Monday, November 7, 2022

Can we ever change anything of substance in the life of the church?

A question thrown up by English events of the past few days,* is represented in the contents of a tweet which I copy here:

"Bishop of Oxford says he no longer believes in the Church of England teaching which he took an oath to uphold and protect.

If he had any integrity he would therefore resign his position."

That is, the question this post is concerned with is: How might the teaching of the church change? 

When we who are officers of the church (i.e. those who sign up to the teaching of the church) begin to think that something could or should be different, are we bound to suppress those thoughts, or to resign? What is the process by which the church changes its minds on a matter if its official leaders are bound to express no thoughts out loud about the possibility of change?

In other words, it is absurd to equate a commitment to the teaching of the church with a resolve to never, ever question it.

Sure, there are better ways and means to raise questions than others (think of the bishops through the years who have publicly questioned the resurrection and caused dismay and despair in the pews), but when there are issues which involve significant differences among members, and big questions over the church's relationship to society, it is appropriate to raise questions and consider changes and revisions.

On the content of the tweet cited above, rigorously enforced since, say, 1559, we would not have women ordained as clergy, there would be no remarriage in churches of divorced persons, the Book of Common Prayer would not be revised into a new prayer book which captured changes in Anglican eucharistic theology, and, noting the anti-Papalism of the 39A, there would be no ARCIC conversations.

(A Roman Catholic - Thomas Moore? - might go further, and say, that is precisely why the English Reformation is both wrong and bad: clergy forsook their vows!).

In what way may we who vowed to uphold the teaching of the church also be permitted to review it, develop it or even change it?

Historians of theology here will recall the great irony that John Newman forsook his vows to uphold the CofE's doctrines by leaving it, only to then, as a Roman Catholic, begin a long influence of his new church via the notion of "development" of doctrine, an influence which, arguably, is behind (or underneath) present day turmoil in the Roman Catholic church.

Current English turmoil

Following immediately on the heels of the departure of CofE bishops from a meeting about their response to the CofE process called Living in Faith and Love, the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft last week wrote a response to recent deliberations within the CofE. (The actual book he has written is purchaseable etc rather than available for free view or download). See also these articles in Church Times: an extract from the book here and a report here.

I wonder if the key question in this new phase of debate in the CofE is this (in the extract linked to above):

"The more the Church commends the goods of permanent, stable, and faithful relationships for heterosexual people in marriage, the more difficult it becomes to justify denying those goods and blessings to people who happen to be homosexual."

Do the rejoinders actually tackle this question? That could be a question for the CofE and its debates!

Speaking of rejoinders, there is:

A prompt rejoinder by Ian Paul at Psephizo.

And another by Vaughan Roberts, a vicar in the city of Oxford (download his pdf from this link).

CEEC statement here.

Perhaps most helpful of all, Angela Tilby, inspired by John Milbank, on a needed third way.

Except, in response to Tilby-Milbank's "third way", a friend on Twitter has tweeted that "second class" is not for him.

If on Twitter, you may see various back and forth, some very supportive tweets, and some disagreeing strongly. Unfortunately, social media responses not seen by me include, according to a tweet I have seen, abusive, hateful responses to +Steven.

Any how, this post is not intended to be a further foray into argument, but a note that the mother church of our Communion is moving into a new phase in its own journey on these matters. 

Having waited for Lambeth 2022 to be concluded, the relatively united front of their bishops (i.e. to refrain from much comment, one way or another), has now moved to a phase in which bishops such as +Steven (and a few others who have signalled public agreeement) are voicing their views.

The CofE bishops are meeting again before Christmas, and there is a next session of their General Synod in February 2023. What change might be proposed? What might be agreed to?

Nothing less than the unity of the CofE is at stake, even as nothing less than a "better deal" for the gay members of the CofE is also at stake.

Watch this space. It is critical to the way in which the future of the Communion itself will be shaped.

please comment on the question at the beginning of this post and not on That Topic ... and please take great care about any ad hominen comments. They will not be published, even if they are 1% of an otherwise 99% fine comment. Am too busy to moderate otherwise.


Anonymous said...

No. Or-- when it happens simply because somebody or some body thinks that it would be a good idea, the result is schism.

So the Patriarch Nikon imposed more accurate translations of the liturgy on the Russian faithful and the Old Believers break away. Horrific repression-- congregations burnt alive in their churches-- followed.

But wasn't the patriarch right? Yes, about translation generally. But today we know that the older Slavonic text that he pushed aside was translated from an earlier and better Greek text. On the substance, the peasants were right.

In retrospect, we see that the real issue at stake was Moscow's rule over an empire then adding hundreds of square miles a day. This secular context raised the stakes so high that accommodation was impossible, schism inevitable, and discipline ruthless.

Centrally imposed "change" either fails or divides. It makes churches less familial and more coercive. In the long view, it often errs. And with only a robustly scriptural and patristic theology of the Body, it is hard to see its value.

There is a different sort of change. In a double sense, it is more traditional.

(1) When the penitential system descended from the NT collapsed in the West, this was a far more grave problem than That Topic. The entirety of all the Body's moral discipline was at risk. Who solved this problem?

Nobody knows. We do know that Irish monks far from any ecclesiastical power, who did a lot of spiritual care for nearby churchfolk, devised lists of sins and penances for guidance. In this way, a practice of auricular confession was standardized. The rest of the West adopted it because it worked.

(2) More recently, a General Convention here up yonder decided not to ordain women to holy orders. Some retired bishops decided to ordain eleven of them anyway. Which decision is more followed today?

(3) Many churches-- nearly all Orthodox but even some Anglican ones-- have uncodified canons. Among the former, this happens because canons are more collected from exemplary sources than enacted by central powerholders. Here up yonder, it happens because diocesan canons can and do differ from the national ones (eg baptism before eucharist).

But even when canons are codified, the univocal text can be variously applied. Or do we think that doctrine alone clarifies them? I'm not sure whether or how Francis will sort this out, but his French and German bishops are reading their code differently.

What happens when canons conflict? Bishops decide on the facts in view. As Jesus commanded in the first place.

Kindly note that anarchy has not broken out in any of these cases. The koinonia of bishops has remained mostly as it was. The means of grace continued to be faithfully administered.

In light of all this, we might question the question: why should we prefer to impose solutions to problems by force rather than gradually gather them from best practices received with broad consensus?


