Friday, March 24, 2017

More on the Sheffield Debacle

Excellent points made here at Episcopal Cafe re the recent controversy over the appointment of Philip North to be Bishop of Sheffield (subsequently withdrawn from by Philip North himself).

We can be all things to all Anglicans - sort of - but, actually, there are "limits to diversity", toleration within certain degrees only. As English Baptists and Dissenters once found out.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wellington Episcopal Movements

Announced yesterday, Ellie Sanderson will be the new Assistant Bishop of Wellington (consecration, 2 June 2017).

But note in the article mention of another "episcopal movement" in the Diocese, the move of Diocesan Bishop Justin Duckworth to Whanganui (northern part of the Diocese). (Ellie Sanderson will be based in Wellington city).

This represents a striking initiative on the part of a Diocesan Bishop, possibly unknown in the 20th and 21st centuries in our church, to move residence from the cathedral city to another location in order to advance the mission of the church.

We keep saying if we do things the same as we have always done before we will get the same results.

While I am not entirely convinced of the truth of that statement (because faithfulness over time can lead to eventual fruitfulness, cf another mantra, vicars need to stay in their parishes at least seven years to see numerical growth  ...), I suggest + Justin is to be applauded for initiating a new direction in his episcopal leadership of the Diocese.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I thank God for Thomas Cranmer

Yesterday was the day we Protestants remembered one of our favoured saints. No, wait, that doesn't read quite right.

Yesterday was the day we Catholic [Anglicans] remembered one of our favourite Protestant saints. Also, no, wait, that doesn't read quite right.

Let's try again. The middle way. Yesterday was the anniversary of Thomas Cranmer's death.

I thank God for Thomas Cranmer.

There are many things we can name about TC with thankfulness: his example, his humility, his ability, his survivability (until that fateful day).

But perhaps one thing stands out with Thomas Cranmer: he had a way with words. Wordsmith. Poet. Liturgist. He did things with words which few have done. Namely, written words which have been used, said, cited, repeated, and, still, in the face of updates and revisions, used, said, cited, and repeated for nearly 500 years.

Here is C. S. Lewis on Cranmer:

First he notes:
"Thomas Cranmer's great achievements as a translator are sunk in the corporate anonymity of the Book of Common Prayer." 
Secondly he observes his deficiency, apart from the Prayer Book achievement:
"the finished product, except in the Prayer Book, is so severely utilitarian that we might not have suspected any conscious concern for style in the author." 
Thirdly he highlights his clarity:
[Writing about his Homilies] "They aim neither at subtlety nor eloquence. Cranmer's only concern is to state an agreed doctrine with the least possibility of misunderstanding ... there is hardly a single sentence that leaves us in doubt of its meaning."
[pp. 194-95, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (OUP, 1954)]

So Cranmer gave expression to the newly reformed faith of the Church in England as it became the Church of England. Expression through liturgy. Exposition through doctrine. Memorable words, clear sentences.

What is our faith as Christians if not a matter of words, words which tell the truth, words which proclaim good news. Words which tell us both how we might live and what we might die for, without regret or being in vain.

Cranmer gave us Anglicans the words we needed to express our distinctive faith even as that faith was continuous with the faith received through Scripture and the ancient fathers.

I thank God for Thomas Cranmer!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Welby's John XXIII moment at Lambeth 2020? (C)

With two posts below in view, what is the greatest question Lambeth 2020 could address?

No. It is not whether Obama ordered a wiretap on Trump. It is not even whether Trump is like the Worst Ever Thing To Happen To The Western World.

It concerns God's Will In The Long Run

In the long run, however we interpret the long narrative arcing through Scripture, from Eden to Paradise, earth then heaven or heaven on earth (lookin' at you Tom Wright), this is God's will:

that God is in communion with God's people and that people is a single body of humanity.

There are no separate areas in heaven for Catholics and Protestants, for men and women, for the former masters and the former slaves. One people. One. That's the meaning of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5), ut unim sint (John 17), the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12), the communistic vision of the early church (Acts 2, 4) and the glorious vision of many tribes and languages gathered as one humanity in God's presence (Revelation 7).

Whether we focus on the prayer at the heart of the Lord's Prayer, Your Kingdom Come (OK, especially for some readers and for the CofE, Thy Kingdom Come) or on the kernel of the theology of Ephesians ("a plan ... to unite all things in [Christ]") there is one will of God in the long run: one communion, one people, one God.

That's why Trump is so dangerous: he is a divider not a uniter. That's why we are right to be wary of Putin: nationalism has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. That's why ISIS is simply evil: it maims and kills "the other."

So the greatest question Lambeth 2020 as our Anglican Vatican 2 for the 21st century could ask is this:

How can the Anglican Communion bear witness to the will of God for all humanity?

