Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Shootout between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees?

Whether we are embroiled as Anglicans in debates 'conservative' v 'liberal' or Roman bishops v the Pope at their recent synod, we live out, like Groundhog Day, again and again, the theological shootout between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees. Only, sometimes we think we are Jesus when we are scribal, and sometimes the Pharisees understand Jesus better ...

As the dust settles on what is a kind of interim position reprised from a previously provisional mid-conference report anticipating a more final conclusion following next year's significant conciliar gathering in Rome, there are some things Anglicans might reflect on about the upheaval in Rome.

Some - reading across the internet - have described the synod, especially at its mid-point as an 'earthquake' and others as 'not, in the end, an earthquake.'

I think there has been an earthquake and its nuts to suggest otherwise.

The earthquake is this: a remarkable openness has been displayed which has revealed what many Christians 'on the ground' know about Roman Catholicism but which you would not know from reading official pronouncements from Rome.

That knowledge is that ordinary churchgoers and many priests are very open to the things that Rome is officially closed to: ordination of married men as priests, ordination of women as priests, communion for the divorced and remarried.

It might be going too far to say there is widespread support for same sex marriage but the notion that homosexuality is about intrinsically disordered acts does not sit well in today's world. Oh, and we could also mention the widespread ignoring by married couples of constraint on use of artificial means of contraception.

Now, following the synod, we know that many bishops openly acknowledge these things. We see a pope (elected by the cardinals, normally themselves drawn from the ranks of bishops) who wants these things openly discussed. Notably, last week, Pope Francis commanded that the clauses in the final statement which did not secure a two-thirds majority should nevertheless be published. (The final document, at this stage only in Italian, with voting, is here.) The voting shows that Rome itself, expressed through its bishops, is quite contemporary Anglican: liberals, conservatives and finding the middle way between them!

One of the things I am noticing in my reading is a kind of shootout between conservatives (wanting the letter of Roman Magisterial doctrine to be observed, maintained and promulgated) and liberals (open to finding ways, nevertheless, to welcome more fully into the life of the church those currently excluded from (e.g.) full participation in the Mass.

A significant signal of these kinds of differences lies in the change between the mid-term document and the final document re gay Christians, the former speaking of 'welcoming homosexual persons' the latter omitting that and talking about offering 'pastoral care.'

But where else do we see this kind of subtle debate going on between the letter and the spirit of the law? In the gospels, of course. The gospels intrigue me on the matter of the scribes and the Pharisees because it seems to me that, whatever the historical accuracy of the portrayal of the scribes and the Pharisees, the gospels capture an enduring issue in religion in which scriptures figure, including our own Christian faith. What do the writings say? Does what is said continue to apply? Who may authoritatively interpret what is said and adjudicate its application? Here is a group, seeking to be faithful to those writings, who tend to go with a close if not literal following of the words. There is a group, seeking to be faithful to those writings, who tend to go with an open, liberal understanding of the words, perhaps appealing to a principle which lies within the words in question, or within the scriptures as a whole.

Our challenge as Christians, whether oriented towards Rome, Canterbury, Geneva or Constantinople, is to avoid being scribes and Pharisees and to side with Jesus. Yet that is easier said than done. After all, on some scriptural matters Jesus was more close, literal in his reading than the scribes and Pharisees (notably on marriage and divorce). On other matters Jesus exposed the folly of such reading, perhaps because of the hypocrisy involved, or maybe because adherence to one set of words involved denial of another set ... see this Sunday's Matthean lectionary reading!

More in the next post ...


In working on the above post I noticed this fascinating item in which the ESV (English Standard Version, sometimes called 'Evangelical Standard Version') has nearly replaced the Jerusalem Bible as the Roman English 'lectionary' translation. The reasons given for negotiations not reaching a point where change will happen are technical etc but I am amazed that it got considered at all: the ESV is not a wonderful version for public reading of Scripture in worship! Even evangelicals (in my experience) recognise that ...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sacred and Spiritual Links - Monday 20 October 2014

From the Roman Synod:

The Pope's final address.

The Bishops' final address.

The final document itself, in Italian, with voting numbers at foot.

Archbishop Nichols comment.

