe him, he reminds us that the material conditions of life are integral to life itself. We are not pure spirits. Our bodies matter and thus where we find (say) food cannot be disconnected from where we find (say) spiritual nourishment. Theology is economic theory! Any theologian worth her salt should be able to spell out the material difference her arguments make to the world.

Thus two articles catch my eye this morning. One is an analysis of the actuality of Obamacare re cost of medical insurance for Americans, an analysis which includes this intriguing line:

 "Who's right?  At some level, this is a theological debate, not a technical analysis.  I am going to argue that rate shock does matter, for a number of reasons.  Then you can decide for yourself which aspect matters more."

In fact Megan McArdle doesn't mean anything like what I have been saying in the previous paragraphs. By 'theological debate' she means 'debate about principles, values, and commitments of protaganists and antagonists in that debate'. For readers here, for whom many debates exhibit high degrees of 'technical analysis', I suggest McArdle poses both a false alternative and a poor understanding of true 'theological debate'.

The other article, much more to the taste of a theological interest in economics, is Paul Krugman saying something I find myself, surprisingly, in great agreement with. His post is about a Ben Benanke speech which addresses economic theory in society. Here are the (bad pun) money paragraphs:

"OK, this is, whether BB realizes it or not (he probably does) basically a Rawlsian view of the world, in which you think of life as a kind of lottery in which you draw a ticket that includes things like your genetic endowment as well as the wealth of your parents. And what you’re supposed to do, ethically, is support the economic and social system you would choose if you had to enter that lottery not knowing what ticket you were going to draw — if you were making political choices behind the “veil of ignorance”. 
As soon as you portray the choice that way, you’ve introduced a strong presumption in favor of redistribution. After all, if you should happen to end up as a member of the top 1 percent, an extra dollar at the margin won’t mean a lot to you; but if you should happen to end up as a member of, say, the bottom quintile, an extra dollar could make a lot of difference. So you should, other things equal, favor a system of progressive taxation and generous aid to the poor and unlucky. 
So why not favor complete leveling, America as Cuba? Because for many reasons, both economic and political, we favor a market economy in which people make decentralized decisions about working, saving, and so on. And this means that incentive effects become important; you can’t levy 100 percent taxation on the rich, or completely insulate the poor from any consequences of low income, without destroying the incentives you need to make the economy work. 
The question then becomes one of numbers. In particular, how high should we set the top tax rate?"

You will need to read the whole post to find out what that rate should be. I note the neat way in which he deals with the possible Marxist (i.e. Cuban) implications of where his argument leads.

Meantime my body needs breakfast and my family needs me to earn a dollar or two ... tomorrow, hopefully, it is back to some Anglican theological concerns. Should we say, "Stuff tradition"?

PS I agree with paying the top rate proposed in the Krugman post in the sense that, if I am ever paid that much, I am happy to be taxed at that rate :)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Is the Spirit of truth liberal or conservative? (3)

Picking up the conclusion to the previous post:

"In this way the revelation of 'all the truth' which Jesus promises through the Spirit is not a revelation of new truths (as many take it, so we now have new truths about slavery, about women, and, today, about homosexuality) but a revelation of the full extent of the truth already revealed by Jesus.

Indeed John's Gospel itself is a fulfilment of this promise. But let's stop there for today and come back to that matter another day."

The Spirit of truth takes us deeper into Jesus, the revelation he has made to us about the love of God and the God who is Love, and into the cost of that love, a love which asks us to die to self in order to live completely to God.

John's Gospel as a fulfilment of this promise concerning the Spirit

John's Gospel is a cheeky gospel. Virtually all scholars agree that by the time his gospel was completed, the other gospels had been composed. Whether circulating widely or not, it is reasonable to assume that John had an idea of their contents (not least because parts of his gospel betray knowledge of their contents, or, at least, of the traditions which informed those contents). Yet John publishes his gospel, knowing it is different to the way the gospel is being told elsewhere. It is a cheeky offering to the church. "Yeah, yeah, I know others tell it differently, but here is my version."

What gives him confidence to do this?

I suggest two possible answers. One is enshrined in his gospel and one is enshrined in church tradition.

The latter is that this is the gospel of the apostle John, the son of Zebedee. Who better to have authority to author such an alternative account that one of the apostles, even better one who (according to all gospels) was very close to Jesus (though, according to this gospel, closest of all as 'the Beloved Disciple'). Whether the apostolic John actually wrote the gospel matters little, on this line of thought, since what matters is the authority which commends this gospel to the church. The confidence that the apostle John approves this gospel, indeed 'lends his name' to this gospel is enough.

The former is that the Spirit of God has led the author to write this gospel as a true testimony to Jesus. What is written, on this line of thought, is the Spirit of God leading the church into all the truth about Jesus, the guarantee of which function of the Spirit is given in the words of Jesus about the role of the Spirit of truth. On this line, it matters little whether the apostolic John has any connection with the gospel, since the Spirit of truth is a much greater authority.

Nevertheless the two possible means of confidence for the writer of the gospel are compatible. If both prove true then the confidence is doubled!

