Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Times They Are A Changing

This news may or may not be a surprise to Christchurch conservative evangelicals ... or anyone else reading here, for that matter.

PS Certain clergy of my acquaintance, once loud in their objections to using this place as a venue for our annual clergy conferences on the grounds, ahem, ahem, that alcohol may not be consumed there, so no happy hour for Anglican clerics, might also be wondering whether any other policies of ecclesiastical note have been or are about to be changed :)

Bishop Jim White, Way Forward Working Group member, Interviewed re Report

H/T to Richard Bonifant, you can see an interview with Bishop Jim White talking about the process our church is engaged in.

ADDED LATER: For another bishop speaking with conviction see here. (H/T Andrei, commenter at ADU).

I lost flag referendum, why not have a go at losing debate on fixing date of Easter?

Ian Paul has an excellent post on Fixing the Date of Easter.

I think it should be fixed, but on this proviso, that fixing the date of Easter is part of a uniting of all Christian traditions in sharing one date for Easter. Put in the negative, I don't agree with fixing the date of Easter if it introduces a further division within global Christianity. Fix to unite and unite to fix!

And I agree with Ian, if we (Westerners, at least) do not fix it we stand more chance of moving out of sync with our culture than if we persist in asking our culture to adapt to our (interesting, actually out of sorts with other Christians and with Jews) lunatic calculations. Did I say "lunatic"? You know I know it is more lunarly and solarly complicated than that!

However I am concerned about my recent history of backing losing causes (cf. NZ flag) :)

What do you think?

(Incidentally, Ian Paul cites an opponent of fixing, Nick Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, for whom one argument is mentioned thus:

"Holtam comments:
It seems to me a curiously unexamined piece of cultural accommodation that would separate the timing of Easter from Passover and detach us from our Jewish roots."

Now what other issue could there possibly be in the life of our Communion in which some Anglicans are concerned about detaching ourselves from our Jewish roots. Oh, wait, on THAT issue, +Nick Holtam is well known as supporting detaching ourselves from our Jewish foundations. However I will only take comments on this post which comment on the date of Easter)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What is historical core of the resurrection?

Each Easter I notice myself thinking and re-thinking the biblical accounts of the resurrection of our Lord. Some previous thoughts have been posted here but I am not too concerned to re-visit them or re-direct you back to them.

What I have noticed in my thinking this year is that I am shifting from an underlying quest of the kind, "the different gospel/Acts/1 Corinthians accounts are surely harmonizable but I can't quite put all the jigsaw pieces together" to another quest, represented by two questions percolating in my mind:

"What history is basic to the accounts?" and, with particular reference to the gospels, "Why shouldn't the resurrection accounts be as different as other aspects of each of the gospels are different to the others?"

What history is basic to the accounts?

If we understand history in terms of "what happened that people experienced and then reported to each other with general agreement forming out of that reporting process that X happened rather than Y happened" then two things happened in connection with Christian belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. These two things, I suggest, are the historical core of the resurrection, the history which is basic to the accounts given in the gospels/Acts/1 Corinthians.

(1) The tomb in which Jesus was buried was discovered to be empty of his body (so all four gospel accounts; while not affirmed by accounts in Acts and in 1 Corinthians 15, the empty tomb is not denied by them).

(2) Various followers of Jesus had experiences of appearances of Jesus, subsequent to the discovery of the empty tomb (so all four gospels, Acts and 1 Corinthians 15, with the last account giving the fullest list of such appearances).

Only (1) was potentially affirmable as a matter of public record since (2) was restricted to the circle of Jesus' followers (note Acts 10:41 which explicitly affirms the appearances were "not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses").

We do not (as far as I am aware) have any public record of the tomb being confirmed as empty. Conversely we have no clear record of the tomb of Jesus with his body decaying in it continuing as a place of visitation and pilgrimage.

Differences in the gospel accounts?

Readers here may well have thought of the following matters many years ago but this year there are some aspects of accounting for the differences which feel new to me.

Mark: Mark's abrupt ending (assuming 16:8 is the last verse of the gospel by Mark, other verses beyond that being later additions) is a worry, giving us only the empty tomb, no actual appearance of Jesus, only the anticipation of one. But, my new thought for this year, Mark begins abruptly too. No nativity story like Matthew and Luke, no prologue from before time began like John. Jesus simply appears as an adult on a mission. I (we?) should have no expectation of Mark offering more of an ending than he does.

I assume (with most gospel scholars) that Matthew and Luke are influenced by Mark.

Matthew: An elaborate, colourful account of events at the tomb (earthquake, descending angel, whose appearance is like lightning/snow, guards are all mentioned uniquely here) to which is added a unique story designed to refute a circulating rumour that Jesus' body was stolen, with just two appearances of Jesus, the first as the women leave the tomb and the second when Jesus is in Galilee with the Eleven and he commissions them for world mission.

This "world vision" ending coheres with Matthew's beginning inasmuch as that beginning, including the initial genealogy (1:1-18) and the visitation of the Magi (2:1-12), sets out indications that Jesus was born to be Saviour of the whole world, of the Jews and the Gentiles.

Luke: An elaborate account is given of both Jesus' birth and Jesus' resurrection, each differing in significant ways from Matthew's accounts. Luke is interested in the God at work in Israel's history when he tells us about the conception/birth of John the Baptist and the conception/birth of Jesus as continuation of that work. At the end of his gospel, he continues this interest as he gives us two occasions in which the risen Jesus himself leads disciples in Bible studies which reveal that what has happened is the fulfilment of what had already been written in the scriptures of Israel.

With respect to stories of the empty tomb being discovered and of appearances of the risen Jesus being seen, Luke offers a degree of physicality not present in Matthew's account: Jesus invites his disciples to touch him, and he shares in food offered to him. Further, the Emmaus story, although primarily a story about understanding the scriptures as pointing to Jesus, gives a sense of Jesus' appearances not only involving brief encounters, but also longer occasions, for this occasion involving a long walk must have been of more than an hour's duration.