There are many supplementary questions but this overarching question is vital. The church does not exist for itself but for God and for God's will. And God's will is greater than the church, it is a will for all humanity. Our task in bearing witness to this will includes calling people to God, calling people to repent of all sin (for that distorts and disrupts God's plan), calling people to forgive and to be forgiven

Monday, March 20, 2017

Welby's John XXIII moment at Lambeth 2020? (B)

What if Anglicans had a conference the equivalent of the one Pope John XXIII called, known now as Vatican 2, which discussed a range of topics?

The topics, except That Topic, which involve our Anglican Communion response to the post-modern world.

Topics whose discussion involve strengthening the Anglican Communion.

That conference could be Lambeth 2018 2020, which ++Welby is in the process of designing/calling into being. Yes, yes, I know, we all want a laity/clergy/bishops conference of Anglicans. But can we not trust our bishops? You know, the ones we elected because we thought they were trustworthy!

What might we usefully discuss? Here be some thoughts. Some not original but sourced from commenter here (see beginning of yesterday's post). You make yours in the comments ... we might yet get a (C) post.

Caveat: I know that most if not all of what follows is "Western" in outlook whereas the Communion is "Western," "African," "Asian," "Oceania," etc.

Some pretty big picture stuff

What shifts in the tectonic plates of culture are taking place? What responses are appropriate for Christians, for churches, for Anglican churches? What responses are sustainable? Are we entering an epoch like the Dark Ages for which the "Benedict Option" us required?

Do we concentrate on making the church truly Christian in a post-Christian age, and worry less about evangelization/Christianization?

(Do we understand the tidal wave of hostile post-Christianity which is bearing down on the West? See, for instance, this article about the "Benedict Option" and the trickle down effects of post-Christianity in our academies. H/T B. Black.)

What is the gospel? What is "good news" for the world today?

Is its core point of connection with this post-Christian world "justification by faith"? (What was going on in 1517 which made that pertinent and is 2017 the same kind of era?)

Or is it John's Gospel's cri de coeur that abundant life is available through Christ?

Luke's emphasis, is that the better connection to our hurting world, that God loves the last, least and lost?

Perhaps Matthew comes into play: the blessed life lies inside God's kingdom, secured through recognition of our poverty of spirit and sustained through obedience to Jesus' ethics of the kingdom?

Wow, imagine an Anglican version of Vatican 2 which aggiornamentoed (updated) our understanding of the gospel, precisely by engaging with the aggiornamento of the NT documents themselves as they translated the gospel of Jesus for the new worlds into which the first Christians migrated!

Useful stuff

A strength of the Anglican way is the ways within its ways: evangelical, catholic, liberal, (in our case) Maori, Pasefika pathways. Woven together these strands make us stronger.

But what does it mean to be (say) a catholic Anglican in the 21st century (cue discussion of rites, lace, divides between "modern" and traditional catholics, etc)? How can catholic Anglicanism be the best catholic Anglicanism? What specific charisms does it offer the Communion?

I have a specific, tribal concern for Anglican evangelicalism. 1517/2017 Reformational celebrations highlight that concern for me which I put like this here: how can we evangelicals look forwards as much as we look backwards as we promote gospel, Scripture, doctrine and liturgy? An alternative way of saying this is this: if Luther and Cranmer (respectively)  catalysed the transformation of German and English medieval churches (weighted towards works rather than grace, guilt rather than peace, transubstantiation rather than transformation, Latin Scripture/liturgy), notably ending with churches speaking their own indigenous languages, who are our Luthers and Cranmers today? What is the work they need to do to translate the gospel into the language of post-Christianity?

To give a specific example: when both Luther and Cranmer highlighted the importance of justification by faith and not by works, their renewed understanding of the gospel scratched the itch of medieval Christianity which weighted achievement of salvation towards our works and away from Christ's work. That itch no longer exists in the world around us. (It can exist within the church!) What itch is it that 21st century Luthers and Cranmers need to discern in order for their new scratch to relate to it?

There are various "dittos" in this section so that we could do with a Vatican 2-style Anglican Lambeth Conference which looks at science, at social ethics and social justice.

A pretty big picture issue 

Then, surely, such a conference needs to re-look at what it means to be "Anglican Communion." Great idea in theory - the best idea. Interdependency. What is not to like about such ecclesiology? But why is it not proving a great idea in practice? What might we do to ensure that we are what we say we are? That the label on the tin matches the contents within?

Yes, that could mean renewed discussion of "the Covenant." But it could also mean looking at the current Instruments? Are they fit for purpose? Do we need an ABC who has less responsibilities within the CofE?

All of this is worth doing because of the biggest picture of them all ...

