Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Celebrating the Reformation (2/2)

This morning I am going to the Transitional Cathedral for the funeral of Les Brighton, a friend for some 30 years and a recent, valued colleague for a couple of years when his last position before retirement was Theology House Administrator. Some readers here will have known Les and agree with a sentence a mutual friend wrote at the weekend, "Who can forget Les’s charm, whimsy, and acuity!"

Les was foremost a Bible teacher, a servant of the Word, who loved to delve deep into Scripture in order to prepare a sermon and, in recent years, to write a book on Romans. He was passionate about Scripture, thankful for God's grace and the joy of the Lord was his strength, especially through the last eight years or so as he fought cancer, beat it back, but, sadly, has finally succumbed to it.

Anyway, yesterday I promised a one line description of the Reformation on this 500th anniversary of Luther's Exocet exegetical missile fired against the ecclesiastical iniquities of his day. It comes via Les Brighton who pointed out to me a couple of years ago the splendour of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall brought to the TV screen through an adaptation starring Mark Rylance. In particular, as evidence of the brilliance of the insightful script writing, he described a scene which - unfortunately - I cannot pinpoint for you re the episode though I later saw it myself. In this scene Mark Rylance's character, Thomas Cromwell hands his wife a copy of Tyndale's New Testament, urging her to read it, and says, from memory, this line:

"You'll be surprised what you do not find in there."

That is my one line summary of the Reformation to ponder on this Anniversary!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Celebrating the Reformation (1/2) UPDATED

Heaps across the internet about the 500th anniversary of the Reformation so not much need for me to offer more words so a self-restriction to two posts, one today and one tomorrow.

Today's one is courtesy of a lovely article by Archbishop Justin Welby, here.

Tomorrow - to tease your interest - will be the best one line description of the Reformation you will ever see/hear on mainstream television ...

H/T to Andrei who has sent a link in comments below to this rationale from Stanley Hauerwas for why he is a Protestant.

TBF (to be frank) I think I have more reasons for being Protestant than the great man does,* though I agree with him that the Roman Catholic church presides over a past and present rich theological heritage, which all should continue to mine deeply into.

I am not so sanguine as Hauerwas that the work of the Protestant-led Reformation is done within Roman Catholicism. Indulgences, for instance, still exist (even if they are no longer able to be purchased with coin). There remains, in my and others' view, a continuing lack of complete confidence in the mercy and grace of God, demonstrated, for instance, in prayers at a funeral which continue to seek mercy for the departed. And there is, of course, the matter, sometimes discussed here, of whether Vatican II will continue to be embraced by the upper echelons of Catholic leadership. Hauerwas sees Vatican II as part of the Protestant Reformation's influence on the aggiornamento of the church.

However, I wish to learn from the history of the last 500 hundred years and make the point of such criticisms not that the RCC should be better - no church is perfect - but that Protestantism need not be ashamed or feel (in a Catholic phrase I have heard re the Anglican church) like "the younger brother". The Reformation opened our eyes to the grace and mercy of God mediated through the one Mediator, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. We must not close them.

AND Bosco Peters' has a fulsome post with key texts here.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Extroverted or introverted church?

I am working on my series about the gospel in the 21st century but meantime, relevant to that topic, the following long article by Andrew Brown is an excellent read: here.

It is about the tribulations of Pope Francis and the church he leads but it is not rocket science to draw analogies with our own churches as we face the challenges of the 21st century.

The critical big picture question is whether we are going to be an extroverted or introverted church!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Reforming the New Testament?

The other day I read Kelvin Wright's review of the newly published David Bentley Hart translation of the New Testament.

In the strength of that review I ordered my own copy from Amazon.

I might not have done so if I had read Wesley Hill's review first! (H/T Michael Bird on Twitter). Side note: in the next 100 years I do not imagine we will see a state broadcaster in NZ which carries wonderful religion material like the ABC (of Oz, not USA) does.

This morning Bryden Black in a comment alerts us to this First Things review.

Guess I had better read my copy when it comes :)

Something Hart seems to be doing, according to the reviews, in this 500th year of the Reformation, is to reform - at least a little bit - our understanding of the New Testament.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Don't leave town till you have seen the country

So said a great slogan many years ago, aiming to boost internal tourism.

