Friday, February 12, 2016

Let me lend you some Lent resources!

(I may add to this post as time goes by).

A couple of posts re Ash Wednesday and Lent have caught my eye. In case you miss them, consider checking out:

Bosco Peters' round up of Ash Wednesday and Lent resources.

Psephizo's post on "Lent disciplines for evangelical leaders." Of particular challenge for those busy in church ministry is his reflection on "Sabbath."

Incidentally, Theology House still has copies for sale of its Lenten studies book for 2016, Stewardship: Through Lent with Mark. We've sold c. 3000 copies which, I am reliably informed, makes it a bestseller in Kiwi terms :)

And, hot off the press, some prayers written for this Sunday, Lent 1 (by my father):

Prayers of the People, 1st Sunday in Lent

As we enter this season of Lent, we pray for the Church and for the world, giving thanks for God’s goodness. The response to be sung after each petition is O Lord hear our prayer….
Creator and Redeemer God, you call us to walk in the steps of Jesus. As he faced testing and temptations, so also do we today. As he put aside his personal needs to draw closer to you, help us to be freed from the distractions of attending daily to our own desires, to find our rest in you. We pray for the commitment to holiness of your whole Church on earth. Grant that all who follow Jesus today may be set free from any bondage to material possessions, and find their deepest joy and security in you. We praise and thank you for those many Christians who inspire and encourage us in the simplicity of the way they live, demonstrating that ‘man does not live by bread alone’.
O Lord, hear our prayer …
We pray for leaders of the world, for bishops and clergy, for government ministers and aspiring politicians, for heads of business and heroes of sport. We pray for integrity in their personal lives and honesty in their public duties. We thank you for those who show little regard for fame or fortune, and who are humble in success. As Jesus rejected the easy path to gaining the plaudits of the world, help us also to live as those who set little store by the ‘glory of the kingdoms of this world and their authority’.
 O Lord, hear our prayer …
We pray for Christians the world over who are sorely tempted to blame God for their troubles, and to trade their trust in God for spectacular answers to prayer. In other parts of the world we pray for refugees and asylum seekers, for displaced Christians and distraught Muslims. Here at home we pray for any known to us who desperately seek God to act through a miracle to meet their pressing needs. We pray for all who suffer from unkind bereavement, or incurable illness, or unrelieved despair. We pray that the Jesus who faced temptations in the wilderness will this day walk close with them, and that they will not ‘put the Lord their God to the test’.
O Lord, hear our prayer …
Finally, we pray that this Lent may be for the Church of God and the people of God a time when all find a new commitment to following Jesus, a new strength to face and resist the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil, and a new depth of faith touching all we do and all we are, that the glory of God may come afresh to our city and our nation. So we pray ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever’.

O Lord, hear our prayer …

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bright future?

I have been pleasantly distracted since the last post, taken advantage of a holiday weekend to ensure our hardworking student-home-for-the-summer had at least a brief holiday before returning to university. (For overseas readers, the weekend celebrated the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, between Maori chiefs and the (British) Crown).

Unexpectedly the few days took on a water theme as I had a chance at kayaking, paddle-boarding (first time ever) and biscuiting, all in waters warm enough for it to be pleasant when my lack of balance (yes, I know readers here will be surprised by that :) ) or insufficient tenacity in gripping the sea biscuit threw me into the depths. One casualty was loss of treasured sunglasses (and no end of ribbing from my family for wearing them at sea!)

But while away I did go to church, and last night I was at the joint cathedrals Ash Wednesday service here in Christchurch. I nearly always (over-)analyse what I think is going on when I am at church, not only in terms of local dynamics but also implications for the bigger picture of themes and trends in the NZ Pakeha churches if not the Western church. This week has been no different.

We have present challenges but I think our future is bright. But, turn your face away Donald Trump, that future is down to immigration. What my eyes tell me as I worship in different churches is that the future of NZ Christianity is going to be dominated by people whose parents immigrated here in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as well, of course, by even more recent immigrants than that. (What the daily news tells us is that more and more Christians are migrating from troubled parts of the world to less troubled parts, and that will include NZ).

