Friday, November 29, 2013

The Pilling Report and my role in its compilation

In a week in which I have been pressed hard to justify my commitment to sola fide, I need all the credit in the Heavenly Bank I can gain. So naturally I am delighted that this blog has made the key contribution to the writing of the just published Pilling Report.

Who am I, so deep in debt to the Heavenly Bank, to demur?

You can find out for yourself how all the key points in the Pilling Report have been anticipated here over the years, including one made in a short post in mid 2008. No, not really.

But you really can read about the Pilling Report for yourself at Thinking Anglicans (where the 18 recommendations are set out) and at Cranmer, who has a slightly worrying sub-headline given ADU's responsibility in writing the report, "a right-veering via media through sexual polarisation." That suggests ADU is a front for the Tea Party!

The report itself is here.

Here are the eighteen recommendations [with editorial emendation for the church of these islands in places], all of which I think especially pertinent to where ACANZP is heading (as best I can tell from the NSA reports lying in front of me of high-level conversations going on in smoke filled rooms behind closed doors):

"The foundation of our report
1. We warmly welcome and affirm the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained. (Paragraphs 73 –6)
On the next steps for the [ACANZP]:
2. The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations or a similar process to which [ACANZP] needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level. This should continue to involve profound reflection on the interpretation and application of Scripture. (Paragraphs 55–83, 309–19, 361–4)
3. Consultation on [whatever we decide at GS 2014] should be conducted without undue haste but with a sense of urgency, perhaps over a period of two [better, four??] years. (Paragraphs 83, 364–5)
4. [ACANZP] should address the issue of same sex relationships in close dialogue with the wider Anglican Communion and other Churches, in parallel with its own facilitated conversations and on a similar timescale. (Paragraphs 323–5, 360, 366–8)
On the teaching of the Church and the missiological challenge:
5. Homophobia – that is, hostility to homosexual people – is still as serious a matter as it was and the Church should repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and should stand firmly against it whenever and wherever it is to be found. (Paragraphs 174–92, 320–8)
6. No one should be accused of homophobia solely for articulating traditional Christian teaching on same sex relationships. (Paragraphs 186–91, 327–8)
7. The Church should continue to pay close attention to the continuing, and as yet inconclusive, scientific work on same sex attraction. (Paragraphs 193–219, 329–35)
8. Since Issues in Human Sexuality was published in 1991 attitudes to same sex attraction, both in English society generally and also among Christians in many parts of the world, have changed markedly. In particular, there is a great deal of evidence that, the younger people are, the more accepting of same sex attraction they are likely to be. That should not of itself determine the Church’s teaching. (Paragraphs 39–51, 156–73, 336–49)
9. The Church should continue to listen to the varied views of people within and outside the church, and should encourage a prayerful process of discernment to help determine the relationship of the gospel to the cultures of the times. (Paragraphs 304–7, 309–11)
10. [ACANZP] needs to recognize that the way we have lived out our divisions on same sex relationships creates problems for effective mission and evangelism within our culture, and that such problems are shared by some other Churches and in some other parts of the Anglican Communion. [ACANZP] also needs to recognize that any change to the Church’s stance in one province could have serious consequences for mission in some other provinces of the Communion. (Paragraphs 85–100, 146–7, 325, 346–9)
11. Whilst abiding by the Church’s traditional teaching on human sexuality, we encourage the Church to continue to engage openly and honestly and to reflect theologically on the circumstances in which we find ourselves to discern the mind of Christ and what the Spirit is saying to the Church now. (Paragraphs 313 –6)
12. Through a period of debate and discernment in relation to the gospel message in our culture, it is right that all, including those with teaching authority in the church, should be able to participate openly and honestly in that process. (Paragraphs 122, 350)
On the Church’s pastoral response:
13. The Church needs to find ways of honouring and affirming those Christians who experience same sex attraction who, conscious of the church’s teaching, have embraced a chaste and single lifestyle, and also those who in good conscience have entered partnerships with a firm intention of life-long fidelity. (Paragraphs 131–5, 328, 386–8)
14. The whole Church is called to real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to homosexual people in the past, and to demonstrate the unconditional acceptance and love of God in Christ for all people. (Paragraphs 186–92, 320–3)
15. The Church’s present rules impose different disciplines on clergy and laity in relation to sexually active same sex relationships. In the facilitated conversations it will be important to reflect on the extent to which the laity and clergy should continue to observe such different disciplines. (Paragraphs 371–3)
16. We believe that there can be circumstances where a priest, with the agreement of the relevant [vestry], should be free to mark the formation of a permanent same sex relationship in a public service but should be under no obligation to do so. Some of us do not believe that this can be extended to same sex marriage. (Paragraphs 120, 380–3)
17. While the Church abides by its traditional teaching such public services would be of the nature of a pastoral accommodation and so [ACANZP] should not authorize a formal liturgy for use for this purpose. The House of Bishops should consider whether guidance should be issued. (Paragraphs 118, 384–8, 391–3)
18. Whether someone is married, single or in a civil partnership should have no bearing on the nature of the assurances sought from them that they intend to order their lives consistently with the teaching of the Church on sexual conduct. Intrusive questioning should be avoided. (Paragraphs 400–14)"

I certainly see above wise words written which have been anticipated here over the years by commenters, if not by myself. To give one instance, Recommendation 10 could have been written by Malcolm who has often commented on precisely the issue at stake in that recommendation.


(1) Peter Ould has a go at the Pilling Report here. He makes a very odd pair of criticisms for someone so versed in Anglican ways. One concerns clergy making up things as they go along. The other concerns the church holding contradictory positions. But these have been features of our life for a long time. Stories of clergy making up a 'pragmatic pastoral' response to an unusual situation are legion (I could tell a few myself but will not bore you). Contradictory positions simply exist, not least on the ordination of women (as sharply felt in my own diocese where we have both a woman bishop and clergy who do not think a woman should be in a position of authority), but we could also mention abortion and remarriage of divorcees. 

On sexual relationships and a specific point about gay Anglicans being part of a church which both affirms celibacy/marriage and other relationships, well, hello, we are already in that church. That is, we are a church where teaching on celibacy/marriage occurs (and some if not many faithfully follow that discipline) and other relationships exist (e.g. murmurs are made here in NZ about youth leaders living before marriage with their partners) and seemingly we can do little about that (unless we want to embark on a certain kind of intrusive, moralistic crusade)

I suggest the proper evaluation of the Pilling Report is whether it is properly Anglican, with particular reference in (1) upholding doctrine as received by this church (2) providing a pastoral way forward for those who sincerely and conscientiously demur from the doctrine. On a first reading of the recommendations the report seems to pass that test.

But it would wouldn't it, given its genesis :)

(2) Convictional Anglican with a rather good pic says this is going to be a train wreck for the CofE. But does that oversimplify things? Would another stance (e.g. strictly 'conservative' or strictly 'liberal') not be another kind of train wreck?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Authority (2)

Jesus came back to the Temple; and as he taught, the chief priests and the elders came to the servant of the word and asked, "What authority do you have to say these things? Who gave you this authority?"

Jesus answered them, "I will ask you just one question, and if you give me an answer, I will tell you what authority I have to do these things. Where did John's authority to baptise come from: was it from God or from human beings?"

They started to argue among themselves, "What shall we say? If we answer, 'From God,' he will say to us, 'Why, then, did you not believe John?' But if we say, 'From human beings,' we are afraid of what the people might do, because they are all convinced that John was a prophet."

So they answered Jesus, "We don't know."

And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you, then, by what authority I do these things." (Matthew 21:23-27)

I suggest this parable is instructive for considering the authority of Scripture.