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, I have just one question here:

What did the protesters against Bishop Steven repudiation of the Church of England's doctrine of marriage do that was not done by those bishops of the Church of England who accepted the new doctrine of divorce? One wonders, are any of these protesters still in favour of divorce, or maybe even divorced themselves?

Anonymous said...

12:00 is asking: is + Steven's mind-change on SSM like earlier changed minds on divorce? If so, should those who favoured the latter oppose the former? This is often asked and answered.


I am most intrigued that + Steven self-identifies as an evangelical, whilst Ian questions that. Why wouldn't one be able to embrace Bebbington's Cross, Bible, Conversion, and Action from both sides of That Topic?

About Ian and + Steven, one wonders how each envisages his preferred policies as e/Evangelical for a secular yet interfaith England. The secularity is much lamented. But the King has long admired other faiths, has a prime minister who is Hindu, and has many Catholic and Muslim subjects. So even in England, an evangelical position in today's CoE must make global sense. Neither does.

In principle-- Romans 8-- the CoE could model precisely a humanity-in-renewal for its society. But neither Ian's tribal biblicism nor + Steven's *customer service department* speaks deeply enough about human universals to spur recognition.


Anonymous said...

One of the NZAC Prayer Book services has an Affirmation of Faith as an alternative to the creed which, being still Trinitarian, is not changing the substance I guess, but still opening out the teaching of basic doctrine. A previous Anglican Church I was in often used the Beatitudes as an alternative to the creed, not without some grumbling by the faithful. The justification for using them was that they were about what we should be doing rather than what we should be believing. Both strands are in the faith of course so it just changed an emphasis not the substance.

Mark Murphy said...

I suppose it all depends on what one takes to be (matters of) substance. The bishop discerns this in terms of the tree and it's fruits.

My eighty-something year old mother made a similar shift to the courageous + Steven, and felt it necessitated by, rather than in contradiction to, the core substance of her Christian faith.

Liz Cowburn said...

I read a 2016 article (link via Bowman in comments of an ADU-post dated 29-Jan-2016) --quote:

"In the mix of all that threatens the world today, the issue that keeps Anglicans from fulfilling our common mission is our public disagreement on questions on human sexuality." --Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon

In 2022, the threats mentioned in the lead-up to the quote are *still* threats; and the public disagreement *still* grinds on. I find this discouraging. I wonder how long the situation can go on without some kind of change - I don't know what. I watch, and I try to learn.

Article link:

Liz Cowburn said...

Finished reading the (45 page) rejoinder to the Bishop of Oxford by Vaughan Roberts (link is in Bishop Peter's post) and I found it thoughtful, honest and compelling. He clearly and graciously explains his personal view and shares some of his own story as well as discussing the way forward ~left me with a lot to think about.

Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, your inclusion of a link to Angela Tilby's thoughts about a possible 'Third Way' for S/S Relationships, noted here (#) may have once been possible; but the early opposition of the Church of England to S/S Civil Partnerships Blessings has now, unfortunately to my mind, already rendered that possibility redundant: Here is Ms Tilby's assertion: -

"There should be appropriate preparation and sacramental support, with a liturgy that celebrates the sexual likeness of the partners, the gift of their intimacy, and the blessings of their union for the wider community. It is a chance to affirm the good that God means by homosexuality. An unqualified acceptance of same-sex marriage, on the other hand, risks impoverishing everyone". #

At the time of S/S Civil Partnerships being first made available by local government, perhaps the Church should have followed Angela's recommendation, stated above.

However, with Governments now allowing for S/S Marriage (which will take place anyway) the opportunity for a suitable pastoral acceptance of something less than S/S Marriage is no longer seen by most people to be an appropriate reaction of a Church that sees marriage as a 'Common Good' for heterosexual couples, but not for homosexual couples; with whom, in the public sphere; the 'common good' is also served (contra the problem of licentiousness).

Marriage, per se, is an institution common to humanity from time immemorial - not owing its origins to the formation of the Christian Church. That is not to say that is cannot be 'Blessed' - (in the Church we have all sorts of Blessings bestowed - especially at Saint Francis-tide, with animals - even battleships (!)

(One BCP ritual included the 'Churching of Women' after child-birth - with a hint of the necessity of 'ritual cleansing' before the woman was allowed to show her face in public. Do any Anglican churches in N.Z. still practise this ritual, one wonders?)

The Biblical 'Marriage of Christ and His Church' has no hint of sex or gender.

Anonymous said...

"You can never dip your toe in the same river twice." -- Heraclitus

Three Dilemmas

X and Y have sex only with each other.
What is their relationship?

(A) If they are building a large family together for economic survival, then their relationship is like the ones that Jesus and his hearers knew. What Jesus said to C1 Jews about them might well apply directly to X and Y today. The wedding of X and Y would have made basic sense in Cana of Galilee.

(B) If they are having plenty of sex but avoiding building a family, then, in that way, they would be very strange to both Jesus and his hearers. The festivities usual in Cana of Galilee would be improper and maybe embarrassing for X and Y. In that case, it is not obvious that what he said to them can be applied to the intentions of this childless couple.


This leads to a First Dilemma.

If we take (A) to be marriage, then we can say that Jesus's words about it still apply to married people today, but it is then difficult to apply them to a same sex couple.

If we take (B) to be marriage, then Jesus's words do not so obviously apply to married people today, but it is easier to see X and Y as attempting the same relationship that a same sex couple does.


If X and Y are not Christians, that dilemma probably does not interest them. But if X and Y are at least churchgoers or have a pious grandmother-- a bother in Christ, we may say-- then they may want their relationship to pass as something Christian. That would pose a Second Dilemma.

Can this be done in a *truthful* way?

If not, then what Christian sense are we to make of the prevalence in churches of pairbonding that is not especially like that of Jews in C1 Palestine?

If so, then why couldn't a same sex relationship pass as Christian in the same way?


If X and Y cannot find a robust similarity between their relationship and the sort that Jesus graced with his first miracle, then there is no *truthful* way for it to pass as intending what Jesus intended. This poses a Third Dilemma.

If they acknowledge the truth of the matter, then they may be content to intend a sexual relationship without Christian meaning. But then in what sense are they in Christ? Sex is too basic a human drive to leave outside one's relation to God.

If they acknowledge the truth but nevertheless object that it is unfair to regard their relationship as less evidently in Christ than one that is prolific in the ancient way, then are they not letting a grievance about unfairness trump the truth of the matter?

