Friday, July 31, 2015

What does 'Anglican theology' mean?

Tonight I begin teaching a new Anglican Studies course for Christchurch, Introduction to Anglican Theology.

On the face of it, the theology of the Anglican church is Anglican theology so we should have a course on it.

But digging a bit deeper - yes, I have done a bit of prep for the course - things are not quite that simple. A lot of theology within our church is 'just theology'. We are as happy with reading Barth as with reading Benedict. We draw on Augustine and Aquinas. We even read the same Bible as other Christians! There is not distinct Anglican way of understanding the Trinity or the Incarnation.

Nor can we claim a distinctive Anglican contribution to the history of theology. That lots of superb Anglicans have been superb theologians and made superb contributions to that history doesn't make for 'Anglican theology.' When Rowan Williams wrote his masterpiece on Arian it was accidental to what he wrote that he was an Anglican.

We can claim, however, that some Anglican theologians have contributed mightily to specific Anglican debates over the sense and sensibility of the Anglican church. Par excellent here is Richard Hooker. At a crossroads for the newish Church of England in the late 16th century, Richard Hooker took on Puritan opponents who wished for a different character to the church they were presently dissatisfied with. In batting away their bowling attack, Hooker both set out theologies of sacraments, orders and such, sharpened up the lines and contours of Anglican emphases such as we find in the Thirty Nine Articles.

All to the good, but is this as good as 'Anglican theology' gets?

I'll let you know, and you can let me know, if you discover more going on than meets the eye!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sacred and Spiritual Links - Tuesday 28th July 2015

Supplied by a UK colleague:

#1 Vaughan Roberts on God the Father; #2 Phil Ashey asks are we comfortable enough in our experience of God to let go and trust him? #3 and #7 talks from the Keswick Convention; #10 prayers needed for Northern Nigeria and Pastors facing death sentences in Sudan; #12 pictures of the heavens; #13 something heavenly from Tallis and #14 some young people musicians from Auckland.

Prayers for you for the coming week.

1. The father heart of God - Vaughan Roberts - St Ebbes Audio [Hosea 10:1-11:1]

2. In the Fellowship of Elijah - Phil Ashey - Christ Church Atlanta Video [1 Kings 17]

3.Talks from the Keswick Convention 2015 - Clayton TV [see listing on left for John Risbridger and Paul Mallard talks]

4. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

5. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

6. The bells of St Eustachius, Tavistock in Devon - BBC Radio 4

7. Sunday Worship from the Keswick Convention - Jonathan Lamb preaches - BBC Radio 4

8. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

9. Archived Choral services over the Summer from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge
and New College, Oxford

Please pray for the persecuted church: for churches under attack in Nigeria; for Rev Yat Michael and Rev Peter Reith under threat of death in Sudan; and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

10. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Nigeria: Boko Haram kills 25 in Nigeria - CNN
Two Explosive Devices Planted at Nigerian Church _Christian News
Sudan: Defence submits closing statement in trial of pastors - CSW
South Carolina:Prayers from Lent and Beyond

Food for thought

11. CT scan of charred scroll yields oldest Biblical remnant after Dead Sea Scrolls - Times of Israel
1,500-Year-Old Text Has Been Digitally Resurrected From a Hebrew Scroll - Smithsonian Magazine
Forward from Conversion: How We Can Focus on Spiritual Growth and Transformation - Ed Stetzer - Christianity Today
Same-Sex 'Marriage': Evolution or Deconstruction of Marriage and the Family? - Archbishop Anthony Fisher, OP, of Sydney - ABC Religion
How to lead a group worth belonging to - Sarah Abell
Don't Read All About It - David Keen
It’s all good. But is it the best? - David Mansfield

12. Consider the Heavens - Hubblesite

13. Spem in Alium - Thomas Tallis - The Cardinall's Musick

14. May your heart - St Paul's Auckland Worship

God bless you

Monday, July 27, 2015

Best argument from Sydney re SSM you'll read this year?

Ian Paul draws attention to 'what I think is one of the best, short arguments against recognising same-sex marriage'. It comes from Sydney but not from an Anglican. Archbishop Anthony Fisher, delivered a lecture recently, an edited version of which is on the ABC Religion and Ethics site.

I appreciate the points Ian Paul underlines and won't repeat his work here. Read it for yourself! Read the comments too because there is a robust response to Fisher's arguments and to Paul's motivations and aims in publishing his response to the lecture.

Incidentally, for non Australian and non Kiwi readers, NZ has approved same sex marriage as a matter of civil law and Australia has yet to do so, though a huge momentum is building for change.

I appreciate Archbishop Fisher's set of arguments very much because reading around the internet these days, I find myself less than impressed by what I am reading. A strength of his lecture is that he takes on five common slogans for same sex marriage:
- It's all about justice
- Sexual differences do not matter
- It is all about love
- It is all about the numbers
- It does not affect me.

