Sunday, 30 May 2010

The Pentecost Letter from Archbishop Williams

The latest Episcopal consecrations in the United States have left me saddened, not only because Anglicans were doing in the name of Christ that which is sinful but because of the silence of the bishops the CofE – a deafening silence which may be read as one of approval.
So it was a source of blessing the letter that Archbishop Rowan Williams has written to all Anglicans on the occasion of the day of Pentecost. I wish to thank him for this letter and would like to share my thoughts on some passages from it.
The letter is in the style of an Encyclical, not dissimilar from one he wrote last year (27 July 2009). Addressed to the worldwide Anglican Communion it is divided into five sections. The letter is issued as a Pentecost reflection.
The Holy Spirit weaves the Church together and the unity he brings is the Church. It is encouraging that the point of departure is a reflection on the activity of the Holy Spirit.
In the first paragraph we are assured that: “The Gospel is not the property of any one group, any one culture or history, but is what God intends for the salvation of all who will listen and respond.” The Gospel transcends time and at the same time purifies it. That is why no one owns the Gospel. In fact, it would be fair to say, that the Gospel shapes a people, which as a result transcends culture and history, for God. So it is true that no one owns the Gospel, but it is true that the Gospel shapes us up for God as God wills. This is how we “listen and respond” by living what the Gospel says and not by attempting to re-write it. How can we not be grateful for such clear direction?
The Archbishop continues: “St Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit is also what God gives us so that we can call God ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom. 8.15, Gal. 4.6).”  Indeed this is the essence of the work of the Holy Spirit, the full realisation of our divine filiation. The relationship of children to their Father is the only way we can know God and relate to him as Abba Father. The Fatherhood of God is of the essence. God is Father. Jesus always relates to God as Father and this not simply to describe him or his attributes but to show us who he really is: Father. I am glad that Dr Williams points to us that the work of the Holy Spirit must lead to the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God.
The Gospel we live “... is not just a story about Jesus but the possibility of living in and through the life of Jesus and praying his prayer to the Father.” Living in and through Jesus means doing what he asks, and what he asks is that we do not our will but the will of him who sent him. It is clear that praying the prayer of Jesus to the Father necessarily means thinking with the mind of Jesus in a way that it is not we who live but he lives in us. So how can we do, if he really is the fullness of revelation, that which he does not give us authority to do? The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth and so my prayer is that this reflection will enable all of us to ask the Spirit to lead us in truth, truth which brings harmony, unity and the humility to listen to what the Church is saying.
The Archbishop then says that the Spirit: “will convict the Church too of its wrongness and lead it into repentance.” This is where I take exception. The Church does not err. It is only individuals who err as they follow their own vanities rather than the will of God.  The Holy Spirit does of course convict, he convicts those who err because of hard headedness, those who do not listen to what the Church is saying, those who re-write Sacred Scripture and of course the Spirit calls these errant Christians to repentance.
The Archbishop states that: “It is clear that the official bodies of The Episcopal Church have felt in conscience that they cannot go along with what has been asked of them by others...In several places, not only in North America, Anglicans have not hesitated to involve the law courts in settling disputes, often at great expense and at the cost of the Church’s good name.” It is generous of the Archbishop to grant the benefit of the doubt to the TEC but it would have been also good to condemn the involvement of the law courts that happened especially in North America, more firmly.
The next is the crux of the matter, Dr Williams says: “We have not, in other words, found a way of shaping our consciences and convictions as a worldwide body.  We have not fully received the Pentecostal gift of mutual understanding for common mission.” This is the matter of authority in the Anglican Communion. If we have not yet received the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit than it becomes difficult to acknowledge ourselves as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Jesus did not promise a partial outpouring but the outpouring of the Holy Spirit our Advocate and Comforter. Dr Williams says: “If the truth of Christ is indeed ultimately one as we all believe, there should be a path of mutual respect and thankfulness that will hold us in union and help us grow in that truth.” About the truth of Christ there are no ifs or buts, he himself says that he is the truth. True respect for this truth is to call those in error to repentance, of course as Dr Williams says we do this in mutual respect, but truth demands of us to call error for what it is – wrong.
While it is true that we cannot and should not break away from each other and we should not create a church of the perfect – people like us, yet we cannot see Christ in structures of sin. Those who have abandoned the law of Christ have decided to leave Christ and his Church, no one forces them out, indeed those who stay are calling them for repentance and no one should try to hide that by accusing Christians of creating a church for like minded people. The Church has the mind of Christ; those who follow their own mind have left the Church out of their own free will. One must not confuse conscience with wilfulness.
In section 4 Dr Williams states: “we cannot pretend there is no problem.” In fact there is schism and he takes all the steps he can to show this. This is good, for some it does not go far enough for others it goes too far, the Archbishop can only do what is in his limited power, i.e.: “...provinces that have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged.  I am further proposing that members of such provinces...should for the time being have the status only of consultants rather than full members.”  There may be more decisions to be taken in January 2011, but so far this is welcome and this is what the Archbishop in his limited powers can do. Thank you.
However, something that the Archbishop can do is to ensure that ACNA is quickly accepted in the folds of the communion and that in his own Province he speaks clearly about just and legal provision for those of us who are faithful to the mind of Christ.
With Dr Williams I too pray for a new Pentecost for our Communion.  That means above all a vast deepening of our capacity to receive the gift of being adopted sons and daughters of the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ. At this time it is clear that those who share with me the faith of the saints and the mind of Christ are being forced out of the CofE.  As we are urged for a self-emptying approach to each other in the Church, it must be remembered that orthodox Anglicans are members of the Church too.   


Jakian Thomist said...

Fr. Ivan,
I enjoyed reading your reflection on Dr.William's Pentecost letter. Thank you for sharing it with us.

I am interested in the line following Dr. William's recommendation concerning TEC:

"I am further proposing that members of such provinces serving on IASCUFO should for the time being have the status only of consultants rather than full members. This is simply to confirm what the Communion as a whole has come to regard as the acceptable limits of diversity in its practice."

I am trying to establish what this last line means.

Do you think that eventually partnered homosexual bishops will be considered acceptable diversity while 'flying' bishops will not?

Are we facing a battle between alternative but mutually exclusive forms of diversity in the Women Bishops debate in Synod in July?

Could the length of time involved in establishing 'acceptable diversity' mean that TEC representatives will be sidelined for many years to come?

Or is this buying time?

So many questions. I would be grateful for some enlightenment!

Fr Ivan D Aquilina SSC said...

Thanks for your comment. Like you I have a lot of questions and not too many answers. It seems a reality that shortly partnered homosexual bishops will be acceptable but flying bishops not. Christians should never be sidelined in the Church, that is sinful.
What I know for certain and would recommend it is that we need to pray to the Lord of the Church not because the only weapon we have is prayer but because prayer is the most powerful weapon we can have, that and standing firm with perseverance in the faith once delivered to the saints - that is faithfulness!