But Luke is not above twisting whatever he has gleaned from Mark and other (oral?) sources: there is no hint of Jesus' appearing in Galilee, all appearances of Jesus are confined to Jerusalem and its surrounds. The obvious reason is that Luke wants to start his sequel in Jerusalem and so Jesus departs from his disciples from Jerusalem. (As a matter of discovering historical facts about the resurrection, one of the clearest contradictions at the level of"fact" in the New Testament is the cessation of appearances: Mark, Matthew and John point to Galilee as that place; Luke is as clear as can be, Jerusalem was that place. Only a narratival understanding enables us to move past the apparent geographical contradiction to understand what the gospel writers are trying to communicate through the way they tell the story.)

John: Just as John at his beginning is very different to Matthew, Mark and Luke, so also at his ending. But at that beginning he does talk about the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and so at the ending, like the other canonical gospels the tomb is empty. Other similarities are: Jesus appears to a woman (cf. Matthew's women) and to the disciples, both in Jerusalem (cf. Luke) and in Galilee (cf. Matthew and the anticipation in Mark). There is an emphasis on the physicality of Jesus (the famous story of Thomas, the breakfast BBQ; cf. Luke). Pretty much everything else is different, including a very different commission compared to Matthew and Luke (although Matthew and Luke have differences in wording, both emphasise a worldwide gospel commission), as well as some sense that future rivalries in the church are being sorted out in the dialogue at the end of the beach BBQ scene in John 21).

But what John is doing in John 20 and 21 is similar to Matthew and Luke in this sense: all work from the basic resurrection facts (empty tomb, appearances of Jesus) to offer a conclusion to the earthly story of Jesus which is (a) coherent with the general theological, christological or missiological interests of their respective gospels; and (b) alert to apologetic or ecclesiastical issues which might be settled with a deft story to two (countering rumours that the body was stolen, responding to concerns that Jesus' resurrection body was merely an apparition, clarifying the significance of both the Petrine and Johannine churches).

That is

In my reflections this year I find myself acknowledging more readily the reality of the differences in the various accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, lessening a concern to harmonise those differences, emphasising the differences at the beginnings of each gospel as an important explanation for why the endings are different while appreciating again the basic facts of the resurrection. The tomb was empty. Christ appeared to many disciples.

Alternatively you might like to listen to Helen Jacobi, Vicar of St Matthew's in the City, Auckland, in a wide-ranging interview, but including some reflections on the resurrection. Spoiler: a bob each way on the resurrection!

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Way Forward: Section 6: A Critical Review (5)

[The full report is accessible here. The section under discussion in this post is accessible here. In these posts I am aiming to work my way forward through A Way Forward report, posting on a new section each Monday in the weeks before General Synod, May 2016. Pagination refers to the PDF version of the report.]

Added Note

In a comment below Malcolm Falloon brilliantly sums up the effect of this section in respect of finding A Way Forward viz a viz the legalities of making change in our church:

"the report pictures our church as being like a train at a junction of two tracks. No one can understand the lights, but the very best minds on board recommend that the points be shifted and for the train to take the fast track. After all, if we meet a train coming the other way, we can always back up!"


Section 6 is headed "Of "The Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ." It concerns "the question of whether General Synod / te Hinota Whanui may lawfully adopt the proposals contained in this report." It is found on pp. 19 and 20 of the report.

It must have been a difficult section to write because it acknowledges in its preamble that what it proposes may turn out to not be lawful, and it notes that "The members of the working group are not themselves in agreement over the question of whether a rite of blessing of same-sex relationships, which would then be regarded as rightly-ordered, would represent a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ." Further, precisely on the matter of "Doctrine of Christ", the report acknowledges that we as a church do not understand what this means!

Nevertheless none of this means that this section is full of problems.

First, this section correctly sets out what Te Pouhere (the constitution) says in respect of what General Synod is "bound to hold and maintain." Secondly, this section correctly notes that "change to the formularies is permitted" providing no such change results in a departure "from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ as defined in the Fundamental Provisions of this Constitution." Thirdly, I see no difficulty in affirming that the "Sacraments of Christ are Baptism and Holy Communion alone. Marriage is expressly excluded as a sacrament by articles 25 and 39 of the Articles of Religion. The addition of a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationship would not therefore have sacramental import." Thus, fourthly, this section (from bottom third of p. 19 onwards) rightly focuses on what "Doctrine of Christ" means and how the report might impact on our understanding of that and the legal consequences and constraints associated with that understanding.

Doctrine of Christ

The report appropriately asks the question what "Doctrine of Christ" means in  respect of options such as "a particular body of teaching about Christ, or Jesus' own particular teaching;" or "core matters of faith in Christ as they bear upon the matter of redemption accomplished by and in him;" or "all that we read in scripture regarding the whole of life as lived to God in faithful response to the gospel."

The report then reflects on the fuller phrase from Te Pouhere, "the Doctrine of Christ ... as the Lord has commanded in Holy Scripture." Does this means "that every part of scripture is "the Doctrine of Christ"? Or, does it means "that reading the Doctrine of Christ through the formularies will lead us to understand that Doctrine as involving the essential matters that are dealt with in the Creeds, for example, and that matters outside of these are not covered by Te Pouhere in referring to the Doctrine of Christ"?

It is not rocket science, if some (many?) readers detect a lean in the trajectory of the doctrinal rocket towards placing "blessing of same-sex relationships" as "outside" the Doctrine of Christ. But can this be done?

Quite oddly, in my view, the report misses one of the more obvious points our church has already made about the Doctrine of Christ, a point already cited at the beginning of the section but mostly ignored thereafter.

At the beginning of the section the citation from Te Pouhere talks about "the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ ... and as explained in [my bold] The Book of Common Prayer 1662, Te Rawiri, The Form and Manner of Making Ordaining, and Consecrating Bishops, Priest and Deacons, The Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa." In other words, the Doctrine of Christ does not boil down to the creeds, nor is it solely about "core matters of faith in Christ as they bear upon the matter of redemption." Nor any other narrow slice of theology. Rather, the Doctrine of Christ, found explained in prayer books, ordinals and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, is necessarily "all that we read in scripture regarding the whole of life as lived to God in faithful response to the gospel" and "every part of scripture."

Putting that in words relevant to the issue at hand,  placing the words of a blessing service into a formulary (i.e. an order of service expressing our understanding of what we believe) must not contradict "the Doctrine of Christ" with that doctrine understood as already explained in the documents listed in the above paragraph. 

