Monday, March 1, 2021

I didn't see that coming, did you?

WORTH READING ALONGSIDE BELOW: Andrew Goddard's carefully considered analysis of the situation.

ORIGINAL POST: A few days ago I became aware of a brewing controversy, initally within ACNA, and now spreading out a little as Nigeria joins the fray and thus making it a controversy within GAFCON. (See documents at the first 5 links below).

I didn't see this coming. The likely "severe to the point of possible division" controversy within ACNA has been the ordination of women to be priests or bishops.

This is my summary of the current controversy rolling through the past few weeks: 

- within the strict (conservative Anglican) orthodoxy of "any and all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful", how might we pastorally care for, welcome and include Christians self-identifying as gay, indeed what language might we use  in talking about these matters, for instance, is it OK to use descriptors such as "gay Christian" or "gay Anglican"? 

- A recent ACNA HOB statement on this set of questions is (unexpectedly) fairly conservative; a challenge from within ACNA to the HOB statement thinks their fairly conservative statement is harsh; a (strongly conservative, unsurprising) reaction from Nigeria thinks ACNA is heading down a slippery slope to a TEC-like end, unless the strictest repentance for their loose-by-Nigerian-standards approach occurs. 

(For other ways of describing what is going on, see the links from 6 onwards below).

This post, spoiler alert, is not about the controversy as a whole intra ACNA, intra GAFCON exploding issue (let alone about That Topic which is at the core of the controversy ... endless reruns on this site from ages beforehand, no need to repeat etc).

I want to reflect on but two aspects of it, of interest to all Anglicans everywhere.

Living together in Christ with disagreement

1. Anglicans from time to time disagree.

2. While all denominations disagree from time to time, there is an arguable special genius or charism to Anglicanism which means our ecclesiastical DNA is distinctive, if not unique, and wires us to live together with disagreement rather than to fly apart.

3. It is profoundly Anglican to exude blood, sweat and tears in all and every attempt to to live with our disagreements.

[4. The deep sadness over the divide in North America which led to the formation of ACNA (from TEC and ACCan), the divide in the Anglican Communion which led to the formation of GAFCON, and, indeed, the divide in my own church, ACANZP which led to the formation of CCAANZ, is not that there is an unreconciled disagreement but that we could not find a way to live together with the disagreement.]

5. ACNA is finding itself this week in a very, very Anglican situation!

6. Ironically, ACNA is not a member of the Anglican Communion and seems able to contemplate living with disagreement whereas Nigeria (which remains formally a member of the Communion) seems unable to comprehend the possibility of living with disagreement.

If you are an Anglican reading this, and would like a contructive vision of living within disagreement, then I urge you to read this brilliant sermon, delivered at a recent ordination of an Australian bishop.

It is not possible to secure complete agreement among Christians (let alone Anglicans) on matters of human sexuality

Whatever we make of the ACNA HOB initial statement, the published reaction to that statement, and ++Foley Beach's response to that reaction (see links below), we are seeing evidence of the thesis that: 

It is not possible to secure complete agreement among Christians (let alone Anglicans) on matters of human sexuality.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on divorce and remarriage after divorce?

Answer: No. Roman Catholic teaching and practice disagrees with Eastern Orthodox teaching and practice disagrees with Protestant teaching and practice.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on the use of artificial contraception?

Answer: No. Roman Catholic teaching is unique to itself, and (it would appear) practice among Roman Catholic Christians does not uniformly follow that teaching.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on abortion?

Answer: No. While most churches teach that life begins at conception and the taking of life in the womb after conception is wrong, in practice Christians take a variety of positions, notably, we might observe, prominent Catholic politicians in the United States (Biden and Pelosi spring to mind) faithfully participate in Mass while consistently supporting liberal laws on abortion.

Across global Christianity, do we have agreement on homosexuality?

Answer: No. Even where there is significant agreement that marriage is between a man and a women, there is disagreement over the pastoral response to gay and lesbian Christians. Again, this is profoundly illustrated in the various statements of Pope Francis over recent years where he assiduously avoids challenging official Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality while creatively voiding aspects of that teaching with his constructive, compassionate statements on the church's welcome and inclusion of its homosexual parishioners.

That is, sexuality within the phenomenon of human life is a complex matter and gives rise to endless disagreement among Christians.

Within its defining theological constraints, ACNA is completely correct to allow that there is disagreement within its own ranks.

The Nigerian Anglican church, frankly, is an Anglican outlier with its refusal to entertain even the slightest amount of divergence of views.

Yes, I know that the Nigerian Anglican church is the largest Anglican church in the world.