It could seem, at least to some, that the truth was an obstacle to a justice that was far more important. Or that doing justice would bury some truth that where it would be hard to find.

And here too, if X and Y face this dilemma why would not a similar same sex couple?


+ Peter asks whether we can ever change anything substantive in the Church's life. No, I don't think so.

But as we have seen above, going through the same motions in new circumstances is doing something unprecedented. We participate in change whether we wish it or not. But we do not do so in the manner of a drum major leading a parade.


Peter Carrell said...

“ the ideas that survive are those that answer to what is universal in human nature or experience, and not just to the interests of particular groups.”

— Keynes: The Return of the Master by Robert Skidelsky”

I happened to come across the above today in some reading.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
I don’t think we can change anything substantive in the life of the church, which likely means that, say, ordaining women when we have previously only ordained men is not a substantive change; and revising our understanding of Genesis 1 and 2 in the light of sceintific discovery is not a substantive change either, just a new reading of a familiar text in the light of new facts - arguably also a “deeper” reading, which seeks the theological meaning of these chapters rather than which day light was made and whether a woman really was fashioned from a rib.

The question then about same sex relationships is whether there are new facts with which to revise familiar readings; or, new insights based on familiar texts (about friendship, about bonds between people, about the resolution of sex drive not via prostitutes but via marriage).

We do face, nevertheless, the challenge that on some matters such as creation(ism), ordination of women and SSB/SSM, those who argue “but it’s hardly any change at all” are not persuading those who argue “you are pulling a card out of the delicately balanced stack of cards and going to bring the whole house of doctrine down.”

Peter Carrell said...

Finally, for tonight:

An English bishop (featuring in the current CofE debate, has posted this quote on Twitter:

“ So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine Scriptures, or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbour, has not yet succeeded in understanding them”

Sounds like the progressive comment of an outrageously 1960s liberal TEC bishop, right?

It’s by St. Augustine :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, Peter, Skidelsky's account of Keynes's social thought has a little to do with why I answer as I do. Keynes believed that large changes in the material condition of human beings were possible as economies evolved. He was demonstrably right, and that-- not anybody's opinions-- is the force that changed the role of states, the prospects for women, and the convention of marriage in our time.

This obviously opens a gap between the responsa of a rabbi to an agricultural society in C1 Palestine and the working conventions of the society around us even at its best. For the past century, catholic churches have debated this gap.

One approach is to ignore the gap. In parts of Africa, one can still do this for awhile.

An old modern approach was to frame it as a clash between wisdom for the ancient world and the progress of Science.

A related modern approach was to choose a sentiment popular today and retroject it back into the ancient world as the true spirit of the difficult responsa.

Another is to acknowledge it to fight it. We should do as the apostles did against the tide of change around us. That's roughly Ian's position.

Yet another now is political revolution to make a contemporary world in which the old responsa are civil law today. That's the position of old Carlist conservatives on the Continent, Republicans here up yonder, and Alexander Dugin in Russia.

But who was the rabbi? If he was simply an ethicist, as many left and right suppose, then our problem is with the anachronism of his responsa. This is reflected in the usual approaches, which are all oddly godless.

But if he was God-- actually the Creator-- then it is transformation before our eyes within the created orders that demands our attention. Otherwise, we are debating what the Sanhedrin should do.

Clearly questions on that grand scale demand pragmatic wisdom and an eschatological sense of history. Jesus.


Anonymous said...

" ...not persuading... 'delicately balanced'..."

A true reLIGion, as a LIGature of man to God, is not so fragile as that. It is meant to take some stress. Nor of course is YHWH fragile.

From outside an argument, it can be obvious that one side or both sides are trying to push the responsibility for their own failings onto the other side. We do bear one another's burdens in Christ, but arguments do not help much with that.

In the noise, I hear voices reacting to uncontrollable change by choosing an ethic and then invoking the thin god of the Enlightenment to authorise it. That does not work.


Mark Murphy said...

Hi Bowman

Some same sex couples have children. Of course, these are defended by conservative Christians as 'not as bad', not as deformed as childless homosexual coupling. Which shows consistency.

Many heterosexual marriages don't have children, and we are familiar with the attempts across Anglicanlands to bar such unbiblical intentions from the sacrament of holy matrimony.

So far so good.

Of course, the only legitimate Christian knowledge is what Jesus specifically spoke directly on a topic as recorded in the timeless words of Scripture.

"The Queen's English was good enough for Jesus Christ and it's good enough for me."


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
yes to what you say but I thought Skidelsky was of interest re current debates in Christianity because many of them are debates about ideas (and not, e.g. About what God is going to do, or about what God is doing in the the Body) and thus, in the end, what will emerge is what is universal etc to the minds of the people who make up the Body.

Mark Murphy said...

David Wilson said...

I had the privilege of attending Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. It has one of the finest collections of Mediaeval manuscripts in the world - including the Canterbury Gospels brought by Augustine in 597. This library was donated to the College by another alumnus - before my time, namely Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury to Elizabeth I. He had gathered these manuscripts following the dissolusion of the monasteries. His intent was to show that what the new Church of England was doing was aligned to the older, Anglo-Saxon church. Like other Reformers, he saw that the problem was that Rome had wandered from the true path, and that they were reverting to the teaching and practice of the apostolic church.

There is therefore a difference between 1548 (to pick a year) when Rome was seen as having been innovative, and 2022 when the dissent to the current teaching is seeking to adopt a position never held historically.

Anonymous said...

"If Keynes's vision can be summed up in a phrase, it is that of the 'harmonious society.' The idea of social harmony is more attractive than its social science equivalents 'social cohesion' and 'consensus', as it emphasizes the importance of variety." -- Robert Skidelsky, The Return of the Master, p 190.

And variety in a harmonious unity glorifies the Creator. In fact, absent some notion of his creativity, we can have no conception of this harmony. So, although Keynes himself was no Christian, the principle of his civic vision anticipates the aeon to come. When a body is consciously the Body, it lives as the New Jerusalem.

Nobody finds anything so merely modern as a "trajectory" in the scriptures unless they are projecting it into the text with selective reading. Anyway, there is arguably more about "dignity, worth, and equality" in the OT laws on Sabbath and Jubilee alone than in the whole NT, which is why Jews have been much more reliable allies than Christians in America's struggles against slavery and for civil rights. But more importantly, can we not see that + Steven's borrowings from politics are colder and clumsier than the more godly idea of the unchurchly economist?

