Thursday, March 15, 2018

Marriage and Contraception

Thoughtful article here.

I like what it says about marriage as a distinctive relationship between man and woman.

I am not convinced that it makes an adequate case against artificial contraception since the purposes of artificial contraception can be the same as the purposes of natural contraception (e.g. spacing of children for the sake of the wife and mother's well-being). That is, I am not convinced it makes the case that there is intrinsic virtue in sexual intercourse timed to express unitive love without fertility and by contrast some kind of intrinsic vice in sexual intercourse expressing unitive love without possibility of fertility.

Your thoughts are welcome here.

If your first thought is to expound either the virtue or vice of same-sex blessing or marriage, create your own blog! If some reasonable, care-full consideration of the same arises in the course of a thread of comments, I will consider publishing your comment. But I do not guarantee that. I will guarantee that I will not myself comment on such comments, so do not address them to me. It ought to be possible for Christians to discuss marriage between a man and a woman and the kind of contraception they may or may not choose to use without invoking That Topic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Good Anglican news in Christchurch

Not every bit of news about our Diocese in the local newspaper over the last seven or so years, since the quake damaged our cathedral, has been good news - that is, news in secular terms, at least, which is of the kind "Look, the Anglicans are doing something worth this newspaper writing about in praiseworthy terms."

Yesterday our Christchurch Press online carried a good news item about $4m being invested by Anglican Care (of our Diocese) in a Youth Hub, spearheaded by one of the most admired citizens in our city.

However I chanced upon some of the comments to the article - nearly always a mistake in the world of 21st century online newspaper interaction! - and realised that, well, "haters are going to hate."

So, as always with good news, some of us can find the bad news in it. Property values near the Youth Hub will sink. Why is any money being spent on young people whose parents should have brought them up properly. And, predictably, what about the cathedral?!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Can we reconcile the warrior God of the OT with the compassionate God of the NT?

A comment in a recent post below interestingly arrived in the midst of a teaching weekend intensive on the Old Testament.  Can we reconcile the warrior God with the compassionate God of the NT? (Acknowledged: that compassionate God is also found in the OT).

One immediate recognition in my mind is that there is a very long answer to this question, with some subtle, nuanced work offered by various learned and insightful OT theologians (e.g. Walter Moberley in his Old Testament Theology) which, in turn, builds on the complexity of authorship (competing voices, diverse aims and objectives in the writing community behind the OT documents as we now have them). This, at least potentially, softens our first reading of passages in which God says, swords swing, heads fall, and even children are slaughtered in the pursuit of purity.

My next recognition is that where questions about the vengefulness and vindictiveness of God are being asked outside the gentle, timeless atmosphere of academia, a shorter rather than a longer answer to the kind of questions voiced below might be helpful.

A third recognition is that I do not think it possible to reconcile the two versions of God without the possibility that an adjustment may be required of our understanding of the relationship between the words of Scripture and Scripture as the Word of God.

This is because the simplest route to reconciliation is to emphasise the humanity of certain passages over their "divinity." That is, to emphasise that certain difficult passages

(1) express a theological view of human authors rather than a direct divine command to be taken literally;

(2) may idealise a situation rather than tell us what actually happened. I give an example below.

If this is so, that may be

(i) challenging for many Christians to accept;

(ii) with consequences for how we understand a number of other passages we do not have in mind as we raise a particular question about the violence of God.

Here goes!

Moberly, in his Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), takes up the question of Israel being "A Chosen People" (Chapter 2), which is the summary cause for "the ban" or holy war of destruction (herem) of that which stands in the way of the chosen people achieving possession of the Promised Land. I here give a brief exposition of a part of what is a much longer and more detailed discussion of these matters, which also takes into account material in Joshua.

Taking up Deuteronomy's "prime passage about election", Moberly discusses Deuteronomy 7:6-8 with reference to Deuteronomy 7:1-8 (pp. 54ff). In 7:2 God commands the utter destruction of the nations which stand in the way of Israel's occupation of the land promised to it.

He notes, incidentally, p. 56, that one of the most frequent approaches of scholars to Deuteronomy 7:6-8 on election is to ignore the role of election in connection with holy war. (Check out commentaries on Deuteronomy to see that this is so.)

Moberly recommends close reading of the letter of the text because that steers us away from taking the text literally. 

In doing this we notice several things. One is that the seven nations mentioned do not actually occupy only the promised land; they are more widespread. This suggests that they stand symbolically for the enemies of Israel.

Another observation is that immediately after the words in verse 2 about utter destruction of these enemies, Israel is commanded to "make no covenant" with them and not to "intermarry with them" (v. 3). These instructions are at odds with utter destruction: covenants are not made with dead people and intermarriage presumes not all have been killed.

This close reading of the letter of the text suggests that we do not take the text literally. Instead we should consider its rhetorical nature and its symbolic character.