Putting that another way, if those pursuing the adoption of a formulary for the blessing of a same-sex relationship wish to have it (a) adopted by the twice round process, and (b) either not be appealed against or, if appealed, fend off such challenge, then the arguments in pursuit of adoption at worst need to demonstrate non-contradiction of the Doctrine of Christ and at best need to demonstrate coherency and congruence with the Doctrine of Christ.

Unfortunately for those who want a neat, tidy, efficient way forward towards change, without fear of  failure of adoption in the twice round process and with hope of success in the event of an appeal to tribunal, that is, the neatness of GS declaring that (i) Doctrine of Christ = creeds, (ii) marriage and such are not creedal, this is very unlikely to happen. General Synod - like the working group itself - is very likely to get tangled up in a debate over what the Doctrine of Christ means. It is difficult to see either the theologians or the lawyers (professional or amateur!!) or both among GS members agreeing that "the Doctrine of Christ" only applies to some formularies and not to all .

The Church of England Empowering Act 1928

On p.20 Section 6 of the report we move into some "what ifs" re the impact of the Church of England Empowering Act 1928 which specifies an "appeal period ... of up to one year from the date of the adoption by General Synod / te Hinota Whanui of any new formulary" (i.e. after proposed at a GS, approved by a majority of dioceses / amorangi, and returned to GS for final adoption).

I suggest the report makes two observations which are worth making and should be followed up by General Synod / te Hinota Whanui at an appropriate time, that is, with a move to request parliament to amend the Act, if not abolish the Act (with appropriate changes to our General Synod governed processes of legislation and appeal. (The midst of the current debate and process of decision-making is not that time). Those two observations are that the language of the Act is about "the Dioceses of New Zealand" and thus the Act does not reflect our Three Tikanga structure in respect of how we make decisions, and in respect of a possible Tribunal, the Act means the only bishops able to be on the tribunal would be our pakeha bishops.

But there is a further observation which could be made in respect of the 1928 Act and the mutual ties between it and Te Pouhere. As Bosco Peters' at Liturgy has been pointing out (in various posts, but see this one in particular and follow up links within it), over a period of years our church appeared, liturgically, to know not what it was doing. That is, we got confused about which services were which: experimental services, experimental services authorised for use beyond any reasonable period of experimentation, formularies, and "who" could authorise services. Effectively, we have recently clarified that authorised services must be formularies. Thus it appears sure that the 1928 Act does not provide for the possibility that there might be two classes of authorised services: 
- those which are formularies, agreed to by due process, and that due process required because formularies express what we believe as a church;
- those which are authorised for use (e.g authorised by a bishop, by a tikanga; for use (say) in special circumstances, on certain occasions only) which would not necessarily express what we all believe but which would express what some believe and by consent of the church were permitted to believe and express in such authorised prayers.*

Now, on closer inspection and detailed argument, we might not want to be a church with two such classes of services. But my point is, we cannot even have the argument with ourselves because we are constrained by the 1928 Act.

Has that Act served its purpose?

And, to those who might (reasonably) say, 

"Peter, the Act may be the only thing which stands between our church remaining orthodox and our church deviating from orthodoxy," 

I say, 

"On matters of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy versus heresy, we should not be relying in the 21st century on civil legislation represented by the 1928 Act in a country which has moved a very, very long way from the vestigial sense of an established church brought over from England to NZ in the first half of the 19th century."

*The proposal of the report, that on a diocese by diocese basis we might choose whether or not to implement and authorise for use the proposed new formulary, is a tacit acknowledgement that we might like to be a church with two "classes" of services: formularies and non-formularies-but-authorised-for-use.

Thus the dilemma at the heart of the report for many licensed office-holders of our church is that the 1928 Act forces A Way Forward to propose formularies which necessarily entail church agreement that "this is what we believe" when clearly we are not a church willing and ready to make that agreement (with some helpful degree of unity) and offers an "opt out"/"opt in" approach solely by way of diocesan choice. 

My personal assessment of many licensed office-holders in our church, where "many" is more than "conservative evangelicals", is that our preference would be that we do not attempt to secure agreement re formularies, rather we secure agreement re services authorised for use but which do not make pretence that 'this is what this church believes." 

By going the way of formularies, A Way Forward effectively proposes a crisis of conscience for many existing and future licensees of this church.

Conclusion re Section 6

Some important observations and points are made in this section. But the discussion of the key point of the section, concerning the Doctrine of Christ, seems to overlook an important observation about what our church already understands about the Doctrine of Christ.

The report rightly acknowledges the looming presence of the 1928 Act over the situation, observes some difficulties with this Act, but does not push on to observe other difficulties this Act entails in the life of ACANZP.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Accordance at Easter

Twice in the space of two verses, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul uses the phrase "in accordance with the scriptures."

"that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (15:3)

"and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (15:4).

We can, of course, head off in a wonderful and (it may turn out, re the resurrection) painstaking search for the texts which signify what Paul means by "in accordance" with the scriptures of Israel. As we do so we might speculate whether Paul was talking in a general sense about Christian reading of the scriptures of Israel or in a particular sense about circulating lists of texts which Christians were treasuring as underpinning their understanding of Christ's death and resurrection.

More briefly, we can note the confidence Paul expresses, likely reciting a familiar creedal statement, that Christ's dying "for our sins" and Christ's resurrection were anticipated in the scriptures. There was presumably a point before his conversion (Acts 9) where he viewed Jesus' death as an unfortunate early end to life and doubted if not denied reports received about Jesus' followers which claimed he had risen from the dead. Now Paul re-reads familiar scriptures and finds some make sense of the significance of Jesus' death, that death being "for our sins" and other texts forecast Jesus' resurrection.

Combining an understanding that Jesus was always going to be raised from the dead with the evidence of his appearances to his followers and to his family (15:5-7), Paul is in no doubt that when Jesus "appeared also to me" (15:8), the appearance was not an apparition of a man now dead and buried but an appearance of one who once was dead and once was buried but now has been raised to life.

