Monday, June 6, 2022

The church of God will live, but its shape may be interesting!

Let's keep thinking about the future of the church (at least Down Under) - a future which may or may not have a strong inclusion of things Anglican. This week I'll offer a few thoughts on some of the many insightful if not challenging comments made to last week's post which focused on Anglicanism itself. With a couple of other comments from further afield noted at the end.

(1) There must be converts to Christ in the future of the church. This is a point underlined in the comment below (and by the comment further below, at 3), which also raises the question of what we might do differently. 

(My point) whatever we do today as church is different to what was happening in Cranmer's day. And that was different to what was happening in (say) Lydia's church in Philippi. What could or should tomorrow look like? 

Back to the need for converts:

BW - May 31, 2022 at 4:45 AM: "A math point: when individual conversion has a network effect, it grows at a steadily increasing rate (eg the Roman Empire). Those accustomed to relying on weddings and baptisms as a church growth strategy miss the importance of the network effect and can inadvertently tolerate or foster an ethos hostile to it.

When church shrink comes up, as it has off and on for thirty years, some hear this as a source problem ("we need a new gospel") and others as a distribution problem ("we need to try new ways of reaching people"). Those who want to fix the former are ignored by those who want to fix the latter, and vice versa. Those who want to fix both are ignored by everybody. Can we do better?

Clayton Christenson's Innovator's Dilemma was discovered in business, but may have some application here: to do what can thrive in the future, an organization must often pivot away from offerings that are still popular today toward others only beginning to build a following. Few Americans buy electric cars, but that is so clearly the wave of the future that automakers here up yonder no longer have engineers to design and test any new internal combustion engines. Like most organizations, churches seem unable to bear the strain of that sort of decision. Look, for example, at how hard it is for dioceses to close parishes." 

(2) Are we going to win converts to a narrow form of Christianity (or a series of narrow forms of Christianities)? Yes, Jesus spoke about the narrow gate but he did unleash on the world a movement which came up with four versions of the gospel reports of Jesus, as well as Paul's take, James' take, the Epistle to the Hebrews, and the Book of Revelation. Can we affirm the following comment as we engage with the question of evangelism in the 21st century? 

MM - May 31, 2022 at 5:50 PM: "The ocean of grace has many shores.

Gosh, we spend a lot of time arguing which boats should enter which harbour."

Speaking of arguing about boats and harbours, I note across the Tasman that we have two further contribtions post-General Synod: first by Matthew Anstey and then a rejoinder by Mark Thompson. I cannot help but think that a comprehensive Anglicanism finds - should find - a way to draw on the best of what both offer!

(3) In reflecting on our life together as Anglicans, bound as we are by a liturgical tradition (even if held to very lightly here and there), we must reckon with what worship means for us, how we are to worship God both faithfully and fruitfully. In the comments to last week Bosco Peters offers an important observation re worship and the five marks of mission. Then there is this comment, reminding us that we can be experienced as something of a "mixed bag":

M - June 3, 2022 at 8:23 PM: "Why do Anglicans keep going to church? I have two faithful Anglican friends. One loves the weekly communion as a special connection with her Lord. The other loves joining in the sense of tradition and history through the liturgy though she has all sorts of theological questions. I go because I am strengthened in spirit by joining in worship regularly. However a young woman, an unchurched believer, strayed into a liturgical service and commented that it seemed as if she had come into the middle of a history book and hadn’t read the first half! Our church has both positives and negatives and will never be more than a small part of the universal Church, but nonetheless precious."

(4) If there is a question of a zeitgeist sweeping all before us, so the decline of the church seems to be beyond our control, then there is, as the comment below reminds us, a counter-question of what the gospel itself looks like when it is the zeitgeist. And another way of talking about "beyond our control" is to talk about "not thinking at the scale of the question posed."

How, indeed, do we nurture our dreamers and prophets?

Back to BW - June 6, 2022 at 3:36 AM : "Before + Peter moves on to the next topic, a final thought that should have been my initial thought: the gospel is spread at grand scale when it is generating cultural capital where it goes, and so, although we do need to know our scales and arpeggios to play, the music is improvised from some larger sense of what cultural capital God wants some people somewhere to have. Jesus himself models this in a way one can only call divine.

From another perspective, Graham Kings was able to write about *missionary spirituality* because evangelism is cultural work that requires an alive spirit. It can be done disastrously when religion is pushed as a human work, but there is no higher vocation than to participate in the Spirit's inculturation of the gospel. The present impasse is not that the numbers are bad, but that churches are not nurturing sons who dream dreams and daughters who prophesy.

We are not thinking at the scale of the question posed."

(5) Speaking of Anglican decline, a very acerbic column by NZ's own Damien Grant, this Sunday past, of the Platinum Jubilee weekend, manages to sheet all sorts of worldly ills of decline at the Queen's feet AND spiritual decline as well. But is the Queen, a model Christian, really responsible? Methinks Damien is having some fun at her expense:

"Yet let us not forget that the role of Her Majesty is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England; she is the Defender of the Faith.

It escapes my limited comprehension why anyone would want to belong to a religion founded by a man who beheaded two of his wives, one merely a teenager at the time, and is one of the most morally repellent successors to King Alfred. Yet, that is a task that befalls the British Monarch and is yet another example of failure.

When she was anointed with consecrated oil, the Anglican Faith was a powerhouse of the Christian community. Now it is in terminal decline.

It is projected to collapse entirely in the United States and merely 3% of British youth consider themselves Anglican; at this rate the Druids are set to overtake Anglicism by the end of this century.

(6) Let's end this pot pouri on a much brighter note!

It is "Thy Kingdom Come" time in 2022 and on Twitter I noticed this lovely and inspiring thought by Archbishop Angaelos (Coptic Archbishop of London). 

"Adoring God is something we are called to do. Not because He requires us… but because when you look at His attributes, His love, His sacrificial nature, you can do nothing but adore.

Beautiful reflection on 'Adore' from

for #ThyKingdomCome2022."

Is there any future for the Anglican church here and everywhere which is not a future of praise and adoration? 