The Tablet's report.

Damian Thompson's take.

Cranmerian wisdom.

The Pope's "liberalism" is not keeping up with progressive change in Western Catholicism.

A post for those who think the Pope is being particularly cunning or especially naive.

An optimistic view that it's just a bit of a setback for Francis.

I hope to blog about the significance of the Synod later this week.

(The following comes from a UK colleague) 

I hope some of this will be of assistance and use. #2 Truro Cathedral evensong podcast from 14th October; #8 J John on what it means to be a Christian; #9 Evangelist and writer of the monumental King's English reflections interviewed by Richard Bewes in the Summer; #10 and #11 Commentary on today's readings from Stephen Trott and Peter Carrell; #13 the reality of Ebola in Liberian in a NTY video; and Asia Bibi's death sentence in Pakistan upheld by judges who know they are under promise of death if they free her; #16 remembering Henry Martyn commemorated today; #17 interesting and helpful reading from The Screwtape Letters; #18 Message to ISIS from Christians refugees.

Prayers for you this coming week.

1. The bells of St Mary, Bishopstoke in Hampshire - BBC Radio 4

2. Choral Evensong from Truro Cathedral

3. Choral Evensong from Royal Holloway - BBC Radio 3

4. Sunday Holy Communion livestreamed from St Helena's Church, Beaufort, South Carolina at 10:15 am Eastern Time, 3:15 pm London Time

5. Sunday Worship from Cannon Street Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham - BBC Radio 4

6. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

7. Choral services from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and New College, Oxford

8. What it means to be a Christian - J John - HTB Video [John 3:16]

9. Glen Scrivener interviewed by Richard Bewes – Video
The King's English

Commentary for Sunday 12th October
10. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

11. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

Please pray for the Ebola Crisis this week; for Christians and all facing persecution and crime in Iraq; for the persecuted church and in particular in the Middle East, Nigeria, Pakistan and in particular for Asia Bibi whose death sentence has been upheld, Laos and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with rising brutality there; for peace in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

12. Iraq Region:
Iraqi Christian refugees lament lives destroyed by IS - BBC News
All Knayeh hostages free – WWM
Iran appears to fight Islamic State, but are their ultimate goals too similar for comfort? – WWM
more Media Reports from FRRME

13. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Fighting the Ebola Outbreak, Street by Street - New York Times Vimeo
The decades-old treatment that may save a young Dallas nurse infected with Ebola - Washington Post
Ebola: Prayers from Lent and Beyond
Nigeria: Claim of truce raises hope that kidnapped Nigerian girls will be released – WWM
How Boko Haram's Murders and Kidnappings Are Changing Nigeria's Churches – CT
Pakistan: Pakistan court upholds death penalty for Asia Bibi despite serious legal loophole in trial – WWM
Laos: Six Christians released, pastor still detained following arrest at religious meeting – CSW
DR Congo: Second massacre in days leaves 20 dead in east DR Congo
South Carolina: Prayers from Lent and Beyond

14. Sunday Programme - current affairs with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

15. Food for thought
Be yourself in prayer - Stephen Miller
When a Pastor Resigns Abruptly - John Ortberg – CT
We Have Never Been Secular: Rethinking Religion and Secularity in Britain Today - John Millbank – ABC
All for a Good Cause? Islamic State and the Delusions of 'Salvational Cause Amorality' - Khaled Abou El Fadl – ABC
Recording Fauré's Requiem in 90 seconds - King's College Choir

16. Henry Martyn: Missionary Scholar for our Age? - Bishop Graham Kings from 2012
Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide - formerly the Henry Martyn Centre

17. The Screwtape Letters - C.S. Lewis Doodle

18. Noon Song - Iraqi Christian Refugees - Sat 7

19. My Lighthouse - Rend Collective

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Facing the reality that life is complex (Updated)


According to this article the first moves to walk back Monday's document are well underway with the issuing of a new, revised English translation of the original Italian document on Thursday. Go there and follow the links. #vaticanturmoil


Since posting this yesterday morning I have been reflecting on the amazing character of the interim report of the Roman synod (first link below).

