Monday, June 24, 2019

Lambeth 2020: "a remarkable, though fragile, gift--a sign of the Church catholic"?

The Living Church reports "Bishops Call for Lambeth Conference United in Faith and Charity" which is about a letter signed by "a group of influential and diverse Anglican bishops." These bishops are:
"The Rt. Rev. George R. Sumner, the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas
The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith, the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas
The Rt. Rev. Lloyd Emmanuel Allen, Honduras, the Episcopal Church of Honduras (Spanish) 
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis, Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa (Arabic)
The Rt. Rev. Manuel Ernesto, Nampula, Mozambique (Portuguese)
The Most Reverend Martin Nyaboho, Primate of Burundi, Diocese of Nampula (French)
The Rt. Rev. Joel Waweru, ACK Nairobi Diocese, (Kiswahili)
The Rt. Rev. Emma Ineson, Bishop of Penrith, Church of England 
The Rt. Rev. Lydia Mamakwa, Mishamikoweesh, Anglican Church of Canada
The Most Rev. Daniel Sarfo, Primate of the Church of the Province of West Africa."

The Living Church also reports, "“We aim to express what a traditional, irenic center might look like,” said Bishop George Sumner of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, one of the authors. “I think the ground the letter is trying to articulate comprises a significant amount of the [Anglican] Communion.”"

The "irenic centre" may be of special interest here on ADU in view of some recent discussions here in blog comment threads.
The letter has been issued simultaneously on the diocesan websites of the bishops (21 June), in six different languages. Sumner, Waweru and Ineson are members of the Lambeth Design Group which is working on the design of the Lambeth Conference.

In other words this is a potentially important letter, offering a way forward for Lambeth attendance to be very large (including GAFCONites?) and for Lambeth to track the Communion towards the "irenic centre."

But what does the letter say? Its text in English is posted here and reads,

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Greetings in our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that it is the ‘acceptable time’ to articulate a vision of what we hope for in the Lambeth Conference 2020.  While all are free to offer their views, harsh disagreement ought not to be the dominant note the world hears from us.  This multi-lingual letter lifts high those things held largely in common in order to build up and encourage.  We claim no special authority, and thus speak to our fellow bishops as their brothers and sisters. 
Though our provincial Books of Common Prayer show many variations, they all witness to the creedal center of our faith: the triune God, the divinity of Christ, His atoning death for the forgiveness of our sins, His bodily resurrection and ascension, and the Holy Spirit’s work in the Scriptures and the Church’s life.  There is agreement, furthermore, in most of the Communion about the received, traditional teaching concerning the nature of marriage, which is in accord with Scripture. It found expression at Lambeth 1998 in Resolution I.10.  Finally, we Anglicans share a common history, for example the See of Canterbury itself, which is a symbol of our apostolic roots and common life.  We hope for a Lambeth Conference where we take this common inheritance of truth seriously and seek to build upon it for the sake of witness and teaching. 
At Lambeth, though a fractious family, we ought still to think of our fellow Anglicans in the best light possible. For example, there have been many important movements of mission and renewal in our Anglican tradition (e.g. the Oxford Movement and the East African Revival), and we can likewise see GAFCON in this way.  We can also appreciate the role Global South Anglicans have played in strengthening the mission of Christ in their provinces. We commend the Primates’ view that only Churches aligned with Communion teaching should represent it in ‘doctrine and polity.’  But we are also willing to listen to our colleagues who hold in conscience dissenting views.  More generally, we all need in our hearts to lay aside old recriminations, as each of us hears these Gospel injunctions: ‘bear one another’s burdens,’ ‘speak the truth in love,’ ‘do not let the sun go down on your wrath’ (Galatians 6:2, Ephesians 4:15,26).
We hope for a Lambeth that is ordered to prayer and the Bible, that nourishes our humility, that opens us to God’s conversion in the Spirit, and that encourages us to renewed forms of teaching and witness which will inspire and attract younger generations in our nations and our churches. It is also crucial that we reject all forms of cultural and racial pride, while listening and deliberating with one another with full respect.  I Peter, upon which Lambeth 2020 will meditate, says it best: ‘have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind…always be ready to make your defense…for the hope that is in you’ (3:8,15).
United in faith, hope, and love, we can at Lambeth confront together the urgent problems in our Communion and in our world.  We all share a worry about what may lie ahead in our common future, for as a divided Church we will struggle to witness to a divided, broken world.  We hold in prayer those among us who face persecution and danger.  We need to be stewards of creation.  We hope for a conference which encourages us all to stand on the side of the poor and those who are maltreated, to call sinners to repentance and to offer forgiveness in the Lord’s name, to walk His way of love, and to seek reconciliation among ourselves and with our neighbors. 
As it did a century ago, we hope Lambeth 2020 will remind us of the ecumenical calling from our Lord to be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:22).  We do so by taking seriously the witness, gifts, and counsel of our brother and sister Christians in other churches.   Within the Communion itself, some have felt frustration with the ‘Instruments’ over the past two decades, as they have struggled to balance autonomy and mutual accountability.  We hope for a Conference that lays out a path ahead in the next decade, and we pray for the patience to walk it.  We hope for a Conference in which we deepen our sense of ‘mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ’ (Anglican Congress 1963), both in the program and in personal friendships.
Throughout, may we be reminded that our truly global Communion is not primarily a problem but rather a remarkable, though fragile, gift--a sign of the Church catholic.
Veni Sancte Spiritus
[signatories, as above]"