There will be a religious studies/sociology/theology Ph.D or three in around 2040 on why, two hundred years after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed with missionaries integral to the proceedings, a resistance to the gospel built up through succeeding generations of Pakeha and Maori descended from their Treaty signing ancestors and the settlers who arrived in the decades immediately afterwards.

Actually, I have one explanation for that resistance, and it relates to the marvellous weekend I experienced. In NZ we have a great life: mild climate, scenery to die for, beaches and bush offering accessible and inexpensive recreation, outstanding health services and abounding opportunities for material advancement. As a wise bishop once observed to me, people don't need God when already living in paradise.

Yet elsewhere in the world there is immense suffering and tribulation that is fuelling people movements which, ironically, will keep bringing people to our churches. Our NZ church future is bright, but there is a dark story behind that claim.

And there is a challenge for all Kiwis who love fellow Kiwis: how to overcome paradisal resistance to the gospel?

Friday, February 5, 2016

NZ Bishops Divided Over Biblical Command But No Schism Imminent

Quiz

Q1: It is important to obey the commands in the Bible? Correct Answer: Yes.
Q2: One of the most important commandments is Do Not Kill, is it not? Correct Answer: Yes.
Q3: But there are some exceptional circumstances in which even this commandment might be set aside? Correct Answer: Christians debate this matter, so some see killing in a justified war as justified, but others believe it is never, ever right to kill another person.
Q4: So, to go back to Q1, It is important to obey the commands in the Bible but sometimes a command might be set aside? Correct Answer: Yes.
Q5: So, to go back to Q3 and "exceptional circumstances," who decides what those circumstances are? Correct answer: the church has the authority to do that.
Q6: In an episcopal church, presumably the bishops play a role in making such authoritative decisions? Correct Answer: Indeed!
Q7: But what happens when the bishops cannot agree on the correct answer? Correct Answer: "Houston, we have a problem!"
Q8: Surely on the matter of the interpretation of the Bible re which commands might be set aside, and under what circumstances, we could expect bishops to be united, of one heart and mind? Correct Answer: We could.
Q9: Potentially, then, when the bishops are divided, the church itself might divide? Correct Answer: True.
Q10: So, if perchance, the bishops of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia cannot agree on the exceptional circumstances under which one human might kill another human, do we have a potential schism on our hands? Correct Answer: Almost certainly not!!

According to this Taonga article, we have nine signed up bishops saying "No" and one saying "Yes" in a submission to Parliament re euthanasia. But I do not think we have an imminent schism on our hands because of this public disagreement.

Even the non-rocket scientists among readers here will recognise potent analogies here with our parallel debate on same sex blessings and same sex marriage. (There are also some non-analogies, but I am not going to go into all the details of the analogies and non-analogies).

My questions for today are:

A. Why are we so het up as a church re our divisions over one commandment and scarcely raising our collective heart rate over our divisions over another commandment?

B. One answer to the above question A is that on euthanasia we have no fixed canonical/liturgical policy, nor would we see teaching on euthanasia as a matter on which the constitution prescribes or proscribes what may or may not be taught, publicly debated etc. So,
- would we be better off as a church if our GS in May 2016 made the barest minimalist of changes to something* in order to permit ourselves the luxury of continuing to (a) be a church able to hold diverse views, and (b) be a church able to continue to explore difficult questions of biblical interpretation over which we remain and will remain divided?

