Monday, March 29, 2021

Good Friday is coming, so we need to discuss the wrath of God (!?)

 A few times previously on this blog I have discussed the matter of "the wrath of God" (and sometimes linking that discussion to that widely sung modern favourite In Christ Alone with its much debated line "the wrath of God was satisfied").

I have noticed in the intervening years that the wrath of God is not something we can pretend is not a scriptural "thing" - the Old Testament has a lot about God's wrath. When the NT says something about God's wrath, it is not a de novo concept.

Moreover, just yesterday, preparing a message for a service in Holy Week, I was looking at verses which help us to make sense of Jesus' dying on a cross - that is, theological sense of what God was up to in Christ. An obvious treasure trove of verses is Romans 5. Let's reproduce the first 11 verses from the NRSV:

"5.1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access[b] to this grace in which we stand; and we[c] boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we[d] also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.[e] 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

So, in 21st century terms, we have "nice" verses such as verses 1, 6, 8 and 10.

But we also have verse 9!

"Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God."

(Note the Greek says, "the wrath" rather than "the wrath of God" but "the wrath" here is surely God's wrath and not the wrath of any other being.) 

Why did God love us so Christ died for us (verse 8)?

To save us from the wrath of God.

It is increasingly difficult to talk about the wrath of God because a godly wrath we need saving from implies we have done something to deserve wrath rather than love - that God sees us first as sinners needing salvation and not as saved people needing assurance that we are loved by God.

In our crazy world today the starting point for many people is that we are good.

Sure, there is a lot of finger pointing going on against a bunch of people (including stale pale males like me! ... and, Kiwi horror du jour, I own more than one house), and no doubt the human wrath against today's malefactors has some chance of conceiving that God is wrathful against racists, misogynists etc.

But those who point fingers today (and those who stoutly resist the notion that "I/we have done anything wrong") generally assume the mode of being "righteous". Neither human wrath nor divine wrath is deserved by us.

God loves us because we are lovely and deserve nothing less than all God's favour all the time.

It is quite a bit of work, in these times, to develop an understanding that we are all fallen short of God's standards, that none of us has been perfectly just and that a bunch of things about the way we live incures God's disapproval and not approval.

Can we truly credit the wonder and glory of Christ's "finished" achievement on the cross if we do not consider that on the cross God's wrath against us was, in some expiatory or even propitiatory way, turned aside (if not satisfied!).

In simple terms, we all deserve X but Christ received X in our place and so we are now blessed to receive the opposite of X.


Monday, March 22, 2021

Conjunction of secular and sacred in Kiwi custom

I started primary school at the age of 5 at Hororata School. Hororata is a rural district about 30 minutes drive from from the western edge of Christchurch city. The school began in 1870 and so its 150th jubilee was in 2020. Celebrations were planned for March 2020 but Covid-19 put paid to that. So the celebrations were held over this past weekend.

It is something of a custom in NZ school jubilees which last across a whole weekend for a Sunday morning church service to be part of the programme even though our state school system is secular.

A service was part of the weekend's programme. The service was held at the school, led by the Reverend Jenni Carter, Vicar of Hororata, with the sermon preached by me. The scripture reading was John 1:1-14. Below is a shortened version of what I said.

Hororata 150th School Jubilee (21 March 2021)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.


I am Peter Carrell. My early upbringing was in Hororata because my father, Brian was Vicar of Hororata from 1960-1965.

Hororata has a special place in my heart and I have many memories, despite being very young, of life in this beautiful district.

I started school at Hororata School when I turned 5 in the middle of November 1964.

I remember being worried before I started that I didn’t have a school bag – in those days, a leather satchell with a shoulder strap.

My Mum assured me it would be fine but I couldn’t see where it was and there were no trips planned into Christchurch shops.

Nor did I have the ability to foresee that it was all arranged that it would be a birthday present for me and thus be ready for day one at school.

We lived in the old vicarage opposite St John’s so the trip to school involved catching the school bus.

I don’t remember lots about my two and a half terms at Hororata School but I remember that we learned some things which didn’t involve reading, writing and arithmetic.

One of those was to tie our shoelaces for ourselves. Another was learning how to knit.

There was also something that happened when I was at Hororata School which has affected the way I have lived ever since.

Back in that day the government ensured that there was free milk for every pupil. So daily a delivery of half pint bottles of milk would arrive and at morning break we had to drink our bottle.

But the delivery would be placed – as I recall – on the main school building porch and if the sun was shining the milk would get warmed up.

I found warm milk was revolting and to this day I can only drink milk if it is fresh and from the fridge!

Hororata School like all schools was and is a place of learning.

Last night [at a dinner] Shaun Clarke spoke eloquently of the values learnt at Hororata School –

-        values which serve ex pupils well as we make our way through life

-          and values that from a global perspective should not be taken for granted.

But where do these values come from –

-          values which, for example, value human life and value humans working together for the common good?

A British historian, Tom Holland, in a recent book called Dominion, mounts an impressive case that the values we admire and propagate through our secular school system are the result of Christianity.

That is, if Christianity never started as a movement and became a dominant force in European politics and culture, the values of the world, including in Aotearoa NZ, would be very different.

In the Scripture reading this morning, as St John introduces his readers to his presentation of Jesus and characterises him as the Word – as the supreme communication of God into the world – we heard these words:

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

Tom Holland’s book Dominion presents the case for these words being historically true: the influence of Jesus  through the Christian movement he founded has extended to the whole world.

It is something of a custom in Aotearoa NZ to have a church service as part of a secular school jubilee weekend.

Perhaps the most important reason for doing so is that a jubilee is an occasion for giving thanks and a church service is a means of expressing that thanksgiving –

-          appreciation for all the good that flows from the presence of a school in a community;

-          appreciation for all the benefits of education in our lives as pupils and ex pupils.

