Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Are Anglican provinces autonomous or not?

There is an Anglican province which I am not going to name because I do not want this blogpost to be misused in evidence against it, suffice to say that you can likely find it via Google and/or looking at the Church Times, Friday 24 July 2020.

In a country in which Christianity is not the major religion, an association of Protestant churches is claiming that this Anglican province is subject to the authority of the association. I am imagining that beyond the usual suspicions of ecclesiastical power plays, there might be a case for churches in a minority situation seeking to strengthen solidarity, but this is being played out in the courts of the country concerned.

Interestingly, in respect of drawing your attention to this situation, the Anglican church concerned is arguing the following in reply - according to the CT article of the aforementioned date:

"“The PCE want us to come under their umbrella,” [the Primate said] “They say they should be, according to the law, spiritually, financially, and administratively supervising us. Spiritually, that’s very difficult, because we cannot pull out of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is our spiritual leader.”"

Now, the Anglican Communion has spent the past couple of decades (or more), focused on this topic and That Topic, with many assertions that each province is, yes, in relational terms "interdependent" (we are a Communion) but in legal terms, strictly independent, with each province fully able to make decisions without reference either to other provinces or to the Church of England as a "mother church" of us all.

We also know that with special reference to That Topic, some Anglican provinces have made it publicly clear that they do not view the Archbishop of Canterbury as their spiritual leader.

For entirely understandable reasons, the province concerned in the court case (actually, one of a series of cases) is arguing for the Communion being a body of authority which means the province cannot come under another ecclesial authority and for the Archbishop of Canterbury being a leader of their provincial leadership.

But not all Anglican provinces would so argue.

It would appear that if we look to the nature of the formal body called the Anglican Communion for signs of a coherent ecclesiology, we look in vain!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Who or what is driving whom in the recent history of Anglicanism and its splits?

Jessica Martin writes thoughtfully in the latest Church Times under the heading "Sex and Religion: When it all started to go wrong/right (delete as applicable)."

Here is a flavour of Martin's "a plague on both your [liberal and conservative] houses" argument:

"BEHIND these, in turn, lie very different visions of what the Church is, visions that are themselves — in the UK, at any rate — tied up with the history of Reformation and of Establishment. Faced with a terrifying loss of social influence — indeed, with the threat of effective disappearance as they haemorrhage congregations and are increasingly ignored in Government — the “puritan” and the “Anglican” traditions within the Church of England (always uneasily and precariously held together) reach for solutions characteristic of their differing histories and identities. 
The “Puritans”, with a vision of Christian community based on the set-apartness of the “holiness” code, and with separatism deeply driven into Calvinistic foundations, favour a sharp-edged division between a gathered holy people and the wilderness of the wickedly immoral world. 
Meanwhile, the “Anglicans” read the whole world as God’s field, in which sinners and saints mingle undetected, the Spirit blows where it wills, and only God can distinguish wheat from tares. This vision is, especially in England and Wales, underpinned by the ecclesiastical polity of establishment, which assumes that all in the nation belong, by default, to the assembly of the saved, and leaves ultimate judgement to God."

Her main point, I suggest, lies in her last words, and its a point that is much in my mind as I continue to reflect on global and local Anglicanism and the splits/disaffiliations of recent years: we have allowed sex to play a larger role than it should ever have been allowed to play - so large that Martin argues it has been a lordly idol driving our disputes:

"If these irreconcilable differences continue to be the competing stories governing our dis-ease, then we have let the real Lord of all our doings, directing all our pathways and all our dissension, all our understanding of the body of Christ and its institution in the big world, be the — already more than a little publicly tarnished — idol of sex itself."

In other words, Anglican reconciliation on the contemporary matters which divide us might have a best starting point if and when we agree to not let these matters be so big that they divide.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Who is NZ’s Saviour?

A week or so ago, at the NZ Labour Party annual conference, our Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party was introduced as “New Zealand’s saviour.

