Monday, July 26, 2021

May Christianity engage with novelty? On real women and virtual communion!

I recall, from my youth, listening to talks which would include a refrain that went like this:

"There is nothing new which is true and nothing true which is new."

Meaning, so I understood, first, that the truths of our faith were laid down a long time ago - revealed by God once and for all - and, secondly, that claims of new discoveries of truth in relation to our faith should be carefull vetted and, likely, discarded.

In general terms, of course, this refrain is true in connection with the propositions of our creedal faith. We're all going to dispatch to the theological boundary a claim that, say, a fourth member of the Godhead has been revealed.

In terms of many other aspects of our faith and practice, the refrain is not true. If it's 1800 and anti-slavery sentiment is building up in our congregation, the preacher might attempt to dispatch this sentiment on the basis that (a) slavery has always been with us and (b) to be against slavery is a novelty measured against the tolerance of slavery in Scripture. Ditto, coming to the days of my youth, if such a refrain was used to dismiss the possibility of women being ordained presbyters and bishops in the church. (Incidentally, I do not personally recall the refrain being used in that way.)

A couple of issues, I will argue in this post, raise the question of novelty and whether our ruminations around the globe, and even here on ADU, take sufficient account of it.

One issue is the question of virtual communion (internet communion) which was canvassed a little in the post below and in comments in the thread to that post; albeit the main debate referred to is on Bosco Peters' Liturgy blog. That debate concerns Bishop Tim Harris, Adelaide's reflections on the eucharistic theology in the BCP (1662) in relation to virtual communion.

My question here is whether there are limits to considerations of past practice (considering, for example, the question of "spiritual communion" in relation to sickness per the rubric of the BCP) because technology enables a different form of community than anything the BCP (or, say, our NZPB of 1989) envisaged. We are in a genuinely new situation where the church gathers online, visually and audibly, for meetings, for fellowship in Christ, for synodical decision-making, for connecting around the globe and around local districts, constrained by travel restrictions, lockdowns and, yes, sickness (or signs of it, so that we dutifully stay away from a physical gathering together) ... but not for communion.

I suggest that the kind of discussion/debate cited here (but occurring in multiple ways around the globe through these strange times) is both helpful (e.g the range of questions being raised for theological consideration, the issues being canvassed for possible future synodical resolution) and not yet reaching the critical question for all novelty. I'll leave that question to further down, suffice to suggest that, all in all, all discussions and debates to date re virtual communion are prolegomena to the actual debate we will yet have.

Another issue, at least in some significant parts of global Christianity, is the role of women in the life of the church and in the Christian home. Outside of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity this issue seems to be largely confined as an evangelical Protestant issue, captured in a seemingly endless "complementarianism" versus "egalitarianism" range and rage of books, articles, blogposts, social media comment, often but not exclusively anchored into North America and just possibly fuelled by surrounding culture wars there. 

A very recent expression of the debate, with barbs and edges is found in this review by Kevin DeYoung of Beth Allison Barr's book The Making of Biblical Womanhood and a response by Michael Bird to Kevin DeYoung's review.

The review is a shocker on the ad hominem front, even if it is standardly academic as well (as Michael Bird notes). Michael Bird's response, however, keeps us focused on Scripture and the question whether Scripture is "complementarian" or "egalitarian", and thus on trying to resolve a present issue in terms of the past. Scripture clearly has some things to say about men and women, about God and humanity, about the order of the church and about family life, but does it deal with life today in which (I would argue) women - at least in Western culture - are in a novel situation relative to previous generations? 

Is the resolution of evangelical, Protestant Christianity's understanding of men and women only able to be determined through Scriptural consideration, given that what it says about equality and mutuality of men and women is so few words, and what it says about men's leadership and women's submission to that leadership is so fraught with risk of misunderstanding the cultural context of the times in which it was written?

Another way to respond to novelty?

Here is my radical yet familiar suggestion: we should ask ourselves, What would Jesus do?

By "ask ourselves" I mean with due theological seriousness, commitment to enquiry with open hearts and open minds, regard for the common life of the church (including determination to arrive at a common answer to the question), and so forth.

By "Jesus" I am, yes, invoking Jesus of Nazareth as we read of him directly in the gospels and through his apostolic interpreters in the epistles, but not wanting to bypass or exclude from consideration the Jesus whom (say) Cranmer also knew.

Faced with lockdown excluding people from physically gathering to obey the command of Jesus to "Do this in remembrance of me", what would Jesus do?

Faced with a human society in which women are encouraged to do anything men can do, what would Jesus do about appointing leaders in the church and what would Jesus say about men and women in the life of the Christian home?

Answers in the comments!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Too much?

Is there too much going on in Anglicanland right now?

Among various items of news and issues of the day, several matters stand out for a wee bit of Antipodean commentary.

(1) The [latest] row in the Church of England

Ian Paul on Psephizo has a bracing response to Giles Fraser's column provocativly titled "The Church is Abandoning its Flock." I seem to be noticing on social media some Kiwi Anglicans approvingly drawing attention to Fraser's words.