But a service such as this service today is also an opportunity to reflect on the future of school, of community and of society as a whole.

My question for that future is how long we can maintain our commitment to the values we cherish if we have no connection to the origin of those values, to Jesus Christ the true light of God.

May God through the light of Jesus bless Hororata School in its journey through the next 150 years.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Is there an Anglican future for Anglicans?

The past couple of posts have focused on some aspects of being Anglican in the world today which are institutional: a House of Bishops' statement, a counter statement, an Archieposcopal response to the counter statement, a critique by an Archbishop and a condemnation of that critique by another Archbishop.

Here I want to focus our attention on being Anglican and the future of being Anglican in respect of what Anglicans are doing on the ground, with or without episcopal or archiepiscopal guidance and direction.

There may or may not be any special insight attached to the ontology of episcopacy but a function of episcopacy is to experience Anglican life as lived by Anglicans across the many ministry units of a diocese (with some wider experiences from time to time via travel to other dioceses).

What I see as I travel around is that there is a range to being Anglican. For instance, liturgically speaking:

There are sticking pretty much wholly to our NZPB services Anglicans.

There are mixed services Anglicans (one service sticks close to NZPB, the other does not).

There are strongly influenced by NZPB services Anglicans.

There are exploring new ways of worshipping God Anglicans.

Or, put another way, and noting a couple of recent posts by Bosco Peters (here and here), there are Anglicans who value the principle of "common prayer" and engage liturgically accordingly, and there are Anglicans who do not value the principle of common prayer, for example, because they value something else more highly, such as local adapation to a particular context leading to a liturgy which is fit for that local purpose but not especially coherent with "common prayer" across the wider church.

It's all Anglican because Anglicans are doing these things.

But in the messiness of much diversity, there lies the question, what will continue and what will discontinue?

The English Reformation gave rise to the 1549 and 1552 prayer books, then to Mary's reactive reign, then to Elizabeth's progressive-towards-reformed-but-not-extremist Anglicanism, all which developments settled, post Elizabeth with the 1611 King James Bible and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and long they reigned over us, into the 20th century.

We may never, of course, settle again on one version of the Bible and one prayer book. But it is a fair question, I suggest, to ask what currently diversified Anglicanism is going to become? Assuming we are evolving, are we merely improving the species or going to generate a new species?

That is, should any younger readers here be alive in 2100, what will the Anglican liturgy which buries you have become? What will the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia have evolved to?

Here I resist the temptation to predict. I observe only this, I don't think we are going to see a movement which wants to take us back to a "clasic Anglicanism" whether that is say 1950s Anglicanism (all the great hymns, 1662 BCP and some use of 1928 PB) or 1989 Anglicanism (i.e. full switch over to the NZPB published in 1989).

We are going to become something and it may be something which bears a strong or a weak resemblance to our experience of Anglicanism in 2021.

That is, according to our understanding of "Anglican" today (acknowledging all disputes and arguments), we may not think the future of Anglicanism in these islands is actually "Anglican".

Though it might be. The Holy Spirit is involved in the evolution.

Yes, yes, I know that statistically speaking there may be no ACANZP in existence in 2100. I am hopeful, contra stats!

Monday, March 8, 2021

Our Communion's future: colonialism, context and controversy

 The Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria, the Most Reverend Henry C Ndukuba, issued a statement on Friday 26 February 2021 which referred to “the deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality”. The statement goes on to use phrases like, “[homosexuality] is likened to a Yeast that should be urgently and radically expunged and excised lest it affects the whole dough”. It also states that “secular governments are adopting aggressive campaign for global homosexual culture.” (sic)

I completely disagree with and condemn this language. It is unacceptable. It dehumanises those human beings of whom the statement speaks.

I am with the Archbishop of Canterbury when he speaks firmly and clearly in respect of ++Ndukuba, Primate of Nigeria's recent condemnatory statement agains both homosexuality and ACNA's "toleration" of it - see post below this.

But a thread of comments to a Thinking Anglicans post on the statement - see here - poses some challenging questions about our Communion's life as a global fellowship of Anglicans confessing some kind of intent to be Anglican.

Within the TA comments is reference to another thread of comments re the ++Welby statement, on ++Welby's Facebook page, in which Nigerians comment thus: (in my words):

- ++Welby should not tell Nigerian Anglicans what to do, that's straight up British colonialism, again.

- doubling down on the ++Ndukuba condemnation of homosexuality and toleration of it.

Then - back to the TA thread - there are comments to the effect of "the Anglican Communion's hardly a Communion, is it?"

All a bit Anglicanly depressing!

There is a kind of thread through such commentary towards a better future for the Communion, though the required will to find the thread would need to also be found if the future is to be better.

That thread would be:

- acceptance that the role of the ABC in respect of the Communion is to speak and such speaking is not to be dismissed as a renewal of colonialism;

- acceptance that the Communion includes many contexts and those contexts (whether we like it or not, agree or not) make a difference to how we approach, discuss and locally determine some matters;

- acceptance that on matters of controversy within the Communion, the path to Communion-wide agreement is only through the Communion's structures (e.g. the role of the ABC, the Primates, Lambeth and ACC) and through respectful conversation with and within those structural means for meeting together.

Is it unrealistic to propose that the Anglican Communion's future lies precisely in a regathering of Anglican provinces which commit to being a communion undergirded by the three acceptances above?

Monday, March 1, 2021

I didn't see that coming, did you? [Updated x2]

++CANTERBURY RESPONDS TO ++NIGERIA: ++Justin speaks clearly and firmly.

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.