Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Women Bishops In the UK

In the Independent in the UK 12.7.2010 reads this headline: ‘Church on brink of schism as synod votes for women bishops.’ The article explains that the C of E is on the verge of splitting over the appointment of female bishops. This past weekend, the general synod of the C of E met to discuss the issue. The church is bitterly divided with Anglo-Catholics (who like the Vatican do not approve of female Bishops), conservative and some evangelicals fighting against female bishops. On the other side are some evangelicals and liberals who hold that they can be. You can imagine the debates over the technicalities of Scripture, Paul’s teaching in 1Cor 11; 14; 1 Tim 2; Eph 5; Gal 3:28 etc. Apparently, seeking to avoid a split, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams sought a middle way; namely, an amendment which through the creation of – I quote the article – ‘a proposal which would have created a special class of bishop to look after parishes which do not wish to have female bishops.’ Thus, it would be a two-tier type of system allowing the two sides to live together in ‘perfect harmony!’ (yeah right). This did not please either extremes of the debate which saw it as a compromise of their perspectives and principles. The amendment had to get through the House of Bishops, the House of Clergy, and the House of the Laity. It got through the first two, but the laity voted it down; by five votes. So, as it stands, it is looking positive for the girls, they can be Bishops (who would ever want to be one is a good question?). It is not however a done deal, with more political hurdles to get through like being sent to the Parliament and turned into British Law (no problems here I think), and then a majority of two thirds in each of the three houses (big problems?). Not to mention that the conservatives and Anglo-Catholics will do everything in their political power to slow down the process. Threats are being made, and the whole thing is messy!

This led me to write a blog commenting. Here are some thoughts.

1. What the?
My first thought is this: is this really an issue worth all this heat? In recent years there has been a lot of theological work done on the issue of gender and Scripture and in my view, a strong case (for me convincing) can be made for women in ministry at every level and that Paul’s teaching is: a) Contextual i.e. the points of prohibition may well be related to certain contexts in Ephesus and Corinth where things were messy and the girls had got themselves messed up; b) At other points there are women quite involved and Gal 3:28 seems to point toward a permissive attitude. Similarly, while Jesus chose 12 male disciples, he also only chose Jews (which does not indicate a purely Jewish leadership), he was quite permissive to women (esp. Mary, Mary in Lk 10; Jn 21). Whether or not all these arguments used are right, a good case can be made and it is a credible evangelical position to accept women in ministry. That being the case, is it worth this angst! There is a shocking theological naivety over here where the women in ministry issue is lumped together with the homosexual issue as if they are one and the same! It stuns me that this has even got traction! The two issues in the scriptures are of a different category i.e. women in ministry is a very blurry issue, whereas the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality is clear from start to finish. One can be pro-women in ministry and against homosexuals in ministry (while wanting to love them as God’s created). So, what the!?

2. The Mission is being lost in internal squabbling!
My second thought is: have we as believers really got time to be divided over such issues when we are losing the ‘battle’ for the hearts of humanity in the west at a rapid rate? The Christian faith in the west is in serious decline! It has been for the last 50 years or so. Such things like this just increase the ridicule of many people in the west. I have been reading Churchill’s book World War 2 and he makes this comment after a bit of a stoush with a fellow MP in the lead up to the war as Hitler was on the rise big time: ‘We are so few, enemies are so many, the cause so great, that we cannot afford to weaken each other in any way’ (p. 259). Sure, there is a time to sort out a doctrinal issue of importance. But this one? Is it worth alienating half the women in Great Britain, a good portion of men, and split over it? Is it worth weakening the church of God, and alienating further those outside of faith and church, any more over this? We need to pick our fights wisely! In my view, this is pathetic and an embarrassment to the name of Christ (Jn 17).

