Monday, September 26, 2022

Thanksgiving for our Late Queen

A pause in the continuing posts about aspects of current Anglicanism ... back next week with a fascinating set of to and fro re ... our neighbouring diocese!

So, our Queen - the Sovereign of New Zealand as well as of the United Kingdom - died on 9 September 2022. Today (Monday 26 September) we have a national memorial service at 2 pm in Wellington Cathedral. Yesterday, at 5 pm we had a Christchurch civic thanksgiving service, well reported in our local paper here.

The full text of my sermon is reproduced here:

Sermon on the Occasion of the Christchurch Civic Service of Thanksgiving for the Late Queen Elizabeth (25 September 2022)

READINGS: Psalm 23; Ecclesiastes 3:1-14; John 10:11-16

Opening Prayer:

Gracious God, may we this night be illuminated by the light of the same Christ who our Late Queen Elizabeth followed so faithfully. Amen.

Introduction:

I never met the Queen, so I was somewhat surprised on the morning her death was announced and in subsequent days to find myself in a state of grief.

Something was lost from my life and I had not expected to grieved by that loss.

As best I can tell, I have not been alone in this experience.

Since Queen Elizabeth died, 16 days ago, many, many things have been written and said about her.

Some of what has been articulated helps us make sense of the experience of grieving for the loss of someone we may never have met.

For example, Ben Okri, British poet and novelist, writing inthe Guardian, said,

“[Queen Elizabeth II] hovers there in the halfway world of dream. A long constant presence in the life of a people has that effect. Her iconography has penetrated the subconscious of the land and many lands. It is perhaps why she felt at once so forbidding, so familiar and so intimate, as if in beholding her you encounter something more than a person or a monarch. It may be one of the greatest secrets of royalty, that they have made themselves, through the intimate art of portraiture, into figures so familiar that they seem to be a part of the furniture of your psyche. And yet they are so remote.

Ben is putting his insightful finger on something in that paragraph: a remote person who is nevertheless familiar, a long constant presence in the life of people, someone whose penetration of our subconscious means we feel we knew her, and she knew us.

Our grief is all too real because the mystery of monarchy is that we feel the Queen has shared our lives with intimacy and familiarity, and now the lives we live are diminished by her departure in death.

Thanksgiving

Tonight, we are gathered here in Christchurch not only to mourn the loss of our Queen, but also to give thanks for the life she has lived and the conduct of her rule as our Sovereign.

To slightly rephrase something from our Ecclesiastes reading, this is both a “time to mourn” and also a “time to heal” by focusing thankfully on all that has blessed us through the Queen’s reign.

As we give thanks for the Queen’s life and rule, we also remember with appreciation her visits to our city and to our region.

Perhaps the happiest of her ten visits to our city and region was the 1974 visit when the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne were here for the Commonwealth Games.

I suggest we can thank God for three characteristics of the Queen’s life and reign:

Service before self

There was never any question with the Queen that she put service before self. Her adult life was committed, from a public broadcast when she was just 21 and not yet Queen, to the service of the realms over which she was destined to be Sovereign.

Amazingly, it turned out that the Queen died only a short while after performing one last act of service for the United Kingdom, at the age of 96, ushering in a new Prime Minister, Liz Truss.

She was working to the end, service being placed before self. For that we give thanks.

Words Archbishop Justin Welby said at the Queen’s funeral last Monday bear repeating as we reflect on the Queen’s service as a kind and benevolent leader:

People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are still rarer. But in all cases those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privileges are long forgotten.

A second outstanding reason for giving thanks to God for the Queen is this: the Queen exhibited

Faithful duty grounded in faith

 

++Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York said this in a sermon two days after the Queen died:

 

“And where did this come from? This way of being a monarch that was more about service than rule?

 

At her Coronation, …, in perhaps one of the most poignant moments of the service, she steadfastly walked past the throne upon which she would sit and knelt at the altar, giving her allegiance to God before anyone else gave their allegiance to her.”

 

This sense of the faithful duty of the Queen being grounded in faith in Jesus Christ is further probed by ++Rowan Williams, when he recently wrote about that part of the coronation service in which the Queen was anointedwith oil by the then Archbishop of Canterbury:

And this is what the royal anointing means at its most important level—a gift of the Holy Spirit to hold a fragile human person in faithfulness to this place where community can gather for restoration and renewal. There is no doubt at all that this was exactly what Queen Elizabeth believed about her role. It was a vocation for which she had been blessed and graced, and the anointing was at the heart of it.

Whatever we make of the role Christian faith played in the life of the Queen,

whether we personally identify with that faith or simply acknowledge and respect it, as many religious leaders of other faiths have done,

we can be thankful that the duties performed faithfully by the Queen, every day of her reign, flowed out of a deep conviction that hers was a divine calling and that she was accountable to God for how she fulfilled that calling.

Finally, we can also be thankful for the Queen’s

Aura imbued with aroha.

In an age of celebrity, the Queen was the greatest celebrity of them all.

There was an aura to the Queen which set her apart, not only from us ordinary people but even from the anointed kings and queens of popular culture.

Yet the Queen’s aura, her ability to inspire everyone’s respect and devotion, and to make even celebrities nervous about meeting her, was imbued with aroha, with love.

Perhaps only the Pope and the Dalai Lama express within our contemporary culture a similar sense of an aura imbued with aroha.

For the Queen, as she increasingly made clear through her annual Christmas broadcasts, that aroha, that love for her people was a love flowing from the very heart of God.

The Queen knew who her good shepherd was, and like the good shepherd she sought to care for her people.

For her aura imbued with aroha, we also give thanks to God.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, using apt words from ++Justin Welby’s funeral sermon,

Christ rose from the dead and offers life to all, abundant life now and life with God in eternity. …

We will all face the merciful judgement of God: we can all share the Queen’s hope which in life and death inspired her servant leadership.

Service in life, hope in death. All who follow the Queen’s example, and inspiration of trust and faith in God, can with her say: “We will meet again.”

Monday, September 19, 2022

Clearly Scripture is not as clear as clearly many would like it to be!

How clear is Scripture on matters of importance to its readers?

More technically, is Scripture "perspicuous"?

Is Scripture clear/perspicuous on some matters and not on others?

Is Scripture clear on a matter in one generation but not in another?

Lee Gatiss, Director of the Church Society, has recently spoken critically of Lambeth 2022 and some things Archbishop Welby said during it.

A text version is here and a video version is there.

Essentially, his critique of Welby is this (my bold):

"That was the issue at hand as he spoke: can we bless same-sex marriage, or not? And rather than clearly identify the glaringly obvious deviation from historic Christian orthodoxy, he spoke very highly of those who deny the truth: their “long prayer” and “deep study” and their view of scripture and of Christ. Those who would have been seen as heretics by every previous generation of Christians across the world were invited and treated as brothers and sisters in full communion."

Or, Scripture is completely clear on blessing same-sex marriage (i.e. Scripture says No), those who think otherwise are clearly heretics. Ergo, the ABC is wrong not to exclude churches which either do not think Scripture is clear on this matter, or may think Scripture is clear that the answer is Yes.

Now, you could probably predict where I might want to go on this: Scripture is not actually clear on such blessings (because it does not address the particularity of our age). Actually, that would be to go down a pathway often gone down here. No further need!

Let's go in a slightly different direction and focus on the general question of the clarity/perspicuity, or otherwise of Scripture.

Let's assume, by the way, that Scripture is clear on matters of salvation.

Is Scripture unclear on other matters?

I've been recently thinking that there has been and is something of a challenge re the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture when we shift from reading Scripture about our relationship with God and read Scripture about our relationships with each other, about our human experience of relationality.

Take the relationship between humans known as slavery. Good Christians argued for and against the keeping of slaves in days gone by. Fair enough in many ways because no text in Scripture unambiguously says, Stop keeping slaves. Put in other words, Scripture is clearly not against slavery but arguably unclear whether it is in favour of slavery or simply in favour of making the best of a systemic feature of ancient economies. Most NT texts speaking about slavery focus on masters treating slaves well and slaves impressing their masters with their virtuous and diligent service. That now Christians are very clear that we should not keep slaves, that there should be no slavery anywhere is not a triumph of the perspicuity of Scripture! 