Such to and fro in the CofE blogosphere over recent weeks started with the publication of a church planting strategy associated with Canon John McGinley, a priest in the Diocese of Leicester and a leader in New Wine, who proposes thousands of lay-led church plants and unfortunately described buildings and trained clergy as "key limiting factors". Then there has been a paper, from Archbishop Stephen Cottrell himself, along somewhat similar lines, and much CofE angst resulting thereof - all told in one handy article by Catherine Pepinster

While I want to be, and must be sensitive about wading into an internal ruction thousands of miles away in another Anglican church, I wonder if a couple of observations might be in order, noting in my own church the popular reception of the Fraser column, and the parallel observable fact that we have rather a large number of greying, quantitatively diminishing congregations here in the Blessed Isles? Here goes:

On the one hand: when safeguarding of ministry performance (i.e. maintaining of high ministry standards) is in the spotlight (both in the Blessed Isles and in the British Isles), isn't there a renewed importance on educating, training and formation of missional leaders such that "key limiting factors" is a "what do you not get about investing in clergy" clanger of the highest clanging and clashing of cymbols?

On the other hand: when actual numbers of Anglican congregations, when proportion of growing populations identifying as active Anglicans are so low and plummeting lower (in both the Blessed Isles and in the British Isles), isn't there an urgent need for open minds and open hearts to any and every possibility of growing congregations? And, relatedly, what do we (especially the "we" of clerics) not get about the unlikelihood of younger generations of new Anglicans turning up en masse to existing congregations of older Anglicans?

Put differently: the likelihood of new Anglican growth by new Anglican initiatives alongside and/or beyond existing congregations and current structured ways of doing things is intrinsically much higher than the likelihood of new Anglican growth by doing things the way we have been doing them for the past half or even whole century.

In sum: here, there and everywhere in the Anglican Communion, we need great clergy; and here and there, there is desperate need for re-growing Anglican churches; and we may or may not be able to regrow our churches with the clergy we are currently recruiting and training with current methods.

(3) Anyone for virtual communion? 

One of the lovely challenges of Anglicanland issues is that I have lots of friends to be even handed to, on various sides of multi-faceted matters of debate :). 

In this case, Bishop Tim Harris (Diocese of Adelaide) has had an article published recently on virtual communion and Bosco Peters (Diocese of Christchurch) has made a series of responses (one, two, three, four, [update from original post] and now five) which take up the questions +Tim raises (see citation of Tim's paper in the first response).

Here I don't wish to take up the matter beyond one observation, but encourage you to head to Bosco's series of posts (where you will see a couple of comments by me).

My observation is this: sometimes in responding to a situation we respond to a crisis which drives a very pragmatic approach, but such approach is not likely to then be taken as some kind of new norm; and other times we are responding to a situation conscious that our response will determine a new norm.

With respect to the former, and the eucharist, in circumstances such as Japanese prisoner of war camps in WW2, there are stories of communion being celebrated using water and rice instead of wine and bread. This seems a reasonable pragmatic response to a crisis and we can assume that no one participating in that particular crisis of deprivation of a number of norms was going to propose when back in normal life that water and rice should replace wine and bread.

With respect to the latter, and the eucharist, within our own ACANZP, we have liberalised reception of communion at certain points in recent decades: for instance, to no longer require confirmation as well as baptism as a prerequisite to receiving communion; and to no longer require that a communicant be a member of our church. By making such changes we have formulated a new normality and it is unlikely that we will go backwards on these changes.

With respect to discussion about virtual communion (for want of a better description of the matter under discussion), I think one question (among, it turns out, a large number of questions) is the question of whether we are discussing a pragmatic response to the crisis of being in lockdown (i.e. unable to physically gather in the normal way for congregational worship in one physical space) or a (new normal) response to having the facility in the modern age of gathering a congregation virtually via Zoom and the like, with bread and wine handily available in each of our own kitchens?

Then, if lockdown is a crisis justifying a pragmatic answer to the question(s) re virtual communion, how long is required for lockdown to be a crisis? Seven days or seven weeks (2020's first NZ lockdown) or seven months?

(3) Evangelical Anglicanism is somewhat indebted to Calvin, is it not? So what about Calvin on ... indirectly ... That Topic?

Does Calvin's attention to justice and equity point the way forward for evangelical Anglicans in the controversy on That Topic? A little while back Bowman Walton drew my attention to an article by Andrew Goddard which I have only this weekend found time to track down and to read. The article is called "Semper Reformanda in a Changing World: Calvin, Usury and Evangelical Moral Theology."*

This article has occasioned - a few years ago - some debate between Goddard and Crockett, then Bishop of Bangor - links at this Thinking Anglicans post.

