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Saint Paul writing epistle

Weak in Faith?

Saint Paul writing epistle

On Sunday we read Rom 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgement on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.

It all sounds good and inclusive, in an all-may-some-should-none-must Anglican sort of way, until you stop and notice that there’s still actually a sting in what Paul writes. We welcome the one who is WEAK (ἀσθενοῦντα) in faith. [Forms of the word ἀσθενοῦντα are regularly used, in the Gospels for example, for one who is sick.]

An easily missed key is at the beginning of the chapter, δέ (“but”): “but welcome the one who is weak in faith”. Paul is actually continuing from Chapter 13. He is connecting σάρξ (flesh) in 13:14 with being “weak in faith”: “make no provision for the flesh… but welcome the one who is weak in faith”. Being weak in faith is a subset of σάρξ (for which we should make no provision), but it is Paul’s exception. We can accept this within the Christian community. The next chapter will go on to the strong, δυνατός.

We the majority, the strong, δυνατός, are to welcome the weak with a pastoral concern not to διακρίσεις διαλογισμῶν, not to argue with them in order to get them to agree with every point that we the strong, the majority, hold. Diversity is possible within the Christian community. Old Testament laws have (through the Maccabean period) become a test of orthodoxy in the context in which Paul is writing. Our relationship with God, however, our πίστις (faith), is to be the primary focus.

What do two wrongs make?

For many, the current test of orthodoxy has become one’s attitude to committed same-sex couples. Our General Synod Te Hinota Whanui has passed Motion 30 allowing liturgical “recognition” of a same-gender civil union or state marriage, and creating a pathway towards the blessing of same-gender relationships. Rev. Dave Clancey, Chairman of the Latimer Fellowship of New Zealand at their recent AGM presented a paper The Cost of Unity in which he contends

That should the General Synod of our church implement the blessing of same-sex relationships as it has indicated it will do through Motion 30, in such a way that evangelical integrity cannot be maintained, then the Latimer Fellowship must be willing to support and encourage the breaking of structural unity with General Synod.

There is nothing startlingly new in the paper, just as there wasn’t in the very lengthy discussion at our recent Christchurch diocesan synod on Motion 30, which went round familiar bases that we had covered at previous synod meeting.

Except for the omitting of one meme.

I spoke twice in the Motion 30 discussion, the second time in response to a direction that argued it is impossible to hold together “two integrities” on committed same-sex couples. One “integrity” sees the Bible not as forbidding committed same-sex couples as now understood and encountered – the Bible just has not asked that question, just as it did not ask how much cyber-surveillance was appropriate for the state. The second “integrity” loves homosexuals, and wants the best for them, and sees the Bible as forbidding homosexual activity, and condemning those who do not repent of it to eternal damnation (making it, for this second “integrity”, a salvation issue, a “first order” issue).

My question of this second integrity is, why this approach is only becoming an issue now, and for homosexuals? The biblical texts that those of the second integrity point to are clearer that unrepented adultery leads to eternal damnation. New Zealand Anglicanism changed our doctrine of marriage from “lifelong” to recognition of no-fault divorce, and comfortably allows clergy the freedom to bless a second (or seventh) marriage with the previous spouse(s) still living, while other clergy can refuse such a blessing, and these latter clergy may see it as blessing adultery.

Is there something about majority heterosexuals, and minority homosexuals, that makes this question uncomfortable? Is there something about the large number of evangelical clergy, and evangelical parishioners, divorced and remarried, that makes this question uncomfortable?

What fascinated me is that in the past there would have been the immediate leaping up with the cry, “two wrongs do not make a right”. This time, no one stood up to repeat that meme. That repetition has worn very, very thin with every reiteration, because each reiteration has lacked any challenge to the actual practice for heterosexuals at a time when, for homosexuals, our church is only at the start of discussions about a way forward. When a Latimer Chairman’s paper calls for “the breaking of structural unity” because of the abandonment of the Anglican and biblical teaching on marriage that happened with allowing divorcees to remarry, then there will be more integrity to this “third integrity” that believes it is impossible for two “integrities” to live together with integrity à la Romans 14.

image: “Saint Paul Writing His Epistles” by Valentin de Boulogne

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17 thoughts on “Weak in Faith?”

