Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Time for another quo vadis post?

With one eye on what is happening in England about You Know What (see yesterday's post for links), we might cast our other, speculative eye across our church in these islands of cricket records. Quo vadis? Which way are we heading. Already I hear talk of the possibility of a "Pilling Report" solution for our church. Or perhaps that is the wishful thinking of those who could live with that kind of solution for our church? (To declare a bias, I think such a solution could be something I could live with, so I count myself among the wishful thinkers).

Yet the dear old C of E has found that trying to follow the Pilling approach has led to this and that being said, including the most recent statement of the House of Bishops there - or is it just the two Archbishops? I find it hard to keep up on a limited time budget - which is widely being panned if not pilloried. Even, some say, their statement is a dog's breakfast. Not exactly a declaration that the bread of life is available on the menu. So, quo vadis for our church? Or not?

A few observations might be worth making about our particular situation.

1. I detect no widespread support for changing our doctrine of marriage (e.g. to line it up with our state's 'doctrine' of marriage). A few may push that at General Synod in May, but they will get nowhere. For a variety of reasons I will not detail here, suffice to say, one reason is it would involve more work than our already hard-pressed bishops and chancellors would want to commit to.

2. Logically that leaves the push for change in our church focused on 'blessing.' One significant question is,

Might we permit our bishops at their discretion to authorise priests to bless same sex partnerships (i.e. conduct a service of prayers for their relationship and praise God for the love and commitment the couple share together)?

But I also detect another question, theologically driven out of our ecclesiology,

Should we not wait until we are a church (of common mind and heart) which authorises all its priests to bless same sex partnerships?

(I won't waste my writing time or your reading time by also exploring some nuances to these questions. I simply acknowledge that other questions re 'blessing' are in the mix of formal and informal conversations at this time).

3. I am not sure how much the following matter is understood at large in our church, but it is an important question - perhaps even the most important question at this time. This is the question of authority, viz.,

By what authority would any change re blessing (or marriage) be allowed?

We do things in the church either because we believe them to be commanded by God or allowed (i.e not prohibited) by God.

Our eucharistic ministry, for instance, is founded on the command of Christ, 'Do this ...'

Our orders of ministry, for an example of 'allowed' action, are founded on the models of ministry in the New Testament and the practice of the church since and the understanding that God has not forbidden such ordering of ministry. A similar observation could be made about baptising the infants of believing parents: there is no specific, clear command to do so, but, observing the practice of 'household baptisms' in the New Testament, the continuing practice of the church since, and the lack of prohibition of infant baptisms, we believe we are authorised to conduct infant baptisms.

Thus (casting a cross glance within ACANZP to Chris Huawai making a stirring point that 'Our LGBTQ Family Aren't Worth Dirt' and to Ron Smith, posting about the current 'tied in knots' situation in the C of E) I see a missing note which concerns the question of authority re change. The authority to bless dirt, or heterosexual marriage, in Anglican understanding, comes from God. We need the same authority to bless same sex partnerships. At this time neither the C of E, nor ACANZP is agreed that we have that authority.

Whether we claim that authority comes from the Spirit of God, from parliament appointed by God, from Scripture, from tradition or from common sense (reason), the normative working of the church is that the church accepts that claim as a matter of common mindedness. To be frank, it is not always clear to me, serving in ACANZP, that we are a church which understands this (fairly basic) point about ecclesiastical authority. Please feel free to tell me (if you are a member of ACANZP) that I am weirdly shortsighted about this ... that really and truly everyone else gets this point!!

[Editorial note: please discuss the contents of Chris' and Ron's posts at their sites. Only comments discussing 'authority' to bless (as I am discussing here) will be accepted].

This question takes us over well trodden ground, namely, what does the Bible say to us as God's Word on the matter? (Noting, by the way, that there is precious little other ground to dig over, as the one thing which cannot be said about blessing same sex partnerships is that this has been the practice of the church through the ages).

Cutting to the chase and keeping this post to reasonable length,

(4) There is a lot of merit in the position of my own Diocese of Christchurch as we head to the General Synod in May: [the following is a revision of what was previously here, to more accurately reflect the way synodical processes work] that position is stated in clause 4 of resolution 3 of our September session of Synod 2013:

"Notes the cautions expressed in our Bishop’s charge about the care we should take
in changing a long-held doctrine of the Anglican Church; believes more time is
needed to give in-depth consideration to the theological foundations of the doctrine
of marriage and therefore requests General Synod in 2014 to postpone any decision
concerning changing the doctrine of marriage to at least the 2018 General Synod."

My question to the church at large is then, Will we pause to reflect on the matter of authority?

The most diplomatic thing we can say about ACANZP (and the C of E) at this time is that we are churches operating at two speeds re the authority to authorise blessings of same sex partnerships.

The C of E has tied itself in knots trying to be a ship operating at those two speeds. The ACANZP has not begun to do anything quite so ropey!


Bryden Black said...

Re (2): Should it become as you suggest a matter of "blessing", then I'd hope those in authority (yes; pun intended - #3) pay most careful attention to:


This an article by Ephraim Radner originally published in June 2009, as the archival link directs.

Father Ron Smith said...