  1. Thanks, Peter.

    We, in the West, are about to celebrate Trinity Sunday.
    We, in the West, often revisit the "Athanasian Creed" for this Sunday. It might help to underscore some of the above as I highlight that it says: "...the catholic faith is this: that we worship..."!

    Secondly, might I also underscore Bowman's and Fr Ron's emphasis on theosis. In worship, and especially through baptism and eucharist we become what Christ is, who, for this, became what we are.

    If it is merely for sermon or teaching (etc) that we gather - we can often/usually do better with a book or online. If it is competing with the Friday or Saturday night band - no prizes to guess which is preferred.

    That Anglicans have not been prepared to put common worship Sunday by Sunday at the heart of our mission is telling. That we do not put this at the heart of clergy formation, training, and study is telling. That we are seeing the results of this, say, in comparison to denominations which expressly articulate the Christian obligation of Sunday common worship is rather unsurprising.

    Anglicanism focused around common prayer; asphyxiate common prayer and Anglicanism will die.



  2. Do all souls Down Under rejoice with one accord that the British settled in the South Pacific? Canadians and still more Americans are hearing strong criticism of British settlement here, and Ireland, the prototype of that process, was not a success. Must Christians, not least Anglicans, evangelize as the spiritual heart of a different-- not just a gradually updated-- culture?


  3. Hi Bosco and Bowman

    Bosco: the challenge in the years ahead is what form of common prayer we will unite around, and whether that form is able to bind together the diversity of (say) a choral-oriented Cathedral and a parish in the suburbs or small rural town that is composed of a congregation of Christians drawn from an eclectic mix of Christian backgrounds, few of which value the notion of "common prayer."

    Bowman: In short, No. There is currently a strong thread of post colonization rancour, being tied in with another thread, of nostalgia for the way things were believed to be, before the British came (expressed, e.g., in our media and social media pressing for the abolition of English place names for our cities and towns). While here - contrast Ireland, Canada, Australia - there was a Treaty (of Waitangi) which (arguably) prevented some of the very, very hard histories of colonization elsewhere, and which today assists a way forward towards reconciliation, nevertheless there were some very hard histories as British settlement expressed itself, e.g. in land theft, some massacres. BUT ...

    Occasionally there is a musing about what might have happened if either the French or the Americans had colonized us (potentially real possibilities) ... and we might note to ourselves that New Caledonia and Tahiti remain French colonies to this day; and American Samoa remains an American territory to this day; and that French and American colonizing histories imply that our Isles would not be quite as Blessed as they are ...

  4. Anglicanism has many beautiful traditions (systematic reading of scripture and its integration throughout liturgy, generous orthodoxy, common prayer, sacraments and ‘sacramental actions’, hymns and chants, urban cathedrals and country churches…Gothic revival architecture!...missionary ethos, fresh expressions and multiple tikanga and ‘integrities’…). I hope we will continue to hold and distill these – to thresh and not thrash them!

    Whether they remain attractive vessels for grace in the future is something we don’t have a lot of control over.

    I suppose our task is to hold these aspects in such a way so that they remain open – reopen? – to their transcendent, dynamic, and even formless core. That’s a big project.

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  6. Thanks, Peter, for your point that if there is to be a return to common prayer in NZ’s Anglican future, it would need to bind together the diversity of a choral-oriented Cathedral and a parish in the suburbs or small rural town.

    What fascinates me is what is SO particular about NZ that we are unique in Anglicanism that we cannot predict, as just one example, what the collect will be this coming Sunday - or even if there will be one at the communion service one randomly pops into. And that inability to know what Sunday’s collect will be is not because some agreements are being broken - NZ Anglicanism is unique in not agreeing to a shared collect. I, for one, do not know why NZ the cathedrals & parishes differ so much more than overseas that overseas they can all manage this, but it is not appropriate here.

    What makes NZ so unique that we are the only Anglican Church worldwide that says on Sunday we can use not just our own agreed eucharistic prayers but any from anywhere in Anglicanism including priests writing their own?

    What makes NZ so unique that we have printed A New Zealand Prayer Book that has swathes of material in it that hasn’t even been seen for a first Reading by our General Synod?

    It seems to be too late, even for a Cranmer, who brought us the reformation in our worship, and could well be writing about NZ Anglicanism: “And whereas heretofore there hath been great diversity in saying and singing in Churches within this Realm; some following Salisbury Use, some Hereford Use, and some the Use of Bangor, some of York, some of Lincoln; now from henceforth all the whole Realm shall have but one Use.”

    I have been travelling extensively around NZ recently. A retired priest told me that if they were to start an ordinary communion service with the “weekly rhythm of liturgy” they would have the largest congregation in that significant-size city - and that the abandonment of common prayer had not only cost them the abandonment by many regulars, but of their significant financial contribution also.



  7. Dear Bosco, I can appreciate that you, as a learned and qualified liturgist, are keen to preserve the tradition of the Church's cycle of prayer - after all, you were bought up on the recitation of the Breviary. however, what I think we all need to watch out for is the repetitive nature of set prayers than can - if we're not careful, become somewhat perfunctory.

    However; in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Jesus gave us the opportunity to meet directly with him - in the forms of Bread and Wine that (by the action of the Holy Spirit) - as our N.Z. Prayer Book tells us - is intended to "become for us the Body and Blood of Christ"; a somewhat more palpable 'Presence' of Christ among us than even the Word of God in the Scriptures.

    The Eucharist was the basic common means of fellowship with one another 'in Christ' for the early Church - the action which was actually inaugurated by Jesus for this precise purpose: "Do this to re-member me!" This is probably why Religious Orders of women and men are generally gathered around this Presence of Christ in the Sacrament as the supreme act of worship in their communities. It is also why catholic churches around the world are generally open for the Daily Mass celebration - an act of prayerful devotion to, and engagement with, the Lord of the Church - in some place or another - 24 hours a day.

    While other acts of prayer, meditation and worship might be food for the individual soul; there is no substitute for the Eucharistic Gathering of the Faithful around the altar. Until, and unless, this sacred tradition is celebrated and availed by all within the Body of Christ, the Vine may not grow sufficiently to supply the salvation needs of the world.

