30 Jan 2016

Reflections on the YouGov Poll

Firstly I am deliberately not engaging with arguments for and against same sex marriage here.

Secondly, the recent YouGov poll: what does it really say?
This is the section which deals with those who responded as 'members' of the Church of England (Anglican/Episcopal etc.). We know that actual worshipping members of our church are about 2%. Yet here 19% identify themselves as having an affiliation.

This is a remarkable figure, as it demonstrates the missional impact the Church of England has in the nation.

We are looking at commitment that is considerably more than associating with a political party (37% in the UK) and in most cases more than being a member of a political party (1%). This 'involvement' or 'gathering' group have the regular opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel and supernaturally meet with God.

This affiliation is not an indicator of active discipleship however. That might be discerned in terms of regular reception of the sacraments, commitment to one other church group (be it choir or home group), regular giving (of all forms) and participation in courses (be it a lent group or Alpha).

The knowledge that the largest view (45%) of those in this 'affiliated' group is that 'same sex marriage is right' is important and must be heeded, especially as we reach out in mission. But it is not the same as the views of the 'active membership' of the Church of England.

It is also worth noting that those (36%) who oppose same sex marriage do not necessarily oppose same sex relationships. It may not match my theological approach but many still see marriage as essentially heterosexual - despite affirming same sex relationships.

This is in practice what the Church of England teaches by supporting civil partnerships but not marriage in church.

Finally as I understand it from Ian Paul's blog the follow up questions do not help us unpack peoples views any further. In particular the question about scripture grates - 'There is nothing in the bible or other scriptures which explicitly prohibits same sex marriage'. 'Same sex marriage' could be replaced with 'the ordination of women' and it would be very hard to tick it, or it could be replaced 'polygamy', 'divorce', 'marrying your cousin' for a variety of different responses (answers on a post-card). There is little sense of a broader response to the witness of scripture or theological engagement.

I am grateful to Jayne Ozanne for commissioning this research. It is challenging to the whole of the Church: firstly as an encouragement in our mission, and secondly in developing a more robust theology of marriage and gender across theological perspectives.

13 Jan 2016

The Primates

So the Primates are meeting to discern the future of the Anglican Communion. And we are praying. But I do have some thoughts.

Catholic or Reformed?

The Anglican Church is both Catholic & Reformed. Catholic in Order (Bishops, Priests and Deacons) and Sacraments (with ecumenical agreements and disagreements) and Reformed (and reforming) in its expression of the Catholic faith. Obvious statement - different Anglicans understand this differently. But so do different churches within the communion.

In particular what we will call the 'Episcopalian' tradition from Scotland and the United States has a different history and spirituality to the 'Anglican' tradition found in England. The churches in the communion which have these roots have had fewer people who look towards the Reformed Presbyterian model of church, and have far less historical attachment to the 39 Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Commonwealth and Monarchy!

Gender or Sexuality?

Although the debate in the communion is framed in terms of Liberal vs. Conservative this is not entirely accurate.

Amongst those who are either Anglo-Catholic or 'Episcopalian' (and they are not entirely the same thing) recognition that ordination to Bishop Priest and Deacon should not be limited to Men (which is reforming) tends to be accompanied by a belief that lifelong committed loving relationships blessed by the church (which we have tended to call marriage) should not be limited to only male/female couples. The question is one of Gender,

Amongst those who are either Evangelical or 'Reformed' (and they are not entirely the same thing) those who support the ordination of women are not broadly in favour of opening marriage to same sex couples.  The question is one of Sexuality.

This is not universal. There are inclusive Evangelicals (a growing number) and some Anglo-Catholics who are uncomfortable with ordaining women but supportive of same sex relationships (perhaps a decreasing number). But it seems obvious to me that amongst Anglicans who profess the creeds, seek to uphold the faith of the apostles, are rooted in scripture and seek to see the Church grow and transform the world there are not just very different theological views but very different theological methods.

Liberal or Supernatural?

Liberalism does play a part in the debate. C.S.Lewis spoke of liberalism -
'It excludes any real supernaturalism and thus ceases to be Christian at all.' 
To deny the supernatural, in Scripture, in the Sacraments, in the work of Spirit and in the life of the individual Christian is the essence of Liberalism. I fear there is 'Liberalism' of this kind on both sides of the debate. Although that work of the Holy Spirit needs to be measured against the witness of Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition it still needs to be sought, longed for, recognised and celebrated. Not denied out of hand.

If the Anglican Communion is to survive it must do so on the basis of God at work in the world.

28 Nov 2015

Rebuild My House

Synod this year was opened by a sermon from Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.


Fr. Raniero is a Papal preacher and an advocate of renewal in the Church. He writes (via CBN).
“Baptism in the Spirit is not a human invention; it is a divine invention. It is a renewal of baptism and of the whole of Christian life, of all the sacraments. It is a renewal of my religious profession, of my confirmation, and of my priestly ordination,”
You can read more of his reflections on renewal here.

Fr. Raniero also believes that renewal is a path to unity in the church.
Today as well, the Holy Spirit will be the one to lead us into unity, if we let him guide us," he said. “God has poured out the Holy Spirit in a new and unusual way upon millions of believers from every Christian denomination and, so that there would be no doubts about His intentions, He poured out the Spirit with the same manifestations."
So his invitation to speak at Synod is significant, especially for those of us who are embrace the sacramental and charismatic elements of the church.

His entire Sermon is here, but there are some key points:
Christ is the light of the world, the one who gives meaning and hope to every human life – and the majority of people around us live and die as if He had never existed! How can we be unconcerned, and each remain “in the comfort of our own panelled houses”? We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than love for Jesus Christ unites us.
This is the section some 'conservatives' have jumped on, as if Fr. Raniero was a liberal! However it makes clear that different views on sexuality are not to be a barrier to unity and shared mission. It is not the touchstone of orthodoxy. Even amongst charismatics!
We need to go back to the time of the Apostles: they faced a pre-Christian world, and we are facing a largely post-Christian world. When Paul wants to summarise the essence of the Christian message in one sentence, he does not say, “I proclaim this or that doctrine to you.” He says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23), and “We preach . . . Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). ...

This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichment that came from the Reformation or desiring to go back to the time before it. It means instead allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are freed from certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies. 
The call to an Apostolic Reformation may be one familiar to charismatics in the new churches. And of course some of us in reading the Apostles and the early Fathers have come to the conclusion that the shape of that reformation is actually far more Catholic than we may have first believed. Yes there is a simplicity of faith, but also the debates of the reformation need to be re-examined in the context of what we see in the Apostolic church, in word, sacraments and the power of the Spirit. 
Nothing is more important than to fulfil Christ’s heart desire for unity expressed in today’s gospel. In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God.
Christians have always been persecuted, but in the modern world we are becoming more aware of global persecution of Christians. For those of us privileged to live in nations where we are free to meet and worship this should inspire us towards unity and bring our divisions into perspective.

There is far more in Fr. Raniero's sermon - please do read it for yourself.