8/22/2007

The List is not a road map

The Archbishop of Nigeria believes I am on the road to destruction. I have lots of good company since it appears he lumps "The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada" as a whole as pilgrims on the road to ruin. He has brought this criticism to light in his most recent new and improved letter to the bishops and synods of the Church of Nigeria, where he has produced a list of affirmations that those on the 'right road' will of course all follow.

Remembering that this is not a letter to us, but to his own bishops, one wonders just why he has taken the time to condemn us once again. Various theories have been put forward: (i) he loves us all very much and wants to see us saved (a commendable and ancient view which unfortunately has sometimes supported the rack, compulsory baptism, shunning, etc.); (ii) he is trying to keep his own bishops focused on acting as a block against TEC and ACoC and for the Global South (this makes it a "hold the line" sort of statement, useful in the Lambeth invitation squabble); (iii) he is really trying to reach American bishops of the moderate sort who really don't what to be pushed to comment on matters such as "teaching on morality that is rooted and grounded in the Biblical Revelation (this being a tried and true method of using pious language as bait.) Well, perhaps he is doing all three.

This list of affirmations is, according to the Archbishop, "designed to set us free from the bondage of sin and give us the assurance of life eternal." These are contrasted to "the first road,… the road of compromise of biblical truth, (that) leads to destruction and disunity." "The first road, the one that follows the current path of The Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada, is one that we simply cannot take because the cost is too high. We dare not sacrifice eternal truth for mere appeasement; we cannot turn away from the source of life and love for a temporary truce."

About this second road, the one for which the Archbishop has been so kind as to offer the list,

"It requires an unequivocal acceptance and commitment to:

a. The Authority and Supremacy of Scripture.
b. The Doctrine of the Trinity
c. The person, work and resurrection of Jesus the Christ
d. The acknowledgement of Jesus as Divine and the One and only means of salvation
e. The Biblical teaching on sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, and transformation by the Holy Spirit through Christ.
f. The sanctity of marriage.
g. Teaching about morality that is rooted and grounded in the Biblical Revelation.
h. Apostolic Ministry

Well, I'm doomed. I want to ask more questions, poke about a bit and find out just what he really means, raise the specter of past purges and pogroms and gulags, and otherwise engage in conversations that would clearly be equivocal (therefore not accepting) and uncommitted. But no such luck. The Archbishop has determined that this would be the wrong road and I am on it. Well, there it is.

Snide remarks from readers that the Archbishop is right about my wretched condition will be faithfully ignored until such time as I have had enough of that, at which point I will delete such comments.

But on the outside chance that there might be some possibility of a somewhat wider road, let me suggest that the Archbishop has fallen into a mire of unintended consequences by providing this handy-dandy list of requirements for salvation or the journey to eternal life.

The "Authority and Supremacy of Scripture" is not as simple a notion as it seems. There are notable Scripture passages which almost no one considers authoritative and supreme – as for example in Leviticus (20:9) where cursing father or mother carries the mandate that they be punishable by death. No matter that such cursing is counter to one of the big Ten Commandments to honor father and mother, we would be hard pressed to find any Jew or Christian in the modern world willing to execute the child who curses the parent. That way lies the cruelty of the worst sort of religious laws.

The problem is that on a moderate level, we sort of want to affirm unequivocally the "authority and supremacy of Scripture." It sounds right. But it isn't. The testimony of the followers of Jesus is clear that scripture informs the Christian but the Christian is not conformed to scripture. The unfolding of the realization that in Christ Jesus all has been made new is accompanied by struggles that effectively cancel the physical requirement of circumcision, the whole of the notion that there are things and people unclean, and develops beyond anything previously seen in Scripture the understanding of what is meant by the Anointed One.

Perhaps what is meant is the 'authority and supremacy of Scripture' is as seen through the lens of Jesus the Christ. In that case we only find Scripture authoritative and supreme as the mind of Christ so informs us. Perhaps this is what the Archbishop is getting at.

But the point is that whatever he is getting at is NOT clear in the demand that we give "unequivocal acceptance and commitment to "the authority and supremacy of Scripture."

As to "the doctrine of the Trinity," let me say that I do not give unequivocal acceptance and commitment to any doctrine. It is not that I am opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity; rather I have engaged with the doctrine for many years and have a fondness for it, one that grows from the rich mining of its meaning. But my relationship to doctrine is clear: it is there, I exercise my faith with doctrine always there as a teaching and informing tool, and I learn from the doctrine as I engage it. But my commitment and acceptance relates to persons, not doctrines. I give my unequivocal acceptance and commitment to Jesus, not to the precision of this or that doctrinal formulation.

Well, you can see where this all leads. The Archbishop seems to believe that any of us who talk like this are on the road to destruction. But I say I engage Scripture with great seriousness and sometimes playfulness and likewise am always ready to engage the doctrine of the Trinity. I might add I am ready to engage with the same seriousness and playfulness all the other propositions in his list. That does not mean I agree with "unequivocal acceptance and commitment."