That is, bearing in mind that Deuteronomy is a text which Israel is reading after the Babylonian exile, in a period when it has no military power to drive out any actual, physical enemies, we ask what it is actually persuading Israel to think and to do, and we ask what the reference to enemies being destroyed symbolises.

Thus Moberly, p. 61, proposes:

"Since, to put it bluntly, corpses present no temptation to intermarriage, the text surely envisages the continuance of living non-Israelites in close proximity to Israel.
In the light of this, I propose a reading of Deuteronomy 7:1-5 in which the text is construed as a definitional exposition of herem as en enduring practice for Israel."

In practice this means, negatively, avoiding intermarriage because this leads to "religious compromise," and, positively, destroying "those objects that symbolize and enable allegiances to deities other than YHWH (7:5)" but not destruction of people (p. 61-62).

Moberly concludes,

"In other words, herem is being presented as a metaphor for unqualified allegiance to YHWH" (p. 62).

He then makes the point that this is not "mere metaphor" because some specific actions are envisaged: avoiding intermarriage and destroying religious symbols which would compromise allegiance to YHWH. But such practices "do not entail the taking of life on the battlefield" (p. 62).

In other words, consideration of the human authorship of Deuteronomy, including the fact that it is not actually a text written at the time of the conquest of Canaan, and recognition of the human intentions of the text, to utilise the past (Israel entering the promised land in the time of Moses) in order to lay down a command for the present (Israel in Babylonian exile and Israel returning from exile to Judah), leads to new understanding.

Our first reading of the text, which implies a savage God bent in destroying people, gives way to a second reading of the text, in which we read something which is consistent with the continuing messages of the whole of Scripture: that God is love and God desires our unqualified love for him.

Friday, March 9, 2018

To conference or not to conference?

Ian Paul has put together a handy list of upcoming theological conferences. Here. It is rare to see such a list and thus worth noting here. Not least for me personally to access - I have a role in assisting clergy planning study leave and often they are in search of academic events which will contribute to their plans for study.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Apparently I have been heading in the wrong direction!?

Is theological education and ministry training in our church - ACANZP - in which most of my working days are invested (!!) deeply unfaithful to Jesus?

Jenny Te Paa-Daniels - a well-known theologian and prophetic figure in the life of our church, former staff lecturer and principal at St John's College - offers her view here.

I am not going to comment at length. What are your comments?

My brief comment is that it is plausible to have a caste of priests who look after the mechanisms of the church at worship ("every Sunday counts") and that the role of such priests is to teach the people of God the radical Jesus and spur each member of the church to take up the radical challenge of Jesus.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Our Synod debate and vote [UPDATED]

On Saturday 3 March 2018 the Synod of the Diocese of Christchurch met. Our major item of business was responding to the Final Report of the Motion 29 Working Group on the Blessing of Same Sex Relationships. [An UPDATE is below.]

Here Bishop Victoria tells the story of what happened:

"The Final Report on Motion 29:

Conversation and debate about the Working Group's Final Report on Motion 29 at the one day Synod at St Christopher's on 3 March was wide-ranging and mostly respectful; challenging and emotional. In the end our Synod voted to adopt the recommendations of the Motion 29 Final Report.

Both the house of clergy and the house of laity approved the recommendations with a 60/40% split. This simply indicates the opinion of our Synod as a way of informing those going to General Synod to debate the recommendations there.

Personally, I would like to express my gratitude to the people on the Working Group, the authors of the report. General Synod asked them to find a way people who hold different beliefs might move forward in unity, and they produced the Report and recommendations considered at our Synod.

I also thank our Clergy and Lay Synod members. Their faithfulness is appreciated.

But most importantly, I want to thank those members of our Diocese that bravely got up and spoke about issues that are deeply personal and usually private—I want to assure them that their voices have been heard.

General Synod meets in New Plymouth in early May 2018.

In Christ

Stuff has a news item here.

My reflection on Saturday's vote is that the 60:40 split in favour of moving forward on SSB has pretty much been the split on This Topic in the Christchurch Diocese for a long time. Several years ago when we had a motion favouring the now much forgotten Anglican Covenant (that is a motion which was a proxy for favouring "not proceeding with SSB") the motion was lost something like 45:55. In other words, yesterday was not a signal of a changed theological/ecclesiological make up to our Diocese in respect of This Topic.

I myself would take care not to interpret this vote as a signal of other characteristics of our theological/ecclesiological make up. For instance, if the vote yesterday have been that we do not support the current legislation on euthanasia being considered in our parliament, I surmise it would have been 90:10 against it.* If the motion had been about continuing to profess the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds I think the vote would have been 99:1% in favour. (I make no prediction about our keenness to retain the affirmation of faith in the p. 476 eucharist!). And if the motion had been about retaining the status quo on our current permissions and discretions re the remarriage of divorcees, I suggest the motion would have passed 90:10.

