Wednesday 30 January 2008

Goddards: Nine Legs Not Three

The Goddards keep writing:

13th January 2007

Dear Giles

...I am really excited at where this conversation could go and how others may join in or start their own conversations across the different divides we are so aware of in the Church of England and the Communion.

I get the sense that not so many are noticing the continuing correspondence between the two Goddards: Andrew who might be called Open Evangelical and Giles who might be called Liberal.

Both have written in January, Andrew more generally on authority and Giles also on authority but also more specifically on sexuality.

They both draw upon the Anglican stool, and I would here just focus upon understanding the Anglican stool - Giles calls it a "milking stool". It has three legs. Andrew's concern is that the superiority of scripture is being undermined (presumably scripture then has the longer leg):

Part of our agreement is obviously – thankfully – found in features of Anglican identity such as being both catholic and reformed, the wisdom found in the BCP (and of such value during boring sermons!), and the importance of Scripture, tradition and reason. As someone brought up a Presbyterian in Scotland those are all aspects I have discovered in Anglicanism which I treasure. But increasingly I sense that - under the surface issue of homosexuality – we also share worries and anxieties that what we particularly treasure in Anglicanism is under threat at present.

I sense that many of those I know linked to Inclusive Church see in the recent growth of evangelical Anglicanism, and particularly some of its expressions elsewhere in the Communion, a real threat to the valuable tradition of diversity and development which you highlight and they fear the Communion covenant project may try to define more closely what Anglicanism is and make us a more rigidly confessional church.

Indeed there is such a threat, especially if the Covenant is combined with the Advent Letter that stated there is one way to read the Bible, and that this is the basis of one Anglican Church's expectation regarding another Anglican Church and therefore the preservation of its Anglican monopoly in that area. Should that ever come into a Covenant, and should the Covenant come about and have some sort of moral authority, then this fear of Andrew's will be put to rest:

For myself and other evangelicals a major concern is that we will abandon the supreme authority of Scripture as ‘the revealed Word of God’ (Quadrilateral) and the subordination of the church to Scripture.

I believe our current difficulties arise because both the authority of Scripture and the authority of the church are being rejected or undermined.

So as well as the stool, there is this dance: the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. That was supposed to give a definition of Anglicanism.

While I suspect I have a more critical view of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral than you do, it is interesting to go back to its original context in the motion of 1886 adopted by the American House of Bishops. It was of course not offering a definition of Anglican identity but clearly stating simply what was ‘essential’

This is what came in 1886 from the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States; first of all there were four parts of a preamble:

1. Our earnest desire that the Saviour's prayer, "That we all may be one," may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled;

2. That we believe that all who have been duly baptised with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, are members of the Holy Catholic Church.

3. That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline, or to traditional customs, this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own;

4. That this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, co-operating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visibile manifestation of Christ to the world.

Then comes the dance itself, with in 1886 the Bishops state:

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.

3. The two Sacraments,--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord,--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

The context was after Bishop Colenso and his anti-literalist view of the Mosaic narrative, along with the publication of Essays and Reviews (1860), with a liberal schism in South Africa after he was deposed by Bishop Gray (his Church later becoming more 'orthodox' than the main Anglican Church in South Africa).

So in 1888 the Lambeth Conference Resolution 11 stated:

Lambeth Conference of 1888
Resolution 11

That, in the opinion of this Conference, the following Articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing made towards Home Reunion:

(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

(b) The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself - Baptism and the Supper of the Lord - ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.

(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.

So this was, as Andrew states:

in order to ‘restore’ Christian unity ‘among the divided branches of Christendom’.

And in the letter Andrew had stated on:

the fact that even after 1865 all clergy [in England] needed to 'assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and to the Book of Common Prayer and of the ordering of bishops, priests, and deacons' and state 'I believe the doctrine of the Church of England as therein set forth' is a reminder that diversity and inclusivity have often had quite strongly defined limits within Anglicanism.

Then he makes the important point:

Given that, by agreement of Synod and Lambeth Conferences, the Articles and Prayer Book no longer define those limits in that way in either the CofE or the Communion, the issue you highlight of the 'locus of authority' is particularly pressing and one I suspect we will keep coming back to in different ways.

