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!