Elsewhere, I have acknowledged the mess we delegates made at the August 2018 session of the Synod of the Nelson Anglican Diocese, when we passed a motion stating that Nelson’s relationship with the rest of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP) was “impaired”. The majority, I am sure, meant “impaired” only in a mild, generic sense of the word. We have concerns that we believe need to be raised and discussed and a sense that the relationship is to a degree impaired and will remain impaired until these matters have been sincerely discussed and, with mutual love, resolved, but impaired only in the dictionary sense of the word, as it might be used outside Anglican polity.
I want now to explain why I believe those concerns are justified, and why I decided to support the amended motion even though I opposed its original version. My support turned out to be ill-advised, but only because the motion, amended on the floor from the original, was not carefully thought through, not because the underlying issue was inconsequential.
These are of course just my personal views. I don’t claim to know what swayed the decision of the other delegates.
I strongly supported Motion 29 when it was debated by the Nelson Synod in March 2018, and Synod voted by a small majority (slightly less than 60%) to encourage our General Synod representatives to support it. In its modified Motion 7 form, it was subsequently adopted by General Synod / Te Hīnota Whānui (GSTHW). I continue to believe that Motion 29 was the best way forward for us, the ACANZP.
However, some of what occurred at GSTHW and afterwards was sufficient to raise misgivings in the minds of a significant number in Nelson. I will list those misgivings and then make my own comments regarding them.
- The report from the Motion 29 working group had said that their recommendations did not extend to the matter of ordinations. Motion 7 did not carry that caveat forward.
- Auckland immediately announced their intention to ordain those in same-sex unions that have been blessed in the ACANZP, and, of course, +Jim White has now ordained Reverend Chris Swannell.
Auckland also put forward Motion 13 at General Synod, which would have redefined marriage, and this motion was only narrowly defeated.My statement here is wrong! See Peter Carrell’s comment that I have now appended at the bottom of this post.
My comments are these:
- It is my opinion that it logically follows from Motion 29/7 that persons in blessed same-sex unions can be ordained. However, I might be wrong, and so might others who think so. Regardless of whether Motion 7 repeated the caveat or not, there should have been further Province-wide discussion before any ordination occurred.
- I can sympathetically understand why +Jim White would be eager to ordain Chris Swannell, who has given many years of faithful service and is highly esteemed as a pastor by the Russell congregation and by others. Nevertheless, I think it was a mistake and harmful to the health of the Province to pre-emptively announce the intention to ordain and then carry it out.
Thank God for the wise heads, though only a small majority, who defeated Motion 13. Awkward though relationships and future discussions may be, Nelson remains part of the Province, and it seems to me uncaring that other parts of the Province should try to drive forward by weight of numbers a change in what has for centuries been thought to be a fundamental part of the Church’s doctrine. Frustrating though the wait may be, the discussions need to take as long as they take, even if that is decades more. And if the change is never made, so be it – we’ll still at the end of it have a healthy, unified Province in which – given that Motion 7 has been passed – no faithful, believing LGBTQ person need feel unwelcome.
When Paul reproved the Corinthian church for abuses of the Lord’s Supper, he told them, “…anyone who eats and drinks [the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper] without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29, ESV). Earlier commentators seem to have seen “discerning the body” only as recognising that the bread is a reminder (at the very least) of Christ’s crucified body. However, in the last 100 years or so, commentators have suggested that it also has a reference to discerning the unity of the body which Christ has created, the Church. This comment by Thomas Schreiner is a good summary of the position:
“It is also possible that discerning the body refers to the church. The rich members failed to discern the unity of the body; thus, they harassed the poor and relegated them to second-class status, and thereby imposed the standards of society upon the church. It is difficult to be certain, but perhaps the best solution does not opt for an either–or. In partaking of the bread, believers participate ‘in the body of Christ’ (1 Cor. 10:16); and, ‘Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body’ (1 Cor. 10:17). Paul has already forged a close connection between the broken body of Christ and the one body which is the church. The same connection and link is probably present here as well.” (Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentary), Kindle location 4749).
Personally, I think that Schreiner’s “probably” is too weak. Elsewhere in the Epistle, Paul has:
- reproved the Corinthians for splintering into sects
- reminded them, “…you [the Church] are God’s temple and … God’s Spirit dwells in you. If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, ESV)
- told them, in the context of discussing attitudes toward meat that had been offered to idols, “…not all possess this knowledge” (1 Corinthians 8:7, ESV), so that they must be mindful and considerate of those whose faith-knowledge is weaker than theirs.
