[For readers who stumble upon this post without knowing the background, it concerns efforts being made within the Anglican Church of the Province of New Zealand to find a way to allow two practices to coexist within the denomination with regard to the acceptance or not into the Church of couples in faithful same-gender relationships. Motion 30 is a motion that was passed at the Church’s 2014 synod, authorising a Way Forward working party to consider this question.]
Peter Carrell’s July 29 2014 blog post, http://anglicandownunder.blogspot.co.nz/2014/07/of-all-times-to-leave-our-church-now-is.html, discusses a question that had been put to him, “If a majority of the Church decided to adopt Arianism in place of Trinitarianism; would you be happy to accept that stance?” The mention of Arianism provoked my thinking. It seems to me that anyone who subscribes to the view, “God is that which concerns us ultimately – but we do not know what it is” (Tillich, as expanded by Geering), is already functionally an Arian. They have made God (whatever that is) so other and so incoherent that they have silenced the voice of “the God who is there and who is not silent” (to paraphrase Francis Schaeffer). They have replaced the voice of God with their own collective musings.
That led me to reflect that although Motion 30 looks for a way of recognising two integrities as regards the blessing or not of LGBT relationships, there are more than two parties at play in this debate. I believe that the Way Forward working party needs to be aware in its deliberations of all the interested parties, or it will not achieve a recommendation that will stick.
The Anglican/Episcopal communion worldwide and – I expect – in this country has tacitly accepted numbers of neo-Arians into its clergy and its people. Some of the viewpoints considered by the Way Forward working party will reflect that perspective. There is no possible meeting of minds between the conservatives and the neo-Arians. Any two-integrities “solution” that might be seen to validate neo-Arianism will not succeed. If two integrities are to be accepted, each must accept the other as Trinitarian in faith and truly striving to hear and obey the voice of the God who is not silent.
That brings us therefore to the divide between the evangelicals who hold firmly to their understanding of “sola scriptura” and those – typically but not exclusively Anglo-Catholic – who believe along with their evangelical siblings in the truths that are affirmed in the Creeds of Nicaea and Chalcedon but who believe that the processes by which God makes his voice heard are more complex than can be encapsulated in the term “sola scriptura.”
These two groups – it seems to me – are united in their desire to uphold the sovereign glory of God and to hear what is truly God’s word, hearing it as a living word but not subordinating it to the fashions of the day. What divides them at present is their doctrine of how that word is discerned: whether the word can be derived in totality from within the pages of scripture or whether the Spirit of God uses other complementary means to move our understanding forward. Our outwardly united Anglican communion already tacitly tolerates two integrities with regard to that question. It has not previously become a potential cause of schism because it has not before brought the two parties to such opposite points of view on such a controversial and publicly visible question as this, the Church’s position with regard to LGBT relationships.
Heretofore, the gospel has been preached and people have come to faith under the ministry of clergy and congregations of both points of view regarding the word of God. God’s work could still be seen to be done and so each party could accept the other even if expressing brotherly criticism of the details of how the other was proceeding. Now, however, we have one party saying to the other, “You are withholding the promise of salvation from some to whom God freely offers it,” and the other party saying, “No, you are holding out a false hope of salvation to some who cannot be saved unless as part of their repentance, they are willing to live a celibate life.”
This is a hugely important difference. No one on either side wants to misrepresent the promises and grace of God, but clearly one side or the other is doing so. Paradoxically, though, this mutual sense of awe-filled responsibility to be true to our God is something that can unite us in mutual respect as we work through the present issue.
It is not the task of the Way Forward working party to resolve as such the different viewpoints regarding the hearing of the word of God. However, if two integrities are indeed to respect each other as Christ-centred integrities, I believe that any Way Forward process that is agreed to must include a commitment to work strenuously together to reach a common understanding of how God’s word is discerned. Without such a commitment, there will only be an ever-widening divergence of practice until the two integrities solution is seen as a sham and we divide.
In summary, there is a strong base for continuing unity where these conditions are true:
* Both parties share a Nicene and Chalcedonian faith as regards the Trinity and the person and work of Christ.
* Each party recognises the other’s reverential fear of misrepresenting the promise of God, and is willing to continue dialogue in that atmosphere of mutual respect.
* Both parties make a commitment to resolve the different viewpoints regarding the word of God into a common understanding.
The great ecumenical councils of the early Church – Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon – defended the faith against errors that in various ways would have silenced God and/or stripped Christ of his eternity. The Church Fathers assumed and used the Word of God in their deliberations, but they did not give us a creed or a synodical letter that summarises what they believed the orthodox doctrine of the Word should be. Can the ACANZP work now to produce a unified statement regarding the word of God – a statement that is scrupulously careful not to destroy the ramparts that those early councils raised, and that will allow us to hear the Word of God together once again?