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THOUGHTS ON +ROWAN’S SECOND PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS

I think that the dreadful thing about all this is that the point is obvious and fundamental. It is as if a veil has been drawn across our collective eyes. To follow Jesus is to walk to the Cross collectively and individually. We are to die. Death means the surrendering of everything.

We are to believe that such a surrender isn’t a bargain in order to receive “eternal life”. Death is just that. Death IS death. Death to all we are and have and think. I’ve long loved this little bit from Robert Llewelyn in his book “The Joy of the Saints”:

“It is indeed the way to which Jesus points: ‘He who loses his life for my sake shall find it.’ I recall when I was first ordained being pulled up sharply when I misquoted this verse, saying that Jesus said that we must lose our lives in order to find them. In fact he said no such thing. We are not bidden to die in order that we might live -this is to be no nicely calculated venture embarked upon in order to bring in rich returns -but rather, in the Pauline phrase, it is a matter of ‘dying and behold we live’. What is asked of us looks like loss, has every appearance of loss, and in the nakedness of faith the plunge is taken. Jesus did not die upon the cross in order that he might rise again. He died, was truly dead, and behold God raised him. With Saint Paul the saints die daily, and with every death there is a rising to a deeper and fuller measure of the resurrection life. So by many deaths are they prepared -as we shall be toofor the final plunge into the ocean of God’s love.”

We believe in that sure and certain hope that God will create us anew. Newness implies change. “We shall be changed.” We have no right to ask God to reserve certain sections of our existence and keep them the way we like them. Daring to die is the greatest “risk” in living. Daring to die to our greatest and most informed beliefs and aspirations, not because they are necessarily wrong, but because they must be transformed by and in grace is that necessary action some have institutionalized into what is called “conversion.” For us it means Baptism but a baptism done once but lived into daily.

+Rowan is asking our bishops on our behalf to risk such a death. Ironically it is the province which makes the most of Baptism which seems less able to penetrate the radical nature of the sacrament. The very systems we have adopted in the church by which to make decisions imply that some will win, will hold on to what they want, and others will lose and even lose the things they most cherish. +Rowan has challenged all sides in the present war to dare surrender at the Cross as the way to renewal and revival. Perhaps he could have said more. Perhaps he said enough!

LAMBETH THOUGHTS

I have no more access to the events happening in Canterbury than anyone else. I rely on news reports, which are largely dramatic and those blogs available to us all. Thus the following is more of an impression than a statement of fact.

I am delighted that it was decided to forgo the legislative pattern of meeting. It is so easy for those who participate in such events to imagine themselves as members of parliament or of Congress. The format invites self-selection into groups and lobbies and to indulge in the intricacies of rules of order which typify the modern legislative process. At a time when the general public seems less than enamored with those who represent them in legislative bodies, it is perhaps salutary for the church to step away from such models.

I am sure that it is no easy thing for bishops to walk away from such a mode of doing business. Rather like the old Fuller Brush sales people, the American bishops arrived with position papers which attempted to control or inform the line they would take in their groups. Goodness knows which bright spark came up with that daft idea.

The whole purpose of the Indaba groups, at least as I see it, is to encourage bishops to listen to each other, in the context of the Bible Study engaged in each day, in the context of Eucharist and Daily Prayers and in such a process be willing to offer up their hopes and fears, their programs and local resolutions in the hope and prayer that God will speak to them as individuals and as a corporate body.

We’ve already heard grumbles and groans from those who have entrenched positions and are in a defensive mode. One only has to read the statements of a few, a very few of the traditionalist bishops who are at the Conference or of some of the liberal American bishops to hear just how difficult it is for those whose minds are made up to hear and evaluate what others are saying.

It seems obvious to me that our Communion needs to find ways to bring the bishops of the Communion together more often. Perhaps it would not be necessary for them all to attend every meeting. Yet if we are to live both into the global reality of the Communion and the cultural, theological, political and social contexts of Provinces, meeting once a decade doesn’t hack it. Many bishops only attend one Lambeth Conference in their active episcopate. It is so easy for bishops to remain provincial and local in their thinking and experience.

As I write the Windsor Continuation Group is issuing its report. It calls for a pan-Anglican Pastoral Council the task of which would be to inject its influence and advice into those actions of Provinces which have caused or cause division and discord in the whole Communion. Obviously like all Instruments of Communion, such a council would not enjoy legal rights to interfere in autonomous Provinces. How it would then deal with those Provinces which continue to tolerate or endorse controversial rites and ceremonies or inject themselves in the territory of other Provinces remains to be seen. It would seem to be a step in the right direction. One awaits squeals of pain from American liberals and huffing and puffing from those Gafcon Provinces who have set up shop in the United States and Canada. But of course what is sauce for the goose…

It would take an extraordinary act of God to get those liberal and conservative Provinces, oddly alike in their pretensions if far apart in their theology to heed a call for moratoria and self-discipline. Yet surely we are called to expect God to act. If the retreat section of the Conference, the Bible Studies, corporate worship and interpersonal relationships established at the Lambeth Conference have not provided space and time for reflection, repentance and newness of life for all, one can scarcely imagine what other context could have such an effect.