These points made by Fisher stand out for me as they relate to our shared theological interests across the Ditch and around the globe in relation to the core question, 'What is marriage?':

'Though customs around marriage vary between cultures and over time, there is remarkable consistency about these four dimensions of marriage:
  • that it unites people of opposite (but complementary) sex;
  • that this union is intended to be faithful ("to the exclusion of all others");
  • that this union is potentially fruitful ("to have and to hold" each other as "man and wife" do and so open to children); and
  • that this union is final ("till death do us part").
In almost every case, a fifth dimension has been that this union is regarded as sacred.'

'What is unjust and untruthful is to say in our laws that there is nothing distinctive about male and female, husband and wife, father and mother, or nothing important about bringing the two halves of humanity together in marriage. It is unjust to children to say having a Mum and a Dad should not matter. It is discriminatory towards those already married or who would like in future truly to marry to redefine marriage in a way that reduces it to emotions and sex.'

'I have here argued that to admit SSM would not be to broaden the group of those to whom marriage is open, but rather to change altogether what it is we call marriage; that this is not the further evolution of marriage but its further hollowing out - not liberation of that institution from the confines of religion and prejudice so much as deconstruction of that institution. '

The weakness of the slogans Fisher takes to task is highlighted by this article in the New York Times. It would be unjust (would it not?) to deny such open minded ethical cheating? No one can deny that love drives this movement forward. It seems to be popular. It certainly doesn't affect me. So why wouldn't the church approve ethical cheating?

Now there's a question!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tectonic shifts in global Christianity?

Far reaching or far fetched? A couple of articles in the Catholic Herald have caught my eye. If they are 'on the money' then they have far reaching implications for the future shape of global Christian life. But they might be a bit far fetched. What do you think?

Luke Coppen thinks the Pope is reaching out to unify 'Evangelicals' with the Catholic church. Imagine this were to happen: it would be the largest re-alignment in Western Christianity since 1517. In 2015 it seems unimaginable (e.g. because of the huge lack of unity among Evangelicals themselves). But the world is changing fast. It is not unimaginable that the rise of Islam's global influence will focus the minds and hearts of Christians. In 2065, might we find we drag our feet no longer towards a re-marriage of the strands of Western Christianity?

Raymond de Souza, complimenting Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox and now his own church on their 'green' credentials, reads into these credentials a new evangelization strategy.

"The key to understanding the environmental push is the Holy Father’s priority on the Church in mission. If the Church goes green, it is to improve the cultural climate for evangelisation. In this, Pope Francis’s pastoral strategy is to join an effort that has been underway for decades in both Orthodoxy and Anglicanism."
Now I absolutely get the point in the paragraph above when aligned with a point in the paragraph below, that a key to evangelization is for the church to keep close to the culture of the people it wishes to reach with the gospel:

"In the 1980s and early 1990s, as it became clear in both Constantinople and Canterbury that their respective communions were becoming increasingly marginal players in their own cultures, a conscious decision was taken to move environmental issues to the forefront of their public witness."
But, as an Anglican, I am not at all sure that we (via Canterbury) are capable of saying that we are increasingly distant from our own cultures, what will we do, I know let's choose environmentalism as an issue which will lead to re-connection. My strongest suspicion is that we simply saw environmental degradation and decided that we ought as biblical people to do something about it.

Nevertheless, there is some thing to reflect on here as Laudato Si makes waves around the world. If we want the gospel to be heard, what 'climate of listening' are the churches creating (or damaging) as we go about our public, corporate witness?

Back to Coppen's article. If there really is a document in the Pope's office which speaks of Catholics and Evangelicals "united in mission because we are declaring the same Gospel" then that goes to the heart of Christian unity: our message and our mission based on that message.

If this understanding of the gospel is centred on Jesus, then we may be hopeful of greater unity in the years ahead. I was particularly heartened to read this in the Coppen article:

"Francis is said to have told an Evangelical leader recently: “I’m not interested in converting Evangelicals to Catholicism. I want people to find Jesus in their own community. Let’s be about showing the love of Jesus.”"

It is not that hard, is it?

Note to USA Readers: Your Days Are Numbered!

In news out of Antarctica, global warming is going to ...

No. That is not the news that interests me today. Rather, a local news item about withdrawal of Catholic priests from US Antarctic bases makes the point that this is due to "a decline in church-going".

There have, of course, been signs for a while now that church going in the States is in decline. And there are certainly many signs of social change in the States which bear witness to a dramatic loss of influence by the churches on the citadels of power.

But here, 'Down Under' in the stretched version of the term, stretched all the way to the South Pole, we have an intriguing consequential sign of that decline.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

El Dorado at El Rancho

Nothing excites me more ecclesiastically these days than visiting churches where loads of young people and/or families with young children are present. I had such an experience visiting a local parish on Sunday morning.

The day before I returned from being part of the Wellington Diocesan Ministry Conference at El Rancho, Waikanae. Although I had been invited to give some Bible studies and workshops, the Conference was the opposite of draining or tiring for me. It was a real spiritual tonic. Great worship, excellent contributors (i.e. other than me), super cool MCing by my colleague Spanky Moore.

But best and most invigorating was simply being with the ministers (ordained and lay) of the Wellington Diocese and their families. It was a chance to catch up with some old friends as well as to mix and mingle with a large group of folk new to me. About 160 in total. Very energetic. Pure gold.

I didn't do a count but it seemed like over half were aged under 40. Very cool. Let's face it, when most of one's working life has been spent in the working for the good health and growth of our Anglican church, it is quite satisfying to think that this church might still be around in fifty years' time! Incidentally, simultaneously, a national church Theological Hui teeming with young people was being held in Cambridge, Waikato.

But what sort of church will ACANZP be in fifty years' time?

Well, going on my visit to the Diocese of Wellington, it will not be the church it is today. I say that because my experience at the weekend was an experience of a diocese as it changes from what it once was to what it is becoming. (Trust me on this. It's partly hard to put my intuition into words. To the extent that I could put it into words, I haven't time to set them down).

The fascinating thing about Anglicanism in these islands (and elsewhere across the Communion) is that even as we attempt to change or resist change on matters such as Motion 30, we are changing in various ways as we attempt to adapt what we do as 'church' in order to connect with community around us.

We are in a race for survival. Some stats suggest a graphline which will zero out sometime in 20??. But in the race for survival we are recognising that the fittest survive and the fittest are those who adapt themselves to changing environments.

My experience at the weekend (both the conference and the local church service) highlights some ways in which we are winning the race.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Episcopal Voices (Updated)

Keeping track of developments in the States, post TEC's General Convention:

Love Letter From Albany

Central Florida Speaks

While keeping track of developments in the States, here are two more 'arguments' re same sex marriage:

Jordan Lawrence

Brandon Ambrosino

Sacred and Spiritual Links - Tuesday 21 July 2015

Supplied by a UK correspondent:

I hope some of this may be of interest and I pray perhaps a blessing:

#1 Andrew Wingfield Digby on God's faithfulness; #2 Kendall Harmon on our fulfilment in worship #3 Bishop Rennis Ponniah today on God's new covenant identity for His people; #11 Bishop Angaelos Coptic Church General Bishop in the UK talking about persecution in Egypt, and relations among Christians and with the secular world; #13 a glimpse of Pluto.

Prayers for you too for the coming week.

1. God does not give up on us - Andrew Wingfield Digby - St Andrew's Oxford Audio [Ephesians 1:3-14 and Mark 6:14-29]

2. Do we know the greatness of God? - Kendall Harmon - Christ St Paul's Audio [Psalm 48]

3. A New Humanity - Bishop Rennis Ponniah - St Andrew's Singapore Audio [Ephesians 2:11-22]

4. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

5. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

6. The bells of St Thomas the Apostle, Lymington in Hampshire - BBC Radio 4

7. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

8. Archived Choral services over the Summer from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge
and New College, Oxford

Please pray for the persecuted church: for two pastors under threat of death in Sudan; for churches under attack in Nigeria and Baghdad; and for rising legal repression in Egypt, Iran, Nepal and China and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

9. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Iraq and Syria: Baghdad, Christians kidnapped and killed. Chaldean Patriarchate asks for protection and security - Asia News
Nigeria: Church narrowly escapes destruction - Open Doors
Sudan: Capital Trial reports - Reverend Yat Michael and Reverend Peter Reith - CSW
Iran: Iran deal lacks human rights focus - CSW
Nepal: Anti-conversion laws threaten religious freedom in Nepal - CT
China: New security law prompts fears of religious liberty crackdown - Open Doors
South Carolina:Prayers from Lent and Beyond

10. Sunday Programme - with William Crawley - BBC Radio 4

Food for thought
11. Bishop Angaelos stresses importance of religious freedom - CEN
How to read the Bible and get the complete picture - Andrew Ollerton - CT
Interview with Tim Keller - Krish Kandiah - CT
How Should Christians Comment Online? - Jon Bloom

12. What is an Evangelist? - J John

13. Animated Flyover of Pluto’s Icy Mountain and Plains - NASA

14. Benedictus in C - Stanford - Kampen Boys Choir

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel : for he hath visited, and redeemed his people;
And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us : in the house of his servant David;
As he spoke by the mouth of his holy Prophets : which have been since the world began;
That we should be saved from our enemies : and from the hands of all that hate us;
To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers : and to remember his holy Covenant;
To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham : that he would give us;
That we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies : might serve him without fear;
In holiness and righteousness before him : all the days of our life.
And thou, Child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest : for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto his people : for the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God : whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us;
To give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace. [Luke 1:68-79 the prophesy of Zacharias]

God bless you

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Manaakitanga - Generous Hospitality, Bible Study notes

I have had the privilege over the last three days of delivering three Bible studies on Manaakitanga - Generous Hospitality (Genesis 18:1-5, Luke 7:36-50, Hebrews 13:1-16) to the Diocese of Wellington's annual ministry conference (held at El Rancho, Waikanae). In order for participants at the conference and for any other interested reader to have access to the notes, without the need to cut down a forest, I am publishing them on Scribd at this link.

Also, they are embedded below:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Is it right to kill babies in order to prolong adults' lives?

I think the headline question I pose here gets to the heart of the moral issue embedded here.

You might be able to think of an even better question.

We Westerners live in a weird and worrying world.

