Friday, September 4, 2020

Monday, June 1, 2020

A note about justification (righteousness) in Paul

2 Corinthians 3:9

If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness. (NIV)

For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! (NRSV)

If glory accompanied the ministry that brought condemnation, how much richer in glory must be the ministry that brings acquittal! (REB)

For if the service of bringing judgement against [is, or was] glory, how much more in glory excels the service of righteousness (making just). (My translation).

Why note this?

Because recently on ADU there have been discussions about Doug Campbell's recent works, The Deliverance of God and Pauline Dogmatics, which have raised the question how important "justification by faith" is to Paul's gospel.

2 Corinthians 3:9 implies is it very important because "service of righteousness/justification" sums up the gospel when compared to the Law.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Further thoughts, November 2019

A year or so on from the schism in our church over the GS 2018 decision to permit blessing of same sex civil marriages or civil unions, I remain convinced that:
- a church schism should not be over a decision whose greatest effect is on a very small minority of church members;
- the GS decision remains, in my view, as close to right as we could expect the body of Christ to get when the body of Christ is of two minds on a matter (and a year on, I continue to marvel at the difference in convictions about the matter, between Anglicans, often worshiping together in the same pew; and I cannot think of another matter in which such sharp difference exists among faithful Anglicans);
- I think Romans 13:8-10 is very important as we weigh these matters up, consistently reviewing our thinking in respect of the overriding law, Love your neighbour as yourself.
And Romans 13:8-10 is not far from Roman 14-15 which is still, in my view, critical to handling the sharpest differences among us.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Clarity (or not)?

In response to a request on Twitter earlier today for a clear statement, with a link, from me, I post the following, here:

1. As Bishop of Christchurch, via my electoral college papers, I have committed myself, within the polity of ACANZP, to permit a priest or bishop blessing a same-sex civil marriage or civil union, within a church, where application is made to me, and where I am satisfied that the conduct of such blessing will enhance the common life of the ministry unit concerned.

2. I have also committed myself to not conduct such blessings myself because I do not read Holy Scripture as supporting such blessings.

3. Clearly, logically, I accept the possibility of a different reading of Scripture existing within and being applied in the life of the church (without fear of discipline, as ensured by the decisions of our General Synod in 2018).

4. Recently, in a verbal conversation concerning my views, in response to a question why, given my own view, as bishop I nevertheless permit another view within my Diocese, I said something like this: I lack conviction that I am completely right and those who wish to conduct blessings are completely wrong.*

5. That is, I am comfortable having space for different views on this matter in our church.

6. My sense of comfort is enhanced by my concern that to exclude the possibility of different views, and to shut down the possibility of blessing same-sex civil marriages and civil unions is to make our church an unbearable place for gay and lesbian members.

7. *It is a much longer piece of writing to explain why I lack the conviction of many fellow Anglicans, but I happily refer readers of this post to posts below and to many posts and comments on my blog, Anglican Down Under.

8. I am clear that my approach involves compromise and accommodation. Many Anglicans are unwilling to join me in make such compromise and in being associated with such accommodation. Nevertheless I continue to be surprised and pleased by the Anglicans who are willing to join me.

[Added a few days after the first 8 were posted]

9. I am very concerned that the way in which homosexuality is made an issue in the life of churches in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has an (unintended, I am sure) effect of further marginalizing an already marginalized group within churches. If for no other reason than not wanting to participate in this further marginalization, I do not see myself leaving a church, let alone forming a new church, because of this issue.

10. I am also concerned at the kind of "God" and "Christ" we construct when we act and speak as though the God of Jesus Christ is displeased with a church which permits within itself plausible differences over this matter. I do not find in the gospels a Christ whose longing for the church is that it is so clear over sexuality that a disagreement is worth breaking up the church - the Christ, that is, who enjoyed dinner parties with sinners, accepted anointing from a notorious woman, and observed but did not condemn the promiscuous life of the Samaritan woman we met at the well. Yes, the same Christ of the gospels is strict on sexual morality, tough on divorce, etc, but the "whole" Christ of the gospels is not constructing a movement which will become a church which will divide over a legal matter.

[Added a week or two later]

11. In my own thinking, I acknowledge a degree of pragmatism (or, if you like, unashamed pragmatism) but a pragmatism which I suggest is in keeping with, rather than against, Scripture.

12. By "pragmatism" I mean something like this: ideally, every human being is male or female, heterosexual, so appropriate coupling takes place, for the sake of fruitfulness via multiplication, and intimate, sexual companionship, as per Genesis 1 and 2. Within that ideal, further, marriage is for life, it is "one flesh" (so monogamous), mates who mate for life, so no divorce. In reality, life [post Genesis 3] takes turns which mean humanity, including God's special people, Israel, is often making adjustments to the ideal. Most obviously, there is polygamy (which is a practical or pragmatic solution in a situation which is not "welfare state" for the provision and protection of women) and there is the Mosaic acceptance of divorce and remarriage (which, later, Jesus will challenge). There are also various rules for what happens when ... slavewomen are raped etc ... there are some pragmatic passages in the Mosaic Law which are not generally studied in parish Bible study groups!

13. Within 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul argues for the ideal of celibacy, he nevertheless accepts the pragmatic reality that one can burn with sexual desire and thus marriage is to be preferred. Within that chapter is argument for a "Pauline Exception" to the general rule not to remarry after divorce; as there is in the way Matthew presents the teaching of Jesus, the so-called "Matthean Exception."

14. In summary: Scripture proposes an ideal (which Jesus and Paul uphold) but Scripture also demonstrates that the ideal is often departed from because the remedy for fallen human sexuality (our inability to live up to the ideal) may require a revised set of rules to account for failure to live to the ideal. Exceptional circumstances, we could say, lead to exceptions to the ideal being accepted.

15. Thus my "accommodation" and "compromise" is not about flying in the face of what Scripture says about the ideal of sexuality (i.e. that only men and women, and only when married to each other, engage in sexual intercourse), denying, so to speak, the plain message of Scripture. It is about asking whether we now have exceptional circumstances, first, in respect of our modern understanding of homosexuality, secondly, in respect of our modern society making a way for civil legislation to be enacted which provides a means for same-sex couples to live transparent, public lives, free from discrimination and prejudice; and thus, in these exceptional circumstances, asking whether we might make a way within the church for exceptions to the ideal to be accepted.

16. I think we do need to say, again and again, what Anglican churches around the world are deciding in respect of same sex partnerships is not supporting sexual promiscuity, casual sex, orgiastic decadence, unjust/abusive sex between unequal partners. Not at all. What is being decided is whether the church - pragmatically - supports covenantal partnerships, undergirded by civil legislation, which ask of each partner the same faithfulness, sacrificial love, permanent commitment for life which has traditionally been asked of a husband and wife. That is a high standard for something which is pragmatic!

Peter Carrell

Monday, June 4, 2018

Revisiting 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 after GSTHW 2018

1 Corinthians 6:9-10: "Do you not know that [the unjust, adikoi] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators (pornoi), idolaters, [people remarried after divorce, moikoi, Luke 16:18], male prostitutes (malakoi), sodomites (arsenokoitai), thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers - none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." (NRSV with variation)

1 Corinthians 7:8-9: "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion." (NRSV)

1 Corinthians 12:13 "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

As I engage with discussion here and there, on and off the blog, I note a concern that ACANZP's decision to permit blessings of civil marriages or civil unions between two people of the same sex is false teaching which imperils people's salvation.

In this respect, frequent reference is made to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (cited above). Before going over the brink on the basis of this charge of false teaching, could we examine the text one more time with a view to seeing if it is appropriate to think there might be more than one interpretation of this text held within the same church?

Absolutely, one interpretation, long held, consistently held around the church of God, is that 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 teaches that homosexuals engaged in sexual practice are wicked/wrongdoers/unjust/adikoi  and will not inherit the kingdom. (Homosexuals engaged in sexual practice: whether as malakoi, almost certainly, male prostitutes; or as arsenokoites, men engaging in sex with other men, whether as technically defined as the NRSV gives by offering "sodomites" or perhaps otherwise.) This is no light matter and it is no light matter to ask whether this interpretation is singular and thus authoritative in the life of the church, or not.

There is another interpretation of this text. I suggest the key to this interpretation rests on the use of the word adikoi to cover all the specific forms of being a wrongdoer which are then listed. Adikoi is the opposite of dikoi, the opposite of acting justly. It is not difficult to connect injustice with the non-sexual behaviours in the list: idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers.