Where does Jesus Christ's authority come from? In terms of this dialogue, Jesus implies that his authority is similar to John's. It comes from God and it is recognised by the people. (The people cannot and do not bestow authority on John the Baptist, but they can perceive the authority of God working in him, recognise it, and, by submitting to baptism, receive that authority).

The religious leaders who question him are confronted with a question which challenges their pose as questioners. Why do they not recognise the divine authority of John the Baptist or of Jesus? Why do they not understand, acknowledge and join with the reception of that authority given by the ordinary people?

Within this exposition of the authority of Jesus Christ, via a subtle question-and-question dialogue, we see important elements concerning divine authority. Such authority is not bestowed by the non-divine (i.e. humanity). No committee or council of the wise and powerful determines that Jesus has divine authority. There is no election of Jesus to the position of Son of God via democratic vote. Yet such authority is meaningless among humanity if it is not recognised and received by humanity. In human terms the authority of Jesus is 'self-authenticating.'

The subtleties of Jesus' divine origin and divine power, of recognition and non-recognition, of reception and rejection are well worked out in John's Gospel, notably in chapter 8, particularly in verses 14-19 and 54-58.

What then of the authority of Scripture in the life of the church?

I suggest the claim, at least in evangelical theological expression, has similarities with the authority of Christ himself, as expounded above and in John 8.

First, the authority of Scripture as the writing down of the divine Word or message of God both comes from God and is (and was) recognised by the people. The decision regarding what was in the canon of Scripture and what was not was a decision about recognition and reception by the people of the church of which circulating scriptures were of divine origin and authority and which were not. The church did not write Scripture in such a mode that it could later rewrite it. Nor did the church determine the canon of Scripture in such a way that a later vote could determine it to be otherwise. What was determined was what had been universally received by the whole church as God's Word written down and what had not.

Secondly, the authority of Scripture as similar to the authority of Christ is less than the full story. In an important sense the authority of Scripture is the authority of Christ. For the Christian Scripture, of Old Testament and New Testament, is the message of Christ. The Old Testament informs that message and provides the context for its reception. The New Testament is the gospel of Christ (according to four authors/authoritative preachers of that gospel) and authorised-by-Christ apostolic interpretation of the gospel (i.e. the epistles). The canon of Scripture is the Christ-centred word of the Lord for all who will receive it as the divine message of God, the Word of God written. The authority of Scripture, that is, is the authority of its divine Author.

Thus questioning the authority of Scripture in the life of the church places the questioner in a difficult relationship with Scripture and with God revealed in Christ through this specific 'Word of Christ'. Does the questioner deny the authority of Scripture as the authority of God? Is the questioner denying that the church has properly recognised and received this word?

Further, there tends to be a logical absurdity when Christians question the authority of Scripture. For every Christian is a Christian precisely because they have received a portion of Scripture as authoritative. Every Christian acts under at least one aspect of that authority. This one believes that at communion the bread becomes the body of Christ: why? Because Jesus himself said [in Scripture], 'This is my body.' That one believes that God loves everyone: why? Because we read [in Scripture] that 'God is love.' Another asserts dogmatically that we should be merciful and kind to all we meet: why? Because Christ said so [in Scripture].

On what basis then does a Christian questioning the authority of Scripture determine that some parts are unquestionably authoritative while others are undoubtedly irrelevant to the church today? I have no idea.

Addendum: for an erudite and challenging approach to authority, which I think is in heated agreement with this post and its predecessor, read Bryden Black's article, Lion's Work, here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Authority (1)

Jesus came back to the Temple; and as he taught, the chief priests and the elders came to the servant of the word and asked, "What authority do you have to say these things? Who gave you this authority?"

Jesus answered them, "I will ask you just one question, and if you give me an answer, I will tell you what authority I have to do these things. Where did John's authority to baptise come from: was it from God or from human beings?"

They started to argue among themselves, "What shall we say? If we answer, 'From God,' he will say to us, 'Why, then, did you not believe John?' But if we say, 'From human beings,' we are afraid of what the people might do, because they are all convinced that John was a prophet."

So they answered Jesus, "We don't know."

And he said to them, "Neither will I tell you, then, by what authority I do these things." (Matthew 21:23-27)

At the heart of all theological debates, including debate over the role of Scripture, whether Sola Scriptura is a worthy summary of that role, is the question of authority.

Look Protestantly in askance at the hierarchy of Rome in relation to doctrine (Papal Infallibility, Magisterium, etc) and you are asking about authority.

Claim as one bishop in the church we are not allowed to criticise here that because the church wrote the Bible we can rewrite the Bible and you have smuggled into subsequent conversation the question of authority.

Pronounce from the pulpit as many preachers do that despite centuries of the church believing this or despite multiple commentaries of sound scholarship saying that, nevertheless 'I say unto you, We no longer need to believe this or that,' and authority in the life of the church is presenting itself.

Sigh and sit back bemused at Protestants tying themselves into Protestant knots or Romans entangling themselves in Roman doctrinal nets because as an Eastern Orthodox you know that everything was sorted out theologically with the cessation of the seventh Ecumenical Council then you have made a claim about where authority in the life of the church lies.

For that matter, in case a major church stream feels left out, get up in church this Sunday morning and confidently claim, 'Thus says the Spirit of God, the glory has departed this fellowship, ichabod, ichabod,' then a Pentecostal take on authority is being expressed.

At the heart of current Anglican controversies, whether we are in England sorting out a reasonable way forward on women bishops, or here in ACANZP wondering which way forward we should go on same sex partnerships, or, to also look into 2014, what is the gospel we should preach in celebration of Marsden first preaching the gospel, is the question of authority.

In particular the questions whether Scripture speaks authoritatively on such and such a matter, and whether Scripture charts a way forward when the church disagrees. But the question also sharply arises - should we find a way to, so to speak, neutralise Scripture on a matter - by what authority we will proceed to do a new thing in the life of the church?

Already I am in deep waters and time is limited so just a few more thoughts today ...

Recently some considerable efforts have been made in the Communion to understand what role or roles the Bible plays across the Communion and, we might say, across the spectrum of theological commitments which make up our collective Anglican life. This project's web presence is here.

The situation the report addresses is summed up in these words of ++David Moxon:

""The Anglican Communion has always cherished Scripture and given it a central place in its life. This emphasis was historically summed up in Article 6 of the 39 Articles, "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation" and is confirmed by the way Scripture is so heavily drawn on in our liturgical life. In recent years the Communion has sought to handle the diversity of opinions in relation to moral and ethical issues. However, in turning to Scripture for insights we have discovered that we reach different conclusions as to the way forward. This raised the question as to whether we might benefit, as a Communion, by exploring in some depth the way we go about this engagement with and interpretation of Scripture.""

Necessarily the report is descriptive rather than prescriptive but I sense that one effect of the report has been for a slight raising of collective Anglican respect for Scripture. Some aspects of the controversies in our life currently have involved statements dismissive of Scripture: my sense is that we now recognise that being dismissive of Scripture is not a viable Anglican response to the controversies. However we may resolve them, they will involve serious engagement with Scripture because we have reminded ourselves that Anglicans are scriptural Christians.

Locally this seems - anecdotally - to be an outcome of the four Hermeneutical Hui held in ACANZP over recent years (driven forward by ++Moxon and directly catalytical of the report above). Our church now recognises collectively (so I am told by interpreters of the mood of our church) that however we move forward on these matters, we cannot do so by leaving the Bible closed in an anteroom to the room in which we make decisions.

But all the above is consistent with a generalised understanding that 'Scripture is important to Anglican life'. Can Anglicans say more than that? Should Anglicans say more than that? In particular, what about claims from evangelical Anglicans that Scripture is authoritative for our faith and practice?

