Planet Anglican

Smoke… and… Mirrors

 

Smoke and Mirrors – noun 

an explanation or description that is not true or not complete and is used to hide the truth about a situation:

This week the ABC ran a piece highlighting the Bishop of Wangaratta, John Parkes’ enthusiasm in regards to conducting same-sex blessings before he lays down his Bishop’s pastoral staff at the end of the year. I thought this was rather strange as last year the Anglican Bishops (and I assume +Parkes was present) made an historic agreement, an agreement that states (Responding to Recent Changes in the Marriage Act)

We, the bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia, affirm the following.

Guiding principles

1. The doctrine of this Church is that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman. If we as a Church are to change this doctrine to permit same-sex marriage, the appropriate mechanism is through the framework of the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia. Bishops should give leadership in demonstrating trust in this framework as the way to move forward together, recognising that this will require care, persistence and generosity. The bishops commit to working together to manifest and maintain unity, as we together discern the truth.

Thus the Bishops agree that they will uphold the traditional view of marriage and if any change to this doctrine is to be attempted, due process will be followed.

Thus the Bishop of Wangaratta publicly stating his intention to “bless” homosexual couples who are legally married in the eyes of the Australian marriage act seems to be in breach of this agreement and in fact I would say that it obviously is. Of course, technically speaking he is not in breach of the agreement, technically speaking, he would not be marrying homosexual couples; “blessing the persons and not the relationship”; so technically speaking he is still upholding the doctrine of the Anglican Church which states that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman.

Smoke… and… Mirrors.

The practice of clergy conducting same-sex blessings are:

Based on a lie – the lie being that God approves of sexual expression couples of the same gender when Scripture is abundantly clear that He does not. In fact, every time homosexual sexual expression is mentioned, the context is always negative. Clergy who conduct such blessings are being false witnesses, they are saying God’s blesses what God’s Word says is sin. Scripture is clear, God will not bless, sustain, and encourage couples in sin.

Based on a false Gospel – a gospel of no repentance. Scripture is clear that homosexual sexual expression is evidential of rebellion against God and sign of God giving people over to judgment as a result of the aforementioned rebellion. Romans 1:18-32 is crystal clear on this. However, by ‘blessings such a union, Anglican clergy, (Bishop or otherwise) ‘blessing’  in essence, are sending a message that says the gospel consists of “come as you are and stay as you are”; which is not the message of the Gospel.

Are deceptive –  Anglican bishops who find it desirous to conduct same-sex blessings of couples who are married in the eyes of the state, know that what they are doing is not conducting a marriage. They know that what the Bible teaches regarding marriage will do all they can to push the boundaries but not technically breach them so that they cannot be held to account. Thus these so-called “blessings” will be treated as a marriage but technically will not be a marriage (because technically, they are already married). By all human appearances the services will appear to be like a wedding, they will be treated as a wedding, but technically will not be a wedding.

Are coercive History has shown us that in every denomination, every issue of a Biblically untenable nature that revisionists have desired and have had granted to them has led to coercion from revisionists towards those who disagree when they are in positions of authority. They use the rhetoric of being “a broad church”, but their diversity and tolerance is only extended to those who agree with them and/or acquiesce to their position.

Example – The Church of Scotland:  Decades ago, the General Assembly of the Kirk passed the ordinance that women could be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The shift went from a woman could be ordained to, a woman should be ordained. When the decision came to pass, the official view in time moved from women should be ordained to women must be ordained.

Notice the progression:

We could… therefore… We should… therefore… We must… therefore… you must.

So in practice, those who in good conscience do not hold to women’s ordination are excluded from the discernment process for ordination within the Church of Scotland.

This revisionist tactic is unstated, yet it is far from subtle, though is not unique to the Scottish Kirk. It occurs within the Anglican Church. When women’s ordination came about there was the same talk from revisionists saying “oh yes, those disagree are free to disagree, etc” and, “It won’t divide the church”, etc. However it has divided the Anglican Church, and women’s ordination is often used by revisionists bishops as a way of preventing orthodox clergy coming into their dioceses, thus in practice, clergy are not free to disagree if they wish to serve in the said dioceses. An orthodox Anglican cleric/candidate approaches a diocese about being licensed/ordained/accepted for discernment. All a revisionist bishop need to do end the process before it begins is to ask them what they think of Women’s ordination.