*For instance: what if the only change GS made was to remove either engagement in a same sex partnership or conducting the blessing of a same sex partnership as a possible offence under Title D? LATER ATTEMPT TO CLARIFY LAST SENTENCE: Title D does not refer specifically to same sex relationships or blessings of them, but it does refer to "chaste" relational behaviour, without clearly defining what that is. There is a view abroad in our church (as I understand things) that unless or until otherwise clarified, the implication of "chaste" is that sexual intercourse for licenced ministers of our church should be inside marriage and not outside it. Thus potentially any infraction of the same could incur a complaint under Title D, whether it was a complaint against a couple living in a relationship not marriage, or a complaint against a bishop who ordained a person in such a relationship or publicly and formally permitted the blessing of such relationship. Thus my argument/proposal is that the "least" change we could make to our current canons and liturgies, a change which kept open conversation between differing groups in our church about the possibility of including a liturgy of blessing in our church as a formulary of the church, would be to clarify what "chaste" means in respect of same sex relationships, but to make no further changes at this time to other canons or to liturgies. Yes, a fishhook or three is immediately apparent ... But would that be liveable with when, it appears, the current status quo is not liveable with, but certain changes could immediately divide our church in two or three pieces?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rome will absorb Anglicans ... because there will be no other alternative!(?)

The other day, in a comment on my Perspectives post below, Bowman Walton offers the following observation:

"There is, BTW, a view widely accepted up here [North America], that the C22 Church will be Catholic, Orthodox, and Pentecostal, with Anglicans reabsorbed by Rome. It supposes that the Anglican Communion will never reach a consensus on doctrinal authority, so that the consequential debates over the urgent issues of the C21 all happen in Rome where, eventually, some clear decision does get made. Just as Anglicans often invoke Roman social teaching as if that were their own teaching, so they may also begin to invoke Roman teaching on sex, political theology, etc. Over time, pastors who need more than a communique or a Lambeth resolution to ground their practise could find themselves relying on better articulated papal decisions. At some point, practical reliance on the Roman magisterium becomes actual reunion.
In the case of SSM, the basic issue is: how should churches who understand marriage in the traditional way respond to civil legislation that defines it differently? Rome's implemented answer to that question will set social limits on the ways in which other churches can or even want to answer it. And in failing to invoke a more than procedural basis for their rejection of the TEC innovation, the Primates failed to settle Anglicanism's authority problem. Every time Anglicans claim an impractically low degree of authority for their decisions, or set them on too narrow a basis, they take a small step toward the reunion scenario."
I am intrigued, first, by this prophecy of the Christian future, circa 2200 - should the Lord tarry that long and global warming be merciful - because it chimes in with something Christopher Wells puts his finger on in an article linked to in the Perspectives post:

"We remain unable to articulate and defend the basis of our faith and order beyond what Archbishop Williams called the consensus of the moment. That being so, the next natural question is: How long will the consensus hold? But the deeper and more difficult, essential question is: Why should this, or any, consensus be maintained? On what grounds?
Insofar as the communiqué and its addenda approach these last questions, they announce the majority position in the manner of a placeholder:
The traditional doctrine of the church, in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching. (Addendum A, para. 4)
This is an announcement because no argument is offered, and it is a placeholder because no means of prosecuting the argument are proposed. Would-be apostolic doctrine seeks sources for which the would-be catholic order of the following paragraph could provide structure."

Christopher goes on to suggest a way forward towards a catholic future for apostolic teaching in the Anglican Communion (as opposed to placeholding announcements by the majority):

"Now is the moment — in the run-up to the Anglican Consultative Council’s meeting in April, in preparation for next year’s Primates’ Meeting, setting the stage for the 2020 Lambeth Conference — for the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order and comrades in arms to work carefully and collaboratively to cast a compelling vision and curriculum for our structural and doctrinal future. The objective: to grow, as Lambeth 1920 said, into “the unity of a universal Church” and so articulate “ideals” that are “less Anglican and more Catholic” (Lambeth Conference 1920, “Report of the Whole Committee on some important results of the extension and development of the Anglican Communion” in Ecumenism of the Possible: Witness, Theology and the Future of the Church, ed. William A. Norgren [Forward Movement, 1994], p. 99).