*Our most recent vote against euthanasia, last year, was 100% against legislative change.

UPDATE: A stirring editorial published today, Tuesday 6th March is here. I agree: the wisdom of Solomon is needed. This matter is not only about whether secularism is influencing the church, it is also about whether anyone is willing to hear what the church has to say ...

I am not going to publish any comments here. A recent comment thread here on ADU canvassed these matters widely and in depth. I envisage nearer to the time of General Synod in May, 2018 I will post about this topic again and comments will be welcome.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

There is only one eucharist but is there only one way to eucharist?

Cardinal Sarah will not have majority support of the Catholic Communion for his latest outburst against diabolical ministry, this time charging that:

"“The most insidious diabolical attack consists in trying to extinguish faith in the Eucharist, sowing errors and favouring an unsuitable manner of receiving it,” the cardinal wrote.“Truly the war between Michael and his Angels on one side, and Lucifer on the other, continues in the heart of the faithful: Satan’s target is the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated host.“Why do we insist on communicating standing in the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God?“[Receiving kneeling and on the tongue] is much more suited to the sacrament itself. I hope there can be a rediscovery and promotion of the beauty and pastoral value of this manner. In my opinion and judgment, this is an important question on which the church today must reflect. This is a further act of adoration and love that each of us can offer to Jesus Christ.”"
But he makes a point to ponder about the purpose of the eucharist: in his view it is the epitome of adoration. That is, eucharist is (or should be, as exemplified by our posture in receiving) pure worship.

I suggest a triangle of such points, for us to ponder.

At another point of the triangle is eucharist as nurture or nourishment. This is readily exemplified in our Kiwi Anglican practice, flowing from our belief that baptism is entry to communion, so even the youngest child may receive. Thus some of our communion distributions involve a somewhat chaotic stream of people in which some stand to receive, some kneel, none receive on the tongue, this one holding out one hand, that one offering one hand placed upon the other, here a child reaches up to take the bread, there a parent breaks off a corner of a wafer to place in their baby's mouth (ok, some receive on the tongue!). We Kiwi Anglicans can scarcely say our children at such moments are engaged in an act of adoration. We can say that we wish our children to receive the nourishment of the body of Christ, that we want Christ's saving life to infuse their young lives. On the matter of posture, Presbyterians might offer a comment here: if eucharist is nourishment then the posture of sitting down to ingest the meal of Christ is appropriate.

For the third point of the triangle, imagine a slightly different scene, as we will have today at our Diocesan synod when we debate That Topic, a eucharist in which people diametrically opposed to each other on a matter of importance doctrinally* nevertheless share in the one bread of Christ signifying both belief and intention that they are one body of Christ,** in both cases, whatever aspects of adoration and of nourishment are present, the eucharist is fellowship in Christ. Participation through shared bread and cup is just that, participation in Christ. The appropriate posture here, incidentally, might be a circle of people standing, passing the plate and cup to one another, a circle and a movement of love, one to another.

Thus the citation above about Cardinal Sarah's plea for eucharist as pure worship is a challenge to the other points of the triangle. But the other points in the triangle are also a challenge back to Cardinal Sarah: it is not diabolical to distribute and to receive communion in ways which emphasise the eucharist as nourishment and as fellowship.

Incidentally, a lovely Anglican response to Cardinal Sarah is offered by Covenant and Catholicity in a via media post which reminds us that the rubric of the BCP provides for (requires) Anglicans to kneel when receiving, though the receiving is in hands placed in a supplicatory manner. However kneeling betokens rails.

The strictness of Cardinal Sarah re the way to eucharist is matched in an article on possible intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants (when married) by the strictness of response which emphasises the whole panoply of sacramental system in order for communion to be received. [Update: see also this caveat.]

In my own mind I am with the German bishops and not with their critics because their point is that our communion in Christ is about a shared understanding of the real presence of Christ and not about a shared understanding of how the real presence of Christ in communion comes about. When Christ taught us about his flesh and blood in John 6 the implication is that we receive that teaching and believe it. There is no implication about the role of human ministry in communion, let alone requirement as to what we believe about that ministry.

Cardinal Sarah's challenge, interestingly, is not only a somewhat severe challenge to ecumenical unity across the Christian world, a unity which only reaches true maturity in Christ when we not only meet together in council but also in communion, but also to Catholic unity itself. The practice he urges and the invective he brings against its diabolical counterpart is not actually conducive to unifying the post Vatican II Catholic church itself.

Our focus in communion must be Christ himself and not our practice in receiving. It is Christ who nourishes us, who binds us in fellowship and who draws us to adore himself.

As in other recent posts I will not take comments on That Topic or which veer towards discussing it. The topic here is the eucharist, how it is distributed, how it is received and who may share in it.

*we have other non-doctrinal matters today to consider that I think will demonstrate some strong disagreements.
** yes, of course, on this particular matter we may end up in schism, but it won't be today.