Sunday, July 27, 2008

The non-Theory of Relativity

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended , what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

Ephesians iv.1-16

What's your opinion on the tax rates in this country? Do you think them to be too high and that we're being taxed to the hilt? Do you think that high taxes are necessary in order to provide good public services and to fund important community building projects? Of course your opinion matters, and we all have a social duty to express our opinions at the ballot box.

What's your opinion of 4+5? Is it always 9? Or do you think that it should be something else?

Well, no matter how hard you hold your opinion, if you hold to the standard rules of arithmetic that we are taught at primary school, 4+5=9, and there is no argument. Indeed we can say this absolutely infallibly that within the numbering system that we use, 4+5=9: to say otherwise is incorrect.

Now this is the content of the troubles that are affecting the Anglican Church: what is fixed and what is opinion? St Paul tells us that we have one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all. Now is Paul expressing an opinion, or is he telling us the truth? Well, if we are Christian then we hold to the infallibility of Scripture - it is not opinion. The big problem is how to interpret it.

It would be easy for us to use scripture to prove anything. The Bible says:"there is no God." That would cheer up the Atheists wouldn't it? However, Scripture would also disprove it pretty quickly, especially if we complete the verse: the fool has said in his heart "there is no God". The Moslems read our scriptures and when they read that Jesus said "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. " (Matthew 5:18) then they read St Paul saying that the law no longer requires men to be circumcised, and all they see is contradiction. So to a Moslem, our scriptures cannot be true because they contradict each other. However, as Christians we know that Moslem interpretations cannot be true reflections as to what is being said by Holy Writ. So how can we be sure that we are being given the right teaching from scripture?

Well, this is the problem. If we glibly regard all religious differences as being merely differences of opinion, then we enter a world of relativity and nothing is certain. If it were based only on opinion, then would the Church ever have got going? Highly unlikely! Even the phrase "Jesus is Lord" can be interpreted according to different opinions as the Arians, Apollinarians and Nestorians demonstrated. In seeing everything as opinion, we become, as St Paul says, blown about by any wind of teaching. One person's words influence us one week, but the next week the opposite opinion prevails. St James asks how can we hope for anything if we cannot be sure about the Faith that we have received from God?

In the world of the relativist, it's easy for any church leader to get up into the pulpit and proclaim his own interpretation of Scripture one minute and then change his mind the next. Just because it suits him, such a leader chooses his own patterns of worship to force onto the people rather than follow the pattern that Church has used for centuries: these patterns can change from week to week under a relativist. Words of hymns don't matter to the relativistic leader because all hymns are equal in their standing: they have only a relative value and that is to keep the congregation happy. The result is doctrinal instability because the people hear one message one week, and the opposite message the next. The people lack stability and thus cease to care about anything because it doesn't matter. Result: lack of substance, lack of growth, lack of mission.

Furthermore, relativists actually destroy unity, since "all views are equally valid" they choose their own way independently from everyone else, and we can see these effects in Africa where the African Anglicans are holding to the traditional doctrine unlike the West in which each priest is encouraged to take his own interpretation and force it upon their congregations. No wonder the Anglican Church is breaking up. As we see from the vote at General Synod, it is the relativists who force Traditionals out of the Communion because they block the channels along which Traditionals travel. The Relativist will accuse the Traditional of "throwing his toys out of the pram" but the Traditional cannot operate in that culture. It's like blocking the "earth" hole in a plug-socket and then telling a three prong plug to fit into it. The irony is that the relativist is more dogmatic than the Traditional because he follows his own personal dogma as true. The Traditional has no choice but to check everything up against the standard of the Catholic Faith, the relativist listens to either side of an argument and chooses the side he likes best.

It is also the relativists who accuse people who hold firm beliefs as being oppressive, fundamentalist, narrow-minded, dogmatic or intransigent. The Pope is seen an oppressor because he says that contraception is a sin. However, notice that relativists do not understand the issue properly. It isn't the Pope that says that contraception is a sin, it's the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church! In this instance the Pope is merely acting as a voice box declaring the truth of the Church. Whilst the Roman Catholic Church may not be united as it thinks it is, it still presents its doctrine carefully using liturgy, catechism, and community. The same is true with the Orthodox Churches, as well as the Traditional (Continuing) Anglican Churches of all persuasion.