  1. My wife and I are second time married and did ponder at some length the issue of whether it was acceptable in light of the bible to get married or be in a relationship in any form involving sex.

    We did get married after living as man and wife for some time and had increasing felt that the Holy Spirit was directing us to do that. My “moment” was when first asked to assist with communion in an Open Brethren service (having been a chalice bearer at a previous Anglican church) I found that I simply couldn’t get up from the seat when the time came to assist – quite disconcerting. I felt strongly at that moment there was a message in that and it was to get married and declare that to our Christian brethren (most of whom thought we already were married). We were frauds I guess.

    This consideration does seem different to a gay union where the issue is not one of the degree of compliance within an existing traditional framework but the trying to justify that which appears to be outside that framework.

    Gays, like me, are probably just as keen to see a blessing for a relationship they think is important but I wonder if the whole thing is just pandering to a small minority, most of whom don’t really care about marriage anyway – the gay activists have long sought to diminish marriage.

    It will come down to what the liberal Anglicans think they can get away with but already there are clear divisions over the matter of gay relationships. I think that is as it should be given the bible teaching on homosexuality. That the bible doesn’t address gay marriage directly is not surprising as culturally it would not have been the done thing. Even the decadent Romans probably had gay lovers on the side rather than marrying them.

    Sorry to ramble.

    1. Thanks, Brown. You are reinforcing one of my points, that heterosexuals marrying after divorce is pandering to the large majority outside the framework provided in one significant reading of the Bible. Blessings.

    2. “I wonder if the whole thing is just pandering to a small minority, most of whom don’t really care about marriage anyway -– the gay activists have long sought to diminish marriage.”

      “The gay activists” have long sought to diminish marriage? How so, Brown? I haven’t heard any “gay activists” try to diminish marriage at all, by, say, calling for its abolition, the repeal of its legal standing and associated rights and privileges, or even greater ease in divorce (the last of which, seems to be the doing of heterosexual politicians, married, divorced and remarried, sometimes many times over).

      Do you have anything with which to corroborate your rather broad generalization?

      1. Perceptive counsel I once received from a gay counsellor helped to save my heterosexual marriage, not destroy it. I didn’t know the counsellor was gay when I made my first appointment, but I will be forever grateful for the wisdom he showed, which was not at all anti-marriage.

        Anyway, I offer that as one small piece of evidence that it is wrong to see gays as waging a campaign against marriage.

  2. Hi Bosco, thanks for that. It is fair to raise the question of divorce I think. In fact, it was raised on the evening when Dave gave the address.

    I wasn’t in the church (nor alive) at the time the church changed it’s rulings on marriage. However, from the understandings I have of how divorce law worked in the church before this (I could be wrong here) it was actually unscriptural. That is, there is a variance of voices in the NT which give some room for divorce in a few different cases (eg Mat 19, 1 Cor 7). Therefore to have a blanket rule against divorce (and remarriage) is to go further than Scripture does without. A canon that then leaves room for a minister to, under the authority of Scripture always (as an Anglican), discern the rightness of remarriage in certain circumstances still doesn’t push against the grain of Scripture. Some ministers may not use this flexibility in a right way, that is for their bishop and fellow clergy to call them to deal with. In keeping with the normative principle, we are not fundamentalistic in having to have every t crossed and every i dotted as Anglicans – which is one of our church’s beauties. This whole picture fits pretty well I think with Article 20, not interpreting one part of Scripture in a way repugnant to another part.

    However many of us see legitimising of same sex activity as contrary to the united voice in Scripture, as our formularies and canons do presently due to their definition of marriage.To then change our understanding of that is not to bring things more into line with Scripture, but to move it decidedly away from Scripture. It is not to give room for ministers to work things out in line with Scripture in the context of a messy world, but rather to decidedly move in a different direction to Scripture. That is a tough reality, but it is the reality. And there in lies the problem, at least as I see it.