If they don’t agree with Women’s ordination they are told:

“Sorry, I don’t think it is God’s will for you to serve in our diocese as it would not be a good fit for you”.

It is the same coercive progression:

We could… therefore… We should… therefore… We must… therefore… you must.

Although women’s ordination is in my view, not a first-order issue, there is every reason to believe that if the Anglican Church of Australia goes down the same road with same-sex blessings (which is a gospel issue), the same tactic will be employed. An orthodox Anglican cleric/candidate approaches a diocese about being licensed/  being ordained/accepted for discernment. All a revisionist bishop need to do end the process is to ask them “What is your view of same-sex blessings?” or “Do you think you could work in a diocese that conducts same-sex blessings?” Instead of the onus being on the Bishop for endorsing a view and praxis that is antithetical to Scripture, it is placed on the person being asked the question and if they say they don’t agree, predictably they will be told…(here it comes)

“Sorry, I don’t think it is God’s will for you to serve in our diocese as it would not be a good fit for you”.

We could… therefore… We should… therefore… We must… therefore… you must.

Revisionists bishops who resort to this tactic may say, “technically I have done no wrong”; Bishop Parkes may think or state that he will not be violating the Bishop’s agreement by stating his intention to conduct same-sex blessings, and say “Technically, I have done no wrong”.

Smoke… and… Mirrors.

Remind me of the adulterous woman in Proverbs 30:20

This is the way of an adulteress:
    she eats and wipes her mouth
    and says, “I have done no wrong.”

 

Smoke… and… Mirrors.

 

 

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The Anglican Volcano in the Land of Oz

When I started this blog, my intention was (and still is) for it to be primarily a writing journal of sorts, with the secondary goal of encouraging and inform Anglican Christians and amazingly the majority of the readership are from the USA.  I tend to avoid being polemical and although polemics has its place, I tend to avoid such posts out of the awareness that posts of this nature can produce (as the saying goes) “more heat than light”. However, as an Anglican priest, I feel compelled to write about the denomination in which I love, in which I serve, the Anglican Church of Australia, as there are serious warning signs concerning its near future.

When my children have asked me something about the future, I often reply by saying “I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet”, which is based on a very loose rendering of Amos 7:14. But I don’t think one need be a prophet to see the condition of the Anglican Church of Australia and where it may be heading.

In recent years there has been a wrestling match within the Anglican Church between two different views on marriage and human sexuality. These views are like two tectonic plates that collide with one another and the heat and the friction between the two creates magma displacement and volcanoes. On the surface, it may seem that the friction pertains to the issue and definition of marriage, but under the surface, the real issue is bigger than the definition of marriage. These two tectonic plates represent two irreconcilable views, two incompatible world-views… two opposing Biblical hermeneutics… two antithetical gospels.

The Rev David Short from Canada who is certainly no stranger to this friction, wrote an article fifteen years ago entitled Crisis in koinonia in which he reveals the heart of the reason why there are two competing unities within Anglicanism, and it is worth quoting:

At the risk of oversimplifying, what lies beneath the rift within Anglicanism are two different religions: two different Gods, two different views of the fall, sin, salvation, humanity, the cross of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit, the coming judgment and the mission of the church. Blessing same-sex unions is one manifestation of a deeper conflict in the divergent movement of two irreconcilable theological tectonic plates.”

I remember as a six-year- boy watching the news about the eruption of Mt St Helens in 1980. Though at first, everything seemed serene, the warning signs appeared, warning signs that showed that the eruption was imminent and when it erupted, fifty-seven lives were lost. The so-called serene exterior of Mt St Helens was just that… “so-called”. The Anglican Church of Australia consists of twenty-three autonomous dioceses that are sort of held together by a Constitution however, the serene ecclesiastical exterior is being shaken by the warning signs of seismic activity; caused by these two irreconcilable theological tectonic plates colliding. This collision has caused eruptions in the USA, Canada, Scotland, Brazil, and New Zealand. I may be off in regards to the timing, but I believe that an eruption of the Anglican Volcano in Oz is coming soon.