I am not exactly the world's greatest globetrotter but I have lived overseas twice, travelled a little bit at other times to Australia, South Pacific, Asia, Britain and Europe. But only this year have I visited two of the most beautiful parts of the Blessed Isles for the first time ever.

In January it was the Bay of Islands. This past Labour weekend Teresa and I visited Coromandel for my first time ever. Just lovely - bush, green dairy pastures, sandy beaches, Hot Water Beach, Cathedral Cove, Pauanui, Hahei, Tairua, Cook's Beach, and, wonderfully because of a splendid market, Thames. We live in an amazingly diverse country, blessed with beauty and cows. Lots of them!

This brilliant weekend followed a fascinating four days in Auckland - two at a meeting of the Tikanga Pakeha Ministry Council (TPMC - a policy making body re education and training) and two at a St. John's College Colloquium celebrating 25 years of being a Three Tikanga church.

Being Anglican in the Blessed Isles is a curious thing. On the one hand, factually, we are a church in steady numerical decline. On the other hand, experientially, we are a church working on change, seeking leaders with adaptability, flexibility and creativity. (TPMC's themes were along these lines)

The latter means we are recognising the challenge before us, recognising that we cannot do everything as it once was done and recognising that in a changing world the shape of the future church is not yet known. I sense, for instance, that the biggest change coming - perhaps a decade from now - is the end of parishes as we know them. If so, that will be because we recognise that in a world of connection possible through cars and computers, our gatherings will be determined by factors other than geography.

But our changing world is also a changing world driven by patterns of migration and of upheaval in respect of cultural hegemonies.

The Colloquium was a sharp reminder - not least to me as one of the presenters, of whom some sharp questions were asked - that in a Three Tikanga church, that is,  a church determined to end Pakeha domination, it is very difficult for one or other culture not to be dominant!

But woven through the Colloquium was a reminder that the situation of our church is different to 1992: a figure of some 213 different cultures in Aotearoa NZ was mentioned, 198 of which fall under the term "Pakeha". (Apparently 14 cultures make up Pasefika and Maori is the one Tikanga with a single (though diverse) culture.) What recent migratory patterns is confronting us with is that to be Pakeha is no longer a question of what old settler families and new migrants from Britain think it means. Tikanga Pakeha is old and new European, African, and Asian: exciting and challenging!

In other words, relating the two events of last week, the future shape of our church includes the future shape of a multi-cultural church.

And yet ... a raw reality of Pakeha life is that we have a large number of congregations in which - my estimate - 98% of the faces are white and 85% of those faces belong to faithful Anglicans who will not be alive when we celebrate the bicentenary of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The sands of time are running out on us ...

Through our pleasant weekend in Coromandel, filled as it was with happy holiday makers, I reflected on what the gospel might mean in a land filled with milk and honey - the good life here is so good few seem bothered to connect with God as source of the goodness. What is our "good news" in a land already filled with goodness?

I will try to offer some semblance of an answer in a future post later this - yes, another busy - week. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Everything to play for

We are going to have a very new government in NZ.

Jacinda Ardern will be our new PM, leading a coalition government consisting of Labour and New Zealand  First with the Green Party offering confidence and supply and having some ministers out of cabinet.

Bill English has led National to its best ever defeat. I guess that will be of no consolation to him. I would urge him not to resign. I can't see his successor in sight.

There will be changes to our economic policies. As a mortgage holder I am a little nervous. They say interest rates always rise when Winston Peters is in government!

As a Christian I am concerned that our economy may be imperilled by having a two and a half headed government, which will make it much harder for the government to help our poor and vulnerable. That is what matters most to me about politics: that we have an economy which sustains a fair programme for the advancement of society.

Jacinda Ardern is a brilliant politician and will have the opportunity to be one of our most revered Prime Ministers. I hope Winston Peters doesn't stuff it up for her.

Everyone has everything to play for!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Resourcing discussion on SSB, submissions for 17 November

A correspondent here - thank you - has submitted the following links to internet resources and notes re print resources which will inform discussion about Same Sex Blessings in ACANZP - noting that the days are counting down to 17 November for final submissions to the Motion 29 Working Group as it works on its final report for GS 2018.

You are welcome to comment but there is no particular expectation that this is a post for discussion here - discussion in your local church using these resources may be more fruitful ...

