Tuesday 8 January 2008

Two Way Street

I have not often concerned myself with Covenant, or should it be Covenant-Communion, a sort of conserving middling body that opposes the schism of GAFCON but also the apparent theological drift of The Episcopal Church.

One article, however, by Dale Rye, concerns an apparent lumping together as modernists of both liberals and fundamentalists in their reading the Bibles, as individuals, and that both in interpreting the Bible make the mistake of not allowing the Bibles to interpret them. The article then goes on to state - which actually does not logically follow - that it is then the Church that becomes the arbiter of biblical truth, and that you cannot derive orthodoxy from interpreting the Bible as an individual. It then pictures a rosy situation of bishops and priests as the masters, with lay people joining and being inculcated with the faith by them. So the liberals and fundamentalists are one inadequate way of interpreting the Bible and faith, whereas the other way is that of the tradition, and the Church, and the Bible, that interprets the individual.

It is unclear whether the article's title Two Rival Versions of Modern Thinking refers to the liberals and the fundamentalists or to these apparent modernists and the conserving Church.

It has a phrase, however, that rather gives a problem:

although a new reading may supplement, correct, extend, or develop the tradition in compatible ways.

The problem with creating a model of self-perpetuating, conserving, institutional systems, is that about from where a new reading is ever supposed to come. That there even can be a new reading is clearly to allow for change, somewhere.

The difficulty with this rosy view of institutional bubble of conservatism is the shift in culture, knowledge and understanding. Whereas culture and the culture of knowledge was once supportive of the Church institution and a plain reading of the Bible, now we would not look to the Bible to answer any of the questions of where and what or how in terms of geography or history or science: nothing on human origins, nothing on natural origins, nothing about the cosmic future. Understanding the sociology of Bible times is crucial. Indeed the Bible is not even very good at indicating its own origins (why there is biblical criticism), not does it indicate very well its own historical record. Being biography-like or history-like is not the same as giving biography or giving history. It displays a set of assumptions of cultural understanding utterly different from our own. Even the idea of an unchanging human nature is open to psychological investigation, if indeed it makes such a claim (usually offered for its continuing relevance for human behaviour).

It is a given in mainstream Christianity that the Bible remains a normative document, in that it is to be read within the context of worship and discerned. To this extent, it does interpret the individual. Nevertheless, it is open to be discerned in turn by everyone who hears. We speak as well as hear. The same is true with the inheritance of doctrines within liturgical forms: they interpret the individual and the individual can interpret them. The same is true of ritual therein, especially the eucharistic.

I wish I had confidence in bishops and priests as masters. Much in theological colleges, and of the increasingly replacement of non-residential even distance learning, is hardly mastery. Such is often forgotten as these masters get into the demands of the job. Indeed bishops and priests are not masters, but servants. They may well learn for longer and in a more dedicated manner, but this is seen by their fruits in being servants.

Nor is the Church some sort of remote, mystical body in the hands of masters - or it should not be. Otherwise the argument is being made for high Catholicism. Anglicanism rightly undermines such certainty: it is exactly why the Archbishop of Canterbury's centralisation plans via the Instruments of Communion should be opposed: they are pseudo-Roman Catholic and not Anglican. They should be opposed even if they were not linked to some iron rigid narrow interpretation of the Bible according to the ridiculous Lambeth 1998 1:10. This so called Mind of the Communion has real resistance and non-acceptability throughout those who make up the Church, just as the whole centralisation process gets resisted as its agenda is found to be against the various individuals and groups who make up significant sections of Anglican Churches.

The pluralistic culture - one of education and the ability to apply critical tools - therefore does impact back on the Churches and the understanding of scriptures. The conserving privilege of the Church as an institution is limited, limited by the people in it. Furthermore the Church is subject to change, change according to due processes and the people making such change.

Furthermore, liberals combine modernism and postmodernism. They have moved on. They are well aware of the collective nature of text and that conversation is within groups and their meanings, not simply individuals. This sort of liberalism boxing-up creates a straw man.

There is a complete lack of consensus regarding the Church now. A rosy as-it-was institution cannot be put back together again. The party groups have now grown so far apart that some realignments would seem to make sense - some will want to specialise according to their understanding and some will want to keep a sense of diversity and mutual interaction of difference.

I am in the difference camp. Understanding difference might be the task ahead now, rather than trying to reconstruct a rosy past and centralising what refuses to be jammed together. We form ourselves in relationship with the liturgical performance: involving doctrines, Bible and the dramatic eucharistic ritual all together. But we also interpret them, and can change the way they are understood, and even how and to what extent they go on to be given liturgically.

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