That confidence that Jesus had been raised from the dead then drives forward the rest of 1 Corinthians 15 as Paul battles some specific opposition over the idea of "resurrection of the dead," an idea which is being denied by some of the Corinthians.

Paul places a theological "lock" on the connection between Jesus' death and Jesus' resurrection:

"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." (15:17)

If Christ was not raised from the dead then he did not die for our sins.

The resurrection is not an "add on extra" or a "bonus" to the story of Jesus living for God and dying a death which demonstrated his faithful obedience to God's will for his life. The resurrection is the sign (we might say THE SIGN) that Jesus was unique among many faithful Jews of his day.

He was in a class of his own as a faithful Jew: the Anointed of God, the suffering servant who would suffer for the sake of the world, the Paschal Lamb of God who would die for the redemption of the world. Deny the resurrection and Jesus is not only dead and still buried but his death is without import or effect on the lives of any other people.

Conversely, if we accept the Christian proclamation that Jesus was raised from the dead, then we cannot deny that he died for our sins. When we rejoice in the resurrection we should not only rejoice that Jesus overcame death, we should rejoice that our sins are forgiven.

In this way, new creation comes into being, with Christ as the new Adam (Primal Human) of the new creation (1 Corinthians 15:21-22): sins forgiven means the Fall is undone, death gives way to resurrection, sin gives way to righteousness, (evil) dominion/power/authority is abolished (15:21-28). The past is healed, the present anticipates the future, the future is the full harvest of which Christ is the firstfruits (15:23).

None of this is communicated by the empty tomb or the appearances (as bare facts of history); all of it flows from understanding them "in accordance with" the scriptures of Israel through the Holy Spirit that simultaneously births the new scriptures of the church as Paul and others write that understanding down.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Reading for the Weekend

I may add to the following links to articles which may be of Anglican interest at this time (e.g. in the run up to ACC at Lusaka, as well as Easter):


We might not expect the Communist Party of Britain to publish a thoughtful article about the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, but they have, and readable it is too.

What happened on the cross? Atonement, that's what. But what is atonement? Josh Taylor guides us to the considered thinking of a group of theologians on a bunch of theories.

Oh, and for those concerned about my feelings about the loss of the referendum on changing the NZ flag, or just generally interested, then Steve Braunias, as per usual, has a great Diary post.

ADDED ON GOOD FRIDAY (though not necessarily related to Good Friday)

A report from a Diocese of South Carolina taskforce re affiliation for that diocese. Spoiler Alert: here is a key sentence, " Because GAFCON and the Global South recognize the ACNA, our best opportunity to have an influence in the wider Anglican Communion is also from within this province."

A review of the film Risen - posted by Bosco Peters

A superb poem by NZ's greatest poet (and greatest Christian poet), posted by Bishop Kelvin Wright - and this does have a lot to do with Good Friday!

Catholicity and Covenant reminds us of Cranmer's superb rendering of an ancient Good Friday collect:

Giles Fraser has written a Good Friday column both poignant and provocative.


TEC PB Easter Message

++Peter Jensen on Communion

Wesley Hill on True Fulfilment

Thinking Anglicans Links re Lusaka (noting especially links to a letter by ++Justin to boycotting churches and response by ++Eliud of Kenya)

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Way Forward: Section 5: A Critical Review (4)

[The full report is accessible here. The section under discussion in this post is accessible here. In these posts I am aiming to work my way forward through A Way Forward report, posting on a new section each Monday. Pagination refers to the PDF version of the report.]

I continue this series in the belief that the unexamined report is not worth having. I am having some interesting conversations "off blog" as well as those in comments here and on Bosco Peters' Liturgy blog, especially in this thread. As a result of those conversations I want to acknowledge that at times my critique may not sufficiently acknowledge the constraints of the working group (e.g. constrained by Motion 30 to come up with a "process and structure" rather than do theological work), though I also maintain that when any such constrained report has sections with words like "theology" and "doctrine" in their titles, then theological work, no matter how concise, is being done.

Section Five - An Introductory Comment or two

This section is entitled, "An accompaniment to the proposed schedule" which means that it is an enlarged theological explanation of the "schedule" (i.e. explanatory comment/essay added to a canon in order to set the rule made in a theological framework) which is proposed for the proposed canon concerning blessing of civil marriages. Later, in Section 10, we get the actual proposed schedule. Thus there is a certain awkwardness in the placing of this section: it flows from the previous "theological" sections but it should be read just before or after Section 10!

In summary, as the section itself explains, "This section explains the schedule to the proposed canon permitting a liturgy to bless those who have entered a civil marriage." 

At precisely this point, however, we need to ask what the report means by "bless those who have entered a civil marriage." If the report means that civil marriage (different genders, same genders) is more or less theologically the same thing, then Section Five works quite well as an explanation for blessing civil marriages, not least because it seems to blur any lines of theological distinction between blessing a same-gender civil marriage and blessing a different-gender civil marriage. 

But if the report means that civil marriages bear some theological distinction between same-gender marriages and different-gender marriages then this section does not maintain that distinction. Why might we think that, at least in one or two places, the report does make such a theological distinction?

(1) The very fact that the report and its recommendations provides for dioceses to choose not to bless same-gender civil marriages implies that it understands that some in our church make such a distinction.

(2) p. 9 says "The group's proposal (in line with its commission) to propose a service of blessing of same-sex relationships does not (in the view of the majority of the members) impact the current doctrine of marriage. It is accepted that the blessing of a relationship has some similarities with the rites of marriage, but even as the two are alike in many ways they are not the same. Neither would a doctrine of same-sex relationships be the same as the doctrine of marriage."

(3) p. 12 acknowledges that what is proposed by the report and its recommendations "will fall short of some Christian same-sex couples' hopes because they cannot be married 'in church'."

One difficulty associated with the question of the report's understanding of "civil marriage" is what that understanding means for "marriage." Repeatedly the report takes pains to line up with Motion 30 and assert that no change to the "traditional" doctrine of marriage is envisaged, but the report envisages a change to (at least) our understanding of civil marriage between a man and a woman. Formerly such a relationship was considered, by the traditional doctrine of marriage to be a valid (in eyes of God as well as in eyes of the state) marriage resulting in a rightly ordered relationship with respect to ordination/appointment. The underlying theological point being (H/T Malcolm Falloon and comments made at ADU recently) that in marriage the couple marry each other: the priest/bishop does not marry the couple. If the recommendations of the report are accepted then this "traditional" acceptance of the validity of civil marriage will no longer be the case. Thus (despite, I am sure, the best intentions of the working group) our doctrine of marriage is changed by this report and its recommendations, if they are accepted.