I note the following to readers here:

  1. The author of the original article, Andrew Goddard, is a consistently pro clarity of tradition and Scripture opponent of liberalization, often writing in evangelical contexts (but with reason and charity).
  2. The linked "Semper Reformanda" article clearly carries 1 along; yet
  3. The second half of the article, on Calvin’s revision of formerly clear tradition and Scripture teaching on usury, is not – in my reading – as easily dismissed as Goddard does in respect of Calvin setting out a pathway for present day re-reading of Scripture. Consider for example the somewhat blithe way in which he finds no moral qulams in the use by Anglicans of contraception in the modern age. The more he articulates what Calvin did re usury, in the face of Luther and co to the contrary, the more he presents a case against his overall thesis! (You could check out what Bishop Crockett has to say via the links in the Thinking Anglicans post).
  4. Whether Calvin (on usury) or Goddard (on Calvin’s exegetical example for today) is right or wrong etc etc, my surmise is that, at the least, Goddard effectively presents the circumstances under which evangelicals might agree to disagree on tradition and Scripture on homosexuality.
  5. Calvin's key hermeneutical approach to usury/Scripture/his present context was to invoke considerations of justice and equity. Now, are not "justice and equity" considerations in 20th and 21st century Anglican debates.
  6. And for any Anglicans reading here who are not familiar with the influence of John Calvin on Anglicanism's Reformational foundations, there is more Calvinism than Lutheranism in the BCP and 39A.
(4) And for those who worry about Anglicans cornering all the debates and controversies in global Christianity ...

A new battle in Roman Catholic Liturgy Wars has emerged as Pope Francis has issued a directive restricting use of the old-style Latin Mass (i.e. pre Vatican 2 Latin Mass, noting there is a Vatican 2 Latin Mass).


"Pope Francis cracked down Friday on the spread of the old Latin Mass, reversing one of Pope Benedict XVI’s signature decisions in a major challenge to traditionalist Catholics who immediately decried it as an attack on them and the ancient liturgy.

Francis reimposed restrictions on celebrating the Latin Mass that Benedict relaxed in 2007, and went further to limit its use. The pontiff said he was taking action because Benedict’s reform had become a source of division in the church and been used by Catholics opposed to the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church and its liturgy."

Further insight on the way in which Benedict XVI's previous decision has been hijacked is here.

In short, sadly, divisions in Christianity are all around us. To quote the best bit of Latin re the church, it should not be so because Jesus prayed, "Ut unim sunt."

Incidentally, did you know that Latin versions of Anglican eucharists are acceptable in certain circumstances?

(Feeding off a witty point I saw on Twitter) Article 24: Of Speaking in the Congregation in such a Tongue as the people understandeth expressly gives permission for Latin speaking/comprehending Anglicans to celebrate the eucharist in a Latin translation :).

Have a great week!

*(Originally published in Sung Wook Chung (ed), Alister E McGrath and Evangelical Theology: A Dynamic Engagement, Paternoster Press, 2003, pp235-63. Reprinted [at the link above] with the kind permission of Paternoster.)

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Life in Christ - a sermon

This weekend past, I preached at the induction of the new incumbent at Christ Church Cathedral, Nelson. Below I give the sermon text - partly because time does not permit me to post something “original to the blog”; partly because what I am trying to say, from passages chosen by Graham, with a request that I emphasise Philippians 2, lines up with some recent themes in posts: that we move beyond a conception of Christianity as “sin management” to a conception of Christianity as … well, why not read on …

INDUCTION SERMON: GRAHAM O’BRIEN, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Nelson and Vicar of Christ Church Parish, Nelson, Sunday 11 JULY 2021

Readings: Ps 24; Phil 2:1-11; John 1:1-14.

Introduction

In my introduction I greeted a number of people and said some (nice) things about Graham. I also asked the congregation to permit me to talk about Graham as Dean through the sermon rather than as Dean and Vicar.

One Thing

What is the one thing Graham could best do as Dean?

I imagine there are some views here today among the congregation.

The new Dean should improve things around here. (Don’t worry; I am not picking on the Cathedral here; in every church, things could be improved.)

The new Dean should lead a fundraising campaign. I have never met a Cathedral that is not short of funds.

No, others will say, The one thing the new Dean should do is some systematic pastoral visitation.

And there may be that view which – to be fair – clergy quite like to hear, that being seen among the people, sitting in the outside tables of a popular café in Trafalgar Street, lingering purposefully is that one thing the new Dean should do.

To be sure, Deans do improve things in their Cathedrals, raise funds, make pastoral visits and, when there is a spare moment or two, enjoy café life.

But what is the one thing Graham should do because it is critical to the Christian life, because it is primary to the life of the church, because it is the thing which if we get it right everything flows from it?

John 1 and Philippians 2

Our readings today give us the answer.

Both readings speak to us of the big picture of our faith. 

Both speak of the movement of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, from the heart of God and the privilege of the divine life to sharing and embracing the vulnerability and humility of humanity.

And both readings speak of the consequence of that movement for humanity – for you and me.

John speaks about how we can become “children of God.”

Paul in Philippians speaks about how we are “in Christ”.

- “in Christ” meaning that Christ lives in us and we live in Christ,

- in a union which enables us to share all the privileges and blessings of Christ.

What Christ comes to achieve in sharing our humanity is the possibility of transforming us, of actually changing our lives so that we become new people living through the power of God working in us.