Explanation re terms used in list of resources below: 

"Side A" refers to the view that sexual activity is for faithful monogamous relationships irrespective of gender...

"Side B" referring to the view that sexual activity is for faithful monogamous relationships between a man and a woman...

Thus avoiding labels such as "traditional" and "revisionist"...
No pretense is made of this list offering any sort of balance, but one might describe it as somewhat diverse.

From www.gaychristian.net  the Youtube video, "Through my eyes..." is a set of testimonies  which I think are of equal helpfulness irrespective of whether one is "Side A" or "Side B". It has a 30pp booklet with three sections, (1) for "Side B" churches; (2) for undecided churches and those who don't discuss this at all, and (3) for "Side A" churches. These are linked at https://www.gaychristian.net/resources/

From http://sexualidentityinstitute.org/resources/videos/ (Mark Yarhouse) are six video links, three on homosexuality, three on gender dysphoria. Mark comes from what I would describe as a compassionate, scholarly Side B perspective.  Side A folk won't agree with all of his views but some Side B folk might not either. I found the clip titled "Sexual Identity and the Question of Viocation" particularly helpful.  Mark has also written a paper attached below as "Yarhouse.pdf". Mark has written a book Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture which I found helpful because it looked at this issue through three different perspectives; I suspect that transgendered people would find much here to agree and disagree on. His 2013 book, Understanding Sexual Identity, is geared towards supporting young people but applicable for any whose cultural context is either Gay-affirming or shame-based (for the latter, read some conservative Christian contexts).

Two vimeo links on the page linked below contain (a) discussion on the manner in which "the discussion" on diverse views of sexuality in the church can happen constructively, and (b) an actual discussion from two very different viewpoints discussed in a constructive manner. Useful irrespective of whether Side A or Side B.
Sprirtualfriendship is worth reading if one is Side B and other-than-heterosexual or if one is simply compassionately interested. (Most of the) comments that folk have posted in response to the articles are worth reading too. 

Tim Keller has a very helpful short interview clip on You Tube clip at https://youtu.be/IZFCB9sduxQ  . Side A folk will find plenty to disagree with. It might challange some Side B folk too. 

In terms of books, The Gospel and Sexual Orientation is the best Side B exposition I've read and has the advantage of being succinct.

Slaves, Women & Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis  uses these three case examples in the outline of his (William J Webb's) views. Side B.

Gregory Coles' Single, Gay, Christian : A Personal Journey of Faith andSexual Identity Published this year; and was particularly encouraging. (Side B). 

Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting: Christian Reflections on Faithfulness and Homosexuality is both testimony and reflection (Side B).

Rosaria Butterfield's Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert is testimony and reflection from a woman who became a Queer Studies lecturer, adopted a lesbian lifestyle, became a Christian, then (after some time) adopted a heterosexual lifestyle. If one accepts Yarhouse's perspective of multiple homosexualities it isn't so hard to understand that while her experience isn't the norm, it is real. I found the most helpful part was her account of how she became a Christian. Side B.

Books currently on order are Changing Our Mind : Definitive 3rd Edition of the Landmark Call for Inclusion of Lgbtq Christians with Response to Critics by David Gushee which seems to promise one of the better arguments for a Side A perspective from the point of view of a reader who is Side B;  and William Loader's Making Sense of Sex : Attitudes Towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature (probably Side A). 

The website "Living Out" (livingout.org) describes itself in these words: "We experience same-sex attraction and yet are committed to what the Bible clearly says, and what the church has always taught, about marriage and sex. We do not identify as gay Christians, preferring to use the term "same-sex attracted" (find out why)." They don't support reparative therapies. It has a range of testimonies and articles, one of the best being a review of current academic literature on the causes of same sex attraction which is attached  as serve_pdf_free.pdf below. Sam Alberry, one of the key folk of this website, has a You Tube video at https://youtu.be/oAQ8S5gRvDY

Also, courtesy of You Tube: The Journey of a Gay Christian: A Short Documentary by Kyle Williamson; at https://youtu.be/ZfotzIBzhps (Unsure whether Side A or Side B or both); Matthew Vines: "God and the Gay Christian" | Talks at Google is a Side A proponent being interviewed by a Roman Catholic priest, at https://youtu.be/HyVvjAdbaaQ  and Faithfully Gay: A Documentary at https://youtu.be/h8mgVO88g-Y

And, from a secular perspective, https://qlife.org.au/qlife-guides/  has some useful online fact-sheets; https://au.reachout.com/articles/coming-out has some useful material incl a video clip; on bisexuality at https://youtu.be/oIUcSkAx668  . 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Divine Authority of Present Day Translations

Doug Chaplin, reflecting on a forthcoming new English translation of Scripture, makes this point which I don't think I have ever considered before (being somewhat keen on knowledge of the "original language" Scriptures):

"Indeed, it could be argued that the careful translation of a group of scholars working together (the more common way to produce translations) is more of an authoritative text than the Greek being read by a single scholar who is always more likely to read it in ways congenial to their personal viewpoint, community tradition, or academic theory."

His whole post is here.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Again, the Benedict Option

Rod Dreher, author and proponent of The Benedict Option, writes about the hope and encouragement he received during a recent visit to Catholics in the capital of the Enlightenment, Paris.

Whatever we think about The Benedict Option (and it was canvassed a bit here and here on ADU recently), Dreher makes some great observations about the future of Christianity in a heavily secularised, post Christian world.

He concludes his blogpost:

"I’ll close with this. Last Sunday, Frederic, Yrieix and I sat at a cafĂ© outside St. Sulpice and talked about how important it is to establish networks of Ben Op-minded Christian in different countries and across continents. We need to be in touch with each other. We need to share friendship and ideas for how to be creative minorities in a post-Christian world. We need to have conferences, workshops, and even summer schools. Now is the time to do this, while there is still time. My friends in France are going to start working on this from their end. I need to start doing something on this end. We need Christian philanthropists with resources and vision to be part of the conversation … and part of the resistance.
Leaving my friends at the airport this morning, I had a light heart. It was hard to say goodbye, because in just one intense week, I had come to love them. But I went home with so much hope and confidence in the future. This I found in France, where Christian hope is supposed to have died. But there it was, among a band of brothers and sisters keeping the faith in the world capital of the Enlightenment. Hey, you never know…"

"creative minorities in a post-Christian world" Is that the future of the once was Christendom church? In a post-Christian world must Christians necessarily be a minority? What does "creative" mean in a Benedictine mindset which (as I understand it) involves maintaining tradition and orthodoxy?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Church as Guardian and Guide for Scriptural Interpretation

A few days ago, starting with a "the Church" v. "private interpretation" article, I mused towards this conclusion:

"Thinking in terms of two such authorities, church as hermeneutical guardian and church as hermeneutical guide, could help our respect for one another and foster ecumenical relationship building."

This morning, using a small daily office book, I came across this prayer:

"Through your Holy Spirit, the disciples remembered all that Jesus taught them: - pour out your Spirit on the Church that she may be faithful to that teaching."

On that prayer, cannot all Christians unite?

What we understand to be fundamental to being a Christian - our beliefs, our doctrines, our teaching - has been and remains in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit: "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church"!

The first work of the Holy Spirit in this regard was "the disciples remembered all that Jesus taught them." Hence the gospels. (Noting that there were four, they varied, and only when held together as one compendium of Jesus' teaching can we then be faithful to that teaching.)

Incidentally someone once said something like this, The church is a continuing argument over what the gospel means.

The second work was the pouring out of the Spirit on the Church that she might be faithful to that teaching. Hence Acts (as the poured out Spirit drove the church forward to be faithful through action to the Lord's teaching) and the epistles as the "remembering of all that Jesus taught them" was disputed in new contexts or required development in the face of new challenges (e.g. place of the Gentiles, 1 Corinthians 7 as a marriage question needed addressing by Paul since the remembered teaching of Jesus on marriage did not address it).

The third work of the poured out Spirit is the continuing "today" of the post-apostolic church as we seek to be "faithful to that teaching."

Is it possible that the mistake we make today is to strive to be faithful to Jesus' teaching without a clear, consistent, coherent, comprehensive understanding of how the Spirit leads the church "into all truth"? The more we strive the more we seem to argue. We cannot all be right. The Spirit is undivided so contradictory claims about what the Spirit is saying to the church tell us (or should tell us) something about ourselves and not about the Spirit! What we are being told, surely, is that we should be more interested in discerning how the Spirit works in our midst than in settling among ourselves that which we do not agree on.