(Ironically, we might also note that the nearest we come to Scriptural clarity about employers/employees is to read the texts on masters/slaves and make appropriate translation to modern working conditions. We make that shift in relating Scripture to modern life. Do we do so on other matters?)

We could then look at marriage and divorce. A rough trajectory through Scripture is that marriage is permanent (Genesis 2) but reasons for divorce press on the making of Israel's laws (other books in the Torah) and divorce is permitted in some circumstances. Through subsequent centuries discussion about divorce continues and by the time of Jesus two schools of rabbinic thought debate with each other, one "hard" and one "soft" on the matter. When Jesus is asked about divorce, our best take is that he sides with the "hard" school and either (in his original response) gives no grounds for divorce or only one ground (adultery). Yet Matthew's Gospel in chapter 19 provides a so-called Matthean Exception and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 provides a so-called Pauline Exception so there are signs that the earliest church faced questions (as Moses did) and came up with some variation to what the Lord had laid down. Fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries, and we see further variations being worked out through time in the main Christians traditions, none of which is clearly taught by Scripture. No annulment process is laid down in Scripture for Roman Catholics, no variations in the character of weddings for second or even third marriages is set out Scripturally for Eastern Orthodox, and Protestantism has engaged with questions unknown to Scripture such as a wife leaving and divorcing an abusive husband.

Incidentally, each such main Christian approach is reasonable on the basis of seeking to match Scripture with life, and each such approach develops a tradition of interpretation of Scripture and yet Scripture as "supreme authority" cannot readily dislodge where each church has gotten to on these matters because the reasonable, traditional response developed has precisely evolved from finding Scripture to not offer a once and for all circumstances authoritative answer to human questions.

Next up is the relationship between women and men in the life of the church, a question partly discussed in relationship to the Christian family: the relationship between husband and wife; and partly discussed (in some churches) in relationship to the (im)possibility of ordination of women to positions of responsibility in the ordering of the church: deacon, priest/presbyter or bishop.

On the former we have faced the challenge of Ephesians 5:22 (and similar verses) and (unless otherwise belonging to a school of thought called "complementarianism") determined that this might not mean what it looks like it means, e.g. because it is governed by Ephesians 5:21. But doing this (which I do happen to do), does rather call into question the clarity with which (e.g.) Anglicans once held on the matter, expressed in the Book of Common Prayer marriage service which asked the wife to be to declare that she would "obey" her husband, but asked of the husband to be to declare that he would "love" his wife.

On the latter we have faced the challenge of a variety between texts of Paul (or his Pauline imitator(s)), some of which seem to support women in leading roles (Romans 16, references elsewhere to Priscilla and Aquinas, a possibility in 1 Timothy 3 that women as deacons is supported, all in keeping with the genderlessness of Galatians 3:28 and the apostolicity of Mary in John 20) and some of which appear, in a similar spirit to Ephesians 5:22, to subjugate, even silence women to the authority and voice of men (1 Corinthians 11, 14; 1 Timothy 2). 

Possibly the school of thought known as complementarianism may have a virtue of consistency in believing Scripture is clear on this matter; but the overwhelming tendency in contemporary Christianity (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Prostestant, Pentecostal) is to explore, with a lesser or greater urgency re actual change, the possibilities for a new found recognition of the equality of women to men as both being fully human and fully alive and gifted in the Spirit of God. In some thinking among conservative evangelicals - I find - it is the apparent lack of clarity of Scripture on the matter which permits them to support the ordination of women. For some, this exploitable lack of clarity only extends to ordination to the diaconate; for others, it extends to presbyters or to presbyters and bishops.

This exploitation of lack of clarity on one matter only highlights the exploitation of clarity on other matters of humans relating to humans. Is there Scriptural clarity on the matter of how we interpret Scripture in favour of modern life when some texts are in tension with each other compared with when Scripture provides (or appears to provide) clarity?

Another matter of humans relating to humans concerns one human killing another human. Generally this is prohibited ("Do not kill"), through both Old and New Testaments, but exceptions happen and so debate occurs over those exceptions. Is war (which necessarily involves killing) such an exception? For some time in earliest Christian history, war was not an exception and Christians determined - with Scriptural clarity, with respect to the teaching of Jesus - they would not be soldiers. While a pacifist streak continues in Christianity, mostly we accept that sometimes war cannot be avoided and Christians will kill. For centuries Christians have presided over justice systems in which execution of criminals was accepted. Currently capital punishment is no longer possible in some jurisdictions in which Christianity has and may still provide a dominant religious influence on the framing of laws; but some strongly Christian jurisdictions, notably the USA make capital punishment an option. Such legal support for killing another human being seemed unquestionable as a clear outcome of (e.g.) Romans 13. Yet such clarity has not prevailed everywhere.

There has been and continues to be greater unity among Christians on the question of abortion, that is, on the question of not killing an unborn child. But, even on abortion, differences prevail on the question of whether access to abortion (whatever Christians think about abortion) should be a legal possibility for those who wish, for whatever reasons, to secure an abortion of their unborn child. Scripture is unclear on the degree to which being against killing means one should be against legal access to abortion (e.g. if one's support for access to legal abortion presupposes illegal abortions will be procured).

Conclusion

The approach I am taking above involves great clarity about Genesis 1:27-28. Men and women are made in the image of God, what does that mean for reading, interpreting and obeying Scripture in 2022?

I think it also involves questions of justice: what is fair and consistent treatment of another human being? Is an enslaved human being (no matter how well looked after) being treated fairly, given that an enslaved human being means another human being (i.e. the enslaver) is treated differently? Is it fair that men may speak out loud in church, but women should be silent? Or, that women, otherwise gifted and able to teach, may not teach because they are viewed as inherently untrustworthy relative to men?

Nevertheless, all said above is prolegomena to detailed, depth consideration of the issues I have referenced with just a paragraph or two above.

The argument above is pretty simple: that we should recognise that Scripture may not be as clear as we either think, or would like it to be, on matters involving humans relating to humans.

Whether this makes any difference to arguments on That Topic is the discussion! Even this week I have had engagement on Twitter with a leading English evangelical in which his thesis amounts to: Scripture is clear on That Topic, end of discussion; but not clear on the ordination of women, so we may so ordain. So, please don't assume that my "prolegomena" above settles anything on That Topic or another issue. 

But if my prolegomena prompts any reader to think again about Scripture's perspicuity in general, re human relationships, my post for this week's job is done!




Monday, September 12, 2022

Is Anglicanism a quadrilateral, a via media, a three-legged stool or a seven point sketch?

Mark Earngey, in the Australian Church Record, has a critical look at what it means to be authentically Anglican in an article entitled, "The Myth of the Via Media, and other Canterbury Tales (1)".

What are the "defining characteristics of Anglicanism"? Mark offers the following list of seven characteristics.