So, I acknowledge, in what follows, that I am not overly enthusiastic about what I read in Section Five because I find it confusing, relative to what the report's presupposed view on marriage is. However I am but one cog in the many wheels of our church. The question is whether multiple readers of this section are enthusiastic about it. Is it clear? Is it persuasive? I look forward to your comments.

Outline of Section Five

Preamble (p. 13)
1. Love (pp. 13-14)
2. Union (pp. 14-15)
3. Covenant (pp. 15-16)
4. Gift (pp. 16-17)
5. Household (pp. 17-18)

Causa Brevitatis

I do not have all the time in the world, so I am not hereafter engaging in a comprehensive critique. Your comments may well fill out the missing bits.


Two key points:
a. There should be teaching about "blessing of marriages that were not conducted by a Christian minister". Yes! 
b. The preamble clearly states what is going on re such blessings in the life of the church: "... and who have not received a formal pronouncement of the blessing of the God we know in Trinity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Church offers and announces that blessing for five primary reasons:"

But here is a great difficulty. Precisely in the preamble the report refrains from distinguishing between the blessing of a civil marriage between a man and a woman and the blessing of a civil marriage between two people of the same sex. But the former is not a matter of controversy in the life of the church. The latter is a matter of controversy in the life of the church. 

On the one hand (a point impressed on me in one of my conversations this past week) the working group was not tasked with sorting this controversy by going back to first theological principles etc on the matter. 

On the other hand, because the matter is controversial, a report proposing a schedule (i.e. a theological explanation) and an explanation of the schedule could be expected to offer something in either the explanation or the schedule or both which offers some sense of how "the blessing of the God we know as Trinity" can be offered for that which some/many in "the Church" (let alone many other churches) do not think can be offered. I do not find much of the latter in this section. But there are some signs!

1. Love (pp. 13-14)

I find this section odd in places. I have no idea, for instance, why this section takes time out of explaining love as a reason for God blessing a relationship to make a teaching point about the difference between "self-giving" and "self-sacrifice." The point of this section is not to teach what love is but to teach why God blesses a loving relationship. A pertinent but overlooked text is 1 John 4:16. I suggest a stronger case could have been made in this section for God blessing any civil marriage, because such a marriage demonstrates the willing intent of two people to be bound together in love for life. If there is any aspect of a same-sex relationship which any Christian of any persuasion could contemplate (especially on the basis of 1 John 4:16) God blessing, it is the (faithful, stable, permanent, lifelong) love between the two.

2. Union (pp. 14-15) Since my original posting a few hours ago I have decided to revise the "tone" of this section of my review in a more diplomatic direction. The substance of my critique is unchanged.

It is a challenge to give credit to this part of Section Five. 

A. I find it difficult to give credit here because in the present controversy it is a challenge to credit that:
- there is citation of certain scholars but not of others; 
- there is bold pronouncement without argument that "the Genesis texts are freighted with more weight than they were designed to bear" and "To go to them to discern what God's will for us in creation is always fraught."
- the bold pronouncements made about the Genesis texts are then followed by "However, we can recall that the problem in Genesis 2 ... and it was this that gave rise ...". Ironically, Genesis texts are made in the same paragraph to bear weight as God's will for creation is discerned.
- all this in a report studiously trying to avoid theological foundationalism!!!

B. The bottom paragraph on p. 14, governed alone in terms of scholarship by just one scholar, makes the controversial claim that despite Genesis 2 and its problem of aloneness being met by the solution of the creation of the "other" sex, "we can see that this desire looks beyond the surface of a binary, heteronormative world. It is expressed not in finding a partner of the opposite sex but a partner of the apposite sex." Oh, such a neat aphorism: "opposite ... apposite"! But this play on words, is it in fact supported by the text of Genesis 2? By what Jesus himself makes of Genesis 2? What scholarship - apart from Trible - underlines the aphoristic conclusion? What argued resolution of the controversy in scholarship over such a move is exhibited by the report?

Incidentally, none of my concerns are assuaged when, over the page, 15, the final paragraph cites Ephesian 5 as though it too is gender neutral.

In the end, the great weakness in the discussion on "union" here is that it avoids discussing the question of whether there is a distinction to be made between the union of male and female (union of difference) and between the union of male and male or female and female (union of sameness). 

If we say there is no distinction to be made, then what are we to make of talk of "bodily union" (as this part of Section Five) because that means we are talking about union which unites bodies as well as hearts and minds, and there are differences between uniting two sexually differentiated bodies and two that are sexually indifferent to each other. If we say there is a distinction to be made, then this part fo the report does not make it.

3. Covenant (pp. 15-16)

OK, please call me fussy, but this, a bit like the section on love, is somewhat odd to my logical tastes. Logical tastes: why distractingly sidetrack in the second paragraph into talk about "unequal power"? Why not start with and stick with the point further down the paragraph about God's covenants with God's people being exercises in grace (as all the covenants are, not just the new covenant of redemption)? The point of this explanation is about covenant as reason for God's blessing, not general teaching on the character of covenants. Thus the words towards the bottom of p. 15 represent a strong point about covenant: when we enter covenants as a sign of our mimetic constancy, one person to another, we offer something which is godly. 

4. Gift (pp. 16-17)

There is some marvellous writing in this section, inspired by the greatness of Rowan Williams' deep insight into "desire". I am not sure what it adds, however, to the sections on Love and Covenant. 

More importantly, it exalts "desire" in respect of loving relationships without anchoring "desire" to the ordering of relationships. When the report writes, "It also places desire not as some aspect of our lives that in order to be holy needs to be channelled toward some worthy instrumental purpose (for example, procreation), rather, our desire for each other can simply be for the joy and delight of each other and this is the divinely purposed end of desire", we can imagine a couple having an adulterous affair saying "Amen" (because their desire for each other is for the joy and delight of each other (and, presumably, takes great care to avoid complicating instrumental purpose such as procreation).