I do not blame the Bishop of Oxford for using any worthwhile tool in his kit. "Hold fast what is good." And of course, I am not surprised that The Guardian noticed that he used that particular tool, and am not surprised that Mark likes that. But thankfully, we already have The Guardian to say the usual Guardian things. Most of the time, we need bishops to say other things.

In liberal democracies-- autocracies too (looking at you, Alexander Dugin)-- YHWH wants humanity to have churches that model in their own surprising, one-off situations the harmonious society of all that he himself will create in the end. Mysteriously, even when churches are deeply distracted from that vocation, they do somewhat do this. Apart from the Creator, how can this be happening?

Still, churches that are conscious of their vocation are better.

Although they must address the personal consciousness of individuals, they do not do so in ways that pry tiles loose from the glorious mosaic. They talk about sin and death, of course, but as episodes in what God is doing with the whole in the end.

Similarly, as a community with material needs a local Body occasionally borrows ideas from the civil law to solve its problems. The obvious example here was the re-re-re-application of the ancient Roman law of sale that got the medieval church into the wedding business. This new transaction did a world of good in barbarian societies of the West, but because its principle that pairbonding begins with a sale is not the harmony of the kingdom, churches have devoted centuries to obscuring and embellishing it. Ideas too need baptism and eucharist.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi David (and noting Bowman’s latest comment)

The question of “innovation” is interresting in respect of marriage.
It was an innovation, for example, to make the act of marrying something the church played a role in, and a later innovation when it became, in the mediaeval church, a sacrament - was it the latest to join the evolving list of seven?

Then there have been innovations as various churches have worked out ways to deal with the breakdown of marriage and the possibility of remarriage: neither the Roman approach re annulment nor the E. orthodox approach of a lesser scale wedding for a second or even third marriage has any particular grounding in Scripture.

Then, alongside the possibility that the church may innovate re marriage (because it has, frankly, done so repeatedly) is the question of justice: what is fair treatment of people according to their circumstances and according to our understanding? I do not suppose anyone here thinks the Deuteronomy 21 rules regarding taking a captive woman as a wife may be applied by Russian soldiers i Ukraine today. This is becaue we think jutsice towards captive women works differently.

Mark Murphy said...

Love and justice are not innovations of the Gospel.

Anonymous said...

"...the re-re-re-application of the ancient Roman law of sale that got the medieval church into the wedding business."

Pressed by rising feminism in early imperial Rome, creative jurists there began to allow a woman to sell her self to a man for life. Why would a woman want that? Because her alternative under the severely patriarchal Twelve Tables was to belong to him without legal protection.

If both were from a few patrician families descended from gods, their marriage signified a union of those gods, so her priests and his began it with an elaborate hierogamy in their temples. More commonly, she was simply presumed to be his if she had spent three nights under his roof. Either way, he was a *paterfamilias* with the power of life and death over his dependents, and to the law she was one of them.

By selling herself before a magistrate, she made their relationship an enforceable contract. She could bargain for terms that she wanted and in return for her self she could receive something she wanted from him. If the marriage failed, then she already had a pre-nup baked in.

When the gospel reached Rome, this was the law. Calixtus, an early pope who had once been a slave himself, famously stirred controversy when he recognised marriages contracted by slaves. So early bishops did exercise a certain discipline with respect to marriage, but changes of legal status were performed by magistrates.

Several centuries later, faced with widespread bigamy and abandonment, lawyerly and powerful Innocent III enforced the Roman civil law that lay dormant throughout the West. That is, he required that pairbonding be registered, and he mobilised the clergy to enforce this. It was the most successful reform in the history of the faith, but if you do not find it at all perplexing you have not thought much about it.

The Roman legions had left their law behind centuries before. It is not intuitive that the coupling of a couple is essentially parchment work. The deal was to be done on the church steps where other public business was conducted, but of course it rains and snows in the north of the West and seemed different under a transept. Fathers lost the right to sell their daughters, but were allowed to (not) recognise the new-fangled transactions by (not) presenting them to the presiding priests. The French-- all but two of their bishops-- were startled to learn that a man who gave his wife's hand to another man had in the pope's eyes divorced her though she had never been unmarried. And although one might think, as the Orthodox do, that "one flesh" would still be one after the resurrection, death dissolves a civil contract and sometimes makes a merry widow. Nevertheless, others thought, if a priest presides then Christ presides, so mustn't the transaction somehow be a sacrament like baptism or communion?

Once upon a time, these transactions on church-steps were the only remedy for a cruel pathology. They did and have done a world of good. But down the centuries since, the simple and even some of the wise have confused them with the teaching of Jesus.


Liz Cowburn said...

"Although they must address the personal consciousness of individuals, they do not do so in ways that pry tiles loose from the glorious mosaic. They talk about sin and death, of course, but as episodes in what God is doing with the whole in the end."

Wonderful reminder of the big-picture and I love these words but still feel despair at all the division. If the fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy and Peace, and if God's People have the mind of Christ, I struggle with how ONE issue takes so much oxygen out of the room - for years on end! The 'harmonious unity' I long for feels like a pipe-dream.

Mark Murphy said...

Bad sentence:...innovation *from* the Gospel message.

Father Ron said...

I'm not at all sure that Deuteronomy ought to be thought of as a model for justice for any part of the children of God. Not about marriage rights for women, nor about the fate of the 'disobedient son' whose fate is prescribed as being stoned to death (v21) as the recommended punishment for the 'evil' he has brought upon the community. (Very different from Jesus' suggested treatment of the 'Prodigal Son' in the Gospels; perhaps this is why we cannot treat every word of scripture as equally relevant for the actions of the Church in today's world).

When one speaks of 'innovation', one cannot neglect how the words of Jesus so often contradict the words of the Deuteronomic Law. That's what I call 'Innovation', where merciful justice cries out against outdated tradition. (e.g. "The Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath!"). The Holy Spirit is in the business of innovation where justice is at stake.

Mark Murphy said...

"The Holy Spirit is in the business of innovation where justice is at stake."

Love it, Father Ron!

Anonymous said...

The thread is neglecting the OP's several questions--

(1) "Can we ever change anything of substance in the life of the church?"

[No. The will to power is unbelief. The life of the church is participation in the Son and changes in that could only come from him. Because God is faithful, that will not happen in this aeon.]

(2) "How might the teaching of the church change?"

["Teaching" about what? Dogma is unchanging. Denominational or even national distinctives are always subordinate and usually merely applicative. Ethics enacts scriptural wisdom through patterns of conduct recognised as fruitful.]