So the central issue then is one of authority. This is reasonably clear, that the Quadrilateral does not say a great deal, and that of the stool, one leg is supposed to be the main one but people on Andrew's side think the liberal saw is being applied to make it a shorter leg.

Interestingly that in the English response to the Draft Covenant, the idea of only two sacraments is questioned, and also the application of scripture to questions of morality and constant reference to them. Minimalism is seen as important too:

(6) The biblical texts currently at the beginning of each section of the Covenant should be omitted. They suggest a way of handling the biblical material that not all Anglicans share and it is not always clear how the texts relate to the material that follows.

(11) Subsection 3 suggests that there are only two sacraments that were ordained by Christ. Although some Anglicans hold this position others do not and it would be better to avoid language that would provoke argument about this issue.

(12) Subsection 5 seems to suggest that every church has made use of the historic formularies, whereas in fact this has not been the case. Reference to the Thirty Nine Articles can also be seen to suggest a ‘maximalist’ approach to doctrinal agreement whereas arguably the Covenant requires a more ‘minimalist’ approach. On the other hand, having a reference to the formularies is important to many Anglicans who see them as a guarantee of fidelity to orthodox biblical theology. A way forward might be to use the language of the Church of England’s Declaration of Assent and to talk about ‘the faith to which the formularies bear witness.’

So little can be said doctrinally! The English provided an alternative Draft Covenant, but some Churches being opposed to its implications provided no alternative Covenant. They effectively don't want one (and yet this is a condition of attendance at Lambeth 2008 - to work on the Covenant).

It can be argued that every single one of these Quadrilateral clauses is questioned: what is salvation that it is found entirely within the Scriptures, how they are consistently a standard of faith (consistently?) and, even more puzzling, what sort of rule they supply. The Creeds are questioned: even the Archbishop of Canterbury justified the Covenant on the basis that the Creeds are culturally and historically problematic:

As we’re often reminded, we do say the same creeds. But it seems, with the widening gaps about culture and theological understanding, we need something a bit more intentional than that, a bit more expressive of responsibility to and for one another. So that’s why I don’t think a credal focus alone will do it.

They are going the way of the Thirty-nine Articles in practice if not quite in law. As well as the sacraments, as some will claim as many as seven, and some wonder what sacrament even means,the local nature of the Church is challenged - clearly the likes of GAFCON are not operating according to the rules of a local episcopate. The Archbishop of Canterbury wants the Communion alone to decide intervention when a Church has failed, according to that Advent Letter.

Giles focuses on the specifics of same sex relationships to start (these relationships that have, apparently, no positive statements in the Bible).

24th Jan 2008

Dear Andrew

at the moment the place that I part company with the Church is that whereas I see their sexual expression as integral to the relationship’s godliness the Church sees it as inimical.

I hear two, from Jesus; love God and love your neighbour; I learn from this that “Christ is the end of the law.” I find no commandments - simply some references whose meaning and implications are disputed - about the place of sex in same-gender relationships;

Then he gets to authority in general, and rather gets tied in his own knots.

I take seriously the notion of the Anglican theological method – the “milking stool” of the three strands of Scripture, Reason and Tradition

I deliberately do not include Experience as a fourth leg, not just because it spoils the milking stool analogy but because I do not believe that it is possible to separate our experience from the other three.

The notion that we can come at scripture unaffected by our cultural, our social, our political and our personal context is not a notion that is sustainable. We understand tradition in the light of our experience...

And reason and experience are bound up together...

The point is that they are all bound up together, so experience is a category. There are more, too, for Giles.

cultural context and intellectual reflection are locked in a sometimes virtuous and sometimes vicious circle.

we, as readers of scripture, do not come to it like blank sheets of paper waiting to be written on. We bring our cultural background, our language, our expectations, our preconceptions

So that is culture, language, expectations, preconceptions and experience. We can put the first four into culture. Experience might be culture, but experience also comes from events.

we interpret scripture through the lens of our faith and of our world. What is happening, when we read the scriptures, is that we are entering into a relationship with the text which is before us, and behind that with the almost always anonymous authors of the text; the past meets the future in the present, and we as readers are shaped by and shape our understandings of the words we read.