God's will in the long run

Let's leave that to tomorrow. Today's time remaining is pressing against today's To Do List!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Welby's John XXIII moment at Lambeth 2020? (A)

Let's join two notes together.

One is this report of the Lambeth Design Group meeting to plan Lambeth 2018 2020 [H/T R Smith]. The other is a suggestion from a commenter here.

The combo goes like this: what if Anglicans had a conference the equivalent of the one Pope John XXIII called, known now as Vatican 2, which discussed a range of topics?

(Except the You Know What topic which is consuming energy, time and affectionate bonds. Also out of bounds here during Lent 2017.)

Yes, even better could be a Pan Protestant Conference which offers a Protestant aggiornamento (you may need to look that word up! But it is a vital word for gospel minded people today.)

What topics, you ask?

The topics, except That Topic, which involve our Anglican Communion response to the post-modern world.

Topics whose discussion involve strengthening the Anglican Communion.

The Communion, let us never forget, which many Anglicans prior to our current woes thought the ace means of representing the best of "church" in the world: an interdependent communion of churches, not tied to a hierarchy like Rome, better bound together than the Eastern Orthodox churches, faithful to God's Being in Communion. A potent model for fissiparous Protestant churches to consider following. Worth strengthening!

I will develop thoughts on these topics further tomorrow. But suffice for today to say that I continue to be overwhelmed by the state of the world and underwhelmed by many (sincere, intentional, hard working) efforts to relate the gospel of Christ to that state.

Need, meet solution? Itch, meet scratch?

More tomorrow ...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Troubling reading

This Atlantic article entitled "America's Empty Church Problem" and "Breaking Faith" is sobering, highlighting both a turn in the fortunes of the West's Christian "powerhouse" in terms of Christianity's popularity within a great nation as well as consequences for "identity" and Trumpian politics.

It is quite a long read, but, hey, its Saturday ...

Friday, March 17, 2017

Death and Lent

In a sense death stalks Lent. We joke about giving up chocolate for Lent but Lent is a season precisely because Jesus gave up his life. At the end of Lent Jesus dies. And giving up chocolate is merely symbolic of the deeper giving up of our own lives to follow Christ. Only in giving up our lives now, the gospel says, in taking up our cross daily, are we ready for our own dying, whenever that may be.

I want to welcome Ron Hay's blog Castle Hill Musings to my ADU sidebar. Ron is an actively retired priest in our Diocese who lives at Castle Hill (when not actively helping out parishes elsewhere), as beautiful a part of Canterbury as you can find anywhere else in our fair province.

But his latest post is poignant, recounting the lives of two friends who have died. Many people in Christchurch/Canterbury knew Jeremy Clark and Tim Pidsley. I wasn't able to get to the memorial service for Jeremy but I am told over 300 people were present - remarkable for someone who has lived in england for a long time!

Praise God death does not have the last word over life! Ron's post ends with our Christian hope, the hope that comes because Lent gives way to Easter:

"With the loss of Jeremy and Tim, the world seems a poorer place. Yet the quality of their lives and the reality of their faith were such that I am convinced that death does not have the last word over them.  At Jeremy’s service, his father read the well-known passage from John 11 in which Jesus comes to Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus has died and says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). I’m a Christian because I believe that Christ, not death, has the final word over human destiny."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

And then there is this controversy

Let's move right away from particularly Anglican concerns for a day ...

One of the greatest stories told about Jesus is one we can be least clear and sure about whether it actually rests on historical fact, that Jesus had such a particular encounter with a woman, the so-called Pericopae Adulterae or Woman Caught in Adultery, most frequently published these days at John 7:53-8:11.

This post is NOT about sexual ethics (let's have a continuing Lenten Fast on those matters) but about the fascination of the quest to find out - if possible - just when and how the scribes of the NT manuscripts came upon and then included the Pericopae Adulterae in their scriptural activities.

On the one hand this quest is a quest of textual critical detectives, working from a limited range of manuscripts in which the PA occurs (and, for that matter, another range of manuscripts in which the PA is not found) and a certain amount of confusion as to who copied from whom and when that took place.

On the other hand, it is a matter of controversy at present as many modern publications of the Bible do, the PA in the same typeface as passages either side, with only a footnote to indicate that just maybe the PA is not original to any early copy of John's Gospel or for that matter any other manuscript of NT writings.

One tiny aspect of this quest is the focus of this Evangelical Textual Criticism post: how the PA became part of the Syriac NT.

Included in the post is this delightful picture:

The writing within the red line enclosure is described as: "Marginal note in CCM 64, f. 79r, (17th cent.) explaining the origin of the Pericope Adulterae."