An insight I would like to share is this: the authority of Scripture is like the authority of Christ.

But time is up and mundane but urgent tasks of the day call loudly, sands of time before Christmas falling fast and all that, I shall return to that insight ...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Why I accept the Solas

Over at Liturgy, Bosco Peters has a post entitled 'Wrong about sola scriptura' It includes reference to N. T. Wright, including some humorous riffs on N. T. Wright's greatness as a scholar. The essence of the post is captured in these words, "Once you’ve accepted this, and handed over that particular Reformation weapon, now attention turns to the next link, the next weapon, in the Reformation camp, the next sola". That is (in my interpretation) the Reformation was a form of category mistake.

In some forms of such critique of the Reformation, the real business of reform of the church in the 16th century took place at the Council of Trent and the real business of the (non-Roman Catholic, non-Eastern Orthodox) church in the 21st century is to move on from the Reformation. One does such moving on when embarrassing episodes occur in one's past! It intrigues me in the post-and-comments that some recognition is given to the (debatable) possibility that N.T. Wright ends up promoting a Roman understanding of salvation.

Specific engagement with the details in the argument of the post should take place there, not here.

But I am prompted by that post to offer some positive thoughts on the 'Solas'. In what follows I offer just three Anglican reflections on the Solas by way of citing relevant Articles.

(1) It is easy to misunderstand, or misoverestimate, the scope of the 'Solas'. Sola Scriptura/Scripture Alone, for instance, as I understand things, has two meanings.

For some Protestants it means (according to Wikipedia) "the teaching that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God, is the only source for Christian doctrine, and is accessible to all—that is, it is perspicuous and self-interpreting. "Scripture interprets scripture" is a governing principle of many Protestant denominations."

But for Anglicans it does not mean that everything any Christian ever needs to know about anything is found in Scripture. It means that Scripture alone is sufficient for knowledge of salvation; nothing outside of the teaching of Scripture is required for salvation. This is bog standard Anglican theology, as expressed within Article 6:

"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."

That there might be things important for Christian life (e.g. how the church is governed by orders of ministry) which are not found or not found clearly in Scripture is okay for Anglicans. As Article 20 says,

"The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation."

That is, the Anglican church might ordain (i.e. order into being) things which are not mentioned in Scripture but it may not do in contradiction of Scripture and certainly may not do so in respect of adding to Scripture any requirements for salvation.

If any Anglican reader here has any knowledge of anything necessary for salvation which is not found in Scripture, please let us know. If any Anglican reader here agrees that nothing necessary for salvation is found outside of Scripture, could you please accept that you, like me, are an Anglican Sola Scriptura person.

(2) It is surprising that Sola Fide/Faith Alone has become the subject of controversy these days in the way it has become. Who would want to argue over the offer of an utterly free gift?!

For Anglicans Sola Fide is, again, wonderfully expressed in the Articles.

From Article 11: "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification."

That is, whatever the role works play in the life of the Christian (on which there is much controversy, both generally between Romans and Protestants, and recently, among Protestants (as Bosco Peters' post points out, with N.T. Wright leading the charge in one direction), the role is not a saving role.

And thank goodness for that. Imagine if works did play a saving role in our lives. What works would save us? How many works would save us? Would some works be better than others (e.g. giving money to overseas missions rather than to local missions, serving the poor in faraway countries rather than on our doorstep)? The brilliance, the good news of Sola Fide is that the merits of our situation before God as Judge are the merits of Christ and not of ourselves.

Again, if any reader here can offer answers to questions such as above, as part of a case for the saving merits of our good works, even if your name be N.T. Wright, let us know. Indeed it is your "works" obligation not to withhold the truth from those of us who think the Reformers opened up the Scriptures rightly on this matter and challenged the creeping reliance on works which had become part of the Western European church.

Further, if any reader here thinks, with Scripture, that one can be saved even in the last seconds' of life, with a whole life of crooked deeds behind oneself, as was the case with the penitent thief, then please take the next step and join with me in celebrating Sola Fide!

(3) On the question of works, I clearly need to catch up with what N.T.Wright is saying in his latest writings, a veritable four part two volume doorstopping tome of 1519 pages (note the lovely correspondence with the chronology of the Reformation in that number!!). See pic below with my smartphone for comparison re size of Paul and the Faithfulness of God. 

But if what Wright has to say does not accord with Article 12,

"Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit."

then his bishopness is in conflict with his scholarship!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dean Dares to Dream

Lovely article on our new Dean, Lynda Patterson, in our local Christchurch Press this morning.

Here is a taste:

"If the sparkling personality of the Northern Irish farm girl cannot carry her through such controversies, then her ability to see all sides and bring reconciliation to them should do it."

Lynda and I are working on our next jointly authored Lenten study book for 2014, published by Theology House Publications, Being Disciples: Through Lent with Matthew. Available in January. Orders now to Theology House, admin at $5 per copy if ordered before 20 December, $6 after that, plus postage and packing.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cherry Picking Canadians?

A little while ago I posted about Kiwi John Hebenton being a candidate for election for the Diocese of New Westminster's next bishop.

Now the long arm of Canada is reaching down to another Kiwi to stand for election. This time it is Anthony Dancer as a candidate for election to the Diocese of British Columbia.

Could the last person left please turn out the lights ...

UPDATE: A different kind of 'cheery picking', along with other concerns of Canadian Anglicans is highlighted in a Samizdat post here)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Hand it to the English. They can play Cricket, and Compromise.

I acknowledge that on day two of the Gabba test, it is England receiving the shellacking!


First to the important things. England have handed Australia a bit of a shellacking on the first day of the first Ashes Test at the Gabba. Oz 273/8 with Broad taking five wickets is a great start for England, and for Broad. The English can play cricket. They can write too. For lovers of good writing, and cricket, a fine place to head this summer is to "With Mrs Aggers on Tour", the daily blog of Emma Agnew, wife of the renowned English commentator Jonathan Agnew. (She calls her husband 'Latest' as in 'The Latest Husband' ... because it keeps him on his toes!)

Back in England, where the football season is being played out, once again with England having as little hope of winning the next World Cup as New Zealand, the smartest game in town is being played at the C of E General Synod. As Andrew Brown reports (in a largely non-nasty piece of writing),

"The overwhelming vote on Wednesday by the Church of England's General Synod in favour of the legislation for female bishops shows that it can learn from its mistakes just as a dinosaur that came up against an electric fence could learn after many years to stop leaning on it.

Although the deal is not yet done, it seems unlikely that the proposed legislation will fail between now and next summer. What is improbable is that both supporters and opponents think they have done better than they would have last November, when the house of laity failed by a tiny margin to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the legislation."

Why is this the smartest game in town? Well, as Brown points out, supporters of legislation approving women bishops will get their legislation; even better, with overwhelming support. But astutely he is also pointing out that those who would prefer not to have women bishops (but are willing to go along with the legislation) get a win in the game too.

"The core of the resistance is the conservative evangelical block, who object on grounds of straightforward patriarchy; they believe the Bible mandates that women submit to male authority.
It seems certain that one from this block will be promoted to bishop – at present there is not one of the Church's 112 bishops who shares their views. And they are confident that they can no more be forced to do anything they don't want by a female bishop than they can at present be compelled by a male one.
Above all, the more politically savvy among them understand that this compromise allows them to live and flourish another day."

It appears from Brown's report that conservative evangelicals recognised that if they did not compromise on the legislation they would have received a 273/8 shellacking at the next elections to General Synod.

'Compromise' is a very fine word, and bears much fruit in church life. It is good to see the English conservative evangelicals recognising this important ecclesiological truth. A lesser ego than my own might even suspect they have been imbibing the wisdom of ADU :)

If George Carey is right, then so is GAFCON!