We are not without clues as to the work of the Spirit and how we discern the Spirit.

(1) Magisteria: through the history of the church we see that we need some kind of authoritative council to refer matters to, to seek guidance from and to expect some advanced knowledge and understanding of the tradition of the church as it has been led by the Spirit through time. The Roman Catholic church has a formal magisterium. Protestants have informal magisteria (as an Anglican evangelical growing up in 60s and 70s it was Stott, Green and Packer!) and magisterial figures (Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Barth). But the concept goes back to the New Testament when the apostles, notably Paul, were sought out for their authoritative judgments.

(2) Conciliarity: magisteria and magisterial figures do not rule the hermeneutical waves. Calvin(ism) and Lutheran(ism) disagree. Aquinas (Thomism) moves in and out of favour within the Roman magisterium. People vote with their feet (i.e. act according to conviction which may not accord with the magisterium or magisterial figure). The surest bet for the church seeking the mind of the Spirit is to bring as many minds of the church together in a council. It worked in Acts 15 and worked to produce the Nicene Creed (in its original form). While the chances of an eighth (truly) ecumenical council are very remote, conciliarity works in other ways. For centuries the church muddled about slavery but over the past 150 or so years an informal conciliarity has determined that slavery is wrong. No major church teaches in a muddled way about slavery. All are agreed it is wrong.

(3) Adiaphora: on many matters we come to a position (often through informal conciliarity) that some matters thought to need the Spirit's determination because critical to faithful remembering of the teaching of Jesus are not so. They are indifferent and the Spirit's guidance is not needed. Remember the days when every woman wore a hat to church ...

What then of the church as guardian and guide for Scriptural interpretation?

Let me repeat the prayer from above:

"Through your Holy Spirit, the disciples remembered all that Jesus taught them: - pour out your Spirit on the Church that she may be faithful to that teaching."

The Spirit works within the church foremost to enable remembering of all that Jesus taught the disciples. That work is the work of guarding the gospel, of guarding the interpretations of the gospel which the church has come to through the work of the Spirit.

But there are matters on which we are genuinely unsure what the teaching of Jesus requires of us. The first such matter was the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Jesus' movement: as Gentiles or as Gentiles made Jews? The church must guide the way forward but in such a manner that it is faithful to the teaching of Jesus. Thus we pray that the Spirit may be poured out on the church so that our guidance is faithful to Jesus and following the light on our paths which the Spirit brings.

On such occasions we require the authorities or magisteria to speak in a way which is received universally (i.e. through conciliarity) in order to be sure that the Spirit is speaking to us.

On one or two matters we do not seem to have the clarity we seek.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Are you a secret bishop?

You can tell me. I'll keep your secret!

Here's the thing. People are slightly in awe of bishops. Some even in fear and trembling. And there are some things we would prefer our bishops not to know.

Clergy in particular will tell fellow clergy things they never want their bishop to hear. Ever.

Helpfully most bishops like to look like bishops and accordingly dress like a bishop. Purple shirts are a dead episcopal giveaway. "Do not tell that purple shirt things you do not want a bishop to know."

It has been all very safe for people who do not want their bishop to know things. Until now.

Now we have to reckon with ... SECRET BISHOPS.

That priest you are chatting away to at the annual diocesan garden party, pouring out your moans and groans about the Diocese, the Bishop, the lack of real increase to the stipend. MIGHT BE A BISHOP!

Yes, we now have to reckon with the possibility that a priest is not what he or she seems to be. A BISHOP IN PRIEST'S CLOTHING.


But it happens, as you can read here.

Friday, October 6, 2017

GAFCON: not its finest hour? [UPDATED]

As a French diplomat once said, allegedly, urban mythically, "It shall have to be another occasion when I praise your country and its deeds." And, indeed, this applies to GAFCON this week, responding to matters at the Primates Meeting in Canterbury, England. [For various links to which, see Thinking Anglicans.] [The official communique from the event is here].

Not able to praise GAFCON occasion #1: ALTERNATIVELY: Not ACNS' finest hour?