If you will allow a quotation from 'Anglican Taonga', Peter, in which your own writing features, I would like to post here a comment by the Kiwi writer, Imogen de la Bere, a Lay Anglican living in England, who also has an article in the same edition. Here she comments on the Church v Society, today:

"I sometimes think Christianity has been too successful for the good of the church. The universal acceptance of human rights is effectively a global and secular working out of the Christian agenda, and consequently, what we have to offer is less startling.
Secular society has so completely embraced the Christian ethic that we have less to set us apart. It is commonly accepted that each individual is valuable and his or her person-hood is sacrosanct.
Ironically the church now lags behind liberal society. It’s as if we laid down the path, showed it to the world, and they have sprinted ahead of us."

I think this statement, succinct as it is, might fairly sum up a valid view of how the Church today is not coping with the advance of civil society, on matters of justice and freedom consonant with the Good News of the Gospel.

Dare one hope that the meeting that you, and the bishop of Nelson will be attending - on matters of gender and sexuality in ACANZP - will be cognisant of the real possibility that Imogen is correct in her thinking?

Peter Carrell said...

It is a kind thought, Ron, that I might be attending the meeting tomorrow convened by the Archbishop, but that is a misreading: I was not invited (which is fine as some eminently suitable people have been).

Bryden Black said...

Imogen de la Bere is indeed putting her finger upon a most important thing Ron. Yet both you and she also fail to notice an equally important aspect of this entire development of an idea and its effective practice.

As an initial aside firstly - which nonetheless is absolutely basic. The “Christian agenda” has as its premise the understanding of God and so of Reality, and notably human reality in the “image” of that God, to be Triune. As Walter Kasper sums it up: “The need was to reflect upon the data of Scripture and tradition and to break away from the one-sidedly essentialist thinking of Greek philosophy and into a personalist thinking ... laying the foundation of a new type of thought.”

It is this notion of personhood which has become part and parcel of our general understanding of the human. There is however another, absolutely crucial factor to consider, one which again has its roots in theology - or in this case, an a-theology. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll root it in the 17th C, and the sowing of the seeds of what became the Enlightenment in the following century. In a word: autonomy.

When the notion of human personhood is allied to the notion of human autonomy, then we have frankly a bastard child of the Christian faith and the Christian agenda. Failure to appreciate this (mostly, by western Christians who are quite simply immersed in this cultural pond water, ‘naturally and obviously’) is by and large the cause of much confusion in the Church today. And it behoves us to adhere to Rom 12:1-2 in as profound a manner as possible. Otherwise the Church will be captured by the father of lies, and know only slavery again.

Father Ron Smith said...

Just one corrective for you, Bryden. st. Paul was offering his advice to the Romans of his day - a rather different society from today's more enlightened society. Context is all.

Bryden Black said...

That’s just great! Many thanks Ron for the clarity of your response. It reveals in such a short space the vast gulf that is between us! How so?

Well; let’s parse your comment.

“St. Paul was offering his advice to the Romans of his day”: in the first instance that is surely, historically correct. All the books and letters and things of what became the NT were once upon a time ad hoc pieces of writing, with specific communities in mind and with specific agendas by the writers. But that’s just the beginning of things ...

“a rather different society from today's more enlightened society.” True; there are vast differences between the 1st C ancient Mediterranean world and the 21st C western world(s). That said however, you have merely jettisoned the entire enterprise known as “hermeneutics” - see below.

As for “today's more enlightened society”: yes; in some respects we today have indeed benefitted from precisely Imogen de la Bere’s “Christian agenda” these past 2000 years. DG! BUT THAT IS NOT THE FULL STORY. It is staggeringly naive to think this 21st C is the pinnacle of human enlightenment. You display a really rather sad reading of human history. Again; see below.

“Context is all”: Indeed it is. And that context places Romans at the start of the Epistles in the Canon of the founding documents of the Christian Faith, which for centuries has determined the Church’s true nature and purpose. Canonicity has to do with Christian identity, Ron. True enough again; that just precipitates an entire hermeneutical engagement with those documents on the one hand, AND our own contemporary horizon on the other (NB the nod to Hans-Georg Gadamer). Quo vadis indeed ...

Thanks again for the clarity with which you reveal the vast gulf that is set between us two.

Father Ron Smith said...

Bryden. Your arguments here are just a wee bit suspect. While agreeing with my statement, sector by sector, you proceed to then produce your own version of what hermeneutic process is all about. You could well be a rather clever lawyer with your skills for obfuscation, but I am not convinced with the results.

MichaelA said...

"Secular society has so completely embraced the Christian ethic that we have less to set us apart."

I would call that a pretty naive statement by Ms de la Bere. Secular society likes to tell itself that it has embraced Christian ethic - but that doesn't mean it has.

"The universal acceptance of human rights is effectively a global and secular working out of the Christian agenda, and consequently, what we have to offer is less startling."

I suggest this is a rather shallow view. Sure, every country subscribes to human rights- including some who are very oppressive in practice.

If one wants to look *only* at what countries or people subscribe to (as opposed to what they do) then sure, secular society is very godly. But the reality is very different.

Father Ron Smith said...

"I suggest this is a rather shallow view. Sure, every country subscribes to human rights- including some who are very oppressive in practice"

- MichaelA -

And how many of these countries are located in GAFCON territory, Michael, as opposed to the 'liberal' West - which, in your belief is 'going to the dogs"?

MichaelA said...

Even if that were true, Fr Ron, doesn't it support my point?

Bryden Black said...

I think this answers well the title of your post Peter:


This is not GAFCON but the GS as a whole; and they have had enough!