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Teaching Versus Practice (Part Two)

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There is a strong tradition, especially within Anglicanism, that Lex orandi, lex credendi – the law of praying is the law of believing. Liturgical renewal is often inspired by the reversing of this adage – so that our beliefs change the way we pray.

In the previous part to this post, which, if you haven’t read it, I suggest you read first here, I began to discuss the response by the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans New Zealand (FCANZ) to the interim report from the Motion 29 Working Group which suggests a structure within our Church which would “safeguard both theological convictions concerning the blessing of same gender relationships”.

The FCANZ response holds that a cleft between teaching and practice would be opened. And that this is not allowed by our Constitution. One commenter, to my previous post on this, argues there is no such cleft – we bless lots of things and people – just as long as no identification is made with marriage.

I, in my post, took a different approach (which I also presented at our diocesan synod) that we already cleave practice and official teaching in marrying divorcees. Our formal teaching is that marriage is lifelong; the lower-level (easier to change) Canon of Marriage allows clergy to marry (or not) someone who is divorced.

The regular response of those who follow the FCANZ-teaching-practice approach is, at this point, to switch from discussing Church teaching on marriage to debating whether there are allowable biblical exceptions of marrying a divorcee. That is a different debate. It is a different methodology.

Church teaching may be drawn from the Bible and be shot through with Biblical referencing, but Church teaching also provides a lens through which the Bible is interpreted.

Here is one example of how Church teaching works in relation to biblical interpretation: For something as important as the practice and meaning of baptism, one can find quite different biblical interpretations so that one can have Christians who do not baptise at all to those who limit it to a certain age and/or a certain way of using the water. Anglican Church teaching is quite clear – baptism is “either by immersion in the water, or by pouring water on the candidate”.

Arguing from the Bible is one thing. Arguing from Church teaching is another. As with so many other things using the Bible alone, it is quite possible to argue from the Bible that marriage after divorce is possible. But that is not the logic of the approach being used by the FCANZ response. They are, for blessing committed same-sex couples, not arguing for or against this from the Bible. They are arguing from Church teaching. Similarly, following their approach consistently, they must support the point made in my Open Letter: either change the teaching of our Church in relation to marriage and divorce or rescind the practice which is inconsistent with it.

In discussions with those who support the FCANZ argument, once they are on the track of their own logic, they can see that it is applicable in other contexts. For example – our NZ Anglican teaching is clear on baptism of children – we are not making promises on behalf of the child, we are making declarations and promises about ourselves. And that includes not living in sin – renouncing our sinful lifestyle. Now, again, the teaching of our Church is clear: unmarried couples having sex is a sin. One person, holding to the FCANZ argument, was clear that he had never baptised the child of an unmarried couple. Another turned it into a joke – his preaching was so converting that he was sure that they went from the service repentant and never had unmarried sex again! Generally (with these two exceptions!) this is yet another example where pastoral practice is not 100% consistent with Church teaching.

I hope you are following the logic. It is not too different from that followed by Pope Francis. He is not changing doctrine, but he is advocating changing pastoral practice. This is most clearly expressed by

several dozen tradition-minded Roman Catholic theologians, priests and academics have formally accused Pope Francis of spreading heresy with his 2016 opening to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

In a 25-page letter delivered to Francis last month and provided Saturday to The Associated Press, the 62 signatories issued a “filial correction” to the pope — a measure they said hadn’t been employed since the 14th century.

It seems that three options lie open to us:
1) Not have practice conform to doctrine – this is our current NZ Anglican situation with regards to divorce and remarriage; and the proposed way of moving forward for the blessing of committed same-sex couples.
2) Have practice conform to doctrine – and forbid the blessing of committed same-sex couples (to be consistent we would have to stop marrying divorcees – and good luck working through the pastoral consequences of explaining to those divorcees married over the last decades what the status of their relationship actually is – and what they may or may not do to avoid sin according to our Church teaching).
3) Alter doctrine to conform to practice and hoped-for practice

It is noticeable that those who speak most loudly against blessing committed same-sex couples and advocating for strong consistency in this case in our rules and the keeping of them are themselves often most visibly in breach of a number of pretty straight-forward, clear teachings and rules of our Church.

To be continued…

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17 thoughts on “Teaching Versus Practice (Part Two)”

  1. I don’t know that this is a particularly helpful way to argue Bosco. Yes, the often slack Anglican attitude to divorce needs to be corrected (it seems to be aggravated by the tendency of state churches to follow the imperial dictate). But I don’t think that’s really a helpful way to argue about blessing committed same sex relationships.