Near beginning of the Primates Meeting this week in Canterbury, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was asked to lead prayers responding to the tragedy in Las Vegas. But that upset GAFCON according to a communique issued.

"This afternoon (Tuesday), the Revd Canon Andrew Gross, Canon for Communications and Media Relations for the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), speaking on behalf of Gafcon, said that the decision to invite Michael Curry to lead the congregation in prayer at the Evensong service “put the Gafcon primates in a difficult spot.” Speaking at a press conference in a hotel near Canterbury Cathedral, he said that they were “forced to look like they are walking together when they are not walking together.”"
UPDATE: a bit confusing now as to who said what, when, and in what context of communication. See now Archbishop Cranmer disputing the above.

Not able to praise GAFCON occasion #2:

At the end of the meeting GAFCON issued this communique:

"The persistent assertions that the Primates of the Anglican Communion are 'walking together', do not reflect the reality.
Three of the leading Primates of the Communion are absent from the meeting in Canterbury on firmly stated principle. 
Archbishop Okoh, Primate of Nigeria, and Gafcon Chairman, has said, 'I have concluded that attendance at Canterbury would be to give credibility to a pattern of behaviour which is allowing great damage to be done to global Anglican witness and unity'. 
Archbishop Ntagali, the Primate of Uganda and Vice-Chairman of Gafcon has said, 'if we are not walking in the same direction, how can we walk together?'
In no way can these leaders, with the Archbishop of Rwanda, be said to be 'walking together.'  They have chosen to witness to the truth by their absence. 
The presence of the Primates from Canada and the United States and the absence of Archbishop Foley Beach whose Church is recognised by Anglicans around the world, is a further testimony to a Communion in which the leaders are not walking together.
Several of the other primates who are attending the meeting are equally concerned about the divisions over the authority of scripture within the Communion, but intend to remain in defence of the Gospel. The Primates are not walking together. At best, they say, “they are walking at a distance.” At worst, they are walking in different directions.
Surely public statements need to reflect reality rather than mere wishfulness."

Now, this statement responds to some statements stating that the Primates of the Communion are walking together. The facts are pretty straightforward: some primates did not attend, some primates wish a primate of a network of Anglican churches which is not a member province of the Communion could have been at the meeting, some primates were there under a kind of sufferance. Quite arguably the primates are not walking together. Except ...

Clearly the primates are on the same page on some matters (as communicated this week).

Clearly the primates at the Primates Meeting prayed together (even if they did not commune together).

Clearly most of the primates of the Communion did not stay away from the meeting in protest.

So, two questions from me to GAFCON:

(1) Why focus on the negative (not walking together) and not strike a note of celebration that on many matters the primates agreed and that the primates were able to pray together?

(2) What is the world to understand GAFCON is witnessing to when a statement is made that the primates are not walking together and yet most of them are meeting together? What distinction is the world going to make between walking and meeting together?

[now omitted]

[now omitted]

[now omitted]

Not GAFCON's finest hour #3: Andy Lines has a statement here which I find confusing (while noting that it has nothing much good to find in what was a meeting full of much goodness, see below). My confusion is this: how can this statement accept that the Anglican Communion is divided on matters to do with That Topic and then berate the same for not speaking out against "false teaching"?

Here is something very worthwhile at the Primates Meeting and I hope we can all celebrate it:

"A discussion about evangelism and discipleship strategies amongst the leaders of the Anglican Communion’s 39 independent provinces was so lively, it continued through the lunch break, the Archbishop of South East Asia said this evening (Wednesday). Archbishop Moon Hing, the bishop of West Malaysia, led a Bible study at the start of this morning’s session of the 2017 Primates’ Meeting before a general discussion on witness and evangelism. The Archbishop chairs the international Anglican Witness group of mission leaders and practitioners, said that he was “very happy and very glad” about the discussions, saying: “I am really uplifted because we come back to the core issue and core subject of our existence: that is to make disciples for Jesus.”
In an interview for ACNS, Archbishop Moon Hing said that his Bible study was about “Jesus, the bread of life, who provides all our needs.” He said that people who knew what it was to be a disciple “must be intentional to do it ourselves and to make it available and help others to walk with him. Even though we have this intention we need to have some ways to do it,” he said.
In what he described as “the best response” so far during this year’s Primates’ Meeting, “everybody contributed and shared how different facets of evangelism and discipleship can be done.” There was not just one method of evangelism, he said, “there are many ways, directly [and] indirectly to bring the message of Christ, that he is the bread of life, and that he is the answer,” to the world.
“There was a very lively atmosphere and everybody enjoyed it,” he said. “Even during lunchtime everybody talked about it. One of the primates said: ‘We should not be issue driven, we should be discipleship driven.’”"
I had the privilege of meeting Archbishop Moon Hing in 2015 (just before he became Primate of his church). He is a lovely man with a wonderful testimony.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

On whose authority do we interpret the Bible?

