Monday, 16 July 2012

The Anglican Mess: Kiwis, Yanks, Comprehensiveness, Liberal Theology and the Bible

Both New Zealand's General Synod and The Episcopal Church's General Convention have just taken place. The Kiwis and Polynesians have decided to study the theology of marriage with a view to somehow "progressing" beyond the merely heterosexual. The Episcopalians have approved a rite for blessing same-sex couples and have decided that transgender issues may not inhibit a person from leadership in the church and ordination. There are plenty of Canadian Anglicans who want to go there, too—several dioceses already have.

There has, of course, been considerable commentary on it all. For example, Anglican Down Under (ADU) who works for Bishop Victoria Matthews and the Diocese of Christchurch, feels that these developments threaten the comprehensiveness he believes has been the Anglican advantage up to now:
Personally I would be deeply saddened to find that the comprehensiveness of the church to which I belong, through birth, baptism, conviction and license, is jettisoned. But worse, I see signs that it would be the beginning of the end of this church. As Anglicans used to being the largest and greatest church of the land, we can miss seeing the bigger picture of contemporary Christianity in these islands. In that bigger picture we are increasingly a smaller player. The growth areas in congregational life are in churches of other denominations and even of no denomination. Anglicanism could disappear tomorrow off the face of New Zealand's earth and Christianity would continue to thrive, grow, permutate and develop. In particular, Christianity of the non-Anglican variety is showing itself as particularly adept at winning young people to Christ. And, guess what, most are joining up to a discipleship programme which is not liberal/progressive. 
I see a huge temptation in the GS of 2014 to determine that when most of the rest of Christianity in Aotearoa New Zealand is conservative, traditional, biblical in its orthodoxy and orthopraxy, ACANZP can become the liberal/progressive alternative. My prayer, wish, agenda and campaign here (for what it is feebly worth) is that our church does not take that turn, but determines, whatever re-examinations take place in the next two years, that we will both remain a comprehensive church and be part of the mainstream future of Christianity in these islands.
In that same post (all here) ADU also refers to a New York Times piece on the subject: "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" in which one, Ross Douthat, comments on the headlong Episcopal push to progressive-liberal theology:
Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase. 
Traditional believers, both Protestant and Catholic, have not necessarily thrived in this environment. The most successful Christian bodies have often been politically conservative but theologically shallow, preaching a gospel of health and wealth rather than the full New Testament message. 
But if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance.
All here.

There's more! ADU puts his finger the underlying and real issue behind and through it all in another post entitled "Let's change the Bible. No, let's silence it!"

It's a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into, Ollie, and that's a fact!