To take all that one holds dear and nail it to the Cross and wait for God to redeem and renew and change is not easy for any of us at the best of times and even harder when things seem to be falling beyond our control. God works when we surrender and sacrifice. He may even work through a Lambeth Conference.

HOW DO WE KNOW?

In a pre-Lambeth Conference letter the Canadian Primate made the following observation:

“Many say, as a group of Canadian Anglican theologians have said, “the interpretation of Scripture is a central and complex matter and that, at times in church history, ‘faithful’ readings have led to mutually contradictory understandings, requiring ongoing dialogue and prayer towards discernment of the one voice of the gospel”.

Well yes. What is not noted here is how or by what method those involved in “ongoing dialogue and prayer” have usually gone about establishing which interpretation is that which has been received “everywhere, always and by all,” as dear old Vincent of Lerins put it. We are in our present pickle not because we haven’t insight into how the Church and even the churches hitherto have made up its/their mind, but because of two fairly recent developments. By recent I suppose I really mean widespread.

The first development is that the old sources we once used, which we believed to be reliable and “inspired” are now as much the source of differing interpretations as are biblical texts. Anglicans once looked to the undivided Church, its Creeds, Councils and “Fathers” to establish whether a belief was crucial or not, or even if not crucial of long standing and veneration. So that in applying Vincent’s “canon” – how does one know how to establish a true reading of Scripture or a true interpretation of doctrine? – it was possible to deduce what was believed “everywhere, always and by all.” Anglicans were carefull to draw a distinction between “matters essential” and “matters indifferent”. In the first section, in what the late Archbishop McAdoo termed the “hapex” are those theological and christological dogmas upon which there has always been general agreement among what the Early Church described as “Catholics”. (I am not talking about Roman Catholics, Anglo Catholics or Eastern Orthodoxy!!)

Nowadays there’s a powerful academic school which tends to treat all pre-Conciliar evidence, whatever its source, whether what we once termed “Catholic” or “heretical” or “schismatic” as of equal value. Now one doesn’t doubt that in schools of neutral academic research and scholarship, such a method is entirely appropriate, as long as it is as fair and objective as is possible for humans to achieve; in itself a tall order. In church-sponsored faculties and seminaries there ought to be a presumption that those who teach believe that which the Church has always taught. This does not mean that they should not research all scholarship or present fairly alternative views. But in the end, particularly in the training of clergy and active laity, the task is to promote genuine prayerful learning inspired by God through Scripture, the Tradition and sanctified reason.

The second development is the whole notion of “development” itself. One constantly hears that God is “saying a new thing.” It is claimed that church Conventions are used by the Holy Spirit to say new things. Jesus’ promise that the Spirit will lead the church into all truth is linked to a “progressive” concept of a constantly developing “truth” which God gives the church as humans progress and are able to absorb such truth. It’s a Darwinian form of revelation.

What seems to matter is not what the Church has said, but whether the Church or even churches or bits of the Church has said anything lately. If it hasn’t been voted on lately it isn’t necessarily true.

Two problems, it seems to me, arise in such a time. The first is what is glibly described as “fundamentalism.” Biblical texts are set forth in what is often described as a “plain and literal” sense, consciously or unconsciously hearkening back to church Reformers, usually of 16th Century vintage. We have seen this in the passion which has arisen from the recent writings of Bishop Tom Wright of Durham about Justification. The Bishop of Durham is biblically excommunicated by those who are utterly sure that the Protestant Reformers enjoyed a certain quasi-infallibility and that to question their views is to question essential the doctrine itself.

The second and one might say opposing problem is raised by those who are waiting eagerly for God to say something new, or who believe that God has said something new to them and assume the mantle of prophet as they announce such a new revelation to the Church and the world.

The United States seems to have this latter propensity in its DNA. Perhaps it is inevitable that those who incorporate in their state-myth ideas culled from the Old Testament story of a people being given a new land by their God, a place where freedom dwells, will be drawn to new revelations. Mormonism, and “Christian Scientism” are but two examples of this tendency.

Nor is such an encultured progression confined to living into the Exodus. Just as “fundamentalists” tend to live in “Geneva”, so many “modernists” are comfortable in seeking to apply the latest evidence from psychological, sociological and medical research to their biblical and theological research, with perhaps more emphasis on the former than the latter.

Such a tendency easily leads to a form of Gnosticism. Christianity once believed that although the Faith offers more than enough opportunity for the pursuit of godly reason and intellect, its basic tenets were available to all and were for all. On the other hand there have always been those of a Gnostic turn who were either willing to claim special knowledge or to assign to special Teachers their consciences in meek obedience.