In his last sermon as Cardinal Ratzinger, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI said

How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking… The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves – thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by very wind of teaching”, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.

If we believe in a Catholic Church, as we say we do in the Nicene Creed (if your parish ever says that properly and doesn't replace it with some watered-down "Affirmation of Faith"), and we believe that we are part of that Catholic Church, then we have to be Catholic, i.e. conforming to the whole Church not according to the vision of the Church that we might hold in our heads.

If we say "I believe that 4+5=8", well that's fine. We can accept that as an opinion - it is a perfectly valid opinion and everyone has the right to believe that 4+5=8. However, would you trust an accountant who held that belief?

We can be absolutely sure that we are right when we conform to the Catholic Faith - how the relativists would hate for this to be true if they understood it. This requires much work, and no-one, not even the Pope speaks the Catholic Faith all the time. However, we have the Catholic Canon which will always correct us if we are willing to be corrected. Our required humility is that we recognise this and continue to study God's words as revealed in Scripture and Tradition with the judicious use of Right Reason.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Doctrine: Oppressor or Limitation?

I'm rather pleased to have found (or rather been introduced to) Fr. Greg's blog Missional Anglican Discipleship. Fr. Greg is a welcome contributor to the Anglican Diaspora board and so it makes sense to promulgate decent connections.

I did notice this wonderful quote from St. Francis of Assisi on Fr. Greg's blog:

We have been called to heal wounds, reunite what has fallen apart, and bring home those who have lost their way.

The same St Francis also exhorts us to preach the gospel to all people using words if we have to.

This begs the question which a lot of liberals seem to be demanding of the Traditional (and traditionalist) churches: why are we bothering with the minutiae of doctrine when we should be actively helping those in need?

It is after all a good point, and St Francis would certainly give short shrift to anyone who walks the Jerusalem-Jericho road with his nose in a book wandering past the battered form of one robbed of all he possesses. Then again, the Lord Himself would give shorter shrift.

However, it is the Anglo-Catholic, and Anglo-Papalist Churches of the early 19th Century who had some of the greatest effects amid the poor of London. Fr. Ignatius of Llantony did his best (albeit somewhat ideosyncratically) to bring back some notion of community amid some remarkable instances of preaching. The Anglo-Catholic movement has demonstrated itself not only to be an intellectual, but also deeply passionate part of the Church.

Yet the Dean of Salisbury on St Osmund's day suggested that we can be too hung up on doctrine when we should be helping people. This depends what she means, and seeing that she was quoting from Katherine Jefferts-Schori not renowned for her theological rigour, her remarks do have to be put into a better context.

Doctrine does affect the Christian's daily life. It is the Doctrine of the Church that helps us examine our consciences carefully and accurately, advises us on the Will of God in certain matters and directs us when we are lost. For the Benedictine, Doctrine provides the magnetising effect necessary to bring the unruly soul back into alignment with Christ, and with other folk. It is the subscription to the same doctrine that keeps Christians together, for in that doctrine, they can be sure they are following the authority of Christ when He bids us pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven."

However, the C of E has lost that integrity and is splitting up, though there are many orthodox and right-believing Anglicans within the Lambeth Communion as the votes against women "bishops" indicate. In not listening to the African Churches and ploughing with the ordination of homosexual bishops, ECUSA has put the African Church into an awkward position especially when it has to minister among many Moslem communities. ECUSA has damaged the missions of its brothers and sisters in Africa by not adhering to doctrine.

This is the problem: doctrine gives the Christian parameters within which to work, and to flout what the Church teaches, preferring one's own interpretation or reinvention means that not only will one's actions be questionable, but may well scandalise another set of Christians in a remote area. This demonstrates the crucial need for Christians to be Catholic - kath-holos.

On the other hand, Christians must take great care to ensure that Doctrine never becomes too narrow, or cease to be the liberating form that it should be. Bearing in mind that Christian Doctrine must be able to free us from the oppression of the world, as soon as it becomes a case of battering folk over the head with a rule-book, then it misses the point.