    I genuinely hate that this issue is so divisive. If it were greed I would be much happier. It grieves me constantly, and (contrary to your implication) it is a very uncomfortable question – every bit as uncomfortable as divorce, and made more so precisely BECAUSE same sex attracted people are a minority who have been treated very badly at many times.

    The test of orthodoxy is neither same sex issues nor divorce, in my opinion, but an attitude of submission to Scripture, and a trust in it (a hermeneutic of trust I would say, as represented in Article 20 thankfully) rather than a seeking a way around it. This issue has unfortunately raised itself at this time as a place where different attitudes to Scripture seem to come out. At least, that is how I see it.

    I hope we can have some clearer discussion of these issues in a way that is not in the very limited online forum – something like what Jay suggested at Synod I think could be very helpful. Maybe you would be keen to agitate for that 🙂

    Thanks and God bless

    1. Thanks, Chris. With the greatest respect it appears to me to be you who are breaking Article 20, “so expounding one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another”. Rather than using the consistent biblical teaching about remarrying after divorce to interpret Matthew 19:9, you are using that one, single verse as the hermeneutical key with which you wish to wrench apart the rest of the teaching. I am struggling to see why you do not read πορνεία in the framework you are expounding. What would be your reading of πορνεία that justifies marriage of a divorcee in this text? The obvious sense of that framework would be, “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” As to why you think that 1 Cor 7 permits marrying a divorced person, you will have to explain that yourself.

      So, far from the Anglican teaching previously being what you call “actually unscriptural”, it was totally consistent with a certain way of using the Bible.

      As for your suggestion that bishops and fellow clergy call other clergy to account on the way our church is undifferentiated statistically from non-Christians in our divorce and remarriage practice, I have not seen any evidence of such an action.


      1. My understanding of Matt 19:9 (along with 5:32) is simply that there is sexual immorality happening by someone within the marriage. That is not an uncommon understanding, I don’t think Bosco – partly because it was common Jewish understanding of divorce grounds, and partly because the wider use of the language of porneia would certainly include marital unfaithfulness, and sexual misconduct in general. That at least gives quite a bit of indication that there is some blurriness around divorce and remarriage, as is also the case in the language of ‘not being bound’ in 1 Cor 7:15 (esp in the light of v39).

        I could be wrong, but that seems to be fairly clear to me.

        ‘A certain way of using the Bible’ it may have been consistent with, but that is getting things the wrong way round I think – we need to submit to the Scriptures rather than having an attitude of using them. Attitude is key. And I think again if we read Scripture together, we see some room in the divorce/remarriage area that we didn’t (I think) see in the earlier version of Anglican rules.

        Better leave it there, other than to say that when it comes to bishops and clergy etc, in some places such action is taken, at least in terms of an atmosphere of being able to call each other to account by Scriptural standards.

        Must fly now!

        1. The point, Chris, is not that there is a convenient “not an uncommon understanding” that permits many of the heterosexual majority from interpreting Jesus’ clear teaching (in the context of the debate between Hillel and Shammai) in Mark and Luke, and Paul’s clear teaching in Romans, by levering πορνεία to allow for marriage after divorce.

          I do not at all think it is fair to say that “if we read Scripture together, we see some room in the divorce/remarriage area that we didn’t (I think) see in the earlier version of Anglican rules.” At least be fair in acknowledging that the majority Christian position of reading the scriptures together does not see your room.

          So, certainly, if “we need to submit to the Scriptures rather than having an attitude of using them”, my point remains: let one’s approach be consistent in relation to the majority and to the minority.

          As for your “some places action is taken” by bishop and clergy to keep to the minimal allowance for divorce and remarriage you appear to be arguing for, I would need you to support your contention by statistics of which diocese(s) you argue has/have a significantly lower rate than its surrounding culture.