  8. How are your cathedral services different from your parish services?


  9. Hi Bowman
    Our cathedrals offer formal, prayer book services, with choral eucharist and choral evensong featuring.

    Very few parish these days offer a choral eucharist and/or a choral evensong.

    Many parishes offer a formal prayer book eucharist at 8 am; and a less formal eucharist at 10 am, which (from parish to parish) may follow the prayer book tightly, mostly, or very loosely.

    One sign of variation is services offering all lectionary readings and psalm for the day (most likely cathedrals) through services offering a couple of readings through services with just one reading.

  10. Hi Bosco
    I suspect that (and suspect that you would agree with me) even if we had all ducks and drakes (re collects, and only eucharistic prayers agreed within our church) lined up, we would still have questions about how "common worship" is understood in our church, and what is the extent of our common commitment to common worship.

  11. Are then the parish services abbreviated from the cathedral services?

    (Please forgive my curiosity about what must seem too obvious to mention. Across time and space, the relations between cathedrals and other sorts of churches have varied * and their differences are sometimes marked liturgically **. The future of those relations and differences seems to be a subtopic of the present OP.)

    * For example, despite a great profusion of lesser churches, chapels, and shrines, the Byzantine canons treat all as members of the local diocese. Touring a town in Macedonia with 40 medieval churches, I wondered where my guide was a member. He was puzzled a bit by the question, but obliged me by pointing out seven to which he had various family connections-- here a priestly uncle, there responsibility as a trustee, over there generations of weddings, etc.

    ** Which is why the Byzantine ordo restricted the *great feasts* of the church year to the cathedral churches to which all belonged.


  12. No, I don't think so, Bowman.

    My own view (but other local views are welcome to disagree) is that parish services have evolved, rather than abbreviated (from a day when parishes and cathedrals had more in common, e.g. every parish had a choir; and hymns/anthems/psalms predominated; whereas today it is difficult to hear (say) Hillsong sung in cathedrals but quite routine in many parishes.)


  13. "One sign of variation is services offering all lectionary readings and psalm for the day (most likely cathedrals) through services offering a couple of readings through services with just one reading."

    "Parish services have evolved, rather than abbreviated"

    Is it possible that cathedrals and parishes differ consistently and significantly in their theories of the scriptures read in church?


  14. Once in a while, my previous vicar used to pray an *electrifying* Great Thanksgiving (the prayer of communion). Heart-rending. Beautifully integrated into the common worship and congregation. But you wouldn’t find it anywhere in A New Zealand Prayer Book (let alone The Book of Common Prayer!).

    You also wouldn't find it without those underlying 'texts'.

    The power of that thanksgiving prayer didn’t just come from the words, but from a depth of spirit, or, one might say, a great poverty of spirit. Without this, all words and rituals becomes "perfunctory", over-hyped, 'too much'.

    I am for a common worship template, ‘common prayer’, that (in Bowman's metaphor) skilled musicians can improvise from - and one that is wrapped around a eucharistic heart! Prayed openly, deeply, and sensitively, such 'prayer' becomes sacred, formative rhythm.

    Is this attractive to other Anglicans? Should it be insisted on? I’m not so sure.

  15. The Pentecost service in my church was what I might call ‘free liturgy’ put together by our vicar with the normal elements of a service plus some different ones but with such a welcome of the Holy Spirit that the Presence was palpable. She is a skilled musician and I would say her service was a wonderful variation on a liturgical theme. But I agree that the common prayer is where it starts.

  16. Quick thoughts in no order.

    Bosco's comment in last week's thread bears re-reading. I live in the world that he describes, and in that world evangelism without theosis (broadly defined) is a non-starter.

    Fun Fact: Russian Orthodox theologians have agreed that Luther had a robust doctrine of theosis (narrowly defined). For more, read Tuomo Mannermaa.

    That said, three social justice considerations make the reformed variant of Latin soteriology worth engaging. Its use in social injustice needs to be exhibited. It can be helpful in addressing the moral injury incidental to social injustice. It can be a stepping stone rather than a dead end.

    We can most obviously regenerate societies in Christ by fostering an ethos that heals sinful divisions and moral injuries. Francis's thoughts on reparative justice are useful.

    Early C20 world missions spurred the modern ecumenical movement. Theologically grounded work for justice and peace with a global horizon will spur the postmodern ecumene.

    For clarity, some distinguish ordo from rite. One can, for example, celebrate a U2charist that is traditional in overall *shape of the liturgy* but edgy in text.


  17. In his Love of Learning and the Desire for God, Jean Leclercq famously distinguished the theology of the rising medieval universities from the older theology of the monasteries. The former sought authority grounded in truth; the latter interpreted lived faith in the light of revelation.

    In the aftermath of the *nouvelle theologie*, a modern tilt toward the schoolmen and away from the monastics has been redressed in Rome. JP2 and B16 both promoted the retrieval of *spiritual theology*.

    Protestants, not least Anglicans, having more suspicion of their past, are less clear about the distinction and underlying unity. At worst, we tend to believe that all theology is police work. This reveals the atrophy of spiritual theology that has recently been called a "black hole."

    For postmodern purposes, it may be best to reintroduce the distinction as between our inquiry into the teaching of the ecumene, and another that repairs the faith of souls, institutions, polities, and communions.


  18. The tendency to trace Anglican origins to the reformation perhaps hasn't helped in this, would you say Bowman? Not least given the destruction of monastic life that is a critiical part of these "origins" (over 800 monasteries, abbeys, nunneries and friaries destroyed).

    I suppose that was some of the point of the Oxford movement and the Caroline devines - to cultivate a 'spiritual theology' beyond Hooker and Cranmer's emphasis on ecclesial polity? At least that's how the story often goes.

    What's the Protestant way of theosis, of union with Christ? Is there one?

    It seems to me it can't be common prayer alone as it too easy for that to revert to a kind of dry formalism.

    Not that Protestants having experienced oneness with God/Christ/Spirit, but, beyond charismatic personalities, there's very little by way of stable guidance, mentoring, and praxis, including how to safely navigate the inevitable dark nights, crises, and breakdowns that come along the way. Isn't this the case?

  19. Is it useful to assume, perhaps, that a Protestant theosis begins where a Catholic one does: in the reading of scripture (and common prayer), and in the gathering together as the Body of Christ (again, links to common prayer).

