Friday, June 24, 2016

Political Church: a confusion of categories?

Of course, Jesus was political! He died because He challenged the government, both local and global, and He was executed ultimately for reasons of political expediency.

The Gospel issues a challenge to all human beings, all human organisations and all human governing bodies. Does that mean that Our Lord has a view on how governments are run? Is He Conservative or Liberal, Left of Centre or Right of Centre, or Centre?

The reason that the Continuing Anglican movement exists in its various parts is because of the question: "Can Church Teaching change with time?" We don't accept slavery, but neither does the Continuing Anglican Movement accept the change in the matter of sacraments. The two are not in the same category - one is essentially a question of the political status of people, the other is a question of the Covenant that exists between God and Man. The trouble is that the categories cut across each other because of the nature of how Man lives his earthly life and how he aspires to his Heavenly life.

My bishop and I voted on opposite sides of the recent Referendum. The question is, should I have toed the line and voted just as my bishop voted? The answer is no: we voted as citizens of the UK, not as clergymen. Any authority that I have as a priest and any authority that my bishop has cannot be political. Any authority that we have is derived from our sharing in the priesthood of Christ in the ordering and regulation of how the church ministers to the laity. This is often forgotten by some members of the Church, especially in times past. One could refer to the Cardinals as "Princes of the Church", but the word "prince" can only ever be used in the original sense of princeps - leadership. Leadership need not be political, at least, not in the sense of one person getting their own way in a community. An Abbot of a Community has a leadership bound up with the Rule and no further. The trouble is that any community of people will raise questions of "who's in charge?" and "who gets to say in which direction we travel together?" Thus politics will naturally arise within the Church, that does mean that it will need to be regulated by the Faith, NOT by the law.

Of course, Canon Law is designed to be such a regulation. We recently had to remove a senior clergyman because he had violated the rules of administering the sacraments. Are there rules of administering the sacraments? Should there be rules of administering the sacraments? Of course there should, but the rules on the application of sacraments come from our walk with God and understanding His intentions for them. That's not human politics; that's our willing subjection of our lives to Christ the King. Canon Law is about the ordering of the running of the Church. It is not about (or should not be about) the ordering of the lives of Churchfolk. The spirit of Canon Law can only ever be the organizing presence of the Holy Spirit. God orders the lives of Churchfolk as they seek Him as the community called the Catholic Church.

The movement for the ordination of women has put forward the argument that preventing women from being ordained is akin to condoning slavery. For an Anglican Catholic, like me, there is a confusion of categories here. Ordination is a sacrament which arises from the Covenant relationship that the Church has with God and cannot be changed because the nature of humanity as a creature made in the image of God and fallen from grace does not change in time and, clearly, God is Eternal and thus changeless. Slavery is a political problem and can only be tackled politically by people who believe it to be morally wrong, as the Church does but, admittedly, has not been very proactive in combatting it at times to say the least!

Let's just look at these two issues as they arise biblically.

First, the ordination of women:
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover * he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved ; then let them use the office of a deacon , being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long , that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (I Timothy iii)
How is Paul addressing Timothy here? As a political leader? No. He speaks that St Timothy may how he ought to behave himself in the house of God which is the church of the living God. The rule here is that of God and within the governance of the Church, not the governance of living in the world. It is clear that in mentioning the word "husband", the rule of the sacrament of Ordination is intended solely for those of the male sex, not for political reasons, but for reasons of the Covenant, the means of grace and in keeping with the faith enshrined in the entirety of Holy Scriptures. But then I've fleshed out my arguments elsewhere. The trouble comes when this Canon Law is applied as a political law and women are seen as spiritually lesser, which is clearly not true! Our Lord Himself, in declaring the greatest to be the least and the least the greatest, does away with this idea of ranking people within the Church. Notice that he asks Timothy, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" This again is not the political rule of a house, but the rule of the house according to the Christian Faith. That is the context of St Paul's direction.

On the issue of slavery:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother;  (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath : but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; With good will doing service , as to the Lord, and not to men: Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth , the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him. Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand . Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly , as I ought to speak. (Ephesians vi.1-20)
In what context is St Paul addressing the Ephesians? Clearly, he is addressing them about how to live in society, among people who may or may not share their faith. In telling servants to obey their masters, we see a recognition by St Paul that the circumstances of men come about by political means. We are to accept the government we have because that's the way things are and in remembrance that our destiny is not bound up with any politics. If slavery is indigenous, then Christians have to find a political way of dealing with it in accordance with the Christian Faith and the rule of Christ's Kingship. A Christian may engage in the civil disobedience of an unjust law, i.e. where the political law contradicts the Divine Law, but must accept the political sanctions that the disobedience requires. Here we can see that happen with Daniel who accepted the punishment of the lions' den for the civil disobedience of an unjust political law.

When we discuss Church matters, we do need to be able to separate political stances from Divine Law. This is why there are such schisms in the Catholic Church. If the Pope is a bishop, then he cannot be a monarch. His authority comes from God as a ruler of the Church, not from politics as a ruler of the lives of men. The two are in separate categories, and the categories get confused. I would like to conjecture that all schisms within the Church arise from this confusion and suspect that many heresies arise in the same way too.

This also means that we have to look very carefully at our Canon Law and constitutions and, as far as is possible, make sure that we have removed from them laws which arise not from God but from men and especially from issues of politics. Personally, I find that canons and constitutions can lead to political position which do not adequately express the will of God. I therefore, being a bit of an anarchist, do distrust living by canon and constitution as living by a rule book. As a Benedictine, I do have a Rule, but remember that the Christian notion of Rule is a stick by which we can review our relationship with God. It is not an absolute as St Benedict readily admits. If we accept Christ as King, then we are to live by His rule and not by ours. From a human point of view that sounds a bit anarchist. I suspect the late Fr Jim Petty might agree with me!

No comments: