Nazir-Ali out of line on the Communion cup

Not many people have read my blog series What Anglicans have not always held about Communion. I can’t say I blame the rest of you – it is heavy going. But if anyone wants to get the general idea I recommend reading just part 5: summary and conclusions.

Anyway, what this means is that not many people have noticed what I discovered and reported in part 4 of the series: that Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, together with his suffragan the Bishop of Tonbridge, have stepped out of line with the Archbishops of the Church of England. Not for the first time, of course, for Nazir-Ali, but this time it is nothing directly to do with GAFCON or the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

With one exception, all of the dioceses and bishops whose recent swine flu advice I have seen have closely followed the line recommended by the Archbishops:

In the light of this advice, we recommend those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the administration of the chalice during this wave of pandemic flu.   For those who still wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the presiding minister … personally intincts all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.

Not all of the dioceses and bishops have suggested the intinction alternative, but all that I have seen, with the one exception, have recommended withholding the Communion cup from the lay people, in contravention of the Thirty-Nine Articles.

This doesn’t imply that all bishops agree with the advice. The blogging Bishop Alan Wilson (not a diocesan bishop) has in fact indicated some severe misgivings, in this comment and this one on this very blog. But they are surely under strong pressure to defer to the Archbishops and to government health advice – even though that health advice is seriously flawed, as is the church’s reaction to other parts of the same advice. I note by the way that in its latest advice on swine flu (which they insist on calling “Influenza ‘A’ (H1N1)”), the Diocese of Oxford, in which Alan Wilson is a bishop, avoids issuing its own advice to “suspend the chalice” but simply reports the Archbishops’ recommendation.

But, as far as I have seen, it is only the Diocese of Rochester which has officially, if subtly, stepped out of line on this matter. The advice which it has issued to all its clergy, in the name of Bishops Nazir-Ali of Rochester and Castle of Tonbridge, closely follows the wording of the Archbishops’ recommendation, but adds to it in a way which gives clear priority to the Archbishops’ alternative of intinction, with communion in one kind downgraded from the main recommendation to “possible” (points of difference from the Archbishops’ advice in italics):

Accordingly we recommend that those presiding at Holy Communion suspend the usual administration of the chalice to others during this wave of pandemic flu. The consequence of this is that it will be possible for communicants to receive in one kind. However, St. Paul reminds us of the importance of the common cup (I Cor.10.16) and so for those who […] wish to offer in both kinds, we recommend the practice whereby the President … personally intincts (dips into the wine) all wafers before placing them in the hands of communicants.

The appeal to the Bible added in Rochester is followed up by an added appeal to the Thirty-Nine Articles:

the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup and, therefore, in Communion in both kinds (Article 30).

The clear implication is that the Rochester bishops, like Bishop Alan Wilson and myself, have strong theological reservations about withdrawing the common cup, based on the Bible and the Thirty-Nine Articles. These two bishops have taken there reservations seriously enough to dissent from passing on the Archbishops’ advice to suspend the Communion cup.

Well done, Bishops Nazir-Ali and Castle! I wish that more bishops and archbishops would have the courage to question the flawed advice from the government, and from their own advisers, to recognise the theological importance of the common cup (which I explained in my series), to stop panicking, and to recommend that (here quoting the Oxford Diocese advice) “As in any crisis, the Church should remain open for business as usual” including in the way that it offers the Communion.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 5: summary and conclusions

This post concludes the series in the previous posts: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. It is also intended to be a summary of the whole series for those who don’t want to read it all.

The series started with the Bishop of Chelmsford’s reply to my Open Letter to him, including the words

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

His words are based on these commended by the Archbishops:

when [Communion] is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

My argument is that this is not correct. Anglicans have held a wide range of views about Communion, as I described in parts 2 and 3 of the series. Certainly one of those views is the one set out in the Thirty-Nine articles, which was held by the founders of the Church of England as a separate entity in the 16th century, and is still held by many Anglicans today. I have sought to argue that Anglicans who take this view of Communion cannot consistently agree that “when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less”, and so that the existence of this view among Anglicans demonstrates that the Archbishops and the Bishop of Chelmsford are wrong.