"Let me suggest seven – short! – defining characteristics of Anglicanism. This is, in fact, Jim Packer’s list, with a Mark Earngey twist here and there:

  1. Anglicanism is Biblical (Eph. 2:20; 2 Tim. 3:16). We believe that the Holy Scriptures are the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice, the norming norm which guides the church, and the magistrate which governs the church. We believe that the church has, and may still err, but that the Word of God has not, and will never. Therefore, our church services are saturated in Scripture, and our blood is, or ought to be, “bibline”, to quote the great Charles Spurgeon.
  2. Anglicanism is Reformed (Rom. 4:5; Lk. 22:19; Matt. 28:19). We believe that God justifies the ungodly though faith alone in Christ alone. What a man-liberating, and God-glorifying reformation truth! And we believe that there are only two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We love to baptise children and adults into the flock of Christ. And we love to see them, partaking of the supper by faith, and strengthened with the body and blood of Christ. We do not have Roman Catholic, nor even Lutheran sacramental theology. The Thirty-nine Articles elaborate on all this, and they place the Church of England rather close to Zürich on the reformed sacramental spectrum.
  3. Anglicanism is Catholic (Heb. 12:22; 1 Cor. 10:32). Not Roman Catholic, nor Reformed-and-Catholic in a via media sense. But Catholic in the best sense. Kata-holos, according to the whole church. Just like the reformers, we believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Just like the reformers, we enshrined orthodox Christological and Trinitarian doctrines into our confessional documents.[1] And just like the reformers, we appreciate and appropriate the wisdom of the church from previous ages. We believe that the church exists beyond us, and the church existed before us.
  4. Anglicanism is Episcopal (1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; Tit. 1:5). We are glad to have a three-fold order of ministry: deacon, priest (presbyter), and bishop. This affords us organisational benefits over large geographical areas and, at its best, this enables faithful gospel ministry to flourish through careful licensing of ministers for word and sacrament ministry, and through careful disciplinary action when necessary for the protection of the people of God.
  5. Anglicanism is Liturgical (1 Cor. 14:6-25; Acts 2:42-47). We prize Archbishop Cranmer’s principle of intelligibility and work hard to communicate the Christian faith at every service. This means we use regular rhythms and set forms of words to build up in the gospel, the diverse range of men, women, and children to come to our churches. So, we love to confess sins together, reinforce our catholicity through the creeds, sing, say, speak the Scriptures from both testaments, teach the Bible, pray general intercessions and particular petitions such as the Lord’s Prayer, and so forth. We do not do things in our services which disregard the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles and Book of Common Prayer. We need not expect our churches to look and sound all the same for our services to be recognisably and gladly Anglican.
  6. Anglicanism is Pastoral and Evangelistic (Ezek. 34:16; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). We have a big vision for ministry and mission, and our parish system demonstrates our commitment to serve all people – rich and poor, young and old, city and country, indigenous and non-indigenous – with the gospel of Jesus. Our clergy are ordained to be shepherds among those to whom they are sent. We love to seek out the lost sheep, restore the stray sheep, bind up the wounded sheep, strengthen the weak sheep, and feed and guard the healthy and strong sheep. The Good Shepherd is our model for ministry, and we love the lambs for whom the Lamb of God was slain.
  7. Anglicanism is Neighbour-Loving (Mark 12:30-31). Anglican churches care for the society around them. This is partly a function of the historic and confessional connections between the civil and ecclesiastical realms, and partly a function of the parish minister’s responsibility to those who live in a geographical area. The historic and parochial structure of Anglicanism has bequeathed it a culture of concern for the welfare of the society it inhabits. This heritage manifests in myriad ways, from diocesan social issues committees to parish fundraising for the local poor. We do not believe in a social gospel, but we believe that the gospel brings benefit to the society around us. We love our neighbour, because God first loved us."
Fairly obviously we can place alongside this list well-known, well-worn lists or concepts such as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, the Five Marks of Mission, Via Media (Anglican church as always middle way between other things), the Three-Legged Stool (Anglican authority resides in Scripture, Tradition and Reason) - each of which draws to itself critique and promotion.

Also, fairly obviously, there is good in everything noted above: three, four, seven main or key characteristics: it is "all good."

We might also talk about Anglicanism as "fudge": Anglicanism is all a bit muddled, blurry, messy and ill-defined. If no one else, I have been accused in times past of promoting such. I like fudge :).

Another way of thinking about what it means to be Anglican came to my mind over the weekend - it is a reflection on all sorts of things voiced or implied throughout my life:

The Anglican is either too much or not enough ... too liturgical/not properly Catholic ...insufficiently Protestant/16th century reform was over the top ... "dead" (should be more open to the Holy Spirit) ... too hierarchical (also stuffy, class ridden) ...too clerical/its orders are "null and void" ... riven by division/places too much emphasis on unity (at the expense of "the truth.").

Of course, the death of Queen Elizabeth 2, which occurred after the initial drafting of this post, highlights strengths of the Anglican church such as our ability through liturgy, choral music and cultural engagement to offer occasions for solemn mourning which fits the needs of the sorrowful moment.

Back to Earngey's list. A challenge is not what it says but what it doesn't say as it critiques "via media" Anglicanism.

It doesn't acknowledge that finding a middle way (whatever that should mean with a view to the 16th century, and what it does mean in practice in the 21st century) is not merely about finding some kind of fudgey compromise: it is about bringing as many people as possible on the (Anglican) journey of faith. 

That in turn is about the importance of unity for Anglicanism: the desire in England itself to be "the Church OF ENGLAND"; the desire in other parts of the world to be a church which includes rather than excludes, to be broad rather than narrow, to understand creedal orthodoxy in as generous a manner as possible (see a recent post here).

There is nothing in the Earngey sevenfold list which acknowledges any possibility that Anglicanism might desire unity on as broad a base as reasonably, creedally possible.

Then, one other thing is missing, even from a list which has a sense of Anglican history: nothing about unity in relation to unity with the See of Canterbury, unity with (so to speak) our past as well as our present and future.

With loads of post Lambeth fervour - obviously - any list I composed about Anglicanism would include a line about being in rather than apart from the Anglican Communion!

Monday, September 5, 2022

Can we do anything about climate change?

It was fascinating at our annual Synod which finished late Saturday afternoon just past to have two motions debated which related to climate change. This post is not about the course or character of the debate, save for observing one thing which was said which underlined the great challenge of doing anything significant about climate change. (I accept that every little thing counts; and this post is not an argument against doing all that we can. It is a post about the challenge of making significant change.)

For instance, from a proponent of bike, bus, scooter and like means of travel, including walking, came the critique of electric cars that they actually achieve little change to the environment, though they may make those who use such vehicles feel personally better about the crisis we are in.

Now, it is not appropriate for me to work out how you could use bus and bike more, but it is appropriate for me to consider a question such as, Accepting that replacing my car* with an electric car is mere "greenwashing," could I use our bus network more for my travel around the Diocese and around our major city, Christchurch?

The short answer is definitely, Yes.

The longer answer is a significant change in the way my diary runs. Visits to a number of parishes outside of Christchurch would require me bussing down to them on a Saturday, taking a good chunk of the daytime, and possibly not returning until Monday. (Compared with, say a day return car trip on a Sunday, or a late Saturday afternoon/evening trip to and then return from the parish Sunday afternoon.)

Another part of the longer answer is, Yes, in respect of a number of conversations through working week days, I could hold them by Zoom; but there is a diminishment of ministry encounter, person to person, and I would worry about the health of my relationships with people I only speak to via Zoom; which could be mitigated by some bus travel!

Put a bit more simply: there is significant change possible re climate change if there is significant change of life - of allocation of time, of planning for travel taking a considerably longer time than is possible when a handy car is used.

Should I do it? Can I do it? What if our clergy and parishioners do not readily fit in to my revised schedule of life? (And, would I make demands on them and their motor cars to fit that schedule?)

Such questions are the questions we all should be asking in respect of significant change to our lifestyles!

Thoughts?

PS for those keen to keep discussion about the shape of current Anglicanism, next week's post likely will resume that discussion from the past few posts.

*I happen to drive a hybrid diocesan car which is much appreciated re fuel economy, but which I accept makes little difference to reducing carbon emissions.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Orthodox generosity?

Nota bene: the purpose of this post is to reflect a little on the general question of "generous orthodoxy." There is no intention in this post of continuing the past few posts re the Anglican Communion in the light of the Lambeth Conference 2022 - posts which, in a sense, have asked the question, how generous is the orthodoxy of the Anglican Communion. Commenters are free, of course, to make links to the state of the Communion, but I am not intending to generate further such discussion via this post.

Introduction

Back in the day (2006), North American Christian theological thinker and influencer, Brian McLaren wrote A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post/protestant, liberal/conservative, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, ... emergent, unfinished Christian which made quite an impact (including his being invited to speak at the Lambeth Conference 2008). 