Discerning readers of ADU, by which I mean all of you, will have been noticing around the internet traps that ++George Carey has recently said that Christianity (or just the C of E?) in England has just one generation of life left and then it's last one out turn off the lights.

Andrew Brown, who often writes what strikes me as 'nasty pieces of work', puts the boot into ++George. First, he says that George has been saying this for years, only previously it was a ploy to inspire the troops to greater evangelistic efforts, now it is "Like a hypochondriac told by the doctor that he really has got cancer, the former archbishop finds that the worries that have comforted him for years are suddenly, horribly frightening."

Secondly, Brown says it is largely Carey's fault. The sub-heading tells his accusatory thesis, "If the CofE is doomed, as former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey insists, it's down to the damage he did in office." Not nice, Andrew. Just nasty. The point of the body of Christ is that all are responsible for its health ... oh, wait, theology has nothing to do with anything when we want to be nasty.

If Brown could get away from the joy of putting the boot into Carey he might like to consider the complexity of British society, the pluralism of Western culture in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Broad churches such as the C of E are going to have complexities. Its archbishops are having (and have had) a heck of a job balancing competing demands to offer both balanced leadership to their diverse and often conflicted church and prophetic response to ever-changing society. Carey (and Williams who gets a kicking too) deserve sympathy not sarcasm.

The worst part of Brown's boot job is its complete failure to think through what kind of church the C of E might be now if from the early 1990s it had completely followed what general English culture had told it to do. I suggest it would be now be dead. Not one generation away from demise.

We are on much better grounds if we read A.N. Wilson in the Telegraph, helpfully brought to my attention by the much maligned (here) David Virtue. His whole article is a sobering if not shattering analysis of the state of faith in English culture. I do not think fluency in Kiwispeak is required before translating it into NZ church life. If you do nothing else today, read this article!

Here are the paragraphs that are the bare minimum required reading for people who love the God of Jesus Christ, his gospel, his body and that bit of it described as 'Anglican.' My bold.

"Evangelicals like [Carey] have had some success, mainly in suburban parishes, where congregations can be numbered in their hundreds. But these places, which appear to buck the trend, are in catchment areas of tens of thousands of people, none of whom would go near such an evangelical Church, with its outreach, Toddlers' Praise and speaking in tongues.

There are two simple reasons for this, and there is nothing anyone can say that will make these reasons go away.

The first is sex. Traditional Christianity taught that there is no permitted sexual act outside marriage. All but no one now - even Christians - really believes this. What used to be called "living in sin" is absolutely normal. Nearly all young people, gay or straight, when they reach a certain moment in their relationship, try living together. The Churches can either back down and say that for 2,000 years they have been talking nonsense about sex; or they can dig in their heels. Either way, the Church is diminished. [Editorial Note: we are in a cleft stick!]

The second reason is a much bigger thing. That is the decline of belief itself. Most people simply cannot subscribe to the traditional creeds. No number of Alpha courses can make people believe that God took human form of a Virgin, or rose from the dead. They simply can't swallow it. They see no reason, therefore, to listen to a Church that propounds these stories and then presumes to tell them how to behave in the bedroom.

When there was a tradition of church-going, there was more room for unbelief. When a young priest told Archbishop Michael Ramsey that he had lost his faith in God, Ramsey replied, after a long pause: "It doesn't matter - it doesn't matter." You can't imagine Lord Carey saying that.
Unbelief, and the change in sexual mores, affects not only the decline in Anglican congregations, but the entire history of the Western Church

The "Francis effect" is said to be drawing back mass attendance in Italy. But the Pope's focus groups, asking what the faithful believe, will yield similar results as they would in the Church of England - people don't think it is sinful to live together, they don't think it is sinful to be gay, and they no longer really believe in the Incarnation.

This is dire news for institutional Christianity."

There is much to ponder here. Both for ourselves in mission in these islands (including the West Island across the ditch from here) and for ourselves working out how to do churchy stuff.

But there is also an angle to ponder in the light of GAFCON 2. Whatever we make of GAFCON, whether we think it gaffed or not in its diagnosis of Western culture, GAFCON represents Anglican Christianity convinced it will last a thousand years or more into the future. That Christianity is African dominated, conservative, sometimes extreme and always confident.

For Anglicans wringing our hands about how we engage with a culture of unbelief, let's acknowledge that if ++George Carey is right, when the lights go out on Christianity in his England, they will not go out in Africa. The surer guide to the future of Anglicanism lies with GAFCON than with the latest missive from the Anglican Communion office.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Anglican church is a liberal Protestant jelly?


(1) relevant to the original post below is a bit of liberal Protestant jelly on the other side of the ditch, as brought out by Convictional Anglican, ruminating on the election (by committee!!) of a new bishop for Grafton. I wonder if the same committee has been electing the Australian cricket team of late :)

(2) we may as well pop a little branch theory into this post, courtesy of The Conciliar Anglican.

My own comment on branch theory is that a better theory is called twig theory. It goes like this: basically the church is any bunch of people trying to figure out what Jesus was and is up to. If any one twigs what that is, please let others know!


It must be true, this liberal Protestant character of the Anglican church (see discussion below). Because Damian Thompson says so!

"Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England won't have to encounter lady bishops in their own parishes, but they are decisively throwing in their lot with a liberal Protestant denomination that consecrates them. Come on, guys, admit it!"

However I differ from Damian in using the word 'denomination'. I suggest 'jelly' would be much better. A very fine pudding is a jelly, but it does wobble, and that is what Anglicans do quite well.

Here is an example, quoting from the same Thompson article the words of +Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham, doyen of English 'FiF' Anglo-Catholics, about the proposal, likely to pass, that the C of E will have women bishops, but parishes not wanting them can appeal to an ombudsman:

"“Though these proposals are still far from what we have long said would be ideal, we believe that they may have the potential to provide workable arrangements for the future, which will ensure that our people, clergy and parishes have continued access to a ministry that will enable us to flourish within the structures of the Church of England, and make our full contribution to its life and mission.""

Thus Anglo-Catholics, even of the Forward in Faith variety, are able to wobble a little in order to accommodate change. Even, it would seem, from the Telegraph article re the proposal, there is a little wobble coming from Reform (the evangelical counterpart to Forward in Faith).

Remarkably there is potential for liberal Protestant jelly within GAFCON! Yes, dear reader, this will surprise you, but it is spelled out in this address, "The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion: The Church and its Mission", a defence of GAFCON, by Archbishop Wakabula, Primate of Kenya, and Chair of the GAFCON Primates' Council.

First, there is no wobble in some important things ++Wakabula says about the 39A. In them is found true doctrine, expressions of the 'power of the gospel and the priority of Scripture.' Secondly, there is likely to be debate about the use of the descriptive term 'moralism' to describe the Anglicanism of the seventeeth century. I make no comment myself: I do not know enough. Nevertheless there is straight up and down, no jelly to be found proposition when ++Wakabula summarily says,

"The Articles alert us to the fact that effective mission must be based on clear theological convictions about the gospel."

No, the interesting wobble in ++Wakabula's address lies elsewhere:

"Following the spirit of the Articles, we respect diversity on secondary matters and the GAFCON movement models this in the variety of traditions it embraces and the recognition of principled difference about the role of women in church leadership.  However, on those matters which touch the central message of the Church’s mission we need to also follow the spirit of the Articles, reinforcing the great positives of the gospel by stating the necessary negatives, especially in an intellectual environment dominated by post modernist relativism where it is assumed that truth claims are merely preferences."