My Twitter feed leads me to this article recently, "Protestantism's biggest problem: on who authority do we interpret the Scriptures?"

The article has an ecumenical context for the question which it poses:

"On Saturday I joined a group of Anglican and Methodists in our village to walk around its familiar landmarks offering prayers. We started at the (pre-Reformation) Anglican church, moved on to the war memorial, then to the village school, thence to our popular local pub. A Methodist lady whom I know well told me sotto voce that she wasn’t going to join in praying for the pub to flourish. I remembered that Methodists forswear alcohol. Sotto voce I responded, “But what about Jesus’s first miracle at the marriage feast of Cana?” She replied, half-resigned, half-humorous: “Why do people always bring up Cana!”
Why indeed? It was not only Jesus’s first recorded miracle and a heavenly blessing on matrimony; it was also a sign of God’s lavish generosity and of the complete trust Our Lady had in her Son’s divine powers. The deeper question is: on whose authority do we interpret the Scriptures; John Wesley’s or the Church? To be fair to Wesley and as the Methodist lady and myself agreed, he was condemning the “demon drink” of his day rather than inventing a dogma. Yet at some stage in the spiritual life of a thoughtful Christian the question must arise: “Is private interpretation enough?”"

The question is important. We live in a world with more than one issue (believe it or not, Anglicans!). Lives are at stake as we consider questions of euthanasia, abortion (with its 21st century tendency towards infanticide), war, climate change. Quality of life in the church is at stake when we consider questions of gender in relation to ordered ministry or questions of the nature of godly leadership. Or, even, if anyone dares, questions of what might actually shift us from denominational difference to catholic unity.

Two recent personal conversations with fellow (non Anglican) Christians revealed significant questions about  two different (Protestant) church contexts which, all said and done, are questions of the authority by which Scripture is interpreted.

The paragraphs above, of course, elide an issue or three about interpretation!

When "the Church" is invoked as the interpretative authority, which "[Roman] church" are we talking about? The present day church which largely welcomes biblical criticism? What if we were seeking authoritative interpretation during the period of the Modernist controversy (roughly WW1 to WW2) when biblical criticism was severely frowned upon? Was that church a reliable guide to interpretation? A century from now, will "the Church" of 2017 be viewed as reliable as its 2117 successor?

Conversely, when we reflect on (say) John Wesley's role as hermeneutical guide and mentor for Methodists and link that to "private interpretation", is that fair to the role a John Wesley plays in the life of Methodist churches (ditto Luther/Lutheran, Calvin/Reformed, Cranmer/Hooker/Anglican ...)?

What Wesley (and co) have contributed to the life of God's church has been a publicly available, widely disseminated interpretation of Scripture which has generated wide adherence and steadfast application through many centuries. I suggest another description than "private interpretation" could more accurately describe such hermeneutical phenomenon.

Before we get to what that better description might be, let's acknowledge that Wesley was not an infallible interpreter of Scripture. As the years have gone by the Methodist church here and there has moved on from some initial Wesleyan positions (so I understand). In that sense the church founded on Wesley's interpretation has reinterpreted Wesley's Scripture. It might even yet prove that in a reunification of Anglican and Methodist churches that such reinterpretation is involved that we would consign Wesley (and Cranmer/Hooker) to the history section of hermeneutics.

Conversely, we might usefully also acknowledge that Wesley and co did not set out to interpret Scripture as private individuals de nouveau. They were church members who sought the betterment of the church through good teaching. What they may have emphasised differently to other teachers was much less to do with "private interpretation" and much more to do with revising or reforming church interpretation.

Also before we get to that better description, two further observations on Roman Catholic interpretation.

