Pre-game Analysis for the Primates' Bowl

Dear Brothers and Sisters, greetings in Christ.
 
This is an important week in the life of the Anglican Communion, the meeting of the primates of all the member churches to address our frayed relations. I am sure there will be more to say once we know the outcome, which at present is very murky.  There has been a great deal of speculation: will It be the beginning of a demotion of the status of TEC? Or conversely the renegotiating of the communion into more of a federation? What role will Canterbury choose to play in it all?
 
At this moment I want to assume more the role of one of those commentators before the big game - they suggest something to keep your eye on, the pass rush of one team or the running game of the other.
 
Here is an important question we might ask ourselves: what exactly do we mean by 'communion'? We might speak of 'impaired communion' or 'sharing communion.'  About what exactly are we speaking and about whom are we speaking? Somewhere along the way these will be important questions, and they have a bearing on ecclesiology itself, on what we imagine the Church to be.
 
While 'communion' might refer to various things, here at least are three.  First there is the relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. This was key in the historical development of the sister national and regional churches we now find. It was the ABC after all who first gathered all the bishops of the Anglican world to Lambeth in the face of controversy in 1867.  (It is worth noting that this relation has constitutional weight in our church).  Secondly there are the means of taking council together as a communion which have grown up over the years. These 'instruments of unity' comprise different means by which they can consider discipline and participation.  Who can go to the Conference or to the Anglican Consultative Council are questions which have been debated over the past decade.  Thirdly, there is the question, more literally of who may have communion among whom.  Now we as a church take an easier approach to who may take communion than who may preside at communion- we give Methodists communion but don't let their ministers celebrate. So this sense of 'communion' involves more local, case-by-case judgments. For example the church in the South Sudan recently stated that it considered itself out of communion with TEC, but still in communion with a diocese like Dallas.
    
My point is simply this: since 'communion' means several things, it might be that there could be multiple effects of the present deliberations. One could, for example, be at once 'in communion' with Canterbury, separated from the councils of the church, and yet locally still 'in communion' with a variegated group of churches of various stripes. What boxing calls a 'split decision' is quite possible. We shall have to wait and see.
    
All of this is a working out of what the late bishop Stephen Sykes called 'dispersed authority.' Whom we answer to and how is varied. This is at once our strength and our weakness. Authority is also, by no accident, the Achilles heel of postmodern Western culture.
      
In the midst of it all it is good to remember that in normative, 'mere' Christianity, authority is ultimately lodged with Jesus Christ himself, witnessed to by the canonical Scriptures and read in keeping with the creeds. Ecclesial struggles matter. But on this rock even frayed communion can be rewoven.
 
Peace
 
+GRS

Getting Particular About Our Faith

On Christmas Eve I heard a sermon- let the where and who be left aside. The priest emphasized the particularity of those names in Luke 3- Herod, Pilate, Quirinius.  He rewrote the chapter as he inserted the political names from his own day and place. His point was that, as the Spirit was at work then, so it is now. True enough. This interest goes under the name of 'context' and undergirds much mission thinking.
   However if you consider that passage again, you realize that Luke point is not that God is doing something in every particular time and place, but God did something then and there utterly unique.  The point is not that Jesus is an example, but rather that in Him, uniquely, things heavenly and earthly met, as our collect said, so as to change the world. The point is not particularity in general, but this particular which is not 'in general' at all. The latter only is what writers like Lesslie Newbigin called the 'scandal of particularity.'
   Hair splitting? Hardly. This is the one point most key to understanding what happened to Christianity in the modern age. There are various ways to make the point. The great Danish writer Soren Kierkegaard said Jesus is either a great teacher of truths which, once you know them, you don't need him, or else He is the redeemer whose benefit cannot be so readily pealed away.  (Of course those who think the latter also think he was a great teacher, but that isn't all).  Many thinkers in modern times tried to make the gospel relevant or attractive by saying the gospels are old-fashioned stories for things like trust, faith, hope (which are doubtless good things ).  You can see how life's particularity in general is one more example of this.  (Similarly people now use 'incarnate' to mean 'worldly' as opposed to the miracle of Emanuel.
   Why such a fuss? Can't we call just gather together in faith? We can and do. But what we believe matters. The truths-in-general approach leads to a kind of pluralism - different peoples have their different languages for these ineffable things. And then the Christmas baby is indeed gone with the bath water. And this way of thinking is hardly rare in our time or our denomination.
  Soon after that sermon we said the Creed. It is the great bulwark against fuzzy in-general thinking it is scandalous particularity gone metaphysical. That baby is God-of-God. Because it sets our teeth on edge we need it. We are reminded the what hear in church is, to quote Narnia, is not safe but it is good (for us).
    We suppose the great battle line is over social issues, and, yes, those issues matter but lurking deeper is the greater watershed which cuts across all modern Christian talk.
   And of course there is more to say - if God was in Christ, then there are all kinds of implications for our unique here and now. But in this incarnationtide let us first be clear to make first things first.
Peace +GRS

 

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