This also implies that their advice on swine flu is theologically flawed and damaging to the Church. I also believe that it is scientifically flawed, because the risk of catching swine flu from the Communion cup is much less than from all the other interaction at a typical church service – but in this series I am concentrating on the theological issues.

Note carefully that I am by no means trying to impose on my fellow Anglicans this view from the Thirty-Nine Articles, which is similar to my own view. I am merely pointing out that it is a genuinely Anglican view which should not be ignored or marginalised in the Church of England today.

So, what is that I find so objectionable about the Bishop of Chelmsford’s advice to his clergy? It is the words “the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion”, whereas the Archbishops, and Bishop N.T. Wright, referred only to “the fullness of the Sacrament”. As we saw in part 2 of this series, there are different ideas about in exactly what sense Christ is present in the sacrament. On my own view, and that of the Thirty-Nine Articles, he is present only spiritually, not in any kind of material form. And on that view of course his presence and activity does not depend on me actually consuming anything. So one might expect me to agree with the various bishops that actually drinking the wine is not necessary for the communicant to receive the full blessing of the sacrament.

Yet I cannot agree with this. It is not because an individual does not receive the wine that that person does not receive the full blessing. Rather, in the way I see it, the individual misses out on the blessing because the congregation in general does not receive the wine. So on my view if people with specific health problems, or concerns about the risk of infection, decline one or both of the elements, that does not affect the blessing they receive. What does affect the blessing is when the wine is not offered to the people as a whole, but to no one, or only to a small group of clergy and their assistants.

Why? Because the communion is not being offered according to Jesus Christ’s ordinance. These are his words of institution, as recorded by Matthew:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”27 Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. …”

Matthew 26:26-28 (TNIV)

If the cup is not offered to the assembled people so that all of them can drink from it, if they wish, then the Communion is not being offered as Jesus instituted it. And if the Lord’s ordinance is not followed, then the Communion is nothing but bread and wine, and the Lord’s blessing cannot be presumed on.

Looked at from this perspective, the Archbishops’ advisor’s words are incoherent. He notes, correctly, that

communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution,

but then goes on to recommend a different form of Communion which is clearly not “in faithfulness to Christ’s institution”. Surely the Archbishops don’t intend to commend this advice to disobey Jesus Christ? But that is what these words imply. Did Bishop N.T. Wright really intend to give the same advice? But that is what his very similar words amount to.

It is the Bishops of Rochester and Tonbridge who have offered the correct advice, writing that

the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup.

I appeal to all of the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of England to endorse these words of Bishops Nazir-Ali and Castle and change their swine flu advice accordingly. They should withdraw their recommendation that the cup should be withheld from lay people. Instead they should advise that, whereas churches may use intinction by the priest if they prefer, and while those who prefer not to take the cup on health grounds should be given a decent option of declining it, the recommended practice in the Church of England remains that of Article 30 of the Thirty-Nine, to offer to the whole congregation the Communion in both kinds.

What Anglicans have not always held about Communion, part 4

After writing my first, second and third posts in this series all in one day, I needed a bit of a break for reflection, and to catch up on other matters of life, such as pleasing my wife to be. (Yes, I am aware of 1 Corinthians 7:32-34a!) But now I am ready to come back to what various bishops have written about the Communion, and how it doesn’t matter if the wine is not distributed.

John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, wrote in his letter to his clergy:

Congregation members may need to be assured that receiving communion in one kind in no way diminishes the fullness of Christ’s presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

– and then in his reply to my open letter:

It has always been the case that Anglicans hold that receiving Communion in one kind we receive the full blessing of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bishop of Chelmsford has very likely based his advice on this which is found in a document which the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have commended:

The clergy should emphasize that while communion in both kinds is the norm in the Church of England, in faithfulness to Christ’s institution, when it is received only in one kind the fullness of the Sacrament is received none the less.

