Thursday, 20 November 2014

A Delicate State: Thoughts Arising From Archbishop Welby's Address to the CofE's General Synod

Recently I read The Anglican Communion's Challenges and The Way Forward, Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby’s address to the Church of England General Synod. Anyone looking for a magic bullet to solve all our problems, toss out the bad guys and make everything better will be disappointed. Instead, the Archbishop acknowledged that we are “a flourishing Communion but also a divided Communion” and that he is "utterly daunted by the differences that exist. They are huge,” and “our divisions may be too much to manage.” No rose-tinted spectacles there or here:
In many parts of the Communion, including here, there is a belief that opponents are either faithless to the tradition, or by contrast that they are cruel, judgemental, inhuman. I have to say that we are in a state so delicate that without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures.
To resolve the issues we face
is almost unimaginably difficult, and most certainly cannot be done except with a whole-hearted openness to the Holy Spirit at work amongst us. It comes with prayer, and us growing closer to God in Jesus Christ and nothing else is an effective substitute. There are no strategies and no plans beyond prayer and obedience. 
Prayer, repentance and obedience. I can’t argue with that. The trouble is I’m inclined to think it’s the people I believe are in error that need to pray, repent and obey the most. And then, what if I’m right? Or, is it remotely possible that I’ve been log-blinded and am wrong? How then shall I behave? Archbishop Welby again:
…the future of the Communion requires sacrifice.  The biggest sacrifice is that we cannot only work with those we like, and hang out with those whose views are also ours.  Groups of like-minded individuals meeting to support and encourage each other may be necessary, indeed often are very necessary, but they are never sufficient.  Sufficiency is in loving those with whom we disagree.  What may be necessary in the way of party politics, is not sufficient in what might be called the polity of the Church. 
Even when we feel a group is beyond the pale for its doctrine, or for its language about others or us, we must love. Love one another, love your neighbour, love your enemy. Who in the world is in none of those categories?
Sacrifice and love. As Jesus did, Welby covers the all love bases: one another, neighbour and enemy. No loop-holes there. Then
underpinning us is a unity imposed by the Spirit of God on those who name Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
A unity imposed by the Holy Spirit. Can withdrawal from relationship or schism be imposed by the Holy Spirit? Paul calls the Corinthians not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, to go out from them and be separate (2 Cor 6:14-17) but when we think believers are in error, what then? Might something like Paul's instructions to the Thessalonians apply?
If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:14–15 ESV)
I am reminded of Prime Minister Harper's recent treatment of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit: "I guess I'll shake your hand, but I only have one thing to say to you: you need to get out of Ukraine." Would our equivalent be, "I'm obliged to love you (agape, not phileo), but I have this to say to you, you need to stop/get out of/ repent of thus and so?" This after considerable self examination with prayer and repentance, an honest and sacrificial commitment to obey Scripture and to love the persons with whom we disagree.

More than almost unimaginably difficult, perhaps. Yet, we live and move and have our being in a world where a virgin gave birth to son who was subsequently raised from the dead. I don't understand how the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ did that any more than I can see how he might hold the Anglican Communion together in a way with which all parties can live and enjoy, but I know he is capable of much more than my puny mind can ask or imagine. And a good thing, too.