Added: Counter-balancing comment below. Also see this from the Washington Post.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

When will we have a Church of Aotearoa New Zealand?

Participating on Sunday morning past in the service of St Luke's in the City (Anglican), Christchurch, it was difficult not to reflect ecumenically ...

Currently, in the Knox Presbyterian church/hall complex, three distinct denominational congregations meet, joining together after their services for morning tea: the Knox congregation itself meets in their splendidly restored church, the Durham Street Methodist church meets in the Knox Hall and St Luke's Anglican meets in the Knox Chapel.

As a dyed in the wool Anglican I am the first to appreciate that our denominational distinctives are valuable and to be cherished. Were it to be proposed that the three congregations 'get over' their differences and merge into one large inner city church, I imagine myself being wholly sympathetic to those who metaphorically wept on my Anglican shoulder about what they would lose by doing so.

There is also the not insignificant treasure that each congregation has a community life of its own. Loss of community has its own griefs. No one would wish further grief on Christians in Christchurch post the quakes!

Nevertheless, I am going to ask the question of all our church(es') life in Aotearoa New Zealand, when are we going to form the 'Church of New Zealand' instead of being a series of Anglican/Presbyterian/Methodist/Baptist/Roman Catholic/etc churches in New Zealand?

What, after all, is the Presbyterian church in New Zealand but a distinctively Scottish version of the Reformed churches of Europe? The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is an English version of the moderately reformed Roman Catholic church. That's just to take up two of the transplanted churches from the northern hemisphere. While we have a reasonable flow of Scottish and English people migrating to NZ and, presumably, glad to find local versions of their respective mother churches, is that sufficient reason to continue to have Scottish and English churches in a country far away?

Is it God's will that Christianity in Aotearoa New Zealand is always a transplant?

Might God have a plan for a truly indigenous Christian church in these islands?

Should we be praying for a prophetic figure to lead us to a truly Kiwi church?

After all, it has been significant leaders whom God has used in past times to initiate new church movements and developments: Luther and Germany, Knox and Scotland, Cranmer and England, Wesley(s) and Methodism. Within Roman Catholicism, significant developments have taken place through the likes of Augustine, Francis (former and present!), Ignatius Loyola, Mother Teresa and John Paul II.

Of course the church is global and we should be at least slightly suspicious about attempts to localise the universal church in a Kiwi way. There is nothing intrinsically virtuous about being Kiwi.

On the other hand, most manifestations of the global church which are embedded in our churches are from other cultures and nations. There is nothing intrinsically superior in those cultures and nations, but an ingrained NZ deference often presupposes that what comes from overseas is better.

Why should differences between churches here be shaped by historic church divisions in Europe?

Why can't we have our own local disputes which determine who we are as churches and why we do what we do? (Mostly kidding with that question: God wants a united Aotearoa church!)

What do you think?

Should we be satisfied with the current state of ecumenicity in these islands?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sacred and Spiritual Links - Monday 13th July 2015

Supplied by a UK colleague:

I will be posting a lighter than usual listing over the Summer:

#1 Vaughan Roberts and Paul Perkins consider heaven on earth; the combined choirs of Kings' College and St John's College sing evensong from Cambridge;  #3 Andrew Goddard is rightly resting from his Herculean exploration of the New Testament in a year, but Peter Carrell and Stephen Trott continue commentary on the readings; #11 Bear Grylls on becoming a Christian and Clive field considers evidence of changed in attitudes to religions in the UK over the last decade; #12 a choir from the Netherlands formed in 2002 in the English choral tradition.

Prayers for you too for the coming week.

1. A marriage made in heaven - Vaughan Roberts - St Ebbes Audio [Hosea 1:1-2:1 and Revelation 21:1-4]

2. Christian Worship - Paul Perkin - St Mark's Battersea Rise Audio [Hebrews 12:14-29]

3. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

4. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

5. The bells of St Erme in Cornwall - BBC Radio 4

6. Choral Evensong from King's and St John's Choirs in King's College, Cambridge

7. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

8. Archived Choral services over the Summer from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge
and New College, Oxford

9. Topical Prayers - Church of England
South Carolina:Prayers from Lent and Beyond

10. Sunday Programme - with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

Food for thought
11. Letter to my younger self - Bear Grylls
Ten Years on - Clive Field - BRIN

12. If thou shalt confess with thy mouth - Stanford - Kampen Boys Choir [from the Netherlands, one of the recent choirs formed in the English Tradition]

If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shall be saved.
Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
For the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.
Whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.
[from Romans 10:9-10]

God bless you

Friday, July 10, 2015

It's a Greek kind of crisis the Communion faces! (Updated x 3)

This morning I am a little bit confused which won't surprise regular readers here who know I am a bear with a small brain.

On Monday I thought I read in the news that Greece had overwhelmingly voted No in Sunday's referendum to further austerity. But today I read in the news that a new deal involving 'harsh austerity' is close to conclusion.

The problem with being a small brained bear as that my brain can't cope with tension and near contradictions in vast conceptual matters like economics and politics. Imagine if I tried to be an Anglican and had a go at being theological in the context of the Anglican Communion :)

Speaking of which things, two posts have caught my eye this week while travelling in paradise - sunny Westland with snow capped mountains catching the eye - one is by Ian Paul with the title What is at stake for the church and same-sex marriage? and one is by Trevor Morrison entitled I'll Trust God's Mercy and Grace.