Seismic Activity Warning –  The Diocese of Wangaratta 

Last year the Synod of Wangaratta passed the following:

a) acknowledges the widespread national and local support for the recent changes to Australian marriage laws, to include same-sex couples

b) commends the pastoral value of the Bishop authorising a Form of Blessing for optional use in the Diocese of Wangaratta alongside, or in addition to, a wedding conducted by a civil celebrant, and

c) requests that the Bishop of Wangaratta ensure opportunity for the clergy and laity of the Diocese to engage in further discussion as part of the process leading to the potential Diocesan provision for blessing of civil marriages.

Point a) seems rather superfluous if it were the sum of the motion, but it serves as the precursor for b) and c).

One can see the logic, “Our culture is on board with same-sex marriage, our country is on board with same-sex marriage, therefore we need to get on board otherwise we will be left behind”. In other words -theological accommodation, or filtering Scripture through the lens of culture or church functioning as a mirror.

The issue is framed as if the issue is about church-order and marriage and nothing more.

However, the outgoing Bishop, +John Parkes at the end of August this year, will be requesting that his diocese’s upcoming synod endorse a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex marriages and will, himself, be prepared to preside over such a service. He has stated on the record:

“I do not believe, (and I think the science is in and closed), that people choose sinfully their sexual identity and that it is on a spectrum and I refuse to condemn people for being who they are and wanting to live as I believe God made them to be. And if that puts me out of sorts with some part of the Anglican Communion, so be it.”

Seismic Activity Warning – The Newcastle Diocese

As I understand it, the Bishop of Newcastle +Peter Stuart is aiming to promote “the Newcastle Way”. In a recent Ad Clerum which was made public, he writes:

In our Diocese of Newcastle, we have many perspectives. My desire is that we find a loving way to express our shared life.

On social media, he used the nomenclature, “Comprehensive Anglicanism”.

Of course, I would be remiss not to acknowledge that if this is what comprehensive Anglicanism is, then this is brilliant.  If this is the Bishop’s goal in the Newcastle Diocese, to seek a loving way amongst Anglicans who have diverse perspectives regarding the forms of Anglicanism; that is a very healthy attribute and one to engender and encourage in any diocese. The Holy Scriptures I believe support this, and this is also echoed in the Anglican Formularies, in particular, article XXXIV of the Thirty-Nine Articles which in the first paragraph states:

Article XXXIV

Of the Traditions of the Church

It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.

Over the years I have come to see that within the Anglican Church there are a number of preferences when it comes to the forms as there are people,(i.e traditional, contemporary; robes, civilian clothes, Holy Communion weekly, Holy Communion twice a month; different styles of music) though it can be difficult to please everyone. This is one of the reasons why I  love our Anglican Liturgy –  it frees us from approaching church with a consumer mentality, it encourages God’s people to be active participants in corporate worship instead of being critical spectators or consumers, it inculcates the Biblical truths rediscovered at the Reformation, and it also guards us against the constantly changing trends of the modern contemporary church which at times seeks to entertain which can transform Anglican corporate worship into bland, dull generic Anglo-lite worship. Article XXXIV acknowledges that there is freedom within the Anglican tradition for diversity so far is the expression of that freedom does not go against the Holy Scriptures.

However, this is not what +Stuart is referring to. For he then continues

In our Diocese of Newcastle, we have many perspectives. My desire is that we find a loving way to express our shared life. It is of the Gospel that we continue to welcome and affirm LGBTIQ+ people as fellow members of the Body of Christ and welcome their use of their gifts for the service of God, his people and his cosmos. It is of the Gospel that we continue to welcome and affirm LGBTIQ+ people as fellow members of the Body of Christ and welcome their use of their gifts for the service of God, his people and his cosmos.

It appears that the Bishop of Newcastle is aiming to seek a loving way amongst Anglicans who have diverse perspectives, not pertaining to the forms of Anglicanism but to the substance of Anglicanism, the very nature of the Gospel itself,  as +Stuart believes that the welcoming of LGBTIQ+ people as fellow members of the Body of Christ is “of the gospel”. Yet his first two sentences treat the issue as if it were a second-order issue (as if it were about forms, rather than the substance) evidenced by his expressed hope that “we find a loving way to express our shared life”. (What ever the term “shared life” means).