The following version of the advice has been issued apparently in the name of the N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, on his diocesan website:

The Bishop’s view is that congregations should now receive communion in one kind – that is bread only, with only the president receiving the wine. Congregations should be reassured that while communion in both kinds is usual within the Church of England in faithfulness to our Lord’s institution, the fullness of the Sacrament is none the less received in one kind and its validity is not in question.

The advice offered by the Diocese of St Albans is taken almost word for word from the document commended by the Archbishops. No doubt similar advice has been issued by most if not all the dioceses of the Church of England.

Interestingly, however, in their letter to their clergy the controversial Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, and his suffragan the Bishop of Tonbridge, Brian Castle, have taken a very different line. They avoid any suggestion that communion in one kind is acceptable and recommend, as a temporary measure, intinction by the priest – mentioned as an alternative by the Archbishops but not at all by the Bishop of Chelmsford. Most significantly, the Rochester bishops are the only ones I have seen to offer any theological background to their advice:

St. Paul reminds us of the importance of the common cup (I Cor.10.16) … the Anglican tradition places high spiritual and theological value on sharing in the common cup and, therefore, in Communion in both kinds (Article 30).

Well done, Bishops Michael and Brian, for writing this, while carefully avoiding contradicting the Archbishops’ advice. Would that the advice that Rowan Williams and John Sentamu commended had been based not only on Catholic theology but also on the Bible and on Anglican tradition as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles!

I am now nearly at the end of my discussion, but I will leave that for part 5, in which I summarise the series and present my conclusions.

The youngest ever bishop: not Nazir-Ali

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali is in the news again, this time because an aide of Archbishop Rowan Williams used a (moderately) rude word about him in an article which was sent to 10 Downing Street and to 43 diocesan bishops. The most detailed and explicit account I have seen is in The Independent. Ruth Gledhill of the Times also reports the story, more briefly and with asterisks in the word in question. She gives her own ringing endorsement of Nazir-Ali, and also posts a transcript of an interesting BBC interview with him (to be broadcast on Radio 3 at 20:45 tonight, in progress as I write, so I’m surprised Ruth is allowed to publish the transcript in advance). Anglican Mainstream has posted an extract from the transcript.

But the BBC interviewer, Joan Bakewell, makes a small error in her introduction when she says:

As the youngest ever Anglican bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali was only thirty-five years old when he was appointed Bishop of Raiwind in his native Pakistan.

He may have been the youngest Anglican bishop at the time, but he certainly was not the youngest ever. I don’t know exactly who was. The preface to the Church of England ordinal (in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer) states that

every man which is to be ordained or consecrated Bishop shall be fully Thirty years of age.

I knew a man who was consecrated as an Anglican bishop as soon as he reached that age of 30. So he might have been the youngest ever. He also had the distinction of being a bishop for more than 60 years, very likely another record.

I was actually rather surprised to find a Wikipedia article about Bishop John Dickinson, which confirms my memory of this gentle man. From what I heard, he was consecrated in 1931 as soon as he reached the canonical age because of the urgent need for anyone to serve as bishop in Melanesia. Perhaps this was because of the disgrace and resignation of Bishop Frederick Molyneux – Gene Robinson is not the first gay bishop, just the first to be openly gay.

After only six years service as a bishop, Dickinson returned to northern England and became a country vicar, as indeed he remained until he retired. I think it was then that he married my mother’s first cousin Frances. In 1946 he officiated at my parents’ wedding in Westmorland (now Cumbria). I’m told that he walked 20 miles across the open moorland of the North Pennines, carrying his vestments, to get there. My mother thought of him as highly eccentric, but his decision to walk may have been partly from poverty.

