July 30, 2006

Growth in a Godward Direction

From a sermon on Ephesians 4
The Letter to the Ephesians tells us what it means to grow up — to be no longer a child blown about by every wind of doctrine, but being firm in the truth that God has provided us in the person of Christ. The wonderful thing about growing in unity in Christ is that it isn’t about uniformity: the various members of the church are completely united but individually gifted: as they grow they diversify!

This is what lies behind Paul’s baptismal language — beginning with unity, passing through universality, and ending with diversity: there is one body and one Spirit, one call, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father — of all — who is above all and through all and in all. But to each — to each — he gave grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift: and each individual’s gift is different yet works together for the unity of the body.

There is a biological reality to this movement from one to all to each: every human being starts as one single cell, a fertilized egg. As it divides into additional cells they specialize under the direction of that amazing DNA molecule that is identical in all the cells but directs each in its own way — this one becomes a nerve, another a blood cell, another skin, another bone. If all of the cells were the same, we would not and could not be what we are: we would be like the Blob — a giant amoeba that can only digest. But instead the body grows with differentiation — different cells equally part of the one body, all directed by the same DNA, but each doing different things for the good of the whole body, knit together in every ligament and joint, each part working together as one. Maturity requires differentiation as much as it requires unity.

So part of maturity means being an individual — as a psychologist would say, being individuated — not being tossed about by what other people say or think or feel, but having one's own identity. To be mature is to have one’s own sense of self, and the ability to exercise one’s own gifts but not to keep them for oneself alone, but to use them to the benefit of the good of the larger body, and its growth towards the end that God intends. Rabbi Hillel, who was the teacher of Saint Paul’s teacher Gamaliel, once said something along these lines: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Each individual will have the maturity to stand for him or herself — but not to stand for him or herself alone, but in unity with all — and this happens in the now that is given to us anew each day. Perhaps Paul learned this lesson from his spiritual grandfather Rabbi Hillel.

For what is important in all of this is the direction of the growth: it is not growth away from God or from others, but growth into Christ, and for the good of the whole church.

There is obviously a lesson for us in all of this as we deal with our differences in the Anglican Communion — for differences there are. The church grows through diversity, united in Christ, preaching one Lord, but with each of its many members in the body making their unique contribution to its well-being. To use the biological language once again, ontogeny recapitulates ecclesiology: the process of differentiation and growth from one through all to each is what makes us who we are as individuals and as the church.

So let us learn to celebrate our differences as part of God's gift, rather than seeing them only as wounds in the body; perhaps they are not wounds at all, but the marks of difference that empower mission in ways we might not be able to serve if we were all alike.

Tobias S Haller BSG

July 23, 2006

What if...

For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. — Ephesians 2:14-16
What if we were to practice what we proclaim: that we are one in Christ by virtue of our baptism?

What if we realized that what divides us are the rules we set in place to define us?

What if we set aside the commandments that divided us, the ordinances that determine who is in and who is out, the law that makes outlaws of us all?

What if we accepted Christ as our peace, as he accepted us, and went without covenants and treaties to bind us together, but trusted only in the Cross?

What if we truly practiced what we proclaimed?

— Tobias S Haller BSG

July 17, 2006

It’s Not Easy Being Pope

“Mortal, I have set you as a watchman to the house of Israel.” Note that Ezekiel, the one the Lord sent to preach the word, is called “a watchman.” A watchman or sentinel takes a post on the highest point, in order to see whoever may be coming from a distance. Similarly, anyone appointed watchman to a congregation should live a “higher” life so as to keep all things in sight.

As I say these words, I realize I am reproaching myself. For I do not preach as I ought, nor does my personal example accord with these principles that I’m preaching even now. I can’t deny my guilt, for I’ve become lethargic and negligent in my work; though perhaps by recognizing my failure I’ll win some sympathy and pardon from the judge. Before I started this work, while living in a religious community, I was able to refrain from talking about idle topics and to devote my mind devotedly to prayer. Since taking up this new pastoral position, I have been unable to concentrate on prayer, because I’m so distracted by my responsibilities.

For example, I have to consider questions about churches and communities and make assessments about people’s lives and acts. One minute I’m involved with a public policy issue, and the next minute I have to worry over outside threats to the well-being of the church under my care. I have to accept a public role in political matters in order to support good government. I have to bear patiently with law-breakers, and then confront them with an attitude of charity.

I am split and torn to pieces by the variety of weighty things on my mind. When I try to concentrate and pull myself together to preach, I feel inadequate to that sacred task. I am often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with worldly people, and sometimes I become casual in my speech; because if I spoke my conscience dictates with all formality, I know some of them would simply drop me and that I could never influence them towards the goal I desire for them. So I endure their aimless chatter in patience. Then, because I am weak myself I am drawn gradually into idle chitchat — and I find myself saying the kind of thing that before I didn’t even want to listen to! I’ve come to relish wallowing where once I would have been ashamed to stray by accident.

