Art from N.T. Wright's old home saved for tourists

N.T. Wright, the world renowned theologian and former Bishop of Durham, may be enjoying his new job as a research professor at the University of St Andrews – which is probably best known today as where Prince William met his bride Kate Middleton. Auckland CastleBut Wright (no relation I think to Chris Wright who I quoted earlier today) is very likely missing his old home, Auckland Castle, which

has been the home of the Bishops of Durham for over 800 years

– but apparently no longer. The BBC reports that the castle is to

become a leading public heritage site, bringing tourism and economic regeneration to the North East.

The works by Zurbaran have been at Auckland Castle for 250 yearsBut there is good news:

Plans to sell off 17th Century paintings which hang in the home of the Bishop of Durham have been shelved after a £15m donation.

Church Commissioners said selling works by Spanish Baroque artist Francisco Zurbaran would have funded Church efforts in poorer areas.

But the donation by investment manager Jonathan Ruffer means the paintings can stay in Auckland Castle.

The Church of England is acutely short of money. So it is not surprising that they decided to sell these assets to fund “Church efforts in poorer areas”. But it would have been a major shame for these wonderful paintings to be taken away from where they

have hung in Auckland Castle, in a room specifically designed and built for them, for 250 years.

So God bless Jonathan Ruffer for providing the £15 million needed to save them. I trust that this money doesn’t disappear into the church’s coffers but is indeed used to fund its work in poor areas.

The Rapture? Why I want to be Left Behind

Ian Paul writes on his blog Psephizo Why I want to be Left Behind. He refers to Matthew 24:36-41. This is one of the main passages used to support the teaching on the Rapture, the idea that at some time before Jesus returns to earth all Christians will be taken away from the earth – and those Left Behind will suffer the worst of the Great Tribulation.

But Ian notes that in this passage the teaching in verses 40 and 41 that some “will be taken” seems to parallel “the flood … took them all away” in verse 39. Thus the ones who “will be taken” are not the ones God is rescuing from disaster but the ones subject to his judgment. So not surprisingly Ian concludes that when this happens he wants to be left behind. So do I!

I note that in the original Greek the parallel is not quite so clear as different verbs are used for “took … away” and “will be taken”. This explains Dick France’s earlier caution about this interpretation, mentioned by Ian. But the parallel seems clear to me even if it is conceptual more than verbal.

Meanwhile the other passage used to support the idea of a Rapture before the return of Jesus teaches no such thing, in fact precisely the opposite. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 it is very clear, from the Greek word epeita “After that” which links these two verses, that it is only after “the Lord himself will come down from heaven” that “we who are alive … will be caught up”. There really is no biblical basis for the popular idea of a secret pre-Tribulation Rapture, which was in fact first put forward clearly as recently as the early 19th century.

So Tom (N.T.) Wright, as quoted by Ian, is surely right about the Matthew passage when he writes:

There is no hint, here, of a ‘rapture’, a sudden supernatural event that would remove individuals from the terra firma….  It is a matter, rather, of secret police coming in the night, or of enemies sweeping through a village or city and seizing all they can.

Thanks to Simon Cozens for the link, in a comment on Eddie Arthur’s post The End of the World Is Nigh (or Is It?).

N.T. Wright to retire? Not really

Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream, quoting the Durham Times, announces that

THE Bishop of Durham is to retire.

But that is in fact a misleading way to put it; the Church Times Blog is more accurate in its headline Bishop of Durham to step down. The truth (at least I assume it is the truth – here quoting the Church Times post but the Durham Times confirms it) is that Bishop N.T. Wright “will be moving to the University of St Andrews to take up an academic post”. Maybe, at age 62, he is able to collect his pension from the Church of England, but he can supplement it with an academic salary. Of course that won’t make him rich, and he will have to vacate the mediaeval castle which is his official home as Bishop.

The bad news is that he is leaving not just the Church of England but also England itself, for the remote but prestigious small Scottish town of St Andrews. The good news is that, in his new appointment as a research professor, he will have more time to give to his important academic work.

Meanwhile this will leave a vacancy in the Church of England’s third most important diocese. I can already suggest a candidate for this post: Archbishop Rowan Williams. He would make an excellent Bishop of Durham, traditionally a post for a top theologian as the diocesan responsibilities are relatively light. By accepting this move Rowan can set aside with honour the political bits he doesn’t like of being Archbishop of Canterbury, and spend the last decade of his working life (until retirement at 70, in 2020) in a post more suitable for his skills.

N.T. Wright on synergism as a bogey word

James Spinti quotes N.T. Wright, in his 2009 book Justification (not sure why it is listed as “Not Yet Published” at this Eisenbrauns page which he links to), including the following parenthesis:

(what damage to genuine pastoral theology has been done by making a bogey-word out of the Pauline term synergism, “working together with God”)

I don’t know if Wright has explained this in more depth. But he is right that “synergism” is a term and concept used by the Apostle Paul.

