Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Reset progress

During and since the Lambeth Conference 2022 there has been talk of a "reset" for the Anglican Communion, with a specific initiative coming from the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches - a group with overlaps to Gafcon but not exactly contiguous with it.

Recently "Anglican Orthodox Leaders" met in Cairo, Egypt had produced a statement which included these paragraphs on reset progress:


9. To press on in resetting theCommunion according to its biblical & historical roots: 

a)    The Anglican world has changed so dramatically in the last century. In 1900, about 80% of the Communion lived in England. Today, about 75%of Anglicans are estimated to live in Global South countries. The demographics have changed, and sadly in our day the theology of many bishops in the Church of England has also changed towards revisionism. We need new wineskins for a new reality.

b)   On the 9th of October 2023, the Church of England House of Bishops signalled their intent to commend prayers of blessing for same sex couples. Despite all that is happening, we as orthodox leaders are very encouraged to see orthodox groupings within the Church of England beginning to collectively stand against this revisionism in their Church. We applaud the 12 bishops in the Church of England who have indicated that they are unable to support the decision by their House of Bishops, and we will uphold them in our prayers. We will stand with orthodox Anglicans in England both now and going forward.

c)    We lament with tears all that has happened to the historic ‘mother church’ of the communion, and continue to pray for her restoration. At the same time, orthodox Anglican churches and entities will press on with the work God has given us to do as he renews the fallen creation through the finished work of Jesus Christ our Lord. 

d)   In relation to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other instruments of communion, we affirm the Ash Wednesday Statement and the Kigali Statement.

10. As orthodox Primates, we reaffirm our adherence to Lambeth Resolution 1.10 of 1998 in full, both in moral teaching and pastoral care. We recognise this resolution as the official teaching of the Anglican Communion on marriage and sexuality and urge that renewed steps be taken to encourage all provinces to abide by this doctrine in the faith, order, and practice.

There is no doubt that a demographic shift in the Anglican Communion has taken place and that the shift to the vast majority of the Communion being African and Asian rather than British/Irish, North American and Australasian will continue through this and the next century.

Population growth in Africa is immense (see, for instance, this NYT article) and church decline in numbers in "white" Communion provinces is salutary.

Just where the Communion goes between a natural reset (the people who make up the Communion), a structural reset (provincial leaders proposing this and that as a new way forward for the structure of the Communion to match the people of the Communion), and our actual historical setting (the role of the See of Canterbury) is both a matter for debate (what do we want to do? who do we want to be as Anglican Christians?) and for speculation (where will we end up? Will there ever be another well attended Lambeth Conference?).

My own wish is that there was less emphasis placed on (say) what the Church of England is doing within its own house, and more emphasis on exploring what being Anglican means in the differing contexts of each Anglican province, with an empathetic openness to understanding those differing contexts.

There are reasons why the CofE is in its particular situation AND why the Anglican church in Egypt is not in that situation - and they are not solely theological reasons!


Anonymous said...

"Demography is destiny." That is true in so many ways! The future belongs to those who turn up for it. If people stop having babies and don't convert their neighbours (or don't even try to), it isn't hard to predict what will happen.

These demographic changes have other ramifications. The Biden administration has tried some financial coercion on small Christian African nations over homosexuality, but there are diminishing returns in western neo-colonialism today, as China and India get into the act.

Even the west's longstanding support for Israel can no longer be taken as a given because immigration has created large Muslim communities in Britain and France (less so in the US, but significant Muslim numbers in Michigan and Minnesota) and the left needs their votes to hold power.

In other words, if you stop reproducing and depend on other nations to make up your numbers (your workforce, your taxpayers etc), don't expect to continue as you always did.
Who ever imagined The Pill would be that powerful? :)

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

“Don’t convert their neighbours” well, the neighbours now have science and reason to work with of which counters stories of miracles. I am not willing to tell my children what to think but how to think.

When speaking of Christianity author Sheldon Vanauken puts it so well in his book A Severe Mercy:

The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians — when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Anonymous.
I don't know what my neighbours think about science and reason, but as one with an intense interest in philosophy since I was a 17 year old undergraduate, I doubt if many of them have ideas I haven't come across, nor what I have learned in more recent years from William Lane Craig, John Lennox and Edward Feser - not to mention C. S. Lewis, who was Sheldon Vanauken's great mentor. I am sure Vanauken read and absorbed Lewis's great book "Miracles" with its profound argument for the supernatural basis for rationalism. In brief: unless we know that humans are made in the image of God, there is no reason to trust our own powers of reason. Lewis develoos this argument over the first 50 pages or so of the book. I reread "Miracles" 2 or 3 years ago and struck by its brilliance. Lewis, of course, was clear that Christianity isn't religiously tinged moralism (the default position of 19th century liberal Protestantism, the kind of thing dismantled by Greshsm Machen in "Christianity and Liberalism"), but is grounded in two miracles: the Incarnation (what Lewis called "the Grand Miracle") and the Resurrection. No miracles means no Christianity.
Good luck with telling your children HOW to think! I never cracked that one.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

"talk of a 'reset' for the Anglican Communion"

Does this talk of "reset" differ from the older talk of "realignment?"

Is there a question about what truth is from God? Why would its answer be more voting by fewer people, different people, people meeting in hotter places, people calling themselves orthodox before they vote, etc?

There is an old ecumenical joke: when Catholics get excited they see an apparition of the Blessed Virgin, and when Lutherans get excited they write German theology with bits of Latin, but when Anglicans get excited they appoint a working group to propose, for approval by a twice-round process, a new scheme of representation featuring... Good Lord deliver us.

For Anglicans and Orthodox, unlike Roman Catholics, the Holy Spirit has organized the traditional canonical order through national churches with local synods. Believing in a universal church but also firmly disbelieving in a universal administration, they do not have common assets and institutions (eg the Vatican) to manage together, but they do have some space and time to discern what international work the Body has and maybe who among them should attempt it.

A salient difference between the two: worldwide Orthodox unity is expressed in so many concretely religious ways that its synodical representation is entirely provisional, negotiated, customary, non-binding. In is in, not when you show up to a meeting, but so long as the world's bishops pray for you; out is out when they stop. From the high cliffs of Mount Athos, the monks greet an Orthodox bishop approaching from the sea by ringing the church bells.

When Bartholomew, the ecumenical patriarch, decided to call an ecumenical council-- the last was in 787-- he joined a vigorous debate that began in the 1950s about how to do such a thing. In the end, what he got was a Great Council that was much like a Lambeth Conference, not least in having some refusals to participate. But because Orthodoxy is so much more than a sort of polity, nobody thinks that the difficulty of convening global meetings is a crisis for it, nor would a meeting of fist-shaking refuseniks someplace be taken as more a topic for idle gossip.

Kindly note that the Orthodox do get heavy international work done in a variety of ways. They collaborate on at least as many charitable projects as Anglicans do. They have interesting and deep disagreements-- how many divorces?, is Russia special?, who disciplines patriarchs? etc-- but also a theological consensus robust enough to have identified and suppressed occasional heresies in the relatively recent past. Bartholomew is not a pope, but he did eventually secure the deposition of an embezzling patriarch.

The Orthodox lack a heavenly organizational chart but, however consensus comes, once it emerges among nearly all Orthodox bishops, it sticks. In the East, it is not the source that matters-- patriarchs have been heretics, councils have been wrong, and new orthopraxy could spring up anywhere-- but a universal reception that demonstrates the Body's unified acceptance of it. National churches act independently but within the subtle pressures and counter-pressures of a living international consensus among the bishops, each of whom decides case-wise whether say Spyridon's application for a fifth wedding is one too many.

Anonymous said...

Occasionally, Anglicans also speak of practices validated by their reception (eg women's ministries, liturgical revision) but our more Western civilization inclines us to validate decisions by their promulgating source. In that climate, synodicalists would have each national synod decide things as though it were alone in history and on earth. Some read their particular applications of scriptural texts from golden tablets delivered by angels. A very few think that they are reincarnate Tudors walking among us. None of these quite understands truth that is plain to God and the others.

Sometimes these certitudes alight on persons who also and temperamentally see uniformity as right and variance as wrong. These are unhappy because if even one person in faraway Cockaigne rides to his only hound after a single unlucky fox, the pristine uniformity of morality has been grievously spoiled. The damage to the moral order done can only be repaired by freeing the fox, scolding the uncomprehending dog, and flogging the poor man for defending his chickens. Our Creator glories in the variety and ways of his creatures; because they do not, uniformitarian conformists are always complaining to him, as if to reproach the Lord for what he has made.

One can have a high view of synods or scriptures or formularies as one chooses. But if it is higher than one's view of the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church" then schism will ensue. Also, one will be a heretic.

Rather than sautéing the same poisonous mushrooms in more agreeable sauce, it would be better for synodicalists, biblicists, and Tudors alike to ask themselves whether something they suppose inclines them to convictions too pathologically exclusive and extensive for the Lord's own purpose of unifying his creation in his Body and reconciling it to himself. I Corinthians xiii.


Anonymous said...

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Virginian? Don't rove too far with that lonely hound, there might be snake-handlers in Podunk County.
Orthodoxy really means Russia, Bowman, and for good or ill (probably ill), whatever happens to Russia happens to Orthodoxy. The Ukraine war will reverberate for decades, if the world lasts that long.
And nobody, bar nobody, can escape the dead hand of demographic decline. The statistics for Bulgaria, for example, are worrisome. (Italy has nothing to boast about, either.)
May I urge a more catholic vision?

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Hhhhmmm you may be right with your last sentence!

Noted Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman whom I’m sure you are aware of explains miracles quite nicely when he notes that in an ancient view of the divine realm “gods could sometimes be or become humans, and humans could sometimes be or become gods.” Ehrman outlines three models of “divine men” that were common in the ancient world:

Sometimes it was understood that gods could and would come down to earth in human form to make a temporary visit for purposes of their own.
Sometimes it was understood that a person was born from the sexual union of a god and a mortal; thus, that the person was, in some sense, part divine and part human.
Sometimes it was understood that a human was elevated by the gods to their realm, usually after death, and at that point divinized, made into a god.
As Bart documents, there are many stories in ancient myths about gods temporarily assuming human form to meet, speak, and interact with humans, and that these stories in many ways are similar to later Christian beliefs about Christ being a preexistent divine being who came to earth as a human, only later to return to the heavenly realm.

Perhaps this is why Jesus was silent when Pilate asked him (John 18:38) “What is truth?”

Anonymous said...

Hello, Anonymous - Rowan Williams once famously said that Jack Spong asked the kind of questions you would expect from a bright sixth former (Year 12). Bart Ehrman is Jack Spong as the bright undergraduate.
Which is to say: he asks the right questions but (frequently) comes to the wrong answer, because he is a textual critic, not really an exegete or historian of the first century.
If you want an accessible (but learned) response to his 'How Jesus Became God', you should check out 'How God Became Jesus' by Michael Bird, Craig Evans, Simon Gathercole et el. Gathercole is a Professor of New Testament at Cambridge and an expert in the literature of the period - I have read most of his books and consider him one of the most creative scholars in NT today.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh