The Motion 30 Playing Field

[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?

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15 thoughts on “The Motion 30 Playing Field

  1. Lewis Ayres, in his delightful study, Nicaea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford, 2004), focuses on the development of a specific “culture” and habitus, with its concomitant “life of the mind” during the 4th C. What he stresses is the cultivation of an entire set of practices of intellect and body, which result in due purification of body and mind and so communion with and in Jesus Christ and so life within the triune God. His chs 11-13 especially address the necessary Scriptural reading habits and goals as well (pp.335-341). For according to Ayres, understanding, production and confession of Nicene creedal orthodoxy was a function of a strategic development of a quite specific theological imagination coupled with a necessary way/form of life: this is Ayres’ thesis, based on what he terms a “dual-focus anthropology” – “where problems with unsanctified human thinking and action – and the cure for those problems – are described by exploring how human beings should possess a trained soul that animates the body and attends to their joint τέλος (telos) in the divine presence through contemplation of God.” (p.326).

    So Trevor; if you wish to achieve anything like your own desires, as expressed here, we’ve a rather long way to go I fancy …

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    • Thank you, Bryden. There is indeed a long way to go. It’s only because “we believe in the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life” and in Jesus Christ who is building His Church that we can dare to hope that the attempt is not futile.

      It seems that Lewis Ayres has valuable material that could be used and applied if we ever did get to the point of trying seriously to reach a unified understanding regarding the discernment of the word of God, but is there anyone else but you on the conservative side of the fence who has read him? I haven’t, but will now try to obtain a copy.

      Given that Ayres is a Catholic theologian, I would guess it more likely that he has been read by Anglo-Catholics than evangelicals, but if so, I would infer from your synopsis, those who are rushing to bless same-gender relationships have not read him deeply enough. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” What might happen if we climbed out of our silos and read him together, along with other profound and relevant works by respected Catholic and evangelical theologians?

      A long way to go – but if the Spirit is at work in the hearts of faithful people on both sides of the present divide, surely we can delight in working together to each obtain that “trained soul” of which Ayres writes, and through that achieve a new unity in the truth?

      Thanks again

      Trevor

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      • You’re welcome Trevor.

        You speak of a meta-hermeneutical enquiry. That wld be certainly a key feature of what Ayres describes. But a form of interpretative engagement which dares to sift ‘the world in front of the text’ more critically I feel than many in most ‘sides’ are prepared for. We all tend to slip far too easily into set assumptions. This is especially what Ayres seeks to address, by enriching the story of what occurred to create ‘Nicaea’.

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      • Thanks yet again, Bryden.

        Unity in the truth, if it is to be achieved at all, won’t come cheaply to any of the participants. If the Holy Spirit stirs enough of the leaders and laity on each side to pay the necessary price we may yet get there, though, and I don’t want to give up hope of that. After all, conquering the world with the gospel must have seemed a distant dream to persecuted first century Christians, but look what happened over the span of the next millennium!

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  2. There seems to be a tacit assumption in your article that the Neo-Arians as you call them can be safely ignored. Aren’t they in fact the major opposition to the conservatives in this argument? The whole point of this exercise is to unite Conservatives with Neo-Arians. If you are correct, then your first task shouldn’t be arguing about homosexuality. It should be restoring the doctrinal integrity of the church.

    carl

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    • Thanks, Carl. I’m not exactly ignoring the neo-Arians, but I am sure that conservatives will never agree to recognise as a position of “integrity” an opinion that arises from neo-Arian presuppositions. If that were the only position being put forward in opposition to the conservative one, the Way Forward working party may as well shut up shop now. Schism will not be avoided.

      However, I don’t think that the neo-Arians constitute the major opposition to the conservatives in this argument. There are numbers who are orthodox in their Trinitarianism and Christology who hold the view that the word of God itself should by now have shown us that it is right to accept into full fellowship people in faithful same-gender relationships. The reverence for and handling of the historic Scriptures by this confessionally-orthodox group is much closer to that of the evangelical conservatives than to that of the neo-Arians, but it seems to me that they apply a different meta-hermeneutic to the question of how the word should be discerned and applied in each succeeding generation of the Church. I don’t think they have succeeded in enunciating their meta-hermeneutic clearly enough for anyone but themselves to understand it, but nor do I think they are operating from deliberately humanistic presuppositions. In other areas of their Christian service they have earned esteem for their faithfulness and godliness, and so there is a desire by many on the conservative side not to force a split until every avenue that might preserve godly unity has been explored. Hence Motion 30.