Seismic Activity Warning The Grafton Diocese

  • The Anglican Diocese of Grafton at the recent Synod passed a motion asking the General Synod to introduce same-sex marriage and blessing liturgies.
  • Faithful Anglican clergy put forward the motion that was spectacularly normal in its orthodoxy:

27. Standard of Worship and Doctrine

That this Synod affirms the authorised standard of worship and doctrine of the Anglican Church of Australia as set out in the Fundamental Declarations and Ruling Principles of the Constitution.

The motion was soundly defeated in a vote by houses with approximately 2/3 of the delegates voting against it.

This is a shocking move on Grafton’s part. They are sending a message to the national church, saying “We are the arbiters of what we deem to be the truth, not the Scriptures”. However, Grafton diocese unwittingly showed its true colours. It has dispensed with obfuscation, smoke and mirrors, and the revisionist buzzwords such as “conversation”; “listening”; and/or “faith journey”. By showing their hand, the Grafton Diocese has removed the serene ecclesiastical exterior revealing the giant caldera of rolling, bubbling and spluttering lava, evidence of the theological tectonic plate that it truly is. Therefore other provinces and/or dioceses who are of the same theological tectonic plate who use phrases such as “different understanding”  or “dual integrities” simply will not wash with those who uphold the authority of Scripture and the Anglican Formularies. This sort of rhetoric will be seen by the Biblical discerning as nothing more than theological sleight of hand in an attempt to stop the friction between the two colliding theological plates.

I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet, but one need not be either to see that the eruption of the Anglican Volcano in the Land of Oz will come. The eruptions took place in the USA, Canada, Scotland, Brazil, New Zealand. It will erupt here, will not be because of different definitions of marriage and/or human sexuality but because of the friction of two different belief system,  two different religions, with two opposing gospels both lay claim to the name Anglican.

The eruption is coming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – Ever Ancient Ever New – The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation

Being an Anglican priest who loves the liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer, who thinks a traditional prayer book service should not only be found in an early Sunday morning service for people aimed over the age of eighty, I was very interested to read the latest work by a fellow Anglican priest from across the pond Winfield Bevins.

He makes some very salient points. For example, Winfield notes one of the weaknesses of the church growth movement:

“The end result of attempts to “woo” the world with the world’s ways has produced a generation of consumers – individuals who in the driver’s seat and dictate what and how the church should meet their needs – rather than radically comitted disciples of Jesus Christ”. chapter 1 – [the New Search for Liturgy – p.29]

He backs this up in chapter 2 (which I thought was his strongest chapter) writing:

Finally, perhaps the most powerful characteristic of liturgy is its participatory element. Many young adults have shared with me how they are tired of a seeker-friendly, consumerist approaches to the faith in which they observe and absorb the work of others. They no longer want to be etertained; they want to participate. Liturgy ensures that each person has the opportunity to participate in the worship of the church, and it keeps us from being passive spectatotrs who simply observe and consume knowledge. (Liturgy is participatory – p.53).

Winfield unpacks and applies this to families in Chapter 10 – Bringing Liturgy Home, (pp.191-192).

“People today tend to focus on “the now” at the expense of the past, and we invest ourselves in what is temporal rather than what is eternal”.

After reading chapter 2 I was saying aloud “yes!”, “so true”.

Bevins made points which I strongly agree with, how liturgy frees us from ourselves:

“Liturgy is formative…it inoculates us from man-centered worship’. (p.50).

Below are some other helpful tidbits:

“liturgical worship can bring a much-needed focal point for a more disciplined spiritual life”.[Chapter 1 – the New Search for Liturgy – p.37]

“Historical liturgy offers us a way to correct our forgetfulness”. [the New Search for Liturgy – p.39]. ” As such, we as a people should not approach God as individuals, but as a family of God”.

In later chapters, Winfield helpfully elucidates the benefits of using liturgy prayers in one’s prayer life and the daily office (i.e. Chapter 8 – Rhythms of Grace -pp.164-167).

A question that his book raised in my mind as I was reading it pertains to Bevins’ claims that many young people, many young adults in the USA are moving to churches that are liturgical. I wonder if Winfield is over-egging the pudding just a wee bit. I have asked other Anglican priests from the States who are saying that this is not the case, some do, but not on a huge scale.