Necessary Links:

1. ACNA HOB initial statement.

2. Dear Gay Anglicans response (from within ACNA).

3. Archbishop Foley's response to 2.

4. Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria's response to 1, 2, 3.

5. An ACNA repudiation of 2 [which I think was published before 4].

6. The Living Church's report.

7. Eternity's report.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Brevard S. Childs on Scripture

I've been digging into the Book of Exodus lately. Spoiler alert: no significant insights coming in this post. But one thing leads to another. Digging deeper into Exodus led to a review of my commentaries on this book and the judgement delivered is, "Negligible." In remedying this paucity I have purchased a commentary I know to be somewhat more famous than other commentaries, Brevard S. Childs' commentary on Exodus.

Childs on anything in the Old Testament is always good, not least because he goes a bit against the grain of a lot of 20th and 21st century scholarship on the Old Testament which tries to read the books within it, if not the Old Testament as a whole, in its own right, divorced from its appropriation into the Christian Bible. The citation below captures how Childs wants to read the OT scriptures, 

"as canonical scripture within the theological discipline of the Christian church."

In other words, Childs is a determined Christian reader of the whole of Scripture, intent on reading Scripture as rule or canon and understanding it within the creedal faith of the Christian church.

Although no one told me about Childs when I was growing up within the evangelical Anglican movement, it is difficult to think that Childs and his writings would in any way have diminished the seriousness with which I learned to approach Scripture as authoritative in word and practice of the Christian life.

The more so when we read the fuller passage from which the citation above comes, words which are the very beginning of Childs on Exodus:

"The aim of this commentary is to seek to interpret the book of Exodus as canonical scripture within the theological discipline of the Christian church. As scripture its authoritative role within the life of the community is assumed, but how this authority functions must be continually explored. Therefore, although the book in its canonical form belongs to the sacred inheritance of the church, it is incumbent upon each new generation to study its meaning afresh, to have the contemporary situation of the church addressed by its word, and to anticipate a fresh appropriation of its message through the work of God's Spirit."

p. xiii, Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Commentary (The Old Testament Library) Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1974. 

Here is the thing which (in my memory) was not so well worked out in my experience of evangelicalism (generally) and Anglican evangelicalism (particularly): the "how" of Scripture as authority including the integral question of the "meaning" of Scripture.

It would have been good to have spent more time discussing,

"As scripture its authoritative role within the life of the community is assumed, but how this authority functions must be continually explored."

Why? Because looking back I think we assumed certain divisions among evangelicals without reflection on how such divisions could arise if Scripture was straightforwardly authoritative. Baptist evangelicals and Anglican evangelicals differed on baptism of believers' children (we knew that ... of course!) but we were both reading the same Bible. Later (in my experience) charismatic evangelicals and non-charismatic evangelicals differed on baptism in the Holy Spirit, but we were both reading the same Bible. What ( I do not recall) we did, say in Christian Union discussions about Scripture and its authority, was discuss how Scripture was authoritative when we didn't agree on its meaning.

Childs, above, challenges us to engage with the question of meaning in relation to authority:

"Therefore, although the book in its canonical form belongs to the sacred inheritance of the church, it is incumbent upon each new generation to study its meaning afresh, to have the contemporary situation of the church addressed by its word, and to anticipate a fresh appropriation of its message through the work of God's Spirit."

Of course this could be a licence (in evangelical perspective) for a liberal approach to understanding Scripture, not least because following Childs at this point means an openness to "fresh" meaning, finding the relevancy of Scripture to "the contemporary situation of the church" and allowing God's Spirit to help us appropriately appropriate the message of Scripture. From an evangelical perspective "Spirit" desperately needs definition lest we follow the spirit of the age rather than the Ageless Spirit!

Actually - I can now see - differences between Baptists and Anglicans relate to engaging Scripture with "each new generation" (Anglicans, for example, baptise children of believers because that is the right thing to do when the second and third and fourth generations of believers come along - something the NT does not pause to address).

When charismatic renewal came upon Anglican and Baptist churches in the 1960s and 1970s, there certainly was a "contemporary situation of the church" to be understood in the light of the "word" of Scripture as we were addressed by it and, those of us who embraced this new movement of the Spirit felt we were anticipating "a fresh appropriation of [Scripture's] message through the work of God's Spirit." All the while, resolutely not conceding for a moment that anything "liberal" was involved in our thinking!

I won't offer further analysis of the 2020s situation, suffice to say that in many and diverse ways, evangelical Anglicans continue to freshly appropriate the meaning of Scripture for today.

Thanks Brevard!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Lockdown Blogpost Casualty - Ash (without Ashing) Wednesday Livestreamed

 I had  a post started and the finishing of it was (is still) in mind but then our Government wisely analysed some new Covid transmission in our community and imposed, for a minimum of three days, a return to higher Levels, Auckland from 1 to 3 and the rest of us from 1 to 2.

