Tuesday, March 28, 2023

It's Passiontide, so time to think again re the cross and the resurrection (1/3)

What happened on the cross when Jesus died? What is the relationship between the scriptural accounts of the raising of Jesus from the dead and his subsequent encounters with disciples (with their messy, difficult if not impossible to resolve inconsistencies) and the risen Jesus (i.e. with the fact that Christian witness, from the Day of Resurrection until now is that Jesus has risen from the dead). 

These questions continue to be raised because we continue to work out in each generation what it means to read Scripture and to live lives as sinners (in need of the cross) and as believers (convinced that we may be a people of hope for an always better future because Jesus has risen from the dead).

So, a few reflections today, next Monday and Easter Monday.

First, I note some links in comments above re theories of atonement as well as reference to an article in our Diocesan magazine, AnglicanLife (not yet online).

Then, in an "I've been thinking" mode, a thought or two about "penal substitutionary (theory of) atonement."

In favour of this theory is all that we read in Scripture about the possibility that God will send (Old Testament, especially Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12) and has sent (New Testament, e.g. Romans 3:21-26) one who will bear our sins and the punishment for them in our place.

Something I have noticed, contra those who (understandably in today's world) feel diffident about ascribing notions of anger and wrath to God is that there are many references in the Old Testament to God's wrath against unrighteousness.

Against this theory, or, at least, against this theory receiving a focus such that other theories of atonement are maginalised rather than being held together, is concern that we avoid anthropomorphising God so that God becomes the angry father of our own lives who dispensed way too much corporal punishment on us and our siblings. Or, as the cell group leader in my Christian Union in my first year at varsity memorably said to me, 'We mustn't think of God as waving a cricket bat, wanting to hit us, and Jesus steps forward and says, "Don't hit them, hit me instead".'

Why might we continue to explore what it might mean that God is wrathful against wrongdoing and Jesus' death on the cross in some way (according to some theory of atonement) removes that wrath from the equation while simultaneously changing our status from wrongdoer to rightdoer?

One reason, it strikes me, is that we humans, even when we have done our best to eradicate notions of penalty from life (a jail sentence as a penalty for breaking the law becomes a place of rehabilitation; corporal punishment, detentions for breaking the school's rules gives way to something constructive for the community life of the school; etc) are still determined to punish people!

Unfortunately, with various ramifications for the quality of life in Aotearoa New Zealand in respect of free speech, civility in the public square and de-powering polarization as a force to divide us, during this past weekend a visiting speaker, Posey Parker, led to an enormous amount of violent talk/words on placards as well as to actual violence. A flavour of what happened is captured in an article by Rachel Smalley who makes the important point that what is at stake these days is whether women are being silenced or not.

What is going on here?

I suggest something deeply "penal" is at work in such events. 

On the one side, the sheer act of inviting a provocateur such as Posey Parker, knowing this will bring out the worst of certain kinds of supremacists, in an unholy alliance, is an act of punishment towards those who are different, in this case the trans community. It is simple analysis of our society to recognise that the trans community are vulnerable enough in everyday life without organising rallies and visiting speakers to enhance this vulnerability.

On the other side, the resort to violence, whether of language or of actual acts of violence, is an act of punishment against a range of people who, whether or not they agree with everything Posey Parker says (supposing she even gets to say something!), wish to make a protesting point that concern for the trans community should be held in tandem with being able to (e.g.) refer to women as women and girls and girls. Effectively the counter-protest against those aligned with Posey Parker at the weekend was a punishment for daring to think differently in the public square.

Imagine this is Jerusalem in the build up to the final Passover for Jesus. He dies on the cross bearing the penalty for all sins: be wrathful against me, his death says, and not the trans community; and be wrathful against me and not those who think differently to the current "establishment" - let my death take away your anger and malice, and let me set you free to be reconciled to one another.

Ok - a lot, lot more goes on in the actual crucifixion of Jesus: the transaction in the event of the cross concerns God's wrath against wrongdoing and God's action to reconcile us to himself. But can we better understand that God might be wrathful against wrongdoing when we reflect on the one thing both sides of the conflict at the weekend shared: a deep belief that their wrath was justified because what "the other side" were doing was utterly wrong?

Though I appreciate that - in human terms - substituting the analogy between God and an angry human father for an analogy between God and an angry human mob might not be much of an improvement!

Monday, March 20, 2023

Nostalgic for a different era? [Updated]

(1) Nostalgia for a different era of Anglican evangelicalism: Quite often I find myself thinking thoughts which are less than well formed and then - courtesy of the breadth and variety of the internet - discover someone has written them up for me better than I could do.

In this case my half-formed thoughts have been about what has changed for Anglican evangelicalism from former to present days (at least in the English stream enjoyed by Australia and New Zealand as well as England). Once upon a time, evangelicals were a minority within the church, sometimes a somewhat maligned and marginalised group. On the minority aspect (but not the maligned or marginalised aspect), when I was a child my father was the vicar of the only evangelical parish in one of our dioceses.  That others around us did not share our views, including the bishop, and so forth, seemed not to matter much: it just meant we needed to work on our mission as we understood and hope one day others might want to join us. It did not mean departure.

Thus it was good to read recently something written by Charles Read, a priest in the Diocese of Norwich, who offers some autobiographical reflections here and includes this:

"I hope you might see the fact that evangelicals like us were happy to be who we were in a church where we were a minority, and where we did not expect to find bishops, archdeacons or diocesan staff who shared our theological views. We just got along with such people, and in the parish we got on with preaching a message of God’s love and salvation open to all, if they would simply turn to God and accept Jesus as their saviour."

But here, for example, is a very recent statement of the opposite, of the unhappiness of an English evangelical Anglican parish which feels out of step with their bishop(s):

"St Ebbe’s clergy have already declared that we are in impaired communion with the bishops in our diocese, which means that we will not welcome them to preach, confirm, ordain or conduct our ministerial reviews, and we will not take communion with them. The PCC has also taken action to ensure that any money we pay within the diocese is distributed via the Oxford Good Stewards Trust and is only used for faithful gospel ministry and essential administrative costs. We will be working closely with others, especially within the Church of England Evangelical Council, to discuss what other actions we can take, either individually as churches or together, both to distance ourselves from false teaching and to promote the cause of the gospel. As a larger church, we are especially conscious of our responsibility to help and support smaller evangelical churches, as well as faithful clergy and laity who are in the especially vulnerable situation of serving in churches where their congregations are divided or against them on these issues.

The debate within Synod, and the decision it made, bear witness to a division which goes far deeper than that over the particular presenting issue. There are now two distinct groups within the Church of England. One has chosen the way of compromise with the world and disobedience to God’s word; the other is determined to stay faithful to Christ, whatever the cost. It has been very encouraging to see deepening bonds growing between orthodox Anglicans, from different evangelical and other orthodox ‘tribes’. In the months, and no doubt years, ahead we will be seeking to build new structures that will, God willing, enable us to maintain distance from those who have gone down the wrong path, while working together with orthodox Anglicans in the cause of the gospel."

Given that, once upon a time, at least in my memory, Anglican evangelicals felt no particular need to leave their English/Australian/New Zealand churches, even though we worried about the lack of understanding of the gospel by diocesan leaders and other parish clerics. It was asserted that they were preaching "churchianity" rather than Christianity. From some preachers there were jibes against other parts of the church such as the (not particularly empathetic) quip (against Anglo-Catholics): "we are saved by grace, not by grease". Then, when it came to which Anglican missions were to be supported or not, we distinguished between those missions we understood to preach the gospel from those who didn't.

We didn't leave over these differences.

Try as I might, I cannot see wherein "That Topic" we have some new "gospel" grounds to justify setting up some kind of new Anglican church or network of churches or (as a recent commenter here proposes) a "realignment" of the Anglican Communion.

(2) Nostalgic for a different era re money and preaching?

Very occasionally, when moving outside my normal preaching "zone" (i.e. working in the Diocese which provides me with a stipend), I receive a small honorarium. Very tiny relative to figures cited below. 

If I were smarter, I would change my name to "TD Jakes" or "Brian Houston" ... as The Other Cheek points out in an expose of eye watering, I could buy a house with that kind of honorarium honoraria over the Ditch.

Including:

"In his speech, Wilkie details payments made by Hillsong to guest speakers. “For example, US pastor Joyce Meyer enjoyed honorariums of $160,000, $133,000, $100,000 and $32,000, and US pastor TD Jakes received $71,000 and $120,000, with a staggering $77,000 worth of airfares to and from Australia thrown in. In return, Mr Houston goes to America and receives—you guessed it—his own eye-watering honorariums.”

This system of payments – part of a round-robin of speakers visiting each other’s mega-church or conference – was overdue for exposure. 

Several of the Hillsong music leaders are shown as having huge US-based incomes. According to the Wilkie documents, three had an income of $1.3m. (Is this annual income, as the Wilkie documents suggest, or an aggregate figure? This requires investigation, so The Other Cheek is not featuring their names.)"

We live in expensive times. The same article goes on to report on a number of redundancies at Hillsong. 

I love (and will continue to love) a number of songs which originate in Hillsong worship. But what has been happening behind the scenes is a long way from the early days of Pentecostalism Down Under.

[Update] (3) Also Nostalgic for Rowan Williams and his intelligence brought to bear on seemingly intractable problems, for instance, as reflected on here.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Vale Fr Ron Smith (and other news)

Life is intensely busy. There was a trip to Auckland last week for a meeting of our House of Bishops and tomorrow another trip, this time to visit our students at St John's College. Various meetings. Some leading to more follow up work than others. There has also been a non-visit by me, relating to a significant event in the life of ACANZP ...

On Saturday I took a wedding, long planned in my diary. That meant I couldn't travel to Fiji for the ordination on Saturday of Sione Uluilakepa as bishop and installation as Archbishop of Polynesia. 

I am delighted that our Vicar-General, Mark Barlow was able to travel in my place, and, as well, another two clergy from our Diocese, the Reverends Leni and Kofe Havea were there as well. A pre-event report is in Taonga and I am sure a full report will be posted soon. There have been dozens of photos on Facebook already!

This morning, at church, I was very pleased to meet a regular commenter here, Mark Murphy.

Sadly, late on Friday, I learned that another regular commenter here, Fr Ron Smith died in the early hours of Friday morning.

Ron had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer some months ago. Initially he defied predictions of imminent demise but eventually the cancer won. At a recent service at his regular place of worship, St Michael's and All Angels, it was wonderful to be able to greet Fr Ron, but he clearly looked gravely ill.

Ron was in his 94th year, he was ordained deacon in 1980 and priested in 1981. He served in the Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch Dioceses, being a valued priest in the Parish of Christchurch St Michael's and All Angels since 1999. He was a regular commenter on a number of blogs, aside from ADU, and he wrote his own blog, Kiwianglo, which now has a final comment written by a family member.

Although Ron's comments here could be quite argumentative, and, in times past, prone to ad hominems which kept me on my toes as moderator, he consistently pointed all readers to the wide mercy and generous grace of God.

I will miss him. Please pray for Diana, his wife and their family as they prepare, along with his parish family, for his Requiem Mass at 11 am Saturday 18 March 2023 at St Michael's and All Angels, Oxford Tce, Christchurch.

UPDATE: Lovely tribute here from Bosco Peters.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

More on Anglican perturbations in 2023: what it is the issue at stake? [Updated]

As perturbations in the Anglican Communion continue, focusing on England (a recent General Synod decision) and across the Ditch (also following a recent General Synod decision), we might note the following:

Bishop Christopher Cocksworth writes carefully here.

Some more vigorous responses to the CofE GS are made from within/without the CofE:

St. Helen's Bishopgate, London signals a breakdown in relationship with the CofE. Note supporting bishops from GAFCON offer a few words via video.

CEEC of the Church of England responds to the General Synod decision.

But:

Sam Wilson, an evangelical member of the CofE General Synod writes a letter to Church Times:


Of course an obvious response to such a letter is to assert that those signing are not evangelicals at all, possibly not even Christian, as Sam Margrave (also a member of General Synod) Tweets:


Nice!?

Meanwhile, perturbations continue in Australia:

A new congregation - the fifth - joins the Diocese of the Southern Cross in Australia.

[UPDATE FROM ORIGINAL POST] The Church in Southern Africa has not been able to agree on blessings, but can on prayers, per this article.

My own tiny Twitter contribution to being Anglican in our day, segueing off a comment by our own PM:

And, that, really, is my post this week in a nutshell:

That is, there are two kinds of Anglicans in the world:

Those who will walk together with those whom they disagree with and those who will only walk with those whom they agree with.

The issue is proposed to be one of concern about homosexuality but in reality, is not the issue, or question at stake, What it means to be a (Anglican/evangelical/conservative) Christian?

Will we love, respect and serve one another, despite differences in convictions as we read Scripture, or will we judge, condemn and break apart?

Incidentally, something similar re the question of holding together or dividing because of differences in views is going on in the Roman Catholic Church as the Pope attempts to hold the Roman communion together by ... restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass. So, Christopher Lamb:


Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, etc. But, isn't the centre holding critical to the future of the gospel in our world? 

The Traditional Latin Mass is not God's preferred form of worship (cf. worship in Revelation involving "every tongue"). Dividing over questions of marriage, divorce, covenanted commitments between people is not something Jesus either taught or commanded.

If, to be honest, I feel somewhat despairing over differences and divisions among Christians in 2023, I am nevertheless hopeful for the following reasons:

1. There may be something deeper at stake than "differences over what it means to be Christians". Is there an insecurity in a rapidly changing world bearing less and less resemblance to the world of our sacred scriptures (whether we are Christian, Muslim etc) which is driving people of faith to seek security in the form of religion (such as the (unchanging) Latin Mass rather than the (changing) "modern" Mass or in a tight definition of holy behaviour (unchanged, it is put, since Moses and Jesus))? What if the divisions among us rest on differences in what enables us to be secure in the love of God? If so, there is always the hope of pointing people to Jesus as the only rock and anchor of our faith.

2. Focusing on differences only has so much energy. Of course for some people such energy lasts a lifetime (of an individual, of a denomination). But for many of us, we cannot live on the continual edge of conflict, and the Christ in us drives us towards peace and not war. Notwithstanding the awful state of division among us, will we see in our lifetimes some rapprochment? I am hopeful. Always!


Monday, February 27, 2023

Towards a Theological Response to Cyclone Gabrielle (2)

Following on from last week:

What of "the problem of suffering" in response to the suffering of recent devastation in our land? 

This post is in two parts: part 1, my summary as succinct as I can make it of what might be said in response to the question; part 2, my long "working" which lies behind the summary.

PART 1

We should listen to those who suffer, hold their hand (literally or metaphorically), be slow to speak, quick to offer practical, active love (while not being a burden on communities and households with limited power, food and accommodation), refrain from blame while embracing change that is needed in our communities and across the world so that to the extent to which humans can mitigate against further disaster, we do, all the while confident that God is present and active in our world in order to yet bring the fulfilment of God's kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth in which there are no more tears.