Again, the point can also be made, that the citations made in this section are loaded in one direction.

But, to end on a positive note, the sections on Love and Covenant potentially chart a plausible way forward to blessings of all civil marriages.

5. Household (pp. 17-18)

I just hate it when any part of the church, be it individual or group, writes about the Bible in a manner which belies plain aspects of reading the Bible. So the first paragraph here on p. 17 talks about Ephesians 5 as though it is gender-neutral when it speaks of marriage and household. Yeah, right!

I just find it a little odd when any part of the church, be it individual or group, writes one thing in one section and another thing in another section ... so in part 4 of this section we find eloquence about desire fulfilled, now in part 5 we find "parallels between the monastic life and the married life." Further, "We can speak of marriage as an ascetic vocation." Maybe. But the monk knowingly embraces a life in which particular desires are not going to be fulfilled and the engaged person embraces through marriage a life in which particular desires are going to be fulfilled. Yes, with respect to the Evdokimov citation, both forms of life are for sanctification. But, again, the logician in me says, What purpose is forwarded by this (arguable, controvertible) comparison between monasticism and marriage?

I also find, logically, that the shift in these paragraphs (over into the first on p. 18) is actually away from "household" and towards "discipleship." The two concepts are not necessarily the same. In fact, by the end of the section, we are talking "sanctification" rather than "household."

Then, at the top of p. 18, as highlighted here sometime back by Bryden Black, it is incredible that Pius XI's Encyclical On Christian Marriage is cited in support of the discipleship aspects of married life. No papal encyclical ever has endorsed, or implied by indirect hint endorsement, of any kind of same-sex partnership, let alone a blessed one. Why co-opt the encyclical in this present context? Yes, the citation is useful around what it claims is the "chief reason and purpose of matrimony" but even then, the larger point of the encyclical concerns marriage being open to procreation (in, apparently, direct opposition to the 1930 Lambeth Conference endorsing the use of contraception), so to excerpt this particular citation is to fail to honour the larger point of the encyclical. (Academically, the problem could be that the writer is citing the encyclical from another writer, Rogers, as indicated in footnote 29, and thus perhaps the encyclical has not actually been consulted ...).

So it is perhaps a picky point, but I am left wondering whether "Household" is an accurate title for this section which could even better been titled "Sanctification." 

Although the report does not provide a separate heading such as "Conclusion" for the final two (or possibly three) paragraphs on p. 18, I take these last two paragraphs to constitute ...

"the Conclusion to Section Five."

Perhaps rather than "critique" this section with its interesting moves re who is blessing what, and what "blessing" means re asking for as well as announcing God's blessing, let's leave this section for you to comment on, dear readers!

Does it make sense re "blessing"?

What does it mean to be "fully alive" to the glory of God?

(How would we know that?)

My overall conclusion

This is a patchy section. Good in parts, odd in parts, distracting in parts. Can we find the good here (perhaps in the parts on Love and on Covenant)? Can we agree on what it is that might constitute a theological basis for blessing same-sex civil marriages?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Twists and turns in post-modern Anglican life

Here is an Anglican narrative of our times: large parish splits over human sexuality, most of congregation leave for rented buildings, faithful remnant struggles on, daunted by costs of care of buildings and challenge of maintaining ministry.

Here is another Anglican narrative of our times, in this Taonga report.

Food for thought, is it not, especially for those of us tempted to think that in the first narrative, God is on one side and not another?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Jesus Rises from the Dead before Easter This Year

I know, the lectionary and the calendar tell us otherwise, but I can assure you that this year, Jesus rises from the dead before Easter Day.

I can also reveal that a hitherto suppressed fact of christology is about to be revealed.

Jesus is a Kiwi.

Shssh. Don't tell anyone.

The hidden scroll which tells us all is here.

See, nothing is hidden on the internet :)

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Way Forward: Section 4: A Critical Review (3)

[The full report is accessible here. The section under discussion in this post is accessible here. In these posts I am aiming to work my way forward through A Way Forward report, posting on a new section each Monday. Pagination refers to the PDF version of the report.]

What am I trying to achieve with a critical review of A Way Forward report? 

My goal here at ADU through these and other posts is that our church might hold together despite severe disagreement. That also is the goal of the report. My questions about the report therefore ask whether the report takes us to that goal or not. If the report does not get us there then I hope that my critical reviews yield some alternative pathway or pathways for consideration. This also is where my friend, colleague and fellow blogger Bosco Peters is heading with his own series of posts on the report (here, here), and notably with a specific suggestion for improvement on what has been proposed, here).

One of the key questions clarifying in my own mind, and for which I thank correspondents "off blog" as well as commenters here, is whether A Way Forward can be found which does not make dissenters in our church, especially does not make dissenters of those who otherwise believe on marriage and human sexuality what the vast majority of Christians (indeed, Anglicans) around the world believe. That is a most odd possibility for a church otherwise acclaiming itself to be orthodox in its understanding of the doctrine of Christ! But the difficulty of resolving these matters is not to be underestimated. Bowman Walton, commenting here a few days ago makes a vital point which motivates us to keep going forward towards resolution:

"And in a few years, ACANZP might stand rather tall for having taken on a tough problem and soldiered on through a murky report and contentious synods, general and diocesan, to a centrist solution that some may criticise but none can improve upon"

Let's see where Section Four of the report takes us this week ...

Section Four is titled "The Theology of ordination and of marriage." It consists of:
- Introduction (9)
- Ordination (9)
- The theology of marriage (9-10)
- The doctrine of marriage (10-11)
- Pastoral Sensitivity (11-12)

The Introduction distinguishes between "the Church's theology of ordination and of marriage, and the statements in Te Pouhere [Constitution], the Formularies [authorised services], and the Canons [rules] which collectively express the Church's doctrine." [italics as given in report]. It then goes on to point out the obvious re theology: it has been changing, it is varied and "no single theological position emerging from these influences could be held to be that of the whole Church, and certainly not belonging to the whole Anglican Communion." It then makes an observation which is currently irrelevant to life in ACANZP (re litigation, none is happening) and an observation which is absolutely relevant to this season in our life: "it is doctrine to which licensed Anglicans register their assent."