    But there is a second movement that I don't see or talked about in the Protestant way, where that sacred reading (intensely, individually, or corporately/together) drops from the level of dualistic consciousness into contemplation, from the mind into the heart.

    Monastics spoke of the four senses of scripture (literal, moral, allegorical, and uniative), and developed a way of moving from the surface to the deep (lectio divina). Centering prayer, Christian meditation, Jesus prayer etc can all be seen as methods of lectio divina, in a way.

    I'm sure this movement happens when Protestants read the Bible (or common prayer), too. If it's the movement of spirit, and not just a human technology, how could it not?

  20. What Mark (and others here) describes is exactly what good liturgy IS. I have, over many, many years, used the metaphors of music, that Mark uses, as well as of busking, and of grammar and language. If people are experiencing liturgy as perfunctory or as dry formalism - that is because of poor formation, training, and study.

    I would push Peter’s response to me further (and suspect that you would agree with me): even if we had all ducks and drakes (re collects, and only eucharistic prayers agreed within our church) lined up - we would still have declining church attendance numbers. The mistake I think that is being made is that people think that abandoning our common prayer (including Ron’s point of the Eucharist because it is seen to be too esoteric to “seekers") is the way to turn the tide of shrinking and ageing.

    Yes - those that sit less tightly to a perfunctory and dry-formalism worship practice have larger and younger communities. Because they had seen common worship done badly they have mistakenly seen the issue is in the common worship, rather than in the way it was done badly.



  21. "The tendency..." Matthew Parker (42A --> 39A) insisted on the organic continuity of the Church in England from the Council of Arles to the present day.

    In pre-modern societies around the world, monasteries have served many philanthropic purposes related more to the lack of proper social institutions than to theosis. The Tudors believed their monasteries were (a) decadent (b) otiose if there will be no masses to free souls from purgatory, and (c) a *mort main* on the realm's economy. We can regret their choice or not, but I do not think that they acted any less piously than say Roman bishops who forced contemplative nuns to teach or nurse in the world.

    In TEC, monasticism was revived in the 1840s, and remains lively today. To the usual *means of grace*, monastics offer experienced spiritual direction and missionary formation. Perhaps you will found a monastery in Christchurch?

    The Caroline divines were Protestant.

    The Oxford movement had a few themes, different at successive phases. One was the CoE's independence under the sovereign of the state. Another was reconnection with the spirituality of the Continent. A final one was selective retrieval of England's own pre-reformation spirituality.

    " the story often goes." The story is often told in one of two untrustworthy ways. Neither notices the Latitudinarians of the long eighteenth century or distinguishes *high reformed churchmanship* from later Anglo-Catholicism. (In passing, these were the main influences on the organisers of TEC.)

    *Justification by grace through faith in Christ apart from works of the law* has not required a distinct method of theosis. Why would it?

    Protestants and Roman Catholics both inherited and long continued the very penitential piety that followed the Black Death. Classical Protestants had a higher expectation than pre-Tridentine Catholics that a contemplative spirituality could be lived in the world of family and work. Puritan journals that I have read show moderns discovering mystical prayer and marital sex with a calm that postmoderns might envy.

    Anglicans with a participative soteriology have usually sought union with Christ in the *means of grace*, and some have had private devotions on patterns absorbed from say the Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich, or Walter Hilton. But I've never found a conflict between *justification by grace* and oh the Philokalia or Hesychasm.


  22. Final thought from me on this thread:

    I well remember one of the epochal 'Charismatic Conferences' at Massery University in the early 1970s. One of the Speakers was Father Francis Mc.Nutt (O.P?). Perhaps the most interesting part of that conference - ecclesologically - was the presence of Christians from many different denominations, both Protestant and Catholic.

    However, the main worship of each day was centred around the Eucharist, where Scripture, Teaching (rather than 'preaching') and vibrant Music and periods of Silence were all part and parcel of the proceedings - where the emphasis was directed towards the palpable Presence of 'Jesus in the midst'. From that day forward I grew to understand the great attraction of Eucharistic Celebration as the well-spring of all true worship of God-in-Christ. (Incidentally, ALL who came forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ - regardless of their denominational background, were made welcome - no questions asked! One was able to recognise that Christ was the Host)

    From conversations between the excellent teaching sessions by a variety of teachers, one gathered that the most 'exciting' part of the Conference was the Celebration and Reception of Christ together at the Eucharist. I think many went away from that Conference with a richer, more profound experience of empowerment in the sacramental activity of the Body of Christ, from which to go out and Tell the Good News of the Gospel.

  23. Try to hold this in mind for a minute--

    Every Christian spirituality "software" is somewhere being run on the Protestant "operating system."

    But the Protestant (ultimately Lutheran) model of church as a territorial distribution system for grace in pipes is shrinking. Insofar as parishes are only distributors of something, they are competing unsuccessfully with cars and the 'net.

    Not doing good things because they do not save parishes is throwing out wine because it will not patch holes in the wineskin. And making Kool Aid because the wineskin can more easily hold it is not wise.

    Mourning and managing the end of flatly territorial churches is a generational task. But it is not necessarily a joyless one. It is simply hard to do that whilst also groping toward the next model for dioceses.


  24. Again, Mark, people do everything. But theosis implies progress, progress implies spiritual guidance from easy empathy and informed experience, and that is much harder to find and begin than it should be.

    Surprisingly, perhaps, souls in every denomination complain that they cannot find helpful guidance. Churches with rich traditions of spirituality do not necessarily have more or better guides than those with scarcely any.

    Here up yonder, the usual choice of layfolk is to (a) meet regularly with a nearby pastor who can at least make sense of the notion that souls can grow in grace, and meanwhile (b) search further afield for a more experienced guide.

    At eucharist at say the monastery of the Society of St John the Evangelist in Harvard Square one will always meet a few pilgrims who have traveled some appalling distance to meet with one of the brothers. But keeping it real, I've known Orthodox who, in Thessaloniki of all places, were doing the same thing for the mundane reasons that affect any other life decision.

    As you say, there are programs that try to train spiritual directors. Seminaries of all traditions now offer some course or even a credential in spiritual direction. The students presumably benefit, but I am not always persuaded that they are what Christian tradition has understood to be (b) spiritual elders.

    There could be promise in diocesan initiatives that (a) first relationship. It can do a world of good, and for many that is probably enough. For the rest, it could be a way into a network that affords some choice

    If one wants to follow oh a hardcore hesychast program of 10,000 Jesus prayers and prostrations a day, then one is probably moving to the Holy Mountain.


  25. Thanks Bowman.

    If union with Christ is synonymous with justification, as seems to be the Reformed position, then that's the end of the spiritual journey, isn't it? The *popular* model seems to be: accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour, then go out and convert others (until some personal scandal shipwrecks you). Sorry to put it so simplistically, but I think that is how it is usually presented and understood.

    Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Methodist traditions emphasize the *ongoing process of salvation*. You also speak of a *growth in grace* in this context, perhaps more Anglicanly. Anglicans sometimes 'look East' (Rowan Williams, Simon Barrington-Ward saying the Jesus Prayer every morning) or get deep into monastic traditions (Ignatian spirituality, lectio divina, centering prayer) to grow their spirituality.

    Secular postmoderns often go further East (Buddhism, yoga) because they believe Christianity doesn’t have much to offer in terms of a deeper, transformative, and *therapeutic* spiritual process.

    I think you put your finger on something really important in your last post:

    “…theosis implies progress, progress implies spiritual guidance from easy empathy and informed experience, and that is much harder to find and begin than it should be.”

    Indeed! Oh well:

    “When you are in the dark nights of purification, you are a very poor judge of your own case. One of the trials you have to expect is being unable to find anyone who can help you. God may arrange it that way so you have to put all your trust in him.” (Thomas Keating).

  26. Hi Mark
    Sanctification has been important to evangelicalism and (I assume, but I don’t know the tradition well) Reformed Christianity.
    Exploration of what it means to be “in Christ” is significant for all who dig deep into Pauline Christianity.
    It is difficult to read the Book of Revelation without encountering the future as union with Christ on the divine throne, or, at least, being caught into the beatific vision of the Lamb.

  27. Hi Mark

    Classical Protestant systems substituted *justification, sanctiification, vocation* (derived from the outline of Romans) for the *purification, illumination, union* (derived from neo-platonism). In those theories, justification was the end of certain perdition but only the beginning of salvation.

    Union with Christ enabled all three phases.

    In practice, pastors have often treated justification as the whole of what God asks of us.

    Because particular souls have different *attraits* and begin from myriad predicaments, several kinds of hacks can be helpful.

    A better diagnosis of what has failed is that *sin* has been too narrowly understood to carry the weight put on it in a system motivated by the penitence of *persons*. In the Bible (cf Luther), it's captivity to the powers that elicit idolatry. That has some psychodynamic depth. In popular folk religion, sin is just breaking greater or lesser rules. Not unimportant, but too impersonal to have traction in a personal transformation as St Paul noted.

    We cannot expect a conscious change that is deeper than our understanding of evil. But that often comes after the beginning...


  28. Hi Peter,

    Before Paul and Revelation there is, of course, Jesus’s desire for our oneness – ‘as I and the Father are one’. ‘Abide in me as I abide in you.’

    In contrast to childhood schema, oneness with God can’t be secured through magical thinking or wish fulfilment (just asking or willing for it to be so), getting one’s theological thinking sorted (the triumph of ideas to control reality, including God), nor through endless self-improvement (the amassing of moral and even economic capital that eventually impresses God into granting us his full presence).

    Nor through obedience to external authority – formal or institutional oneness.

    Nor though shared worldviews – we all believe this, we are one as creedal Christians, therefore we are one in Christ etc.

    Nor through dutiful performance of rituals – e.g. receiving communion, saying the Lord’s Prayer.

    They’re all just beginning points, just scratching the surface.

    And we’re not sick on the surface but all the way down. (And, of course, we can’t achieve oneness anyway, we can but thin our resistance to grace).

    I’m not suggesting anyone here thinks this way, but this discussion thread is about the future of the church, which, in part, is how it communicates itself to the world, including the sorts of answers and interpretations human beings usually come up with as our consciousness develops through the lifespan.

    Our usual translations of metanoia – repentance, change of mind and heart – have lost meaning through overuse or hypocrisy.

    What is the Christian path to the transformation of consciousness, to the enlightenment of the beatitudes? I think my generation and others to come are open to hearing some answers to these sorts of questions…

  29. At the Australian General Synod Matthew Anstey moved that the GS affirm Same Sex marriage. Mark Thompson moved that the GS affirm that the marriage doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia was man-woman marriage. I might be the most naive observer at that Synod but those positions are incompatible it seems to me. We see in TEC the beginnings of a campaign to deny confirmation of the election of a Bishop with conservative views. Is there any example of a “comprehensive” Anglicanism that allows the robust expression of both beliefs, apart from the toleration of a rump minority? Over time Anglicanism seems to struggle to maintain comprehensiveness on gendered issues.

  30. Dear John
    There were many things going on in the GS (via several motions, amendments, etc) but I interpreted the key issue of difference being whether the Synod would agree with the Appellate judgment, that the marriage doctrine of ACA did not preclude priests or bishops offering a blessing of a civilly contracted same sex marriage. There would be a certain comprehensiveness of the church re including people who believe and act differently on these matters if this is so (i.e. The bishops voting against the relevant motion did so uphold the Appellate decision), and thus 60% of the church could continue to not so bless and 40% of the church could so bless and 100% would be bound to understand that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman.

    It is early days, however, how comprehensiveness works re various issues, as you note, though is it not the case that the ACA does have an effective comprehensive position on the ordination of women?

  31. Perhaps a better understanding of the ACA - as far as the GS was concerned that there is two blocs with little middle ground. The conservative or evangelical group now has 60 per cent of the Synod, with the hose of clergy joining the House of Laity in having an evangelical majority. If this gradual conservatisation of the church continues there will be an evangelical majority in the House of Bishops within the next two General Synods, and the appellate tribunal will change as well. But I am no prophet.

    The viability of regional dioceses is a concern and is most likely to affect progressive dioceses.