So now we have faith, the world, and time. Let's call 'the world' cultures, which can include our own. Faith in this context would be a condition of developing ongoing trust and having that as a means to bind together. Time is significant in terms of immediacy and tradition, the first being about constructing the dynamic and decision of faith. So time tends to dissolve into other categories. Difference in time between cultures is just other cultures (e.g. the New Testament period as a way of thinking).

In short, we are graced, by the Holy Spirit, with our desires, our reasoning, our emotions and our self-understanding. All of these are inextricably bound up with our past and our present, with reason and tradition. It is the interplay between all these which gives faith in Jesus Christ its dynamic tension.

This now adds divine action and the self (desire being partly cultural, partly internal, as indeed is reasoning - but reasoning exists on a rational level whereas desire as a thing-in-itself relates to sin).

There are quite a few legs on this stool now. There are scripture, tradition, reason, experience, own culture, cultures, faith, divine action and the self. One could be reductionist about these, and focus heavily on the functionings of language as transmitter of culture and symbolic forms, that culture writes scripture, culture shapes understanding of experience, culture shapes reasoning, it formed traditions and is in them, and it also interprets (even constructs) the divine. In that the self is kept as a category, so must relationship be added too. It is more than culture: like the self it cannot be limited by culture. this makes nine.

A reductionist approach here would leave culture and the divine (culturally interpreted). So the only issue then is how much is cultural and human and how much is divine (even if through culture).

So I do not myself think a great deal of the three legged stool. It is either two matters, the divine-human, or the nine.

Tradition of course changes over time, and so Giles asks Andrew, back on the specific subject:

I remain intrigued by your indication in an earlier letter that you substantially agree with Oliver O’Donovan on not ruling out a development in tradition in this matter – otherwise, of course, what would be the point of a listening process?

...what would you consider reason enough for the Church to consider it an acceptable alternative to either celibacy or marriage in this case, given that you do not rule out the possibility of a development?

The problem with the action of the divine is that no one can conclude an argument about it. What is divine and fixed to some is cultural and transient to another. The three-legged stool as stability about it, but a straight either-or argument is highly unstable, and schismatic over a presenting issue. This is why the Church of England is dividing up.

The other three legged stool it lost was the Broad, Evangelical and Traditionalist Catholic. The latter is marginalised, so it is a straight fight - if they want to fight.

It might be better to consider an nine legged stool or, if the argument about the divine cannot be concluded, just consider eight.

I notice that these days many an office chair has five legs and one central pole to the seat, and it goes up and down with gas inside. Perhaps Anglicans ought to think more like this than milking stools.

I cannot think what has nine legs, other than a very large but round table. That might be a symbol for Anglicans. Bahai temples have nine sides (nine prophets East and and Near East, apparently).

In my view the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is becoming a dead duck, and the creeds are hardly believed by many. They are all sets of historical documents. Scripture has a normative use, but cannot make any rules (it is not a rule book) and salvation is about what people do as much as being slavish about a book. Culture and language are fluid, and Churches are holders of religious culture in negotiation with wider culture. They and their collections of people make the decisions, decisions about the ongoing development of trust and how to bind people to one another, acted out ritually, without dividing from others. For me, that's all that matters. Of course there are ways and means and points and assistances from the past, but fewer rules and a closer focus on we the people (pastoral) matters more than anything.

It would not matter to me if there were more than the few verses of the Bible that are dedicated to anti-homosexuality, or if Jesus had said anything worth recording about it and against (after all what he said against divorce was recorded but the Churches are all flexible about divorce). On the basic matter of the self, and relationship, the Church as ever changer of tradition ought to include (blessings and ministry - encouraging stability), and then get on with the business of bringing the world to some kind of reconciliation, binding the people and other evolved life, and progressing.

1 comment:

Erika Baker said...

Another excellent analysis, thank you!