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!


Anonymous said...

I am not sure either slavery or women are a good illustration. Christianity ended slavery in Europe long before it got reintroduced in the New World. "neither slve nor free" and think of Philemon.

It also liberated women - think of the prophetesses in Paul's writing, or "neither male nor female" - but even more think of the "one man, one wife" which totally changed the balance of power for women, lifting the age of marriage and leading to wives being valued for more than their looks as early as the second century.

Yes, as with slavery the forces of darkness - or as the Bible might describe them, the evil in the hearts of humans, reintroduced both of these, but it is not, as your blog post argues thoughts that were new and which had no basis in the Bible.

Unknown said...

Persons of high emotional intelligence (aka wisdom) are able to find the least bad paths through complex, uncertain, important matters. They may disagree. But their worst ideas still have a better chance of being useful than any proposed by persons who cannot process complex reality or threats to the ego (aka folly).

So an obvious start is to ignore foolish voices. Tuning out those who can't be helpful allows one to listen more closely to a usually small number of those who might be.

But even these may still disagree. How do we then know the wisest voices from the merely insightful ones?

Jesus is our criterion. Both his teachings and his life and work exhibit emotional intelligence of the highest order. Those who have read, marked, learnt, and inwardly digested Jesus are our best torches in the dark.


Peter Carrell said...

Dear What is your name? Please supply a name - that is policy here,

I think you over simplify Scripture’s role in the liberation of women … Galatians 3:28 is difficult to square with 1 Tim 2:11-15 and both are by the same writer and written within a few decades of each other.

Ditto Scripture and slavery, which seems, even on your account, to be an ongoing feature of the Christian world for a long time. Those New World slaves were traded by European (British especially?) investors.

Father Ron said...

"May Christianity engage with novelty? "

I love this invitation to comment, Bishop Peter, especially in the light of "Behold, I am doing a new thing". And then, of course, there is the shock that was brought into the world of Judaic religion when Jesus spoke of a 'New Covenant, not like the one that was given to your ancestors". There was a great to-do when the Sanhedrin discovered that the ordinary rank and file were accepting Jesus to be the promised Messiah: "Let us kill him!" But God is not mocked! Jesus went on with his mission of redemption despite them.

It would seem that God Almighty, when He sees His children behaving in ways that deny common justice for everyone; sends His Spirit constantly into our world to motivate us to alter our perspective on what it might be to please God in the here and now of our everyday lives. (What a wonderful spiritual energy was released into the Church Catholic under the influence of JOHN XX111! And now the conservatives are doing their best to revert!)

I wonder how the male apostles reacted to Mary Magdalene's commissioned message to them that the Lord was risen from the dead? Were they shocked at her presumption that Jesus had actually sent (apostello) her, a women, to tell them (the men) what He was up to?

I love the idea of Pope John XX111 shocking the Cardinals with his determination to convoke the revolutionary meeting of the world's bishops at Vatican11!. Were they all in agreement. I doubt it very much. Even today, in Catholic News sources (see CathNewsNZ) there is talk of rebellion in certain parts of the Catholic world (especially from Trump-supporters in the USA) at the thought of Pope Francis fending off possible schismatic activity by limiting the celebration of the Latin Mass - and, of course, the Pope's call for a less centralised authoritarian Vatican-centred governance by introducing local synodality.
The oddity here is that the very people who ought to be looking to Rome and the Pope for direction have now decided to take matters into their own hands!

(Intriguingly, it has just been announced that retired Bishop Dennis Brown, will be ordaining a Tridentine priest and a deacon here in New Zealand for the Australian Catholic Church shortly - because of the closure of the travel bubble between here and Australia!)

I do love the biblical invitation to 'Bring out your treasures, old and new' - an indication of God's intention of holding together the 'Faith once delivered to the Saints, with the injunction for 'semper reformanda', as recommended by Good Pope John XX111.

And then, of course, we have this bit of Wisdom: "There is nothing new under the sun...". God, indeed, moves in mysterious ways (His) wisdom to perform! Eternity belongs to God.

Unknown said...

When temperamental conservatives oppose changes, they do not persuade us because we know that opposing is simply what they like to do. Reality has little-- often nothing at all-- to do with their ferocity.

When temperamental liberals rejoice in disruption, we are not persuaded to break windows with them, because we doubt that they have thought about replacing them. Again, souls of a temperament resonate with each other, not the facts of the world that is the case.

Some people are suckers for one blind impulse, others for the other. They are not bad people-- perhaps God made them so; perhaps, like opposing muscles, a society needs both to move itself.

But they are not credible people, let alone wise ones. We only believe either when they speak up against the grain of their temperament.

"The world was perfect the day I was born. Every change since then has been for the worse. So I normally oppose changing anything at all. But this proposal is different."

That is interesting.

"We were all born in chains. So many chains, such heavy chains! We will never break them all, but I normally want to break all I can. This chain, however, is not like the others."

That too is interesting.

Nevertheless, life in Christ is beyond these crude temperaments.


Unknown said...

From time to time, + Peter writes about novelty and progress. In that way, this OP is one of an occasional series.

If we indiscriminately take everyone at her word, then we believe that what we hear those with conservative or liberal temperaments saying is about something real. And we take it seriously.

But, of course, I don't. Polarised minds are at best immature in the Lord. Wisdom is higher where it is integrative like the Christ of Colossians 1. So I do not take the opinions of happy warriors very seriously at all.

Interestingly, if they were psychotic, the two bickering temperaments would only accidentally talk about the same things. But very often their disagreements are clearly about the same things. Why?

Often, what seems to be a disagreement about something NEW!!! is really about whether the gravitas of the Way is in the Body or out in the world someplace. If it is in the Body, then the kaleidoscope of the world of changes is interesting, maybe, but not finally important to a soul hidden with Christ in God. But if that gravitas is instead out in the world, then being a Christian is having your soul chained to the emergent needs of some godless machine.

It is my duty to report that the question is open, and that neither side lacks erudite and eloquent advocates. Still, I have always thought that Mary of Bethany chose more wisely than Martha, let alone Judas Iscariot


For all we know, the best Anglicans-- maybe the best Christians-- are in places like Egypt or western Iran or southern India where they have no possibility whatsoever of power or influence in their societies. Like the similarly weak apostles, they may still be lamps on stands, cities on hills.

Conversely, evangelical leaders here up yonder have at times had great influence. But few now think that this has brought them closer to God.


Unknown said...

An evangelical friend of mine insists that one is not in Christ if one is *woke*.

To me, that's odd. Wokesters believe that, through cultural and social habits, old injustices endure to the present day. Believing in God rather than in Progress, I would be startled if this were not true. If the cross is archetypal for all time, then our time too has its complicity with the dark powers.

But I understand what she is trying to say. Wokesters don't just believe that a dog in the street is dead because we ran over him in a car. They believe that, if only we will back up the car straight over the remains, the pet will spring up from death to life.

Nevertheless, opposing old evils does not birth new goods.


Peter Carrell said...

I agree, Bowman, that “woke” should not be dismissed out of hand (tempting though that is) because there is a question of justice to be answered (and “cancellation” may be a form of retributive justice, well deserved, albeit lacking in a sign of mercy and a way for redemption to occur and restoration to society to be achieved).

Also that, whether X is “new” or not, being in Christ is about our response to X together in Christ and not solely about what “I” or “we” discern to be the Spirit’s voice to the church today.