In any other week of the year this might have been a non-event re episcopal life, but this week the three days includes Ash Wednesday and thus advice to the Diocese has had to be given.

So yesterday's potential blogging time got squeezed out with all the bits and bobs of discussion about what to say and what - in particular - to do about our Ecumenical Service tomorrow evening in the Transitional Cathedral.

All sorted ... now. But no post in the usual way.

For those interested the Ecumenical Service will be livestreamed and the details (along with other advice, should you be interested, about Ash Wednesday in Level 2) are as follows:

"This minimum period in Level 2 includes all of Ash Wednesday and thus affects services on Ash Wednesday. Earlier today I gave this directive to our Vicars/Priests-in-Charge/Chaplains:

There is to be no Ashing at Ash Wednesday services.
Ash Wednesday services may be held (providing they comply with Level 2 Guidelines for our services and other gatherings) but they are not to include the act of Ashing people’s foreheads.
I recommend as an alternative the following action at the point in the service where Ashing would take place (with suitably adapted words being said): pause, silence, each member of the congregation using their own thumb and signing their own foreheads with a cross.
Yes, that means we do not have the witness of Ash on our foreheads as we depart from the service, but collectively, through a Lenten fast from Ashing, we are witnessing to NZ that we are taking our responsibilities in Level 2 seriously and solemnly.
Ecumenical Service at the Transitional Cathedral
5.30 pm Wednesday 17 February 2021: this is now a Livestream Service. 

We do not want to have to turn the 101st person away so Archbishop Paul and myself have agreed that we will ask everyone to stay home and share in this service via Livestreaming.

The only people present will be participants in the service. If you are not a participant, then please stay home and watch the service via Livestream from the Transitional Cathedral Facebook page or YouTube page ( )."

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

What's in a translation?

Last Sunday the Gospel was Mark 1:29-39. (You were there, right, and heard it?)

Something struck me in the passage for the first time but then I realised it was striking in one translation but not in others.

Concerning verse 31, when Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law.

Here are some non-striking - for me, on this occasion, as I will explain - translations: 

"Jesus went and took hold of her hand, and raised her to her feet." (REB)

"He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up." (CEB)

"He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up." (GNB)

"He went in to her, took her by the hand and helped her up." (NJB)

What about the Greek itself?

"And going to [her] he raised her holding the hand."

So, nothing wrong with any of the translations above!

But the translation which caught my eye was the NRSV:

"He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up."

What struck me was the NRSV's "lifted her up." 

That got me thinking and the thinking became part of my sermon. Jesus lifted her up. That's what he does, he lifts people up. He lifts you and me up. Do we need lifting up today? So many things get us down and we need lifting up. And Jesus will do this!

Now to this week's Gospel, Mark 1:40-45.

A very striking issue arises.

The leper at the centre of the story begs Jesus, "If you choose, you can make me clean." (40, NRSV)

Does this mean Jesus could have chosen not to heal the leper?

Does this mean when we are not healed that Jesus has chosen not to heal us?

Answers on a postcard ... or a comment!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The church of God is people but are the people being separatist, even supremacist?

Michael Reddell, firing up again one of his blogs - in another blog he is one of NZ's preeminent economic commentators - reviews two books he has recently read, with the title "All one in Christ Jesus."

Book one is "... Mississippi Prayingwith the subtitle “Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975, by Carolyn Dupont a US academic. "

Book two is "Hirini Kaa’s book, Te Mahi Mihinare: The Maori Anglican ChurchKaa is both an academic and an ordained Anglican priest, and his book was a really interesting read. The evangelisation of the Maori population in the 19th century, initially by CMS missionaries and increasingly by Maori Christians themselves is an inspiring story, full of individual tales of heroism, humility, and faith. (Sadly, the decline of Christianity – including Anglicanism – in New Zealand whether among Maori or non-Maori populations is the dominant story now). And the interest in Kaa’s historical material continues well through the 20th century (he stops at about 1990 just before he himself became a member of the General Synod), including the development of Maori bishoprics."

Along the way of the review there are interesting observations which raise important questions about what is admirable and what is not so admirable in church life expressed on racial and/or cultural lines (think, for instance, Peter McGavren's "homogenous unit" principle in church growth theory re what might be admirable and note Carolyn Dupont's concerns re resistance to integration between white and black worshippers re what seems less than admirable).

But what Reddell says about Hirini Kaa's book is particularly interesting to me because I myself am in the midst of reading the book.