(3) "When we who are officers of the church (i.e. those who sign up to the teaching of the church) begin to think that something could or should be different, are we bound to suppress those thoughts, or to resign?"

[An appendix to Doctrine in the Church of England (1938) lays out three answers, each of which included actually and accurately presenting the received doctrine *as such*, whatever else might be said from a personal point of view.]

(4) "What is the process by which the church changes its minds on a matter if its official leaders are bound to express no thoughts out loud about the possibility of change?"

[The church does not change the mind of Christ, so it has no process for doing so. Official leaders have no credibility to change doctrine, so there is no possibility of change for them to discuss. They can, of course, express thoughts about how they themselves live their faith in novel circumstances.]

(5) "In what way may we who vowed to uphold the teaching of the church also be permitted to review it, develop it or even change it?"

["Teaching?" See (2). There is nobody who can give or withhold such permission. Even a pope speaking *ex cathedra* and purportedly infallibly claims to be doing no more than reliably restating tradition that is already empirically evident in the RCC. If even Vatican I did not claim bureaucratic or synodical control of the truth, then why oh why would Anglicans assert this?]

Anonymous said...

+ Peter probably asks about change, change, change in these questions because he has + Stephen's book in mind. As I understand it, the book argues for a new reading of scripture to promote a new doctrine of marriage to promote a new policy on SSM to promote what would look from the street like a change in the CoE.

But the controversy about it is not a good example for + Peter's questions. In itself, That Topic is almost as easy as a contingency can be, but + Steven's situation in the CoE is atypical-- a new king is open to change, establishment makes any controversy fraught, church weddings are a civil right, church-society friction is unusually salient, doctrinal tribes have institutions, and the HoB has reserved SSM to its own confidential deliberations. Moreover, the honesty of theology done to push for or against predetermined policy outcomes is naturally suspect in a way that adventurous soundings taken in streams of doctrine are not. + Steven Croft is not Meister Eckhart, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, or even Howard Thurman.

Is there a clearer example of recent doctrinal change? Yes. Churches once taught that they had replaced the Jews; since the Holocaust, most have repudiated that idea as tragic and dangerous pseudo-dogma. This is change. The consequences of that are being explored from theology proper to applied doctrine. But nobody is in charge of this, nobody has a goal in mind for it, nobody to my knowledge has objected to it, and no single revision has attracted ecumenical consensus. Scholars work on this-- cf Peter Ochs, Another Reformation-- but TEC parishes have hired rabbis, celebrated seders, and shared churches with partner synagogues. Eventually, the best new teaching will be recognised in retrospect, and some churches will then define it more formally.


It strikes me that the questions above are less about gospel truth than about the Body's discretion to order its local life. Where civil unions are a lawful "condition of life," a Protestant church must make some responsive decision but it has options.

It could protest the enabling act, endorse civil unions, or both. It could leave ceremonies in civil hands, authorise clergy to preside at them anywhere, or confect a rite for use in church. It could call them "marriages" according to one linguistic style, or refrain from doing so according to another one.

These choices fall within the scope of practical reason. There will never be a truly compelling theological rationale for any single combination of them. If the usual methods do not achieve timely decisions, then not much is lost by referring them to an arbitrator or rolling dice. It is interesting that God leaves some matters in the discretion of the Body.


Anonymous said...

Father Ron, to whom are you talking?

Are there Anglicans roaming the Blessed Isales saying, "Life is unfair. But the path to justice is clear: let's leave this century and go found a bronze age theocratic state in the ancient near east!"


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
I understand hat you are saying but think there are other examples to consider re”teaching” and “change” while accepting your general point re substantial doctrine.

1. ACANZP once taught that confirmation was a requisite for receiving Holy Communion. Since 1980 we have not done that.
2. Theoretically we also teach that baptism is necessary for receiving Holy Communion, in practice some (many?) vicars distribute communion to persons they are not sure are baptised.
3. I myself am of the view that one cannot teach the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in its plain/traditional sense AND teach that women may be ordained priests and bishops, or, whether ordained or not, teach men the faith.
4. (I am a little confused about the exact position of the CofE on remarriage after divorce today) but we once had a similar position on remarriage after divorce in a church (“No”) because of what we believed Jesus himself taught about remarriage after divorce. Then we changed our minds.

Anonymous said...

"For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." St James i 20

+ Peter is also interested in equitable politics, so it is possible that some week we may get an OP about the (mis)connection of Justice and Faith.

At the moment, it seems reasonable to say: if you live in a liberal democracy and you care about justice, just go out and do it. It works tolerably well.

Against the hard statistical odds and nearly all prognostications, each of my candidates in a few states won their elections on Tuesday. My party will control the entire state government here, and it could possibly control both houses of the next Congress. So the time put into strategy, organising, and campaigning has advanced justice across the board. But even if the other side ultimately wins a house or two of Congress, as I still expect, the effort has strengthened the public constituency in this country for justice and indeed for democratic governance.

Meanwhile, this laptop sits a mile from an Episcopal church with a reputation for being politically active and spiritually dead. There are many parishes where a progressive congregation is warm, inviting, and spiritually engaged albeit less in the way of Tom Wright, Belden Lane, and Justin Welby than in that of Marcus Borg, Annie Dillard, and Michael Curry. This is not one of them.

What's wrong? Three things.

Monomania. Obsession-- even for justice-- makes for narrow devotion to a small godling. Have you ever heard a gospel choir? Even illiterate slave churches of the old south, passionate as they were about liberation from bondage, had concerns broad enough to compass truth, beauty, virtue, meaning. They had this cultural breadth despite their privation because they had a big God. Justice, although existentially important to all, was not their paramount or exclusive value in the way that it can be for persons far from material need but weaker in faith. Divinity is precisely what no single dimension of value can compass.

Outside in. Real spirituality is inside out. First God-- "him only shall you serve"-- and then, in his own sweet time, his fruit to build up a strong Body of diverse members, each following a calling that is discerned through life. The call may not be to justice, but if it is, it has the distinctly Christian spirituality of the Civil Rights Movement here which cultivated empathy for its bitterest opponents and practiced the non-violence of Jesus. Against God's organic way, however, there is an impatience that glues antagonistic posters to church walls and treats members as a mob to be mobilised. This stinks like unbelief-- if you really believe that God rules the world then why don't you trust him to do it?-- but considered on its own terms as a tactic, it also sacrifices the prayer and patience by which great causes endure.