I often think that the power of the PA as a story lies in the fact that whether it is original or not to the stories of Jesus told after his death and resurrection it makes us readers sure that this is what Jesus would have said if he had been confronted with such a challenge. It is a convincing story about Jesus and that, presumably, is why it has been incorporated into NT manuscripts over the centuries and continues to be published, even within the main body of the gospel of John and not (as some have done) as an appendix.

But is it a genuinel, original, historical part of the biography of Jesus?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Can the Body of Christ flourish on the table of controversy?

Whatever we make of the Philip North controversy in the CofE, it is spawning some deep reflections about the nature of the church and of the Anglican church in particular.

Here are two quite different reflections ...

That the deeper difficulty with Philip North's ministry is that he really believes what he believes and it is not particularly modernist!

That human flourishing in the church means we long for each other's theology to change and the question is whether the Anglican church to which we belong permits the conversation with each other to continue.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New bishops for our church

Unusually on Saturday, perhaps even a first ever for our church, we both consecrated a new bishop and nominated a person to become a new bishop.*

The consecration was of Don Tamihere and there is an excellent story with great photos here.

At the same time in Wellington their synod met to nominate a person to be an assistant bishop for Wellington. Assuming our bishops have agreed the confirm the nomination, the name now circulates among members of General Synod for their approval. We should know the nominee has become the elected assistant bishop sometime in the next few weeks.

*Clearly it is desirable if possible to have consecrations when all bishops can gather for the occasion so it is, presumably, one of those difficult to co-ordinate diary things that meant the Bishop of Wellington was tied to his synod when other bishops were consecrating in the East Cape!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Good disagreement or good discrimination? [Updated]

There is a row going on in the dear old CofE.

I have yet to read anywhere that this row is due to the dear old CofE's continued and persistent refusal to permit a modicum of democracy in their oligarchical CNC appointment process for bishops. Why can the CofE not have diocesan elections for bishops like the rest of the provinces they once colonised? Is democracy too new for the CofE to get its head around? Actually, despite the fact the democracy is quite ancient - thnx Greeks - anyone also watching the blathering and blithering of the Blairs, Majors and what have yous about resisting the referendum will of the people to Brexit, can quite understand that English-culturally the CofE is unable to accept democracy into its midst!!

For those not following the current life of the CofE a week or two back the row has been thus:

(1) Philip North, a suffragan bishop was announced as the next Bishop of Sheffield
(2) People objected strenuously, led by Martyn Percy (see below for example of a Tweet from him - examine his Twitter feed etc), because Philip North has public views about the nature of priesthood.
Summarised his views are: women can't be priests or bishops, they just can't.
In case you ask, there is a capacity within the CofE to have suffragan bishops who believe North believes because suffragan bishops are not quite the focus of unity that a diocesan bishop is.
(3) Some people, including women bishops plaintively reminded everyone that the CofE had agreed a few years back to Five Principles in order that everyone, for and against the ordination of women as priests and bishops, could mutually flourish.
(4) In administrative speak, Philip North's appointment was just an implementation of the policy.
(5) In Sheffield it was not seen that way, least of all by women priests there, not feeling particularly keen - understandably - to have a bishop who did not think they were priests.
(6) Everyone, natch (naturally), said that Philip North is a top bloke, fine priest, real concern for the poor and downtrodden, will be great in every way except re ordaining women, etc.
(7) Unfortunately a legitimate questioning of whether such an appointment really, really could lead to mutual flourishing, to say nothing of unity in a diocese, got overlain with personal abuse of Philip North.
(8) Late last week Philip North announced that he would stand aside from the appointment.
(9) Natch everyone said they were praying for Philip North and sending him nice cards.
(10) Also natch every pundit expressed their views (see Thinking Anglicans here and there and over there).
(11) I am a pundit so here is my ...

Actually, first up, three views from three English pundits, one of whom takes one of the others to task: Elaine Storkey, Jeremy Pemberton and Savi Hensman. These give a flavour of the post-stepping aside debate which is more or less about "What is the CofE becoming?"

In a pithy phrase or two, Martyn Percy offers the core of his concern: the CofE can be a church with good disagreement in its midst but it cannot be a church with good discrimination [against women].




There is also an astute question about the actuality of the CofE implied in an observation in this post by Janet Morley:

"If traditionalists and the rest of the church are now equivalent groups, then the Church of England has effectively agreed that it simultaneously does and does not recognise the validity of the ordination of women as priests and bishops and the sacraments they celebrate. This is either a total incoherence or we are now not a single Church at all but an ecumenical partnership."

Probably we need to say "partnerships" plural! We certainly have a few of those, formally and informally, in ACANZP ...

UPDATE: Here is a slice of Philip North's own views of how things might have worked out when he addressed clergy in the Sheffield Diocese before he made the decision to withdraw.

Here are my views. If you want to comment on the first three, please do so. DO NOT COMMENT on (4) - post Lent we can come back to that and expand upon it.

