Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Only us, redeemed

From her rather improbably titled office, Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, “UFO Director at the Anglican Communion Office,” reminds us that the Anglican Covenant hovering over us poses no threat to Churches whose antics may be referred to the First Fifteen, but they must accept that if processes of mediation have broken down their actions have (Euphemism alert) “relational consequences.”

Frankly, this phrase needs very careful handing before can possibly be wisely applied by to Christians to other Christians. I cannot get away from a queasy feeling that it would belong more fittingly to a Mob Protection Salesman or Gestapo Dentist.

It could even be used as cover for a Pelagian three card trick that horrifies me. Why?

What drives and resources my faith is Jesus’ giving himself up to death on a cross, what BCP calls his “one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” Think on these words. This, in itself, is a mighty powerful mediation process. No talks between factions that do not acknowledge its paramountcy are worthy of Jesus’ name.

When I become a follower of Jesus Christ in baptism, when I receive the bread and wine, I am swept up personally into a process of reconciliation between heaven and earth in which all principalities and powers are disarmed, all sins forgiven, all and, in the end, every tear wiped away from all eyes. The ordinary business of worship is my point of contact, now, with that glorious reality where Christ will one day be all in all.

I really believe this stuff, and, it has, for me, unmistakable “relational consequences” of its own that are far deeper than any merely human falling out however justified. I exercise saving faith when I allow Jesus to break down barriers that divide people, not when I define them. Any label I slap on others who disgust me (what a comical concept in itself) will be torn off anyway, on the day of unveiling. Any dividing wall has been fatally undermined by the earthquake that came after Jesus died. Any protecting veil for what human beings hold, rightly or wrongly, to be holy, been torn in two.

Therefore, in the end, if we take the cross seriously, there can no longer be “us” and “them.” There is only “us,” at the foot of the cross, even though, confronted with the other people involved, some of us find that distasteful for now. Defining people by their acts, gathering them into self-validating camps within which they can huddle fantasizing about their own righteousness and the opposition’s faithlessness is childish, unworthy and sub Christian. All we have to do to find healing and grace is stop doing it. And designing hidiing places where anyone can hide from the true implications of the cross is the silliest and most perilous policy for Christians to contemplate. It really is alien to our best tradition.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Bishop Alan for this strong statement of what the Christian ( and therefore the Anglican) faith is really all about.

Richard Littledale said...

As you so wisely say - Christianity is surely all about "relational consequences" from start to finish!

Anonymous said...

Vinaigrette Girl here.

A UFO Director? What tin-eared humourless committee passed that one?

Section 4.2 in its entirety is hifalutin language thinly disguising the same mentality my then-8 year old son and his friends used for their "secret club" rules.

This emperor has no clothes, dear friends.

Erika Baker said...

What a wonderful post. I shall keep it somewhere safe for future reference. Thank you.

Mark Clavier said...

A good post that reminds me greatly of one of Rowan Williams' sermons in which he says that Christians are called to identify themselves with others rather than against them. And this is undoubtedly the higher calling.

I suppose my difficulty is twofold: first, I find that both those who support and object to the covenant fall pray to 'us' vs. 'them' language. The line between the logic that says, 'we' want to be able to have some influence over 'them' (the conservative view) and the logic that says 'we' want the freedom to do what 'we' believe good and true without the permission of 'them' (the liberal view) is a difficult one to detect.

My other problem is that the entire debate is transpiring in a world where we retain a strong sense of 'them' without much of a sense of 'us'. The governing language is really a step in wrong direction: too often, its 'them' against 'me': my opinions, my feelings, my fears, my expectations, etc.

I think it good to remember that the phrase 'one oblation of himself once offered' follows a stripping down through confession, a rebuilding in absolution, is said in the fellowship of 'angels and archangels and all the company of heaven' and elicits a response that is a 'sacrifice of ourselves, our souls and bodies' and culminates in a communion of which we are unworthy.

So, my question is: how do we proceed to debate the merits of a covenant in a way that doesn't simply lead us to reinforce a culture of 'me vs. them' but instead reflects the movement of the BCP, which you quote? Or do we end up being merely a consumer Church of unrestrained choice?

Anonymous said...

Some one once said " God has spoken : everything else is interpretation".
It seems to me that this is your interpretation and yet there are other interpretations o fteh atonement sincerely held by people within the Christian faith.
Perhpas that needs to be acknowledged in this discussion.

Revsimmy said...


BTW "may be referred to the First Fifteen"

Is that the meme (example here among many others) where each province gets the first fifteen tracks from Shuffle Mode on its MP3 player and posts it for the others to laugh/marvel/be disgusted at?

Ian S-T said...

Excellent post!
Alan, to balance this, is there ever a point where you might draw a line in the sand? Where you might say that a person is not "us, at the foot of the cross"? Mormons, JWs, Bahai, Judaisers, prosperity gospel? Is there a place for discipline, as for preachers in Galatians 1, or behaviour in 1 Corinthians 5? Or should we welcome all who ask to join?

Erika Baker said...

If everyone genuinely believed that everything else is interpretation they would no longer feel the need have to impose their own interpretation on others as Truth and we would not be talking about a Covenant.

Erika Baker said...

MUST re-read my comments before posting them, apologies for typos and poor editing!

Rosalind said...

Thank you for once more talking about Jesus and the huge "relational consequences" that faith in God incarnate in Christ brings. We are always being challenged to see Christ in "the other" - the people we define ourselves against - and discover reconciliation through Christ. Not ever easy, not always comfortable, but that , for me, is what faith demands of me.
And the tragedy that I am beginning to see, is that on the ground, in parishes, in relationships grown between dioceses and parishes and individuals over many years, this is what Anglicans from all sorts of cultures and with all sorts of variants on where we put the emphasis in our attempt to live out this faith, have been doing and learning. We manage to live with each other and grow alongside each other; we don't write others off because their priorities are not ours. And will all this be threatened if we begin to talk as though differences are something to be afraid of, not accepted as one of the ways God challenges us and gets us to open our eyes a bit wider.
Is this whole covenant business because our leaders can't do what "ordinary" Anglicans have been doing for years? Can we pass the arguments over to the MU and see what they come up with?

Battersea Boy said...

"God doesn't cling to power, he gives it away. Funnily, the Church seems to do the opposite.

"God never bans any behaviours; God gives me the freedom. He won't stop me from lying, stealing, sleeping with who I want (and many other things). God grants freedom."

Steve Chalke, speaking at The Big Response (Churches engaging with the Big Society) in Lincoln on Tues 17 November 2010.

Lesley said...

Dear Bishop Alan

Thank-you for this.

I long for the church to speak the truth and not some half-baked politics, I long for us to understand and articulate our values.

I believe you do this here - We are all broken, partial, bleeding. We are all loved, equal in the sight of God and valued. I need not be afraid of Christians who seem different to me. There is only 'us'. I guess sometimes it is hard to see God in others, but we have a stark choice - love them or give into our fears - it is the choice between Heaven and Hell. Right now we seem to have chosen Hell and are trying to upgrade to Purgatory.

To hide all this let us do some spin - the Covenant at once does nothing and fixes everything, it restores control and isn't controlling, it causes us to all act as one and doesn't harm autonomy, it needs a 50% majority and not the 2/3rds so we don't get confused and it is to go through on the nod so Rowan doesn't get upset.

Give me strength!

Lapinbizarre said...

Many thanks.

Bob MacDonald said...

With one post you restore my faith in blogging! And you confirm just what is central and its consequences to us who enter into this judgement that is revealed from faith to faith. (For a week I have been thinking about the judgement in Psalm 1 - it may seem strange to invoke that word in this context - but it is ourselves hearing the word of Jesus and believing in the One who sent him that takes us 'through the judgement' - passing from the limits of our own rules and regulations into the life that he has prepared for us. From faith to faith invokes Paul and Habakkuk - his faith poured into us for life.) My 15 tracks are all from the psalms.

Lucy Mills said...

Very powerful post - thanks.

Peter Kirk said...

UFO Director? Did they appoint her to keep an eye on the flying clergymen who can, I suppose, no longer be identified as bishops, as they must now consider their own orders to be invalid?

Toyin O. said...

So true, what will we do without the cross, there wiill be no hope.

June Butler said...

Thank you, Bishop Alan, for getting to the heart of the matter. When Jesus stretched out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, he included all of us in his saving embrace.

To paraphrase a prayer....

Dim Lamp said...

H. Richard Niebuhr said it best:
“A God without wrath, brought men [ & women] without sin, into a kingdom without judgment, through a Christ without a cross.”

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