Fortunately our Prime Minister is a humble person and disavowed this particular ascription. Some leaders around the world today might have accepted the ascription!

But I think it was a brilliant use of the word “saviour” because it is exactly what the biblical talk of “saviour” is about: there is peril, danger and risk to the people - a desperate need for the people to be saved - for a “saviour” to come and deal with the peril, turn aside the danger and diminish the risk to health and wellbeing. 

From Joseph, Moses, assorted judges and kings through to our Lord Jesus Christ himself, the Bible has many “Israel’s saviours”. The Bible as a whole is a testimony to God as Saviour - whether sending saviours when Israel is in trouble, or intervening in other ways, or finally and ultimately coming in human flesh to save the whole world through Jesus Christ.

To the extent that NZ has been in peril, danger and risk from Covid-19, the leadership of our Prime Minister and her Government has, indeed, saved us (so far ... obviously this particular moment in history has some way to go).

Generally, in respect of evangelism today, “Jesus is your Saviour” or “you need to be saved” begs the question “Why?” Mostly in the West people don’t feel a need to be rescued from any peril, except possibly the stock market crashing or the housing market keeling over.

We need - obviously - to explain the “what” of our need for a Saviour and that takes quite a bit of work in which “sin” and “judgement” are almost forgotten from our culture.

But the Labour Party official who invoked Jacinda Ardern as “NZ’s saviour” showed that there are conditions and situations in which the explanation may be easier to make - not that any of us wish for a global pandemic to occur so that we have an imminent and terrifying threat to our wellbeing.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Re Reading and Rereading Scripture

Last week I mentioned the death of Professor James D.G. Dunn.

This week Church Times reprints an article by Jimmy from 2013 which demonstrates his carefulness in scholarship and clarity in making an argument - on this occasion on reading Scripture with respect to arguments for and against the ordination of women. (From memory I think 2013 was when the CofE agreed to proceed with ordaining women as bishops.)

It can seem fraught “rereading Scripture”, after all, where might it end?

But we have to do it. This past week I have been pulled up with a start to find that Jonathan Edwards - yes, the Jonathan Edwards beloved of many evangelicals, influential for centuries on the ministries of well known preachers and theologians - owned slaves ... and thought this was consistent with Scripture.

I have just started reading A.C. Grayling’s The Age of Genius in which he argues that the 17th century gave birth to the “modern mind.” Inter alia, p. 9, he mentions Cardinal Bellarmino’s 1615 reply to Paolo Foscarini’s argument that Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the universe was consistent with Scripture. Bellarmino argues that the heliocentric model contradicts not only the interpretation of Scripture by the “holy Fathers” but also “modern commentators.”

Four hundred years later (1) no teacher of Scripture within the mainstream of Western and Eastern Christianity, no matter how wonderful she or he finds the “holy Fathers” thinks them correct on this matter, and no (2) “modern commentator” of 20th or 21st centuries teaches what Bellarmino asserts.

Scripture has been reread!

Part 2 or “further thoughts”

The trick, I suggest, with rereading Scripture is not to assume (whether eagerly or fearfully) that all rereading heads in only one direction (from the thin end of the wedge to the thick end?).

Even rereadings need rerereading.

Consider, many of the first Christians read Scripture in respect of military service through the lens of Jesus and determined that Christians could not join in the violence of war. Then, Constantine and all that, a rereading led to an acceptance of the validity of military service and fighting in wars (albeit with hope that all wars one was conscripted for were “just wars”). 1700 years later has that rereading settled the matter once and for all? Not really. Many Christians today are wary of military service and for a range of sound reasons, from unwillingness to kill another human being under any circumstances to healthy cynicism about the true aims and aspirations of warring nations. And many Christians think its okay ... just the other day I read a news item about a Russian Orthodox cathedral devoted to the military!

One could go on ...

I won’t save for observing that the importance of doing theology is doing that which continually assesses claims to true understanding of the purposes of God.