3. The Whole Thing Is a Clerical Mess!
My next impression comes from reflection on the whole church government and politics mess that this is built on. First, an individual bishop in the sense of an office with authority over other priests and churches is not found in the NT. It is a post-NT development and a construct of church. Sure, there are elders (presbyteroi), overseers (episkopoi), pastors (shepherds), and other ministries in the NT. But, they are found to be multiple in Acts, the Pastorals and in Philippians 1:1. The idea of a one-man/woman show running regions, churches, national churches, synods, international groups of churches, denominations etc is a construct. Sure, there are sound reasons to organise ourselves and where two or three are gathered is politics. However, the whole shabang is dubious in the extreme. It has become completely ritualized and institutionalized! Further, the ideas of national churches, denominations, houses of laity/bishops/clergy are similar constructs. Ordination is a construct. I can find nothing like this in the NT except the laying on of hands, and this is not systematic in terms of apostolic or priestly or bishop succession. Not to mention the idea of Parliament legislating on such things! This brings all sorts of church and state points of confusion. I don't even want to begin going there. All such ideas are all built on notions in Scripture and a need to maintain order within the faith. Yet, these things as they have developed are totally out of control and have turned into monsters. Of course, today's deconstructed versions of Church government in the west are nothing compared with the last 1700 years of such structures! At least we are not killing ourselves (I have just visited the site of the burning of Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer near where Wycliffe got the same)! But, it is still going on!

I have seen this in my own experience in the Presbyterian Church in NZ. You get into the system as a young zealot novive. You then find yourself on one side or the other of a debate in ‘the church’ (it is really only one little segment of God’s great universal church), and before you know it you are into politics, manipulation, etc., to supposedly maintain the gospel. It feels like your church is the church and of course it is not, God's church includes all of faith across all churches - many of whom think you are mad! In fact, what you are really doing, is seeking to uphold the institution of the church. While you battle away fighting for this and that (like infant baptism, female bishops, jots and tittles), you neglect the mission, drive people from the church and alienate the unbeliever further from it. You inadvertently become corrupted in the direction of the use of coercive force and political machinations in the ‘name of Christ’ and correct doctrine. Before long you get too far in and you can no longer see yourself or issues rationally or through God’s eyes. This whole thing is an astonishing situation but the fruit of centuries of church political machinations.

4. Let It Go and Get on the with The Real Business
That all being said, my final comment is a plea to the C of E! Give it away and leave the girls be! Turn back from this debate, let it go. Isn’t it time to gather at the foot of the cross, admit that this is not one of those issues that should EVER BE ALLOWED TO DIVIDE US! It is not worth it. Something like the deity of Christ, the resurrection etc might be worth it. But not this! Leaders do not need a certain amount of testosterone, a certain type of genitalia, to be single, to wear this and that clothing, have a beard, know Latin, be a Jew or otherwise! Being a leader is based on gift, calling, orthodoxy (broadly speaking) and character, and these should be well tested in every case. The UK has some huge issues like, how to continue to renew the church for fresh generations, how to relate to post-modernism, how to relate to Islam, how to work the transformation of a declining moral nation, how to relate to Europe and more? For me this whole thing is a shambles and utterly counterproductive. My thought is ‘grow up’, and get on with what really matters. It all sounds a little like Mark 9:38-41 where John was rather worried that some bloke was driving out demons in the name of Jesus and he came to Jesus and said, 'ah, look here Jesus. There's this bloke we ran into who is daring to cast out demons in your name. Now we are the clergy. We are the bishropic. We are the ones you chose. What the heck do we do with him? Should we shut him down for daring to do this?' Jesus comes back and says something like, 'Look lads, don't get too big for yourselves. Sure, you are chosen to get things rolling in my mission to restore all of humanity to relationship with me and make right planet earth. But, don't get too charged up. I actually want all people involved. So, don't stop him, after all, he's on the same team. After all, as you have heard me say, we actually have a huge mission (the harvest is plentiful) but there are bugger all of us (the workers are few). It would be rather dumb to stop zealous guys like this who are excited by the mission. So, let him be!'

Surely, in an age when we have far too few workers, and we desperately need them, we would be keen to see anyone who has the skills involved. And we can give anyone else without the skills a good job in the mission too!

I consider myself an evangelical and I have to say that if evangelicals can’t recognize that this one is not worthy of splitting over, I am deeply disturbed.