Small update: This article, reflecting on the suffering in the war in Ukraine, is worth reading to the last line.

PART 2

(1) The Old Testament and the problem of suffering

While this is not the time for a coffee house discussion in a region far from recent destruction (e.g. my own) which lacks the sharp edge of the coffee drinkers actually faced with damaged livelihoods, lost lives and destroyed homes, there is nevertheless always an occasion for saying something about suffering in a world the Good God made and declared to be "good" since those on the pastoral front line are likely to be asked, "How can God permit this?" or "Where is God in this tragic mess?"

So, on the one hand, I want to attempt to avoid that approach which focuses on reading books to resolve such issues. "You must read the best theology of suffering in the 21st century by J. Theologian who, you know, resurrects a brilliant but long forgotten argument from the fourth century when St Simeon Apologia tackled a question raised by the Synod of Querula." As though a quick trip to the library or order from Amazon is the appropriate pastoral response. 

On the other hand, there is a book, the book, the Bible which speaks God's Word into all human situations. I don't think we can avoid discussing some things it has to say.

The Old Testament, relevantly, is a collection of Israelite writings driven by suffering for the most part. When David's and Solomon's glorious, expanding, victorious Israel broke first into two divided kingdoms, Israel/Samaria and Judah, and then each in turn was subject to conquest and exile, the former at the hand of Assyria, 721 BC, and the latter at the hand of Babylon, 587 BC, with the double blow of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, there was a theological crisis. 

How could Israel be cast from the Promised Land, and how could there be no successor to David on the throne in Jerusalem? Had God not promised precisely the opposite? How then to explain the absence of God's support to prevent calamity to Israel?

Much of Israel's scriptures, the collection we know as the Old Testament, has been shaped by the theological crisis of the Babylonian Exile - shaped via editing of existing stories, laws and wisdom, or by writing in direct response to this calamity (for example Isaiah 40-66), or by taking care to preserve prophetic literature which conveyed the warning proclamations of the prophets of Israel before its exile and the prophets of Judah before its exile - literature which recorded the attempt of God to speak to the hardened hearts of his people in order that destruction would be avoided.

One of the significant results of the Babylonian Exile was the hammering into final shape of the Pentateuch and the so called Deuteronomistic History (i.e. the line of writings from Deuteronomy through Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings), so that one response - the majority response of the theologians of Judah - was to explain the suffering of Israel in terms of its disobedience to God's law. It had been warned and warned again to obey God's commandments and that there would be consequences for disobedience. 

It was a foolishness to understand God's covenant with David as a guarantee that no matter what Israel/Judah did, there would be security for God's people around the throne and temple in Jerusalem. This in many ways was the point of Jeremiah (e.g. Jeremiah 7:4 where God through Jeremiah says to the people (I paraphrase), 'Do not say "We have the temple of the Lord, everything will be all right".' Rather, the people need to amend their ways and start genuinely obeying the Law of Moses (Jeremiah 7:1-7)

This approach - the people are responsible for the suffering they have brought on themselves - is mostly not pastorally appropriate in today's world. Yet, if we refuse to follow the Deuteronomist in respect applying the conclusion drawn in the Deuteronomistic History to the people bearing the present suffering in the North Island, might we not recognise that there is another set of people, namely all the rest of us, who need to recognise our role in climate change? Repentance for how we have been treating God's world is a fair message to the whole world right now.

By way of illustrating something which is not quite my precise point here, I noticed this on Twitter (as I am writing this post):

But, the Deuteronomist is not the only voice in respect of suffering in the Old Testament.

An alternative history of Israel, told by the Chronicler in 1 and 2 Chronicles (with supporting voices in Nehemiah-Ezra) beginning with Adam in 1 Chronicles 1:1 and ending with the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:23).

In this history less attention is paid to moral behaviour (e.g. David's offence against Bathsheba is not mentioned; Manasseh, unrepentant according to the Deuteronomist, is repentant according to the Chronicler, cf. 2 Kings 21:10-15; 23:26-27; 24:3-4, and 2 Chronicles 33:12-13) and much more to "attitude to the Temple". The final straw which brings God's wrath on Jerusalem is that the last king, Zedekiah, in collaboration with "leading priests and the people" were "unfaithful, following all the abominations of the nations and they polluted the house of the Lord that he had consecrated in Jersualem" (2 Chronicles 36:14).

Here, of course, the people of Israel bring their painful exile on themselves, but, interestingly, the Chronicler doesn't labour any need for repentance. The people serve their time in exile (36:20-21) and then God takes the initiative, via Cyrus, to institute the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. For the Chronicler the suffering of exile is not in need of any great explanation which shapes a long connection between the Law and the history of Israel such as the Deuteronomist gives, rather it is a blip in the story of what matters in the relationship between heaven and earth, the temple in Jerusalem which is the house of the Lord.

Perhaps the relevance of the Chronicler to our question is this: suffering is terrible but it is never the end of the story of humanity. Potentially this is a comforting message to those of us merely observing the suffering - is it of comfort to those experiencing pain, dislocation, loss, grief and despair?

Thirdly, while looking at the Old Testament, we must attend to Job! I like to first read Job in comparison to other "wisdom literature" such as Proverbs. The latter is somewhat sunny and optimistic: be wise, live wisely and all will go well with you - you'll avoid calamity and prosper. Job is a counterpoint: what if, like Job, you are wise and live wisely and calamity comes upon you and destroys your prosperity? In short, between Job and Proverbs we encounter human experience - most of us do not experience calamity, but some of us do, so what is true wisdom - great theology - which enables us to meet the good times and the bad times in life?

Job's friends seem to be readers of the Deuteronomist. They persist in telling Job that he must have sinned to have earned such destructiveness on his life and on his family's lives. Job is resolute: not true! But what is Job's (and God's) own response to the "problem of suffering"? Through the last chapters the answer appears to be God being God can do what God wills and that will should not be questioned, nor should those who suffer under that will be blamed (because they may like Job be innocent); rather the awesome power of God calls for praise and wonder in response.

Are any of these proposals from the Old Testament entirely satisfactory?

(For reasons of time I need to by pass New Testament considerations altogether.)

(2) Andrew Shepherd, University of Otago theology lecturer writes on "Cyclone Gabrielle will have been apocalytpic if it inspires change". This is also a biblical response to suffering: whatever else we have to say, Andrew implies, suffering through devastation is a call to collective action to not have a repeat of the suffering. Some of the thinking within the "Wairua" section of our national church response to the Cyclone is along these lines, seeking to integrate our love for one another with our centres of collective work such as marae and church.

(3) A comment from B Walton to the post below:

"...inevitable questions about how and why a good, kind, loving God presides over a world..."

YHWH is not a Victorian liberal gentleman. And offhand, I cannot remember meeting any believer who staked the major decisions of his or her life on Dr Pangloss's idea that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Becoming a disciple is, after all, leaving such fables behind to learn Christianity.

So these "inevitable questions" sound empty, something that moderns know one can ask to fill the awkward silence after life is disrupted but cannot track back to credal faith in the Crucified God. Of course, one might still have to reply to them, even if one refuses to answer them.

Last week, I wandered through an active shooter event. Nine casualties, including the gunman who shot himself around the corner from here. So I have anyway been surrounded by mass grief counseling and thinking about what I was taught about evil when I was the age of the students who died.

