Monday, October 28, 2019

Post Newman thoughts on shape of Down Under Anglicanism Part 2 of however many

While out and about on household chores on Saturday morning I flicked the radio on, to find myself in the middle of a fascinating interview by Kim Hill with Australian author Christos Tsiolkas about his fictionalised story of Paul in his novel Damascus (recording here): "The subject matter for his sixth and latest novel Damascus couldn't have got much more ambitious; it's an excursion into historical fiction tracing the formation of the Christian church using the writings of St. Paul as its source text." (Wellington literary festival details here.)

The intriguing gist of the interview was that Tsiolkas, having been something of a fundamentalist Christian as a teenager (and then a fundamentalist socialist) now see the importance of the Christian ethic and subscribes to it, but does not describe himself as a Christian.

The disturbing thing is that, having returned from the hardware store, my resumption of the radio was in time to hear Kim Hill read out some comments sent in by listeners, most of which were aggressively anti-Christian. There was a ruthlessness in these comments which anticipated the aggression of a certain rugby team against the ABs on Saturday night. A sign of the rapidly changing environment here in which the gospel is to be proclaimed.

Later that day, with my family, I was in the centre of our city, enjoying warm weather and the culinary delights of our new covered market, "Riverside Market." Loads of people. Happy. Content. Easy to reflect on the challenge of communicating the gospel to  people happy with their lot. Also easy to wonder what these "people in the street" would make of ongoing talk since the ordination of the previous weekend (see post below).

What has been unfolding since a week or so ago is an intense, wide ranging discussion among and between Anglicans. But, essentially, this is a discussion within Anglicanism: internal to ourselves. Important, interesting but arguably offering little which forwards the gospel. Nevertheless I guess we have to have this discussion.

Certainly, for me, a critical question through the last week is: What does it mean to be Anglican viz a viz "Communion"/"communion"?

Helpful here is Bowman Walton's comments a while back, because it focuses us on what might be distinctive and valuable about being Anglican.

"From the very beginning, Peter, the reformation of the Body in England was blessed in three exceptional ways that still concretely matter to the lives in Christ of his disciples today.
The CoE has a Reformation doctrine that has freed the believer from the trap of trying to make justification etc happen from the human side. That is immediately and enormously helpful to souls, whether their practice owes more to medieval English contemplatives, Protestant missionary spirituality, or Tridentine forms of religious life. Also, perhaps because Cranmer got his justification doctrine (and his wife) from Osiander (cf Wurtemburg Confession), the 10A of the 39A do not ensnare Anglicans in the confessionalist trap of needing to assent to a diagram (eg Beza's) of the machinery behind that justification. Lutheran faith is trust, and Osiander's trust amounts to theosis.
Perhaps that explains why the CoE also has a BCP from Cranmer that orders the sacramental and devotional life of Christians around participation in Christ and incorporation into his mystical Body. Unlike most other Protestants, Anglicans have not had to adopt an arid individualism or an unreal intellectualism in order to trust God with their justification, sanctification, and vocation. Paradoxically, this richer ecclesiality has supported a warm personalism, a close acquaintance with Christ in the psalms, and a freedom to love God with the mind. Where other sorts of Protestants (eg William Ames) sometimes harbour paralysing doubts about the Spirit's indwelling of souls and congregations, the Anglican style (eg Richard Sibbes) normally and quite properly assumes it.
Finally, that richer ecclesiality allowed Cranmer and the CoE after him to take a paleo-orthodox stance toward ancient tradition: the Vine need not be uprooted for its dead leaves to be pruned. That allowed Cranmer himself and others of successive generations-- Andrewes, Parker, Law, Wesley, Keble, Newman, Maurice, Temple, Williams, etc-- to listen to the fathers as well as the apostles. These voices have been silent to those who assume that a deep chasm yawns between the apostles and the fathers. Moreover this confidence in the continuity of the Spirit's witness to all generations has enabled Anglicans to rely on the holy scriptures in matters of salvation without needing to further believe that it must be a magic book or a perfect book to be God's book. The Spirit's witness graces the Communion with an organic order arising from word of the Lord and the ancient canons without need of modern machinery. And it has opened our eyes to the Spirit's presence among the faithful of other traditions, making the Anglican orthodoxy a generous one and ecumenical engagement a perennial mission."

I think we could add a little to this, but first, I very much appreciate this exposition of the inner, historical genius of Anglicanism: a warm, personal, Spirit-led Scripture and best-of-tradition based approach to being Christian.

The bit I would add is this: why the "Church of England" and not a persistent effort to achieve all the above within the "Church of Rome"?