The 'recognition of principled difference about the role of women in church leadership' is a wobbling jelly of a statement because it allows that 'principled difference' might be a substantive explanation of diversity in the life of the church. To confine this substantive explanation to 'secondary matters', without theological justification (or, we could say, with as insubstantial an appeal as 'following the spirit of the Articles'), is to express 'preference' and thus to fall into precisely the situation which the citation professes to abhor, 'an intellectual environment dominated by post modernist relativism where it is assumed that truth claims are merely preferences.'

Naturally, within this particular defense of GAFCON, ++Wakabula does not deviate from the line that a progressive approach to same sex relationships is the heart of  a modern Anglican false gospel:

"The Anglican story for the past 15 years has been the attempt by the revisionist Provinces of North America, with significant support from the Church of England itself, to undermine the collegiality of the Lambeth Conference’s resolution on human sexuality.  A false gospel has now become entrenched in parts of the Communion, as the Jerusalem Statement of 2008 correctly diagnosed, and the GAFCON movement has had to describe itself as a Confessing Anglican movement in the face of the confusion which has been allowed to take hold."

But this line is seriously exposed by ++Wakabula as frayed. If 'principled difference' over women in leadership is allowable but not over same sex partnerships, there has to be a reason if the counter charge of 'prejudice' is not to be invoked.

The distinction between 'primary' and 'secondary' matters might be brought into play. But what if one group of Anglicans says the matter of same sex partnerships is 'secondary' and another says it is primary? This is likely to be a matter of 'principled difference', which ++Wakabula allows as part of Anglicanism.

Other matters of 'principled difference' could be at work in the ever changing situation of our Western world. For instance, I suggest it is 'principled difference' if you believe that a lesbian couple coming to church with their three children should nevertheless be asked to break up their relationship (and consequentially their family) on scriptural grounds while I believe that (despite my agreeing with you that lesbian relationships cannot be blessed by the church) this family should be respected and assisted by the church (since breaking up families, however constituted, is not part of church pastoral care).

In the end, if Anglican attitudes to homosexuality can be demonstrated to be matters in which 'principled difference' is at work, then, logically, GAFCON should welcome diversity in these attitudes, as it does over women in leadership.

There is a further wobble in ++Wakabula's address which I want to note.

As he explores further the question of the authority of Scripture he rightly discusses the integral question of the interpretation of Scripture. How do we resolve differences in interpretation of Scripture? (Incidentally, we are also sticking with the meme of 'principled difference' at this point). One answer is to form an Anglican Magisterium. Like all good Anglicans, ++Wakabula immediately rejects such a Roman idea. But then he goes onto offer some jelly (my bold).

"So while an Anglican magisterium is out of place, we should not reject the idea of a body with a more circumscribed authority to exercise the ministry of being a “witness and keeper of Holy Writ” for the Communion as a whole.  This is especially necessary now that Article 34 has taken on greater significance with the formation over the centuries of the Anglican Communion as a fellowship of national and regional Churches.  The Article affirms that diversity is legitimate so long as “nothing be ordained against God’s Word” and recognizes the authority of national churches in matters of rites and ceremonies.  The strength of this understanding for mission is that the unchanging truths of the gospel can be expressed in culturally appropriate forms, but it also carries the risk that the culture may distort the message of the gospel.  It is therefore strength for a global communion to have a means by which local adaptations can be tested to ensure that they enhance the communication of the gospel rather than domesticating it to a particular culture."

With respect, Archbishop Wakabula, should you read this, a magisterium is a magisterium, with or without 'a more circumscribed authority'.

As a matter of fact I think an Anglican magisterium is a good idea. I am offering to be its first chairperson. If efficiency and effectiveness is required of the magisterium, I am also willing to shoulder the load by being its sole member for the next ten years ... with all decisions communicated via ADU!

Now to the serious business of a conclusion re Anglican jelly (whether liberal or Protestant or both).

Damian Thompson is right and wrong.

He is wrong to call the Anglican church/Anglican Communion a 'liberal Protestant denomination'. It is more than that.

He is right to call attention to the jelly like statement of the Bishop of Fulham.

He is wrong to castigate it with sarcasm.

The Anglican point in response to Thompson's smart alec brand of certitude is that life is difficult, Christian wisdom requires flexibility, the Anglican church offers that ... and Rome (actually, as Pope Francis is showing us to be the case) knows that it also needs to follow suit.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hitchen's train ride, my trip to Runanga

Recently here we drew attention to Peter Hitchen's contribution on a steamed up television panel in Oz. Now attention has been drawn to this Daily Mail columnist columnizing on a visit to NZ, including Christchurch. His column is here. The important bits to ruminate about are the future of a little country in a world of declining and emerging empires. But there is a remark within the column for Anglicans ... on our cathedral situation!

Peter Hitchen's also talks about a fabulous train trip he took through our mountains. It happens that I recently drove through the same mountains and happened to come across the train at Arthur's Pass station. Here is a pic a few hundred metres down the road as the train gathers pace towards Christchurch. Taken from my smartphone (actually, not that great a camera!):

 My journey was first to Hokitika on Thursday past, for a training course. Then the next morning to St Thomas' Runanga for a service celebrating 50 years of licensed lay ministry by Barry Smithson. I met and got to know Barry and his wife Lesta when I worked in the Diocese of Nelson (of which the Parish of Cobden-Runanga is a part). Barry and Lesta are well-known at St Michael's and All Angels here in Christchurch as they regularly make the pilgrimage through the mountains to participate in festal masses.

St Thomas' could be described as an outpost of Anglo-Catholicism in the almost uniformly evangelical, low church Diocese of Nelson. Barry and Lesta have upheld the Anglo-Catholic tradition in that church for a long time. It is a tribute to both them and their succession of evangelical vicars that an exemplary Anglican way of holding disparate traditions in common has been lived out through these years.

Anyway, we had a lovely service, to which Bishop Victoria has been invited to come to preside and to preach (superbly!). Barry was the lay reader. Clergy gathered from Nelson and Christchurch dioceses. The local Roman Catholic priest was present. The weather was superb (i.e. not raining, as is often the case on our West [Wet] Coast). There was a lovely lunch and some fine speeches, including one by Barry himself, as depicted below:

The person kneeling down was the photographer for the occasion. When he sends me a photo which will be 100x better than I can take, I will add it to the post ... LATER: here it is!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Best Sermon Ever, 10/10

The Ship of Fools has cruised up the Tiber and found a perfect church!

Led by a Kiwi, of course!


H/T A correspondent.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Log Meet Speck

NZ readers here will be aware of a scandalous story in our media with many angles emerging, including behaviour of some media personnel themselves. Already the story has a name, Roast Busters, which refers to a group of young men boasting of sexual conquests with young women via Facebook. Emerging allegations include rape as the girls were under the age of sixteen.

Michael Hewat, a vicar in Hamilton and executive officer for AFFIRM, makes an excellent point about the wider complicity of the government (via its policy on access to alcohol) and thus, by implication, all of our society in the scandal.

There is little scandal in NZ which is not fuelled by alcohol ...

Congratulations Clendon!

Lovely to read this article celebrating the milestone of 25 years existence as a parish planted on bare land in Clendon, Auckland.

I have personally heard Mark Beale talk about the Clendon journey. It is one of the most inspiring stories I have heard in the modern life of our church in these islands.

As we work on possible church plants in post-quake Christchurch we need the wisdom of planters such as Mark to guide us.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Marx on Maori Anglican aspirations

I have been paying attention over the weekend to a series of Tweets recording progress at the annual synod of the Diocese of Aotearoa, also known as Te Runanganui o Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa. For a solid reportage of two key items of business Taonga offers a guide to the substance of the meeting: this report and this report with this final report the one I refer to here.