In the 1970s, the predominant voice here up yonder was that of Simone Weil: "The greatness of Christianity is that it offers, not a supernatural explanation for suffering, but a supernatural use for it." Bad for modern chaplaincy, but good for postmodern spirituality.

Weil's books were read alongside all the others from her wartime French milieu. But Robert Coles, who was then conducting his research on the moral and spiritual lives of children, turned the mainline here away from glib *explanatory religion* and toward the notion that coping with disruption and evil is spiritual work that requires biblical resources.

Are the storefront chapels across the street from the crime scene helping that spiritual work? This generation's Christians seem to be anxious to show that, notwithstanding a reputation for moralism, they can be competent grief counselors. They do not preach; they do listen; they sometimes pray.

Karen Kilby's book God, Evil, and the Limits of Theology is current. So is Suffering and the Christian Life, a volume she edited with Rachel Davies.

Theology down under is in rude good health. But between the lines of ADU, I sometimes detect an adamant public down under that will not let + Peter and his readers represent anyone but that Victorian liberal gentleman who so famously died a dozen theological deaths in the last century. They may not actually believe in the old chaplaincy, but they still expect churches to supply it and somebody somewhere to be entitled to it.

https://youtu.be/TllUXvAdpcw



Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Towards a theological response to the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle (1)

 I was going to follow the previous two posts with a reflection on the Bible as the Word of God (what kind of "word" or "words" is it? Etc). But through last week a terrifying cyclone barrelled through the upper North Island causing devastation to land and buildings, resulting in loss of life. So far, at the time of writing, 11 deaths have been reported, but many people are so far "uncontactable". It is feared that, even when communications are restored and many currently who are beyond contact will be contacted, nevertheless there will be many more deaths reported. 

An initiative within our church so that we have an "all of church" response is described as follows:

"Drawing on the strengths of our Church we have established a new group named Hāpaitia: The Anglican Cyclone Gabrielle Response Group. The title Hāpaitia means to lift up, to support, to share a burden. 

Hāpaitia will commit to whakamana* communities so that they in turn can uplift ‘Te Oranga Ake’ – that is, help rebuild flourishing whānau, communities and environments.

Hāpaitia will focus on four key areas:

– providing support for Wairua (spiritual, pastoral and theological support),

– Tinana (care for physical and structural wellbeing),
– Pūtea (financial aid) and

– Kōrero (communications and storytelling).

This pledge stands not only for the following days and weeks, but throughout the journey to recovery. 

In a first step toward practical support, the Anglican Church’s St John’s College Trustees confirmed today they will release $250,000 in emergency funds for immediate deployment on Cyclone Gabrielle response.

Anglican aid and development staff will help coordinate the Church’s financial and operational response to Cyclone Gabrielle as part of the wider Hāpaitia response.

The Anglican Church has launched a Cyclone Gabrielle Emergency Appeal, hosted by Anglican Missions to support communities most affected by this week’s disaster.

Visit Anglican Missions to donate to the Cyclone Gabrielle Appeal. 

 *Whakamana: to acknowledge, uplift, maintain and restore the mana and tapu of others."

I have been invited to be part of this reponse because of the experience of the Diocese of Christchurch following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. This post and any subsequent ones on the matter is a contribution to the Wairua part of the response. Your comments will be helpful feedback in the development of my contribution. Thank you in advance!

(Finally, as we face our own natural disaster, we continue to remember the people of Turkey and Syria following the destructuve earthquakes there. And we continue to pray for peace in Ukraine.)

I understand the offering of theological reflection in such a time of disaster as this as offering at least two things. 

First (meaning foremost), offering theological support to those who bear the burden of care at the frontline of response to the disaster. 

Secondly, offering theological insights which may assist those at the frontline, or further back, to have confidence to respond to inevitable questions about how and why a good, kind, loving God presides over a world capable of unleashing such death and desolation on human society. This response may be needed immediately, because such questions may already be on the lips of the devastated. Almost certainly this reponse will be needed in due course because such questions arise for pretty much everyone who thinks about the world in relation to the possibility there is a God and this God is not immune to the prayers and praises of the people he has made. The story of Job is a salutary reminder of the folly of rushing in to offer explanations for suffering. It is also a story, when we reach its end, nevertheless, of the importance of embracing the problem of suffering, not avoiding it and pressing through to a response to the problem even if the response does not look like a comforting solution.

In this post I will attempt to focus on the first matter and leave the second matter to another post.

Jesus does not ask his disciples to be heroes. He asks his disciples to be faithful in small things (see Parable of Talents, Matthew 25:14-30), which may be as small a matter as giving a cup of water (Matthew 10:42) or giving away some clothing or food or drink or visiting someone in prison (see Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matthew 25:31-46). As the ennormity of the challenge the cyclone's devastation is revealed the temptation to be overwhelmed (It is so big we cannot do anything) or to be heroic (If I work like a superwoman or superman then I can solve the problem) can be resisted in favour of resolving to be available to serve, to encourage others to serve, and so together to make a response which makes a meaningful difference to the situation.

A focus on service, on achieving small tasks, in other words is fine. In the aftermath of a disaster, after initial adrenalin boosted responses, there is a need for stamina, for steadily working through each day and for days, weeks, months and even years afterwards. Through a long haul, rest and recreation remains important. The people who need us this week will also need us to help next month and even next year. This wisdom was underlined for all of us in Christchurch/Canterbury after the 2010/2011 quakes.

In turn, such considerations raise questions about what will keep our own spirits up, beyond ensuring a steady approach with appropriate rest. As part of a persistent, day to day, longhaul response, prayer and Bible reading, praying the Daily Office, gathering for acts of worship and communion will be vital for our spirits. Communing with God and with others is important when times are tough as well as when everything is trucking along fine. Apart from me, Jesus says, you can do nothing (John 15:5)

Of course, for many of us faraway, who should resist the temption simply to turn up to help unless we are invited to do so, there are two important things we can do to support those on the frontline: to pray and to give (preferably money since locals will know their needs better than we do). Day by day and Sunday by Sunday we will be a praying church, uplifting before God the needs of our sisters and brothers, especially in the territories we Anglicans know as Te Hui Amorangi o Tairawhiti (++Don Tamihere) and the Diocese of Waiapu (+Andrew Hedge).

"If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it" (1 Corinthians 12:26)

In this way, finally, we underline the importance of working collaboratively. Both locally as people, say, visit homes in pairs, or tackle a cleaning up task with a team so that mountain becomes a molehill, and from one territory to another as we pray and give, we can be a fellowship of Christians. One of the great themes in Paul's writings to the early churches is local fellowship - how members of a congregation love one another - which is also fellowship across the Mediterranean world - how love for one another means taking up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16:1-3).

"Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love." (1 Corinthians 16:13)



Monday, February 13, 2023

Christian Marriage (2 of 2) [updated] [again]

Arguably the bigger of two challenges to expanding the doctrinal understanding of marriage is whether marriage in Christian understanding requires a man and a woman, or whether marriage can be about any couple of human beings who wish to make the required vows. 

The lesser challenge is whether marriage can be redefined so that a sin is no longer a sin (e.g. that two men or two women may not have sexual relations ever).

Something I keep missing in responses to the recent CofE General Synod which can be summarised as "we may not bless sin" (effectively, = we may not change a sin to not a sin) is that for many Christians through many centuries of Christian marriage, marriage after divorce while a previous spouse is alive has been sin (adultery, in Jesus' own teaching), so that, when priests and ministers bless a married couple where this is so for at least one of the spouses, there is a blessing of sin - a previously defined sin being redefined. That is, the current debate appears to blot out the memory of previous debates and subsequent agreed changes on divorce and remarriage. Hence my suggestion above that the greater challenge for those advocating "equal marriage" is the matter of Christian marriage requiring a man and a woman (noting last week's post, at least one of whom is baptised or intending baptism).