(1) I am amazed as a Down Under Anglican that I have yet to find a word written about the CofE's appointment process which denies full synodical involvement of dioceses in the appointment of their diocesan bishops. Would it not make a difference if the Diocese of Z, in full democratic, electoral synodical mode had elected Philip North, knowing his views etc, but definitively determining as a whole body that he should be their bishop?

(2) I am on the side of those in this particular CofE debate who see mutual flourishing as possible in many spheres of its life but not in the appointment of diocesan bishops who do not recognise women as priests or bishops. A diocesan bishop is a focus of unity. When a diocese has women priests how can they and those who believe they are priests unify around their diocesan when he does not believe they are priests? In theory it is possible for unity but the question is begged by such appointment, and also by Philip North's own remarks, linked to above, What if the clergy and laity of the Diocese are not united in receiving such appointment? (Cue my remarks about the importance of elections over appointments).

(3) Thus I am forced by logic to ask whether ++Sentamu and ++Welby have made a mistake in permitting this appointment to be announced? Did they not think - thinking men that they are - that this would inevitably lead to a lack of unifying reception?

FOR LATER POST-LENT DISCUSSION

(4) Even a lowly technician within the rocket science industry can see implications from this debate for the You Know What future ... here I simply acknowledge that. Post later in April or May about that. Do not comment, do not imply in your comment ... "DELETE" is the moderator's option!




Saturday, March 11, 2017

What is the church? (1) and (2)

I am travelling tomorrow, Sunday, in such a way that I need to post tomorrow's reflection in today's post. I am hoping that some ecclesiastical authority will mercifully endorse this as a rightly ordered fulfilment of my intention to post each day through Lent :)

Background: The first part of this weekend I am tutoring a Diploma of Christian Studies course on "Doing Theology Being Church" a.k.a "ecclesiology." So I have been doing some reading on (the) church. Here are a couple of thoughts ...

Saturday 11 March 2017: What is the church? (1)

It is fascinating to find - reading quite widely across Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Free Church ecclesiologies - that answers to this question involve continuing, unresolved debates: visible v. invisible church; local v. universal church; charismatic v. hierarchical church. I guess that is because the church is a complex phenomenon, literally encompassing the world, experienced in particular locations and connecting heaven and earth. Pieces of the complexity are held in tension!

Yet, just possibly, there is some emerging unity that a critical conception of the church in the 21st century is "communion" (as in, the church is a communion, the church comes from the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, communion = eucharist makes the church (and the church makes the eucharist = communion).

If Catholic (e.g. de Lubac, McPartlan), Eastern Orthodox (e.g. Zizioulas), Anglican (e.g. Avis) and other theologians are emphasising the church as communion, are we not slightly nearer the day when we reach ecumenical unity?

After all, once one starts to think about the church as communion, one has to think how this communion can be in communion with that communion ... and all in communion with the One Trinitarian Communion.

Sunday 12 March 2017: What is the church? (2)

Speaking of church unity: it is fascinating to be reminded that every ecclesiologist worth her or his salt is an ecumenicist. It is simply impossible to set out to answer the question "what is the church?" without also discussing the unity of the church (since there is only one church of God) and thus the conditions under which we would find disparate churches becoming one church.

Things get tricky, of course, because "what is the church?" pretty quickly encounters the question of bishops (necessary or not?) and where common accord is found on their necessity then divisions arise over how bishops are unified (recognising the primacy of Rome or not?).

So, despite my confidence about "communion" as the theological highway to unity, there is a long way to go to bridge our divisions.

And, interestingly, my reading has thrown up an observation that the church around the world is becoming increasingly congregational (local church) in its outlook through this period of church history. If this is so, then it certainly is evidenced in the Anglican church of these islands: our parishes seem less and less to be composed of people living within the parish boundaries and more and more a gathering up of people who like to belong to this particular local church and cheerfully travel past several other churches to join in services and meetings.

An outlook from a previous time, closer to Christendom as model for the church, would bewail this congregationalism as a weakening of the institution of the church. But the sense of observations I have been reading is that this new congregationalism may be precisely the strengthening of the church which it requires in a post-Christendom, post-institutional age. Strong local churches maintain, transmit and proclaim the faith of Christ, driven perhaps more by charismatic impulse than synod-led programmes and Decades of X.

Yet the age-old challenge of ecclesiology remains: how do local churches commune with other local churches, how does the sum of our local parts make visible the body of Christ on earth as one body?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Mindfulness and Thomas Merton

Next Thursday night at Christ's College looks to be a cracking night, not least because I do not know anything much about "mindfulness" and I think it is time I found out ... also what Thomas Merton has to do with it.