I understand Marxist analysis of society in these terms: Follow the money. Understand society in terms of what happens to money and you understand a lot. Who earns the money, who spends the money, who doesn't have money and who gets to tell people what to do with their money are all grist to the Marxist analytical mill. For people outside our church and islands the final Taonga report may be incomprehensible. Do not worry, it will also be so for many Pakeha (i.e. European-derived immigrants to these islands) inside our church! However, with Karl Marx's help I will attempt to be your guide.

I suggest that the aspiration of the Maori diocesan synod (Te Runanganui o Te Pihipatanga o Aotearoa) for tino rangatiratanga (i.e. sovereign control) is worth exploring in strictly monetary terms.

For Pakeha Anglicans we exercise our tino rangatiratanga without thinking about it. First, note that we have access to a variety of funding sources, weekly offertories, parish trust funds, diocesan trust funds and (when pushed) fundraising among pakeha. Further, we have associated institutions such as schools which broadly speaking do not consume the financial attention of our dioceses (cf. difficulties with Maori Anglican schools referenced in the Taonga articles). This means that largely we are in control - tino rangatiratanga - of our destiny as Pakeha Anglicans (i.e. Tikanga Pakeha, the seven NZ Dioceses).

When we go to meetings which discuss applications for funds from the St John's College Trust Board (our $300m assets/$12m annual distribution taonga (treasure)), we are glad for the share which comes our way. But engaging in discussion does not affect our sense of control over our affairs because discussion about those funds is about a portion of our gigantic pot, not about nearly all of it.

Put another way: if we lost the St John's College funding, people like me - educators - would (likely) be sacked, but the stipended clergy in parishes would continue their work. (Albeit poorly trained ...!!). Our life as parishes and other mission units bound together as dioceses, and our control of that ecclesiastical life would continue, albeit diminished in significant ways.

By contrast, and to quote a friend and colleague immersed in the life of Tikanga Maori,
'The St John's Trust Board is our economy.'

Thus to go to meetings about the control of the growth of the assets and about the distribution of the earnings of the Trust Board is an exercise in partial control of Maori Anglican economy, a control which always involves discussion, even argument with Pakeha and Pasefika partners. However oriented those conversations are towards a favourable outcome for Maori, the fact is that Maori do not have control over the outcomes. Pakeha and Pasefika (Diocese of Polynesia) do not have control either, for all are equal partners at the table of discussion. But for Pakeha, the lack of control is more than mitigated by the immense control we exert over our overall 'economy' which is only partially funded by the Trust Board. (Life for Pasefika is different again and I won't attempt here to reflect on it).

Hence we might be able to understand this part of the Taonga article:

"In his paper to Te Runanganui, Professor Winiata outlined his thinking about why Tikanga Maori should exercise sovereignty over half the assets of the SJCTB:

“The current funding processes used by the church,” he wrote, “do not provide Maori with the opportunity to express tino rangatiratanga” (as guaranteed to Maori by the Treaty of Waitangi.)
  1. “At the St John’s College Trust Board, where the decision is made about the size of distribution and allocations of the distributions, Tikanga Maori is required to negotiate with Tikanga Pakeha and with Tikanga Pasifika – the negotiation process denies tino rangatiratanga.
  2. “The amount to be distributed then goes to Te Kotahitanga, another group where Tikanga Maori negotiates with the other to tikanga for the resources to undertake its planned activities – tino rangatiratanga is denied.
  3. “The funds then find their way to Te Waka Matauranga, finally into Maori hands for management – however the need to account for spending and reporting practices including the requirement of returning unspent funds at the end of the year denies any real tino rangatiratanga is present.”"
However, I think Professor Winiata's words are in danger of misleading all readers of Taonga. What is at stake - in my view - is not whether Maori have an 'expression' of tino rangatiratanga as though if Pakeha and Pasefika partners remained silent when discussing Maori applications for funds all would be well.

Rather, what is at stake is the state of their own ecclesiastical economy. Control of that economy, tino rangatiratanga, is important but more important is the monetary wherewithal to achieve all mission and ministry aspirations. 

The fact is that it is not at all clear that changing the control of the St John's College Trust Board in the way being sought would improve the state of Maori Anglican ecclesiastical economy. My reason for saying this is that the funds of the Board are tightly focused by trust deed and civil law - there is a SJC Trust Board act of parliament - on the provision of education, and that is not education in general terms but in specific terms which include instruction in Christian principles. The accounting for spending which Professor Winiata appears to want to void (section 3 above) is an accounting according to the prescriptions surrounding the funds. 

As the Taonga report makes clear, Maori Anglican economy desperately needs improving so that (e.g.) its ministers are stipended. But can that improvement be achieved by gaining control of the St John's College Trust Board funds in the way being pursued here. Those funds have limited applicability to the payment of general clergy stipends (let alone for, say, repairs to church roofs). Tino rangatiratanga over the SJC Trust Board funds would certainly be a step forward for Maori aspirations but I wonder if it would fulfil the deepest aspiration running through the Taonga reports, the aspiration for overall improvement in the economy of Maori Anglican life and mission.

Pakeha reading here should be clear, in my and Karl Marx's view, that what is at stake here is what we largely take for granted, money to do things in Christ's name. What is at stake is not simply another way of doing things to gain the same (or slightly more) amount of funding. What is at stake, I suggest, are the material circumstances in which the mission and ministry of our Maori Anglican brothers and sisters are conducted.

None of us should be sanguine about this weekend's Runanganui resolution. The unity of our church is a fragile bloom. It is largely held together by our discussions over money. True tino rangatiratanga over half the trust board money would - in my view - mean a cessation of those discussions. The separation of Maori Anglican church life from Pakeha and Pasefika life would be more or less final. But if readers here do not like that outcome we need to attend to the monetary situation of the Diocese of Aotearoa and not to theological considerations, whether they are about unity or about the exercise of tino rangatiratanga. 

(Yet, let the reader understand, when the Taonga report tells us of speakers stressing the importance of 'unity', of kotahitanga, we are being given a glimpse of an intense debate within Tikanga Maori concerning relationships with the other tikanga, with Pakeha and Pasefika. In my understanding all Maori Anglicans are concerned to improve the circumstances of Aotearoa's mission and ministry but there is difference over the extent to which this should be conducted in partnership or in a separated but focused independent Maori church.)

Karl Marx tells us that the surest way to avert revolution is to engage in sharing the material goods of society. In our NZ Anglican case, do Pakeha need to rethink our approach to supporting Maori mission and ministry? 

Are there ways we have not yet thought of in which we could improve an uneven playing field? Aware of previous thinking about 'resource sharing' which has largely failed, what if we took a different tack such as Pakeha parishes tithing income and sending that tithe to the local Maori bishop? In Pakeha terms, tino rangatiratanga would mean the gift would be sent with 'no strings attached.' 

There would be consequences to undertaking such a gifting programme. As Pakeha we would want to 'discuss it' (discussion is often our way of exercising tino rangatiratanga over situations!). But the question remains, again as Marx would have it, has the time for talk begun to end and the hour for action arrived?

Incidentally, for anxious readers perturbed by Karl's presence here, I suggest Karl and St Paul are united on the matter (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)

Declaration: I am Chair of Te Kotahitanga Scholarships Committee, a three tikanga body responsible for a small portion of the distribution of St John's College Trust Board funds, and part of the chain of review and recommendation about that distribution (for which the highest authority is the Trust Board itself).

Friday, November 8, 2013

Francis really is giving us a lead, for those with eyes to see it

If we are to connect with the world around us rather than the world as it used to be or the world as we would like it to be, then we must look, learn and listen to this world. With minds and hearts informed by the Word of God. Of course!