          1. My point more re Matthew Bosco is (I think, and again I may be wrong) that the Matthew passage in combination with 1 Cor 7 as noted above shows there seems very likely to be grounds for remarriage sometimes when the whole picture of Scripture is taken together. And setting Matthew against Luke and Mark and Romans (esp with 1 Cor 7 in there) isn’t helping us to read Scripture in the grain of itself. The passages taken together seem to point in the direction of at least some flexibility re remarriage.

            That doesn’t change the fact that divorce is always a terrible tragedy, but remarriage may not always be so. We are not talking about blessing divorce or calling it good (that is not precisely what you have said, but just in case anyone thought I was advocating that) but acknowledging that Scripture seems to leave some room for remarriage (as it often presents some sorts of ‘recovery ethics’ even with things that are not good – again not fundamentalistic or tidy). As do our divorce rules.

            I will leave it there Bosco as this could go in circles. But again I wonder if a discussion of some of this stuff (in embodied manner) may be of use at the Dio level as Jay suggested.

            God bless

          2. Quite the opposite, I’m afraid, Chris, is the case. In your approach of claiming to seek to “read Scripture in the grain of itself” it is you who are setting Luke and Mark’s unequivocal declaration against marrying divorcees in conflict with your particular interpretation of Matthew.

            As to 1 Cor 7:15, firstly note Paul’s very careful avoidance of the word “divorce”. δεδούλωται is perfect passive derived from “enslave”. Paul’s reasoning (the Greek perfect indicating a present state resulting from past action) is “if the unbeliever separates himself, let him separate himself; the brother or sister was not [before his leaving] and is not [now that his leaving has occurred] enslaved”.

            If your methodology is Article 20, and reading “Scripture in the grain of itself”, the conclusion is diametrically opposite to your assertion that “the passages taken together seem to point in the direction of at least some flexibility re remarriage.”

            The lifelong nature of marriage was the understanding of the Anglican Church for nearly two millennia, and that practice continued in these lands until relatively recently.

            I return, then, to a primary point. The wholesale abandonment of that understanding of the doctrine of marriage, affecting only the heterosexual majority, does not result in calls for “support and encouragement of the breaking of structural unity”. You hold that different integrities continue within this revisionist umbrella. Divorced heterosexuals may now enter the framework of marriage which was not open to them until relatively recently.

            But, it seems that you and many others hold that a similar rereading of our inheritance may not happen when homosexuals seek to commit themselves to each other for life and also want to enter the framework of marriage which has not been open to them previously. And whilst different integrities comfortably live together when it comes to heterosexuals, that is not possible when it comes to homosexuals.


    2. Hi Chris
      I am not an historian of our rules on divorce and their changes over the years, so I am open to being corrected! But I believe that the rule before the present rule was that clergy needed to consult with their bishop before conducting the remarriage of a divorcee and the bishop needed to give permission for the particular requested marriage to go ahead.

      What I do not know is what grounds (according to the then rules) the bishop worked on to give or refuse permission but I suspect they were closer to ‘scripture’ than the current ‘no fault’ situation.

      In my understanding the rising frequency of requests for remarriages (though 60s, 70s) meant the bishops were glad to have the rules changed so that less time was spent adjudicating whether marriages could go ahead in the church or not!

  3. In all of the church rules, regulations and interpretation(s) of Scripture we need not to lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with real people in real relationships. Love is love.

    More worrying (IMHO) is the Western Church’s obsession (if not idolatry) to the concept of the nuclear family. The discourse around God’s blessing of families (straight of course) is prolific. Does this leave everyone else ‘unblessed’??? How to people come into the Church when it very often only welcomes ‘families’?

    1. Thanks, Caro, an important point. It often surprises me when a church has a traditional nuclear family as their logo – in a world in which that is the minority experience. That is their image to the world. Maori has a far more inclusive word, “whanau” which is a much broader concept and can be used in an English sentence. Your “love is love” may very well be a strong theological starting point for the discussion above. Blessings.

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