I may add a para or two about the posts later today. In the meantime I encourage you to read them. My own question is this, When we read, digest and inwardly mark such erudition, are we coming closer to a convergence as to the Way Forward?

A deal, if you like, of a Greek kind, in which Sunday's No becomes Friday's Yes.

Added Later:

Ian Paul's Post's Notable Point

Divergency of views in the Cof E about the status of Scripture itself, captured in this cited paragraph from a post by John McGinley describing his experience as a participant in one of the formal shared conversations on sexuality which the CofE is organising through this period:

"I returned with great concern that the majority of the participants had lost any clear understanding of the Bible as authoritative in their lives. The approaches were shocking to me, and, as a result, my approach was shocking to them. This confirmed that we are already two churches, one which sees the Bible as a helpful collection of writings from which to draw inspiration but which can be used to say whatever we want it to, or simply be ignored. The other seeks to submit to Scripture as we interpret it and apply it to our lives and trust in its goodness as God’s word to us, even when it is painful and challenging. The result of this is that there were many moments of incredulity expressed by people from different positions as they realised others in the room held a belief so far from their own."
Trevor Morrison's Post's Notable Points

Something I am looking for, from a conservative perspective, is language which opens a way forward for our church which conservatives can connect with, empathise with, engage with and even agree with. While I do not think Morrison's overall argument through his post is convincing that we have now reached a different period of time and challenge for the kingdom of God and so previous restrictions can be relaxed, I do think he offers some language worth pausing on.

The argument is not convincing in my view because it does not nail down why we could think, from Scripture, that its prohibitions were limited to certain prevailing circumstances which could then be relaxed when those circumstances changed. It is one thing for us to reason to ourselves 'the prohibitions were because of such and such reasons, concerning Israel and its surrounding nations, concerning the church and its surrounding Hellenistic culture', it is another to draw the conclusion that Scripture intends the prohibitions to no longer apply in a different time and cultural space. (Incidentally I am in agreement with Morrison on a number of points he makes along the way, including the reservation of marriage itself to 'a man and a woman.'. See now, also, this.)

But that is not the end of the post and its contribution to our debate (especially not when Morrison writes from within the Anglican church of these islands). When Morrison writes this paragraph he speaks to me:

"I have now read many stories from people whose testimony of Christian faith resonates as credible with me (see, e.g., John Shore, “UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question”), yet who testify of an overwhelming longing for same-gender relationships and inability to form deep heterosexual ones. When I read those stories, I do not hear the voices of people who are trying to stir up our sympathy so they can maintain a way of life they secretly know is sinful. In fact, I do not hear the voices of sinners at all, except in the general way that all of us are sinners. I do not see people who culpably chose to foster longings for kinds of relationships that prima facie belong in the set that God calls abominations. I hear the voices of people who are in distress."
The strongest argument for blessing same sex partnerships lies in this paragraph. It is essentially a pragmatic, pastoral argument. In today's world, where many aspects of kinship, domestic life, and socialization are different to the households and communities of the world of the Bible, might the church find a way to support those who long for relationship, not in order to sin but in order to love, not in order to rebel against God but in order to form a partnership for mutual society and support in their walk with God?

My personal argument through this series of posts, against the backdrop of Motion 30 discussion in our church, is that those of us who are unconvinced that same sex partnerships should be blessed (let alone that we should move to embrace equal marriage) could or even should consider whether our church might be inclusive and accommodating of those who are persuaded that such partnerships might be blessed in the context of church.

From this perspective, Ian Paul's post warns against being a church which pushes itself to an either/or decision, to the exclusion of a possible middle way. Trevor Morrison's post opens up a possible way forward towards blessing of same sex partnerships which might, just might receive agreement in our church if we saw our way to a pragmatic, pastoral approach.


Trevor Morrison has now posted a follow up post The Just Justifier.

After a statement of his doctrine of Scripture, Morrison proposes:

"On the basis of those beliefs, I believe that the time has come when the Church can:
  • Heed the testimonies of LGBT believers who tell us that their orientation dates from earliest childhood and that it was not wilfully chosen, and that supposed re-orientation therapies do not work for them, no matter how whole-heartedly they engage with them.
  • Heed their testimony that they are not able to form a meaningful, soul-satisfying heterosexual relationship, yet feel barred by the Church from entering a relationship with someone of their own orientation.
  • Hear their anguish at this state of affairs.
  • Recognise that a faithful same-sex union is not a threat to the Kingdom of God if it is welcomed and guarded with the same pastoral care as a heterosexual union.
  • And therefore declare that, while same-sex unions were not part of God’s pre-Fall design for humankind, faithful unions of that kind are covered by the grace of Christ in his redemptive plan and can be accepted and blessed within the Church."
At the conclusion of his post he appeals:

"Dear faithful, conservative pastor-teachers, I appeal to you. Please lift your eyes from your systematic theologies and look unblinkingly at the God whom your studies should have revealed to you. Engage both your heart and your brain. Cease selling God’s love short by trying to make his judgment triumph over his mercy when you deal with LGBT people, by demanding of them what, after all, God does not. Recognise instead that, as Cranmer put it in his great Eucharistic prayer, God is “the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy.” Be imitators of him, your Saviour."