I think it might be fair to say that many orthodox Christians responses and reviews could be summed up as, 

"Perhaps too generous." 

That is, too many views along too wide a range of Christian diversity got included in McLaren's generous understanding of orthodoxy for every reader's comfort.

This year at Lambeth Conference 2022 it was both good to meet up again with Bishop Graham Tomlin and to buy his latest book, Navigating a World of Grace: The Promise of Generous Orthodoxy (itself a companion book to a denser theological work, which Graham has edited with Nathan Eddy, called The Bond of Peace: Exploring Generous Orthodoxy, featuring essays by an array of distinguished theologians).

How might the present and future responses and reviews of +Graham's book be summed up? My prediction is something like this:

"Perhaps just the right amount of generosity."

I say that because the strength of this book is its resolute sticking to, and continuing affirmation of the Nicene Creed. Or, put another way, this book is an exposition of the Nicene Creed, not a deconstruction of it, and the exposition explores and highlights the ways in which the tight, disciplined statements in the creed actually express the boundless love of God, the wide and deep work of the Spirit throughout creation, and the fulfilling, fruitful implications of the Trinity for the spirituality and sociality of humanity.

It is worth noting, further, that this book, in a very clear, readable manner is an effective "systematic theology" in a relatively few pages (170), compared to the tomes of our friends, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Barth, Jenson and so on! 

Also worth citing is Tom Holland's (author of Dominion, not the Spiderman actor) observation in a promotional blurb on the back cover that,

"this is a book that achieves what even many Christians may find a startling feat: a demonstration that orthodoxy is far more radical and interesting a concept than heresy."

As Bishop Graham unpacks the words of the creed he opens up the generosity of the God detailed in the propositions of the creed. Our eyes are opened to the grace and love of God who has created us and redeemed us. By the end, our hearts are challenged to ourselves be generous people of God.

"The heart of orthodoxy is the overflowing generosity and grace of God and its goal is the formation of generous people." (p. 154)

I commend this book to ADU readers. 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Reconfiguration of global Anglicanism (not "Reformation"?): And yet ...

Prelude re further Lambeth reflections

Many links at Thinking Anglicans.

James Hadley (including comment on Koch's "ecumenical emergency" and concise thoughts re authority).

Phil Groves on the complexity of the numbers involved in the GFSA/"global south"/"global north" axes.

Richard Peers (whom I met for the first time a week ago - I also met Phil Groves while in England).

News of the day - Anglicans Down Under

At the recent Australasian GAFCON conference the already announced, legally constituted (in Australian law) Diocese of the Southern Cross became an ecclesial reality with a congregation and a bishop: here, here and here. I note, incidentally, language in the reports about not being in communion with Canterbury.

Effectively, Australia now has an equivalent to the CCAANZ diocese based here in our islands. 

The Primate of ACA , ++Geoffrey Smith, has responded with this media statement, in which he says that a "new denomination" has been created.

Worth reading for a bit of wider background is this commentary.

Then, is this relevant? The Anxieties of Calvinism ...

But, maybe the best read is here, "The Anglican breakaway ‘cult’ – a swan that quacks like a duck must be a duck", by +George Browning, former Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn.

What historical season are we in (globally, locally, Anglicanly)?

I confess that an initial response to the Australian news is to be a bit ecclesiastically grumpy - to describe why this development is wrong, etc, unAnglican etc. To wonder - again - why Anglicans who love Jesus but understand Scripture differently from each other cannot have fellowship together. To bewail the weaponizing of the word "orthodox" so that a huge bunch of Anglican laity and clergy who believe every word of the creeds, faithfully break bread together and read Scripture thoroughly (i.e. according to the lectionary) are deemed "unorthodox" by another bunch of, well, self-appointed magisteria.

But, would that get us very far?

Perhaps another way to respond is to try to keep the big picture (or biggest pictures) in view.

Here goes.

There has been some talk these past two decades that Christianity (at its most general) is in the midst of a regular 500-yearly reformation (the last one being, of course, the Reformation / Counter-Reformation. (Obviously the 16th century was about the Western church and not the Eastern church; but the present one - if it be one - is a convulsion across the globe). 

Within that framing of Christian tectonic plate shifting it is easy to locate global Anglican turmoils (e.g. from Lambeth 1998) in a similar if smaller frame. The church in England through the English Reformation became the Church of England: governed no longer from Rome but from Windsor, its senior bishop in Canterbury and not the Vatican, its supreme synod Parliament and not the Cardinals, the Bible in English and not Latin, and its prayer books moving through 1549 and 1552 towards 1662 and a substantive re-forming of the Mass. Critically, the text of Scripture, re-read with Lutheran and other European reformers' eyes, exposed various gospel-sized deficiencies in the apparatus of medieval Christian devotion and penitential quest for cleansing from sin and guilt. The reforming of the church was a refinding of grace in a context which had yielded to works a value in assuaging guilt at odds with both Jesus and Paul.

Run forward approximately 500 years to the beginning of the third millennium and we have an Anglican global church or network of churches in a turmoil familiar from the beginning decades of the 16th century and the church in England becoming the Church of England. Why not propose that we are in a new "reformation"? A new reformation that is into a reforming of the church into (kinda, sorta) two Anglican churches:

- one claiming true inheritance of the English Reformation status (only we are faithful to Scripture, only we submit to the authority of Scripture like Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley of old) and 

- the other - depending on one's perspective - claiming true inheritance of the English Reformation status (only we are making the changes necessary when we see things have gone wrong, when works has triumphed over grace, when law [aka Lambeth 1998 1.10] has lost mercy) or, perhaps more accurately, claiming to be at the forefront of a needed adjustment of Anglicanism as part of a needed adjustment of all Christianity if it is to have relevance for a changing world (cf. John Spong's writings as particularly imaginative on this score).

A challenge, in my view, with thinking in this way - well, two challenges are:

- this is binary and many Anglicans (including myself) see themselves as somewhere between (say) Sydney/Nigeria and the progressive edges of TEC, rather than belong to one or other of the binary;

- is this really "reformational" in the sense of the text of Scripture striking a blow against a church gone terribly wrong in its misunderstanding of grace? Are we not talking about movements within churches, Anglican and others, strenuously working out a new future in a world which has reformed itself away from Christendom to secularism, or raised up aggressive forms of Islam and other world faiths at rate of change which has shocked us all and left us gasping for gospel breathe?

Thus I suggest it may be more helpful to think of a reconfiguration of global Christianity rather than a reformation. Whatever else is going on, Anglicans and other Christians are reconfiguring the space they call church. There are convulsions in Eastern Orthodoxy, culture wars in Catholicism, and rises and falls of new churches in the West and elsewhere which can be described as global Christianity (and global Anglicanism) reconfiguring itself.

If we are reconfiguring, then what?

Painful though this latest GAFCON move is - the announcement of the new Diocese of the Southern Cross being operational - it may be helpful to see this move less as a shattering blow to hopes and dreams for a united-in-our-differences local church (Australia) and global Communion and more a next step in an evolution being determined by forces well beyond the control of synods and the persuasive powers of social media pundits.

In evolutionary theory, the fruitfulness of a species depends on its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Historically Protestantism has been adaptive to changing circumstances via a variety of strategies, including splits and new church plants. Also historically Catholicism has been adaptive to changing circumstances via a variety of strategies, including formation of new movements within the communion of those submissive to the authority of the Bishop of Rome. Further, both Protestantism and Catholicism have understood the need to evangelise, or die.

Surely, if we accept what we would prefer not to accept, that global and local Anglicanism is reconfiguring, is evolving into two species of Anglicanism, then the question before us is whether either or both Anglicanisms will flourish. (By which I mean over the next century, not just who has more "bums on seats" right now.)

This article, featuring the research of David Goodhew, draws attention to the challenges of (a) surviving, let alone (b) growing, for some bishops/dioceses.

Let's proclaim the gospel, let's share the Bread of heaven with the hungry on earth, let's welcome into God's family the last, the lost and the least.