Thomas is the handsome guy on the ... :)

Speaking on Merton and Mindfulness are Rev. Bosco and Mrs. Helen Peters who have a long-time interest in Thomas Merton, one of the most influential spiritual leaders of the twentieth century (and the son of a Christ’s College Old Boy). They have a wealth of experience around the spiritual journey and are passionate about nurturing the hunger for spirituality that is evidenced in the popular Mindfulness Movement. They are enthusiastic about bringing to light much in the Western, Christian tradition that has been overlooked – practices that can enhance living Mindfully.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

A Duty to Die? Find out on 1 April 2017

Dean Lawrence Kimberley and I are working on a seminar on Euthanasia on Saturday 1 April at the Transitional Cathedral, Hereford Street, Christchurch. You are most welcome!

Taonga has a promotional article about the event here.

Is Euthanasia about A Duty to Die? Or, as has been pointed out to me this week, A Duty to Live?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Something more important than Scripture?

In a fascinating post drawn from Alex Poulos' blog, ETC's Peter Gurry notes this from Origen:

"As such, it’s reasonable for one to have faith in the maker of heaven and earth and all within them more because of the universe and the order in it, than because of the scriptures. Likewise, it’s reasonable for one to believe in Christ Jesus more because of the clear display of his power in the churches, and from the multitude of the might he shows in ruling the world, than because the scriptures. Only afterwards should one then come to the scriptures, and even then, one should ask again for grace from God, so that we don’t misunderstand what has been written."

Food for thought for us Sola Scriptura folk???

Of course Origen was not correct on all things theological ...

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Did only evangelicals cane?

The story of John Smyth and his attempts to literally beat sin out of otherwise ordinarily developing young men is disgusting and disgraceful.

But that is no reason to give up on logic and facts.

Between the New York Times article linked to above and this Giles Fraser column I find a couple of things not well thought through.

First, a claim that Smyth represents an unchecked development in evangelical theology (or, at least, British evangelical theology). The NYT article and the Fraser column do not actually bring forth one further example of a Smyth at work within evangelicalism. Not one. Let alone, say, 100 caners or even 1 published author boldly declaring caning as the logical outcome of Romans and Galatians on justification by faith. Now, that would be a sign of evangelical perversity.

Rather, Fraser links Smyth to the general theme of British public schools, that caning was essential to discipline and to ensuring that young men grew up morally upright. Reputable newspapers and popular columnists ought to do more work than this lazy elision from one rogue, viciously obsessive evangelical to a whole system of education as a sign of evangelicalism's nasty ills.

The point would be stronger if evangelicals exclusively held headmasterships and masters' position through the British and empire public/independent school system. Let me recall how many evangelicals there were among the headmaster and masters I knew in my school days at Christ's College (when caning was permitted) ... hmm ... fingers of one hand ... maybe 2 out of some 50 staff. And definitely not the HM of that day who was moderately Anglican!

Secondly, Fraser claims that

"Part of the purpose of empire was to promote evangelical Christianity. But the empire was no place for effeminate Christians. And so the ability to take a good beating became training for the sort of mental toughness that was required to rule the world."

This is simply baloney. As the empire advanced, evangelicals often and in many places struggled to get into the territories the British were controlling. No doubt there were one or two places where evangelicals were welcomed by the bureaucracy but my understanding - correct me if I am wrong - is that evangelical advancement was not at the forefront of empire advancer thinking.

Indeed, here in NZ, evangelicals arrived before "the empire" arrived. And once "the empire" was established here (1840 and all that) we soon had an empire-established bishop and whatever kind of man Selwyn was as a muscular Christian, he was NOT AN EVANGELICAL. Try telling the Williams family about Selwyn and his love for evangelicals! Try telling the Nelson and Christchurch Dioceses about how evangelical their first bishops were (not!).

So, let's be alarmed, disturbed and leave no stone unturned in investigations of Smyth's misdeeds. Let evangelicalism be open and honest about rogues in its past and in its midst. By all means examine evangelicalism for its explicit or implicit support of violence as key to holiness. (Though because it has never been part of my experience, through many evangelical contexts (SU, TSCF, CMS Youth, CUs at two universities, friends from many evangelical parishes, I would be surprised to find Smyth's misdeeds frequently and widely repeated, if at all.)

So, please, let's not damn evangelicalism unnecessarily by lazy-thinking associations; let's not get our facts wrong (what's the term ... "alternative facts") and let's not overlook all the rogue Christians who have actually been non-evangelicals. I could give names ...!