Negative churchmanship. Polarised opinion in anything-- politics, religion, art-- leads to the trap of male trolls who starve themselves while poisoning the bread of others. A lay preacher at the aforementioned parish brags in his preaching about how little he knows about the Bible. He word-drops "love" but primarily as an attack on others he imagines to be unloving. He thinks-- a she never does this-- that saying such things from a pulpit is inflicting some wound on fundamentalists who happen not to be there. But how could insulting another soul's faith advance his own? And are we to believe that angels delivered his own Bible-free faith on golden tablets? As in the parish as a whole, there is a free-floating rage that needs pastoral attention. Believers worth hearing find their water in wells, not of petty *ressentiment* but of deep *ressourcement*.

We cannot hate our way to the kingdom.


Mark Murphy said...

Put another way:

As a human institution, why shouldn't the church change its mind? And why shouldn't it reflect on, debate, disagree and change its mind on what are matters of substance?That would be a sign of maturity and growth, as we expect to see in mature people and relationships. Isn't that how God made us? Isn't that what the Spirit demands of us, as we listen to his/her/their voice?

And of course the church is changing its mind on same-sex relationships. Bishop Steve is doing the mature, adult thing and being open about this, in a sensitive and respectful way, rather that hide this stuff away and put on a pretence about it.

The world is sick of churchly pretence.

Archbishop Welby is being honest and mature too when he recently admitted he doesn't know what the truth is, what God is calling us to do and be, on This Topic.

The rest of us live with uncertainty and difficult decisions all the time. I apologize to my kids each week and keep learning on how to be a parent. Why should the church be any different?

Mark Murphy said...

It is nauseating to read people like Archbishop Cranmer (the pretend one) and Ian Paul (Psephizo) characterize Bishop Steven's careful, Christian-embedded views as "affirming" rather than "confronting" "culture".

Of course there is a boundary between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. But isn't this - and aren't these kingdoms - ultimately located within our hearts, and certainly not coterminous with the outer church and world?

Fortunately, as Thomas Merton once said, "the gate of heaven is everywhere".

Mark Murphy said...

What form of Christian arrogance says that any pattern or truth or new development coming from outside the church, and that is different or at least feels different to the church's internal culture

is coming from "culture"and therefore should be "confronted" and opposed?

I guess it's a very young arrogance, a sort of insecure, adolescent personality structure.

Liz Cowburn said...

[Re Mark's 8:37am] This morning I checked + Peter's 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (part) and read "And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner."

So I already knew that.. but also found 2 Cor 11:3 - "But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ."

The church changing it's mind is a *really big* thing isn't it? Paul warns how easy it is to be led astray. So I asked myself, and I'm putting this out as a genuine Q: What *is* the church's mind? Wouldn't that be the mind of Christ? "But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Cor 2:16 (part) ???

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Peter.

Better examples.

They prove that ACANZP is not Reformed. It does not implement ink on the sacred page as a telegram from HQ. That's fine. No catholic church in the world does that for absolutely everything. For example, there hasn't been an Orthodox bishop who was "husband of one wife" since the Mongols swept across West Asia.

The gnashing of teeth and beating of dead horses occurs because, unlike some other religious bodies with the same scriptures, ours have not canonised the office or tradition or institution through which they will be interpreted.

Catholics do not have Father Ron's nightmares about the OT because popes regulate a magisterium that guides faithful reading of it. Jews do not have them either because the Mishnah hermeneutic frames tradition and the Talmud has subsumed the scary stuff into applications that are meaningful but impossible or harmless. There are also denominations without bishops where a central bureau assisted by seminary professors acts as an institutional interpreter.

The CoE has tried doctrinal commissions. The first one, appointed by the archbishops and reporting in 1938, was so widely admired that its report was reprinted for the trade in 1982. But the succeeding efforts appointed by synods have settled nothing, and Maurice Wiles was a scandal.

In the days of my youth, it was thought that the BCP could play that hermeneutical role throughout the Communion. On this side of the pond, that was a somewhat informed by Yale post-liberalism influenced by the latter Wittgenstein. But can liturgy do that when, as you show, disputed questions are nearly always about liturgical acts?

Also, one Prayerbook can't tell you what to put in the next Prayerbook. Should say the Standing Liturgical Commission really be the working doctrinal authority for TEC? "We will be called Bosco I. Urbi et Orbi..."

I sometimes extrapolate the present to a future postmodern Protestantism. In it, the last parish clergy will do anything for anybody for any universalist reason, whilst neo-Celtic abbots define a coherent, trans-generational cycle of life for those who want the vision of God.

All would cohabit the same anything goes synodical canons and answer to the same diocesan bishops, but different constituencies would apply the common rules according to their recognised authorities. Clergy would serve diffuse ecumenical parishes with the anomie of *inclusionism*, whilst a *new monasticism* (eg Taizé) would interpret the same rules in ways more consistent with a rooted, experienced, and practical spiritual tradition. Mission priests would respect monastics, and vice versa.

If I think of the future that way, then the Anglican present seems to be a final phase in the exorcism of Reformed influence that Matthew Parker began with his famous library and revision of the 42A. As Gafconians have predicted, that is indeed leading some into an unnecessarily rootless chaos, although I think ignorance, hostility and laziness also play their parts in that. But the exorcism could also open the way for more stable configurations of spiritual authority that, even as evangelicals, the deformed Reformed have never understood.


Anonymous said...

Poor Mark

I think I felt your nausea as I read about it.

SSM was both churchly and countercultural when the last honest liberals proposed it in the 1970s.

It is likely that some share my generic scepticism of trajectory-through-the-Bible arguments. Of course those who like those arguments might make them because they do not buy *overlap of horizon* (Gadamer) interpretations like some of mine.

Naming no names, some argue less to persuade than to rationalize a settled position. If the arguments interest you, pursue them, but do not expect your rebuttals to be answered.

In 20 years, one prominent blogger has never answered the simplest question--

(a) X is a sane, responsible, educated adult.

(b) X is morally certain that there is such a thing as SSA.

(c) X is morally certain that he has SSA.

(c) X and X' marry because by law they can.

(d) Now a corporation, X and X' go to church.

(e) As their pastor, what should the pastor do?

I mention this, not to argue that point here, but to note that some demands for proof in debate on That Topic exceed reasonable bounds.


Anonymous said...

"What *is* the church's mind? Wouldn't that be the mind of Christ?"