      You are right about the order in which things should be happening, but this potentially divisive crisis is upon the Church right now. My hope is to see an unfeigned unity preserved in the short term, subject to a commitment by all to work energetically later on those things that should ideally have come first.

      Trevor

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      • Trevor

        If that were the only position being put forward in opposition to the conservative one, the Way Forward working party may as well shut up shop now.

        Indeed. That is the division that caused the collapse of both TEC and ACC. It is the force behind the pending dissolution of the CoE. It is the force that destroyed all the old Protestant churches in the US, and the established churches of Europe. In effect you are claiming the conflict in NZ is fundamentally different from conflicts elsewhere.

        So it seems your first task must be to establish the reality of this parsing of the participants. Trinitarian nominalism and formal accession to the words of the Nicene Creed will not be sufficient. Not when men can open a sermon in the name of the Risen Christ only to deny the physical Resurrection five minutes later. Words have become fluid in this post modern age. People use them to mean precisely what they want them to mean, and nothing more.

        There is a uniform doctrine in the churches mentioned above. It is based upon the presumed unknowability of God and the presumed goodness of man. It makes religion into man’s quest to seek out the unknowable God beginning with man himself. Its principle doctrine is that man being good expresses that goodness through his authentic desire. Thus is the divine sanction of the unknowable God attached to the outworkings of man’s desire. So you need to convince people that your third group does not fall into that category – like they have in every other church that has experienced conflict over thus issue.

        carl

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  3. I agree, Carl. If there are only two parties, it’s an open-and-shut case. My present perception, though, is that there are three, but I don’t need to be the one who proves it. If I am right, the work of the Holy Spirit will be evident in two of those three parties and a genuine way forward may be found. If I am wrong, there will be only two viewpoints within the Way Forward working party and it will quickly become evident to the conservative side that no agreement can be reached.

    Indeed, what has happened in those other Anglican/Episcopalian communions does not presage well, but I don’t believe we should accept that the Church of the Province of New Zealand will go the same way until further exploration has been done.

    Trevor

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    • Trevor

      My difficulty is that I have no evidence of the existence of the hypothetical third position. I can’t expound on its doctrine. I can’t put a representative face to it. I can’t describe it in any tangible way. I have never encountered any theology that is both fundamentally sound in doctrine and yet teaches this …

      the Spirit of God uses other complementary means to move our understanding forward

      I don’t have any understanding of ‘complementary means.’ – at least none that preserve the role of Scripture as Norm of all Norms. I don’t know the reference by which forward progress may be measured. I do know that my universal experience with any such claim is that it is made to subvert the authority of Scripture. You are asserting something that is beyond my experience. Yet its existence should production some tangible representation in the world. I should have encountered it by now. Failing that, you should be able to point me to it.

      Your claim that you may defer to the Holy Spirit for proof is therefore troubling. That unwillingness produces a certain impression. It reveals the outlines of a strategic maneuver.

      1. Affirm that conservatives cannot reconcile with the new theology.

      2. Triangulate the offending theology into the background by hypothesizing a different type of opponent. This opponent also rejects the new theology.

      3. Ask conservatives to trust that this hypothetical opponent exists so that conversations may continue.

      4. Make the definition of this hypothetical opponent as soft as possible so that conservatives will have difficulty judging when and how to sever discussion.

      You see my difficulty. I say “I presume that is a duck.” And you respond “Don’t assume that. It may look and waddle and swim and quack like a duck, but there is a possibility that it isn’t a duck. Interact with it and let the Holy Spirit reveal to you whether it is a duck.” How will I be able to recognize the new revelation if I don’t know the criteria by which to measure its “other-than-duckness?”

      Which is why I asked for a tangible representation that this non-duck actually exists.

      carl

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      • If you have had the chance to read my most recent post about Paul’s example of integrity, you will have seen the standard I aspire to.

        In your final comment of September 3, you surmise that I have adopted a “strategic maneuver”. You also think I am guilty of “hypothesizing a different type of opponent” (emphasis mine). I hope that my “integrity” post will assure you that I would have no confidence before Christ if I had done either of those things. If I believed that there were indeed only two parties – those whom I have termed the neo-Arians, and the evangelical conservatives – I would be urging a definitive division, with the doctrine of the conservatives remaining the ruling doctrine of the continuing Anglican Church. However, I really do believe that a significant number whom I believe are true Christians, committed to the God who is there and who is not silent, who believe without equivocation in the virgin birth and the atoning death of Christ and His bodily resurrection, nevertheless believe in the acceptance of LGBT relationships without any demur or qualification except that they be faithful.