I may comment myself on the letter in my next post.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Two evangelical roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the road ...

... actually, I don't know if it will turn out to be the one less travelled by :)

A social media exchange during the week gave me a bit of a revelation - not the sort where one learns something for the first time, more the sort where something becomes much, much clearer.

It is something like this:

I think I am evangelical (more on that below**) but there are evangelicals who think I am a false teacher. Why do they think that (apart from the fact that we disagree on some matters)?

The social media exchange highlighted that there is an evangelical approach to Scripture which goes like this:

- Scripture, despite its varied genres, diverse contexts (of original writing and contemporary reading) and multiple authors, provides us with clear teaching which may be expressed propositionally.

- These propositions, once set out, on some agreed lines by authoritative evangelical teachers, construct a sound body of irrefutable, unchangeable, even unchallengeable teaching.

- Should one such proposition or set of propositions come under pressure, there is either staunch, unyielding defence [so, in some quarters, propositions re homosexuality]; or, there is deft logical footwork to slightly revise such proposition or set thereof [so, in some quarters, ordination of women; remarriage of divorcees].

- Interestingly, where there is such slight-but-acceptable revision, there is NEVER any determination (within that quarter of evangelicalism) that the un-revised are now "false teachers": there seems to be capacity within such an evangelical section to live with "two integrities" on the matter (e.g. on ordination of women; or remarriage of divorcees).

- Someone (e.g. me) who disagrees with one (let alone more) of certain propositions is, logically, a false teacher - a person posing as a teacher of the faith who, in fact, teaches a denial of the truth. [So, in certain quarters of Anglican evangelicalism, difference on propositions re homosexuality incurs the false teaching charge but difference on ordination of women or on remarriage of divorcees does not.]

- I suggest that this approach both builds an impressive body of interlocking propositions while seemingly lacking a "self-awareness" that these inter-locking propositions are a human construction which lacks the authority of Scripture (because Scripture does not set down a mandate to so construct; because such construction may contradict another, plausible construction from Scripture; because the NT in particular does not purport to be a set of materials for constructing a new body of law for God's new people; because an outcome of the construction seems at odds with the example of Jesus). [See below for elaborations*].

- Such construction may, however, have some other authority behind it: "this is the logical implication of what Calvin wrote" or "this is required by the canons of the Church of England" or "this is what the Diocese of Y has determined is the policy of Y."