I remember visiting his vicarage in a tiny village in Northumberland, probably shortly before he retired in 1971, and getting a taste of rural parish life as he drove me around for part of a day. I also remember visiting him and his wife in their retirement home. Despite his unusual start in life, to me he was a good kind example of a traditional country vicar.

PS Wikipedia appears to report that Bishop Daniel Tuttle became a bishop in the USA aged 29, and so illegally, but this conflicts with a Time Magazine article which implies that he was 31.

Which bishops want women to join them?

Ruth Gledhill digresses from her Lambeth Diary to give the low-down on which bishops at last week’s General Synod voted for and against the motion on women bishops. This includes some minor surprises. I won’t repeat all the details, but I will give the votes of those bishops in the Church of England who I have been mentioning on this blog.

On “the Bishop of Winchester’s motion, including the reaffirmation of the Lambeth 1998 resolution that both sides in the argument on women priests and bishops are ‘loyal Anglicans’”, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury and Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, otherwise so far apart, were together among the 14 bishops who voted in favour. Among the 31 against this motion were Archbishop John Sentamu of York and bishops John Gladwin of Chelmsford, NT Wright of Durham and Pete Broadbent of Willesden. Ruth writes mischievously that

those who hold traditional views on ministry, men and women who believe implicitly in the Catholic faith contained in creeds and scripture, are now apparently not regarded as loyal Anglicans by two-thirds of the diocesan bishops of the Church of England present and voting at the Synod

– including Sentamu, Gladwin and Wright, also Broadbent who is not in fact “diocesan” but was included in this reckoning. So will Pete Broadbent, despite staying away from the Lambeth Conference, now be rejected by the conservatives? It will be interesting to see.

On the final motion, which I reported here, it seems that Archbishop Sentamu and bishops Gladwin and Broadbent were among 28 voting in favour, whereas 12 bishops including Nazir-Ali and Wright voted against, and Archbishop Williams abstained, alone – although at least four bishops seem to have absented themselves as 45 voted on several of the amendments. Well, at least I can agree with my own diocesan bishop on something. But there is surely something symbolically significant in the one who is supposed to be leading the Church of England choosing to abstain.

Bishop Broadbent to stay away from Lambeth

A few months ago I was writing a lot about the Lambeth Conference, and about the “alternative” GAFCON conference. Well, GAFCON is already here (but I have not yet kept up to date with reports from it), and Lambeth is coming up very soon.

One of the things which I did write was about Bishop Pete Broadbent of Willesden (still the only genuine Church of England bishop to comment on this blog):

I would be surprised if Broadbent stays away from Lambeth, although he might also attend GAFCON.

But now the Telegraph reports (thanks to the Church TImes blog for the link, also for linking to this blog on another matter) that Broadbent will be absent from Lambeth, along with Bishops Nazir-Ali and Benn whose absence has long been announced. This is confirmed in this Fulcrum forum thread, in a post written “Sunday 22 June 2008 – 03:41pm”, in which Graham Kings writes that Broadbent

is not going to make a public statement about his reasons for not going to Lambeth, which are complex.

This is of course clear confirmation that Broadbent is not going. On the same thread this morning, “Monday 23 June 2008 – 09:23am”, Broadbent himself gives a public statement, not “about his reasons for not going to Lambeth” but about his reasons for not making a public statement about his reasons. I don’t think that is being inconsistent, but I’m not sure. He writes:

1. Because there isn’t a party line. There is a conference. There are invitations. You can accept an invitation or decline it. It’s not a matter for third parties.

2. Because you may feel that explaining your reasons publicly would not be helpful to the conference host, whom you may not wish to undermine.

3. Becasue non-attendance is of course saving money, rather than expending it, and allows the Anglican Communion to spend more on cheese.