    It is reasonable speculation to suggest that a few bishops, maybe two, voted not to reject the Appellate tribunal decision and so defeated Sydney's first statement. The vote was 10 to 12 with two abstentions, one most likely being the Primate who chaired the meeting

    Then they immediately voted 12 to 11 to endorse Sydney's second statement on unchastity which reads "Pursuant to the authority recognised in s.4 and s.26 of the Constitution, to “make statements as to the... discipline of this Church”, and in accordance with the procedures set out in Rule V, the General Synod states that it continues to hold the historic view that unchastity means sexual activity outside a marriage relationship, defined in the Book of Common Prayer as the union of one man and one woman, in accordance withJesus’ teaching about marriage in Matt 19:4-5."

    A second reasable speculation is that a middle group of say 2 bishops switched their votes in an attempt the maitain some sort of unity.

    It would be untrue to say that the GS endorsed or supported the Appellate Tribunal ruling. But the synod did support the unchastity statement above.

    My view is that the progressive dioceses now have to decide what to do with this. The ball is in their court. Some of them have encouraged some evangelicals in their dioceses, contributing to their viability. But in the Newcastle diocese for example the FIEC church plants would rival the diocese in size. I suspect they will be joined by City on a Hill soon. Can they maintain numbers without the evangelicals?

  32. Gosh. Just more love in the tent, guys.

    How many same-sex blessings have we had in ChCh diocese, Peter, since Two Integrities was secured? I’m betting it isn’t a tsunami sweeping away the foundations of heterosexual marriage.

  33. Mark, I am up here and y'all are down under, but this looks from afar like US church debates on support for gently restrictive gun laws.

    For one side, all that is at stake is a sensible policy choice. But for the other, it's about whether denomination x is against their tribal identity (ie rural white descendants of settlers).

    As individuals, the tribal churchgoers may make choices not so different from those of the policy churchgoers. But in the maelstrom of postmodernity tribal identity counts for a lot with some people and they want their churches affirming that identity, not attacking it. And from their perspective, they are good, salt of the earth Christians who are under relentless attack from policy-loving people who are fighting for empty virtue signals.

    The dilemma of most Anglicans is that if they assign cosmic meaning to synods, then they unexpectedly find themselves in wars over a minority's tribal identity markers. But if they don't assign some transcendent meaning to synodical processes, then they themselves lose the tribal marker that handily defines them as Protestant (or liberal catholic) without the bother of thinking around a Reformation template.


  34. Postmodernity inevitably raises the stakes of conflicts around markers of tribal identity. Is there a way between the horns of the Anglican dilemma? There are a few.

    One is to take Jesus's anti-militarism into the Anglican ethos.

    Another is to empower bishops to be pastoral first responders to emergent issues.

    Yet another is to recognise that synods do have a role in the reception of novel teaching, but none whatsoever in the invention of it.

    And finally, Anglicans can leave adolescent rebellion behind to establish an adult relationship of give and take with their spiritual ancestors.

    Meanwhile, happy warriors, weak bishops, synodical absolutism, and theological amnesia intensify the dilemma.


  35. Hi Bowman,

    That’s an interesting analogy. I was just thinking that this all comes to sound like polarized American politics – getting the numbers on the right committee, or Supreme Court, or synod floor...a slow, game of political checkmate between two erstwhile opponents, playing the long game, or the short game...waiting for the right moment to overturn Roe versus Wade, or reaffirm traditional Christian marriage, or whatever, or affirm same-sex marriage...

    “When two tribes go to war, a point is all that you can score.” (Frankie Goes to Hollywood)

    “Everyday is like survival. You’re my lover, not my rival.” (Boy George)

  36. Pentimenti

    There are trade-offs between brevity and precision. In retrospect, some seem ill-made.

    *Anti-militarism* serves where no word is quite right. The best word would connect Jesus's ethical teaching both with his reconciling work as the One in whom all things coinhere and also with the peacemaking vocation of those in his Body.

    It might be best to think of synods as last responders in a system that is said to be "episcopally led but synodically governed." Bishops should normally make quasi-judicial decisions that make case-wise sense. If and when a body of those decisions amount to a change, it could be good for a synod to review that result.

    Our theological amnesia results not only from adolescent rebellion against our ancestors, but also from the childish credulity against which the adolescents are actually rebelling. Too few engage our predecessors as fellow disciples.


  37. Dear John ... Mark

    John: this issue isn't about the politics of Synods or demography of Dioceses, it's about the kind of community of faith two people in a marriage permitted by state law might be able to be themselves in and request prayer from, and whether an Anglican church can have a big heart and wide mind to permit those who would so wish to be themselves and those who would so wish to pray, to be able to do so. Is it that difficult that a Yes to comprehensiveness cannot be given?

    Mark: since May 2018: 2.

  38. Any community of Christians locally can come to a common mind, and decide to hold or not hold same-sex blessings. But you ask a related but different question. Can an Anglican church make that decision? In Australia, it appears that at present that decision is at a diocesan level.
    But I think you might be asking another question. "Does having a big heart and wide mind require an Anglican church to hold or endorse same-sex blessings?" The logic of that is, if the answer is "yes" then it should be "yes" all the time, surely. That logic does not imply comphrehensiveness, but a new orthodoxy.

  39. No, John.
    It implies that we might understand ourselves to be a broad church in which there are different views and those different views might have adherents who continue to live in that broad church, without falling out, not least because there are so many other things we hold in common, above all, out commitment to Jesus Christ; but also because we do not wish to place any one or any diocese or other grouping of churches in the position where their identification rests, when all is said and done, on which side of this particular matter we stand.

  40. Peter,
    You won't have heard the speech by Professor Dorothy Lee at the Australian GS in seconding a "unity" motion which failed to pass, in which she said "we agree on 95 per cent on what we believe. I thought it was an interesting comment and I have asked her if she'd like to develop that thought.
    I suspect though that on the West island the identification of particular dioceses - not all - with "sides" has already occurred.
    My earlier point is the appeal to "have a big heart" implies a preference for one side of the issue. I might have read too much into your comment, however

  41. Thanks John
    I am certainly asking Anglicans here, there and everywhere to consider (i) not taking sides, or to cease taking sides (ii) allowing a variety of views, on the basis of (iii) Dorothy Lee's point, that, in fact, we have a lot - it might even be measurable to 95% - in common.