So, to finish with a Prayer:

Heavenly Father, God of heaven and earth; Jesus, God’s Son, head of the Church; Holy Spirit, God’s very presence in and with us… Please come to the C of E and to all churches in your great world, and particularly the west. Help us grow up and see the big picture and let people do their thing for you whoever they are. Please bring your unity to the C of E, to all churches and across all churches. Please uphold your truth as we do this, but may we move in love and grace. Help us discern the things that matter differentiating them from the things that do not. Move our hearts to come to the cross and move forward together in love to see this world won to Christ. Move us to focus our attention on the mission of seeing every person hear of your love, have a genuine opportunity to be saved, and to build churches that show the world what our great God is like. Restore your bride! Save us Lord, we are in serious trouble. Raise up people of integrity, wisdom and grace to bring together this church and see people released into the fullness of their ministry in Christ. Come Holy Spirit!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

On the Eve of Return

So here I am, sitting at the home of Pat and Kitty Brittenden in Oxford, last day in Europe 2010. What a blast! The last ten or so days have been spent in Cambridge writing and attending conferences. This year I attended the Biblical Theology Study Group and presented a paper on Christos in Paul. The prevailing view is that in Paul, Christos has become just a name for Paul and no longer carries messianic notions. I find this argument weak despite it being the consensus of all scholars except N.T. Wright. Wright argues that Christos carries the whole weight of Messiah and that when Paul uses it, he means Jesus Messiah. He goes as far as saying it should be translated 'Messiah.' I argued that in Philippians he has a case. Christos in Philippians is the centre of the letter, especially Phil 2:6-8. The Christ-pattern flows through the letter in his life, other examples and then into Phil 3. I also argued that in Romans and Galatians it carries the same sort of strength.

There were other great papers on Messiah in Zechariah, the Minor Prophets, typological use of Joseph in the Gospels, and more. Richard Bauckham gave an interesting paper on Mark. He continues with his Jesus and the Eye-Witnesses theme. He responded to some of Hengel's ideas. I also connected up with some great scholars I had not met and refreshed some others. Laidlaw College were well represented this year at Tyndale with Miriam Bier, myself, Phil Church and Sarah Harris all there. That was great!

For me, I am more and more concerned about the theological gulf as I call it. That is, the gap between scholarship and the people. Scholars are forced to play the game of the academy. They have to write at such a level with such use of primary and secondary sources that almost all that they write and discuss is of absolutely no relevance to anyone who does not have technical expertise. They are under pressure to continue to produce scholarship at that level. At the same time the people in the pews are cut out of the academic world. They can't understand it, and get turned off completely when they brush up against it. I want to see a whole movement of writers and thinkers who are world-class academics, bringing quality thinking to the masses. There is a place for an academy, but if we are not connecting, are we really doing our job? I wonder if the anti-intellectualism is indeed more the fault of the academy than the people?

Scholars like N.T. Wright, Alistair McGrath and others show us the way. They get criticised in the Academy for being too lightweight and simplistic. However, they bridge the gap. I think we need more and of different types. We need books that are even simpler, but invested with depth. We need scholars to dare to come off the fence and not be too worried about all the detail and apply. We need to make biblical languages accessible through transliteration and teaching people how to use electronic resources. There is so much more we could do.

On another note, Cambridge is a stunning place in Summer. Lovely greens, old wonderful buildings, great shopping, lovely river, and a sense of summer fun. I am now in Oxford for my last day and it is much the same. The whole area of England I have been in is rather beautiful in fact. Rolling meadows etc.

So it is back to NZ tomorrow to hit the ground running for Semester Two. I have had a 2 1/2 month intensive of World History and especially the classical period. Exciting to hit the classroom with all this revolving around.

And, go the All Blacks.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Reflections on London and Paris

Our time in London was spent at East Grinstead at the lovely home of Emma’s cousin on her Dad’s side, Sue. Sue and Tom live in a picture postcard home near East Grinstead at Dorman’s Park. Tom Cruise and Peter Andre among others have homes here, so it is rather a nice area. I have never stayed in such a nice place. The pattern of family generosity continued as they took us out and about to a lovely Italian restaurant near Harrods followed by a drink in the Harrods’s bar, to a lovely Spanish restaurant in East Grinstead just up the road, and generally made our life wonderful. We had our own bedroom, ensuite in one of the two wings of the home. Tom and Sue have worked really hard for what they have. They both began at the bottom and Tom worked his way up. His is a great story of character and determination. He grafted hard in his early years working for a wood company. Twice others saw his character and grit and offered him opportunities. He has done really well, owning this property and another in Spain. He also has owned a pub, and is an accomplished musician. Sue and Tom are fantastic people. We had a blast with them and their generosity knows no bounds. We shot in and out of London on the train from their place, did a few spots like St Paul’s. Having been to London before we didn’t do a lot.