No wonder “Liddon” calls Broadbent “a politician”! But I have my own interesting points to make here:

  1. Broadbent apparently does not want to undermine Archbishop Rowan Williams, who he considers “a good man”.
  2. He is avoiding both conferences, saving money for both sets of organisers!
  3. Nevertheless he has his reasons for not attending, and explaining them publicly would not be helpful to Williams – which implies that the reasons are not purely personal.

One might wonder if Broadbent is trying to keep a foot in both camps, not upsetting his evangelical friends by attending Lambeth, but also not upsetting Williams and his associates by attending GAFCON or going public with any criticism. I don’t want to suggest that Broadbent’s position is anything less than honourable, but I do see it as a political decision, a compromise. Sadly the Anglican Communion has got into its current bad state because of a series of compromises. I don’t think it is helpful to anyone to continue to compromise.

Sitting on fences is uncomfortable, and remaining on this one will surely become even more so. Some time quite soon Bishop Broadbent will have to jump down on one side or the other.

Could this one be the Wright letter?

About a month ago, as I reported, Bishop NT Wright referred to a letter which Archbishop Rowan Williams was supposed to have already sent to Anglican bishops, supposedly in an attempt to dissuade from attending the Lambeth Conference those who were not committed to the Windsor Process and the Anglican Covenant. But, it seems, no such letters arrived. What was sent out at about this time was a video message. Ruth Gledhill suggested that this video was in fact what Bishop Wright was referring to. But, as I wrote at the time, the content of the video was nothing like the message which Wright described.

Now, a month later and only just over two months before the Lambeth Conference begins, another message from Archbishop Rowan has arrived in bishops’ letter boxes. Ruth Gledhill gives the full text and again speculates that this is the message that Wright was talking about. And indeed the content seems to fit what Wright had to say. Well, given the current state of the British postal service it is believable that these letters have been in the post for a month. But as the message is explicitly linked to the feast of Pentecost, yesterday, surely Wright was misinformed about it being in the post, even if it was already being drafted a month ago.

Actually it is a really good letter. I am impressed with the seasonal appeals to the Holy Spirit:

The Feast of Pentecost … is a good moment to look forward prayerfully to the Lambeth Conference, asking God to pour out the Spirit on all of us as we make ready for this time together, so that we shall indeed be given grace to speak boldly in his Name. …

We are asking for the fire of the Spirit to come upon us and deepen our sense that we are answerable to and for each other and answerable to God for the faithful proclamation of his grace uniquely offered in Jesus. That deepening may be painful in all kinds of ways. The Spirit does not show us a way to by-pass the Cross. But only in this way shall we truly appear in the world as Christ’s Body as a sign of God’s Kingdom which challenges a world scarred by poverty, violence and injustice. …

And our ambition is nothing less than renewal and revival for us all in the Name of Jesus and the power of his Spirit.

Todd Bentley would give an “Amen!” to that, even though his style is entirely different.

The “indaba” discussion groups Archbishop Rowan describes seem a helpful model for this kind of conference. But as for Wright’s suggestion that Williams was trying to persuade certain bishops not to attend, Williams writes that something (I’m not quite sure what)

makes it all the more essential that those who come to Lambeth will arrive genuinely willing to engage fully in that growth towards closer unity that the Windsor Report and the Covenant Process envisage. We hope that people will not come so wedded to their own agenda and their local priorities that they cannot listen to those from other cultural backgrounds. As you may have gathered, in circumstances where there has been divisive or controversial action, I have been discussing privately with some bishops the need to be wholeheartedly part of a shared vision and process in our time together.

Will this actually stop any bishops coming? I doubt it, unless “discussing privately … the need” is a euphemism for “ordering”.

Will the letter persuade any to come who were not planning to? Well, it might win over some who were wavering, and increase the number attending both the Lambeth Conference and Gafcon. The latter, the alternative conference in late June in Jordan and Israel, arranged by conservatives, is currently expecting 280 bishops, compared with the total of about 800 invited to Lambeth.