My answer is that (whatever we make of the presenting issue re H8) it is right and proper for churches to be formed which are organised according to local civil order (i.e. according to nations distinguished from one another by  having their own forms of government). Churches continue to incarnate the presence of Christ in the world and the world is a varied, diverse, ever changing place. To respond efficiently to local conditions, culture and community aspirations, it is sensible, reasonable and (I suggest) consistent with Scripture to have national churches. (ADDITION: h/t Bowman Walton: Edward Feser, a Catholic writer, has an interesting post on John Paul II on the virtues and vices of nations here.)

And yet, everything which the New Testament teaches about fellowship, church, communion/eucharist demands that local churches are in fellowship with other local churches, that we express in those relationships our unity in Christ, our common belief and practice.

Hence, properly, the formation of the Anglican Communion as a communion of national churches with a common heritage in the genius of the English Reformation and its organic development, as set out by Bowman above.

Hence, also, properly, the work of the Anglican Communion on communion with other communions: with Rome, with Lutheran churches, with Methodists, with Easter Orthodox churches, etc.

Hence, improperly, the schism in the Anglican Communion which (I suggest, I know there are many arguments and counter arguments) has its origins in a failure to understand well the creative tension required to hold together a bunch of national churches responding to local conditions with the importance of those national churches committing to common belief and practice.

How does all this relate to what is going on Down Under?

I will attempt to get to that next week!

Monday, October 21, 2019

So, you be the judge ... of many links and what they say (UPDATED)

UPDATE: Thinking Anglicans has superb set of links to many articles and reflections, including an especially pertinent one about "state of the play" in the Melbourne Diocese. HERE.

ALSO: Bosco Peters has a local analysis and reflection here.

ORIGINAL Within the last week we obsessives in Anglicanland who follow this or that news service, and may or may not scout about the obscure corners of that land, likely will have come across the following matters relating to recent synods and to an ordination which took place here in Christchurch on Saturday. The links to these matters are placed here with minimal comment.

If they serve no other purpose, they may help me at a future point in time to quickly re-find a link. Discussion is welcomed - on the issues, not ad hominem. One particular question I have is this: does the last week represent a turning point in the tide of Anglican Communion affairs? To change metaphors, is the parting of the Anglican ways beyond reversing?

(In no particular order of importance/significance)

The ordination on Saturday

The Archbishop of Sydney's recent Presidential Address (as reported)

The Archbishop of Sydney's Presidential Address (as defended)

The full text of the above address

A couple of supporting blogposts for the address, here and here.

Syndey also passed a motion re marriage, here, which places the Diocese in a state of impaired communion with ACANZP and with the Diocese of Christchurch ... and with me.

For an interesting take on the address in respect of what freedom of belief means, inside the church and inside the nation, see here.

But it is not all about Sydney. The Diocese of Melbourne had its Synod late last week. One report is here.

Archbishop Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne, rightly says the church is in a crisis.

Unfortunately the Melbourne Synod joined the Sydney synod in sending greetings to the ordination service on Saturday (i.e. a recognition of the new Anglican church here). I do not have a link for that, but I can confirm it. I first saw mention of it in this tweet from Archbishop Davies:

Within that photo are serving bishops of the Anglican Communion.

Within some of the links above are signs of an Australian Anglican church in crisis.

I can see no way to avoid the crisis becoming a schism unless a spirit of Anglican compromise prevails over episcopal and synodical minds and hearts.

Our experience in our church, however, more than suggests that even when a great compromise is offered, there is a mode of Anglican theology which will reject it.

If Australia splits, I think the Communion as a formal body expressing a global intent to be a unified polity of and for Anglicans is #goneburger.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Bonus post: who are Marsden’s true heirs?

Thoughts on ++Davies assessment of Marsden’s authentically Anglican heirs, as articulated here?

Monday, October 14, 2019

John Henry Newman and the shape of Down Under Anglicanism in the 21st century (Possibly part 1 of several)

We'll get to JH Newman in a paragraph or two but first a note on a few perambulations recently.

The weekend before the one just past we were in Hokitika for a prayer mission. It was very cool to arrive (a first day after the first events had taken place) to enter into All Saints church to find this:

Yes, pews removed to a corner of the building, fairy lights added, and worship band in the centre of the gathering. We had a lovely weekend, praying for Hokitika and South Westland, singing the Lord's songs, aided by a dynamic group of younger and older adults who had travelled from the other side of the Southern Alps. Very encouraging.

Then this weekend just past. A quick trip to Wellington on Saturday to join the last event in that Diocese's Ministry Conference, shared with NZCMS and the Anglican Mission Board: the ordination of Rosie Fyfe, new National Director of NZCMS, to the diaconate. Many young adult ministry leaders were present, representing the journey in renewal that Diocese is experiencing.