Therefore, it seems to me almost certain that Paul will have seen symptoms of the same sin in the disorder of the Corinthian “Lord’s Supper”. But, even if he didn’t, I think I am justified in using the phrase “not discerning the body” as a rubric for all schismatic or running-roughshod-over disorders of the kind that Paul deals with in 1st Corinthians and in Romans 14.
Earlier, I defended +Jim White’s probable motivation for ordaining Chris Swannell so quickly, but I said I believed the action was a mistake. If some dioceses and parishes rush to draw implications from Motion 7 and apply them without stopping to consult with other dioceses and parishes whom they know full well are likely to disagree, are they not repeating the Corinthian error that Schreiner describes as relegating other members of the body to second-class status?
I know that Schreiner’s phrase can be turned in the other direction, too, and conservatives charged with having treated LGBTQ believers as second-class. However, if that was your first thought on reading my previous paragraph, I plead with you to look again at Jesus and Paul and John: “Little children, love one another.” Differences will arise between us, but our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostles forbid us to act contemptuously or combatively as we seek to resolve the issues. If there is guilt on both sides, that doesn’t exonerate your side!
I understand the zeal with which many want to press forward and right wrongs in the Church’s treatment of LGBTQ believers, but no amount of zeal gives any of us the right to override Jesus and Paul and John and destroy the temple of God.
In Romans 14, Paul is dealing with less weighty matters of controversy than our differences regarding blessings and ordinations. All the same, I think we would do well to take to heart and apply to ourselves his counsel in that chapter:
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4, NIV).
Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:6, NIV)
Let us stop viewing the other side as the unenlightened enemy, and instead see each other as servants each sincerely seeking to please the master whom we worship in common. Let us not dismiss the other viewpoint by accusing its adherents of acting from a base motive, such as on the one hand a supposed desire to maintain an oppressive structure, or on the other hand a desire to subvert the Church into orgiastic license. Instead, let us credit one another with doing what we do with an attitude that is “to the Lord”. And let us entrust one another to the grace of our Master who is able to make his servants stand even when, as a matter of divine fact, they are mistaken about something.
Relationships within the Church of Corinth were impaired because of the failure of many to “discern the body” and be guided and controlled in their actions by that discernment. I sorrowfully believe that relationships between the conservative parts of the ACANZP and those who would press forward beyond Motion 7 without respectful consultation are impaired in just the same way, for just the same reason. The way forward is to acknowledge frankly the impairment and try in Christ to resolve it.
Nelson’s “impaired relationship” motion was a regrettable mess, but masked by the mess is a sentiment that remains true and cries out for loving “discerning the body” consideration by the rest of the Province.
COMMENT FROM VEN. PETER CARRELL
Unfortunately aspects of your post above involve inaccuracies and it is possible that Nelson General Synod reps did not make sufficiently clear to your synod some aspects of the GS 2018 decisions/texts. Specifically:
1. on the matter of ordination, it was very clear at GS 2018 that little or nothing was said about ordination, precisely, deliberately because that meant that each bishop could work out her or his response to the resolutions in respect of ordination. Auckland is well within that ambit to do what it has done and so is Nelson (in, presumably, undertaking no such ordinations). Whether Auckland should have acted so quickly on the matter is a moot point, but there was no intrinsic reason within the GS 2018 deliberations why they should not have acted as they have done.
2. there was no motion narrowly lost which would have changed the definition of marriage. What was lost was a motion to set up a working group on the theology of marriage, a working group with a four year reporting time frame. Such motions are apple pie and motherhood because they do not ask synod members to make an actual decision to change anything. We have no idea what the majority against change would have been, had actual change been proposed.
Putting this in another way, the question being asked about the meaning of “impaired” involves asking whether it is giving expression to a somewhat vague unhappiness (that the church might one day entertain the notion of change to the doctrine of marriage) in which case, does “impaired” have any meaning at all? Or, is it specifically about disagreement with what Auckland has done re ordination, in which case, is Nelson in an impaired relationship with Auckland and not with ACANZP at large?
Ven. Dr Peter Carrell
Director of Education, Diocese of Christchurch & Director of Theology House
Archdeacon of Pegasus”