Unfortunately, we who call ourselves Christians often settle for second best. 

We worry about whether our children are learning Christian values. 

We bewail the loss of Christian morality in a society accelerating away from its Christian foundations. 

We speak about God’s love for us all and reduce that love to a kind of nice comforting message which will somehow encourage the world at large through the travails of life.

But “values”, “morality” and a “comforting message” are not the limits of what God in Christ came into the world to achieve.

The reality of God’s work in Christ is the possibility of a new way of life – a new way of being, as God’s children, as those who are “in Christ” 

That’s the first best: Christian life as new life, as much more than values, morals or comforting message. 

And Paul, writing in Philippians, is asking his readers to understand what this means for their life together as the church.

His plea is that in their common life together they might be united in love, setting rivalry aside and putting each other first.

This is not a plea using the word “should” which asks for more effort: 

-        you should be better at being one body of Christ, 

-        you should be less antagonistic to each other, 

-        you should work harder at being better Christians.

No, no, no! Paul’s plea, beginning in the first verse is: 

“if you who are in Christ, who are united with Christ grasp what this means, then you will act accordingly, you will be what you are, a people motivated by God’s own love to look out for one another, and to live in common purpose and common commitment to Christ’s mission in the world.”

Then in verses 5-11, Paul underwrites what he has just said by saying, 

“What you are called to do and be in Christ as children of God is modelled by Christ himself.”

But, again, Paul doesn’t tell his readers, 

“You ought to be better at imitating Christ; you should work harder on being more like Jesus.”

What he says is again an appeal to a careful understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

Verse 5: “τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ”

“Let this kind of thinking be in you which is also in Christ Jesus.”

You are in Christ, think Christ thoughts, think the way Christ does – let Christ’s thinking be your thinking, Christ’s attiude be your attitude.

Paul then sets out the distinctive thinking and attitudes of Christ Jesus:

- Christ was equal to God yet did not cling to the privilege of that equality;

- Christ emptied himself of all divine privilege in order to share our human life, 

- Christ shared our human life with utmost humility and obedience which led to execution by crucifixion.

That is the Christ whose life is our life, whose mind is our mind, whose attitude is our attitude:

That means, it is possible to love others, to have the humility to treat them as better than ourselves, to look out for their interests ahead of our own, because Christ himself is united to us and motivates us to be Christ to others. 

George Hunsinger, in his commentary on Philippians says,

“The mindset which is already theirs in Christ Jesus needs to be reclaimed ever anew. It encounters them not as an ideal possibility but as a concrete reality – one in which they already participate. It is not something to be constructed but something to be appropriated. It is a gift before it is a task. It means becoming what they already are. … They are to appropriate in practice what is already theirs by grace.” [Philippians, p. 36]

One Thing

What is the one thing Graham could best do as Dean of this Cathedral?

To nurture the life of the congregation in Christ. 

Through teaching, through the eucharist, through your own life in Christ.

To be who we are meant to be in Christ we need teaching – like Paul is giving in Philippians – about the grace which is ours and needs appropriation.

We need feeding with the precious body and blood of Christ.

We need to see life in Christ lived out in inspiring example.

Graham, your role as Dean is a privilege and it comes with responsibility.

The primary responsibility is to nurture the life of the congregation in Christ.

A congregation fully alive in Christ, living in the way of Christ set out in Philippians 2, will be a witness to the gospel of transformation in the city of Nelson.

From life in Christ the mission of Christ will flow.

The greatest privilege of your role, Graham, will be to see God at work in the people you have been called to serve.

May God bless you and Leeann and the people of God in this place. 

 

 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Headship teaching: some thoughts

A couple of posts below I noted concerns making their way into the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald re headship teaching in the Diocese of Sydney (i.e. teaching about male headship and female submission to that headship) (here and here).

That prompted some thoughtful comments posted in the thread to that post (thank you, Bowman) and I ask that this post be read in the light of those comments.

I also ask that you do not read this post as a direct engagement with either the Diocese of Sydney or with teaching within that Diocese - something of a large and multi-faceted set of topics and I do not presume to know everything one should know for such a direct engagement. Besides which, I imagine that while there may be strong themes, heavy emphases and so forth across the Diocese, there likely is not on uniform, standard, universally taught doctrine. Nevertheless, whatever is going on, in our neighbouring Diocese across the Ditch, it is enough to provoke a secular newspaper to publish an article about it.

Let's engage directly with Scripture itself and let's be realistic, this is but one post on a matter or two, and not a monograph on the subject, on which many books have been written, especially in recent years.

Here goes:

1. It's observable in the New Testament that Paul (in particular) develops an understanding of salvation which universalises humanity: salvation is no longer for the Jews only, but also for the Gentiles; a relationship with God through being "in Christ" is possible for all humanity including male and female (Galations 3:28).

2. It's observable in the light of (1) that women and men are involved in the communication of the gospel and establishment of the churches as the mission of Jesus spreads beyond Israel (e.g. the Samaritan woman of John 4; Lydia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia, Euodia and Syndeche). Further, no specific rules constraining the ministry of women are invoked within the narratives in which such women feature.