Post Postscript

My attention has been drawn to an article by David Runcorn in a recent CEN. As an evangelical in the CofE, associated with the recent Pilling Report, Runcorn asks himself and fellow evangelicals the question, 'How would we know when we have got it wrong?'

Runcorn powerfully makes the point that for decades evangelical South Africans did not realise they had 'got it wrong' on apartheid, thinking that the Bible supported that foul social doctrine. He asks, through a series of reflections and questions, how evangelicals reading the Bible today might know when they have 'got it wrong' on homosexuality.

It is worth a read.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Two Down Under Views on Marriage Debates from Both Sides of the Ditch

I reckon Archbishop Philip Freier (Melbourne) speaks sense here. He argues that the church which is mostly conservative on marriage in a country with building momentum towards sanctioning gay marriage should opt out of being the state's agent for conducting the legalities of marriage.

Key paragraphs are:

"That being so, it might be thought anomalous that the church remains the state's representative when it comes to performing marriage, that ministers of religion (along with civil celebrants) act on behalf of the state by performing a legal ceremony that is recognised and legitimised by the state. 
The Marriage Act has already registered significant social changes, such as providing safeguards for de facto partners. Same-sex marriage would be a far more significant step away from the Christian understanding of marriage that prevailed when the law was first enacted. 
While same-sex marriage stretches this conception of marriage, it seems that in other respects we as a society have very traditional perspectives. Bigamy or polygamy remain taboo. Yet if the argument from the freedom of human choice stands – that it is unjust to deny people the chance to marry whomsoever they want – then we should recognise that polygamy is widely practised in many societies around the world. Islam allows up to four wives – under certain circumstances – yet when a Melbourne sheikh proposed legalising polygamy several years ago the reaction was outrage. 
It might be time to make sanctioning legal marriage a matter purely for the state. Perhaps the people who register marriages should simply be public servants who attest to the bona fides of the parties to the marriage. Marriage could be made more accessible by online registration and processing."
I like the way that he acknowledges that a country such as Australia is both open to change re marriage while retaining some 'traditional perspectives.'

Incidentally, for Kiwi readers following the Motion 30 debate, perhaps especially in the Diocese of Christchurch, there may be some interest in the following motion to our September Synod:

"That this Diocese of Christchurch request that General Synod receive, discuss, and then table the Report of the Motion 30 Working Group in order that there may be four years of education across our church on the substance of the Motion 30 Report."

Since this motion comes from our Standing Committee, it has an important momentum behind it.

For overseas readers, our next General Synod is in May 2016; the Motion 30 Working Group is working on recommendations ranging across matters such as the blessing of same gender relationships, holding our church together across difference, theologies of marriage and ordination.

Did I mention my intention to retire in 2020? [smile]

Monday, July 6, 2015

Spiritual and Sacred Links - Monday 6th July 2015

Supplied by a UK colleague:

Here are some things I hope you will find encouraging and thought provoking:

#1 Vaughan Roberts on what Jesus left behind; #2 Kendall Harmon on current challenges for Christians and society; #3 William Taylor considers the Gospel at work; #4 Interesting discussion with Tom Wright and Peter Thiel on future ethical challenges including 'trans-humanism' - which has generated some discussion at #14. #13 some commentary and resources on current marriage moves; #14 Call to prayer from the Church of England Evangelical Council; and with #16 Christians in Singapore spent Sunday in prayer; #17 the bigger picture.

Prayers for you too for the coming week

1. "Peace I leave with you" - Vaughan Roberts - St Ebbes Audio [John14:25-3]

2. What does it Mean to Live Faithfully to Christ in our Time? - Dr Kendall Harmon - Christ St Pauls Audio

3. Strengthened for Work - William Taylor - St Helen's Media [Romans 1:1-17]

4. Imagining the Future, Innovation, and God - Bishop Tom Wright and Peter Thiel - Veritas Forum Video

5. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

6. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

7. The New Testament in a year with Rev Andrew Goddard

8. The bells of All Saints, East Meon in Hampshire - BBC Radio 4

9. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

10. Choral services from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge
and New College, Oxford

Please pray for those grieving from recent attacks, particularly in Tunisia; for the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church; for Christians and all facing persecution and crime in Syria and Iraq, Nigeria, Egypt and Sudan; for those affected by the earthquakes in Nepal; for peace in Burundi, Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

11. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Prayers for the Church of England from Lent and Beyond
Tunisia: Prayers of Remembrance - CofE
Sudan: S Sudan pastors will face trial, judge rules
Egypt: Egyptian solider, the only Christian in his unit, found dead - WWM
Greece: Greek Orthodox Church urges Yes vote - CP
South Carolina:Prayers from Lent and Beyond