In this context, one implication of understanding the Spirit leading into all truth is that this is not about 'new truths', to be revealed through future history, but about the Gospel of John itself. Alternatively, it could be about the gathering of all authentic and authoritative testimony about Jesus into the canon of Christian Scripture (of which, it turns out, John's Gospel is likely the last written document).

Revelation of God's love affects our understanding of human love and its obligations

Nevertheless, it is appropriate to ask whether an implication of the Spirit of truth leading us deeper into the truth of the love of God is that we are also led into new dimensions of understanding humanity or who we are as people. In Johannine thought, especially in the context of 1 John, the love of God is always connected to our love for one another (e.g. 4:10-12, 19-21).

Thus in a comment to the previous post, Roger Harper makes this observation:

"You make a distinction between the fuller truth of Jesus, of the love of God, and the new truth of slavery, women in leadership etc. I can't see the basis for such a distinction. The 'new' truth that Christians are not to own slaves is a fuller expression of the truth of Jesus that the love of God means that we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. It is even a fuller expression of the even older truth that our God liberates slaves, not only from Egypt. So it is in both your categories. The classic Biblical example and authoritative paradigm is the 'new' truth that some of God's people can eat pork. This is a fuller expression of the love of God for humanity, as well as of Jesus saying that what goes into the mouth does not defile. Also fitting well into both your categories. I hope you will include a consideration of the Council of Jerusalem etc. as an important part of what it means for us to be Spirit-led into all truth, including truth we could not bear before now.

Yes, Christians, have made terrible mistakes by not distinguishing between the spirit of the age and the Holy Spirit. That does not mean that we give up on being led by the Spirit and fall back to living under Law, Torah."

Let me both defend myself (a little) while also agreeing (a lot) with this observation.

Defend: In the context of John's Gospel, which has virtually no interest in ethics, in the day to day decisions of believers as to how they will live, it seems to force the text in an un-Johannine direction to take the promise that the Spirit will lead us into all truth to mean that over time a detailed agenda re slavery, women and homosexuality will be attended to by the Spirit, with specific revelations on each matter unveiled for future generations.

This is to say nothing of quite a lot of questions about the Spirit's rationale for, e.g. attending to slaves before women; presiding over the subjugation of slaves for centuries before finally enlightening us;  making some matters clear and agreeable to all (say, the equality of women with men) while not making other matters clear to all Christians (say, the ordination of women).

Then there is also the matter of truths which are hard to bear being the ones which will later be revealed: is the eating/not eating of pork one of those truths?

A final point here is whether on the specific matter of the issues of slavery, women and homosexuality, we need some kind of new guidance of the Spirit beyond that already found in Scripture which is very clear on anthropology (men and women made in the image of God), justice, and kindness. A new revelation of the Spirit is not needed to end slavery as a maltreatment of fellow human beings, to end oppression of women as second class humans, and to treat homosexuals kindly and fairly. To the extent to which slavery (to take just one matter) was a means of society having a class of people to undertake basic work, we remain a (now global) society which has a class of people undertaking basic work and for which we have much to do to improve conditions. The improvement of those conditions does not require a new revelation of the Spirit.

Agree: It is unquestionable that Christians pursuing with the Spirit's guidance their understanding of the height, depth, width and length of the love of God must, in time, confront the matter of what this means for human conduct in society, of obligations of discipleship in the kingdom, and of relations between brothers and sisters in the life of the church. It would have been - indeed! - too much to bear to have had some kind of detailed compendium of all future issues and their resolution presented on that night before Jesus died.

Nevertheless, to make this observation does not take us too far. It leaves us with the question of how the Spirit guides us into all truth, and the question of how we know what the guidance of the Spirit is for the church today?

As we work our way through the New Testament, we do see instances of the Spirit speaking to God's servants. Roger Harper draws our attention to the Council of Jerusalem which confronted an issue on which the earliest church was not clear in its own mind, informed as it was with the memory of Jesus' teaching and challenged as it was through special revelation to Peter and to Paul. On this matter the Council came to a common mind and issued a Spirit-led judgment which remains binding on the church to this day. Or does it? (Incidentally, for further comment on Listening to the Holy Spirit, by Roger Harper, go here).

An intriguing observation about the Jerusalem decision is that it is utterly clear about the general inclusivity of Gentiles into the gospel people of God without requirements to also become Jews. But it is not so clear in respect of the specific details re 'abstention' requirements (see any commentary). Indeed Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 10:27-29 would appear to take a more 'liberal' line on the eating of food offered to idols than the line implied in Acts 15:20.

Further lack of clarity exists on relations between women and men (Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:16 acknowledges that there might be other ways to approach the matter than the one he has just argued). In 1 Corinthians 7, discussing marriage, on one point Paul notes that he speaks without the authority of the Lord (7:12) and thus, logically, has no specific guidance from the Holy Spirit.

Incidentally, we cannot pass on from Acts 15 without a remark about the role of Scripture in the guidance of the Holy Spirit: the Council in its determination that the Holy Spirit had spoken found corroboration in Scripture (Acts 15:15-8 = Amos 9:11-12; Jeremiah 12:15; Isaiah 45:21).