Before a thought or two on that, what has been of interest to me in the past week in the life of the CofE, and more generally?

(1) Church of England General Synod: two ++Welby addresses you may wish to look at: his Presidential Address here, with excerpt below, and his address re the Living in Faith and Love debate is here.

"Unity that we ourselves conjure up has, as its first casualties, those who are different. Look at the church’s history of antisemitism, racism, slavery and collusion with evil structures of power. Look at how we have, and do, treat those of different sexualities. But to be such people – directed by fear of the outsider, those who are different – is to be those who simply live to establish our purposes and not God’s. We become the very image of the world around us, not the ikon of God.

Then at Pentecost, rightly linked to Babel, God the Holy Spirit does something spectacular, something that creates possibilities beyond human imagination or ambition.

Pentecost is not a gift of translation, but the creation of a new people grafted into the old. This is a gathering, not a scattering, but on an entirely new basis of gathering. Those gathered are gathered by love of Christ and by being saved.

The day after Pentecost must have been very difficult. People from all over the Roman world, all new Christians and no common language, except the language of loving, of being found in Christ. And that defined their identity."

(2) Here is the final Church Times report of the last stage of the CofE GS debate, and below is the final wording of the resolution agreed to:

"‘That this Synod, recognising the commitment to learning and deep listening to God and to each other of the Living in Love and Faith process, and desiring with God’s help to journey together while acknowledging the different deeply held convictions within the Church:

(a) lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church;

(b) recommit to our shared witness to God’s love for and acceptance of every person by continuing to embed the Pastoral Principles in our life together locally and nationally;

(c) commend the continued learning together enabled by the Living in Love and Faith process and resources in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage;

(d) welcome the decision of the House of Bishops to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance;

(e) welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining,

commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes;

(f) invite the House of Bishops to monitor the Church’s use of and response to the Prayers of Love and Faith, once they have been commended and published, and to report back to Synod in five years’ time;

(g) endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.’"

(3) Reactions, there have been a few (i.e. many), so literally just a few here:

Of course Sydney has something to say, and it is not appreciative! Here.

Ian Paul has a wrap up of the debate and the final decision here (albeit with a commenter calling it a one-sided look etc).

Miranda Threfall-Holmes argues that there never has been (for more than a period or so) an unchanging doctrine of marriage. [see pic below]

Then this random conjunction of two Tweeters - identities crossed out because the point is not about who made the Tweets:

(4) Needless to say, if you Google, you'll find GAFCON etc expostulating (there really is no other word for it).

A couple of thoughts from me, but not directly on the question of gender differentiation in Christian marriage:

(5) Taking a cue from BW's references to paradosis/tradition here in recent posts, as we engage in these matters, to what extent may we be "biblical" and attend to the tradition of the church on adaptation to circumstances. In this instance, a growing adaptation within Scripture itself. For instance, is there an unfolding tradition as we make our way from Matthew's Gospel (noting Jesus' strong teaching on divorce and remarriage in yesterday's Gospel, 5:21-37) through to 1 Corinthians 7, because we then find in Matthew 19:1-9 and in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, two "exceptions" the apparently fundamentals of Jesus' own teaching. On what grounds do we say that this unfolding tradition then gets frozen in time and no more exceptions may be entertained ever again by the church? As an historical fact, of course, we have so entertained (and without unity across Western and Eastern Christianity as to what we have permitted).

(6) If celibacy is a great option for homosexual Christians (indeed, the only option, as commended in speeches at the CofE GS), well-known as beeing pressed for by heterosexual Christian teachers (and Tweeter!) within conservative evangelicalism, the Catholic and Orthodox churches, why are not more heterosexual married Christians choosing it as a way of life because they are committed to standing in solidarity with the gay Christians?

(7) I have been somewhat bemused by remonstration that the CofE decision makes a personal decision from a personal conviction redundant and/or rejected (e.g. the "B" Tweet above). How so? Are not one's convictions before God, one's convictions before God and beyond trammelling by a church decision?

(8) I am also bemused by seeing an argument from a member of the female clergy of the CofE arguing that the CofE resolution is wrong, at least in part because the majority of Christians throughout the world disagree. Is that not an argument against the ordination of women?!

Gender differentiation required for Christian marriage?

(9) The strength of the case for what the CofE (and ACANZP in 2018) have resolved is that there are goods to marriage such as companionship and mutual support (Genesis 2:18) which all should be able to enjoy because nearly every one of us humans enjoys sociality and support, to say nothing of intimacy and sexual fulfilment. Most of us find celibacy challenging, living alone difficult, and many of us, sometimes even when we are not looking for it, fall in love and find a life partner with whom we want to enter life partnership. Whether or not we also press for equal marriage, should we withhold prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for the success of a partnership (such as civil marriage, civil union, covenanted friendship) which offers those goods?

(10) The same Genesis story of creation of man and of woman extends to a story of oneness in marriage (Genesis 2:24-25) between the man and the woman, a story repeated countless times in the history of humanity, and told many times within the whole biblical narrative. Marriage in the Bible is always marriage between a man and (at least) a (one) woman. When Jesus speaks about marriage, he speaks about the travails of marriage between a man and a woman. When Paul and Peter speak about marriage in their epistles, they speak about marriage between a man and a woman. Christian understanding of marriage, from then until very recently, has uniformly been about marriage as the joining together of that which in creation was differentiated, a man and a woman, not least, of course, because one intended outcome of marriage-in-creation is that reporduction of our species requires the conjugation of a man and a woman.

(11) Put a little differently, it is actually a big theological step to change the Christian understanding of marriage to include marriages of two men or two women. (And, to head off one possible rejoinder, sometimes made here by Fr Ron Smith, I do not see that talk in the NT of, e.g., marriage between Christ and the church, diminishes the size of this step because the step we are talking about is the step on which humanity in relation to itself stands, rather than the step on which humanity in relation to God stands.)

(12) Whether or not the CofE or our church ever becomes a church which does specifically change its doctrine of marriage (e.g. by changing the wording of its marriage services so that references to man/men/male and to woman/women/female are removed), it is not actually some (allegedly) unfortunate conservative tendency on the part of some (allegedly) theologically short-sighted wing of the church to insist that any such change must be matched by some warmly endorsed ways and means for the view that Christian marriage does require gender differentiation to be supported and cherished.

(13) Put a little differently, while there are arguments for equal marriage in the church - arguments from justice, from wishing to avoid deeming some marriages (according to civil society) "second class" marriages (according to the church), etc - the one argument that cannot be directly made from Scripture and from tradition is that Scripture and/or tradition is, one the whole, indifferent to sex differentiation in marriage.

My argument here is that Christian marriage is unlikely to yield easily (re theological discourse) or quickly (re time for people's minds to change) to a redefinition which squares with the aspirations of equal marriage. It may do. Things do change. One generation gives way to another. It may even be in my lifetime. But there has been and still is, in Christian understanding of marriage resting on Scripture and tradition, a heavy investment in marriage being the conjugation of male and female.