Then it was off to Paris from Luton. It was cheaper to fly than train (substantially). We went Ezyjet. It is not the most efficient airline, but cheap.

Paris was astonishing. I have to say it was my favourite city (it’s everyone’s isn’t it?). It is tidy, lovely, and full of things to see. Again we were beneficiaries of astonishing generosity courtesy of our friend from Rotorua days Sarah as she was then. She is married to a Frenchman Marc (great name), and has two kids. Sarah is a genius (she denies she is, but I think she is!) and her daughter Zoe was astonishing, 3 and reading letters and conversing easily. They live at Bagneux about 30 mins out of Paris. They looked after us superbly! Man we have been blessed. We are looking forward to being hospitable to all these relatives and friends when they come down under.

In Paris we went to Musee D’Orcey, Sainte Chappelle, Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Champs Elysees, Arch de Triumph, Pantheon, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and wandered past the Moulin Rouge (didn’t stop around, red light area!). Sadly we had to queue so long at the Eiffel Tower that we didn’t have time to go into the Louvre. Next time. The places are amazing. Our favourites were the artists of Montmartre who are incredibly skilled at painting portraits, the Eiffel Tower for its stunning views, and the Pantheon which gives a history lesson to visitors. Many had told us that Sainte Chappelle was their highlight. It was amazing, but I found the Notre Dame and Pantheon more stunning because of the tie up with history. Both are sites of pre-Christian ancient worship, they are older, and both became temples to reason! Again I was struck by the familiar story of colliding empires. In France’s case it was the Celts, the ‘Barbarians’, the Romans, the Vikings, the Normans, the Catholic Church, the monarchy, Napoleon, the revolution (actually, 5 revolutions), the enlightenment and so on. Now Islam is burgeoning with an evangelistic mindset and high birth rates! France’s history is full of violence, politics and bloodshed. It is the home of the Enlightenment; at the Pantheon many names familiar through reading and study are buried. It is now a Monument to the great ‘Fathers’ of France like Louis Pasteur, Voltaire, Rousseau, etc. If anyone wants to get philosophical, they must deal with the French thinkers. Modernism – Postmodernism. Atheism is the main ‘religion.’ Sarah also has told me that the occult is booming in France with many in power freemasons and into different occult practices such as horoscopes. My word, the church struggles against almost insurmountable odds. It is a remnant in the nation and turning it around is a prodigious challenge. If ever a nation is leaning on Jesus' words 'I will build my church', it is France.

Again we visited glorious church buildings, but the church is weak. These churches are overflowing with tourists and few gather to glorify the Lord. They are full of the usual saints and Mary, Catholic in their history. The problem here and in the adjoining countries is that the ‘Christian’ faith is so traditional, so locked into these monuments, so seemingly outdated, so irrelevant to the youth of the nation, that they pursue the gods of image, pleasure and money. I don’t believe they have seen an alternative.

One thing we noted was, while the places are magnificent in Paris, the service was not great. At the Museum D’Orcey the opening time was 9.30. We got there at 8.50 and headed the queue. Then they didn’t open until 10, no explanation. The queue filled the square outside and went down the street. On enquiry at point of entry they simply said ‘there was an important meeting’ and when anyone got a little shirty about it, they responded exponentially with utter disdain! At the Eiffel Tower there were no decent signs and we lined up for ages. It was only as we got our tickets after waiting for over an hour we realized we could have walked up across at the other leg of the tour. We took the lift up to the second floor had a look and then were told we had to buy another ticket for the summit. No one thought to tell us that the ticket only got us to the second floor. We had to queue for another hour up there! Such is the service in Paris. Our hostess told us that France has no service sense and that we needed to get used to it. However, a little bit of French goes a long way. Always say bonjour on entry to a shop, use any French you know, and always be courteous. We found that people warmed to us and were very helpful. Getting stroppy I think has the opposite effect! Generally we found the service was poor to average, the city was amazing to utterly glorious!