I want to suggest another evangelical approach to Scripture. It goes like this:

- Despite its varied genres, diverse contexts (of original writing and contemporary reading) and multiple authors, Scripture provides us with clear teaching which may be expressed propositionally and in other ways (e.g. through familiar stories such as the Good Samaritan which challenges every hearer every time to not only think about the proposition, Love your neighbour, but also to develop new and renewed understanding of who our neighbour is);
- Teaching from Scripture is only "clear" when it is universally received; without universal reception it is "not yet" clear. If, within evangelicalism, there is agreement about "clear teaching", that agreement may be proposed to the wider church; but if the wider church does not receive it as "clear teaching," then evangelicals should carefully reflect on what it means to adhere to that teaching, to promote and attest to that teaching, and possibly to separate from the church which will not receive it. (Here "possibly" concerns what disputed teaching, if any, justifies separation, because there is no clear teaching in Scripture concerning which matters justify breaking the unity of the church.) It could be that a time will come when evangelical clear teaching will be universally received. It could be that evangelicals will be proved wrong. It could be that evangelicals will simply remain in an ongoing dispute with other parts of their churches - a critical question then being whether there is freedom for evangelicals to continue to teach what is not universally received.
- Scripture is unclear on many matters and evangelicals who treasure Scripture happily acknowledge this; and even apparent clarity can be shattered under new circumstances. John Stott and his teaching is a kind of "gold standard" for Anglican evangelicalism yet his personal conviction was that he should be a pacifist in the context of World War 2 - a war many other British evangelicals fought in. Who was right about what Scripture taught? Presumably both Stott and his non-pacifist evangelical colleagues both thought Scripture was clear on the matter. Logically, doesn't that mean that Scripture is unclear about such matters? Has such lack of clarity held back Anglican evangelicals since WW2 from teaching boldly, confidently, and with clarity what they believe Scripture teaches? No! On the shattering of apparent clarity under new circumstances, consider the impact of Darwin and evolutionary biology. The clear reading of Genesis 1 re a literal six day creation has had to take one of two pathways: continue as though no new circumstance affects that clear reading (so, Creationism) or adapt (so, much but not all evangelicalism, including, in my experience, nearly all Anglican evangelicalism). More divisive, of course, has been the shattering of clear understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12 as forbidding women teaching and exercising authority in congregational life - shattered by the rise of women as equal of men in social consciousness. Much of the evangelical world has given way on this matter, but vicious conflict still remains (e.g. within the Southern Baptist Convention: google the name "Beth Moore"), as well as quieter conflict (e.g. within Australian Anglican evangelicalism). We could continue with other examples such as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the use of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, schools of interpretation about the last days. The humility of evangelicals when asserting that this or that is "clear teaching" should be very evident; but is it?
- Scripture is a basis for conviction more than clarity. What evangelicalism has been pretty good at is respecting differing Scripture-based convictions. John Stott's pacifism (as I understand it) was respected by those who disagreed with him; and he respected those whose convictions were different. Is the great question before evangelicals in the 21st century whether we can set aside the pursuit of "clear teaching" with its consequential logic that those who disagree are "false teachers" and renew our acquaintance with conviction, respect for conviction, and a will to work with those who differ in conviction from our convictions? On which matter, a fellow Kiwi blogger, Trevor Morrison, offers a first post in an intriguing series, "Defending the Faithful," bringing to life a very old evangelical conflict from the 19th century! I hope it goes without saying that my argument for convictional teaching more than clear teaching does presume some evangelical clarity about shared orthodoxy: that we are credal Christians, and if Anglicans, then faithful to core elements of being Anglican. But on such bases we might stand together, despite our differing convictions.
- Scripture is our foundation and we keep returning to it so that our convictions are challenged and re-challenged, not least that any theological constructions we build on the basis of our convictions are challenged: is the edifice something Jesus requires of us? Is its character consistent with the character of Jesus Christ? I have run out of time this week to elaborate, though some of the elaboration is in the paragraphs above and some in the appendix below. But, relevant to such a point, I link you to a stirring essay by Wolfhart Pannenburg, "When everything is permitted" - an essay which I see as a challenge to my own convictions ... if not to yours!
- Perhaps putting this another way, evangelicals seek to live according to the authority of Scripture while being realistic and honest that Scripture in many of its parts requires interpretation which raises many challenges about method of interpretation and about securing agreement about interpretation, all of which invokes a sound understanding of church history (which is, effectively, a history of the interpretation of Scripture!) and of theology (for all readers of Scripture, including evangelicals, bring presuppositions to their reading).