We should not get too excited about the possibility that the document bears resemblance to the final synodical outcomes (it might, it might not) but we - Anglicans - can get excited by what the document reveals about the similarities and commonalities that actually, really, definitely exist between us as churches.

That is, after decades of presenting ourselves (in global terms) as a Communion of churches open to (apparently) unRoman developments, with ensuing and sometimes unseemly fights between conservatives and liberals and, truth be told, between Africans and European-Americans, all looking as though we are wishy-washy and/or hopelessly divided to an unhelpful ecumenical degree, we now find the synod document (along with its immediate reactions - see below) reveals that across the global Roman church there is a range of thinking going on at the episcopal level re the same litmus test issues concerning sexuality, marriage and family which is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, quite 'Anglican' in its width. (The obvious exception is the ordination of women, an issue not addressed by this particular synod).

Thus Damian Thompson (from a conservative-tending-in-my-view-towards-ultra-conservative perspective) has a go at Cardinal Kasper. Read here to find that Kasper is sorta, kinda an Anglican disguised in cardinal's robes, even to the point, recalling a famous if unfortunate statement by +Spong at Lambeth 1998, of casting aspersions on the capabilities of his African colleagues.

Now some Anglicans will be very excited by the liberal cast of mind of some Roman bishops, others very relieved by the sterner adherence to conservative values of the likes of Pell and Burke, but my particular excitement here is the simple sign that when it comes to facing the complex reality of human relationships, Romans and Anglicans are agreed that the reality is complex and the response leads to a range of points of view.

The future union of the two Communions will not be helped by the final document of the synod which, no doubt, will be more conservative than liberal (to summarise its general character) and thus will (incidentally) map out differences between official Roman and Anglican approaches to these matters. But what might help the future union is the revelation that beyond official documents, Roman bishops' thoughts - on at least some issues - have many commonalities with what Anglicans are thinking.

Who knows where thinking out loud might be taken by the Holy Spirit?


The fangs are being bared, the knives are out, and the fight is heating up. Yes, folks that is the synod in Rome this week as the debate continues. We have insight into what is going on because a 'mid synod' statement has been published and some of the bishops have been commenting adversely against it. Cardinal Pell, unsurprisingly, has a few words of damnation. And that is just one conservative bishop speaking out.

I urge you, dear reader, to read the whole statement, as I have just done. It is a remarkable document because it represents Rome facing the reality that life is complex. It is a document that with a few nips and tucks many Christian churches could have written, though perhaps a year or a decade or two earlier.

Now I am Mr RealPolitik and I am sure that the final document will be smarter, close to current doctrine, and, well, less realistic about complexity. But let's warm to the document we have before us.

Nevertheless even I have spotted a few things which raise questions - I raise one question about each but it is not rocket science to see that other questions follow!

Is socialism the key to successful marriage and family life?

"the excessive room given to market logic, that prevents an authentic family life" - see 33.

Is spiritual communion the same as material communion?

"if spiritual communion is possible, why not allow them to partake in the sacrament?" - see 48.

What would happen if pastoral decisions were made on a case by case basis?

"the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances." - see 47.

How can homosexuality be a serious disorder if the church is thinking this?

"Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners." - see 52.

Is the Via Media being endorsed?

"It is not wise to think of unique solutions or those inspired by a logic of “all or nothing”." - see 40.

A commenter alerts us to the presence of Anglican blogging bishop, Paul Butler of Durham, who is present at the synod as an observer.


On the precariousness of 'annulment' (does it nullify an earlier marriage or is it just a hoop to pop through on the way to the Lord's table?) read this moving testimony, published in the Tablet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Blindspot One?

Picking up a post previously re the relationship between ACNA and the Anglican Communion, note this formal statement by seven primates of the Anglican Communion, including the Chair of Global South and the Chair of GAFCON:

"We, the undersigned primates, were honored to participate in the joyful investiture of the Most Rev. Dr. Foley Beach as Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America, and to receive him as a fellow Primate of the Anglican Communion." (my bold)

++Justin has better not have any blindspots over the relationship between ACNA and the Communion as he consults the primates of the Communion.

Blindspot Two?

The latest edition of the Australian Church Record has a series of articles on faith. Michael Bird rightly takes one article, "Has Protestantism Gone Catholic?", to task at Euangelion. What do you think?