I will publish comments about evangelicalism's currently alleged association with violence as a means of sanctifying disciples of Christ. But I will not publish a comment which even implies in a distant manner the You Know What issue which is being fasted from through Lent on this blog.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Innocents

Quite a lot around the traps these days about Silence as the current "go to" film re faith and theology. I haven't seen it and may not - sounds too harrowing for my movie tastes. But at the weekend I saw The Innocents. A tough/harrowing view (within my personal levels of tolerance!) but worth it for a film which raises a host of theological questions from Where is God in suffering? to How does faith come alive when life is bleak?

Note: all dialogue is in Polish or French. English subtitles. For Chch readers I saw it at Alice Cinematique. It is also on at the Tannery cinema.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

What is Romans All About? (3)

On the road so very briefly: Romans raises the question how do we live a holy life. Sanctification. The big answer Paul gives is that we can only live a holy life if we break free from the power of sin. The smaller answer (ch. 12-16) is how the broken free from sin life is lived in particularities.

Here is the thing: churches argue over whether Luther/Sanders/Calvin/Wright/Council of Trent/Etc is right re justification by faith/covenantal nomism/etc but as best I can tell NOT ONE CHURCH which is assured it rightly understands Romans has actually demonstrated a consistent break from sin in the way its member lives. All struggle with sin. None has the recipe for holiness sorted.

Have we focused on the wrong part of Romans?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

What Romans is All About (2)

So in my journey through Romans these past few weeks, reading big chunks of it at a time, the following has struck me:

- the core of Romans, what it is all about, is the power of sin and the power of Christ and the Spirit to overcome it. This is the chief concern of Romans 1-8.
- Romans 1-2 lays out the effect of sin in the world, among both Jews and Gentiles, bleakly proposing the prospect of God's terrifying judgment against humanity.
- Romans 3-5 lays out the joyous news that through death and resurrection Jesus Christ save us from that judgement ("justification by faith") and the power to do that is Christ's alone. Sin so besets us, its power so permeates our every effort to live a righteous life that we fail (see also Romans 7). Neither Jew with the law nor Gentile without the law can do a single thing to overcome the power of sin.
- Romans 6 begins to chart what is developed further in Romans 8: the power of Christ is not only to cancel the effects of sin with respect to God's just judgment but also to begin to lead us to live a righteous life. But this life is possible only through the new law of the Spirit. The old law of the flesh has been found wanting (with a hint that even God has been surprised that the law given so graciously to the Jews has not enabled them to live righteously.
- So Romans 8 could be the joyous, hopeful, encouraging ending to Paul's letter (with concluding greetings in Romans 16). But ...
- Paul wants to make two further points:
- Romans 9-11 is Appendix 1: if Romans 1-8 is the case, that the power of Christ is for all, Gentiles and Jews, what about the Jews? This appendix deals with that question.
- Romans 12-15 is Appendix 2 and answers the question what does the law of the Spirit mean in the practicalities of living in the Roman Empire.

What do you think?

Friday, March 3, 2017

What Romans is really all about - yes, Martin, Tom and Ed I have cracked it (1)

I could spend a hundred years pondering Romans and all the literature written about it and there would still be something to say.

It is a deep, deep theological tour de force and apostolic constitution for the church.

It has generated as many readers here will know, a huge, spiralling and seemingly never-ending controversy in late 20th century and early 21st century biblical scholarship as the great drive forward from Martin Luther's Reformation, Romans = justification by faith hit Ed Sander's "counter" reformation of thinking on Romans.

To Luther's Romans = justification by faith (and medieval Roman theology = 1st century Jewish theology = salvation by works could take a hike), Sanders posed Romans = salvation through participation in Christ and not through Jewish works = badges of national membership such as circumcision. (With fascinating debate as to whether it is the faith of Christ or our faith in Christ which saves us). That is, in this so-name New Perspective on Paul, Romans is "really all about" how the Gentiles are included in salvation history, alongside Jews already graciously saved by God's electing grace.

Was this response to Luther's drive forward a speed bump, a detour, a roadblock or the original road rebuilt to proper Pauline specifications? Outstanding NT scholars such as Tom Wright and Jimmy Dunn have pitched in to push, more or less in Sanders' direction and recently John Barclay (as with others) has offered a brilliant reconciliation of the Luther and Sanders avenues.

Evangelicals have been particularly vexed by this scholarly turmoil because the scholarship of Sanders and co is well argued yet, more or less, it becomes a vote that Roman Catholic (I summarise) salvation is faith supported by works has been right all along. Was Protestantism a la Luther a giant category mistake?

Recently I have been reading Romans as part of a plan to read through the New Testament a chapter (or more) at a time. Reading such chunks makes - at least to me - a difference in getting a sense of the whole plot of each book. And I think I have a new sense of what Romans is all about ...

OK but I am out of time today ... more tomorrow

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Lenten Fast and a Lenten Intention

Andrei suggested in a comment here yesterday that we might have a Lenten fast from commenting on You Know What. I like that idea. I will not post further on SSB/SSM/Etc until after Easter and I ask you not to comment on such matters when commenting on posts here on other matters.