So when not in Rome one might do well to do what the Romans do. In this case, in respect of the minefield of modern marriage and marriage-like relationships, Francis is giving a lead to all who wish to be doctrinally faithful and pastorally fruitful. As you can read here. And the 39 Articulated Questions can be found by heading to Liturgy here.

Will all Anglicans consider following this lead in working out how to move through the 21st century with acute pastoral commitment to work with the complexities of relationships?

A great hornet's nest is being opened up with these questions:

"a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?
b) Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?"

I wager that very, very few Catholic families in a country such as our own follow their church's teachings on contraception. Time for that teaching to catch up on reality. Wait, that is a principle many Protestant commenters here do not agree with!!!!!

POSTSCRIPT: Archbishop Roger Heerft of Perth offers a model of episcopal care and carefulness in this opinion piece in a local newspaper and in this letter explaining why he will not give his assent to a motion agreed to by the other houses of his synod. Of particular interest to me is his concern for care in theological priorities.

Talking of Jesus as Healer

One of the most memorable experiences of my life, ever, was a weekend healing mission at St Matthew's Church, Dunedin with Bill Subritzky. The most unusual Anglican I have ever heard speak. Exorcising demons with invocation of the words of the BCP in support of this most Anglican thing to do.

Nearly 30 years later, in his 80s, he remains faithful in God's service. The naysayers are out in full force.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kiwi candidate on slate for New Westminster

Additional to below: a nicely written article at The Living Church, emphasising the global nature of the slate. Here.

From here (H/T to a Twitter correspondent)

"The Candidates

Listed in alphabetical order, the eight (8) candidates which the Committee recommends to you for consideration are:
  1. Ven. Ellen Clark-King, Vicar, Christ Church Cathedral, Diocese of New Westminster (Ph.D., M.A., C.T., B.A.)
  2. Rev. Canon Dawn L. Davis, Incumbent Priest, Trinity Church Aurora, Diocese of Toronto (CHRP, M.Div., B.A.)
  3. Rev. John Hebenton, Vicar, Anglican Parish of Gate Pa, Tauranga, Diocese of Waiapu, Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (M.Min,  BSc, LTh [Hons], B.A.)
  4. Rev. Richard G. Leggett, Incumbent Priest, St. Faith's Anglican Church, Diocese of New Westminster (Ph.D., M.A., M.Div., B.A.)
  5. Ven. Lynne E. McNaughton, Incumbent Priest, St. Clement Anglican Church, Diocese of New Westminster (D. Min., M.Div., B.A.)
  6. Rev. John Oakes, Hon. Assoc. Priest, All Saints Episcopal Church, Belmont, Diocese of Massachusetts, TEC and on leave with permission to officiate, Diocese of New Westminster (Ph.D., M.Div., M.A., M.C.S., Dipl. C.S., B.A.)
  7. Rev. Canon Melissa M. Skelton, Canon for Congregational Development and Leadership & Rector, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Diocese of Olympia, TEC (M.Div., M.B.A., M.A., B.A.)
  8. Ven. John R. Stephens, Incumbent Priest, St. Philip's Anglican Church, Diocese of New Westminster (M.Div., B.Sc.)
By way of reminder, full C.V.'s for each candidate (as prepared by the candidates) and a Statement from each are available on the Electoral Synod website."

John writes an interesting and upfront account of himself and his ministry. (Anyone reading this from New Westminster, he is a good bloke).

I disagree with him when he writes, "The Anglican Church is God’s concern.".

I have never received convincing evidence that God has any regard specifically for the Anglican church!

Take note, Kiwi Anglicans

For the sake of clarity re possible futures possibly being contemplated in respect of possible changes in the direction of our church, it is worth noting this post in Taonga re ownership of the material possessions of ecclesiastical life.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

AMiE: Anglican Mission in Every(western)where

If GAFCON has made a gaffe in its communique's understanding of the subtle relationship between gospel and culture in the West by over-emphasising church purity and under-emphasising mission (previous post below), then what is the way forward for Anglican mission in the West?

Astute comments have been made to my previous post. Comments which are worth reflecting on carefully as we make out way through waters which may be partly charted (i.e. repetitions occur in church history) and partly uncharted (i.e. by definition Christendom has never experienced post-Christendom!)

On the one hand, here is Stephen Donald, a colleague working in the Diocese of Waiapu:
"Communicating the gospel in our Westernised context (and in Aotearoa – New Zealand in particular) is precisely the issue, wherever we may sit on our broad Anglican spectrum of theology and church practice. Rather than fixating on issues around homosexuality, we need to reshape our mission to an increasingly secularised (and often indifferent) society, in which most people see us, at best, as irrelevant, and at worst, judgemental, bigoted and hypocritical.  
Even on the most superficial level in the traditional ‘hatched, matched and despatched’ ministries we fail to connect. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s clergy held an almost monopoly in the area of life-passage celebration, but now there are very few requests for baptism, only 1/3 of all weddings in total are taken by organisational celebrants (which includes those from other religions, not only Christian), and an increasing number of funerals are conducted by celebrants or family members. The ‘horse has bolted’ on Christendom, and without a change of approach and a good hard look at ourselves, we will continue to miss the mark, and in the eyes of Joe Public, drift off into oblivion. 
When we do deliver the goods to our communities in the face of tragedy and disaster (as in the Pike River disaster and the Christchurch earthquakes) or enhancing community celebration and connectedness as I am often involved in here in the Gisborne-East Coast area, we win friends for Christ and influence people, although this is rarely expressed as more bottoms on pews, for all the reasons given above. 
Of course the content of the Gospel is important as well as the context. Grace is not cheap and repentance is required. But so is graciousness; those within the Church who believe ‘the other’ is taking Christianity to hell in a handcart (and both extremes are guilty at times) need to assess their motives. I suspect this often has much more to do with power and control, and a fear of the unknown, than any missional objective."

On the other hand, and just selecting a few paragraphs from many pertinent paragraphs posted in the thread below by Bryden Black, a colleague working here in the Diocese of Christchurch:
"As I’ve tried myself to tease out this question [Editor: the question of ecclesial blessing of same sex partnerships and how the church has arrived through the theological and philosophical journey since the Reformation at a point where it is very open to providing an affirming answer to the question], as a Christian who has all his life straddled many cultures, past and present, and so has a degree of self-transcendence hermeneutically, I have been forced to conclude what I’ve said before: it’s but the presenting tip of an iceberg. I also have two other analogies:  
(1) it’s like a glacier, which grinds away over many, many years, and then suddenly, at its edge, a piece - and in this case, a large piece - falls off, precipitating an enormous avalanche. Everyone notices the avalanche and focuses on it and its effects. No-one, or at least only a few, give any credence to the years and years of slow grinding away of the glacier, out of sight - that is, now to apply the analogy, the slow shifts in cultural and societal movements which actually brought about this visible, tangible, presenting thing.  
(2) More simply, and more morally (and possibly more in tune with your own ‘missionary’ assessment): the source of the ‘pollution’ is quite simply upstream, historically and culturally; it’s just the case that downstream is where we are; and how we are is ... well; it is what it is! [And of course, one may still use this analogy in a non-pejorative moral sense by using say the confluence of two tributaries: I anticipate a few yells!]...
I think you may by now have something of the flavour as to why we may actually be more in disagreement than you realise. My ‘hermeneutical antennae’, intellectual, cultural, philosophical and historical, as well as spiritual, tune into two things at once: there is a single presenting issue; which however is inordinately rich and complex in its own aetiology, historically, culturally, etc., let alone in the actual instance of any one person who happens to deem themselves gay.  
No wonder we humans, this side of the Parousia, are seemingly in freeze-frame mode about ‘it’. Well; some are, and some are not; and those that are not represent two extremes often, the total ‘revisionists’ and the total ‘traditionalists’. What I hope to have shown - again all too briefly - is that there might yet be another stance. I’ve tried to canvass as wide and as deep a perspective as possible, but have still arrived at a position that utterly refuses to align myself with any amendment to the definition of marriage, as the societal and cultural and spiritual thing it really is: such amendment just does not stack up overall! And it is a matter of choose this day: life - or death. Therefore, at root, baptismal distinctiveness, and so sheer holiness [pace Haller] must, yes must, be the order of the Christian Church. And if this particular institution foregoes that ... well; we shall see ..."