ADDENDUM

In the Miranda Threlfal-Holmes speech above there is a reference to the CofE 1938 Doctrine Commission report on marriage. Church Mouse on Twitter has posted this pic of a section of the report which - in 2023 - appears to speak of marriage as gender undifferentiated :):


ADDENDUM 2

Interesting debate between Ian Paul responding to David Instone-Brewer. (The latter scholar, re his work on divorce and remarriage, is often quoted in support of Jesus/Paul on divorce and remarriage has basically endorsing the changes mainline churches have made in the past hundred years or so). Here Ian takes David to task.

My reflection:
- David's post is genuinely interesting. Could he be right? He himself is uncertain! Is he presuming too much about ancient insight into human sexuality tallying with ours today?
- Ian (as with many commenters these days) focuses on the wrong question which, IMHO, is not, "Does the Bible uniformly teach X and therefore we must maintain X?" but, "Noting that the Apostle Paul himself said, It is better to marry than to burn, how do we appropriately regularise sexual intimacy between people willing to commit to each other in a bonded/covenanted relationship for life?" We have found a way to so regularise when a divorced person seeks a new marriage ...

Monday, February 6, 2023

Christian Marriage (1 of 2)

As usual, this post (and next Monday's) is not primarily intended to rehearse familar arguments on That Topic - arguments familiar from many posts here at ADU through the past fifteen years. It is intended to explore the situation/debate the Church of England finds itself in, and the situation the Anglican Communion finds itself in as responses are made to recent news in England, especially as the CofE General Synod meets soon and the ACC meets soon after in Ghana.

So the English bishops have published their decision about the blessing of same sex couples (but not their relationship per se) and people are ripping into it, for example, here from a conservative point of view, with no less than 8 reasons why the proposals are undeserving of acclamation. 

Then, one famous London parish, having already announced that it is in broken fellowship with the CofE, has updated their concerns in a letter to the Bishop of London. Of course views opposing the several conservative takedowns of the decision can also be found, arguably led by Jayne Ozanne

And, with an intriguing phrase when discussing sexuality, there is a charge that the English bishops have an "Orwellian position" on these matters. Excoriation of English episcopoi unites the condemning critics but won't unite the church!

A considered conservative view from within the CofE house of bishops has been published by Bishop Ric Thorpe - here. Needless to say criticism of this is observable on social media. (For a considered critique, you may wish to follow a thread on Twitter which begins here.)

Also put out by another bishop, Jill Duff, is this.

Then there are exchanges I see which go like this:

A: It is not very loving to argue against the bishops' decision and deny blessings to LGBTQi couples. How dare you?!

B: It is not very loving to disregard the teaching of Jesus. Are you a real follower of Jesus?!

Quo vadis?

Several thoughts.

1. There is a lot of material (see above, e.g., re the +Ric Thorpe-led view) which restates the doctrine of marriage for men and women, for people able to enter into heterosexual marriage. That is helpful - to be reminded what is taught in Scripture about marriage. 

1b. It may or may not be necessary to do so to keep marriage ringfenced for heterosexuals only, but the implication here is that there is no need for discussion about how the church responds to and supports 

(i) any same sex couple who wish their partnership to be affirmed in the context of church (in this case, in the state church of England); 

(ii) same sex couples in which one or both partners are members of the church and who wish their partnership to be affirmed in the church; 

(iii) the question, if "marriage" is to be denied to a couple, there is any "status" possible in the eyes of the church for two people not in heterosexual marriage who yet wish to make a lifelong commitment of love similar to the commitment made in marriage. 

2a. Is it plausible, is it reasonable for a significant part of the Anglican church (in England, elsewhere) to effectively say, No. No. And No? On what basis in the teaching of Jesus can we say that Jesus teaching against divorce between a man and a woman married to each other was also making a pronouncement about the desire of two people of the same sex to live out a public partnership of self-giving love to one another?

2b. In another words, it appears challenging to find discussion in the current situation of the CofE of BOTH "Yes, this is all that Jesus and Paul say about marriage between a man and a woman, and it is good" AND "Yes, we have a reasonable hermeneutical task before us in order to respond with care and consideration and formal respect to couples who are not composed of a man and a woman."

3. Yet, taking a different line, is there too easy an assumption that because the majority of Brits want it, because parliament is cross the state church of England is not changing its doctrine of marriage to explicitly permit the marrying of same-sex couples in CofE churches, and because justice/love/fairness demand the arc of the universe and the CofE align, the bishops can easily, should readily agree to propose such change to the General Synod?

4. Taking up Dr Jonathan Tallon's thread on Twitter, noted above, (or his book which he links to, Affirmative: Why you can yes to the Bible and yes to people who are LGBTQI+), a lot depends on whether "marriage" in Christian understanding only applies to marriage between a man and a woman. Can we vary Christian understanding so that the definition of marriage focuses on matters of self-giving love, lifelong commitment and vows to such effect made before God?

5. And I note, you may have noted, that the Gospel reading for yesterday was Matthew 5:13-20, including:

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches other to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Who is great in the kingdom of heaven? (From above): A or B?

5. I see some angst over (and/or difficulty in explaining) the difference between "civil marriage" and "[Christian/church] marriage": is not marriage, marriage? Has not the church accepted that I am married if I am civilly married? The answer is, of course, Yes and No for the CofE. Remember: Charles and Camilla could not (at that point in time re divorce/remarriage/church] have their wedding in a church but they could in a registry office with a blessing in a church afterwards.

6. Cue - I think - merit in churches conducting no weddings (let the state register what the state makes laws about), but only blessings of couples who have married (and doing so at the bishop or priest's discretion re their own convictions). Might CofE, ACANZP etc yet end up like European churches?

7. Christian marriage as a concept can be surprisingly robust against change. Let me tell you a story from the annals of ACANZP. Some years back (the General Synod in 2004?) a proposal came to loosen the requirement that one of the parties to a marriage conducted by a priest or bishop must be baptised. The arguments, in my recollection, went something like this:

- priests and bishops are asked to conduct weddings of couples who are not in fact Christian (or only vaguely Christian) and, in a post-modern, secularised world, it is missionally appropriate to be able to say Yes and not No to such requests;

- but the requirement that one of the parties be baptised is a sticking point in a world in which young adults now turn out to have not been routinely baptised as previously in the days of yore = Christendom;

- ah, but doesn't that make the request for marriage an evangelistic/disciple-making opportunity so that it is for the priest or bishop to work with the requesting couple on how they might become Christian in order to enter as Christians into Christian marriage?

- and, while we all understand that many people say "I am Christian because I live by Christian values or similar", isn't baptism the basic, objective measure of who is actually a Christian?

- that is, we cannot easily move away from the requirement for baptism without undermining our understanding of the significance of baptism;

- well, said someone or someones, life is not always chronologically tidy, what if we agreed to an amendment such that we marry a couple where there is an intention on at least one of the couple to be baptised, even if the baptism takes place after the wedding?

Thus: Title G Canon III Section 1:6:

"The minister shall ascertain that at least one of the parties to the marriage has been baptised or is intending to be baptised provided that the minister may waive this requirement in unusual pastoral circumstances in consultation with the appropriate episcopal authority."

(Resolved in 2006 when I wasn't a member of our GS, so my memory of the arguments must stem from a discussion at the Synod before.)

Naturally we can have a discussion about whether this loosening of the requirement for baptism was or remains justified, but my point here is that, when the apparently obvious move in a changing world was to simply abolish any such requirement, close evaluation of the matter yielded a resilience to the doctrine of Christian marriage in our church.

Noting that what the English bishops have decided is understood to require no further synodical resolution, the question is in the air: will the CofE make yet make formal, canonical change to its understanding of the doctrine of marriage (as some are proposing)? We will watch with interest.