I believe that the liturgies of the Anglican Church, namely the Book of Common Prayer are a blessing that cannot be overstated. I love being an Anglican Christian and love our Anglican liturgies. I (like Bevins) am also very wary of consumer entertainment based church services where members are spectators rather than participants and so to encounter a book written by not only a  brother in Christ, but a fellow Anglican priest who shares the same love of liturgy, I really wanted to love this book. However, Bevins’book seemed to be theologically confusing. On the one hand, he talks about embracing liturgy “in conjunction with good theology” and the necessity of orthodoxy (right doctrine) and yet through his book he provides anecdotal examples of where one’s experience was the litmus test to discern whether something  (in this case, liturgy) was true, right, brought them to God).  Bevins uses very subjective language. He often uses the words “felt”, ” a sense of”; his term ‘a sense of’.

As I read this book, it became more apparent that Ever Ancient Ever New was not about the merits of Anglican Christianity, or about the blessings of Anglican liturgy and in particular the BCP. It was more about the benefits of being liturgical, and the litmus test of what makes good liturgy is the experience that it engenders in the person using the liturgy, regardless of its source (be it Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic or Anglican). The book lacked theological clarity (which I think was most evident in Chapter 7 – Three Streams, One River. I won’t elucidate my concerns of that in this review as I have already written about the Three Streams in a previous article, sufficed to say that Winfield is a strong proponent of this view and thus, in my opinion, has moved away from Classical Cranmerian Anglicanism and places a dichotomy between Word, Spirit and Sacrament in its very attempt to try to bring together what Cranmerian Anglicanism had never separated.

What makes liturgy good liturgy is not the experience one has when engages in it, but the Word of God that permeates through it, (which is why the BCP is such good liturgy).  But for Bevins, it seems that Scripture (whilst authoritative) it is not the supreme authority.

Australian Anglican priest and former Dean of St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney, the Rev Philip Jensen, writes:

While nearly all Christians uphold the authority of the Scriptures, in reality, there are other authorities which compete with the Bible for supremacy. There are those who regard the teachings of the institution or tradition to which they belong as authoritative for their life. If their church or priest or bishop or pastor (past or present) offers direction for their behaviour or understanding or praxis they will adopt it readily and fall into line. Others wish to be led more by their experience of God. They see their Christian lives in terms of following the movings and promptings of the Spirit. Then there are those who base their understanding of God and what He requires of us on human reason. They will accept and practice whatever can be demonstrated as sensible, rational, and intelligent and discard what they deem to be primitive or irrational. Whilst in the Christian life, the positions that we hold to have a measure of Bible, Experience, Institution, and Reason mixed in, there comes a point where one has to choose between these four competing authorities. What will we do when our experience doesn’t tally with the Scriptures? Or when our reason disagrees with what the Bible says? Or when our practice or tradition does not match with God’s Word? It is at this point that we reveal our true colours. We draw a line and take our stand. 1

Bevins, like us all, has to choose between these four competing authorities. Judging from his book, Bevins has chosen experience. And this is the books greatest weakness and is where it falls down. Cranmer’s goal in putting together the BCP was to point people to Scripture, he did not discount reason, experience or tradition, but for him, these authorities come under the final authority- Holy Scripture. That is the point of authentic Anglican liturgy.

Some years ago a book came out entitled Evangelicals On the Canterbury Trail by the late Robert Webber. Bevins’ book in many ways seems to be a 21st Century version of that book, minus the American Episcopalianism with a strong addition of three streams theology. The result is a theologically confusing book. His quote from Brian Zahnd in his epilogue encapsulates this confusion:

“We need the whole body of Christ to properly form the body of Christ. This much I’m sure of: Orthodox mystery, Catholic beauty, Anglican liturgy, Protestant audacity, Evangelical energy, Charismatic reality – I need it all”

So would I recommend this book? I would have to say that in spite of the strengths of this book (which there are many of which my Subterranean Anglicans could benefit from), I could not recommend this book to anyone other than the Biblically discerning.

Footnote

  1. https://phillipjensen.com/four-ways-to-live/