Let's see which Anglicanism is, over time, most faithful to the gracious God who blesses God's church, who places our feet in a broad room (as the psalmist said).

And yet ...

It is somewhat market economics (let's see who does best under the prevailing circumstance) as well as "Gamalielian" (Acts 5:33-39, if it is of God), to say nothing of a salute to evolutionary biology, to end on the note above; and from those perspectives, it might be a satisfactory conclusion to reach. And yet ... is that good enough? Is it resolutely faithful to Jesus Christ?

Archbishop Geoffrey Smith, in the statement linked to above, rightly observes,

"“It is always easier to gather with those we agree with. But in a tragically divided world, God’s call and therefore the church’s role includes showing how to live together with difference”"

The problem with yet another Protestant split is that it is yet another split in the church which Jesus (a) envisaged as "one", and (b) envisaged as being in its unity, a strong witness to the love of God for the world (John 17:20-23).

Not only that: we are in a Christian era in which the world is seeing a lot of Christians at loggerheads with one another. Binary polarisations abound. Here is a partial list:

Trumpian US evangelicals v evangelicals not wishing to be described with respect to any politician or political party;

The turmoil within the Southern Baptist Convention;

Conservative Catholics v "Franciscan" Catholics;

Eastern Orthodox split re allegiance to Ukraine or Russia.

Locally, here in Aotearoa New Zealand we have the prospect of some turmoil as Franklin Graham comes to our islands in November as part of his current worldwide evangelistic outreach.

We are also seeing considerable distress within one significant Pentecostal church - the saga of Arise and its treatment of interns, other congregants, and the funds at its disposal.

Then, Destiny Church won’t stop protesting about what it sees as unwarranted Government intrusion into our lives as the Government seeks to save us from the worst effects of the pandemic!

Brothers and sisters, we have work to do in the household of God!


Monday, August 15, 2022

Moving on but not away from Lambeth 2022

Since leaving #LambethConference2022, Teresa and I have been able to enjoy some annual leave - still in the heat of the mad English/European scorching summer. As this post is published, however, we are en route to Heathrow and the flights home. (Where NZ readers know it has been very cold - not quite a global warming winter this year!) What follows are bits and bobs of things which interest me, especially but not exclusively in relation to Lambeth.

First, some news: Christopher Wells has been appointed executive director for Unity, Faith and Order for the Anglican Communion. Some years back I corresponded with Christopher Wells, mostly in relation to The Living Church, an Anglican/Episcopalian magazine based in North America. This conference I met him in person. In my view, this is a very good appointment and I look forward to the continuing work of IASCUFO (the Communion task force charged with Unity, Faith and Order responsibilities, under the leadership of Bishop Graham Tomlin).

Then, also drawing on The Living Church, David Goodhew makes a number of pertinent observations re Anglican church decline and growth which, adroitly, could lead to similar questions being raised here in ACANZP. But one takeaway is, churches which decline can grow!

Back to Lambeth. Archbishop Foley Beach, in his capacity as Chair of GAFCON, has written an extraordinary piece on the Lambeth Conference signalling the Communion is “broken.” I say “extraordinary” because 

(i) it is written from the (disad)vantage point of view of not actually attending the conference, yet holds nothing back in its certainty of judgment; 

(ii) it manages to make the conference all about one issue, when the conference was about many issues, and even on that one issue, managed to reach a place which can only be reached if everyone is in the same location. 

The irony of ++Beach’s article is that the conference demonstrated that change in the Communion will only come via people meeting in the same place and not via boycotts.

But, in contrast to both the tone and the tenet of ++Beach’s proclamation, is this beautifully written reflection by Bishop Andrew Rumsey (CofE), which makes the point, in my words, that despite some not sharing in (eucharistic) communion, there was much communion in other ways through our conferring and praying together. Further, the very process of meeting together - plenaries, small groups, discussions, prayers, conversations over meals and when getting off/on buses/boats etc - has powerful effects, including, on Andrew Rumsey’s own confession, the minds and mindsets of bishops. Boycotts, less so.

In my own mind and mindset - whether it is changing may be a little early to tell :) - I take away from the conference a bunch of conversations, including with those holding to some quite conservative viewpoints, which I continue to reflect on and to digest as I return to my own diocese with its particular range of viewpoints, issues, concerns and questions. But what I am reflecting on is personal conversations “in the room,” not external to the room.

On another aspect of Anglican life, I was delighted to get to know various bishops at the conference, including bishop X. But this week, in a conversation with a person about life in their parish, there was a bemoaning of the direction the local bishop was trying to impose on the parish. Who is that bishop? It’s bishop X. … A salutary reminder that outside of the joys of conference life and the frisson of “issues” worked on in a globalist context, there are challenging questions about the future of the everyday church in the raw localism of “the parish of Y” where Y’s demographics, present congregational make up, historic character, etc run with (or rub against) aspirations - provincial, diocesan, parochial - for continuity and for change.

This paragraph without links - I’ll be honest, there are some Anglican commentators I prefer not to link to: I see some commentary of the kind “that was the last Lambeth Conference/the Anglican Communion is finished - there will be two global Anglicanisms and the bright future is with the one which won’t budge from traditional, orthodox teaching on sexuality.” It goes without saying that no one knows the future except our Father in heaven, so such commentary may prove correct. But there are two questions such commentary begs in the present:

(1) What is meant by Anglicanism? To take just one aspect of Anglicanism which the conference has reinforced for me - directly seeing the ABC in action, sitting in retreat and services in Canterbury Cathedral: to be Anglican is to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Can there be two meaningful versions of Anglicanism in which one version is not in communion with Canterbury? This does not mean - of course not - that a form of Christianity based on the historic teaching of the 16th century reformed Church of England but liturgically not using BCP services (or any other Anglican liturgies of churches still in commmunion with Canterbury) cannot be a growing, converting, flourishing, Bible-based Christian church or global network of churches. But may such a flourishing Christian movement lay claim to being “true Anglicanism”?

(2) Is there an intrinsic reason why two claimants to true Anglicanism could not deign to meet together in one conference? Again, at great risk of harping on about a point made often here at ADU, and already above in this post, the success of the conference lies in the fact that Anglicans with difference bothered to meet together, to be in one room of conversation and at one table of discussion. Other Anglicans (with pretty much the same convictions as many Anglicans at the conference) did not bother to show up. What is so special about them that they deserve to be deemed “true Anglicans” when they won’t talk to other Anglicans? Where in Anglicanism, even in the 16th century, do we find such spectacular exclusivist, separationist precedent? The great Anglican minds of the 16th century - Cranmer, Hooker, Elizabeth 1 - sought to hold the differences of the English Christians in one church - the Church of England. Not the Church of the True and Orthodox English. Sure: for some English Christians, the efforts of Cranmer, Hooker and Elizabeth 1 were inadequate - so fervent Catholics smuggled in their priests and the Puritans stood their “biblical” (if not in the Bible then not permissible) grounds - but they did not claim to be the broad Church of England. They made a pitch for a narrower understanding of English Christianity, based on Rome or Geneva, and the pitch did not yield strong sales.

Perhaps a question permeating this post is the question of accuracy! How might we describe each other with words that correspond to reality. A post mentioned above, which I refuse to link to, grandiloquently speaks of some wide ranging, slippery slope of moral decay which the “revisionist” provinces are cheerfully sliding down. This is inaccurate. The revision of Anglican understanding which is emerging and evolving through the post 1998 decades is a revision with respect to the nature of marriage. It is, actually, a pretty conservative revision because it is focused on permanent, faithful, stable, loving relationships between two people. Whether we agree with such revision or not, whether we think the arguments for such revision are sound theology or not, could we at least agree that no Anglican province is now or in the future about to canonically permit orgies, casual sexual liaisons, polyamory, and the like. Put another way, we all read 1 Peter at the conference and none were proposing that we ignore 4:3-4a.