Doctrine certainly provides boundaries, but limitation is not the same as oppression. The wasp banging its head repeatedly up against the window pane cries out "Oppression! Oppression! I'm being oppressed!" It however fails to realise that if only it were to fly a foot higher, it could squeeze through the fan-light. Likewise, we are limited by our sexes. Although we may try to change them, either psychologically or surgically, we can never escape from what God created us to be. He created us to be free as we are, not as we want to be, and to choose otherwise is a lack of trust in Him. Sure, it is difficult to trust God sometimes, particularly when His will departs from ours (and that ought to be vice versa, folks) but we have to accept that, just as the wasp has to accept the "oppression" of being "imprisoned" by a glass and a piece of card before it is released into the sunlight of a better world.

So St Francis says that we need to minister to all folk in their oppression. That is where true love lies, and to yoke oneself with the oppressed is an act of charity which will not go ignored by the Divine Christ. However, we need to make sure, and pray for grace, that we might discern between those who are truly oprressed and those who are railing against their limitations.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

GAFCON: How Christian is it?

I've just been watching a programme by the BBC entitled Battle of the Bishops detailing the whole GAFCON situation and following Archbishop Akinola in his mission to Jerusalem. Of course, one always has to take such programmes with a pinch of salt as their nuances can be misleading; however, I was deeply disturbed by Archbishop Akinola and many of his followers at their inability to separate homosexuals from homosexual practice. It appeared that they were equating an inherent quality of a persons make-up with what is clearly described as a sin in Scripture, Tradition and natural law.

The GAFCON statements contain much with which I agree, and much with which as an Anglican Papalist I do not agree. These statements also contain statements with which I disagree as a Christian.

  1. We rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.
  2. We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.
    [Of course, Scripture must be interpreted in the light of Holy Tradition of the Church which carries the "DNA" of Christianity through all ages. One must also not forget the Anglican appeal to Right Reason. My main concern here is that this statement appears to be largely Evangelical in its statement.]
  3. We uphold the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
    [As an Anglican Papalist, I recognise all of the Ecumenical Councils, though I must confess to wrestling with the contents of the 20th and 21st. Nonetheless, conformity to the Church of Rome bids me seek reconciliation of these councils to my Anglican understanding]
  4. We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.
    [I recognise the Thirty-nine articles as playing an important part of Anglican History. I recognise them as describing the position of the Anglican Church as it was as a result of the Reformation. However, I do not recognise them as having any doctrinal authority over the position of the Anglican Church before the Reformation.]
  5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.
  6. We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.
    [True, but not authoritative]
  7. We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God for their ministry in the world. We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.
    [What is the "classic Anglican Ordinal"?]
  8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family.
    We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.
  9. We gladly accept the Great Commission of the risen Lord to make disciples of all nations, to seek those who do not know Christ and to baptise, teach and bring new believers to maturity.
    [Provided that we ensure that we preach and live our lives in such a way as to present those ignorant of Christ with a well-informed and free choice as whether to accept Him or not.]
  10. We are mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation, to uphold and advocate justice in society, and to seek relief and empowerment of the poor and needy.
  11. We are committed to the unity of all those who know and love Christ and to building authentic ecumenical relationships. We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration.
    [I worry here about the "pick-and-choose" nature of this statement. Although it does not explicitly say so, the way it is worded seems to imply that signatories to this statement would not recognise the orders of heterodox bishops. There is a problem with this approach: Katherine Jefferts-Schori is not a bishop because she is not the appropriate recipient of Holy Orders. Bishop Robinson, although heretical and sinful, must nonetheless be recognised as a bishop. However, his ministry is deficient until he repents of his heresy and his lifestyle. We still have to remember that we are all sinners and must always bear this in mind in this whole sorry affair.]
  12. We celebrate the God-given diversity among us which enriches our global fellowship, and we acknowledge freedom in secondary matters. We pledge to work together to seek the mind of Christ on issues that divide us.
  13. We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.
    [I see here a problem with rejecting authority. If this just presents as with another reason why we listen only to one person and not another just because they do not hold the orthodox faith, then we do close our ears to the voices of our brothers and sisters. If a heterodox bishop says that homosexual relationships may be physically expressed with the blessing of God, then he is wrong. If he says that we must worship Jesus Christ as Lord and God, then he is right. The Anglican way is to make careful and prayerful considerations of anything any bishop says, cutting out that which is clearly wrong, and affirming that which is clearly right. A heterodox bishop will speak much of which will be excised by an orthodox Anglican. A bishop has the right to be heard: he does not, however, have the right to have his word regarded as the word of God unless he be fully consonant with the Catholic Faith and fully submitted to orthodox belief. As an Anglican-Papalist, I believe that only the Pope enjoys this property under certain and specific conditions as laid down by the First Vatican Council. Other Anglicans cannot hold this doctrine, in which case they must make the decision themselves. Which bishops can be trusted to speak authoritatively?]
  14. We rejoice at the prospect of Jesus’ coming again in glory, and while we await this final event of history, we praise him for the way he builds up his church through his Spirit by miraculously changing lives.