Just the other day I listened to a fine local evangelical Anglican preacher, tackling the gospel for the day, Matthew 22:1-14 (the parable of the wedding feast in which one included guest is then thrown out for wearing inappropriate clothing), who effectively made the point, nicely put by Bird,

"we are not justified by works, but neither are we justified without them (Calvin). Good works demonstrate the integrity of the faith we profess (Morris)."

On such a point, particularly when tied to Scripture itself, is it possible to distinguish a Catholic priest and an evangelical minister preaching on the importance of faithful Christians rightly demonstrating their faith through works? All evangelicals preaching from the starting point of justification and engaging with the full counsel of God in Scripture get to a point, faithfully expressed by my colleague, that behaviour matters in the sight of God. Quite why we do not then work back to adjust our doctrine of justification in the direction Bird and many other scholars, including the great Reformers, go, is, let's say, a mystery :)

My view is also that Protestants might be more respectful of Catholic theologians and Protestants they accuse of 'going Catholic' if we worked harder at holding on to Matthew's Gospel alongside Paul's Romans.

Blindspot Three?

To read some bits and pieces of the flotsam and jetson of internet opinion is to form an impression that Anglican = wishy-washy but Roman = firm, sound, clear. Fortunately to read this note re the course of the current synod in Rome is to see that the distinctions between 'Anglican' and 'Roman' that some would like to promote are not as strong as they would like!

Blindspot Four?

So, how is that inclusive, liberal, progressive paradigm working out for you? Are more or less people being included in your church? Here is the answer for one church which is a flag-bearer for the paradigm.


I notice, scrolling down the Australian Church Record pdf linked to above, that our own Dave Clancey, a vicar here in Christchurch, has written an article on Motion 30.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sacred and Spiritual Links - Monday 13 October 2014

(Supplied by a colleague in the UK)

1. The bells of St Mary le Ghyll, Barnoldswick in Lancashire - BBC Radio 4

2. Sunday Worship from Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin - BBC Radio 4

3. Choral Evensong from Winchester College - BBC Radio 3 [now available from last week]

4. Sunday Holy Communion livestreamed from St Helena's Church, Beaufort, South Carolina at 10:15 am Eastern Time, 3:15 pm London Time

5. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

6. Archived choral services from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge

7. The power of the Gospel - Charles Marnham - St Michael's Chester Square Audio [2 Corinthians 4:1-9 and 5:11-21]

8. Pergamum - Andrew Wingfield Digby - St Andrew's Oxford Audio [Revelation 2:12-17]

9. Lack-lustre or shining brightly? - Bishop Rennis Ponniah - St Andrew's Singapore [Luke 24]

Sermon and Commentary for Sunday 12th October
10. The Wedding Feast - Rev Professor Christopher Seitz [Luke 22:1-14]

11. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

12. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

Please pray for the Ebola Crisis this week; for Christians and all facing persecution and crime in Iraq; for the persecuted church and in particular in the Middle East, Nigeria, Egypt, China and Hong Kong; for peace in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

13. Iraq Region:
Exclusive – Vicar of Baghdad: ISIS Cells Already in Baghdad - Clarion Project
Kidnapped Syrian priest, 4 women, freed - WWM
more Media Reports from FRRME

14. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Ukraine: Evangelicals call for aid and prayer as pro-Russian militants destroy cities - Christian Today
China: China facing 'worst persecution since the Cultural Revolution' says former underground church pastor - Christian Today
Hong Kong: Former bishop of Hong Kong: 'We must fight now before it's too late' - Christian Today
South Carolina: Prayers from Lent and Beyond

15. Sunday Programme - current affairs with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

16. Food for thought
John Lennox - Do not be silent about your faith - Christian Today
Pagans and Christians - Ross Douthat - NYT
CofE Parishes: The Future - David Pocklington
How busy people make time to read - and you can too - Laura Vanderkam
Scientific research finds that life after death is possible - Christian Today

17. Archbishop of York Hails “Great Success” of Pilgrim Course as New Materials Released
The Pilgrim Course

18. Sitting at Jesus' Feet and Listening - St Helen's Vimeo

19. Build Your Kingdom Here - Rend Collective

Sunday, October 12, 2014

New Revelation About My Vocation

In a nutshell, the revelation is that I am working for the wrong church, and for peanuts.