Liz, there are standard answers, but they are not Liz-answers. That is, they are plausible and serviceable, but do not speak to your beliefs and experience.

I'll think about this and get back to you.


Mark Murphy said...

Hi Liz,

In response to your last post:

"The church changing it's mind is a *really big* thing isn't it?"

I don't think so. It happens quite regularly through history. For example, at one point Quakers prohibited marriage outside their community. A large number of them discerned that this was the mind of God, of Christ, for them. But that has been changed as their listening to the Spirit led them in other directions. Was something "of substance" altered here? I would say no. Others (i.e. those discerning endogamy as the mind of Christ) would strongly disagree.

"What *is* the church's mind? Wouldn't that be the mind of Christ?"

On a good day!


Mark Murphy said...

"Catholics do not have Father Ron's nightmares about the OT because popes regulate a magisterium that guides faithful reading of it."

Um, as I can't make out in what universe this is ever true, Bowman, I assume you're in heavy satire mode here.

More seriously, it makes me reflect on my current explorations of Quaker faith.

"There are also denominations without bishops where a central bureau assisted by seminary professors acts as an institutional interpreter."

Yup, and that's not Friends either. No magisterium. No central bureau. No seminary trained priests. And yet....I'm still exploring...

but the "and yet" is that they still "get there". Where? Communion. Into deep participation in the Body.

How is the mind of Christ communicated to us? How do we discern our way to māramatanga/clarity?

We have diverse processes for this. Very diverse.

Mark Murphy said...

I'm aware of the midterms and hearing your investment in these, Bowman.

I'm trusting Peter sees the theme of *polarization* present in US politics and the Bishop Steven debate and publishes this as relevant.

I can't work out how a society gets to become so evenly polarized - everything seems on a knife edge. The slightest jiggle this way or that, like a large man readjusting his seating on an old foam couch, forms and destroys whole governments.

What does it mean for that society when it is so evenly polarized? I think it must mean that that society is being asked to enter into dialogue between the two sides. But I'm a complete outsider. I'd be interested in your view.

Likewise, as evinced by my more "over it" mood and posts of late, at some point one feels exhausted by constant dialogue without any sign of movement. You want to dust off your sandals and move on. Bishop Steven, as an evangelical, provides hope that listening matters, that dialogue actually bears fruit.

Anonymous said...

The Friends have ‘meetings for clearness’ to discern direction together and (I gather) can have a committee appointed to engage in it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark

The world's foremost authority on Father Ron's OT nightmares is... Father Ron 🙂 So I will defer to whatever he says about them.

That said, there are ways of reading the OT online that are shall we say heterodox for Catholicism. And the ones he invokes here from time to time are among them. If he were inveighing against them in mainstream Catholic media, people would think that he was more than eccentric. They don't hear this at mass.

But ADU's world is adjacent to another one whose inhabitants seem unable to disown those disturbing ways of reading, even if they themselves do not draw the worst inferences. Anglicans may not want to be Catholics ourselves, but if not they do need to draw their own lines. Just how we would do that is a problem that should be easy, but seems not to be in practice.


Anonymous said...


Moya may have anticipated my reply to Mark's reference to the Quakers: traditionally, the Holy Spirit in the meeting ratifies readings of scripture or not. So a Reformed-ish pneumatology meant to give unmediated and personal assurance to individuals does eventually come full circle into one that is deeply participative. This is why the Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann famously quipped that he'd rather sit with the Quakers than with more catholic ecumenists.


Anonymous said...

Mark, my view of polarisation here up yonder will change a bit as states and counties release data from Tuesday's election. The crude data we have suggest something more like polarity: forced to choose from among a MAGA Republican, a moderate Democrat, and not voting, enough Republicans voted for the Democrat to reduce the expected red tide to a pink sprinkle. Whichever party or parties wins control of the House and Senate, the margin will be thin.


Mark Murphy said...

Two cautionary tales of human beings believing unequivocally that they speak for the mind of God:

"Three weeks after he was violently arrested at his home by Iran’s security forces, Saman Yasin, a young Kurdish artist and rapper, is facing execution. He has been charged with waging war against God after posting his support for anti-regime protesters on social media."


A theme (*ulterior transaction*) from many young gay Christians I have worked with:

(a) the church loves you, God loves you, we want to be your friends, we want you to open your heart to us and to Jesus, we are ready to answer your deep yearning for connection, love, and belonging...

at the same time..

(b) you are unacceptable, that cute guy who catches your eye each day...that spontaneous, unbidden feeling within you is wrong, you must never act on it, you are deeply disordered in this respect...but so are we all!...but unlike us you must live life radically alone while your other friends are watching Netflix under a blanket with their girlfriends and boyfriends. But it's ok, Jesus loves you!


"And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke18: 6-8).

Mark Murphy said...

I think clearness committees are more used when there is a personal or collective practical dilemma and an individual or group is working out how to respond. I'm not aware of Quakers using this form to work out interpretations of scripture or theological doctrine per se, perhaps because Quakers have such a minimal theology and put more emphasis on orthopraxy than -doxy.

As scripture is never read out loud in the "unprogrammed" Meetings for Worship I attend from time to time (that is, the dominant form for "Liberal" and "Conservative", though not "Evangelical" Quaker meetings) I have puzzled as to its place in at least Liberal Quakerism. My sense is that it's left up to the individual, though some people clearly speak out in Meetings with a knowledge of the Bible and Gospels. I imagine this produces a culture where some people never read scripture much, and others keep up a committed practice (not too different from Catholic and Protestant churches, then). Is this "enough" (to keep thoroughly soaked in our tradition's textual sources?)? For everyone? For some people? I have always found the full sweep of scriptural readings, beginning with Genesis, that are read out at the Easter Vigil service to be breath-taking. I also enjoy wrestling with whatever the Lectionary serves up each week, rather than keep repeating my favourite peace and justice stories. There is something so powerful about hearing scripture read as part of a collective. And yet...

George Fox had a deep knowledge of scripture and this probably came from three sources: (1) he was the son of committed Church of England parents and (2) also seems temperamentally to have been a rather serious, spiritually-focussed child; and (3) his direct experiences of the Light, which resulted from his clearing away collective forms of worship and making space for real lively direct experience, gave him an unquenchable enthusiasm for exploring, absorbing, and dialoging with the Bible.


Mark Murphy said...