The question then of authority, of what the Church believes and how it receives belief is vital. If everything is up for grabs at a moment in history how does the Church and how do Christians discern the one voice of the Gospel? By what process may we evaluate how modern scholarship, often as transitory and conflicted as biblical interpretation, informs belief and practice. How may we know that “culture” rightly or wrongly informs belief and practice?

If our bishops at Lambeth concentrate on saying something clearly to the Communion about how the rest of us are supposed to hear and receive the Word of God Incarnate, the Word of God written, and the Word of God incorporate in the mystical body which is the Church, we might begin to get somewhere amidst our conflicts. A good beginning would be to approach humbly the way in which Anglicans once did their theology and spirituality, not as an exercise in archaeological religion but to discover again how God’s unchanging Revelation in Christ lives anew in every generation.

anthony.clavier@gmail.com

PROPHETS AND PRIESTS

Our bishops are coming together in Canterbury as I write. The ambiance of the modern university buildings may well bring back memories of student days. That isn’t a bad thing. Granted students, and particularly seminarians are given to expressing opinions at will, often culled from the latest set books provided. Yet in a seminary setting, at least once upon a time, the daily round of prayer, Bible study, meditation and reflection and of being taught grounded and formed vocation for better or worse.

For a few short weeks most of the bishops of the Anglican Communion will be plunged into such a routine and in the physical context of a place of learning. Mercifully I believe, they will not be called on to legislate. More than a few times when attending General Conventions or Synods I’ve thought that the “ambiance” has prompted our leaders, clerical and lay -bishops ARE clergy – to imagine themselves as members of congress or parliamentarians rather than called-out members of the Body of Christ. I have a feeling that pretty shortly some or many of our bishops will go through a psychological deprivation as they are pine for lobbies, and rules of order and motions and votes. I do hope that the organizers fail to provide adequate internet access.

As usual in Anglicanism there will be three groups there. No longer are these to be defined as Catholic, Evangelical and Broad. Nowadays the fault lines run through separate and often extraordinarily similar attempts to define what God is saying to the Church and through the Church and how God says things to the Church and through the Church. Hence my title.

There will be bishops at Lambeth who believe passionately that God has called them to prophecy. That mantle has been taken on by “liberal” bishops, mostly from North America but not entirely, and by “conservatives” mostly from Africa and Australia, but not entirely. Of course these bishops are not autonomous. They are influenced by and speak for a wide constituency. In the middle, as usual are a great number of people who perhaps wish both sides would shut up, who worry that the Anglican Communion is being torn apart and put its unity and concord before prophecy. One must then speak a truism. All of these people are fallible human beings, as much swayed by ambition, pride, sloth or any other of the cardinal sins which typify a fallen race as the rest of us.

Not all the prophets on the one hand or the priests on the other in the Old Testament church were good guys. Indeed God has a way of using the bad guys to do his will. In the second lesson at Morning Prayer today St. Paul tells the Romans that only a remnant of Israel enables the world to see and accept the truth in Jesus, and yet God’s will and purpose encompasses all.

So the prophets, at least those who are not staying away, will come to Lambeth eager to prophesy and both sets of prophets proclaim that there is something radically wrong with Anglicanism. Either Anglicanism has failed in its calling to embrace everyone whatever their mode of interpersonal relationship or Anglicanism has failed because it has permitted provinces to embrace, for instance, modes of inter-personal relationships which are prohibited in Scripture and Tradition. Prophets tend to be prickly types. They are not into compromise and they are not noted for liking their opponents. They are often more interested in the group than the individuals who comprise the group and unaware of the variety of human experience an artificial label may encompass.

Those who are more of a priestly bent object to “fanatics” spoiling the unbroken liturgical and pastoral life of parish, diocese, province, national church and the worldwide Communion. They wish such people would tone it down, have some regard for the feelings of others, comprehend what destruction they bring and remind the prophets what the watching world sees. “The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we need to ask,” perhaps is the motto of the priestly or the moderate. Such an attitude brings down the ire of the prophet. Such people, the prophet thinks, are tepid, unprincipled. given to compromise.

Prophets often point to the account of the first Church synod or Council related in Acts, by which the Gentiles were to be admitted to the Church through baptism just as the Jews. The decisions of that Council seem at first to be a triumph for the prophetic until one reads on to see that the rest of the decrees were rather conservative. No rare meat! No meat offered to idols. The Church compromised.

One can’t really hope that our bishops will get to like each other at Lambeth. One can’t even hope that they will learn to respect each other. Certainly the bishops at the Council of Nicaea achieved neither goal. But we can hope and pray that God will use each and every one of them and that these fallible human beings, from differing cultures and places will find a way forward so that this part of God’s Church may find revival in the midst of the years.