In sum: in some situations it is clear what the Spirit is saying to the church, in other situations it is clear that the Spirit is offering no specific guidance for the church, while there is a third set of situations in which the guidance of the Spirit is yet subject to further consideration, even debate as to its specific applicability in the life of the church.

How do we know which is which situation? To reiterate the questions above:

How does the Spirit guide us into all truth?

How do we know what the Spirit is saying to the church today?

In Johannine terms, the Spirit guides us into all truth through recalling for us what Jesus has taught. We know the Spirit is speaking to the church today when we are called to belief in Jesus, to remain faithful to Jesus when opposition arises, that is, when we are drawn by the Spirit to die to self in order to share in the risen life of Jesus.

The best we can say beyond that on issues of the day could be this:

Where the church unites in discernment of the guidance of the Holy Spirit (compare the Council in Jerusalem, Acts 15), uniting both in what it hears the Spirit saying and in determining that this is corroborated by Scripture, the church is so guided.

Where the church is not united in discernment of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it may be that the matter is not important (i.e. adiaphora, indifferent). In Johannine terms we could think of the remarkable conversation between Jesus and Peter in John 21 where it does not matter that Peter's future as a disciple is different to the future of the Beloved Disciple.

Or, it may be that the matter is not yet resolved.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Is the Spirit of truth liberal or conservative? (2)

In pursuit of the question of what John 16:12-14 means I proposed that 'the truth' which the disciples cannot now bear but which the Spirit will guide them into concerns the love of God and the God who is Love. I concluded the previous post:

"In John's Gospel disciples keep falling away from Jesus because his teaching is too tough for them. In 1 John the Christian community of love is torn apart through sectarian division.

No. We need to think a little about the love of God, the truth of which we cannot bear now but the Holy Spirit can guide us into it gently. What is the Spirit of truth telling us about the love of God?"

One of the trickier parts of the John's Gospel to understand is the reaction of some of the disciples to Jesus' teaching on the bread of life. 'When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" (6:60). What is tricky to understand is what gives offence. Is it Jesus words about eating his fleshing and drinking his blood? (6:53) Or, is it the differentiation Jesus makes between the manna in the wilderness which sustained God's people and the living bread come down from heaven? (6:48-51) Or, is it the implication that for Jesus' flesh and blood to be heavenly food, he will have to die? Either way, Jesus makes an extraordinary and wonderful promise concerning eternal life. Yet some are not attracted by it. They find it 'difficult'. They cannot 'bear' what Jesus has to say.

Or we might delve into John 8. In the midst of a tense argument there is somewhat surprising information that 'many believed in him' (8:30). To these believers Jesus says,

'If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.' (8:31-32)


Except these new believers then appear to walk back on their belief. They react badly to what Jesus has just said, denying they have ever been slaves (8:33) and resorting to counter-argument to Jesus (8:34-59). They cannot bear what Jesus has to say.

In each of the two examples above, Jesus offers a way into a deeper experience of the love of God: eat and drink me, continue in my word, thus receive eternal life and freedom. But this is too difficult for some. Why?

The answer, ultimately, lies in a moment in John's Gospel when what is said intersects precisely with Synoptic Gospels' teaching on discipleship.

'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.' (John 12:23-26a; cf Matt 10:39; Mark 8:3; Luke 9:24; 14:26).
True disciples die to themselves.They crucify their selfish, sinful, ego-centric way of life. Metaphorically (and sometimes literally) they die with Christ on the cross and rise to eternal life. This is demanding, uncompromising, and difficult.

The love of God draw us to God, who is revealed not to have love as an attractive attribute but to be Love itself (or, better, Love himself). But this love is not about us as though God is saying 'Have some love. Your life will then be complete.' That is the way advertisers sell new TVs, holidays in the tropics and beauty enhancing products. God is a little different!

God's love is about God. His love for us is not a gift to us to enhance our lives. His love for us is a gift to himself because it draws us into himself who (it turns out in the fullness of the revelation of God) is  Father Son and Holy Spirit, One in love. Eternal life is inclusion in the Godhead of love through Christ.

This drawing into God involves death to self. 'Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.' This is the hardest truth, the reason why the disciples who found Jesus' teaching difficult turned away.

What then does Jesus mean when he says, 'I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now'? These things are about the character of discipleship in relation to the love of God. The gospel is a message which is simultaneously a No and a Yes. A No to self and a Yes to God. It will always be opposed and often rejected, and the disciples with it. A hard road lies ahead for those sent by Jesus as the Father has sent him (John 20:21). The Spirit of truth's revelation of those things which 'you cannot bear now' includes 'the things that are to come' (16:12). The future of discipleship is suffering. Jesus mercifully spares his disciples the details as they struggle to absorb the impact of their master's own impending departure as the grain of wheat which falls to the ground.

In this way the revelation of 'all the truth' which Jesus promises through the Spirit is not a revelation of new truths (as many take it, so we now have new truths about slavery, about women, and, today, about homosexuality) but a revelation of the full extent of the truth already revealed by Jesus.

Indeed John's Gospel itself is a fulfilment of this promise. But let's stop there for today and come back to that matter another day.