    Pointing out the hypocrisy and inconsistency in ones opponents doesn’t really advance the argument. Better just to stick to the substantive issues.

    You might have a legalistic argument that as the Anglicans have followed the imperial dictate on divorce, they are perhaps obliged to now follow the dictate on same sex marriage 🙂

    Many Blessings

    1. Thanks, Chris.

      I may be expressing the points poorly – or we may be talking past each other. Until relatively recently, the Anglican approach to divorce and remarriage was one of, if not the, strictest in Christianity. In the Church of England, a state church as you mention, you will have noticed that Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla could not be married by the Church of England because Camilla is a divorcee. So that is the approach to the presumed future Supreme Governor of that state church.

      In NZ Anglicanism, the Canon of Marriage was changed allowing marriage of a divorcee (changing a canon is a relatively simpler action – requiring a simple majority at General Synod Te Hinota Whanui) without altering the doctrine of marriage. This is akin to Pope Francis’ approach – more compassionate pastoral flexibility towards individuals at the ground roots without altering doctrine.


    2. It seems to me Bosco that if you have changed your Canon to allow marrying people who are already married then you are contradicting your doctrine. It is no surprise to me that this will raise alarm bells for those who treat marriage seriously.

      The Catholic approach would be to examine the first marriage and see whether it really was a marriage (very many, perhaps even most, today are not) and issue an annulment. Pope Francis is not changing this, he’s merely making annulments easier (and cheaper) to obtain and encouraging more pastoral mercy and inclusiveness (like that shown by Jesus at the last supper) for access to Holy Communion and Confession.

      I do not think your analogy with Pope Francis really holds.

      I think practice and teaching do need to align, but the practice needs to be genuinely pastoral and merciful and inclusive and the doctrine is often deeper and more nuanced than often supposed (eg by those Catholic conservatives loudly denouncing Pope Francis as some kind of heretic for simply doing what Jesus did).

      A question: how does the Anglican doctrine of divorce and remarriage align with King Henry VIII ?

      Many Blessings

      1. Thanks, Chris.

        I’ll answer your question as briefly as I can.
        Henry VIII, of course, received papal dispensation to marry his brother’s wife. When he sought an annulment of this marriage, Catherine of Aragon wrote to her nephew, Charles V, the emperor, and that resulted, as you will know, in Pope Clement VII (under the emperor’s control) refusing to annul this marriage. The English Parliament then acknowledged the English monarch as “the only supreme head on Earth of the Church of England”. This led to the marriage being declared (in your words) not really a marriage. So the Church of England followed the approach you describe, and, in the case of Charles and Camilla, it applied (as I indicated) annulment possibilities more strictly than Pope Francis/Roman Catholicism might. NZ Anglicanism followed this same approach, as I indicated, until relatively recently.

        I hope that helps.


      2. So the Anglican blessing of Charles + Camilla, despite their marriage being considered doctrinally illicit, would seem to provide ample precedent for blessing couples married in state same sex marriages (which are, of course, not doctrinally illicit) ?

        The method followed in blessing Charles + Camilla does seem analogous to Pope Francis, and the recent Catholic Bishops’ synods on the family, recognition of the good in relationships which are, for one reason or another, outside doctrinal norms. One has to recognise that sometimes human beings are only capable of so much and there are often important mitigating factors at play.

        1. Approaching things from slightly different directions, Chris, I think we head towards similar conclusions. Hoping not to become distracted, I must say, I balk at your point “very many, perhaps even most, marriages today are not marriages”. I have heard such lines before (was it even from Pope Francis?) Essentially, is it not saying the majority of married people (should I put “married” in scare quotes?) are sinning each time they have sex? To be fair, knowing even a little about Camilla and Andrew Parker Bowles, if that relationship was in the Roman Catholic context, I think they would have been candidates for an annulment. Blessings.

        2. “Sinning when they have sex” ? No Bosco, the Catholic presumption is in favour of the validity of the marriage, for very sound reasons.

          Yes, it was Pope Francis who said it.

          I am pleasantly surprised to hear your view that Camilla + Andrew would probably quality for a Catholic annulment but presumably not for an Anglican annulment. Perhaps there is something to the Catholic theology of marriage after all ?