Does this mean that, from an inside the conference tent perspective, all is actually well with Anglicanism as found in the attending provinces of the Anglican Communion? Not at all. We have work to do which, in my humble opinion, would help us to be better Christians, and therefore better Anglican Christians. For example, in one of our Bible studies, focusing on one theme in 1 Peter, we had a fine lead off from ++Justin, followed by a panel of contributors talking about what that theme means to them. I found these contributions to be overall unimpressive. This particular theological concept seemed to mean whatever the speaker wanted it to mean. I described this in my small group as very “plastic” - maybe “pliable” would be the better word. How could we grow in theological depth and precision as a Communion because we who lead (clergy, preachers, Bible study leaders) have done the hard yards of theological study, intent on not ending up with plastic/pliable notions of critical theological concepts?

A related matter, perhaps, is the question of worship in the life of the Communion. A fellow Kiwi, Christchurch blogger, Bosco Peters in a recent post has voiced concern that the conference managed to talk about Anglican Identity without talking about Anglican worship, in respect of our common history in the Book of Common Prayer (1662) or in respect of the general idea that Anglicans (most, most of our history) believe in praying together what we believe - binding ourselves to “common prayer.” Now, I put my hand up in the first instance as one who didn’t think about this when we discussed that Call paper. But perhaps I (and we bishops, theological advisors to the Communion, etc) need to ask, why didn’t we think about this aspect of Anglican identity? The answer (explanation/excuse/!?) lies - I am proposing for discussion - in two aspects of the situation. 

First, that we Anglicans take our worship together so much for granted that we do not notice when it is not part of (e.g.) a Call paper on Anglican Identity. 

Secondly, that we have some important ways of speaking about what constitutes Anglicanism which (for reasons I do not know) either do not reference worship or, at best, imply it obliquely. Two such ways were at the heart of the Call paper on Anglican Identity: the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Five Marks of Mission. How might we change this? (One possibility lies in talk at the conference of review of such things!)

Worship at the conference itself was significant - a prayerful retreat, grand opening service, intentionally less grand, a little bit informal closing service, conference morning eucharists and evening prayer services, and the chaplaincy team leading other services, including early morning prayer and night prayer - yet, we could have done more. Noting that daily eucharist and evening prayer services were “opt in” services, some around me observed that we didn’t actually worship when all together in plenary (e.g. Could we have sung a hymn at the beginning of each morning Bible study session?).

Incidentally, the morning eucharist services, led by a different province each day, provided in place of the sermon a short video presentation exemplifying the life of that province. Of the services I attended, the presentation by Pakistan was outstanding - you may be able to access it on the conference website.

So, a final paragraph for this post - written in the privilege of a short 24 hour stay in Oxford, most of it at Christ Church Oxford, including Evensong in the cathedral which is uniquely also the “house” chapel - pic below.* Isn’t Anglicanism amazing? Being at Canterbury, UK a few weeks ago, and now at a place particualrly connected to Canterbury, NZ and my own diocese, I have been reminded that from the small seed of Pope Gregory sending Augustine to Canterbury, and all the celtic missional endeavours before that, the faith shared by the English speaking peoples has advanced beyond Kent, Northumbria, etc into all the countries colonized by the British empire, and beyond those countries into place never coloured red on the map of the world. We are part of an amazing story of gospel growth. May it continue in the power of the Spirit of the God who has loved us in Jesus Christ.


*This photo of the east end of Christ Church cathedral, Oxford, captures work done in the 19th century, designed by renowned architect, Gilbert Scott … also architect for Christ Church cathedral, Christchurch, NZ.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Lambeth Conference 2022: the outstanding, unanswered questions maybe not what you think

Introduction

In the background to what I write below, the following links may be helpful:

Global South Fellowship of Anglicans communique towards the end of the conference.

The Tablet report on Cardinal Koch’s address on Christian unity.

The Lambeth Conference website where all sorts of reports on the events and addresses of the conference are available.

A very helpful Church Times article on the course of events regarding sexuality at the conference in relation to the much talked about, twice edited, not voted on Call re Human Dignity.

Also worth bearing in mind as you read below re the future of the Anglican Communion is that while the Archbishop of Nigeria has not been to Lambeth, he has been able to travel recently to the USA dedicating new churches for the Anglican Diocese of the Trinity. This Diocese, in the territory of the USA, belongs to neither ACNA nor to TEC, it is an overseas Diocese of an Anglican church which is a member province of the Anglican Communion. That is, while the Anglican Communion has problems (see below), we live in a strange Anglican world in which a stern critic of the Communion, such as Nigeria’s Archbiship Ndukuba, cannot even trust GAFCON’s preferred alternative to TEC, i.e. ACNA, with the oversight and pastoral care of Nigerians in the USA. In passing, this looks like a culturally-attuned, highly contextual, locally-oriented solution to the care of Nigerian Anglicans in another jurisdiction! Apparently culture and context matter, even in GAFCON oriented churches.

Then, two analytical posts on the human sexuality debate at the conference by Andrew Goddard in the Psephizo blog run by Ian Paul*: Part One and Part Two.

*I happened to meet Ian, in person, for the first time, during the course of last week - a great pleasure!

The whole of Archbishop Welby’s final keynote address which is significant re Anglican missiology and ecclesiology.

The Anglican Communion This Week as #LambethConference2022 Concludes

Potentially there is a very, very large amount of things to say (for example reading the two posts noted above by Andrew Goddard on the Psephizo blog and commenting on them). There is also a lot to say about things which happened at the conference which were very interesting and worthwhile to me, but may not be to you, dear readers. Suffice to say, on that score, that I met a huge number of very lovely people who are very dedicated Anglicans in their respective parts of the Communion; that the conference discussed a range of topics and heard from a considerable number of speakers, so that there was no single issue which dominated the conference (whatever any external observer says otherwise); and that, if there is one takeaway from the conference it is this: no matter what the problems we can describe (see further above and below), the Anglican Communion is in good heart and will remain alive and lively for a very long time to come. It is not on its last legs. Even though some commenters I read appear to wish that into being so.

There could also be a lot to say trying to unravel the tangled knot of what we think we have done at the conference re human sexuality in the context of the Call paper on Human Dignity: have we managed (as I think we have) to formalise the fact that we are a Communion with a plurality of views on marriage? What does ‘plurality’ mean in this context? Is it the same as ‘adiaphora’ or indifference to the consequences of such views in relation to salvation and so forth. (I have had a bit of a go on that score via my Twitter feed @petercarrell if you care to chase that up). But lots is being said about such tthings (again, see, for instance, Andrew Goddard at the links above) and some conversations towards the end of the conference have got me thinking about some other problems the Communion has, which we haven’t really discussed.

If the Communion is in good heart at the end of this gathering of bishops from 39/42 provinces, as I think it is, that doesn’t mean that the heart of the Communion doesn’t need its valves tuned up or its blood supply lines refurbished!

Thus the outstanding, unanswered questions after #LambethConference2022 may not be what you think. They may not be whether the Communion can hold together or not, but what work is yet to be done on being a better Communion.

Incidentally, on the matter of holding together, I have come across this brilliant sentence in an article entitled, “Lambeth 2022: Justin Welby spoke and the great shadow faded”:

 Lambeth Conference 2022 will be remembered as a watershed when those in favour and those against same-sex relationships accepted they were not going to agree, but resolved to stay in the same Anglican Communion.

Authority: in a Communion Determined Not To have a Pope or Patriarch (or even resolutions!?), what is possible?

While we are somewhat self-congratulatory that we found a way through the sexuality issue at this Lambeth Conference with a good degree of love and forbearance as well as recognition of difference that has not gone away in 24 years since 1998 - as well as giving due credit to ++Justin for his leadership on the matter, especially on Tuesday last week - listening to conversations, reading some commentary, I see a need to work on the question of authority in the Communion, especially when we are keen on not having authority bound to an hierarchical structure which has a Pope or Patriarch at its apex. 

We weren’t even, this past week, keen on voting on resolutions. While that led us away from turmoil on sexuality, as someone pointed out in another context (re our ecumenical relationships) we have granted ourselves no mechanism as bishops-in-conference for saying anything distinctive or decisive in respect of ecumenical agreements which do need some kind of “mind of Communion” if they are to be agreed to, implemented, changed and so forth.

