Monday, March 25, 2024

On Presidency of the Anglican Communion

Look, if you do not want to read another post on the Anglican Communion, that is fine by me. My recommendation is that you read this book review instead. Or as well!

But if you must read on, here as a blast from the past, is an interesting thought by then ABC, Archbishop Rowan Williams, that the role of ABC [England] and ABC [rest of Anglican world] should be split, to some degree or another, in two:

The Anglican Church is planning to hand over some of the global duties of the Archbishop of Canterbury to a "presidential" figure.

Dr Rowan Williams, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, said plans are being drawn up for a role to oversee the day-to-day running of the Anglican Communion and its 77 million members, leaving the Archbishop free to concentrate on leading the Church of England.

The tenure of the Welsh-born Archbishop, who steps down after 10 years in December, has been marked by a bruising war between liberals and traditionalists in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality, including the ordination of gay bishops.

There has also been a divisive row over female clergy.

Admitting he may not have got it right he told the paper the top job might better be done by two people.

"I don't think I've got it right over the last 10 years, it might have helped a lot if I'd gone sooner to the United States when things began to get difficult about the ordination of gay bishops, and engaged more directly," he told the paper, adding: "I know that I've, at various points, disappointed both conservatives and liberals.

"Most of them are quite willing to say so, quite loudly."

Talking about the new role, he said: "It would be a very different communion, because the history is just bound up with that place, that office (Archbishop).

"So there may be more of a sense of a primacy of honour, and less a sense that the Archbishop is expected to sort everything."

He told the paper the role would be for a "presidential figure who can travel more readily".

We are heading towards a new ABC since the term of ++Justin Welby is coming to an end (not sure when the exact end date is). The role is huge, or HUGE, and there is a lot going on in the CofE (internal challenges, external government/society facing challenges) and in the Communion. It could be attractive again for the powers that be to contemplate a split in the role, as ++Rowan once did.

But would that be the right thing to do? Might it be practical but with unfortunate consequences? Might it be practical for the office of the (currently single person) ABC-and-President of the Communion but unfortunate for the character of our "Communion"? 

The most obvious challenge a split in rule could entail is that a President of the Communion who is not the ABC could be a person who is not in communion with the ABC!

On any reckoning of the "how" a president could be determined and appointed, that "how" surely involves some sense of a majority view of the Anglican Communion. But that majority view is, via GAFCON and Global South developments of networks of influence on the shape, structure and character of the Communion, already arrived at [GAFCON] or heading in a direction [Global South] which is deeply opposed to where the Church of England is heading re human sexuality. In my view the chances of a President of the Communion being in communion with the ABC (i.e. with the Primate of All England) are low, not high and definitely not certain.

That would put the leadership of the Communion in a very odd position of being dysfunctional from day one of the new President being appointed.

Now, perhaps that odd position would also be an honest position - we are, after all, a divided Communion as things currently stand - and it is true that currently not every province (let alone every diocese or bishop) of the Communion values being "in communion with the See of Canterbury."

But the day we give up on being in communion with Canterbury as far as possible, with as many people as possible, including key positions of leadership in the Communion, is the day we should call a spade a spade - we should call ourselves the Anglican Federation and not the Anglican Communion.

For myself, I value communion in the Communion with all who see themselves, individually and corporately (dioceses and provinces), in communion with Canterbury. Such communion acknowledges and values that we are in communion with the body of Christ, past (historic connections), present (our life in the world today) and future (rapprochement with, e.g. Rome, Constantinople and Geneva, will be led by an appropriately leading leader, primus inter pares of the bishops of the Communion).

The human focus of unity in such a communion of the Communion, given our collective history with the mother church status of the Church of England, can only be with one bishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

To diminish the historical, and, dare I say it, theological significance of this office, by appointing a separate President of the Communion would be a tragic misstep in the life of our Communion (whose current situation is tragic enough - no need to make it worse).

Our focus as we move towards a new Archbishop of Canterbury being appointed should be on the following:

The support the role can be given, and the delegations the role may itself make in respect of expectations of the ABC within the life of the Church of England.

Ditto, for the role of the ABC within the life of the Anglican Communion. On that score, it could be that there should be a development whereby there is, say, a Deputy President appointed (possibly, even, a "Co-President"), drawn from outside of England, who undertakes - in communion with, in harmony with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary-General of the Communion - some of the work the ABC has been doing (or would have been doing if he had had more time through the period he has been in office).

Stretching things a bit further, there is a province in the Communion which is developing an understanding of a "shared primacy" in which three archbishops share the one primacy of the church (aka the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia) - perhaps that is a direction in which the role of the ABC as primus inter pares of the bishops of the Communion should go, if a greater sharing of the office of the ABC is again in view as a successor to ++Welby is sought.

But let there be no separate "President of the Communion" chosen with risk that this person might not actually be in, or remain in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Monday, March 18, 2024

On ordination vows

A Twitter comment about a letter to the Church Times (15 March 2024) triggers this post ("trigger" being used in a good way!): 

Let's leave aside the particulars of Simon Butler's disagreement with Ian Paul and focus on the question whether the ordination vows of a clergyperson in an Anglican church preclude "arguing for" a change to doctrine.

Obviously ordination vows are focused on upholding the doctrine of the church.

Our own ACANZP ordination services include this kind of wording (from the ordination of a deacon):

Bishop Do you hold to the doctrine of the faith as this Church understands them?

Candidate Yes, I do. My duty and my joy will be to witness to Christ crucified and risen.

Such commitment is further underlined when a clergyperson signs declarations before being licensed to an appointment.

In an obvious sense of the meaning of "hold", and "I do," this means I am committed to the doctrine of the church as taught and I am not committed to loosening the meaning of "hold" along the lines of "Well, I hold to doctrine when I agree with it and I argue against it when I do not."

But is that really the end of the matter, especially in a Protestant church (i.e. a church where we understand that some predecessor clergy once vowed to hold to the doctrine of the medieval Catholic church and then changed their minds on some matters of soteriology and ecclesiology but didn't give up their ordinations)?

Deliberately avoiding the specific "That Topic" question Samuel Butler has in mind in the letter above, let's think about being a clergyperson in the day when the church had a doctrinal position on marriage which precluded the possibility of remarriage after divorce, yet the same clergyperson, engaged with changes in society re divorce and remarriage found her or himself unable to apply the teaching of the church as it stood to the reality of members of her or his congregation. Do nothing or seek change via synodical decision?

Or, if we don't want to think about marriage, how about the ... epiclesis (the calling down of the Holy Spirit on the celebration of communion so that the bread and wine of communion become for us the body and blood of Christ). There was none in the BCP (1662) and that book for centuries expressed our doctrine as Anglicans (along with the 39A which also said nothing about the epiclesis). Cue liturgical revision in the 20th century and a church such as mine own, ACANZP, thought hard, wide and long (way back into eucharistic history) and proposed - wait for it - change!

Every clergyperson who was ordained prior to, say, 1966 in our church, and remained ordained through subsequent liturgical revisions and embraced the new (but also very old) epiclesis did or did not maintain their ordination vow to uphold the doctrine of the church?

Answers in the comments please!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I suggest the general point we might make is that the church is committed to both upholding what it receives (through Scripture and tradition) and testing it (do we fully understand what we teach? Are there dimensions we have not yet fully comprehended? Have we, somewhere in our history, gone down a path which neglected something previously part of "the doctrine of Christ"? Is there a greater fullness to which we should admit recognition by way of updating our doctrine ("aggiornamento")?)

A case in point coould be the ordination of women (another example of where - arguably, on a certain understanding of ordination vows - vows were broken to enable this to happen). Social change through late 19th and 20th centuries opened the question whether we understood "ordination" fully in respect of "who" might be ordained, "what" did Scripture actually say about ordained ministry? (Did Scripture actually lay down all conditions for discernment of who might be ordained at any given future point in the history of the church?).

There is a lot to think about: discernment, development, decision-making in the determination of doctrine, its maintenance and its evolution, in respect of the duty of clergy in relation to their vows!

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

On natural law ... and NZ, American Christian politics

I kind of hope that William - a frequent commenter here - see this post - at least the first part :).

A First Things newsletter directed me to a review article on Hegel, German philosopher of note and of no little controversy: "Hegel Vindicated" by David P. Goldman, March 2024. The book being reviewed is Hegel: The Philosopher of Freedom by klaus vieweg, stanford university, 488 pages, $40.

Goldman makes an observation that intrigues me no end because over the years on ADU commentary has been made - about this and that - that current proposition X is "against natural law."

"Hegel is first of all a philosopher of science, in which no theory is complete, for all theories will be superseded by better ones—Ptolemy by Kepler, Aristotle by Newton, Newton by Einstein. That fact also has moral implications: If our understanding of nature constantly changes through new discoveries, so must our understanding of natural law."

Well, either this is true or it is not true: that understanding of natural law must change as understanding of nature changes.


It is not as though First Things is a journal which is a bastion of liberalism/progressivism!

My eye was also caught by something else this past week, a bon mot - two actually - offered by Chris Trotter - a superb (in my view) Kiwi political commentator, though not always an agreeable commentator ... and lately much disagreed with by some of those who normally fellow travel with him along leften pathways.

In a newsletter-article, "For the self-loathing Left, charity definitely does not begin at home," (Democracy Project), Chris, taking on George Galloway's by-election victory in Rochdale (UK), local NZ political parties sympathetic to GG's position on Palestine, the general leftist forgetfulness to attend to the politics of class rather than of identity, shrewdly makes the point that Hamas shares radical religious convictions with our own Destiny Party (and Destiny Church), yet no one on the left hereabouts would go into bat for Destiny.

Second bon mot a la Trotter: in another essay, "Unintended Consequences," arguing that as America becomes weak, Europe will rise to meet the Russian challenge, he opines,

"No, the greatness Trump seeks to restore is the greatness of White America. The America that looks right through Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and all the other vibrant elements of the great American melting-pot – as if they don’t exist. The greatness of Christian America which, in spite of invoking “Jesus!” at every turn, conducts itself as though the New Testament does not exist." [my bold]

There, in the words I have emboldened, lies a great challenge, not only for so-called Christian America: how might we who call on the name of Jesus conduct ourselves, think out our views, in a manner which "conducts itself as though the New Testament does exist"? 

In various ways, to be Christian is to understand the New Testament fully - to understand it as the covenant of grace and not of law - to allow it to be a "new" word of God in distinction to the "old" word, the word which fuels too much "Christian" talk of rules and regulations for governing/controlling society. Such talk is not confined to America. Nor to the Christian faith.

Monday, March 4, 2024

I can see clearly now ... not yet?

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind (from song by Jimmy Cliff)

I have been dipping into a book by Kathleen D. Billman and Daniel L. Migliore, Rachel's Cry: Prayer of Lament and Rebirth of Hope (Cleveland, Ohio: United Church press, 1999). An interesting comment caught my eye - not so much about the general subject of lament in the life of the church - but much more generally about the life of the church which is so often beset by division prompted by conviction that I or we "can see clearly now" on some matter of the moment.

Billman and Migliore draw attention to John Calvin finding "the heuristic key to the book of Job" [p. 59] in 1 Corinthians 13:12, "For we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face." They also note that Karl Barth drew on this text when preaching at the funeral service of Matthias Barth (one of his sons, who was killed in a mountaineering accident). They further note that,

Barth tells the gathered mourners that all human life is lived on the boundary described by the words of this text: the boundary between the "now" of our partial and distorted knowledge and the "then," when we will know even as we are known. However, because of the grace of God realized in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this boundary between the "now" and the "then" is one where light already shines in the darkness, where life already rejoices in the face of death, "where we doubt and nevrtheless are confident, where we cry and nevertheless are joyful". [p. 64, citing Barth, Predigten 1935-1967, p. 225.]

Moving out of their discussion of lament and deep, familial grief, is it not the case that much of our argument and debate in the global, national and local church (per some recent posts here on ADU, and many posts in other forum through these days of Pope Francis, of Trumpism/Putinism, et al) could be much less acidic on the witness of Christians to Jesus Christ if we humbly lived with and lived into 1 Corinthians 13:12?

(my version)

Now, in this life, we understand the things of God very limitedly. One day - o happy day - we will understand everything - in the day when we are face to face with God!