What about the sexual behaviours and injustice? Fornicaters (pornoi) could be users and thus exploiters of prostitutes, adulterers (moikoi) act unjustly against the betrayed party to their marriage. In the debate over the exact meaning of malakoi and arsenokoitai (and there is much debate, both as to what these words meant when Paul wrote them, and how we should translate them in a different cultural situation) but it is highly likely that these words refer to men having sex with men in exploitative activity in which each partner to the activity is in an unjust relation to the other.

That is, what is not condemned is something the Scriptures do not discuss: a consensual, just relationship between two men or two women freely entering into the mutual covenant of a civil marriage or civil union.

In short, according to this interpretation, the blessing envisaged by ACANZP is not the blessing of a salvation-imperiling state of life.

That is, we are on the brink of a church schism because it is denied that both these interpretations of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 can be held within the same church. Can we pull back?

There is an additional aspect for considering whether 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is condemning people in civil marriage or an equivalent lifelong civil union. That is, the same text also condemns those who are adulterers which (as my provocative rendition above notes) includes those remarried after divorce. Ah, say many Anglicans, remarriage after divorce is not adultery because one can repent of one's mistakes and start again.

But that is a reading of the Scriptures which is at variance (i) with previous Anglican understanding, and (ii) the understanding of other Christians today (notably the Roman Catholic church). In other words, on "adulterers" in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, we have two live interpretations of the text existing in the same church. Can we not have two interpretations of malakoi/arsenokoitai?

Incidentally, we are not on the brink of schism because of two interpretations of adulterers in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Why not? What is it that bothers us about one issue in human sexuality and does not bother us about another, though both figure in the same small passage of Scripture?

The argument advanced here is that those who believe and teach that malakoi/arsenokoitai covers all same sex sexual activity, including that in non-exploitative civil marriages or civil unions should continue to do so. If this teaching is correct, then it is very important it is taught. But this teaching could be less strident about the certainty that it is correct because there is some uncertainty whether malakoi/arsenokoitai covers all same sex sexual activity (because we are not sure what ancient activity was being condemned).

Conversely, rather than slating a different interpretation of the passage as false teaching, the view should be taken that it may be true teaching and given space to be considered in the life of our church.

And, finally, we might always consider 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 on these matters: celibacy is not for all. Is it necessarily the case that it is compulsory, by definition, following one specific interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, for gay and lesbian Christians?

Is it not odd of God that (at least, the Protestant) God presides over a world in which salvation is not imperilled no matter how many times you are married (providing you keep repenting) but enter into one lifelong, faithful civil marriage or civil union with the same sex love of your life and you are doomed?

OK, maybe you do not consider that odd. But how we understand God lies behind all our interpretations of Scripture. Are we sure that in our treatment of Scripture in respect of heterosexuals and homosexuals we are consistent in respect of the God in whose name we interpret?

Finally, 1 Corinthians 12:13 "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." If this text is true then we are one body, whether we like it or not, whether we are of one mind or not. The implicit command of this teaching about the church is that we work out our differences within the one body and not by separating.

Friday, February 24, 2017

A Question of Obedience - a guest paper by the Rev Rhys Lewis, Auckland

A Question of Obedience

Google the word obedience and check the images thrown up. Our culture, on this evidence at least, associates the word obedience with something stark, hard, uncompromising,  unfeeling – something from above, that puts us in a passive and inferior position – something that strips us of individuality, that  allows no dialogue.

Discussions of Christian ethics, from an evangelical position at least, put a high value on obedience. But are we being heard aright? Are we even hearing ourselves? If we ask, does the word obedience appear in the Hebrew and Greek, the answer is of course no. It’s an English word! The question is, is it the right word to translate the terms in the original languages?

In Hebrew obey commonly translates shema; which simply means hear. Shema is often accompanied by the word kol, voice. Hear my voice in Hebrew is often translated obey. Does obey render that to you; does it capture the direct and personal (and intimate?) quality of hear my voice?

The meaning is to hearken, to hear and pay attention and do. DBD from an earlier generation, regards it as equivalent to obey, but thus translated today, aren’t we losing something  – something personal, rooted in covenant theology? Evangelical faith emphasises hearing God for ourselves, and knowing and trusting that also God hears us when we speak to God. Deuteronomy 4:7 The  Lord our God is near us whenever we pray.

When the sergeant major barks an order it’s not personal, it’s one way – it someone in authority system backed by army regulations, requiring us to act according to the rules, to obey, according to orders received from above. The Ten Commandments are the expression of the character of God, holy, compassionate, good - they are from God’s own self. The Torah is not simply a book of Laws; it is revelatory of God.

Parallel with the word Shema is another Hebrew word often translated obey  - the word shamar, which means  to keep. It’s used over 400 times. God says keep my commandment. Shamar has its origins in the quite concrete sense of watching over, guarding  - Adam  and Eve kept the garden; shepherds kept the flock; the warder kept the  captives; the watchman kept watch over the city; you can keep food, keep your temper, keep the covenant , keep the commandments.

The basic idea is to exercise great care. It’s a command as a personal trust, a keeping out of personal loyalty or responsibility. In the marriage service the partners still swear to love, honour and keep each other. It is the keeping of the commandments in personal loyal faithfulness that the Old Testament means by obeying. This connects shamar closely with shema. Shamar combined with asah, to do, (thus hear to do) means to do diligently. There is another word natsar which in a small number of cases is used in exactly the same way eg Psalm 119: 2; blessed are they that keep his testimonies.

These are some of the First Testament terms. They express a personal dimension of involvement which our word obey, as it is heard in our culture, has lost. Yes, it is about obedience – but obedience nurtured in personal relationship with the God whose steadfast love endures for ever, and who gives us his commands, not that we should unquestioningly jump to it in a bare obedience, but that we should keep them.

The classic First Testament statement is the the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4 hear o Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. These commandments that I give to you this day are to be upon your hearts ---

Love here is ahav – pretty much the all-purpose Hebrew word for love – as in the Song of Solomon;  and elsewhere  - love the stranger in giving him food; how long will you love vanity; he loves righteousness; whoever loves transgression loves strifetake your only son whom you love.

The Shema calls for an exclusive inward devotion to God and readiness to make sacrifices, even of possessions and  life. It’s not mere obedience – it’s heartfelt obedience, the height of the Old Testament faith.

And Jesus took the call of God to a new depth. He says that joined to him we are like the branch in the vinestock – Jesus very life and being is in us, by his Spirit. We are free because we share His freedom. And in this passage about the vinestock in John 15, Jesus says abide in me. Abide (Greek meno) has the sense of making a home with, or settling down permanently with, or keeping on keeping on somewhere or with someone.  

Jesus says, as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.

And then he says,

And if you keep my commandments you will abide in my love

Here we have keep again; in New Testament Greek the word is tereo. Its origins are to keep in custody, or to keep something safe, to watch over or guard something. Then by transferred sense it means, to give heed, to pay attention. It implies watchful care. It is characteristic of John’s usage.

So -  keep; often translated obey, e.g. in the original NIV translation. Yes, but keep implies taking responsibility for keeping whole these good things, keeping the commandments as a personal trust from Jesus – so that we bear his fruit. Keep my commandments them so your joy may be full – for they are life. What we keep is actually the trust from Jesus.

The origin of our English word obey is the Latin ob toward and audire,  to listen – to listen toward, to give ear, - originally then, hearing, as in Hebrew.

It makes its appearance in English in the late 13c from French, with a sense of to obey or do ones duty. So it does mean obey as we mean it now? Yes and no. You have to contextualise it. In feudal times the duty you owed was not to an abstraction – it was to your lord who in return owed to you protection. Obeying related to a personal relationship, or at least a feudal relationship with a particular person, sworn before God. So it’s not hugely removed from the concept of covenant in the OT.

In the New Testament, another word in the keep/guard group is phulasso, to guard or watch – all these things I have kept from my youth. Other words signifying obedience are from the acouo stem – to hear. You would be hard put to find many words in New Testament Greek with the sense of obey outside the hearing/keeping vocabulary[i].

Having said this, there is the term, hupacouo - to hearken submissively, to obey, and its associated forms translated obedience, obedient. Hupo means under. Hupacouo, to obey under. Many of these uses are however concerned with situations of social hierarchy, servants obeying masters (Col 3:22), children obeying parents (Ephesians 6:1); it is also used of the winds and waves obeying Christ (Mark 4:41), or the unclean spirits obeying him(Mark 1:27).

Sometimes humble submission and acceptance better captures the sense of hupacouo – he learned obedience by the things that he suffered (Hebrews 5:8).Philippians 2:8,  he humbled himself and became obedient unto death. But even for servants the obedience given, as Christians, to masters is to be wholehearted, fearing the Lord (Col 3:22), in singleness of heart (Ephesians 6:5).