How do we get such mind of Communion on matters which (let’s assume, we are agreed) it would be good to have a mind of Communion on them?

On the one hand, I noticed here and there over the past few days some of the usual criticism of the Instruments of Communion: there is too much made of bishops since there is only one, the Anglican Consultative Council which includes clergy and laity as well as bishops. I find that a strange criticism since it presumes that bishops are incapable of bringing the mind of their dioceses with them to a Lambeth Conference.

On the other hand, we agreed this week that there should be a review of the Instruments of Communion, and that would be a good thing. Wherever that review leads, it would be good if an outcome were that we are committed to acknowledging the due authority of the New or Renewed Whatever in matters where we agree we need interdependence in governance. Such example would be ecumenical agreements between the Anglican Communion (on behalf of its member provinces) and other communions/churches.

On the third hand, do we also need to restate what it means for Scripture to be authoritative in our life as Anglicans? Much of this conference has demonstrated that we are committed to the authority of Scripture. That we heed its directions on matters of justice, of stewardship of the environment, of mission and evangelism, of offering the world the kingdom of God in place of other kingdoms. 

Further, the Bible studies, including the commentary on 1 Peter offered to the conference, have shown that there are challenges translating Scriptural injunction into aspects of life today. For example, 1 Peter 3 includes directions re women submitting to men that requires careful elucidation so that we understand its meaning for today in a different world to the first century AD and the dominating Roman Empire. Scripture is authoritative yet it also invites our engagement with it, so that we rightly divine it. Informally, there has been a low key “magisterium” - a commentary, a book of study notes for the small Bible study groups, the teaching of the ABC and the panel of people who contributed via video to his talks - helping us to land in a good place in respect of the authority of 1 Peter over us: how might that be explained in respect of questions of authority and the Communion?

Also worth some deep reflection on is the process of the Calls and their acceptance through this past few weeks (and, on beyond the conference, as feedback is received and reflected upon and possibly absorbed into new editions of the Call papers). Initially we were going to vote one way, then it was directed that we would vote another way, then we settled on no votes but opportunity to signal that collectively we demurred from rather than generally agreed with a paticular Call document. Frustrating though this might have been for those of us who delight in synodical process (moving amendments on the floor of synod, debating matters until such point of exhuastion that we put the motion to a vote, etc), this approach -a team working assiduously before the conference to draft a paper, small group discussion and feedback on the paper, and then subsequent work - has merits, not least in giving the Holy Spirit the chance to work in the cool of the days and weeks such process takes, and to speak through the voices of many making feedback, rather than being suppressed in the heat of the moment when a fiery rhetoricist moves a synod in a direction it later regrets. More simply: how might we discern the leading of the Holy Spirit for the Communion in such a manner that we accept the authority of that discernment as the voice of God for the church today?

Faith, Order and Unity: When Does Actual Ecumenical Change take Place

One theme through the conference has been the unity of the church - the unity of the Anglican Communion, the unity of the universal church of God as critical to the witness of God’s people to the reconciling love of God, the provisional nature of Anglicanism because God’s plan for the church is a plan for the catholic church, not just for the Anglican church or, indeed, for the Roman Catholic Church - all underlined by the delightful presence of ecumenical observers from  many churches. Very much, John 17 and Jesus’ high priestly concerns for unity and mission. 

Now, I am a little out of date with ecumenical moves on the global level, but apart from the obvious matter of the Anglican Communion not being united at this time, I learned that at the global level there is concern that, to use a technical expression, nothing much is happening. Some kind of ecumenical chill has set in, I gathered.

One of the points made - and, sorry, I cannot recall by whom - is that our reflections through the conference have highlighted the fact that unity is not an optional extra for the keener Christians, the ones who eccentrically think it good to add to their list of meetings by turning out for ecumenical meetings as well as their own local church meetings. It is not even that Christ prayed that we might be one so we jolly well ought to be. The point is that our gospel is a message of God’s reconciling love for the world inviting all into God’s house (God has only one home). To be divided is to undermine the gospel. To be separated is to fail to attest in our own being as church to the character of the gospel.

What is to be done?

Apart from continuing work on our own Anglican “house” at this time (which we will be doing), an unasnwered question from the Lambeth Conference 2022 is what the Anglican Communion might do to play its part in fostering real ecumenical change.

There are, dare I say it, some other questions - questions for the internal life of provinces - about the unity of each of our provinces. Table talk tells me that tribalism is a problem in some provinces, if not in many provinces.

Conclusion

There is, to be sure, a big question about how we go forward as a Communion with difference and intent to remain together in some form or other.

But the outstanding, unanswered questions from this Lambeth Conference may be more than that, and, dare I say it, more significant than that.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Lambeth Conference and the Indignity of Anglican Humanity (updateable thru today)

This morning (as I write this paragraph - I’ll add to this post later today) we are preparing to look at a  Call paper this afternoon on Human Dignity.

This memo to my Diocese gives a sense of the issues at stake.

This Global South press release gives a sense of what turmoil we might be in at 2 pm.

LATER

An interesting afternoon. What happened?

1. Something I never actually saw was a physical copy of the GSFA resolution which they said would be distributed at 2 pm. Not saying it didn’t exist in physical form but I never saw it as I moved in and out of the meeting venue this afternoon. Whether through the online version or paper version, I think they will get a decent number of signatures and those signatures will underline the importance of Resolution 1.10 (1998) for many, many Anglicans in most provinces of the Communion.

2. Conversationally (here at the conference), the importance of that Resolution is that offers support for parishes/dioceses that want to know they belong to a Communion in which it is taught that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that sexual activity outside of such marriage is a sin. And for some such Anglican churches this is doubly important if they are not to be derided by Muslim opponents.

3. But, also conversationally (for me, mostly seen in social media comments), for many Anglicans, expecially in Scotland, Wales, Canada, TEC, ACANZP, the Resolution stinks and any sense that it is re-affirmed is excruciatingly painful.

4. So we had an intervention by Archbishop Welby - two actually. First, he sent a letter to all of us early afternoon, and then, in the session on Human Dignity, he spoke at length - in a brilliant speech in which he  attempted to steer the Communion-as-represented-by-the-bishops between 2 and 3 above. See here for the speech and for a link to the letter.

5. Most of the conferees gave ++Justin a standing ovation at the end of the speech. Perhaps you would have done so. Perhaps not.

6. We then (in our small groups) discussed the Human Dignity paper, with opportunity for notes made to be fed back to the conference organisers. Obviously what is said in such a group stays in the group, but the group I was in had an extraordinarily respectful discussion despite our differences in views.

7. We did not vote. We did not voice anything, not even (as per other Calls), selected groups giving two minutes of feedback. Instead we stood in silence and offered our discussions to God in prayer.

8. What has been decided? I would say (repeat, I would say) the following are the effective decisions or outcomes or situations out of today: letter, speech, response to the speech, discussion:

- Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) remains in existence as the most recent formal decision of an Instrument of Communion concerning marriage and human sexuality; and it remains a decision that any Anglican province can choose to point to as its standard for teaching and for behaviour, as, in fact, most Anglican provinces do.

- No province not conforming to 1.10 will be disciplined by the ABC (imagining, which he himself does not, that he had such power of discipline.

- Recognition has been given explicitly by the ABC as an Instrument of Communion (and tacitly by the Lambeth Conference as another Instrument) that social context is very important to provinces when deciding about marriage and human sexuality, not least because derision for a church can arise in a social context if a church is mismatched with that context. Although ++Justin Welby did not mention this passage, Titus 2:5b (Then the gospel will not be brought into disrepute) springs to my mind.

9. Is this the end of the matter? Almost certainly not. I would expect a response from the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans soon (but am not prepared to predict that response). I see signs in social media commentary of Anglicans unhappy with the situation we have ended in - speaking from both (or more) sides of the matter.

10. I think that liberal/progressive Anglicans have been reminded that the Communion they belong to is inherently conservative. 