I have come to be much more optimistic about NZ Christianity now that I am heading to Cambridge for a conference. When I left Hong Kong I felt despair, the church there is exploding. The same message I have preached in NZ a number of times with little effect except ‘that was a lovely sermon’ (or some other puerile sentiment [woops, I am sure it was genuine – you get my drift]), sees people giving their lives over to Jesus in droves! I thought, ‘Lord how can we keep going? Where are you Lord?’ Yet after Western Europe, I am refreshed with hope. Across Italy, Greece,  France and Britain the faith is locked up in tradition, its bloody history of church and state, its irrelevance, it’s confusing worship of saints, popes and Mary, its buildings and so on. In NZ we have shed a lot of this. We never really built the buildings. The people came to NZ in many cases to get away from all this. The exodus from the church is now over, it occurring in the 1950’s on. Many churches are renewed with contemporary worship, and openness to today’s culture. Sure, the church is still a long way from what it can be and should be. We are locked in a ‘performance/concert’ mode, our theology is reductionist in many cases, the preaching is often poppy and Word-less, it is confused theologically, it is anti-intellectual, it has become corporate etc. But mark my words, our problems are nothing compared to Western Europe. The toughest call in the world would be to come to minister in France, Greece, or Italy. In France you clash with secularism and atheism. In Greece the power of the Eastern Orthodox heritage with its concern for ancient worship patterns makes renewal hugely problematic. In Italy and Ireland it is the power of the Catholic tradition. In Britain there is more hope with many Anglican church’s renewed and renewing along with the evangelical, Wesleyan, Baptist, Presbyterian and Pentecostal movements all having their points of renewal and strength. Yet the continent is a huge challenge! Islam is spreading through it.

I see tough days ahead. I cannot see western democracies remaining as they are in the face of spreading Islam. Already the Burqa is being banned in many nations. The tolerance, liberty, openness of these nations has opened the way for Islam. My view is that as Islam gains traction this will be challenged and we will see a quest for identity and a hardening. I can see a right wing uprising. One woman told me this is happening in Greece already and the news suggests it is happening further. What this will lead to is anyone’s guess. My read of fallen ‘man’ is that when they challenge grows, old attitudes will return! They will have to or Europe will be consumed by Islam. Western Europe has an enormous philosophical challenge ahead of it as I see it. How will they deal with this?

So now it is off to Cambridge for some more research and the presenting of a paper looking at Christos (Christ) in Philippians and beyond. Most scholars argue that Christos by the time of Paul’s letters is merely a title for Christ and has no real messianic meaning. I am arguing the converse. I have found one ally, the great N.T. Wright to whom I am grateful for his work on this. He argues that Christos should be translated ‘Messiah’ in Paul. I don’t completely agree with him as I think context should define where it should be and where it shouldn’t be. I do think in Romans, 1 Corinthians, Philippians and Galatians he is correct. Not so sure elsewhere. Still, I think Paul using Christos as his primary name for Jesus is astonishing in a world where Christos was a purely Jewish word and had no religious significance to Greeks and Romans. For Paul, Jesus is Christ crucified, risen Lord. He is the Jewish Messiah become Saviour of the World. That is why he prefers it to Lord, to Saviour or any other title for Jesus.

This brings me back to the biggest lesson of the trip. Jesus came into a world of clashing empires, politics, armies, violence, arrogance, and glory in wealth, autocracy, and supremacy through power, sex, greed and the like. He renounced it all! He died on a cross rather than yield to the temptation to ‘go there.’ He could have. He had the power. He could have taken control through force. But no! He came to show another way. He died to save us. He died to transform us. He died to show us a new way of being. What is tragic through Europe is that after an initial period of cosmic transformation through logos and agape, the church allied itself with those things Jesus renounced. It used Jesus as an instrument of power and force and in so doing violated the gospel completely. The church itself became utterly flawed. Still that is no surprise; weeds are always planted by the enemy. Greatness and wickedness coexist in us all and in the church. The challenge I face and we all face is how to live Jesus’ way. The start is being ‘in Christ’ and ‘Christ in us’ – the power of the Spirit (‘not by might, not by power…’). Then it is yielding to the Spirit and to love – grace, mercy, compassion, suffering, weakness, the path of humility, agape, and so on. We must be utterly yielded to and committed to the faith of the gospel, and then we must live it. That is the challenge for us all.