Split in ranks feared as next Lambeth Conference approaches
The ordination of women priests and openly gay priests to church offices has created havoc within the ranks of the Church of England, also known throughout the world as the Anglican Communion. Now, as he prepares for the latest Lambeth Conference of Bishops in July 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury faces a revolt. Some 250 bishops—almost a third—have declined invitations to attend.
Instead, many of them have attended another conference in Jerusalem, styling themselves as the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon). The choice of Jerusalem for the conference is symbolic of their desire for the church to return to its Biblical foundations. (The Lambeth conference is called by the Archbishop of Canterbury and is held every 10 years for all Archbishops and Bishops.)
In calling for a return to the Biblical basis for the church, the bishops would like to see the Bible accepted as the Word of God as it was written rather than being reinterpreted to suit current moral trends, the latter approach having led to the controversies of the past few years.
However if Jerusalem provides the basis for the foundation of the church, it should produce a very different communion. Does Gafcon really mean to imply that they intend to reject all of the church councils from Nicea onwards and return to an apostolic form of Christianity that Jerusalem portrays? Would the Archbishop of Canterbury or the equivalent official see himself as an inheritor of the role played by James the Just, the brother of Jesus? Would the church return to its Jewish roots? I think not. The choice of Jerusalem was simply a nice piece of theater!
However, another factor is involved. As noted by Henry Orombi, Archbishop of Uganda, the Jerusalem conference is 4,000 miles from Lambeth—a clear indication of the diametric divergence of views of the Bible that exist within the Anglican Communion.
Early Church Historians who shaped our understanding
The past three years have seen some of the giants of Church History disappear from the scene. Professor William H. C. Frend died in August of 2005 at the age of 89, followed by Jaroslav Pelikan in May of 2006 at the age of 82. Most recently, the death ofHenry Chadwick has been noted. He was 87. Numerous obituaries have been printed for each of these men who have helped shape modern scholarship, especially that of the history of the early church.
The current Times Literary Supplement provides a fitting eulogy for Henry Chadwick, who was also a contributor to the TLS, by republishing Chadwick’s review on a book about Augustine. It’s worth a read.
Bishop assails current interest in Gnostic material and higher criticism
N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, UK, and one of the most prominent writers and speakers currently about the New Testament has published a paper in The Christian Century that was originally presented as a lecture at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego last November. Columnist Martin E. Marty of the Dallas Morning News, June 16, 2008, provides an interesting summary of the highlights of Wright’s paper and comments as follows:
This week The Christian Century (June 12) offers a challenge on that theme from the Anglican Bishop of Durham, N. T. Wright, as noted a New Testament scholar as is being read and heard these days. The article condenses his lecture last November to the Society of Biblical literature. He always speaks and writes clearly, so it is hard to duck his point. He aims negatively at "the extraordinary inverted snobbery of preferring gnostic saying-sources to the canonical documentation" and at over-worked scholarly "source and form criticism." Taking the two together, he regards them as efforts to see the four Gospels "patronized, muzzled, dismembered and eventually eliminated altogether as a force to be reckoned with." Strong stuff. Wright is then obliged to make his positive case, which is no less likely to jolt many interests who engage in scholarship and "public theology."
Here it is: "The central message of all four canonical Gospels is that the Creator God, Israel's God, is at last reclaiming the whole world as his own, in and through Jesus of Nazareth. That, to offer a riskily broad generalization, is the message of the kingdom of God, which is Jesus' answer to the question, What would it look like if God were running this show." Which God? Not the one Nietzsche or Christopher Hitchens denounces, their "celestial tyrant" who is badly "running the world." No, "the whole point of the Gospels is that the coming of God's kingdom on earth as in heaven is precisely not the imposition of an alien and dehumanizing tyranny, bur rather the confrontation of alien and dehumanizing tyrannies with the news of a God--the God recognized in Jesus--who is radically different from them all, and whose inbreaking justice aims at rescuing and restoring genuine humanness."
Or: Where Did Our First Festivals Come From?
Today, June 9, Jewish congregations are celebrating a festival known as Shavout. Details of the festival are found in Leviticus 23:15-22, but most Christians are unaware that the same festival is featured prominently in the New Testament, under its Greek name: Pentecost. Christians didn’t give it that name—it precedes the time of Christ. Philo of Alexandria uses the term in several of his works, linking the term Pentecost to the festival of the firstfruits, or Shavout as it is commonly called to this day (see Philo: Special Laws II, XXX, 176).
Pentecost becomes a feature of the New Testament in Acts 2, where it is recorded that the Holy Spirit was first given to the church on that day. As a result, many consider Pentecost to be the birthday of the church. Unbeknownst to most readers of Acts 2, however, there is a linkage to an earlier celebration of the festival at Mount Sinai. Luke, in recording the event of Pentecost in 31 C.E., uses imagery that is found in both of the accounts of Israel's sojourn at Mount Sinai. Jewish tradition has long held that the giving of the Law and the confirmation of the Covenant at Mount Sinai occurred on the Festival of Shavout. Luke reinforces that idea by his use of imagery. The sound of wind, the references to fire and quaking, the universality of the experience, the aspect of people hearing the wonders of God in their own language and the change of heart are all found in the accounts recorded in Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 5.
It should be cause for Christians to stop and ponder. Two of the first Jewish festivals of the year, Passover and Pentecost, are fundamental to the foundation of the church. If that is so for the Passover and Pentecost, what about the possible applications of the remaining “Jewish” festivals to the church. Have we become so far removed from our origins that we no longer have any appreciation for our foundation?
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