11. Depending on 9 above: what happens by way of response or reaction to today, it is possible that today marks a moment in Communion history in which we have formally become a Communion with plural understandings on marriage and human sexuality.

Thus, out of a discussion on Human Dignity (which had many other important things to say not focused on human sexuality), we faced the “indignity” of Anglican humanity - that some of us are uncomfortable about differences in sexual identity, that some of us hold views others find difficult if not anathema, that despite our common humanity and common life in Christ, we cannot easily find common cause on these matters, that we have hurt one another even by having this discussion. Yet, is it possible that only through such indignity can we find a way to dignity as a Communion?

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

On the cusp of the eve of the Lambeth Conference 2022

UPDATE: The updated Calls have been published (here).

The key change to the Human Dignity document is captured by Tim Chesterton in a Tweet here.

ORIGINAL: It is Monday (UK time). Tomorrow we head to Canterbury, Kent to register. Wednesday is a welcome day (with various meetings of the kind that prepare people - e.g. me as a Bible study group convenor). Thursday and Friday are retreat days. The conference begins on Saturday, though the formal opening service is on Sunday. I think we can say we are on the cusp of the eve of the Conference!

And what a cusp it is, as something seems to have backfired big time for the Conference organisers.

Last week we learned (and by the end of the week the Anglican public learned) that the draft “Calls” were available, and among these draft Calls, the one on Human Dignity, was text concerning the Lambeth 1998 1.10 resolution on human sexuality, couched on the one hand in a context which acknowledged the differences across Anglican provinces, and, on the other hand, offering the possibility of re-affirmation of the resolution.

Cue a concert of concerns over the weekend on Twitter, blogs and statements of various house of bishops.

Cue within the last 24 hours learning that the 1998 material was not part of the drafting group’s process and was added late and without notice of it being circulated to the drafting group.

Cue within the last hour or so (as I write, late Monday afternoon UK time) this Tweet issued by the official LC Twitter account:

In full consideration of comments made about the #LambethCalls the Lambeth Calls Subgroup that coordinates the process will meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury (the President of the Lambeth Conference) today to discuss concerns raised. A further statement will be issued later.

As far as I can hypothesise (it is an hypothesis, as I have no inside knowledge), what has happened is this:

Initially there is a steering clear of the 1998 resolution.

Then Global South bishops make it clear that they intend a discussion of the resolution and even a vote to reaffirm.

Then someone added the resolution bit, which then offered the advantage to the Conference that the Global South desires were on the agenda before the Conference begins, rather than the Conference chugs along and then there is a hiatus while Global South tries to add to the agenda.

The furore thus created seems to have caused a massive rethink on the part of the Calls organising sub-group and we now await the outcome of their deliberations.

UPDATE: That outcome is here. The Human Dignity call will be amended and republished. There will be a third option for voting: in my words, Yes, More thought, No.

I am loathe to jump on a bandwagon of blame or accusations of “bait-and-switch” (as some of the Anglican punditocracy have done over the past few days).

The fact of the matter is, the Communion is not united on the matter of the role of 1998 Resolution 1.10 in the life of the Communion. We may or may not ever be united, but we do need to find a way to discuss this point of difference and to try to understand why there are differences among us. 

Might 2022, despite this rocky cusp to the formal beginning of the Conference, bring some togetherness to our life together?

I have a few other thoughts!

1. Has the furore of the past few days been a talkfest of northern/western Anglican provinces focusing on “our” bit of Anglicanland to the exclusion of any real recognition that the majority of Anglicanland doesn’t think like we do? (In a “worst” case of one eyedness, in some expressions of intense concern it has seemed like some in the Church of England think the Lambeth Conference is another Church of England conference and how could ++Welby possibly … But, let’s get real: the Lambeth Conference is a gathering o bishops in which the majority of bishops are not bishops of northern/western Anglicanland!).

2. To the extent that the greatest intensity of concern comes from the liberal/progressive movement within global Anglicanism, just how is this movement doing “on the ground”? Numbers aren’t everything, but I was recently in a bastion of Anglican liberal lands and was shocked at the low numbers at worship. Then today, walking along a Cambridge, UK, street, I came across “Christ Church” church and paused to look at the noticeboard - a person came out of the church and we had a brief conversation. She told me that some 600-700 people worship there and it is a church plant of an inner city Cambridge CofE church. Do I need to tell you that this helpful woman also told me it is a certain kind of church? (Clue: not liberal/progressive).

3. That is, there are all sorts of issues at play here, including, most painfully, the anxiety and stress this late notice of the Human Dignity Call’s content is causing LGBTQI++ Anglicans. My interest going into the Conference is how we can find together a “both/and” outcome rather than an “either/or” one.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

 I happened to come across the title heading yesterday:

The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)

I have no idea who Muriel Rukeyser is but I like her style! (Actually, she was an American poet.)

Her quoted words are on a New York sidewalk as part of a series of New York Public Library plaques expressing humanity’s commitment to the written word. Or maybe just a commitment to words.

In a week when the universe has yielded yet more amazing information and illustrations about its “atoms” (e.g. here, with bonus about NZ swamps!), it is worth a little reflection on how the universe is just an “is” if there are no words. Even a universe with a planet with animals but no humans is an “is” with no history of or stories about the “is.” No knowing that we know things about the universe. No knowing that there is a universe to know things about. No knowing that there might be choices to be made about how we shall live. The universe is made of stories, not atoms.

The Judeo-Christian response to a universe of stories has always been to tell one story as the story which makes all other stories possible and to tell that story as the only story which all humanity should hear and live out as the story of their individual and communal lives. (And, yes, the Christian story has parted ways with the Judaic story, not least because Christians inherited from the Judaic story the singularity of the most important story to tell).

So, among comments to the previous post here, has been a discussion about the present state of, and possible demise of Protestant Christianity, and whether Anglicanism is likely to survive the 21st century, possibly if not probably because of its catholic features.

From a “story” perspective, Protestant Christianity has flowed out of a Reformation in which the then version of the Christian story was critiqued and corrected (rightly) with the corollary that Protestantism committed itself to telling and safeguarding the corrected story through much story retelling (sermons more important than liturgy). Five hundred years later the corrected story remains correct but the emphasis on the way the story is told is under severe pressure.

From a “story” perspective, Roman Catholic Christianity has flowed along with some correction via the Counter-Reformation and a significant correction via Vatican II - when the story’s main form of telling, the Mass, was permitted to be told in the language of the congregation and not the language of a once “universal” community (the evolving Roman Empire). It took Rome 450 years to learn one of the main lessons of the Reformation and some 50 years later some want to unlearn that lesson!

But 500 years after the Reformation, it is time (IMHO) for Protestant Christianity to sit at the footstool of the Mass and learn what it likely should never have forgotten, that the telling of the unique Christian story does not have one and only one form of telling.

Much of Anglicanism has not forgotten that there is more to Christian gatherings than the sermon. Yet what we do and say in sermon and in liturgy needs reflection as we Western Anglicans lose statistical ground (and as other stories permeate Western culture, e.g. here). The significance of the Mass is not purely its liturgical form, as though mere copying of the Mass is the way forward (most Anglican eucharistic services are, more or less, “copies” of the Mass) but its role in the Catholic telling of the Christian story. A role, for instance, which gives people not particularly minded to engage with doctrinal propositions, or depth analysis of biblical texts, a means of refreshing their living out of the Christian story week by week, if not day by day.

The renewal of Christianity in the 21st century must be about engaging people who know the universe is made of stories and are disinclined to elevate one of those stories above others. What do we need to do and say telling our story that one story matters?

Postscript: isn’t it critical to the “success” or “failure” of the Lambeth Conference 2022, that we renew our Anglican telling of the Christian story? What story, instead, will be heard if we either descend into the politics of sexuality, or end with a set of “calls” which are indistinguishable from the story the Green movement tells? Our Bible studies on 1 Peter will include reflection on what it means to give explanation for the hope which lies within us!