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 Z├╝rich 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.