Observation 1: the strength of Roman emphasis on "the Church" as interpretative authority is that it arrives at decisions very slowly, very coherent with previous decisions ("tradition"!) and with very solid theological foundations (e.g. relating any decision to systematic theologies of Augustine and Aquinas). Roman hermeneutics generally stands the test of time. Protestant hermeneutics may or may not stand that test!

Observation 2: (and obviously from a Protestant perspective) what is one to do when one is convinced "the Church" is wrong in its interpretation? Whether we are an unconvinced but otherwise model Catholic Martin Luther opposed to indulgences in the 16th century or a 21st century ecumenically minded Christian (i.e. sympathetic to Rome's many virtues) who is unconvinced by Marian dogma, what do we do with disagreement? Especially when we find that on some matters at least (and indulgences and Marian dogma would be such matters) we are united with a great host of Protestant Christians for whom 500 years of Protest have stood the test of time! No new Scriptural evidence supporting indulgences or Marian dogma has emerged in that time. That is, "private interpretation" does not do justice to a serious, plausible, sustained disagreement over what Scripture means.

So, what is, arguably, more helpful to describe two significant modes of interpretation than "the Church" and "private interpretation"?

How about this? We replace "the Church" with the authority of the church which guards the interpretation of Scripture (i.e. conserves and maintains what has always been taught and only in a very guarded way ever changes what has always been taught).

And we replace "private interpretation" (in respect of churches interpreting Scripture) with the authority of the church which guides interpretation of Scripture (i.e. churches work on guiding interpretation of Scripture free from anxiety to guard it; individuals (preachers, scholars, Bible Study group leaders, etc) look to the church to guide them in understanding the Bible.

Thinking in terms of two such authorities, church as hermeneutical guardian and church as hermeneutical guide, could help our respect for one another and foster ecumenical relationship building.

I am sketching out some broad terms here, mindful of the fact that the notion of "guarding the gospel" is an important motif in Protestant biblical hermeneutics.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Primates or Percy: you choose!

Scanning Anglicanland we find today that the big news is the meeting of Primates (known as the Primates Meeting) and Thinking Anglicans has all the details, including a link to biographies of every primate attending.

I was asking myself why only two of our three primates are going to the meeting then I realised that the the name of the third one - the new Maori Archbishop - has not yet been announced, even though, as far as I can tell, that name has been pretty widely circulating in our church, a sort of open secret ...

Anyhoo, the Primates Meeting will be dominated by You Know What with special reference to a putative disciplinary call against the Scottish Episcopal Church. Any which way, it will be an interesting meeting, because not all primates, apparently, are going to show up. Once again we Anglicans must ask the question whether we are a Communion when not all of us are in communion. For not the first or, I suppose, the last time, on this blog, I make the point that our honest (=accurate) name would be Anglican Federation.

Meanwhile invitations to the GAFCON Conference in Jerusalem next year are being issued. How do I know that? Well, it is not because I am on the invitation list. I blame too many public thoughts on this blog :)

However, if the Primates Meeting matters little to you, there is a little something else to consider with Anglican analytical thinking hats on. Martyn Percy, recent visitor to these islands, has written a consideration of the Mawer report into the fiasco when Philip North was selected and (effectively) deselected as Bishop of Sheffield recently.

It is a fascinating sociology meet theology, what is English catholicism really all about in an age of gender fluidity tour de force guided by a delineation between "ambiguity" and "nuance". But, as a tour de force, is it a forced argument? I am not sure what to make, for instance, of the following:

"Sacralised ambiguity becomes the inevitable victim in this. I say this, fully conscious of an underlying theological and spiritual reality. That in the Eucharistic mimesis of Anglo-catholic worship, the priest is almost bound to become, in some sense, the misunderstood victim."

But I am glad to have read Percy's thoughts. Last Friday night I attended Michaelmas at St Michael's and All Angels. An exemplary Anglo-Catholic experience. But, I ask myself, what is the future of Anglo-Catholicism in the 21st century? Might (to take up Percy's language) its ambiguities be nuanced in different directions? Do its combinations of ambiguities and nuances offer the sense of (attractive) mystery which (many tell us) is the key to the future of Christianity in the West?

I don't imagine the Primates Meeting will offer us many clues about how we move forward as an expression of the catholic church.