A week is a long time in blogging but I think part two of this post will look at the question of sexual differentiation in marriage and whether it is a sine qua non for "Christian marriage." But the most importance consideration, perhaps, will be whether we can be a church which can include those who understand faithfulness to Scripture in one way and those who understand it in another way. Let's see ...

Monday, January 30, 2023

Sacramental Actions?

 A few weeks ago, in a long stream of comments (here), some of which were about sacraments (and if you did not follow that discussion it is worth a look for several deep dive contributions into sacraments in Roman, Protestant/Anglican and Eastern Orthodox theologies), Mark raised the following questions with me after I had observed that in ACANZP we (officially) talk about two sacraments and certain other actions being "sacramental actions" (even though it is easy to hear Anglicans talking about "seven sacraments"):

"And, Peter, how come we need to invent other categories - "sacramental actions" - for rites that all my Anglican vicars so far have persisted in simply calling "sacraments". It's rather confusing and unnecessary, isn't it? A hangover of anti-Romanist identity formation?


The Anglican Church of North America (I think) delineates "Sacraments of the Gospel" from "Sacraments of the Church". If we want to emphasize which sacraments Jesus directly created (rather than simply participated in or inspired), that's a simpler, more sensible language than "sacramental actions", isn't it?

Wouldn't it improve our ecumenical relationships with the Catholics and Orthodox overnight if we made this simple acknowledgement?"

In response:

1. To get one issue out of the way: if the last remaining obstacle to unity with Catholics and/or Orthodox was that we Anglicans "conceded" on two becoming seven sacraments, then I wouldn't stand in the way ... save that, a lot of theology changes at that point, and my "concession" might be accompanied be deep reluctance etc! Conversely, I cannot recall ever hearing that it is Anglican stubbornness on the sacraments that is a vital blockage to unity.

2. The notion of seven sacraments is attractive numerically: seven is a perfect number, number of completion etc. But it obscures a simple fact in the development of these sacraments: there is no revelation in the early church's life that there are, or should be seven sacraments. Development was slow. I recall an eminent Catholic theologian, Denys Turner (in a lecture which I heard when in Cambridge in 2015, still noted at a link here) observing that marriage as a sacrament was finally agreed to by the church c. 1000 AD. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the notion that God willed marriage to be a sacrament whether from the beginning of creation or from the time of our Lord.

3. Thus there is a certain attractive honesty in the position of ACNA, two sacraments of the gospel and five sacraments of the church. But this approach begs two rather large questions. 

3.1. If a sacrament is an action of God, invisible grace through visible materials/actions, either a sacrament is a sacrament of the gospel (which is the announcement of God's grace towards humanity made visible in the person and work of Jesus Christ) or it is effectively a speculative guess of the church re when God acts (i.e. acts sacamentally, in some sense akin to baptism and eucharist) and when God does not. 

3.2. Why stop at seven when no revelation of God has specified seven as a limiting number? Why not, for instance, make the dedicating and consecrating of church buildings an eighth sacrament, noting that we envisage all kinds of gracious actions of God taking place in such buildings rather than elsewhere? Should Foot-washing be a ninth sacrament?

4. It is not "anti-Romanist" to question today whether there are in fact seven sacramental actions worthy of being deemed "sacraments." Sure, in the 16th century the power of the then understood sacraments was being abused and the Reformation was a reaction against that misuse of power, but the same reaction asked theological, not just ecclesio-political questions about the sacraments, and those theological questions (as I am noting above and below) remain lively rather than nostalgic. In the cold light of the gospel, what are sacraments which flow from the teaching of Jesus Christ? Answer, in summary: two, not seven.

5. Why then talk, in ACANZP at least, about "sacramental actions" (e.g. in the agreed catechism of our church, p. 934: Reconciliation of a Penitent, Anointing, Christian Marriage, Confirmation, Ordination)? I assume that this phrase arises because in a diverse church, at the time of settling the wording of the catechism found in NZPB, there will have been anglo-catholics arguing for seven "sacraments" and evangelicals arguing for two "dominical sacraments" and thus "sacramental actions" is a compromise which respects the historical and spiritual significance of the five actions in the list above but does not shift the historic, theological position of the Anglican church on the matter.

A potential strength of this position is that it leaves open possibilities for discussion about other actions which have sacramental aspects without needing to argue whether they are worthy of becoming (so to speak) the eighth, ninth and ... fifteenth sacraments. (My suspicion is that having reached the number of perfection, seven, there is little appetite for those who do hold that there are seven sacraments to add to their number).

6. If the strength of the phrase "sacramental action" is that it offers some sense of an action having sacramental character (and thus offers a compromise for Anglicans, as noted above), then the weakness is that it begs the question why an action with sacramental character is not, in fact, a sacrament! I am afraid shortage of time this week means I am not going to pursue this question in depth or detail.

7. That is, I think I am pretty happy with the concept of baptism and eucharist being dominical sacraments and then leaving open the possibility that there are more than five other ways and means through which God's grace comes to God's people (whether we wish to call these sacramental actions or sacraments). 

8. There are mysteries here (to deliberately invoke an Eastern Orthodox approach to what the West call "sacraments")) and debate about them can distract. Might we not better focus on the greatest sacrament of all, Jesus Christ, the visible embodiment of God's invisible grace? What of our written Scriptures, bound together as the Bible: is this not also a visible embodiment of God's invisible grace because through this physical book spiritual transformation is achieved? (One might think of Augustine's famous conversion ...)



Monday, January 23, 2023

2023: what a year, and it's only 23 January!

The giddy breathlessness of events of this 2023 year has not ceased in the last seven days!

On the domestic, NZ front, our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern resigned on Thursday, and with a smooth internal election of Chris Hipkins to be the new Leader of the Labour Party and thus new Prime Minister, I think it is by the end of today that we will have a new Prime Minister.

I admire Jacinda immensely for a variety of reasons but none more so that that she has looked at her personal reality - she said her tank is empty - and made an appropriate decision as a leader. Great leaders know when it is time to go.

I don't have much admiration for all the harping critics of the last few days: not for the ones who have not wasted a nano second of social media time to tell us about all her (alleged) shortcomings and not for the ones who think she should have pressed on and not "given up" because it go a bit "hard." What is it about personal burnout which these critics do not want to empathise with? What is it about pushing "Pause" before rushing to judgment when a momentous decision has been made such as Jacinda has made?

I also admire the Labour Party for making the right decision in choosing Chris Hipkins as their next leader. Any party in such a situation needs to be listening to the nation as much as looking around their caucus room. Chris Hipkins, among other plausible candidates, stands out as someone the nation can warm to, listen to and appreciate. (That a political party might not achieve this simple feat in political wisdom was amply illustrated last year when the British Conservative Party chose Liz Truss to be its leader.)

The lovely thing about the decision re our new Prime Minister is, with an election looming later this year, we ministers of relgion who traditionally give no hints as to how we think people should vote could wear badges saying "Let's vote Chris for PM"! 

[Note for those not in NZ: the next Prime Minister will be the Leader of the Labour Party, Chris Hipkins, or the Leader of the National Party, Chris(topher) Luxon, whatever permutations our MMP voting system throws up.]

Meanwhile, in Anglicanland, the CofE House of Bishops has published its decision about the blessing (or, it appears, more strictly speaking "praying for") same sex partnerships/marriages (but no actual same sex marriages in CofE churches), to something of an uproar, at least on Anglican social media, with those who think there should be no change lambasting the decision and those who think the change should go further ... lambasting the decision. And there is more (e.g. weighing in against the ABC) but I won't detail it here - you may or may not want to follow links on the sidebar here, especially on Thinking Anglicans and Psephizo.

