A meme points to peacemaking

Doug has tagged me with an interesting meme:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)
Find Page 123.
Find the first 5 sentences.
Post the next 3 sentences.
Tag 5 people.

Like Doug, I discounted the Bible on my desk, so I picked the first book that came to hand on my bookshelf. This happened to be “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Here is what I found on p.123 – I have included the preceding sentence so that this makes sense:

Why are peacemakers blessed? The answer is that they are blessed because they are so absolutely unlike everybody else. The peacemakers are blessed because they are the people who stand out as being different from the rest of the world, and they are different because they are the children of God. In other words, I say, we are again plunged immediately into New Testament theology and doctrine.

Interesting comment in the light of my ongoing discussions with John Hobbins on pacifism, and most recently on peacemaking in Africa, issues on which John seems unwilling to be even a little bit “unlike everybody else”. So I will content myself with tagging John on this one.

The pacifism debate continues

While I have been quiet here for some time until today, I have been continuing to discuss pacifism with John Hobbins on his blog, primarily in the comment thread of this post and also in some comments on this one.
Here is a taster. John wrote to me:

You are staking out a position … which seems to have little foundation in the biblical witness, Christian tradition, or current sensibilities. …

I don’t wish to caricature your position, but I do wish to point out its weaknesses.

I replied:

This position has “little foundation in the biblical witness” only for those who do not include the Sermon on the Mount and the rest of the teaching of Jesus in their canon. Perhaps those red letters in so many American Bibles are taken to mean that these words should be ignored.

Yes, my position has its weaknesses. So did Jesus’ position, so much so that he was crucified. But God vindicated him. I believe that God will ultimately vindicate my position, not necessarily by making it prevail, but certainly by bringing about in his eternal kingdom the pacifist vision of Isaiah 2:4 and 11:6-9.

Pacifism and the Good Samaritan

Jeremy Pierce and I have been having a long discussion in the comment thread on my post Doug ridicules Christian pacifism. Here I want to bring out one issue which came up in his most recent comment. In an earlier comment he had written:

It’s simply a moral principle that we should protect others

and I had replied:

This is where I fundamentally differ from you, especially if in doing so we kill or wound a third party. I’m not saying it is always wrong to do so either, but there is no sense in which this is a moral imperative for all, where the others have not been specifically entrusted to our care. To go beyond this is to be a “meddler” [referring to an earlier discussion of 1 Peter 4:15], as so well defined by you as “an enforcer of morality in places where you have no authority to do so”. So, yes, protect your own children, and play the hero when you see a mugging if you like (but don’t deliberately shoot the mugger dead), but it is not your responsibility to protect the children of Iraq.

To this Jeremy responded:

I have very strong resistance to the claim that I have no responsibility to treat the people of Iraq as my neighbors. Just because they don’t live next to you doesn’t mean they don’t count as neighbors in the sense that Jesus had in mind in the Good Samaritan parable. He deliberately chose a case of a foreigner helping an Israelite, indeed a foreigner most Israelites wouldn’t have seen any responsibility toward.

But does the parable of the Good Samaritan imply that as a Christian I should abandon pacifism and support armed intervention in Iraq? I don’t think so. Continue reading

US arms manufacturer to run UK census?

Apparently the 2011 UK census will be run by a private company, and one of the two leading bidders for the contract is the US arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin. There are various reasons why I find this objectionable:

  • Perhaps the least of them: the company manufactures arms. I am not a lover of arms manufacturers, but perhaps they should be encouraged to branch out into peaceful activities like running censuses.
  • This is a foreign company and should not be given access to sensitive information about British citizens.
  • “They also focus on intelligence and surveillance work and boast of their ability to provide ‘integrated threat information’ that combines information from many different sources. … This [census] information would be very useful to Lockheed Martin’s intelligence work”.
  • The choice of Lockheed Martin could compromise the usefulness of the census, because “fears that the data might not be safe could lead to many people not filling in their Census forms.”

The last two points are taken from this post, which also explains what action you can take if, like me, you wish to express your objection to this.

But then I would not want to suggest that the UK government itself runs the census, given its continuing appalling track record on protection of confidential personal data.

Thanks to Pam for drawing this to my attention.

Does Canadian Anglicanism have more to do with Anabaptism?

Maybe quite a few of you my readers, especially those who are not Anglicans, did not read through my rather long essay on the Church of England, despite my attempt to give it a catchy title. Perhaps rather more of you are interested in my various posts on Anabaptism. For your benefit, here is a summary of one of main points of my essay:

According to Rev John Richardson, who takes this idea Bishop Stephen Neill, there is no distinctively Anglican theology, and the only thing which distinguishes Anglican churches from others is their claim to be the catholic or universal church in certain countries, mostly those of the former British Empire. This claim can be traced back to Henry VIII’s presumption in setting himself up as the head of the Church of England. This is thus the very epitome of Christendom, the church being identified with the state. So I wondered how Tim Chesterton could claim that Anabaptism, which stresses the separation of church and state, could have anything to do with Anglicanism, especially in this area.