          On dear King Henry, my recollection from Catholic history classes is that the Catholics bent over backwards to find grounds to annul his first marriage but were prevented from doing so by politics. Perhaps it is fitting that Henry asserted political power to resolve the matter, perhaps fearing the chaos a lack of successor might entail ? In those days the ruling class often exercised power over the Church so his intervention had precedent.

          Many Blessings

  2. encouraging more pastoral mercy and inclusiveness (like that shown by Jesus at the last supper) for access to Holy Communion and Confession.

    You appear to be assigning a task to Jesus in the Last Supper with which I am unfamiliar. Please explain how Jesus showed pastoral mercy & inclusiveness at this meal?

    1. Judas, whom he knew had already agreed to betray him, was admitted. St Augustine and other patristic fathers thought that Judas received Holy Communion. As was Peter whom he knew was about to betray him + the others who all were about to desert him and were arguing among themselves who would assume power after his arrest and crucifixion. If that lot could be admitted to the Last Supper, there is considerable hope for the rest of us poor sinners.

      Many Blessings

  3. Often doctrine changes as a result of change in pastoral practice. Change tends to begin at the peripheries, where the realities of peoples actual lives are encountered, and then be eventually recognised by the centre, where the legalists live.

    In his book “A Church That Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching”, John T. Noonan opined that Catholic doctrine around marriage is currently undergoing change. He may well be correct.

    1. That book sounds fascinating, Chris. I actually have a couple more posts in mind for this “series”. The one after the next one, I have been thinking of exploring some similar points to this. Blessings.

  4. Hi Bosco
    In general terms, and picking up a comment above, your argument is weak to the extent that it points out deficiencies in the life of the church (viewed through lens of teaching/practice) and implies that a further deficiency would be fine. An obvious rebuttal is for the church to re-examine its existing deficiencies and remedy them (in a non-joking manner!).

    A stronger form of the argument could be to emphasise the church’s creative ability to respond to a range of human relationships which do not fit neatly into what the Bible clearly teaches.

    (Noting comments above, one advantage would then be to steer away from the church as servant of the imperial state towards the church as servant of people, because the emphasis would be on the church as wise, merciful pastor to God’s people.)

    Finally – for now, I could go on, you know that! – I wonder, on your three options at the end of your post, whether part of the unhappiness in our church over the proposal before us is that a bit of (1) and (3) is in view?

    (1) = we are talking about not changing our doctrine of marriage but changing our practice by formally permitting SSBs

    (3) = we are talking about some approved form of liturgical SSB rite so that, even though it would not be approved to a “formulary” level, it looks like we are doing a spot of lex orandi, lex credendi.

    1. Thanks, Peter. All your first paragraph proposes is what, in my post, I call “Option 2” – so that’s not “an obvious rebuttal” at all.

      I am trying to avoid your direction in your second paragraph, as was the Motion 29 Working Group, as was the response by the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans New Zealand. There are PLENTY of websites, books, conferences, etc., etc. that debate, and have presented, and will continue to wrangle into the future whether the Bible condemns or has nothing at all to say about Committed Same-Sex couples.

      This series is attempting to work within the framework of seeking a structure within our Church which would “safeguard both theological convictions concerning the blessing of same gender relationships”.


    2. A stronger form of the argument could be to emphasise the church’s creative ability to respond to a range of human relationships which do not fit neatly into what the Bible clearly teaches.

      There is the statement with the rub. No matter how often it is said doesn’t make it true. And everytime that it is said it needs to be knocked down, not ignored. There are so many forms of marriage represented in the Bible which are not condemned, so clearly approved, that it’s ludicrous to say that anything is clearly taught.

      1. I think David that the bible teaches a progression of relationships which culminate in monogamous committed marriage between 1 man and 1 woman; clearly pointing out the deficiencies of polygamy, the abuse of slaves, and promiscuity. The Jewish faith has followed a similar path.

        I don’t think it is helpful to say that “it’s ludicrous to say that anything is clearly taught.”

        1. Where have I hard that approach to scripture before?

          Oh yes, the folks who see the whole Bible as a progression of dispensations with the OT as prophesying everything about Jesus to come and the NT witnessing that he fulfilled all the prophesies. With both Testaments sealed and damnation pronounced on all who might question it.

          I think that a bit ludicrous as well.

        2. I think the idea of continuous development in understanding is a helpful one, both in scripture, and in the Church today under the ongoing influence of the Holy Spirit.

          Many Blessings

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