What catholic ideals? Those that express apostolic doctrine. The method unlocks a great storehouse of common and precious property. In his 2004 letter to Rowan Williams following the publication of The Windsor Report, Cardinal Walter Kasper praised the report’s commitment to catholicity but urged redoubled attention to apostolicity, “witnessed in the Scriptures, the early councils, and the patristic tradition.” Christians, Kasper said, have both “synchronic” and “diachronic” obligations, that is, obligations both to today’s “communion of churches” and to the historical “consensus” of the whole Church — beyond the inherent instability of merely contemporary agreement. The particular and universal together, across time, make possible the health of the one Body."

But Wells' invocation of Kasper in support of his (cheerfully optimistic) proposal makes Bowman Walton's observation stand out: Christopher cites a Roman Catholic cardinal as the one who offers Anglicans guidance on how to be catholic and apostolic! Walton's prophecy says that more and more a significant number of Anglicans will look theologically to Rome for guidance because they will not find it in "majority" primatial pronouncements, let alone in "lowest common denominator" type agreements which attempt to articulate common ground between TECian innovation and African adherence to Christian tradition. Christian consensus in the 22nd century - against the ravages of secularism and Islamism - will not only need to include Rome, the prophecy implies, it must include Rome. But will Anglicanism - shorn no doubt of liberal provinces reduced to negligible statistics (including ACANZP unless some dramatic turnaround occurs) - be strong enough to be a distinctive voice in that consensus? Or will we both meekly and cheerfully accept the Pope as "the" Christian spokesperson? (As, on a number of matters these days, we already do so).

Walton's comment also intrigues me, secondly, because it highlights the need for some very cool, considered, compassionate, constructive, civil. contextual theological discourse about the Western reality on the ground: couples who are married in the sight of one of God's agents (the state) but not (or not yet or sort-of-but-some/many-of-us-have-questions) in the eyes of another of God's agents (the church).

This is quite a big topic which I may well come back to in a separate post, suffice to say that I am personally not hearing many Kiwi conservative Anglican voices articulating how we respond to same-sex couples who come to church cheerfully acclaiming their married status.

It is such a trap to start making noises which suggest they have come to a church which thinks of two classes of marriage and it is as alarming a theological trap to think that mere embrace of all marriages as "equal" solves all theological conundrums of the day about marriage. Cue the relevance of the slow, creaking but incrementally developmental adjustments of Roman social theology from which many Anglicans have in the past learnt and will continue to do so.

But do Anglicans necessarily need to wait for Rome to speak before getting ahead of such questions of our day?

I'll post now, incomplete though this post is ...

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Perspectives

A couple of new links re the Primates' Meeting to read carefully.

There are lots out there (e.g. the list here).

Christopher Wells of The Living Church writes something close to my heart (as posted here recently) when he reflects on catholicity and apostolicity in the PM's communique. Verdict: not much progress.

Secretary-General Josiah Idowu-Fearon gives some inside oil on the Primates' Meeting, attempting to bust some myths and derail some legend making (H/T B. Walton). I note that he acknowledges a moment in the meeting when the primates thought a way forward was "to let two different Anglican Communions get on with their lives without having to worry about offending the other." The miracle of the meeting is that the primates resiled from this option and chose instead to walk together, to remain in unity. I wonder if the howls of outrage about the suspension of TEC from aspects of Communion life would soften if the howlers were to recognise that the alternative would be a completely different set of global Anglican arrangements in which TEC would not be part of the larger of two Anglican Communion? But the most important insight in Idowu-Fearon's article concerns the understanding he brings as to what life for an African Anglican primate is like.

Friday, January 29, 2016

TEC could yet shrink Communion to Ten Members

It is amazing, is it not, when Christians resort to strict interpretations of the law in order to defeat (say) the wisdom of the elders, or the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is as though we have never read the gospels, with their reiterated debates between Jesus and the scribes/Pharisees/Sadducees/lawyers.

Yet that is what is happening in TEC as ++Curry gives expression to the view that the Primates are one body (and not constitutionally important) and the ACC is another body (and constitutionally important).