The implication seems to be that we need to find a way for assent to doctrine to be able to be given by those who cannot assent to possible change in doctrine. But what does not seem to be addressed is how diverse theologies with none "emerging" to transcend other viewpoints would lead to a change in doctrine! Doctrine on this account is what the church as a whole agrees to (prior to requiring assent to it): so why is there not a reflection on how theology becomes doctrine?

Paragraph on Ordination: rightly this paragraph notes that the general standard re relationships of prospective clergy should not be changed, the standard of "rightly ordered" relationships. Also rightly, in my view, the report proposes that the church should not agree to formally bless a relationship between two people and not count that relationship as "rightly ordered." But that is about all that is right with this paragraph!

Here are my critical questions about the remainder of the paragraph, noting that it jumps to what is proposed without offering explanation of why the proposals are being made.

Q1: In the end, is the report making a change to "the Church's doctrine of marriage" or not?

The consistent wording of the report is that no change is being made (e.g. the next paragraph, at the bottom of p. 9), but, in fact, it does make a change because it offers a new understanding of the incompleteness of a civil marriage between a man and a woman, and it offers an implicit view on the church's evaluation on the status of a civil marriage between two people of the same gender. I sense anecdotally that people are responding to the claim of the report to make no change re doctrine of marriage in that time-honoured and theologically profound declaration of St. Tui the Billboard, "Yeah, right!" There is more to say about this as it comes up again in the report.

Q2: Is allowing Dioceses/Hui Amorangi the choice as to who is "rightly ordered" concomitantly with a choice not to "adopt a rite" "consistent with Anglican ecclesiology and our current doctrine of ordination which vests considerable discretion in Bishops"?

Now, this question of Diocesan choice comes up repeatedly through the report, so this next comment is not my last word on the matter. 

Comment: it is actually a "big deal" in Anglican ecclesiology that Dioceses or hui amorangi in ACANZP might decide to adopt a rite or not, otherwise approved by General Synod. For instance, such power to choose diocese-by-diocese is one of the critical distinctions between the ecclesiology of the Australian Anglican church and the ecclesiology of our church (as I understand these things). But we are not the Australian church! That Diocese-by-Diocese choice is a novelty. There is no existing rite of our church which dioceses and hui amorangi are permitted to choose whether they authorise it or not.

Perhaps this is the way forward, but if it is, then could the report please speak more accurately: such Diocese-by-Diocese choice is not consistent with the ecclesiology of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, it is a new step.

The report is on safer ground when it talks about the existing discretion of Bishops when it comes to ordination, but is it accurate when it uses the word "considerable"? After all, the report is trying to overcome an aspect of the bishops' discretion which is not "considerable" because their discretion does not extend to idiosyncratically determining what "chaste" means!

Q3: Why is there no explanation of the focus on civil marriage in the proposed expanded definition of rightly-ordered relationships?

I can understand that the church should address the question of status of civil married same sex couples because that is a change to our society which, whether we agree with it or not, is a change and raises a question or three about our response. Thus, at the least, expanding the definition of rightly-ordered relationships does mean saying whether or not those who are civilly married can be included in that expanded definition. It is also appropriate, potentially, for any report proposing an expanded definition to also propose associated conditions (such as here, that the civil marriage be blessed by the church). 

But what is not made clear is why "civil marriage" should be focused on in the way the report proposes. If (as we find later in the report) the civil marriage of two people in a same sex relationship is not deemed to be a "church marriage" (even after blessing in church), we can ask the question whether there could be other ways of coming to church in a covenanted relationship for a blessing, for example, in a civil union or in a legally contracted partnership for life. But at this stage at least, no explanation is given for exclusively focusing on civil marriage in an expanded definition of "rightly ordered" relationships. Without that explanation is difficulty going to arise, for example, if an ordained person, considered to be in a "rightly ordered" relationship in another Anglican jurisdiction (but not otherwise "civilly married"), applies for a position in our church? Is this clergyperson and partner going to need to go through a civil marriage for the sake of an appointment in our church?

The theology of marriage section, pp. 9-10

The first part of this section, at the bottom of page 9, partly tells us that the working group had a commission not to change the "traditional doctrine of marriage" and thus "there is no change to the existing formularies." 

But it also in part tells us that "The group's proposal (in line with its commission) to propose a service for the blessing of same-sex relationships does not (in the view of the majority of the members) impact the current doctrine of marriage."

At this point the report and our church is in a certain kind of difficulty: it has not come to a common mind on a proposal that our church, ideally, would like to come to a common mind on. Can we yet get there? How will we get there is a working group of eminent minds of our church cannot get there?

However it is possible that the last two sentences do express a common mind of the working group:

"It is accepted that the blessing of a relationship has some similarities ... in many ways they are not the same. Neither would a doctrine of same-sex relationships be the same as the doctrine of marriage."

It would be helpful, even in a brief outline of theology within a report which is obviously not devoted to providing a comprehensive theology, to have a sentence or two which clarified what the differences are. The similarities are described in the remainder of this section, at the top of page 10.

The two paragraphs at the top of page 10 are a mix of the agreeable (e.g. "it is reasonable to expect consonance between the virtues ..." and the question begging. When the report concludes with the following sentence, several questions are begged, answers at best hanging in the air, if nowhere to be seen:

"As the Spirit guides the Church into truth, the Christian tradition has discerned godliness in modes of friendship and community, but the discourse of marriage is leaned on (to some considerable extent) to inform a Christian understanding of the relatively new phenomenon of same-sex relationships."

I suggest that sentence begs these questions be explored and discussed:
- what is the nature of "truth" that the Spirit guides the Church into? (A specific related question is whether the Spirit guides the (Anglican) Church into truth which is contrary to Scripture (see Article XX, cited at the foot of this piece).
- Why single out the Christian tradition as discerning godliness in modes of friendship and community? There is a theology of friendship and community in the Old Testament!
- On what basis is the claim made that same-sex relationships are "the relatively new phenomenon"? (See here for some links to same-sex marriage as a "relatively" ancient phenomenon!).