In fact Paul uses sunergos “co-worker” twelve times and sunergeo “work together” three times, and there are respectively one and two other New Testament occurrences of these words. Some of these refer to human co-workers. But in 1 Corinthians 3:9, 2 Corinthians 6:1 and 2 Thessalonians 3:2 a human is a sunergos of God. And even more startlingly, in Romans 8:28, also in the textually doubtful Mark 16:20, we apparently read that God works together (sunergeo) with humans. Compare also Philippians 2:12-13, where the same concept is expressed in different terms.

Now when Paul and Mark write of this working together, they are not referring to salvation. So they are not teaching the doctrine of “synergism” disparaged at the Calvinistic site Theopedia as

the view that God and humanity work together, each contributing their part to accomplish salvation in and for the individual. This is the view of salvation found in Arminianism and its theological predecessor Semi-Pelagianism.

(This is by the way a misunderstanding of Arminianism, which does not in general teach that human works have any part in salvation.)

I’m not sure why Wright singles out “pastoral theology”. But certainly “synergism” is being used as a bogey word among Calvinists. And I can only agree that this kind of usage is theologically damaging by the way it is commonly misunderstood as denying the responsibility of Christians, already saved, to do works together with God as he calls us to.

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 end of the Anglican Communion as we know it?

I don’t think Bishop N.T. Wright’s article in The Times today is in the obituaries section. But it might as well be. This is because in effect he is announcing the death of the Anglican Communion, at least in the form I have known it since I was a child. In those days there was a map of the Communion on our church wall, showing the geographical areas of each of the provinces. Probably the second largest of those areas was the USA, represented by The Episcopal Church (TEC – at least that is its name today).

But the step which TEC has just taken has in effect put itself outside that Communion. At least, that is what one of the most senior bishops in the Church of England (who is also one of the world’s top theologians) is now saying. Of course we have long been hearing this from supporters of GAFCON and the newly formalised (in England) Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. But now it is the loyalist bishops who rejected GAFCON last year who are starting to say that enough is enough. Here is how Bishop Wright starts:

In the slow-moving train crash of international Anglicanism, a decision taken in California has finally brought a large coach off the rails altogether. The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States has voted decisively to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationships. This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing. They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart”.

Wright then goes on to write very sensibly about sexual ethics and homosexuality, but that is not my point here.

It is not just the moderate conservative Bishop Wright who is taking this view. As far as I know the Archbishop of Canterbury has not spoken out since TEC’s General Convention decision was finalised. But, as reported by Ruth Gledhill, before the final vote by the House of Bishops of TEC Archbishop Rowan Williams said:

As for General Convention it remains to be seen I think whether the vote of the House of Deputies will be endorsed by the House of Bishops. If the House of Bishops chooses to block then the moratorium remains. I regret the fact that there is not the will to observe the moratorium in such a significant part of the Church in North America but I can’t say more about that as I have no details.

That is, Archbishop Rowan was saying that he regretted the decision by the House of Deputies which was later confirmed by the House of Bishops. From him that is strong language. This is part of Ruth’s commentary:

In fact the vote represents a direct snub to Dr Williams, who in his sermon to the Convention last  Thursday urged an opposite course of action. He said, ‘Of course I am coming here with hopes and anxieties – you know that and I shan’t deny it. Along with many in the Communion, I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that will push us further apart.

So, as Wright writes, “Both the bishops and deputies (lay and clergy) of TEC knew exactly what they were doing”, deciding to “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level” and “walk apart”.

In effect, a large part of that world map of the Anglican Communion now has to be recoloured in grey, meaning no Anglican presence there. Or can the gap be filled by the recently formed “Anglican Church in North America”? Wright is unsure:

The question then presses: who, in the US, is now in communion with the great majority of the Anglican world? It would be too hasty to answer, the newly formed “province” of the “Anglican Church in North America”. One can sympathise with some of the motivations of these breakaway Episcopalians. But we should not forget the Episcopalian bishops, who, doggedly loyal to their own Church, and to the expressed mind of the wider Communion, voted against the current resolution. Nor should we forget the many parishes and worshippers who take the same stance. There are many American Episcopalians, inside and outside the present TEC, who are eager to sign the proposed Covenant. That aspiration must be honoured.

Indeed it would be wrong to rush into any decisions. But it seems that in the USA the point has now come where Anglicanism has divided into two separate streams, one liberal and one conservative. The question then is, how much longer can it remain united in the rest of the world, and particularly here in England?

Homicidal pews

An old friend of mine, Martin Jackson, is a vicar in the north of England, and blogs about life in his parish. This is in the diocese of Durham, so he recently had the honour of having his photo taken with the diocesan bishop N.T. Wright.