        I am not yet persuaded by their arguments, but I do believe that they are my brothers and sisters in Christ and it is my duty to avoid schism with them until every possible Christ-obeying alternative has been exhausted. Part of that duty means striving to understand their arguments and to enter discussion with their proponents on the totally honest basis that I am willing to be surprised – if I can be persuaded on the basis of God’s Word that the view I have heretofore held is wrong, I will freely admit it and change my view. No strings attached; no a priori dismissal of the other side.

        And, of course, part of their duty in Christ is to strive to understand my arguments and all the ways in which I may call into question the tenets of their thesis. It is their duty, too, to be willing to be surprised. No strings attached; no a priori dismissal of an unpalatable point of view. If, as I believe, the Holy Spirit is at work in the souls of people on both sides of this debate, this seemingly improbable unity may yet be achieved!

        But I may have been deceived. There may be only two parties. If so, I am sure that the respected conservative theologians who are representing that side in the “two integrities” working party here in New Zealand will already know it. They may even have stumbled across this blog and be feeling sorry for me in my näivety! If indeed I have been deceived, I am confident that the truth will be safely guarded by wiser heads than mine.

        Nevertheless, for now I believe there are three parties, and I believe that fruitful discourse between the middle party and the conservatives has been hindered by two factors:
        • Many in middle party have a false view of Biblical conservatives that stereotypes them as Bible-belt rednecks, so they do not listen respectfully to conservative arguments.
        • Too many conservatives close down discussion by presuming a duplicitous conspiracy and an ulterior motive whenever their thinking is challenged. They are not committed to hearing and obeying the Word of God; they are committed to defending their own present exegesis of the Word against all comers as indubitably correct.

        Whether, though, we are obstinate conservatives who need a better grip on the Word of God or too-malleable progressives who also need a better grip on the Word, every one of us is part of the body of Christ if we trust the grace of the really-risen Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation. Let us strive to walk together if at all possible.

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  4. Trevor,
    The origin of my question to Peter, lay in my disquiet about the egocentric nature of the proposition that we can put aside the words of Christ,Himself;in favour of some Foucaultian axioms propagated by lesbians such as Prof.J Butler.
    Either, Christ is who the Scriptures and the Creeds say He is; or the Church is a human construct.I accept the former.There does not appear, to be any basis for true unity, with those who hold that God created and rejoices in the homosexual identity.

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      • “There does not appear, to be any basis for true unity, with those who hold that God created and rejoices in the homosexual identity.” (Your words, emphasis mine.)

        I agree, for Jesus said, “…from the beginning the Creator made them male and female…” (Matthew 19:4). Foucalt and Judith Butler, operating as they do from atheistic presuppositions, are wrong. The design of God determines the correlation between gender and sex and it is one-for-one, not a variable that is determined by “performativity.” The gender confusion that we undoubtedly see in the world around us is an artefact of the Fall, not a benign reality that has come into being through processes of social evolution.

        If a Foucaltian/Butlerian position is insistently held to by one party in the present attempt to find a “two integrities” way to avoid immediate schism in the Anglican Church of the Province of New Zealand, the attempt will fail. The reason for the failure will not, however, arise from the difficulty (great though it is) of acknowledging as viewpoints of integrity the different beliefs concerning the acceptance of LGBT relationships. The failure will be because it is impossible to incorporate into the house of faith two utterly contrary views about the Word of God and therefore of the person (or not) of God.

        I am not ready to despair yet, though. Some who advocate for the acceptance into the Church of people who are in faithful LGBT relationships may agree that gender confusion is indeed a result of the Fall, but hold that the grace of God in Christ makes it possible to receive such people into the Church without requiring that they live in a state of celibacy. If those who hold that view are attempting to argue it from within the Word of God and not the evolutionary word of man, then I am ready to accept it as a position held in integrity, provided that the recognition of two integrities is seen as a temporary necessity and does not shut the door on continuing passionate engagement over the underlying issues – our doctrine of the Word of God itself.

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  5. Pingback: PAUL’S EXAMPLE OF PATIENCE – PART II | tjm2014

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