What kind of a watchman am I? Far from the heights to which I aspire, I am constrained by my weakness. And yet — the one who created me and redeemed me and all humanity can give me, even in my unworthiness, some grace to glimpse the whole of life, and the skill and ability to speak of what I see. So it is for the love of God that I do not spare myself in preaching.

— Gregory the Great, from a sermon on the Book of Ezekiel

July 11, 2006

Does Communion Require Authority?

I have followed the writings of the ACI and its members for some time. It appears in general they seem to wish there were a "judicatory" of some sort at a level above the individual churches of the Communion. I recall language of "superior synods" from some years ago, for example, from either Dr Radner or Dr Seitz. This has remained a theme in the ACI work.

What must be admitted -- or at least should be admitted, and +Rowan for one admits it though he may rue it, or not (on alternate days of the week) -- is that at present no such synod or judicatory exists. There is no central authority in the Anglican Communion to which all of the provinces must submit. There are, on the contrary, provincial authorities to which dissatisfied members refuse to submit, appealing to the notional superior synod that is as of yet to be called into being.

What is now under discussion is whether such a judicatory should be established. Some (particularly those malcontented with their own or others' inferior synods' decisions) say yes, others no. It is no good trying to argue that there is a natural progression towards such centralization. There is nothing "natural" about it. It takes a good deal of work, if indeed it is work we want to undertake. Nor is such a political structure inherently more "Christian" -- it may actually be less so to the extent that it relies on "authority" after the manner of the kings of the Gentiles, rather than the richly organic body that Paul seems to favor, in which all are identically blessed, but each is uniquely gifted. (Ephesians 4)

At present some who have made the loudest noises about what they regard as infractions in our common (unadjudicated) life, have also made it abundantly clear that they consider themselves omnicompetent to make such judgments regardless of any other adjudication. I speak of Nigeria, as the prime exemplar of this. This province has indicated it is interested in fellowship of any kind only with those with whom, in its sole determination, it agrees.

There is also a great deal of speculation concerning the possible Anglican Covenant, and much of it assumes that the Covenant will be written in a certain way, so as to create a level of superior authority capable of saying who is no longer a valid member. But I can think of a Covenant that is based not on authority but on trust, not on power but on commitment; in short, more in keeping with the Gospel, that might say things like, "No member or members shall judge the actions of any other member or members."

Wouldn't that be novel.

Tobias S Haller BSG

July 7, 2006

Bondage and Discipline

The most recent comment from Canterbury seems to express a fervent (or wistful) hope rather than to offer a real possibility. +Rowan appears to want a stronger Communion in which everyone signs off on something to which they all agree to be bound. But clearly the problem is that no such document yet exists -- and is unlikely to come into existence if the people composing it are the ones who can't agree in the first place! Or at best, this is merely a way to ratify the divisions.

For Rowan is unwilling to step in as the strong-man and simply lay down the law of what he thinks the Covenant should be -- even in draft form. He seems to hope that a solution will emerge from the primeval soup of discord, but I sense that his "solution" will prove merely to be a label on the problem -- a handy name for the disease rather than a cure. If this is Samuel waiting for David to get back from the sheepfold, I'm afraid he will have a long wait.

We have been cycling in rings of paradoxes since the Windsor Report: a collegial-minded leader at the head of a fractious collegium, one which alternately insists on the rights of the individual members ("What touches all must be affirmed by all") but then wants to impose limits on who is in and who is out if they assert those rights; that calls for dialogue but invites withdrawal from the consultation; and so on. I've noted all of this before.

As for any Covenant that might emerge from the present cast of characters: If it is strong enough to bind, few will be willing to be bound -- as it is the very ones calling for such bondage and discipline who also most vehemently insist on being the definers of the limits: the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), for example, has made their position abundantly clear.

So this is little more than an ecclesiastical tautology: those who will agree will agree, and those who don't won't. If everyone just gives in to the lowest common dominator, well, then we might have peace, but at what price? What does it profit any of us to gain a Whole-World-Church at the cost of our ability to minister effectively where we actually are?

What I believe could survive -- if we would get off the Utopian kick for a new model -- is precisely the same old messy mix that Anglicanism has always been: or at least since Colenso and the very first Lambeth Conference, admittedly more since 1988 and 2003: a collection of historically related churches, with bilateral rather than universal mutual communion, impaired here and there because of gender or sexuality, but willing to cooperate on mission.

Can even that survive? You will note that it is also the Global South that has introduced problems with the latter: in the Ugandan rejection of any support even for the corporal works of mercy if they come from the tainted hands of North American Episcopalians. I ask again: who is causing the tear in our church's fabric?