Yesterday, a service at St John's Woolston, celebrating their 162nd year as a parish with acknowledgement that it is nearly one year since a significant disaffiliation from that parish took place. A small group of dedicated lay leaders have worked hard with clergy leaders to continue the life of this parish. It was a joy yesterday to see new people in the congregation - signs of hope.

I enjoy very much these signs of hope, and they may or may not in the future be recognised as a turning point against the tide of secularization (per last week's post). But whatever they betoken against the larger narrative of declining allegiance to Christianity, they remind us that there are things of value within our parishes here Down Under.

Thus the shape of Anglicanism Down Under is developing, pressed by tectonic forces into new shapes and sizes. Always raising, I suggest, the question, What does it mean to be an Anglican Christian?

That question sits with other news from this weekend, news of the canonization of John Henry Newman.

I am not much of a man for canonizations and what have you - mark me down as Protestantly Protestant on that score. But whatever you or I think about such a canonization, it does reflect the simple fact that many people around the globe to this day admire, revere and respect the Catholic prelate and theologian who was once an Anglican priest, not least because his ideas about many theological matters through to "the idea of a university" remain extraordinarily influential.

A couple of articles I have come across in the past 24 hours underscore the mana of the man: here and here.

Clearly, in the end, being an Anglican Christian was not a situation Newman valued. He disaffiliated from us!

By implication the many friends and colleagues who did not cross the Tiber with Newman thought he was wrong; as do we today who keep our swimming togs in our lockers.

But what is right about remaining Anglican? I think I might explore that for a bit in succeeding weeks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A turning point in Kiwi religious stats

A few weeks ago, in our local media, we read reports of how the 2018 NZ Census revealed that for the first time, respondents stating they affiliated with Christianity were fewer than respondents stating they did not affiliate with Christianity (e.g. here, here and here).

Around that time our local newspaper, The Press, offered a considered Editorial on this news, which is here.

I felt that it was a moment when it is reasonable for a church leader to also make public comment and I wrote and submitted an op-ed to The Press. So far it has not been published so I will publish it here.

This is what I submitted:

"“Has Godzone turned Godless?” is the right question for The Press Editorial (27 September 2019) to ask in response to recently released statistics about religious affiliation in New Zealand. The 2018 Census is the statistical point in our history ‘when “no religion” eclipsed Christianity as the leading religious affiliation’ in our nation.

For most churchgoing Christians this news will not be new. For decades now we have known that there is a huge gulf between the number of citizens willing to declare themselves Christian in the census and actual attendance in churches. Another way of understanding the figures the editorial discusses could be to say that 2018 is the year when we decided to change our conversation from talk of the decline of the number of Christians to talk of the growth in the number of post-Christians. The editorial, after all, rightly notes that we are a nation in which “A sense of being spiritual replaces the idea of being religious,” and that “Philosophers such as John Gray have persuasively argued that even as ‘secular liberals dismiss Christianity as a fairy tale, their values and view of history remain essentially Christian’.”

I think we could develop the last observation. As we respond to climate change, to tragedies such as the shootings on 15 March 2019, and to poverty, to name but a few issues of our day, we see virtues such as compassion, mercy, and grace motivating the vast majority of our nation to act selflessly, to love our neighbours as ourselves. In other words the no longer Christian nation by stated religious affiliation remains still a Christian nation in respect of attitudes and actions.

We are not, however, united as a nation around these values. If compassion and generosity, for instance, were to the forefront of responses to 15 March 2019, we have also been painfully aware that racism continues to be a feature and not a bug in our post-colonial society. That raises the question, What will sustain Christian values in a post-Christian nation? Can a nation with declining allegiance to Christianity be sure to remain admirably Christian through a long post-Christian future? The 2018 census figures offer no guidance as to what kind of nation we might become in the long term as an increasing majority jettison affiliation to Christianity.

Potential good news is that while affiliation to Christianity measured by successive censuses has dropped dramatically, churchgoing remains reasonably steady in New Zealand, at about 9% of the population. Some churches are experiencing decline but others experience increase, especially through migration which brings Christians from Asia and Polynesia to New Zealand. In uncertain religious times ahead of us, we can be sure that churchgoing Christians will continue to promote Christian values and to resist their demise. Among the diverse voices which will seek to shape our future society, a strong Christian voice will speak up for compassion, mercy and grace."

Ron Hay, a Diocese of Christchurch cleric and writer has a probing, percipient blogpost here, also in response to the Press Editorial on the census figures.