The true church, which offers better wages is reported here.

(Hint: Its hierarchy is not meeting in Rome at the moment).

Friday, October 10, 2014

More Perfectly Fractured Union? What the future of global Anglicanism will not be! (UPDATED)

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that the recent installation of the new Archbishop of ACNA has been well supported by Anglican Primates, from GAFCON and Global South, thus when ++Justin says he will be guided by the Anglican primates about the future, likely he will be reckoning with a significant number of primates (at least 10/38?) urging that ACNA be included in the future of the Communion.

In England a book is making a few waves as the Archbishop of York is being called the Archbigot of York and Reform is going on strike, in part as a response to the diatribes of the author of the book.

Bishop Alan Wilson (of Buckingham) has written - with a nod to the US constitution! - More Perfect Union: Understanding Same sex Marriage (and Commented for Free at the Guardian). In this book (and column) he argues that the Bible is nonsensical on homosexuality and the CofE structurally if not dangerously homophobic. Two sane reviews (from conservatives) are by Andrew Goddard and Ian Paul. Through all this, following on from yesterday's post, we are blessed by seeing what the predominant future of global Anglicanism will not be.

On the specific future of the Anglican Communion, a degree of vagueness emanates from the ABC himself. What the future of the AC will be is vague right now but we can be sure about what neither the AC nor any 'new wine' global Anglican fellowship will be, thanks both to Bishop Alan and to Reform.

First, there will not be a future majority global Anglican fellowship which specialises in demonizing some of its constituent members. 'Homophobic' and 'bigot' will not be in the vocabulary. Nor will language which casts the Bible as peddling nonsense. Whatever else Peter Tatchell is trying to achieve with his 'Archbigot of York' line or Bishop Alan with his book, it is not a contribution to building or rebuilding global Anglican fellowship. Contributions of that kind require respectful conversation towards a true inclusion of hermeneutical diversity.

Secondly, a future majority global Anglican fellowship will not be attuned to one end of the Anglican spectrum, neither to the end which endorses same sex marriage as something the Bible endorses though mysteriously withheld from our eyes for millennia nor to the end which seeks to de-license if not expel members who have entered such marriages.

Reform is right to express what it believes and to highlight what it sees as current inadequacies in C of E attempts at conversation. It raises pertinent questions about the role of Bishop Alan Wilson at this time. (Why, indeed, does he wish to stay in an awful church he sees as 'structurally homophobic'?) But is Reform and its thinking on the complexities of human relationships charting the future of the C of E? Does Reform think the C of E, en masse, will settle on these matters according to the charts of Reform? Surely not!

Despite criticisms of  ++Justin's desire for 'good disagreement' over such matters, isn't he right about what the C of E will settle for? A 'good disagreement' generally fits what the C of E has done through the centuries as it has disputed various matters. Despite one gaping failure to engage in 'good disagreement' with Wesley and the Methodists, on many matters the C of E has found a way to hold together differences so sharp that they have amounted to disagreements. It is more likely by far that the C of E will  find its 'good disagreement' on homosexuality than agree wholeheartedly with either Bishop Alan or with Reform.

Working back to the future of global Anglicanism from the internal turmoil of the C of E, the strongest probability for the predominant formal global Anglican fellowship is that it will be one which enables 'good disagreement' across the Anglican world.

Whether the Anglican Communion is now able to do that remains to be seen (in my view). It is a fractured union and may not be able to be healed. The damage done (mostly) by bishops to the Communion - strident and scornful from both ends of the spectrum - may have mortally wounded a once great institution.

We in the West must not mistake the importance of 'good disagreement' being a hallmark of Anglicanism for 'the amount of good disagreement we tolerate is the amount a predominant global Anglican fellowship can tolerate.'

That is why I am not confident that the Anglican Communion as presently constituted will continue to be the dominant form of global fellowship. It might take (a) the West to get out of the driving seat of the movement and (b) greater limits on diversity than we are used to in our 'from Spong to Stott' broad church.