- As example of two human constructions, note the kind of evangelical construction I am observing above and the Roman Catholic construction on sexuality: both end in pretty much the same place on homosexuality but each disagrees with each other on remarriage after divorce (evangelicalism does not have the "annulment" pathway which the Catholic construction gets to), yet both constructions work with a strongly literal approach to reading the relevant texts of Scripture).

- Examples of human constructions ending at a point which seems at odds with the example of Jesus (even if it begins with the words of Jesus) include, with respect to evangelicalism, that construction which determines that because of differences over homosexuality, a church should split, despite everything about Jesus' example of inclusion and reaching out to excluded, marginalised people implying that Jesus does not support schism over homosexuality; with respect to Catholicism, whatever Jesus intended by his teaching on divorce, it seems at odds with the Jesus who breaks bread with Judas, and shares many meals with sinners, that a remarried divorcee should be excluded from communion.

**Am I an evangelical? Well, I continue to:
- bring matters of faith and practice to Scripture so that decisions about faith and practice conform to Scripture and are in some manner coherent with Scripture;
- bring matters deemed "tradition" to Scripture for assessment;
- accept without reservation that all things necessary for salvation are found in Scripture;
- preach and teach that Christ died on the cross for our sins, an atoning, once and for all, complete sacrifice, that we might be forgiven by God, and that Christ was raised to life, that we might be raised to eternal life in unmediated and unending fellowship with God;
- preach and teach that a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is both possible and a prayer of commitment away from beginning for each and every human being.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ecclesia Anglicana: Renewal by gradual reinterpretation? (with a casting of light from EO!!)

Subtitle to the above title is:

"withstanding eccentricity and heresy at the margins without loss of identity",

with title and subtitle drawn from the following response to last week's post by Bowman Walton:

"A: "Six priests were executed: three evangelicals for heresy, and three papalist Catholics for treason." 
In the system of order through terror that monarchs of Henry VIII's time inherited-- be appalled by the opening pages of Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish-- this makes perfect, centrist sense. Marginalise the impossible extremes without hesitation; let your people play on a broad, strong centre, working out their differences as they can.  
A church where every opinion is equally authoritative has never existed, but a church for *consensus-seeking inquiry* with some tolerance for eccentrics is feasible. And an improvement on what many of us see on the ground today. 
B: "...we pride ourselves on the ability to find the via media, the middle way, the compromise between two extremes, which enables us to live together with tension and difference, sometimes even with contradiction, if not happily ever after, then unhappily ever after." 
Yes, but we should stop. The 42A? Gorham? "Ceremonialism?" If this proceduralising truthiness has ever been real-- Virginia was still trying clergy for heresy in the early C20; TEC has recently deposed clergy for believing several old orthodoxies-- we have not seen it lately. Its method has never been usefully formulated. And why, anyway, would a bag of marbles be better than a bunch of grapes? For Anglicans as for everyone else, in is in, out is out.  
C: A more historical view is that the CoE has been graced by a broad traditional centre (eg Jewell and Hooker, the Tudor and Stuart bishops, the episcopate itself), by a prayerbook able to serve as a standard of centrist Western doctrine, and by supreme governors determined to maintain both breadth and continuity. The result has been a tradition of national *pilgrim churches* with broad, resilient centres that is unique in Protestantism. These centres have been renewed by gradual reinterpretation and have withstood eccentricity and heresy at the margins without loss of identity.  
D: In an age of theological ferment, The Integrity of Anglicanism seems most undermined by the lack of a discerning magisterial authority like that which Cranmer and Parker exerted on the BCP and the 10/42/39 Articles. There is no way back to an ABC acting as an English pope, synods are not capable of sorting through ongoing theological debate, and the hazard may be too temporary to warrant the permanent Anglican Inquisition that nobody expects anyway. "

The emboldening of paragraph C is mine. I think this is the money quote. In our current Anglican perambulations, in which schisms and threats of schisms tend to focus our minds on "issues" (because one and only one issue triggers schism or threat of schism), whether or not a "majority" exists here or over there for this or that "view", whether or not "opposing views" may be held simultaneously in this or that church, and then, what power "synods" or "conventions" hold to effect "change", a moment's pause to consider, perhaps better: a long, slow pause, paragraph C might assist Anglican decorum!