3. It's also observable that many leadership roles in the apostolic mission are taken up by men. This is unsurprising given the patriarchal societies of Israel and the surrounding nations. It is also the case that Jesus said and did things which invoked visions of a "new" Israel, the nation historically of twelve tribes founded on the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel, and thus consistent with this invocation, the leading body of disciples who became also known as the apostles were twelve men.

4. It's observable in the pages of the New Testament that some questions arose about how men and women are to deport themselves in church meetings. 

5. This is a particular concern addressed by Paul in1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (cf. Ephesians 5:23-24). In that address Paul certainly talks about men in relation to women and vice versa and links this to the relationship between God and Christ and the talk involves a Greek word kephale which could mean "head" or "source". We will come back to this passage.

6. Two other passages, 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 have common themes (notably women being silent in church meetings) and may reflect (depending on one's understanding and determination) a Later Paul (i.e. Paul at the end of his ministry) or a Deutero-Paul (i.e. interpreter of Paul writing as Paul). The former passage is held by many to be an interpolation (because it interrupts the flow of 14:33-37; it is at odds with 11:5 which assumes women will not be silent in church because they pray and prophesy in the meetings; and, in some manuscripts, verses 33 and 34 appear after 14:40). 

7. It seems reasonable to assume that material in 1 Corinthians 11, 14 and 1 Timothy 2 arose because some disruption in the meetings of the church was taking place. There is no sense reading through the gospels or Paul's other epistles (with the exception of Titus) or any other epistles that either Jesus or any apostle taught relationships between men and women as intrinsic to the essence of the church.

8. Indeed, Paul's strong start on the "headship" (or "sourceship") of men over women at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 11, as he seeks to respond to questions of length of hair for men and women, and wearing of headcoverings (or not), gives way by verses 11-16 with a recognition that "in the Lord" men and women are interdependent and the answers to the questions at hand may not be agreeable to his readers who need to judge for themselves what is right and what is wrong.

9. That is, it is not clear that Paul (or Later Paul or Deutero-Paul) is setting out in these passages timeless church rules to govern the church in all cultural contexts through all generations. There is a strong sense in the passages of ad hoc rules for present situations.

10. Further, in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 there are two very difficult (if not quite obscure) theological arguments introduced in support of women being silent in church.

11. Before we get to the first, let's recall another Pauline invocation of Eve. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-3 Paul likens the church as the bride of Christ to Eve, being in a position prone to deceit: "as the serpent deceived Eve by its cunning." Here Eve stands for the whole church, male and female.

12. In 1 Timothy 2:13-14 (Later or Deutero-) Paul argues in support of his ruling that a woman is to be silent in church that (a) "Adam was formed first, then Eve" (i.e. shades of 1 Corinthians 11's approach to male headship over females), and (b) "Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" which is a curious if not obscure argument in the light (c) Romans 5:12-21 (where sin enters the world through Adam) and (d) 2 Corinthians 11:1-3 (where Eve is the counterpart to the whole church when it is prone to being deceived and not solely reponsible for the faults and frailties of women generally).

13. Then, in 1 Timothy 2:15 a way forward is offered for women in respect of their salvation which seems oscurely at odds with Paul's emphasis on salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The NRSV reads, "Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty." This version nicely captures the ambiguity of the reference to childbearing: does it mean "saved through the risk and danger of giving birth to a child" or "saved via the bearing of children (e.g. as a fulfilment of the destiny of women, as a faithful discharge of the primary role of women)"? It is also faithful in translating the Greek which begins with a single woman and ends with women plural.

14. Again, with specific reference to 1 Timothy 2:11-15, the question arises whether we are being given a permanent, universal ruling against women speaking in church and/or exercising responsible authority, applicable in all contexts and all generations? If we are, it is a ruling underpinned by arguments which are difficult to uphold - for example, that women should be silent in church, not teach and not exercise authority over a man/husband because of inherent proneness to deceit.

15. What is the way forward here? I suggest a couple of recognitions we can and should make.

16. First, across all such passages as discussed above, and if we also include 1 Peter 3:1-7, we find nothing particularly surprising in the sense that, in the context of the times, we would expect to find material setting out relations between men and women in a manner which assumes the primary authority of men/husbands and the consequential expectation of submission to that authority by women/wives. 

17. We could scarcely expect documents from the Graeco-Roman-Judeo world of the first century AD to second guess  first, second or third wave feminism of the 20th and 21st centuries! (It is not as though in New Testament writings in respect of slavery that we find language which anticipates 19th century American and British arguments against slavery and for the emancipation of slaves.)