Tim responded in a comment that his idea of Anglicanism, from a Canadian perspective but also informed by his recent time in England, is fundamentally different from John’s very English viewpoint. For him, the Anglican church in Canada, and indeed anywhere apart from England, is a place for people who are “looking for something more sacramental without the hardline dogmatism of Rome, or something a bit less conservative than the evangelical churches.” So perhaps it is only in England where people are trying to be more reformed than Calvin or more catholic than the Pope while still calling themselves Anglican. This viewpoint is interesting, although I’m not sure it takes into account the position of the Global South group. But it is helpful for understanding the difficulties facing the Anglican Communion.

Meanwhile I am still waiting for the ninth part of Tim’s series ‘What does Anabaptism have to do with Anglicanism?’, in which he has promised in advance to outline “the church as a distinct community from the world” as an area of convergence between Anabaptism and Anglicanism. Perhaps the delay is because he is rethinking his position because of my comments – or perhaps just because he has been taking a weekend break.

The Ugley Vicar on the Church of England

I have known for a while of Rev John Richardson and his blog The Ugley Vicar. Indeed I have been to a Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream event which he introduced. But I have only interacted with him personally since Wednesday, when the Chelmsford ordination kerfuffle came to my notice. “Ugley” is not a mis-spelled description of him, however ugly some of his ideas might be to some people such as his bishop, but the name of the small village about 20 miles from here where he is the non-stipendiary (i.e. unpaid) vicar.

John has graciously responded to my post here and to my comments on the Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream blog which he also runs. I have also commented about him here. Now he has posted, at The Ugley Vicar, a long essay, originally written in 1997, outlining his understanding of the Church of England. Here is my response to that essay in the context of the current controversy; it is also partially in response to Tim Chesterton’s series ‘What does Anabaptism have to do with Anglicanism?’, which I started to discuss before. Note that I am writing here as a lifelong Anglican, not as an outside critic.

Continue reading

The church: the nation at prayer or a gathering of disciples?

At the start of a series (five posts so far, 2 3 4 5) at An Anabaptist Anglican, Tim Chesterton considers the questions “What does Anabaptism have to do with Anglicanism?”, “Anabaptist Anglican? How is that possible?” and “How are you still an Anglican?”, and starts to answer the questions. The series is intended to sum up what he has learned during his sabbatical here in England and will shortly take back to the Anglican church he leads in Canada.

This series looks like being important reading, not just for Anglicans and Anabaptists, but for all who are interested in questions like the title I have given to this post (not taken from Tim). For the Anabaptists were the first Christians in modern times to question the assumptions of more than a millennium of Christendom which almost identified the church and the state. The new directions into which they launched out have become many of the major controversies in the church for the last few centuries: Christ-centred Bible interpretation; emphases on evangelism and personal discipleship; rejection of a special class of clergy; believers’ baptism and a believers’ church; separation of the church and state; non-violence and pacifism. It seems to me that these controversies cannot be understood properly without a familiarity with the Anabaptist tradition.

I will refrain from further comment until the series has gone further. But I am personally interested in seeing how, if at all, Tim can justify remaining an Anglican while embracing, as I do, so much Anabaptist thinking.

The Gospel is not just about guilt and forgiveness

Tim Chesterton continues to post excellent summaries of Yoder’s writings on the church and how it should maintain its distinction from the world.

Here is an extract which, although tangential to Tim’s main theme, is relevant to the ongoing atonement debate:

The Gospel is not to be understood as being simply about how individuals can alleviate their guilt and find forgiveness and peace of mind. That is to read the tortured psychological history of Martin Luther back into the New Testament. The Gospel, according to the New Testament, is about the creation of a new people for God, formed from communities (Jews and Gentiles) which historically have been at loggerheads with each other. Thus the God who loves his enemies calls into being a people who are learning to imitate him and love their enemies. According to Ephesians 3, this is the centre of God’s plan; this is the great and amazing mystery which has been revealed to Paul.

How true! And how sad that some people make penal substitutionary atonement, or for that matter any theory of the atonement, so central to their theology, and to their gospel presentations, that they almost ignore these implications which Yoder points out, and many other consequences.

As I wrote before, the gospel needs to be presented in a relevant way. The list I gave there of human needs, and how the gospel meets them, may have been a bit narrow, because it focused on individual matters. A more complete list would have included more communal needs, such as reconciliation and belonging in a community. These are met by other aspects of Jesus’ work which are in a sense models of the atonement, although sometimes considered separate matters: through his death and resurrection, he reconciled former enemies and founded his own new community, the church. These aspects of the matter must be included in a fully rounded presentation of the gospel.

But, Tim, we don’t have national flags in my Anglican church, except for the international set we got for the football (soccer) World Cup!

Canon and church

This post is in part in reply to John Hobbins’ and Doug Chaplin’s comments on my post Canon and Spirit. But I will start in what might look like a very different place: Tim Chesterton’s review of a 1957 book The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision. I will then bring the discussion back to the issues of canon.

Continue reading