Today Martin has blogged on Dealing with homicidal pews. This sounds an improbable subject, but he reports the following exchange as genuinely overheard:

… an example of congregational nostalgia, implicit in an objection raised to the removal of a church pew: “Someone died in that pew.” To which the parish priest had replied, “Then it had better go before it kills someone else.” At which another priest leapt to her feet and shouted, “Let me have it – I can put it to good use in my parish….”

I’m glad that my church‘s building, dating from 1971, has never had pews. The mediaeval parish church (which is by the way where Lorenza and I are to be married – the date is now set for 24th October) had pews when I worshipped there, nearly 25 years ago now, but they were taken out and replaced with nice chairs about ten years ago.

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.

Rowan Williams and NT Wright respond to GAFCON

On Saturday I linked to Ruth Gledhill’s report of the final communiqué from GAFCON, with its veiled plans for schism in the Anglican Communion. She has now reported some interesting episcopal reactions, from Archbishop Rowan Williams and from “+THOMAS DUNELM:”, who for those unfamiliar with Anglican-speak is none other than the infamous NT Wright, Bishop of Durham.

The response from Williams (UPDATE: taken from here) surprises me. A large part of it focuses on the practical difficulties of schism rather than on the principles, almost suggesting that Williams is saying that the GAFCON leaders should make sure they do the schism properly. But he also claims that

The ‘tenets of orthodoxy’ spelled out in the [GAFCON] document will be acceptable to and shared by the vast majority of Anglicans in every province, even if there may be differences of emphasis and perspective on some issues.

Well, if that is true, why not present the document to the Lambeth Conference? If every province accepts it by a large majority as Rowan imagines, the schism is over. But is does Rowan really think that every province will endorse the following, even with “differences of emphasis and perspective”?:

8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.

If so, he is clearly even more out of touch than I had thought. And even more seriously, would there really be near universal acceptance of the following?:

5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.

In the end all that Rowan can do is to quote completely out of context

the words of the Apostle in I Cor.11.33: ‘wait for one another’.

But how long are people to wait? There needs to be a willingness to wait on both sides. The North American churches were not prepared to wait before ordaining a gay bishop etc. Why should others wait?

Then, after some negative comments by Bishop Chane, presumably of Washington DC, Ruth moves on to quote “+THOMAS DUNELM:”, NT Wright. Wright’s comments (UPDATE: taken from here) are long, and generally very positive about the GAFCON process. This part is interesting:

I fully agree with the GAFCON statement – and with Archbishop Rowan – that the Communion instruments have not been able to deal with the problems, and that we need to find better ways of going about it.

He also puts paid to any suggestion that he has a colonialist attitude:

What’s more, it is enormously exciting to live at a time when new leadership is arising from places completely outside the north Atlantic axis. Africa was one of the great cradles of early Christianity, producing such towering minds as Tertullian and Augustine. Most of us have long ago moved away from any idea that Christianity, or even Anglicanism, somehow ‘belongs’ to England or northern Europe. … I would have hoped, actually, that all this would now go without saying: that we have long moved beyond the sterile stand-off between ‘colonialism’ and ‘post-colonialism’. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s what matters.

Interestingly, he says that he was not invited to GAFCON. But then that may be because he attacked it in the Church Times perhaps before the invitation list was drawn up. In fact now he seems less critical than he was before, but in the end he rejects the whole GAFCON process:

In particular, though, there is something very odd about the proposal to form a ‘Council’ and then to ask such a body to ‘authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations’ – and then, as an addition, ‘to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith’. Many Anglicans around the world intend to do that in any case, and will not understand why they need to be ‘recognised’ or ‘authenticated’ by a new, self-selected and non-representative body to which they were not invited and which will not itself, it seems be accountable to anyone else.

He fears that the document

offers a blank cheque to anyone who wants to defy a bishop for whatever reasons, even if the bishop in question is scrupulously orthodox, and then to claim the right to alternative jurisdictional oversight. This cannot be the way forward; nor do I think most of those at GAFCON intended such a thing. …

… if GAFCON is to join up with the great majority of faithful, joyful Anglicans around the world, rather than to invite them to leave their present allegiance and sign up to a movement which is as yet – to put it mildly – strange in form and uncertain in destination, it is not so much that GAFCON needs to invite others to sign up and join in. Bishops, clergy and congregations should think very carefully before taking such a step, which will have enormous and confusing consequences. Rather, GAFCON itself needs to bring its rich experience and gospel-driven exuberance to the larger party where the rest of us are working day and night for the same gospel, the same biblical wisdom, the same Lord.

Indeed it would be wonderful if GAFCON could bring its experience and exuberance to the larger party. But the problem is that some of those at the party seem not to be working for the same gospel, some might wonder if even for the same Lord. If the people working together cannot even agree on their goals, there is little point in them working together as they will simply undo one another’s work. Williams and Wright claim that this is not what will happen, but Williams has failed to reassure the GAFCON primates of this. Again, Williams is saying too little, too late. Unfortunately the result is a momentum towards schism which he seems powerless to stop.