Thus likely I will come back to this post to add some thoughts of my own ... but if you have read Kaa's book (or Dupont's), you may wish to comment now!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The kingdom of Jesus

One of my favourite passages in the Bible was the gospel reading for Sunday, Mark 1:14-20.

Pithy, direct, active. Jesus preaches (a very short sermon!) and calls without preamble or ceremony his first disciples.

In the brief message is everything Jesus will do and say (all about the kingdom of God).

In the call is the call to all who hear the message: Follow Jesus.

The "me" in "Follow me" is illuminating. Jesus has no ego yet calls people to follow him alone, even giving up, as the fishermen do, everything that has been their life and livelihood.

Connecting the "me" with the "time is fulfilled" and have a very Jesus-centred kingdom.

When Jesus comes, the kingdom has come.

What Jesus does is the kingdom breaking into the world as Jesus takes charge of the world.

Jesus is the king.

The kingdom of God is the kingdom of Jesus.

Followers of Jesus join with Jesus in kingdom of Jesus work.

As servants of Jesus we obey Jesus' rule and thus do the things which assist the growth of the kingdom.

As servants of Jesus we may be tempted to think the kingdom's future growth depends on us and is exclusive to our good obedience to the king. 

No, the kingdom is greater than us and God in Jesus continues to do kingdom work in the world with servants we may know nothing of (and who may not realise they are serving the kingdom!).

While we can never know all that God is doing in the world - providence - we can be confident, because of passages such as Mark 1:14-20, that God is doing those things in the world which fit with what we see of Jesus' words and deeds in the gospels, including those things which Jesus-centred disciples say and do in obedience to Jesus.

So, yes, the kingdom is greater than the church but never less than the church.

The church, in the long run and for the most part, because of promises of God concerning the Spirit-led, Spirit-gifted body of Christ, will visibly demonstrate the kingdom in the world today.

But errors in teaching and in behaviour do occur in the life of the church and thus the church can frustrate the growth of the kingdom.

If we want to not be frustrating then we do well to read and re-read and respond and re-respond to Mark 1:14-20.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Better 2021 or worse 2021?

The heading for my last post of 2020 raised the question whether 2021 might be better than 2020.

Cue, of course, the question of how we define the good, better or worse of one year compared to another.

The first six days of this new year were a bewildering global storm of worsening news about the Pandemic combined with unheard of political disruptions in the USA (note: the last storming of the US Capitol were by the British in 1812).*

On the other hand the first 18 days of 2021 in NZ have been a brilliant mix of superb summer sunshine, excellent cricket, cracking America's Cup challenger racing and holding the Pandemic at bay (just ... we all recognise that we may yet be overrun by new variants of the virus). The following photos are snaps from part of our holiday - water and sunshine, always a winning combo!

In the wider Anglican world I see news about a female bishop for Kenya.

In 2021 I hope (at the very least) re Trumpianism that Christians really, really address the question Who is Lord? This article is a timely and apt comment on the Jesus-less-ness of Trumpianism.

I read some great books while on holiday - all of which in their own way reinforced the absurdity of ever, ever ascribing to any national leader some kind of exalted status - and took quite a few notes towards possible talks later this year.

Let me not burden you with all my notes. Here is one notable passage from an author not always given star rating on "orthodox Christian" charts, Rob Bell:

"The first Christians had a way of talking about this massive movement, bigger than any one of us, that's sweeping across human history: they wrote that God is in the process of moving everything forward so that God will be over all and through all and in all and in another passage in the Bible it is written that God does what God does so that God may be all in all.

For God to be recognised as all in all then, we will become more and more aware of the uniting of all the depth and dimensions of being - from the physical to the spiritual, from the seen to the unseen, from matter to spirit and everything in betweeen - as we see more and more of the universe in the single, seamless reality it's always been."**

That is, a little bit of Colossians and Ephesians could go a long way to helping Christians around the world make appropriate "course corrections" in 2021 - corrections needed if we are not to be the laughing stock of the world.

I also read Andrew Shanks, Hegel and Religious Faith: Divided Brain, Atoning Spirit, London/New York: T & T Clark, 2011. This book hurt my brain because I am not a rocket scientist. I do not profess to understand much about Hegel. Possibly Shanks has made me think more favourably of this enigmatic thinker. 

Probably Hegel and Bell would get along fine! 

Certainly Christians need to think very big in our conception of God and what God is up to in the world and through time.

See you next week ...!

*See, by the way, helpful comments in the comment thread to the previous post, from Bowman Walton who lives in the States, on the whole situation re Trump, Trumpians and Trumpianism, including Christian allegiance to Trump.

** p. 187, Rob Bell, What we talk about when we talk about God, New York: Harper, 2013.