18. Secondly, what is important, then, in respect of what we find in the New Testament are the hints and clues and seeds of a new way of looking at relations between men and women. A way, we perhaps could say, that looks out from the present order of relations between men and women to a new situation which flows from a new appreciation of men and women being utterly and completely human, so that Genesis 1:27-28 flows into Gal 3:28; and Galatians 3:28, at least prior to some disruptions in church meetings, is evidenced as being lived out in the mutual ministries of Paul and Phoebe, Paul and Lydia, Paul, Euodia and Syndeche, Priscilla and Aquila, Junia and Andronicus among the apostles and being expressed in Paul's language about men and women such as:

"Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman" (1 Corinthians 11:11)

"Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21 which frames the subsequent exposition of wives being subject to husbands, husbands being heads of wives, and husbands loving their wives just as Christ loved the church).

19. There is a similarity here between what the NT says about men relating to women in the contexts of the day while opening up a new way of looking at relations between men and women and what the NT says about slavery (i.e. not directly challenging it as an institution of society and economy) while opening up a new way of looking at humanity (notably in Galatians 3:28) such that there can no longer be masters and slaves, all should be free and treated equally by one another.

20. Is there an NT reason for thinking that we might, today, view relations between men and women differently to Graeco-Roman-Judeo times? I think so. We read in Titus ... 2:3-5a, which sets out the way a woman should live, including "being submissive to their husbands", that the Later or Deutero-Pauline writer gives as a reason "so that the word of God may not be discredited" (5b). The Christian movement, the early churches, did not want to be seen as upsetting the accepted social order lest such upset brought discredit on the Christian message. 

Today, we can ask the same question about teaching about headship which goes against the accepted social order of orderly marriages and family households today: it brings discredit to the Christian message - a message whose primary concern is not how men and women relate to each other in a particular hierarchical order.

20. We can also - of course - dig deep into NT material about Priscilla, Phoebe, Lydia, female prophets and so forth, and determine that women in the early church did not fit neatly into a "women must be silent, must not teach, must not lead, should focus on home-making and child-rearing" model beloved of some churches today. (As, indeed, women have not neatly fitted through church history.)

21. Yet, when Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 or Paul (or Later Paul or Deutero-Paul) in Ephesians 5 write about headship, connecting God/Christ and man/woman and/or husband/wife, a theology is being articulated which (whatever we then determine about what it means for life in home, community, workplace, classroom, church meetings and worship services) which cannot simply be excised from Christian consciousness.

22. How then do we teach/discuss/ruminate upon "headship" in an era fraught with risk to discourse (cancellation of participants, weaponization of tropes and memes, etc)?

23. And, noting current discourse which tends to smooth over difference between sexes (noting, most up to datedly, a UK Methodist decision to approve same sex marriages in churches), what is the relationship between teaching about headship and teaching about humanity, male and female God made us?

24. Yet, whatever we might think headship means, in Pauline thought, headship is always connected to God's relationship to Christ and Christ's relationship to God.

25. So, finally for now, what does it mean to think about "headship" in a Trinitarian mode of thinking about relations in communion: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; husband and wife as one flesh; male and female in one body of Christ bound together by one Spirit?

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Challenge of the Old Testament; reasons for being Anglican

I haven't made the progress I would have liked on a slow writing post so here are a couple of articles that have caught my eye this past week:

On the challenges of the Old Testament.

On reasons for being Anglican

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Perturbations, Mark 4:35-41, digging deep, trusting Tories

So, this week, the perturbations in the Christian global body include:

A lurch towards moderation

The Southern Baptist Convention cast a vote towards a modest amount of action on sexual abuse within their denomination (in the face of strident conservatives known as Pirates - let's take our church back - not wanting this to happen).

A (fairly well advance signalled) lurch towards (or reaffirmation of) conservatism

US Catholic bishops begin process which could lead to (e.g.) Joe Biden being refused communion. And simultaneously fired up the rumbling blaze between "conservative" and "liberal" Catholics in the US and beyond.

An apology from a Primate about a bishop's poor social media form in another Anglican province

Yes, The Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, has apologised for the actions of an "untrusting" Church of Wales bishop. (Her actions certainly needed an apology, but the ABC contributing an apology is somewhat bemusing).

Is there a link between Christian teaching on the subordination of women and domestic abuse of Christian wives?

Not far from here, just across the Ditch, a survey has highlighted a disproportionately high number of Anglicans, relative to the general population, experiencing domestic violence (here). Julia Baird is the leading journalist (as far as I can tell) on these matters. Six years ago she raised the question whether teaching on headship was a contributory factor to domestic violence in some Christian households (here). Six days ago, Jane, a former wife of an Anglican minister and domestic violence survivor writes in a more personal vein of her experience of hearing such teaching. She specifically questions the emphasis placed on such teaching in the Diocese of Sydney (here).

Today's gospel (as I begin writing this post) is Mark 4:35-41, the Stilling of the Storm, one reading of which is that the boat is the church, the storm is the perturbations which threaten the church as it sails through time and on the lake of the world, and the cry to Jesus to wake up highlights both the presence of Jesus in our midst and our lack of confidence in his care of the church.

We could have endless, nuanced discussions about each of these perturbations (for a brief example, note comments in the thread to the post below this re Biden. communion and abortion).

But each perturbation raises a simple question, what is the truth of the matter at hand?

This is my supplementary question: am I (are you) willing to dig deep into the matter so we do not stop at some convenient point and declare we have the truth already?

If there is - arguably - one connecting point for most of the perturbations above then it is that we reach a point of convenience when we declare that teaching X = mark of  Christian tribal identity. That rather shuts down further questing for the truth because we are combining the question of whether X is true with the question of who is in or out of our Christian tribe.

I want to come back to one matter in a forthcoming post, about "headship" teaching re men and women.

OK, the question of connection between communion and commitment to doctrine is also interesting so that might come up too.

Meantime, let's remember that Tories can be trusted. They are not all untrustworthy. The untrustworthy ones dominate the headlines but aren't the majority!

And to all bishops Tweeting out there, take care :)




Sunday, June 13, 2021

The outside God who works inside all our constructions of church and theology

The post below may not grab you so it may be enough to steer you towards this perceptive review of a pertinent book about a papal theologian.

Included in the review is this phrase,

"God's revelation comes to us from outside of us",

which, in the context of a review of a book by Protestant theologians evaluating and engaging the theology of Benedict XVI, reminds us that God is outside of us in all ways, not only as revealer, and thus all experience of God at work within each of our constructions of church and theology represents gracious choice on the part of God to be with us, to support us, to enable us to become what God intends us to be, even though I within my church or theology may think you in yours are quite wrong!

Put more simply: it is possible (in fact I am certain of it), that God is at work among all churches, no matter how they view each other's theologies and practices.

That does mean, of course, that I in my ecclesial corner and you in yours should take care not to leap from "God is answering our prayers" to "God is on our side (and not on yours)."

How is God at work in the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch?

That question sits alongside a very personal question for me in my role as bishop: How would I like God to be at work in the Diocese of Christchurch? (By which question I mean, Here is my list of problems I would rather like solved by tomorrow!!).

How is God at work in the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch?

One of the matters I have seen God at work in, and have expectations in faith that God will continue to work in, is the matter of supply of leaders for our ministry and mission.

We currently have two vacancies and some more are in the pipeline of the next six to twelve to eighteen months.

Sometimes I can "see" the resolution of a vacancy and sometimes I cannot. Cue a reminder that faith is part of the role:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

It is an awesome thing to experience God at work - the outside God's gracious choosing to be inside the life of the church - God with us - Immanuel.

There are many other matters for which we need a divine response when human possibilities seem exhausted. It is scary and exhilarating to be called to have the faith which the writer to the Hebrews talks about!



Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Scripture works on diversity in unity, does orthodox Anglicanism?

This week I am following on from last week’s post, where I draw attention to John’s theological work in John 3:15-18, as he uses literary skill in those verses, as well as his facility with Greek to develop what he sees as the truth about Jesus. 

Thus, whether these verses are the end of Jesus’ own conversation with Nicodemus, or John’s commentary on what Jesus has been saying to Nicodemus, we find something which is both critical to our understanding of Jesus and distinctive (compared to, say, Matthew, Mark, Luke or Paul when they share through their writings their own distinctive understanding of Jesus).

What John writes about Jesus is different to what any other writer in the New Testament writes. What John writes about God's love for the world and about what God seeks from the world, "believe", is different to what any other writer in the New Testament writes. There is diversity in the New Testament.

The New Testament is united in its focus on Jesus Christ. It is bound together by Christ. No other figure - man, woman, apostle, politician, angel, figure from Israel’s past - comes even close to Christ as the single, undivided object of the New Testament writings’ devotion, commitment and worship. The unity of the New Testament is Jesus Christ. 

Yet this unity is unity-in-diversity as we read four different gospels, five if we allow that Paul’s writings constitute a fifth gospel, as well as the insights and disclosure of James, Peter, Jude, the anonymous writer to the Hebrews, and John the seer of Revelation.

Put another way, the church accepting through the first centuries that a particular set of writings bore the mark of authenticity and authority as accounts of Jesus and the earliest understanding of Jesus and then, finally, determining the canon or rule that this set and no other writings constituted the New Testament, pulled off an amazing feat. That feat was publishing a diversified account of Christ which was and is also utterly unified. There is one Christ in the New Testament but many insights into that Christ.

The New Testament (indeed the whole of Holy Scripture but it is a longer account to bring the Old Testament into this post) gives permission for the church of Christ to live out this phenomenon of unity-in-diversity. Indeed, diversity in the New Testament is reflective of different churches across the Mediterranean world and their distinct interests in the reality of Jesus Christ and how his teaching and example of life were to be lived out by his followers.

A regret I have - I do not think I am alone - is that some particular theology within the Anglican Communion in recent decades seems loathe to allow that there might be diversity of thought within the Communion between Anglicans who love our Lord, that there could be on some matters a “good disagreement”, and that our unity (our Communion) might be in Christ and not in monochromatic thinking on matters which are secondary to our belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (to summarise the Creeds).

This is not to say that there should not be criticism of what Anglicans say and think. I am myself quite critical of quite a bit of what I read across the Anglosphere most weeks. Anglicans are as capable of saying naff things as any other kind of Christian. And by "naff" I mean things that I, at least, cannot agree with because I cannot see the reasonable case within Scripture and tradition for the argument being made. As, indeed, various commenters here - quite regularly!! - do not agree with me.

But is the criticism going to be grounded in acceptance that diversity of thought within the Anglican Communion is permissible or grounded in determination to dismiss those who think differently? A recent book, The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism (edited by Gerald R. McDermott, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020) is full of good things and a range of essays from a diverse set of Anglican thinkers. It acknowledges, for instance, the possibility that Anglicanism can diversely include Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals. But strikingly it cannot envisage, none of the Anglican contributors can envisage the possibility of being orthodox yet thinking diversely about homosexuality! Any such difference in thinking (that is, difference in appreciating what Scripture teaches, or in what science tells us) is dismissed.

By contrast, another recent book, The God of the Old Testament: Encountering the Divine in Christian Scripture by R.W.L. Moberley (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2020), offers this account of the challenge of understanding Scripture according to the many contexts in which each reader/interpreter stands. After distinguishing five different contexts within which biblical content is heard (origin, canon, Judaism, Christianity, historic and contemporary cultures), Moberley writes:

"In general terms, however, the question of how best to do justice to and appropriately interrelate all these contexts is probably the greatest and, as yet, least-worked-out challenge facing those who would interpret Israel's scriptures as Christian Scripture. It should be clear that there will never be just one way of doing it." [p. 8].

In particular, Moberley goes on to observe that in the perennial debate between authorial intention and reader response (here, "text-hermeneutic and reader-hermeneutic"),

"A text-hermeneutic considers the semantic potential of the words of the text and recognises that they may be open to more than one valid construal, according to context. A reader-hermeneutic recognizes the importance of the context of the reader: the particular pre-understandings and knowledge oand interests and questions that an interpreter brings to bear, all of which make for a difference in reading. Thus, the exercise of a text- and reader-hermeneutic is integral to reading as Scripture." [p. 9].

Is it possible that Anglicans, whether describing themselves as "orthodox" or otherwise, taking to heart what Moberley says, might be more alert to the inevitability of diversity within our Anglican ranks?

And in that alertness, might there be greater empathy with those whose views are disagreeable? 



Sunday, May 30, 2021

Trinitarian revelation ... about John's Gospel's brilliant literary skill

So, working on my sermon for Trinity Sunday and having a look at John 3:1-17, with special attention to verses 16 and 17, I noticed in the Greek some interesting parallelism, which I will try to capture in English (adjusted to reflect the underlying Greek so as to highlight preciseness of parallels). 

We start first with a set of parallels which includes v. 15.

1. Parallel concerning the ones believing in Christ.

Verse 15 is: "in order that everyone believing in him might have life eternal."

Verse 16 includes: "in order that everyone believing in him might not perish but might have life eternal."

2. Parallel concerning God's action on or to the Son:

Verse 16:  God ... the son the only gave

Verse 17: Not for sent God the son

In each case the world (see below) is in view as the reason why God "gives" the only Son and why God "sends" the son. 

We deduce that in both verses John is reporting something similar: for the sake of the world God involves the Son (via theologically weighted words, "gave" and "sent") in the salvation of the world.

The theological weight on "gave" includes Abraham being willing to give his only son as a sacrifice (Genesis 22), Mark's report of Jesus talking about giving his life as a ransom (Mark 10:45), and Paul's reference to God not withholding "his own Son, but gave him up for all of us" (Romans 8:32). And for "sent" we can read the whole of John's Gospel as a story of God's agency: Jesus sent to the world, Jesus coming into the world in order to reveal, to bring abundant life via signs and speeches, and, ultimately, to save the world through taking away the sins of the world.

The next observation is less about a parallel and more about 

3. development of God's attitude and action in respect of the world:

Verse 16: ... for loved God the world

Verse 17: not for sent God the son into the world in  order that might be judged the world but in order that might be saved the world through him.

Note there is a parallel between God's actions: loved ... the world, sent ... into the world. God's love acts, and God's acting is loving.

(We might additionally note that in verse 18 the theme of "judge(d)" is developed in relation to "believe" and also "only son":

Verse 18: The one believing in him is not judged but the one not believing has been already judged, because he has not believed in the name of the only son of God.)

As John reports Jesus' (Aramaic) discourse in Greek, John works his literary magic to emphasise and develop themes such as believing, world, and judging, in relation to God's love for the world - a love which both "gave" and "sent" the son.

John uses parallelism, repetition (of individual words, of phrases, of themes expressed previously) to underscore the importance of God's initiative out of love for the world and the appropriate response of believing in the son.

John the theologian is not only transmitting the teaching of Jesus, he is transforming it when translating it in order to convey the key messages he sees at the heart of the gospel, a "seeing" which he credits to the Spirit of Truth working in the disciples of Jesus after the exaltation of Jesus in order to develop the fullness of the meaning of Jesus' teaching (so John 14-16).