12. Sunday Programme - with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

Marriage Responses and Commentary
13. Statement in response to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church resolution regarding same sex marriage - GS Standing Committee [Updated]
Is TEC's new doctrine of marriage heretical? - Peter Carrell
Just Married - Steve Waldman
John Roberts’s full-throated gay marriage dissent: Constitution ‘had nothing to do with it’ - Amber Phillips - Washington Post
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warns UK Against ‘Crazy’ Judicial Activism - Breitbart
50 Resources for Equipping the Church on Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage - Joe Carter
Some Advice on Same-Sex Marriage for US Church Leaders From a Canadian - Carey Nieuwhof
Advice from Chesterton: Don’t Take Down the Fence until You Know Why It’s There - Amy Hall

Food for thought
14. The time to think about transhumanism is now - Phil Whittall
CEEC: Petertide Call to Prayer
51,000 Christians gather at Sports Hub to mark SG50 - Straits Times

15. What is the meaning of the word 'gospel'? - William Taylor

16. Revival through our eyes - Waves of Revival by Andrew Yeo

17. ISS Symphony - Timon Vimeo

God bless you

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Is TEC's new doctrine of marriage heretical?

Tobias Haller writes about TEC's recent decision to canonically redefine marriage to be about two persons, not only about a man and a woman,

'The canonical amendment, in the drafting of which I participated, is, in my likely not sufficiently humble opinion, simultaneously orthodox and comprehensive. I challenge anyone opposed to it to point to any line in it that contradicts the teaching of the church. It is true that it omits reference to "man and woman" -- but omission does not constitute denial. Again, some may find this too subtle, but it is true.'

Here, it seems to me, Haller makes a claim that TEC has extended or developed its doctrine of marriage, but not created a new doctrine.

But some seem to view TEC's recent decision as a new revelation granted by the Holy Spirit. I make a comment at that post which ridicules the notion of a new revelation because it is ridiculous, except in one respect. I guess if you wish to assert a teaching which is out of step with nearly the whole of the rest of the universal church, both now and in the past, then logically you can only justify such an assertion by claiming it is valid as a new revelation. Otherwise, frankly, we are into heresy.

Heresy? Yes, because heresy is a distortion of existing doctrine which is not accepted as consistent with that doctrine by wider members of the church. (Or, heresy is acclaimed new doctrine which is not incorporated into the body of doctrine already accepted by the church).

What has TEC distorted in respect of marriage as understood by Anglicans around the world?

Let's go back to a citation in my post below:

'Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of N. and N. in Holy Matrimony. The joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelity signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.' from p. 98 of this TEC material, cited by Anglican Curmudgeon.

TEC's new marriage doctrine involves distorting the plain meaning of the underlying Scripture when we speak of marriage and its mysteries in relation to the mystery of the union between Christ and the church. It is bold and frank in its attempt to extend the Scriptural understanding of marriage to incorporate marriage between any two persons but the price it pays is to distort Scripture. (From this faulty basis, incidentally, the bold claim is made 'and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.' Once a church agrees to the premise and this conclusion, it must eject all its ministers who disagree.)

There is more to consider about the heretical nature of the new doctrine.

(1) It can make no claim that it is reaching back into the beginnings of the church's teaching on marriage to rediscover something which was there but then got obscured. There is no route from the teaching in Scripture and in the tradition of the church to extend the meaning of marriage from a covenantal partnership between a man and a woman to a covenantal partnership between any two persons.

(2) It can make no claim to being an understanding which either everyone, everywhere has always believed, or even nearly everyone, everywhere has nearly always believed.

(3) In respect of Haller's claim re comprehensiveness (if it be a presumption by TEC as to what it has done), we are in novel Anglican territory. Let me explain.

Previously Anglican comprehensiveness has been about the capacity of Anglicanism to live with a variety of understandings about doctrinal matters under a shared umbrella of some common understanding. The classic doctrine is eucharistic understanding. The umbrella has been acceptance that Jesus said, "This [bread] is my body." The comprehensiveness has been the acceptance of a variety of understandings of what "is" means (representation through to transubstantiation, Zwingli to Aquinas). But now Haller makes a move which is akin to the umbrella itself being the subject of comprehension, a move akin to claiming that Jesus didn't really mean "This [bread] is my body" but "Any food (including bread) is my body."

On Haller's notion of comprehensiveness, TEC is claiming that it can remain part of the Anglican body of churches while shifting its understanding of marriage from 'a man and a woman' to 'any two people (including, a man and a woman). But Anglican comprehensiveness is not an infinitely pliable concept. Haller's conception seems to be.

On his logic above 'omission does not constitute denial', marriage could be determined to mean anything, providing it did not exclude the possibility that it includes marriage between a man and a woman. Marriage between any two sentient beings or marriage between any number of sentient beings greater than one would fit his 'omission does not constitute denial.' This is plasticity not comprehensiveness.

We should ask and keep on asking, where does the Scriptural and traditional doctrine of marriage as understood by Anglicans (itself an understanding shared by most Christians around the world through Christian history, points of difference notably focused on the endings of marriage (divorce/remarriage) and not on marriage itself) require an extension which changes its own core definition?

Now, just before someone labels me a homophobic bigot, let me point out two things.