"THE Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Rt Revd Michael Curry, has emphasised the autonomy of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), in the wake of the Primates’ decision to censure his Church.
At their meeting in Canterbury earlier this month, the Primates’ required the US Episcopal Church to no longer represent them on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, not serve on the Primates or ACC standing committees, and not vote on matters of polity and doctrine at the ACC for a period of three years, as a consequence of its support for same-sex marriage. 
The Primates’ gathering, however, has no official executive status. The authority to enforce such steps rests with the ACC itself. 
Bishop Curry was asked directly whether he would contest these “consequences” at the next meeting of the ACC in April. On Wednesday, he would say only: “The ACC is the only formal constitutional body of the Anglican Communion and it will decide what it will do. Our representatives from the Episcopal Church look forward to being there.” 
Earlier this week, a prominent canon lawyer, Professor Norman Doe, state that the Primates’ ruling was not binding (News, 19 January). He described it as “completely unacceptable interference with the autonomy of each of these bodies as they transact their own business”."

Here is the thing about the Communion: it is not a society of members who paid their individual subs and get shirty when a coffee group of disgruntled grandees bypasses the constitutionally elected executive committee and makes a pronouncement. The Communion is made up of member churches. When the Primates meet, they bring their churches with them and so, when they speak and vote on certain matters, especially matters which boil down to, "Will my church remain a member or not?", it behoves the Communion to sit up and listen. It is not appropriate to invoke trivial legalisms like ++Curry (and a host of others) are doing when the primates have represented the views of their churches and not acted as 38 individuals randomly gathered in a meeting.

Let me spell it out. THE FUTURE OF THE COMMUNION AS A BODY OF 38 PROVINCES IS AT STAKE. If TEC play legal hardball and go to ACC intent on ignoring the Primates' decision then almost certainly the two-thirds or so provinces represented by the two-thirds or so primates voting to discipline TEC will walk away from future Primates' Meetings, Lambeth and maybe even ACC itself.

There would be, on my reckoning, about ten provinces willing to go along with TEC (even as great noises were made by most of them about staying in relationship with the 28 walking away).

So, go ahead TEC. Make our day. But history will judge you as responsible for carving Africa and Asia off the Communion.

Talk about the triumph of imperial and colonial powers ...

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A picture paints a thousand words


What thousand words is this picture saying?

++David Moxon's own report is here, but I suspect Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox might have their own thousands of words to say.

Pope Francis is really pulling out all the stops to reach out, beyond the strict literalness of Roman law (which, for instance, declares Mr David Moxon to be a layperson) and previously expressed papal views (that, saving the Eastern Orthodox) other Christians belong to "ecclesial communities" and not to actual, real churches. So here he includes Archbishop David Moxon in a shared blessing of thousands of Christians gathered at the end of a week of prayer for Christian unity.

But, wait, there is more.

Pope Francis has also said these words in his homily on the occasion. Words which are full of extraordinary grace and hope for real progress to be made towards actual Christian unity:

""As Bishop of Rome and pastor of the Catholic Church, I want to ask for mercy and forgiveness for the behavior of Catholics towards Christians of other Churches which has not reflected Gospel values. At the same time, I invite all Catholic brothers and sisters to forgive if they, today or in the past, have been offended by other Christians. We cannot cancel out what has happened, but we do not want to let the weight of past faults continue to contaminate our relationships. God’s mercy will renew our relationships."" (from the same link above)

Note that Pope Francis is crystal clear: he talks of "other Churches" (not, "ecclesial communities").
Let me put that in another way: other Churches.
And in case I have not clearly pointed out to you the expression he used, it was: OTHER CHURCHES.

Actually, even more important than such recognition, is the recognition that Catholics have erred. But so have Protestants and I think the "ball" of confession, forgiveness and repentance has been lobbed into our church courts. Who will make reply?

We are living in a new ecumenical era. The wave is flowing, will we catch it or miss it?