Hi Bowman

I feel sorry for Republicans then. There choice seems to be MAGA madness or Ron DeSantis ("woke" this, "woke" that), with the Republican national campaign chair saying the way forward lies with people like DeSantis and not with "moderation". Eeek.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark

Whither Republicans? This is to ask how a party of the right can win presidential elections with a working class base defined by low education. Clearly it will defend local culture more and oppose government assistance less than the old GOP. That could mean different things at different times.

As we do political parties up here, the chairs of the national committees are effectively appointed by the presidential nominees. I do not expect a Trump appointee to be impartial or illuminating at this particular moment.

History suggests (a) that the Republican Party will crystalize around the next president from their party who wins around 60% of the popular vote-- lots of Democrats and independents-- and (b) that such a president will have been a successful governor or vice-president. There are several Republican governors popular enough with Democrats to head a winning ticket today, but they may not run in 2024 unless Trump is in prison by then.

Mike Pence? He fits the prescription and seems to be running. But the MAGA faction hates him, and he lacks a following among Democrats. If he somehow got the nomination and won, he would be an adequate president, but would not unify the right up here in a way that lasts.


Anonymous said...


Voters in several places have found common ground on abortion. Many opponents of abortion balk at some modes of enforcement on civil liberties grounds. Contrary to much propaganda, proponents of an abortion right for women usually do recognize life in the third trimester.

So, for example, Michigan voted by referendum to allow abortion for 20 weeks, but to regulate thereafter.

The *polarity* on that issue is real: what some see as evil, others see as a right. There is not much middle ground there.

But as usual *polarisation* is an artifact: happy warriors ignore the centre, insist that neither side has balancing considerations, and treat the most hot-headed on each as its leader. That's what drives people apart.

This year, voters of both parties declined to be divided that way.


Anonymous said...

Liz, these definitions have several needles to thread, and they are far apart, but offhand--

The mind of Christ is the intelligence. cultivated by a desire to please the Father as Jesus did.

The mind of the Church is the consensus of saints with this mind of Christ.

Having that mind and making an inventory of its contents are not the same thing.

Change? Not with respect to the eternal Father. But with respect to things that are mutable, even sure knowledge changes.


Liz Cowburn said...

"The mind of Christ is the intelligence. cultivated by a desire to please the Father as Jesus did." Thanks for responding to my Q, Bowman. The contrast of my evangelical upbringing, then much later in life, taking notice of TEC, is very confronting in *some* ways. This discussion/thread helps me home in on, and define/articulate, specific (personal) problem areas.. "mind of Christ", authority of scripture, what is/isn't mutable. An improvement on my previous state of general confusion/despair. I'll pay attention to, and look for learning opportunities in, these problem areas. Many thanks. ~Liz

Anonymous said...

Liz, others on similar journeys have found insight exploring these topics (in no particular order)--

Creativity as God's fundamental attribute and motivation with respect to creatures.

Priestly mediation between creatures and God as the purpose of a human life.

Jesus's assumption of created matter in the Incarnation of the Son.

Election to serve God as distinct from election to particular salvation.

Callings, beatitudes, virtues, imagination, and gifts as guides for the life of a disciple.

The evolution of Mosaic law through St Paul's vice lists to the Eight Evil Thoughts (Evagrius Ponticus) and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Penance as a sacrament of the Lord.

Scripture as the documentation of oral and liturgical tradition.

The gospels as collected testimony.

The full diversity of scriptural prayer-- adoration, contemplation, praise, thanksgiving, oblation, penitence, meditation, petition, and intercession.

Story and promise as grounds for discernment in churches.

The simultaneous and interdependent emergence of creed, canon, and episcopate in the early centuries.

The Persons of the Trinity in the Old Testament and in personal devotion today.

Making sense of Jesus's Way as a Jew's proposal to Israel under Roman occupation.

Imitation of Christ inspired by the third search for the historical Jesus.

Alternate readings of Romans v 12 and St John i 9.

*Universalism* as a live hypothesis about the scriptures and the fathers.

The lives and imaginations of saints alive before the year 1000.


Not all agree on any of these topics, nor are they a syllabus of the faith. Working through them does keep us from piling more weight on a few childhood ideas than they can possibly bear in later life. Treat these, if at all, as pebbles tossed in a pond.


Anonymous said...


I forgot three--

Our fathers as flawed metaphors for the Father; the Father as a perfect model for earthly fathers.

Atheism as the somber faith of the fatherless.

St Mary, the Theotokos, as the sign of the whole Body of those in Christ.


Liz Cowburn said...

Bowman, thanks for the extra material. I chose "Story and promise as grounds for discernment in churches" popped it into Google and.. the top result looks promising: The Early Church Finds Its Way: Discernment in the Acts of the Apostles /by Bonnie Bowman Thurston. [Living in a small rural town, the internet's my first port of call so my approach is necessarily simple - I've no idea if I can get anywhere doing it this way.. but I'll give it a go!]

Anonymous said...

Your own thinking, Liz, will carry you farthest, but reading can help. The book you found sounds interesting, and someday you may also run across a small book in plain English called Story and Promise by Robert W Jenson.

We ground discernment in story when we see our involvements in emergent situations as continuations of the saga in the Bible. This is sometimes likened to being an actress onstage improvising the missing fourth act of a five act play.

She begins where the third act ended, and she continues the story it told. But she can't just repeat its words and actions again. What she does is new, unpredictable, and maybe surprising. At the same time, she knows how the play will end, but not the climax through which it will get to the obligatory scene.

So the playwright's intention stimulates and constrains what the actress does without spelling it out. Similarly, we discern God's will by asking what would fit his past acts and open some path to the future we know by faith, hope, and love.

We know that future insofar as God has promised it to us. The gods of most religions make few commitments to mortals, but words of promise that "shall not return to Me unfulfilled" are in the nature of the triune God. So to trust his promise in discerning right action is to act in some accord with his character.

When we do not have direct commands from God, or when we are unsure how the ones we have should be applied, enacting his story and promise is as faithful to scripture and to him as we can be. In canon law, this principle is known as dispensation (West) or economy (East).


Liz Cowburn said...

What a wonderful surprise Bowman! I'm *super* grateful for this help.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bowman and Liz! I found Bonnie Bowman Thurston’s article on discernment in Acts very helpful. Prayer together is vital based on the promises of God which ‘do not return unfulfilled’ and interestingly she mentions the Quakers.

Liz Cowburn said...

I'm happy and encouraged to read your response Moya, thanks v.much!