But a letter like this will not go far towards healing the deep divisions in the Anglican Communion. A month ago I wrote, actually quoting Wright’s words, that the letter he was referring to

is far too little, far too late.

The letter which has now arrived is still far too little, and it is even later.

Meanwhile Dave Walker suggests to me, with a cartoon to illustrate it, another way in which Archbishop Rowan might be discouraging Lambeth attendance. He will not be flying anywhere this summer. But of course he is the only bishop who can reasonably walk from his cathedral to the Lambeth Conference. The next nearest diocesan bishop, Nazir-Ali of Rochester, could just about walk the 30 miles or so to Canterbury, but is not expected to attend. So, by giving up flying, is Rowan giving an example which he doesn’t expect any other bishops to follow, or is he giving a subtle message to those from outside Europe not to bother to travel to Lambeth?

The wisest fool in Christendom

According to Jeremy Paxman on the BBC programme Newsnight last night (Friday) (click “Watch Now” on this page, but probably only until Monday), King James I was called “the wisest fool in Christendom”,

because he never said a foolish thing or did a wise one.

But Paxman suggested that Archbishop Rowan Williams has inherited this mantle.

I was privileged to meet this morning (Saturday), for the first time, one of Paxman’s guests, John Richardson, who blogs at The Ugley Vicar and Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream. We met only hours after Paxman interviewed Richardson, at the meeting where I also heard Bishop Pete Broadbent speak. Richardson drew my attention to another wonderful quote from Paxman on the programme:

How do you solve a problem like sharia?

You need to get the pronunciation right for this: rhyme with “Maria”.

The Archbishop’s comments on sharia law have apparently generated easily the biggest response the BBC has had to any story – 17,000 comments in 24 hours, the great majority critical of Williams. Continue reading

Broadbent quiet on Lambeth and GAFCON

I just got back from a talk by Bishop Pete Broadbent of Willesden, as advertised here. This was an interesting talk on the subject “United We Stand”, a very positive one in fact but I wonder how realistic this positive attitude is.

In a previous post I pointed out that Broadbent was not among the 21 evangelical bishops in the Church of England who wrote to the Church of England Newspaper urging their fellow Anglican bishops around the world to attend the Lambeth Conference.

At this morning’s talk Broadbent declined to answer a question about whether he would attend the Lambeth conference, the Global Anglican Future conference (GAFCON), or both. He did mention that there were 35 evangelical bishops in the Church of England. Of these, 21 signed the letter to the Church of England Newspaper, and two, Nazir-Ali and Benn, are known to have rejected Lambeth in favour of GAFCON. This leaves 12, including Broadbent, who as far as I know have not made their position public. They are probably wise to do so. Nevertheless, given his general attitude I would be surprised if Broadbent stays away from Lambeth, although he might also attend GAFCON.

Where will the evangelical bishops' long route via Lambeth lead to?

21 evangelical bishops in the Church of England have written an open letter to the Church of England Newspaper urging their fellow Anglican bishops around the world to attend the Lambeth Conference. The signatories include NT Wright, Bishop of Durham, but not bishops Nazir-Ali of Rochester or Benn of Lewes – nor for that matter Broadbent of Willesden, as far as I know the only bishop so far to comment on this blog (but I have no idea of Broadbent’s position on this issue).

I have not actually seen the open letter, which is not in the CEN’s free online daily edition. But I have read the CEN report as republished by Anglican Mainstream and others, with extracts from the letter. In one of these the bishops write:

We urge you therefore to take the long route, waiting for God to work through the processes that are already in train and praying for him to work his purposes in us and through us together.

That is, they are asking their fellow conservatives in the worldwide Anglican communion to abandon their boycott, which they at least implicitly consider a short cut, and take a long route via the Lambeth Conference.

But the problem with taking long routes is that they don’t always lead to the intended destination. This one is at least starting off in what a direction which seems completely opposite to the one which the evangelical bishops want to go to. Continue reading