The doctrine of marriage pp. 10-11:

It is agreeable, and faithful to the Anglican tradition, to note as the report does at the beginning of this section that marriage is not a sacrament and certainly not a Sacrament of Christ but is described in our catechism as a "sacramental action."

The next few paragraphs strike me as odd (bottom of p. 10 and top of p. 11). They make an argument that the current ACANZP doctrine is "not of one voice with regard to marriage", expressed as it is in services old and new, that is, in services which assume (for instance) a wife to be will promise obedience to her husband and which assume the "mutuality and equality expected and celebrated in marriage today. But why do these paragraphs not talk about the multiple ways in which our doctrine does speak with one voice (e.g. marriage is instituted by God, between one man and one woman, intended for life)? By not doing so the thrust of the observations is towards impressing on readers that our doctrine is flexible. Indeed the report goes on to say,

"It is suggested that General Synod / Te Hinota Whanui consider whether the principle most important for the Church's conversations today is the spirit of accommodation already contained in church doctrine, as these examples demonstrate."

This is very one-sided towards the accommodation in the doctrine and simply leaves out the possibility that the doctrine also contains non-accommodating aspects. The report cannot envisage the possibility that the non-accommodating aspects might overrule the accommodating aspects when it comes to its next sentence,

"The addition of a further rite of blessing of a same-sex relationship might therefore be seen as congruent with the Church's established practice of accommodating previous understandings of holiness in intimate relationships, and retaining them alongside newer understandings as they emerge, despite the diversity of voices they represent."

That is, we can acknowledge the variance between BCP and NZPB without feeling any necessity to add a rite which concerns a couple who are not differentiated in gender because none of the variance implies any variance on the matter of gender make up of a couple in a blessed intimate relationship. The report at this point actually offers no specific ground on which the church might contemplate "adding" such a rite.

Pastoral Sensitivity (pp. 11-12):

It is quite right and proper that the report acknowledges the various ways and means our church has developed in order to express our pastoral sensitivity in changing times (e.g. people requesting marriage who are not baptised) and to changing circumstances for people (e.g. remarriage after divorce). Effectively this section raises the question, might the church also be pastorally sensitive to the requests of same-sex couples to have their relationships blessed by the church?

But does this section of the report take the church with it as it presents its thoughts? After all, the point of a report such as this is not to convince those already committed to blessing such relationships but to convince those uncertain about whether it is right to do so and to open up minds currently convinced that it is not right to do so to at least consider the possibility that this church might permit such blessings as a choice on the part of its ministers.

The following sentence is a mix of the possibly persuasive and the not yet persuasive!

"This pastoral provision is particularly apposite to the Church's current conversations about same-sex attracted persons, not least because the scriptural strictures against the possibility of divorce and remarriage (coming as they do from words attributed to Jesus) are arguably much stronger than those against same-sex relationships."

The possibly persuasive is that a church which thinks remarriage after divorce is permissible as a "pastorally sensitive" response to the complexities of marriage and differing causes of broken marriages might also think that supporting (sic) same-sex partnerships is also pastorally sensitive.

The not yet persuasive are the implications in the sentence that the differences in the strength of the respective strictures (i.e. against remarriage after divorce, against same-sex relationships) are resolved by "argument", that the exegetical challenges of both kinds of strictures are precisely the same, and that on same-sex relationships the "scriptural strictures" constitute no barrier to deducing that the church acclaim God's blessing on what otherwise appears prohibited. There is a significant minority if not a small majority (in my estimation) in our church who would need persuading on each of these matters.

The final paragraph on p. 11 is also not persuasive when it talks about "the doctrine of marriage implicit in both canons and formularies place the love and holiness of a couple's relationship as prior to absolute or literalistic traditional understandings of marriage."

All kinds of relationships exhibit "love and holiness" (noting this is undefined in this paragraph), from those within the forbidden laws of consanguinity to the polyamorous. No such relationships are now or in the future likely to be considered by our church as "prior to absolute or literalistic traditional understandings of marriage." Further, for many Anglican pastors, the influence of traditional understandings of marriage would lead them to look for more than "love and holiness" in a couple's relationship when they request marriage after one or both have been divorced: penitence, repentance, forgiveness and forgivingness might also be sought! The "feel" of this paragraph, in other words, is of a subtle redefining of what "counts" in a relationship, away from the constitutive aspects of a traditional understanding of marriage (between a man and a woman, intended for life, open to procreation, vowing fidelity) towards something much vaguer. "Love and holiness" is a phrase used with neither term defined, and certainly not the tough term "holiness" which raises significant questions about how the Scriptural strictures against same-sex relationships relate to understanding the holiness of such relationships.

P. 12 provides us with one last paragraph in this section of the report. It continues the failure of this section of the report to signal that it understands the need to reach out persuasively to those in our church who need persuading of what this section of the report assumes without argument. 

In the first sentence of the paragraph we find a move made from "manifests a number of virtues" to "thus, can be called a 'Holy Union'." Where does this phrase "Holy Union" come from? What grounds have been advanced in the report to this point to now offer this as a descriptor of same-sex relationships? None that I can see. (That is not to say that this is an inappropriate descriptor, but it is to say that in a church where many people think that same-sex partnerships are not "holy" and, indeed, may not be "unions" (if by that term we are talking about relationships in marital language), then a lot more work has to be done to ensure a favourable reception of such a descriptive phrase than popping it into a final paragraph.

The final sentences in the paragraph beg a question or two in another direction: why cannot same-sex couples who are required by the report/recommendations to be civilly married in order to receive the church's blessing not be married 'in church'? We look to the next section, Section 5, hopefully next Monday morning, for further light on what the report considers marriage to be and not to be. Till then ...

My conclusion to Section 4

As a church we need better than what we have been given in this Section. Particularly, if we are to move from "theology" to "doctrine" (at least in the sense of the former describing our many and varied discussions and the latter describing the theology we "fix" by putting it into words of rites and canons), we need greater substance, more complete discussions than we get here.

In particular, given that one outcome of the report/recommendations is that it could make many ordinary, orthodox Anglican office-holders into formal dissenters (if not catalyse formal schism), we need a lot, lot more said about what the doctrine of marriage and any new additional doctrine placed alongside it means.

Article XX

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.