First, that the House Of Bishops has spoken warmly about the Communion Partner bishops (those bishops within the House who emphasise the importance of walking in step with the Communion) who have dissented from the recent decision on same gender marriage. We can read what the Communion Partner bishops have to say here.

Secondly, there is another way forward for Anglicans to move - a way which some Anglican churches are considering, including my own (as per Motion 30). That way is to consider the possibility that permission might be given for those who wish to bless partnerships between any two persons might do so.

An advantage of this way of proceeding is that it need not involve heresy because it need not change the doctrine of marriage. It is controversial, because not all Anglicans are willing to accept that such blessings are not prohibited by Scripture and tradition. It is a matter of continuing argument, because such a move rests on an arguable presumption that what is not addressed is not prohibited and is thereby permissible. (See comments to post below for arguments back and forth).

But it is something to consider on two grounds (at least): (1) some conscientious Anglicans (with a conscience in respect both of Scripture and tradition and in respect of gay couples in their congregations) wish to have this permission; (2) at least in countries such as Aotearoa New Zealand which legally permit gay marriage, it is appropriate that somewhere in the life of the church some manner of liturgical recognition be available for those who choose a pattern of partnership which is covenanted.

TEC, however, has gone beyond this step.

Many Anglicans around the world, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have big questions about this step.

I am suggesting here that those questions include the very significant question of whether TEC has now committed itself to heretical doctrine of marriage.

PS For reference, the Task Force's report is here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

TEC's radical experiment in marriage redefinition

'"All I did was get in the way of the Holy Spirit, and she’s a fierce tornado,Louie Crew 
'Rather than Scripture being unambiguous about homosexual practice, it is patently inconclusive about committed gay relationships. It would take a good deal of intellectual gymnastics to pretend otherwise.  
Best we can do: if you don't agree with a committed same-sex relationship, don't have one. Don't demand everyone bless it. Allow those who agree to bless it to do so.' Mike, commenting here at ADU
'Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of N. and N. in Holy Matrimony. The joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelity signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.' from p. 98 of this TEC material, cited by Anglican Curmudgeon.

Over in Utah, TEC's General Convention (GC) is moving in a predictable direction re changing the doctrine of marriage as understood by that member church of the Anglican Communion.(All done and dusted, today, Thursday 2 July NZ time)

Long time prophetic spokesman and energetic activist for change, Louie Crew's comment is a reminder of the intense belief of many Episcopalians that where they are heading is led by none other than the Holy Spirit.

The words highlighted by Anglican Curmudgeon raise the question whether the Holy Spirit would be party to an invented theology of 'the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church' for nowhere in Scripture or tradition can we find any sign that 'the joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelity signifies to us the mystery etc.' That signification comes from the marriage of a man and a woman (Ephesians 5:22-33). I suggest that many other Anglican churches are going to baulk at TEC going that far in, frankly, distorting the text of Scripture.

The comment from Mike makes a very fair point about the ambiguity of Scripture over the possibility that same-sex relationships might be blessed (albeit the point is arguable), and offers an olive branch in respect of the possibility of being a church which permits those who agree that such relationships may be blessed to proceed to bless them while not being a church which demands that every minister must so bless. In many respects what Mike says is where my bet at the TAB would be placed for where ACANZP is going to go - albeit with recommendations yet to be published, General Synod and diocesan synods yet to deliberate, etc.

Quo vadis?

Well, rather than me wax further, I thoroughly recommend reading Jordan Hylken's report on the House of Bishop's decision, 'Marriage Redefined?'. It is both careful and considered. What do you think?

Epilogue: there will be many in the Communion who wish to say, "Enough is enough, TEC must now go." Perhaps. But could we be kind and say, 'TEC is charting new territory. Frankly it looks completely disagreeable and wrong-headed. But let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Let's think of them as undergoing a radical experiment in marriage redefinition. How about they report back to us in 2028 about how the experiment is going?'

Postscript (2 July 2015):

(1) For a different Down Under view to one I am giving here, try Margaret Mayman, Kiwi minister in Sydney, who writes in the Sydney Morning Herald.

(2) Back to Utah: The Living Church runs an interesting article about the differing treatment by the bishops of two matters related through tradition and sacrament. One one they hesitated to change and on the other they pushed, inconsistently, for change! AND, I now note that the bishops have rejected a request for a study of 'Open Communion.'

(3) For a clarion call back to our roots in the first century, go to The Gospel Side.

(4) Andrew Goddard at Psephizo poses some questions about sexual ethics in the light of same gender marriage. And the comments (especially if you recognise the names of some of the key 'players' in the UK scene) are fascinating ...

(5) Ben Irwin has four pieces of advice ...

Theological Click-bait: could Utah be first state to approve polygamy?

Yes, momentous events are happening around the ecclesiastical world, particularly in Utah, where the TEC General Convention has worked contextually to approve polygamy same gender marriage (in the HOB, but the HOD is sure to agree). I am working on a post on that. Perhaps later today ...

Meanwhile, for your amusement, Steve Wright at Faith and Theology has offered all bloggers help with smarter, more enticing post titles, also known as 'click-bait'.

Read it all here.