    And, yes, an appeal to a "big heart" is an appeal to all, not just to side with one side.

  42. "...a slow game..."

    Not in Cockaigne. The primate there decided that in each diocese the two sides would draw for the right to call heads or tails on a fair coin which the diocesan bishop would flip at the cathedral high altar. "Whosoever will not accept the decision of Providence is not a believer anyway."

    Although there is apostolic precedent for them, aleatory decision rules have long been out of vogue. Yet they get decisions made in a way free of suspicion and bitterness.

    Canon Law Note: It was objected that this procedure violates a canon of the Fourth Council of the Lateran. However the chancellor to the primate replied that, because there was absolutely nothing at stake-- the couples would marry elsewhere, if not in church; by the 39A Anglican weddings are not sacraments-- the mandated coin flips would not be games of chance. His argument prevailed, and the coins were duly flipped.

    This brought peace for a time. But then the same sides began to quarrel over the blessing of hounds at fox hunts.


  43. Human beings and chimpanzees share 98.8% of the same DNA.
    This isn't surprising because the vast majority of the biochemical processes are the same. We share 60% of our DNA with bananas, after all.
    The difference between humans and chimps lies in that 1.2%. That difference in the base pairs in every single cell accounts for 35 million differences (at least) between humans and chimps. So what is fatal for one can be harmless to another, and biologically at least, everything that is human is contained in that 1.2%. Or probably much, much less. ALL humans of all intellects and abilities - Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo Sapiens - share 99.9% of the same DNA.
    Peter, do not forget what St Paul said: 'A little leaven leavens the whole lump."
    How much error are you happy to have in your doctrine? Or as the columnist Mark Steyn rather graphically puts it, "If you mix a quart of ice cream with a teaspoon of dog poo, what does it taste of?"
    Or to put things in a politer and more scholarly way, Christian truth is systemic and so is error.
    We are witnessing a developing catastrophe in the west, in the epidemic of adolescent girls who are confused about their sex and think they are in "the wrong body". How did we get to this cultural catastrophe? Precisely by the same route of approving homosexual desire. Check out Matt Walsh's new film "What is a woman?"

    Pax et bonum
    William Greenhalgh

  44. Peter,
    Here's a live case study worth watching.

    In the TEC Diocese of Florida, a bishop with a conservative view on SSM has been elected. Progressives are lobbying for dioceses to refuse consent (in the TEC a new bishop needs consent from 50% of the dioceses). The new bishop is happy to abide by the rule that any church in TEC can hold SSM, and will provide for another bishop to supervise this. But that is not good enough for some progressives.

    One can not imagine a TEC bishop who opposed women's ordination getting consent. Conservatives, whatever they believe on WO, fear that the same will happen with regard to SSM. Florida may get through, but there will be a next time.

    I suspect your message to evangelicals in TEC is "stay in". But should they have some hope of having bishops?

    This issue applies to both "sides".

  45. Peter, 9:29 exemplifies what I have meant here by *the psychology of polarisation*. The bitter conflicts of our lifetime-- not just culture wars, but Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Ukraine-- have begun with viral messaging that there is a divide by identity, the other side is malevolent toward your identity, and there is no safety in the peaceable centre of non-identitarians, so run for your life to the protection of the happy warriors who will tell you who you really are.

    For those with an allegiance to the Prince of Peace, this is nescience, the spiritual blindness of those who do not yet know YHWH or whose tentative awareness of him has been confused by hardened passions for fear and conflict.

    Jesus healed the ear of the high priest's servant. Bar Kochva perished in his revolt. "Those who live by the sword die by the sword."


  46. Blessed Cockaigne! It is good to hear they struggle with the hound question, as we do.

  47. Hi William // John

    I am focused on how the church supports homosexuals unconfused about who they are, and ask whether we can find a way which is helpful to them, not least by offering through at least some of our churches, visible support for their virtuous desire to enter into a lifelong partnership.

    The current issue of the day, the situation of people who wish to transition their gender etc, should not be an occasion for scapegoating homosexuals and their quest for a better deal.

    Rather, we are a culture which has found a way to talk openly and honestly about matters we once preferred not to talk about: the role of women in the home and society, homosexuality, sexual abuse, and now gender. It is a good thing we are able to have open and honest conversations. Without them we might, for instance, never tackle sexual abuse.

    The conversation about gender is, we see, challenging in a variety of ways, not least because it may also be contributing to a rise in numbers of people seeking to transition. Are some people, especially children confused? If so, we should talk about that too.

    It is not appropriate, I suggest, to imply that there are conversations today which should not be happening because some years back we started a conversation about homosexuality.

    On the matter of TEC: for some years I have been troubled by this church and its internal politics (with analogy, at least in my mind and its reflections, on the US generally and its internal politics). I do not like what is happening re the Florida bishop-elect. But I also do not see that it is where either Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia is heading.

  48. Peter, I suspect you have not understood the logic of my post.
    If you have read the book by the Presbyterian American historian Carl Trueman, "The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self", you would understand *exactly how the themes are intimately related.
    I have not said we should not have "open and honest conversations" about homosexuality.
    The problem is, the modern world totally refuses to have open and honest conversations about the subject. Ask yourself this:
    Are you uncomfortable in describing homosexual acts? If not, why not?
    Are you uncomfortable in describing the realities of male homosexual life? The facts are all there in the literature.
    Why is it so different from heterosexual married life?
    Are you uncomfortable in thinking about homosexual couples bringing up children in a gay social world? Is it God's will?
    As for gender dysphoria, surely you are aware that many gays are angry about being lumped in with transgenderism. Why do you think this is?
    And what do you say to the "terfs" - that they are "bigots"?
    The west does NOT have "open and honest conversations". When you do speak the truth about the realities of our fallen existence, you will be doxxed, cancelled and driven out of your employment.
    I fear you do have a romantic view of things.
    I encourage you to read Trueman's book, as I did. And see Walsh's film - it is very disturbing.