There are lots of questions I would ask the Archbishop about the things on his list were he to have the slightest interest in using the list as a tool for greater unequivocal acceptance and commitment to Jesus or to each other.

Regrettably the list seems to be concocted for the purpose of consigning folk in The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to perdition, ruin, destruction and disunity. Worse, it is here to cajole those who would like all the messiness of the Anglican Communion to go away to an easy answer. It is a list for the manipulation of opinion at home and abroad.

The Archbishop of Nigeria is using up his time. It is time to move on and time for him to go.

27 comments:

  1. I don't see how the sanctity of marriage makes the list on the the Akinola Road of Righteousness next to the Trinity, Jesus, and Scripture and before the Apostolic Ministry.

    Considering that the poor and the excluded get a lot more time in the Gospel agenda than marriage, it just makes no sense except as a stab at the supposedly sinful Episcopal Church and their Canadian companions.

    As I recall, there's nothing in the Nicene Creed about marriage.

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  2. actually, i agree with every item on the list. what he wants is for you to accede to him the right to define what those items mean, and i fear that you words suggest you are willing.

    i insist on biblically grounded teaching about morality, and i insist that the archbishop of nigeria is not doing it but is instead proffering a moral teaching based on cultural prejudice, not scripture.

    it is this case which i think we must make. we must say to the bad archbishop, "your list is the right list, and i agree with every item on that list, and i fear that you are the one who has given them up."

    for i even agree about the sanctity of marriage. the bad archbishop, alas, only cares for the sanctity of some marriages, while others he is content to attack and try to dissolve. see how this goes?

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  3. I also agree with the sanctity of marriage. However, even if we limit the definition to legal marriage, then this includes all of the same sex couples that have married in Massachussetts!

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  4. Well, Mark, in the words of James Taylor, 'I'm driving down the road to ruin.' Glad to know that I've got such good company.

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  5. And would the Archbishop agree with Jesus when he seems to disagree with a passage in the Old Testament? I think of, "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

    I'm not joking. I'm seeing the Archbishop on the horns of a dilemma with the "supremacy" of Scripture. Which teaching is "supreme"? I would hope the teaching from Jesus, but I'm not sure he would agree.

    I don't know. Maybe, I'm oversimplifying here.

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  6. Interesting. One is tempted to see this in terms of ecumenism: The vast majority of Christians now alive and of those dead (the "communion of saints") would disagree with point A. "Authority and Supremacy" rest not in the scriptures but in the Church that so named them. Pick a side - Roman or Orthodox - but this is standard Christian teaching. High and Broad Church Anglicans have also, traditionally, understood it so.

    Points B, D, E and H (at least) flow from the traditional, catholic understanding of A - which is clearly not what the Honourable Archbishop intends.

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  7. Counterlight22/8/07 11:08 PM

    Whenever I imagine the prospect of a Heaven filled with insufferably pious dorks, I remember the bar that Malachi McCourt owned and ran near Times Square for many years, The Bells of Hell. Legend has it that he'd regularly forget to pay the electric bill and ConEd would turn off the power in the middle of a Saturday night crowd. So, it was free beer until all the beer stored in the fridge was consumed. I'd much rather hang with the other hell-bound pervs than with all the brittle blue-stockings. Besides, people running naked through flames and getting poked is Saturday night in some places.

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  8. As for the OT Law about honoring father and mother, it would seem to me that in Luke 12 (and in similar passages in all of the synoptic gospels) Jesus says about his coming: "they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother. . ." so much for OT law. This is certainly not the only place it is clear that the old has passed away and the new has arrived. It is also clear that following him is not going to be a pleasant Sunday social hour. So which testament, old or new, would +Peter have us follow? Of course, since I came late to the Episcopal Church, a great deal of my scriptural understanding has been filtered through early Baptist Bible study and until the recent unpleasantness I had felt a sense of liberation. My mind had been let loose to consider all kinds of possibilities without the thought police putting up roadblocks.

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  9. Caminante,

    Since we're all going to hell, perhaps we could have a pot luck. Diocese of Newark - salads, Los Angeles - main dishes, New Westminster - desserts. Scotland: please no haggis.

    We'll have a fun time, and we won't have to put up with an eternity of listening to Akinola. That alone would make it heaven to me!

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  10. RE: "Snide remarks from readers that the Archbishop is right about my wretched condition will be faithfully ignored until such time as I have had enough of that, at which point I will delete such comments."

    Well that's consistent with the self-styled "progressives" 'listening process.'

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  11. Generally speaking, I don't have a problem with any of the points on ++Akinola's list. However, as my favorite professor in seminary says, "It's more complicated than that."

    Thomas Bushnell has it right: it's not the list that's the problem, it's the insistence that Big Pete get to define whether or not one is following that list correctly.