Some of these statements I have not commented on at all because I am in agreement with their spirit. But having watched Akinola set himself up as an Evangelical Pope and expressing his loathing of homosexuals in no uncertain manner, I worry that these statements were not drawn up in a spirit of love. Yes, there needs to be a clear separation between heterodox and orthodox. This needs to be done in a spirit of hope for future reconciliation. It must also happen in the light of the parable of the wheat and the tares. Wheat and tares cannot be separated without damage to the Church. There will be heterodox Christians within an orthodox church, and there will be orthodox Christians within an apostate church.

We are told that love does not insist on its own way. God loves us, therefore He permits us to make our own decisions and choices for which we must answer for ourselves. If we love Him then our way must always be subject to Him and to our neighbours. In 1998, the Lambeth Conference insisted on its own way and refused to hear the call of the African churches. Is it any wonder that now the Africans are doing the same thing now? The loss of love, the lack of desire to sit down and talk together and the breaking of Communion is a serious matter. If separation must occur, then it must occur with a view to ending that separation.

The Anglican Communion has created the case for Akinola and his followers by its own agenda and feebleness to attend to Christian precepts. It has no option but to address this issue itself, and it will not be easy. And Akinola himself must look very carefully at what he considers evil - he is in danger of cutting off a leg to treat an infected toe.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Beginning of the End?

It's been several days since the vote at General Synod, and I suppose I ought to say something.

Well, the news is not good is it? Though I expect WATCH is thoroughly pleased with itself. The worst thing about it is that the British Government threatened to enforce "anti-discrimination" measures against the church if it didn't vote the way that it wanted. In my eyes it is the Erastianism inherent within the Church of England that is responsible for this breach of Catholic order. That the British Government with its legalising of human-animal hybrids, acceptance of the blasphemy of abortion and the attempt to put homosexual relationships on a par with normal matrimony is trying to impose its morals on the church would be laughable if it weren't an abandonment of right moral judgment.

Now it is very necessary to take stock of things, especially from the Anglican Papalist point of view. It appears that the Bishop of Ebbsfleet is planning on leading the exodus to Rome, and it is this action that needs to be looked at carefully. There are two real possibilities:

1) That the Pope will allow the Ebbsfleet Exiles as a single body to form an Anglican Community within the Roman Catholic Church;

2) That the Ebbsfleet Exiles will be required to make individual submissions to Rome.

The second option is not Anglican Papalist which states clearly that Anglican-Roman reunion must be corporate, not individual. Anglicanism has an identity and valid orders which must be recognised by Rome. The pronouncement on the nullity of Anglican Orders by Pope Leo XIII was neither infallible nor well-informed, but Anglicanism needs Rome to stop the continued fragmentation into smaller and smaller divisions amid accusations of "purple fever".

As Fr David Straw remarked:

What you are looking for doesn't exist. Doesn't mean you should stop looking for it. After all...There's God's time and our time. The two are very different...As I have found from experience.

He is quite right. What Anglican Papalists want does not exist - yet! We certainly do not want Rome to fall into the ways of Liberal Protestantism which seems to infect the Church of England.

But, Anglicanism extends futher than the crumbling edifice of the C of E. The Anglican Continuum has the potential to take over the mantle as the centre of proper orthodox Anglicanism. It has the theologians, the orders and the potential to exercise the Anglican character for toleration of different expressions of that theology. Rather than decamp to Rome, I believe that Anglicans forced out by the heresy of sexual homogeneity should first look to unify the Anglican Continuum and start the ARCIC process from there.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I, Dawkins (or not)

I found this rather clever invention on the Philosophy of Dawkins at Wry Mouth's blog.

Since I work(ed) with hypercomplex numbers (quaternions) I suspect Dawkins would have the same argument about my other "holy" trinity.