So to answer the question I posed at the beginning, is the word obey/obedience found in the original languages – no, at least not with the rather abstract feel of our English word – rather with the concrete senses of hear, hearken to, and keep and carry out.

The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines obedience in current usage as compliance with an order or law or submission to another’s authority.  We measure obedience by the fact of the act, and of our will to do the act, not on the from the heart quality, the wholeness of the relationship which gives meaning and power to God’s call to keep.

Jesus says
Keep my commandments so your joy may be full.

So what we keep is actually the trust or charge from Jesus, and we keep it in the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is evangelical obedience – quite different from legalistic obedience which may simply outward compliance. It’s the embracing of God’s purpose and being.

In John 15:14  - 17 Jesus says
As my father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love
if you keep my command you will abide in my love; my command is this; love each other as I have loved you
You are my friends if you do what I command; this is my command – love one another

There is a dialectical movement here; love and command are paradoxically defined in terms of each other;

Our problem is partly that we tend to hear the word command as a negative, addressed simply to the will. This is because of the inherent rebelliousness of the heart

But Jesus is saying – keep my commandments my commandments – and we know how Jesus turns things upside down. His commandments are not burdensome. His commandments are tremendously positive.

So what are some of Jesus commandments?
love your enemies; forgive; give; ask; pray and do not lose heart; be peacemakers; hunger and thirst for righteousness; be merciful; let your light shine; do to others as you would have them do to you; turn the other cheek.

Of course here and elsewhere Jesus sets a high standard; but what is true of these commandments is true of all his commandments, they are commandments of freedom; commands to the heart.

Therefore think positive when you think commandments
And think loyalty to Jesus when you think commandments

Is obedience importance – yes – it’s keeping with Jesus and letting his life flow in us. Ii is critically important to really do in God’s way all God has for us, desires for us. To serve him is perfect freedom. I do not think “obedience” is optional – but I do not think the word obedience works very well nowadays. Perhaps this is why, in The Message paraphrase, Eugene Petersen used very sparingly.

Now why doesn’t it work?

In a famous analysis of modern society Peter Berger (in The Homeless Mind, Penguin 1974) says that the lived experience of modern society is dominated by two major factors – the dominance of technology and the dominance of bureaucracy. We live in a world today of mass existence; we live in a system.  What do teachers and social workers and police complain of?– that they have to fill in so many forms. We are having to comply all the time; and when we come up against authority we have to obey it or go through highly structures complaints procedures to challenge it. Moreover our work is dominated by standard operating procedures; work routines have been standardised along rational scientific lines. This experience shapes our responses below our conscious awareness.

So we are immersed in a world experience of obedience to bureaucracy and compliance with standard procedures – a world essentially impersonal. That is, what obedience means now, for us, is different to what it meant in 1611. There, obedience to the law or to command took place in a small scale society where you had a definite relationship with those you obeyed. The law was the Queens law – and people’s personal feeling about Elizabeth the First was quite different to our feeling about Elizabeth the Second[ii].

I’d suggest then that obedience no longer adequately translates what the Bible means by hearing and doing, because the word obedience has shifted its reference.
What Jesus commands us must be done from the heart; this is inherent in evangelical obedience.

Is doing Christ’s command easy?  - no  precisely because it challenges our very heart, our deepest attitudes, all those remnants of sin in us. Whether it’s our fundamental selfishness, or pride, or laziness, or unforgiveness  – our doing is always very imperfect.

And if we are under temptation – then obedience can be appallingly difficult – this is where thou shalt not really bites. Obedience in matters touching the depths of the soul demands a profound act – an act finally not of the will but of faith; for only as Christ delivers us from our hardness of heart so that can we do his will from the heart
Commandments – yes  - faithfully kept.

We only hear the word in our context in terms of compliance to a hierarchical authority or bureaucratic or scientific operating procedures.

But what is commanded by Christ is commanded in love and is delivered to us bound up in Christ’s promise; our keeping his command must never be divorced from promise of grace on God’s side and loyalty on ours, lived from the new life of Christ in us.

[i] There is a word peitho never used of obedience to God or Christ, but rather to alien authorities
[ii] The Civil War of the 1640s and 50s shows how far and how quickly the bonds of society loosened and the modern world came in; the King’s head was cut off!