    Pax et bonum,
    William Greenhalgh

  49. Linking to the previous discussion about "R" numbers and the survival of churches, it seems to me that we have the makings of an experiment here.
    1) The future of the ACANZP, with same sex marriage blessings made official in the church. There is a small breakaway with a community for conservatives staying in.
    2) TEC where the conservatives are being squeezed out.
    3) Australia where there will be competing res[onses re SSB, diocese by diocese with vigorous church planting movements and half-in and half-out groups like Trinity network in Adelaide.

    Can any of these climb above a R number of greater than one?


  50. Hi John
    Game on.
    But would it not be fair as an experiment to widen it?
    For instance, might we also see how the RCC does in USA, Australia and NZ?
    (Here they are, as far as I can tell, our largest church "by attendance" numbers).

    But there is also this reflection to consider (perhaps focusing more or Oz and NZ): churches (at least over here) may have as much as 10% of the population attending (albeit with varying regularities, Sunday to Sunday). It is not difficult to hypothesise that within that 10% the R number is higher for conservative churches.

    That leaves the question of any church and of all churches' effectiveness in securing a hearing from the 90%.

    Is that possibly the biggest experiment of them all, the question whether we can make conversionist headway among the vast majority of our fellow citizens who are not in church?

  51. As best as I can work out on the West Island

    The Catholic Sunday attendance steadily declines by 5 to 6 per cent a year.
    Pentecostals are increasing and may now have climbed above the Catholics.
    Baptists are growing slowly.
    New groups like FIEC and City on a Hill are growing similar to Pentecostals but off a lower base, they are decades younger.
    Anglicans - evangelicals are steady or in a small decline, progressives are dealing much more rapidly.

  52. Just a quick thank you to Mark and Moya for commenting here. I've been rethinking a few things from a perspective not far from either of yours, so it has been helpful to have your voices and opinions in the mix.


  53. I have a premonition that churches-- edgy or sticky-- that jump into culture war fights overconfident in what they think they know about recently uncloseted sexualities will be embarrassed by the future. Conversely, churches that take more parsimonious positions-- sticky or edgy-- will forfeit some cheap feelings of superiority but will also be better able to adapt actual pastoral care to what turns out to be real. Choose this day whom you will serve.

    Churches should speak directly to the question whether their parliaments or courts have done justice in registering new kinds of couples. Adult conversations begin from a thoughtful and theological yes or no.

    But beyond that, acting in relative ignorance signals no virtue. A church is not a gas station or convenience store but a family where people act from shared convictions and perceptions that take time and a certain give and take to build.

    Voices on That Topic-- sticky usually but sometimes edgy-- often sound as though their motivating concern is less with what pastors might do in churches than with what godless citizens might do in their own homes in a democratic state. Why is that our concern here? Is a revolution in the state being proposed to Christians?

    What is smartest about the ACANZP approach is that it provides for both intelligent pastoral care and epistemological modesty. It would be smarter yet if it took an unambiguous and well-reasoned position on what justice requires in the kind of civil society that it has today.


  54. Meantime, in the U.S.A., we have the ever-growing threat of 'Christian Nationalism', which threatens to take over the task of what might be seen by its sternest advocates as salvation in that Western country. For the Gospel outreach to be limited by a culture of fundamentalism based on a literal interpretation of The Scriptures could seriously limit the attraction of serious thinkers of the future to be open to 'what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church' in our day and age. Here is the latest U.S. article about 'Christian Nationalism', which still supports the efforts of Donald Trump to exercise power through insurrection:-

  55. Alongside Bowman's most recent comment, I would add this observation:

    What form might our intra-Anglican dialogue take if we were focused on the pastoral care of same sex couples in our parishes at any time in our history (i.e. not only in this particular season of human history when so much is controverted, and in which we seem "unsettled" on matters such as gender transition)?

    What does it mean [as BW raises] to act justly towards all of our church members (in each and every season of our life)?

    And that justice question means we ask what it means to be a just church not only in relation to our theology of marriage, of divorce and remarriage, but also of same sex partnerships (which may be marriages according to state law)?

    If there is one way in which we may be less than fair as Anglicans, it may be in our propensity to find "exceptions" to what Jesus said about divorce and remarriage, but not to what Jesus did not say about same-sex partnerships!

  56. Bowman and Peter,

    This voice on that topic is not concerned about questions of state law. In fact,I have advocated for civil rights for LGBT persons for decades.The term "intra-Anglican" as used by Peter describes where I wish to focus. If we are to focus on pastoral care - which is a good place to start, our Anglican perspectives will at some point include the issue of whether this is a salvation issue. If it is not, I would agree we can dismiss caution about SSB as mere bigotry.

  57. The pastoral care of rainbow Christians is best served by the provision of churches that do not torture them with the notion/doubt that same-sex attraction is a "salvation issue".

  58. John, since you and I agree on so much, yet not everything, I was glad to read your 3:20.

    Now then, + Peter asked about "pastoral care" and to that you sensibly asked about a "salvation issue." Tricky, because Protestants usually follow St Paul's outline for Romans in distinguishing justification, sanctification, and vocation.

    Hypothetically, we could be certain of the justification of disciples among Mark's "rainbow Christians," but unsure what to say about their sanctification and vocation in the new "condition of life" (XXV) created for them by the state. Saved? *By grace through faith in Christ apart from works of the law*, yes, justified, of course. But then what?

    Personally, I learned that bigotry is not the only reason to ask that from a lesbian clinical psychologist who was also a new, rather evangelical Episcopalian. She presumed that she would eventually enter a civil union, but was saddened by the statistical evidence that lesbian couples have comparatively high rates of domestic violence. So she did her PhD dissertation research on that problem, and kept our bishop apprised of what she found.

    He was not naive about such things, but even he was very surprised that lesbian couples have more risk of that sort than other kinds of couples. If a lesbian doctoral student at Harvard had not been explaining this to him, I do not think that he would have believed it.

    Happy warriors on both sides have debated That Topic with everybody-or-nobody, black-and-white faux certitude. As you and Peter recognise, such crudeness is not adequate to good pastoral care for disciples with same sex attraction in this brave new world. And talk about SSB has fixated on just the ritual moment of a longer pastoral and sometimes alas canonical process. Anglicans need a better conversation.