Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Miscellany: Jack Spong, Lambeth, and Other Thoughts

In his column for this week, retired Episcopal Bishop Jack Spong offers a brief discussion of the General Epistles in the New Testament. I was amused to find, in his concluding paragraph, that the Bishop offered this assessment of the General Epistles:

"Not all parts of the Bible are equally holy. The General Epistles we have looked at in this column do not come close to some other parts of the New Testament in either integrity or power. They are, however, 'in the book' and so, to complete our journey through the Bible, I include them. I urge you to read them once. It will not take more than ten minutes. Then you will have done it and you will never have to do it again, for, some parts of the Bible, once is enough."

I can't help but wonder what Eusebius thought about these particular epistles when he compiled the current form of the Bible in 336 - and what the general consensus was at the Council of Nicaea on these texts. Did they, too, think that "once was enough"?

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While reading The Episcopal Church in Crisis, by Frank Kirkpatrick, I ran across the following quote first spoken by the Right Reverend Simon Chiwanga, retired Bishop of Mpwapwa Diocese in the Anglican Province of Tanzania: "Forcing your point of view by excluding from your circle those who disagree with you, or by compelling acceptance, is to usurp the place of God."

That line is worded in such a way as it could be used on both sides of the current debate within the Anglican Communion, but I can't help but wonder how many people in can honestly say they are taking those words to heart? Since 2003, how many people - particularly on the side of the more conservative folks who have broken away from the Episcopal Church and are now aligned with the Southern Cone bishops - have stopped for one moment to think that they are trying to stand in God's shoes?

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Conservative Anglicans are quick to claim that the rulings which come out of the once-a-decade Lambeth Conferences should be acknowledged as "law" by the 38 global provinces. The recommendations on such things as the prohibition on further consecration of gay or lesbian bishops should be viewed as gospel until such time as the entire Communion approves such moves, or only after consideration is given to the potential impact on the worldwide Church.

But are these conservatives being selective on which proclamations they accept? Shouldn't they take that same view on all statements coming from Lambeth? I'm convinced that they are.

In looking at some previous Lambeth and Anglican Consultative Council statements, I can't see where the entire Anglican Communion is living up to the statements to which many feel we should all strictly adhere. Some examples: (1) Lambeth 1948 - attendees affirmed that Scripture "should be continually interpreted in the context of the Church's life; (2) Lambeth 1988 - attendees reaffirmed the "historical position of respect for diocesan boundaries and the authority of bishops within those boundaries"; (3) Anglican Consultative Council 1993 - affirmed that it "would be inappropriate to any bishop to exercise episcopal authority within a diocese without first securing permission from the resident bishop." (The last quote is on page 47 of the Kirkpatrick book.

Today, I often hear that Scripture is set and shouldn't be interpreted in the context of the modern world. The move of the breakaway Episcopal congregations in the United States to invite the oversight of African bishops without the approval of their diocesan bishops (with, to my knowledge, the exception of the Dioceses of Forth Worth, Pittsburgh, and a few others, where the bishops did give approval for alternate Anglican involvement) flies in the face of the 1988 and 1993 statements.

So why the selectivity? I didn't realize this was an either-or set of circumstances when deciding which statements to adhere to and which to conveniently ignore or overlook.

3 comments:

Virgil said...

This is because the principles of interpretation and Episcopal authority reaffirmed at Lambeth are so much newer. The principles reaffirmed in those in those conferences only appear to go back to 110 or so, and were only finally codified at Nicaea in 325, whereas the Catholic Epistles relied on were written around 90–110 and finally were chosen in 336... wait a minute...

Dad said...

Surely Bp. Spong did not mean to read these general epistles and simply forget them! There is so much in there to keep reminding us of our duty to God and to others. "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God..." I know it's hard to believe, but I need reminding of that once in a while, don't you? And what about "casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you"? We can't do it all, can we? We do need these epistles. Just because they are short, doesn't mean they are unimportant - to read only once and forget them. The Psalmist states that "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven." Does that mean we don't have to know what the word is, even the tiny epistles? Is that not God's inspired word too?

NoVA Dad said...

I don't think he meant to read and forget them; I took him to mean that they are worth reading and experiencing at least once, but that they are minor when compared to some of the more grand books of the New Testament. Of course, without emailing him and asking him, who's to know?