That is, what if our focus was more on what it means to (re)find a "broad, traditional centre," "a standard of centrist Western doctrine," leadership (whether civic or ecclesial) which is "determined to maintain both breadth and continuity," and thus an Anglicanism which fosters "a tradition of national *pilgrim churches* with broad, resilient centres", encouraged by recognition that doing this is a unique charism within Protestantism (actually, I think, within all churches).

Thus we could, in this long slow pause, gain a sure and certain hope that our future life and strength as Anglicans is (with slight rewording by me) by gradual reinterpretation which unfolds with (and does not reject or expel) eccentricity and heresy at the margins without loss of [Anglican] identity."

What do you think?

By way of contrast, I want to introduce a few matters - pertinent as I shall try to explain - drawn from my current reading of Paul Ladouceur's Modern Orthodox Theology: Behold I Make All Things New (London, New York, etc: T & T Clark, 2019). This book is an engaging (i.e. makes one think about theology) survey of Eastern Orthodox theologians, theologies, and theological debates over the past few centuries - all the more intriguing because a rough guide to EO theology is that the Fathers sorted all theology centuries ago and there is nothing further to discuss!

(Incidentally, but not part of this post, that different Orthodox theologians and theologies can be surveyed in an interesting manner is triggered by the fact that at various points since the Reformation, EO has strongly entertained, even been educated by Western theologies and Western academies, and the debates surveyed in part represent the phenomenon of Patristic based theologies rising to counter the bad Western influence).

(1) An observation re Anglican theology: p. 49: in respect of a 19th century conversation between an Orthodox theologian and an Anglican theologian, the former, Khomiakov observes:

"Many bishops and divines of your communion are and have been quite orthodox. But what of it? Their opinion is only an individual opinion, it is not the Faith of the Community. Ussher is almost a complete Calvinist; but ye he, no less than those bishops who give expression to Orthodox convictions, belongs to the Anglican Church." [Citing Alexei Khomiakov, "Third Letter to William Palmer," in W. J. Birkbeck, ed., Russia and the English Church during the Last Fifty Years (Londong: Eastern Church Association, 1895), 69-70.]

I suggest C above, in other words, is an appeal for great attention to the "faith of the [sic] Anglican community."

(2) An observation re the merciful, gracious love of God: p. 79, my bold:

Cited from the Autobiographical Notes of Sergius Bulgakov (a noted Russian intellectual from the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, the last Procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, Minister of Religion in the Provisional Government of 1917, which ended with the October Revolution, and then, in exile in 1919, one of the founders of St Sergius Institute in Paris), is this converting experience of God, during which Bulgakov encounters a spiritual elder:

"A miracle happened to me. I realized it then without any doubt. The Father, seeing his prodigal son, ran to meet me. I heard from the elder that all human sin was like a drop of water in comparison with the ocean of divine love. I left him, pardoned and reconciled, trembling and in tears, feeling myself returned as on wings within the precincts of the church. ... The bells were calling to prayer. I listened to them as if I heard them for the first time in my life, for they invited me also to join the fellowship of believers. I looked on the world with new eyes. The next morning at the Eucharist I knew I was participating in the Covenant, that our Lord hung on the cross and shed his blood for me and because of me; that the most blessed meal was being prepared by the priest for me, and that the gospel narrative about the feast in the house of Simon the leper and about the woman who loved much was addressed personally to me. It was on that day when I partook of the blessed Body and Blood of my Lord." [no specific footnote is given for this, but I think the previous footnote on that page includes the likely reference, in which case it is: "Quoted in Zernon, The Russian Religious Renaissance,  97-8.]

Do we ever read Anglicans these days who give the impression that we understand the extent of the divine mercy in respect of sin?