But to match that particular fast I have decided to have a Lenten intention, to post everyday through Lent. Currently I am working on generally posting only two or three times a week. But for Lent I shall try to bring something to the blog each day. Most likely it will not be long.It may only be a verse from Scripture relevant to our journey to the cross. It may relate to matters and events occurring within this particular Lent (coming up for me, e.g., is a study course on ecclesiology and a seminar day on Euthanasia).

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Koinonia with the Anglicanphile Bishop of Rome

The recent visit of the Pope to the Anglican parish in Rome has been news for the past several days. Here is Archbishop David Moxon's personal reflection on the visit (from here):

The Holy Spirit is always quickening and surprising us, and always present anyway in our openness to faith hope and love. This was the case on Sunday evening at All Saints' Anglican Church in Rome, where Pope Francis made history by being the first Pope ever to visit the church.

There were many ground breaking moments, and I think that three stand out.

Firstly, having offered a question and answer dialogue to the parish, the Pope engaged in an unforgettable dialogue with local parishioners on ecumenism and shared mission. In particular Pope Francis fascinated us by describing the practise he had experienced in Argentina:
 
In the Northern part of Argentina, there are Anglican missions with the indigenous peoples and Catholic missions with the indigenous people, and the Anglican bishop and the Catholic Bishop from there work and teach together. And when people are not able to go to catholic celebrations on Sunday, they go to the anglican one, and the Anglicans go to the catholic ones, because they don’t want to spend Sunday without a celebration; and they work together. And here the congregation for the doctrine of the faith knows this. And they do charity together. And the two bishops are friends and the two communities are friends.

... They don’t negotiate the faith and their identity, that indigenous person from Northern Argentina says to you “I am Anglican”. But [when]there is no Bishop, there is no Pastor, there is no Reverend... “I wish to praise God on Sunday and go to the Catholic Cathedral”, and vice versa.*
 
This is a transfiguring story. By this he teaches us to be less anxious over our differences and unresolved doctrinal issues, while still working hard on them, but to commit ourselves more and more to sharing and partnership as we seek God and give ourselves to heal the worlds divisions, wounds and sins.
 
Secondly, the Pope mentioned a possible joint peace initiative by him and Archbishop Justin Welby in South Sudan, by local ecumenical invitation, to help the mediation process to end the civil war and the human tragedies of that country. If this happens, (and the Pope said it must), we will begin to minister to the world together in a totally new way.
 
Thirdly, this evening service with all its gifts and fruits was clearly a once in a lifetime, maybe even a once in a century, moment, and was a stunningly beautiful and powerful event to be part of. We learn from Pope Francis, as candles were lit around the shining icon he blessed and censed, that perfect love casts out fear, like light dispelling shadows. The Pope was clearly present as the chief pastor of Rome as a whole, because he was commemorating with the parish their 200th anniversary. This is the first ever visit of a Pope to any local Anglican parish - the papal visits to Westminster Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral were national events with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Pope Francis was there last night as the Bishop of Rome (alongside the Anglican Bishop of Europe, Robert Innes and his suffragan David Hamid who has responsibility for Italy).
 
Once again experienced the power of the truth we learn from the living word of God: “ God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love and of power and of self- control”. 2 Timothy 1 :7. These words may well have been written, just under two thousand years ago, underneath the site of the Anglican Centre in Rome, where Paul is thought to have been kept under house arrest, and where the kernel of the Timothy letters were conceived. What better foundation could we build on in this mission which we are so privileged to share in at this kairos time.
 
Fr Jonathan Boardman is to be congratulated along with the All Saints' community for their great vision and creative hospitality.

*The text in Italian reads as follows:
Nel nord dell’Argentina ci sono le missioni anglicane con gli aborigeni e le missioni cattoliche con gli aborigeni, e il Vescovo anglicano e il Vescovo cattolico di là lavorano insieme, e insegnano. E quando la gente non può andare la domenica alla celebrazione cattolica va a quella anglicana, e gli anglicani vanno alla cattolica, perché non vogliono passare la domenica senza una celebrazione; e lavorano insieme. E qui la Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede lo sa. E fanno la carità insieme. E i due i Vescovi sono amici e le due comunità sono amiche.

... Loro non negoziano la fede e l’identità. Quell’aborigeno ti dice nel nord Argentina: “Io sono anglicano”. Ma non c’è il vescovo, non c’è il pastore, non c’è il reverendo… “Io voglio lodare Dio la domenica e vado alla cattedrale cattolica”, e viceversa.
The full text of Pope Francis' homily and answers can be found by clicking here.

David Moxon, 27/02/2017