My commentary is both general and focused:

My general comment is that the decision is similar to (but not exactly the same as) the decision ACANZP made in 2018. The comfort in that observation is, I suggest, that in a divided church there are not too many options if the status quo is to change - if the seemingly interminable debates are to give way to a decision for some change and thus ACANZP did not head down an eccentric pathway in 2018. It will now be interesting to see where Australia goes on the matter.

My focused comment is on a common charge, from the right and the left, seen numerous times on social media in the past few daysm that the CofE HOB decision is "incoherent." (E.g. because it purports to not change the doctrine of marriage while offering some recognition of marriage which is not between a man and a woman.)

"Incoherent" sounds pretty terrible, doesn't it? But might we give "incoherent" a little bit of empathetic reflection?

Think about what marriage means as a "doctrine", per the past two thousand years: a man and a woman marry [diversity, two into one], for life [permanent], faithful to each other [no adultery], promising to love one another through thick and thin [covenanted love, companionship], and open to procreation [kind of basic to the continuation of the human race!]. That's coherent in the sense that most of us on the day we marry agree with it and intend to live it out, in the sense that it conforms to the story of creation and various aspects of marriage worked into that narrative, and in the sense that it conforms to the Law of Moses and to Jesus' renewal of that law according to the gospels.

Of course, marriage doesn't always work out according to such intentions: adultery occurs, relationships break down for reasons other than adultery, divorce takes place, a new marriage is sought, one spouse dies, a new marriage later in life may not plausibly be able to entertain the possibility of procreation occurring, and, even where there is openness to children being procreated there can be desire to limit the openness of each act of sexual intercourse to being procreative. The church has really struggled to offer a "coherent" account of what happens when marriages fall short or fail "intentions" for marriage according to the Bible. The most obvious incoherency is in the approach we take to divorce occurring and a new marriage being entered into: the universal church on earth does not have an agreed set of grounds for divorce to be accepted, let alone for a new marriage to be entered into with divine approval. Neither does the universal church have an agreed set of grounds for limiting the openness of the act of sexual intercourse to procreation occurring as a result.

Now, the point of suggesting "incoherency" on marriage already exists in the life of the church at large, to say nothing of individual denominations, is not to then determine that "incoherency" doesn't matter and that any old incoherency is fine. The point is, merely saying "incoherency" does not get us very far in assessing a decision to make change, such as the CofE HOB has done.

Might it be better to ask whether the decision made is a reasonable one?

Reasonable, that is, taking account of a variety of significant factors, the most obvious of which is assessing what the people of God within the CofE might live with?

Ultimately, of course, it will be for the people of God within the CofE to determine whether the decision made is liveable incoherency and reasonably liveable!

Then there is the question of how the Communion responds ...

Finally, thankfully, this past week has been an opportunity for me to attend two Christian funerals, to visit one of our parishes, Westland, which lives its mission out far from the well-resourced, well-populated centre of our Diocese and to participate in the induction of a new vicar. In each instance it has been uplifting to see and experience the the power of God's love working through his ministers, ordained and lay, and to have underlined the difference faith in Christ makes to life. The faithfulness of God's people, and the faithfulness of God towards his people, experienced through these past seven days, is at odds with some of the wilder claims made about the diminishment of the church because it decided X rather than Y or Z.

Monday, January 16, 2023

2023: what a year, and it's only 16 January!

2023 is off to a tumultuous start. American democracy barely functioning. Constitutional monarchy under threat in UK (by the unsparing revelations of the 5th in line to the throne, no less). Brazil experiencing a Trump-like attempt to overthrow an electoral result. Benedict XVI has died. Cardinal Pell has died. Some terrible storms disrupting life in NZ - we thought it was the summer holiday season. The CofE under convulsions again re That Topic. And also having conniptions, again, over +Philip North, who won't ordain women, becoming a diocesan bishop. 

Ever willing to assist, here is a picture I took, while on holiday, of splendid calm and peacefulness:


This is a plantation of Californian Redwoods, normally a coastal dwelling tree, in the sub-alpine district of Hanmer Springs, South Island, NZ. They were planted in 1930 and may live for 1000 years, so just babies, but calm, peaceful infants. Think what crises and calamities the world has lived through since 1930. These trees have grown as God would have us grow in Christ: faithful, maturing, fruitful, lasting (e.g. Ephesians 4:13-16; Colossian 1:19-29).

If a/the major question of this blog is, How might we become what Christ intends us to be, a unified people of God? , then a close second question is, What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ today?

How might we be faithful, maturing, fruitful, lasting disciples of Christ in 2023?

The answer, obviously, is to ... change "of" to "in" [smile].

How might we be faithful, maturing, fruitful, lasting disciples "in Christ" in 2023? 

Clearly, to the extent that we can be responsible human decision makers in respect of the course of our lives, we need to walk as closely with [note, another important preposition, see Mark 3:14] Christ as possible: through daily Scripture reading and prayer, through reception of and participation in the sacrament of communion, through openness to the work of the Holy Spirit, through various other spiritual disciplines.

But, we may also look to and give thanks for God's promise to us in Christ: that Christ will live in us and we will live in Christ (essentially, the whole of John's Gospel, much of the Pauline writings). To go back to the forest in Hanmer: those splendid Redwoods have grown by God's grace as God has gifted them rain, sunshine, carbon dioxide, etc. To become what God wants us to be is foremost a matter of God's grace, the Giver of life will gift life to us.

Yet, and yet, and yet: as we see, even in the first couple of weeks of this year, various people, otherwise at least baptised, possibly claiming to be some kind of ecclesio-political warrior for God, maybe holding powerful office with the support of church leaders, even holding high office in the church of God, proposing courses of action and/or propagandizing perspectives seemingly at variance with objective truth, or, just being foolish. The grace of God in growing us in Christ may be thwarted, tripped up or just thrown aside.

Although we can see this in certain people, living and departed, who currently exist in the laser light of news headlines, do we not see it in ourselves? 

Outside of the headlines, do not we ordinary mortals ourselves thwart the grace of God as we make choices that then lead - hopefully - to confession of our sins, to acknowledgement with sorrow of our capacity to not grow in grace, to stunt our maturing, to be unfruitful and to look like we will not be found to last the distance with God?

Epilogue

While not completely aligned with the topic above, I do not want to miss the opportunity to copy and paste a citation made in a commnet by Mark to the previous post:

Michael Sean Winters, writing in the National Catholic Reporter, on George Pell and his warrior approach to secular modernity:


"There are times when the church needs lions, protectors, prelates and others willing to man the barricades, at least in times of persecution. But the late 20th and early 21st century witnessed something different from persecution.

True, the acids of modernity, as political commentator Walter Lippmann once called them, were eating away not only at the faith but at the disposition to believe. The culture was becoming secular, but not the way late 18th-century French culture had become secular. People were not so much hostile as busy. They lost interest in the faith, failed to see that it related to their daily lives, and moved on.

Lions like Pell treated these developments as modern-day reign of terror and thought they could hasten the Thermidorian reaction, but they misdiagnosed the situation. Modernity was not producing anti-clericals in the mold of Robespierre but rather people who were alienated, drowning in materialism and plenty, needy.

The times called for pastors, not prophets, for accompaniment not thunderbolts, for missionaries and evangelizers not apologists, for lambs not lions."

https://www.ncronline.org/opinion/ncr-voices/legacy-cardinal-george-pell-it-what-church-needs-now