So, it is time for an honest, rather than a wishful, appraisal of the situation. It is either, to my mind, a "weak" communion that is strong on mission, or a hobbled and divided -- and I dare say split -- communion in which the institution is secure and the mission flounders.


Tobias S Haller BSG

July 6, 2006

Whence and whither

I've argued for a long time that the Anglican Communion is neither a federation (which would require some sort of written Articles) nor a world-church (which would require a single hierarchy) but much more in the tradition of the Eastern churches: a communion. (Fr J Robert Wright's essay in the pre-GC Anglican Theological Review reflected this observation as well.)

As I see it, the pressure now is between those who say they want a Communion but are actually pushing for either a Federation or a World-Church. The idea of a fellowship of "national" churches bound by a common tradition and mutual respect and geared for mission seems to have fallen by the wayside under the pressure for more centralized authority or a fractious club concerned mostly with its membership rather than its mission.

The idea of mutual submission, and embracing the Cross of self-denial is wonderful. But it only works if everyone agrees: the emphasis must be on the mutuality as much as the submission. Otherwise we simply become, or create, a structure of domination: precisely what Jesus warned against when he told the apostles that they were not to exercise authority after the manner of the kings of the gentiles. I'm reminded of the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, who when asked what he thought of Christianity, is said to have responded, "A wonderful idea; why doesn't someone try it." With the present state of affairs, those who laid down their ecclesiastical arms, so to speak, would simply become the victims of the lowest common dominator.

Could we not still function as a loose network united by historical ties, common (or at least related) liturgies, and engagement in mission?

A good idea; why doesn't someone try it.

—Tobias S Haller BSG

July 4, 2006

Dear Rowan, No Thanks

Word has now come from the Nigerian Synod that should be abundantly clear to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is, if I'm not mistaken, the third strike.

In this communiqué the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) gives reality to its new name, and new significance to the parentheses. The Church of Nigeria is to be the ultimate arbiter of the Anglican Communion. The Lambeth Conference is described as risking having outlived its usefulness, and an alternative all-Anglican all-Bishops conference, in the "age-long tradition" (well, at least from 1867) of decennial gatherings will take its place, under the careful organizational oversight of this new regime — if things don't go the way the Nigerian pontificators think they should.

Archbishop Rowan, what part of this do you not understand? Who, exactly, is tearing the fabric of the Communion at this point? Who are the "super-apostles" who puff themselves up, trumpeting their delight in recognition by Time and declaring other parts of the body to be "cancerous lumps" worthy of excision? These pronouncements from Nigeria are more than unhelpful. It is time to recognize the nature of pride, and real "unilateral" action against other members of the church when it is proposed or taken. This is not the spirit of interdependence, but something else entirely.

&mdash Tobias S Haller BSG

Excerpts from the statement:


Synod notes with satisfaction the efforts of the Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), His Grace, The Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola, in giving the Church of Nigeria, (CAPA and Global South) a purposeful and effective leadership. It further expresses its approval of his actions and pronouncements against errors of revisionist ideologies. With much delight and enthusiasm, Synod received his citing by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 persons that shaped the World in 2005, and encouraged him not to relent in his efforts in exercising his ministry.


Synod is satisfied with the move by the Global South to continue with its veritable project of defending the faith committed to us against present onslaught from ECUSA, Canada, England and their allies. The need therefore, to redefine and/or re-determine those who are truly Anglicans becomes urgent, imperative and compelling. Synod therefore empowers the leadership of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) to give assent to the Anglican Covenant.


The Lambeth Conference which is one of the accepted organs of unity in the Anglican Communion is due for another meeting in 2008. The Synod, after reviewing some recent major events in the Communion, especially the effects of the ?revisionists? theology?, which is now making wave in America, Canada and England, observed with dismay the inability of the Church in the afore­mentioned areas to see reason for repentance from the harm and stress they have caused this communion since 1988 culminating in the consecration of Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual in 2003 as a bishop in ECUSA. Synod also regrets the inability of the See of Canterbury to prevent further impairment of the unity of the Church. It therefore, believes strongly that the moral justification for the proposed Lambeth Conference of 2008 is questionable in view of the fact that by promoting teachings and practices that are alien and inimical to the historic formularies of the Church, the Bishops of ECUSA, Canada and parts of Britain have abandoned the Biblical faith of our fathers.


Synod underlines the need for maintaining the age-long tradition of a ten-yearly Conference of Bishops in the Anglican Communion for discussing issues affecting the Church. It therefore calls on the leadership of the Global South and Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) to do everything necessary to put in place a Conference of all Anglican Bishops to hold in 2008 should all efforts to get the apostles of ?revisionist agenda? to repent and retrace their steps fail.