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  12. Like Thomas, I can agree with every item on that list. However, I cannot check my brain and my conscience at the door. That would seem to me to be the antithesis of faithful discipleship. And so I am not willing to cede the prerogative of narrow definition of those terms to one who has shown himself to be so filled with hatred and anger.

    Kevin: Mark's comment certainly is 'consistent with [a] listening process.' If one wishes to express an opposing view here, one certainly is free to do so; at least, it has always seemed so to me. However, it is not unreasonable to refuse to recognize sarcasm, personal attacks, snide comments, or other rude behavior.

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  13. One of the things about Mr. Akinola and his confederation of nay-sayers that has irked me from the start is their actual funding. I recall that, a few years ago (sic), Mr. Akinola made a comment to the effect that he was prepared to go without ECUSA financial help. This being the case, just where did he and his group find the money to be of such help to Peru?

    I, of course, have a strong suspicion that I know where the money is actually coming from and it's NOT a church organization. However, as a transitional deacon who wants to go on to priesthood, I will practice good Anglican polity and keep my ideas to myself!

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  14. I am basically in accord with Thomas Bushnell -- About Akinola's checklist, I am reminded of those immortal words of Inigo Montoya (about Vizzini's use of the word "Inconceivable!"), "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

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  15. Caminante,

    Have you considered that listening to the likes of ++Nigeria may be Hell? It could be the reason the second coming has been so long delayed was waiting for his IRD ghost writers to provide a corpus of crud to be read through the speakers above the lake of fire.

    On the idea of a perfect Scripture that can be interpreted by a perfect homophobe to perfectly define the one and only path to salvation, a thought. I recently spent some time reading Ezekiel. There is in it, a long (several modern 'chapters' ) description of the perfect temple. Guess what? The description is clearly in violation of the law. The temple as described is loaded with graven images. Yup, it is perfectly inconsistent.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  16. I am basically in accord with Thomas Bushnell -- About Akinola's checklist, I am reminded of those immortal words of Inigo Montoya (about Vizzini's use of the word "Inconceivable!"), "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

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  17. You miss the point, Kevin. Your snide remark is completely counterproductive to any listening process in the first place. But then, that's consistent with the self-styled "orthodox" 'listening process.'

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  18. And Kevin's comment is certainly consistent with the fundamentalist tendency toward drama queen martyrdom.

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  19. Why not just take these statements at their face value and not try to exegete some nefarious meaning from them?
    Of course its a narrow road, but its wide enough for anyone willing to walk on it.
    Be Blessed...
    Andy

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  20. You have good taste in films, Aelred!

    I myself picture ++Akinola wearing the fiery holocaust cloak, which helps conceal Martyn Minns, upon whose shoulders he is standing. Hoping the hapless liberals scurry away from fortress TEC whose gates they are guarding.

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  21. Rev. Dr. J23/8/07 3:55 PM

    Mark, If you want to know what Akinola means by this list, why don't just ask him instead of trying to second guess him? But I guess second guessing and speculation makes better press.

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  22. The vast majority of Christians in the world today would have no trouble understanding the list just as Bishop Peter intended. It is not his interpretation that is at issue. It is the collective widsom and interpretation of the Body of Christ throughout the ages that is at issue. Vilify Peter Akinola all you want - were he gone, a dozen others would promptly take his place as so many have done from the very beginnings of the church. If it makes you feel good about yourself (the very essence of theology in TEC), pretend that Peter Akinola is the problem and not your novel and possibly heretcal theology.

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  23. In addition to using up his time, Abp. Akinola is running low on credibility. According to Church Times, he is, apparently, a front. For the ersatz Bishop Martyn Minns.

    http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=43511

    Hat tip: Father Jake.

    http://frjakestopstheworld.blogspot.com/2007/08/bp-martyn-minns-revealed-as-abp.html

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  24. Well, wouldn't you know that the ghost inspiring Akinola's letter may be not as holy as he appeared to be...

    "Et tu, MS Word?!"

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  25. http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=43511

    Now we know FOR REAL whose hand goes up Akinola's fatigues.

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  26. Rev. Dr. J said...
    "Mark, If you want to know what Akinola means by this list, why don't just ask him instead of trying to second guess him? But I guess second guessing and speculation makes better press."

    May I suggest this: "his Office doesn't answer back"?

    (in my limited experience :=(

    But it sure was a nice try...

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  27. There is so much code here. "the sanctity of marrige" which is somehow elevated to the status of a the Trinity(!) is in fact fundamentalist code for institutional homophobia. Similarly, "The Authority and Supremacy of Scripture" (Bp Minns' capitols) is code for a fundamentalist view utterly at odds with the Anglican idea of taking the Scriptures serioiusly, not literally.

    The problem is not that we do not know what the Archbishop published, it is that we do know.

    FWIW
    jimB

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