(3) In our Anglican world, we argue about things such as "authority" and current sexuality debates involve a lot of rational propositions proposed and opposed. One theological development surveyed is "intuitive knowledge" which could be defined as "reflection on personal experience in the light of revelation [as] a door to ascertaining fundamental reality" [p. 100-01]. Offering, in Ladouceur's words, a resolution of the "inherent tension and duality between the knowing subject and the object known" in terms of "love, which alone can unite subject and object in harmony," one such theologian, Berdyaev, writes this thought provoking paragraph, cited on p. 101,:

"Love is recognized as the principle of apprehension; it guarantees the apprehension of truth; love is a source and guarantee of religious truth. Corporate experience of love, sobornost', is the criterion of apprehension. Here we have a principle which is oppose to authority; it is also a method of apprehension which is opposed to the Cartesian cogito ergo sum. It is not I think, but we  think, that is to say, the corporate experience of love things, and it is not thought which proves my existence but will and love. ... Love is the principal source of the knowledge of Christian truth, and the church is a unity of love and freedom." [cited from Nicolas Berdyaev, The Russian Idea (New York: Mcmillan, 1948), 161; 164. PRC: I understand "authority" in the citation to be a critique of Catholic theology and the Cartesian reference to be a implied critique of a rationalist Protestant approach to truth; sobornost' could also be defined as "communion of love."]

There is much to think about here, not least whether this is, so to speak, "too subjective".

But the essence of what Berdyaev proposes is what Bowman Walton proposes above re a broad, consensual centre which does not race to rid itself of eccentricity and heresy, i.e. "the church is a unity of love and freedom."

Further, a church which is a communion of love seeking the truth, engaging its corporate, personal experience with the revelation it speaks to itself (proclaiming Scripture) and hands on to itself  (tradition), is going to be a body in which "gradual reinterpretation" takes place, rather than schism.


Monday, June 3, 2019

Henry VIII's murderous via media?

I have now finished Diarmaid MacCulloch's masterpiece, Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life (New York: Viking, 2018).

I had not thought much about Thomas Cromwell but I realise I should have: he is a critical figure in the Tudorian revolution which paved the way for the full fruits of the English Reformation. A masterly politician (until he lost his touch which proved to be his undoing), Cromwell, mostly surreptitiously, fostered the birth and hidden infancy of the English Reformation.

Rather than regurgitate the whole story and its many lessons - read MacCullough directly! - I observe here a little vignette from p. 533. But first, a basic bit of Anglicanism: we pride ourselves on the ability to find the via media, the middle way, the compromise between two extremes, which enables us to live together with tension and difference, sometimes even with contradiction, if not happily ever after, then unhappily ever after.

In a limited mind such as mine, the via media Anglicana is something of an Elizabethan invention, notably at the hands of her courtly theologian, Richard Hooker (steering the good ship CofE, as he did, between the shoals of Papal Catholicism and the reefs of Puritan Protestantism).

But here is MacCullough on an determination of Henry VIII's:

"[Cromwell's] death did not end the killing [in 1540]. Two days later a notorious event embodied the King's idiosyncratic notion of the 'middle way'. Six priests were executed: three evangelicals for heresy, and three papalist Catholics for treason."

Well, that is not what most of us these days think embodies the via media!

My serious observation, though, is how tyrannical, totalitarian, and psyschopathic was Henry VIII. He was the Stalin of his day, cheerfully murdering (albeit by beheading, burning, hanging, drawing and quartering, rather than by pistol) any and everyone who stood in his way or looked like they might do so. He married Jane Seymour on the day of Anne Boleyn's execution and married Katherine Howard on the day of Cromwell's execution!

As an Anglican I can be grateful to Henry VIII for triggering (via the good office of Cromwell) the legislation which which cut the ties of the Church in England from the rule of Rome and began the life of the Church of England.

Oh, and I can be thankful that Henry VIII appointed Cranmer and Cromwell.

They say even Stalin had his good points (not least that he led the necessary effort from the Eastern side of Europe to defeat Hitler).

But, really, is there much else we Anglicans can thank Henry VIII for?