With such pertinent thoughts in mind, about the state of the society in which we are missional Anglicans and the state of the church to which we Anglicans belong, how should we engage in mission?

One of the great lessons of my days of fond memory at Knox Theological Hall, Dunedin, in the 1980s, was reading an article (from memory, in the journal Interpretation) about six missional strategies for responding to the (Hellenistic) cultural hegemony of Rome and its empire in the Israel of Jesus' day, all neatly described with "I" words.

Insulation - the Pharisees who lived within society by tried to keep the dominating culture at bay with many rules and regulations for daily and domestic life.

Isolation - the Essenes who physically took themselves to the wilderness and set up communities to live a pure Jewish life (as they understood and regulated it).

Insurrection - the Zealots who determined that the hegemony of Rome needed to be overthrown

Integration - the Sadducees who determined that their faith commitments would not stand in the way of working hand in glove with Rome yet held to their faith commitments sufficiently to debate with Pharisees and with Jesus.

Identification - the Herodians who made Rome's interests their own interests.

Incorporation - the Christians who set out to convert the Roman empire and thus integrate it into the kingdom of God (and determinedly not the other way around).

Thus the first thing I recommend for Anglican churches engaged in mission to the West, with its imperial hegemony of secular, pluralist culture, is that we are clear about which of these six strategies we are pursuing.

Anglicans have not been well known for their Insurrectionist tendencies but I see signs in my reading of history and of contemporary Anglican life of each of the other five strategies being followed. Predominantly, however, the Anglican tendency is towards Integration, Identification or Incorporation.

The point about Incorporation is that Christians set out, principally via their chief strategist Paul, to shape Christianity to convert the whole world, Jew and Greek, slave and free, men and women. Along the way they had to deal to tendencies towards Insulation (so Galatians and Paul's rebuke to Peter, perhaps too Hebrews and its appeal to readers not to go back to Judaism), Integration (see letters to churches in Revelation 2-3), Identification (so 1 Timothy where false teachers whose interests seem similar to the prevailing religion of Ephesus are battled) and perhaps even Isolation (is that what Paul avoids in 1 Corinthians 5:10 and the Elder toys with in 1 John?)

Secondly, once the strategy has been chosen (or clearly identified as the one which is actually being pursued), I suggest we need to work out what steps will enable the goal of the strategy to be achieved.

For the Pauline strategy of Incorporation, it is noticeable how Paul went along with the Roman Empire by avoiding unnecessary antagonism (so Romans 13) and how Luke presented the Christian movement (in Luke-Acts) as no explicit political threat to the Empire. Yet Paul preached Jesus Christ as the true Caesar (Kyrios = Lord) and Luke celebrated the advance of the empire (i.e. kingdom) of God which was, in the deeper reality of life, a total undermining of Roman political power.

What steps do we take today to avoid unnecessary antagonism of the prevailing cultural hegemony while being utterly faithful to the gospel that Jesus is Lord and seeking the advance of the rule of God over the world?

What I am arguing for through recent posts is that we take steps to avoid confrontation with the prevailing culture of the West over homosexuality, including avoiding becoming the church known as the anti-homosexuals church. One such step is not to separate over homosexuality. Where separation nevertheless seems necessary over theological matters of authority, true versus false gospel, faithfulness to Jesus as Lord, (a responsive point being well made by commenters) can we clearly articulate that those are the reasons without association also being made by observers with issues over homosexuality?

I have my doubts that at the present time those inclined to separate can do so while maintaining the perception that the separation is not to do with homosexuality but concerns a larger mess of doctrinal failure, gospel fecklessness and cultural captivity.

As an evangelical I appreciate very much that many issues are at work in, behind and underneath current controversy over homosexuality. That it is, depending on metaphors being invoked, this controversy is the tip of an iceberg which began growing centuries earlier or the latest station on a very long journey on a road which long ago forked in the woods of Enlightenment.

There is an argument for decisive concrete action, for acting on one's convictions if one's church should take one more step along that road by explicitly approving the blessing of same sex partnerships or even changing the doctrine of marriage. That argument is that enough is enough, no further capitulation to or accommodation with the relentless growth of the hegemony of liberal theology is tolerable.

But I respectfully (to my evangelical colleagues and friends thinking about such decisive action) submit a counter argument. No matter how widely (or loudly), gently, reasonably we articulate that decisive action is because of the base of the iceberg or length of the wrongly taken journey, it will be pinned against us, both by others in the church and by the wider community, that we have taken action because of homosexuality, indeed because of homosexuals. No matter how strongly we feel such perception is discordant with reality, is that a perception we wish to encourage?

I raise the question because in that perception it will look like we are scapegoating homosexuals who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Of all the perceptions we might think it worth living with in order to live out our convictions, is scapegoating somewhere between 1% and 5% of our congregations a price worth paying?

Importantly, from a missional perspective, would such perception impede our mission if we are determined to pursue an Incorporation strategy?

There is an alternative way and it is being charted by one of the more evangelical popes in history.

The resounding model today in respect of Incorporation is the manner of Pope Francis' public communication of the faith.

He has not changed (conservative) Catholic teaching on any matter one whit but has managed to frame answers to questions in such a way that the tone of discussion has changed, the prevailing media interest in the Roman church is not its scandalous faults but its possibilities for supporting human dignity.

Are conservative evangelical Anglicans able to engender similar sympathetic response from the public if we generate media coverage that we are forming new churches outside of existing structures because of differences over homosexuality?

Our attention and emphasis should be elsewhere than on sexuality. Steps I suggest we need to take in current mission in the West concern presenting Jesus in a manner which connects with people today.

First, we need to present Jesus as alive - the resurrected Jesus present in the world through his Spirit - doing so through deed as well as word. 'Deed' includes acts of compassionate service and offer of healing prayer. The Jesus of history cuts no ice today. What matters is the now and the future. The 'historical Jesus' sounds as irrelevant as Caesar, Genghis Khan and Darwin.If Jesus is not here in the world today, he is nowhere in the minds of the iPhone generation.

Secondly, we need to find language for today which translates key terms such as 'Saviour', 'the Bible', even 'church'. My suggestion is urgent exploration of Jesus as Healer (rather than Saviour), the sacred writings (rather than the Bible), and 'spirituality centres' (rather than 'church'). Improvements welcomed in the comments.

If there is one thing the cultural hegemony of the West is responsible for it is the immense hurt created by tolerance even encouragement of breakdown of familial relationships. But is it clear to the average shopper in our Malls or to fans at football matches that our churches are places of healing for the hurts being buried through shopping and obsession with sport? 

Thirdly, what is happening in our worship services? Are they Jesus-shaped? As an Anglican with deep love for liturgy I see within our liturgies, their underlying dynamics properly understood, great potential to present Jesus to all who gather to find him. But I also see strange obsessions with form, including with robes, ceremonies and over elaborate ritual movements. Are these constructions of barriers to meeting Jesus inside the church?

That is enough for now.