Tuesday, 24 June 2008

What are the Rules?

The Church of England has two different types of 'rules', which we might call Legislation and Quasi-legislation. The first has legal force (in theory), the second has only 'moral' force (and it's often arguable whether it has that.

  1. Acts of Parliament
  2. Measures (of Church Assembly or General Synod, which require Royal Assent and, since 1919 Enabling Act, have the same force as Actos of Parlt)
  3. Canons (these also require Royal Assent, but are subordinate in status to Measures)
  4. General Constitutional Principles (39 Articles, BCP and the Ordering of Bps, Priests and Deacons - the fact that the current Declaration of Assent is weaker than the old one apparently does not change the legal status of the ancient formularies in the CofE)
  5. Judicial Decisions (the decisions of Diocesan Chancellors do not bind other Chancellors, but if the Court of Arches, CofE's appeal court, or the Privy Council rules, its decisions bind all the Diocesan Chancellors)
  6. Doctrinal and liturgical statements (the only example we were given of these would be the rubrics of the BCP)
  7. Pre-Reformation canons (this is largely theoretical. Canon B29 makes ref to a Proviso to Canon 113 of the Code of 1603, which concerns the seal of the confessional. Canon Parrott thought it would not stand up in court if set against the Children Act.)

Quasi legislation:

  1. Diocesan Handbooks (some of the contents will be form Canon Law, some will be the Bishop's or Diocese's interpretation of the law)
  2. Regulations
  3. Codes of Practice
  4. Ad Clerum letters/Pastoral Statements
  5. Guidelines (central or diocesan)

From this we were told that the only canonical obedience a Bishop can demand is where he is given the authority under a piece of genuine legislation (though Canon Parrott thinks the moral obligation of the oath goes far beyond that).

Thus, commenting on the recent 'gay marriage' in London, Canon Parrott thought that, even if Richard Chartres wanted to do something, there is nothing he can do except a slap on the wrist.

Essential Canon Law Reading List

Brilliant CME day last Saturday (really!)

Everything CME should be - entertaining, informative, telling you those things about the CofE that only the experts know. It was called "Help! I'm a Church Lawyer" and was led by Canon David Parrott, CME officer for Chelmsford Diocese, Education Officer of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, and self-confessed canon law anorak with an MA in Canon Law Studies from Cardiff!

This is what he told us we must have on our shelves if we ever become incumbents (also useful for Curates):

Anglican Marriage in England and Wales: A Guide to the Law for Clergy (from the Faculty Office, Westminster)

Suggestions for the Guidcance of the Clergy with regard to the Marriage and Registration Acts (possibly available from local Registrar)

A Guide to Liturgical Copyright (download from CofE website)

The Charities Act and the PCC, 3rd ed. (download from CofE website)

Church Representation Rules (always buy latest edition, currently 2006)

Canons of the Church of England (free download from CofE website)

Practical Church Management by James Behrens

soon to be published by David Parrott himself, Your Church and the Law: A simple explanation and guide


Thursday, 12 June 2008

Good Friday reflections

Don't know why I've only just thought of this now, but here's my Good Friday meditation on Matthew 27:

It is such a vivid story, such that you can almost picture yourself there. And inevitably, our attention is drawn to that man hanging there on the cross, at the end. But to look only there would miss out so many features and themes and details and messages of this story. A few days ago, at an assembly at the Denes, I explained that the message of Good Friday, why it is good, is that Jesus is the substitute for men and women as he dies to bear the full force of God’s anger. And when you have to reduce the message of Good Friday into one sentence, that is it. But there is so much more.

So this morning, we’re going to do something a bit different. We’re going to look at some themes which weave their way through this episode, and through Matthew’s Gospel, which we sadly miss much of the time in the crucifixion story, two in particular. The themes are the overthrow of old Jerusalem and old Israel in preparation for the new Jeruslaem and new Israel, and the dramatic rule of Jesus Christ, the king of kings, in every instance of this event.

First, let’s think about the calamitous failure and judgement of the old Jeruslaem and old Israel.

We saw last week on Palm Sunday that wonderful moment where Jesus is acclaimed by the crowds as he approaches Jerusalem. We saw the crowds going before him, the pilgrims heading up to Jerusalem for Passover, proclaiming their king. But the residents of Jerusalem, the people of the city of God, don’t recognise him. Imagine the Queen in her golden coach on the way to the State Opening of Parliament, with the crowds waving and shouting and praising her. But when she enters Parliament itself, the servants and security staff, the cooks and administrators, the MPs and Lords, they turn their backs and deny her. Those who should be most aware, most exultant, most obedient are instead the most rebellious and disobedient and murderous.

While the crowd outside Jerusalem cheered Jesus, the crowd inside Jerusalem in v. 22 shout “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”

While Pilate, the ignorant Gentile governor, is amazed at Jesus in v. 14, and sees he is innocent in v. 18, 19, 23, 24, the chief priests and the elders, the men of God, the leaders with knowledge and wisdom, they accuse Jesus, they incite the crowd to murder, they mock the Son of God.

Verse 25 is particularly chilling. Throughout recent chapters, Matthew has talked of the crowd, different groups of people, mobs gathered around various leaders. Here he consciously changes. “All the people answered.” This isn’t just for variety. Matthew is saying, this group represents the whole of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel. Here are the chief priests, the elders, the teachers of the law, and the ordinary people. The people of God, and their leaders, in the city of God, are demanding the death of the Son of God. And what do they cry?

“Let his blood be on us and on our children!” Pilate says, this is nothing to do with me (rather unconvincingly – he is after all sentencing a man he knows is innocent to death). He says, this is not my responsibility, and the people of God eagerly claim responsibility. No, this is our doing, and we’re proud of it.

Of course, it is true, the guilt of Jesus’ blood is on them. As Peter speaks on the Day of Pentecost he says “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” The guilt of Jesus’ blood also does fall on their children. It is their children’s generation which suffers the catastrophic final invasion and destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, as the Romans sweep through the city, murdering all they can, and raze the Temple to the ground.

Jesus himself has anticipated this. In 23:35 he promises “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Barakiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.” There is no blood more righteous than that of Jesus, and the people embrace the responsibility for his death.

Then, as Jesus hangs on the cross, the people and the leaders mock him. In v. 40, they say “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!” Little do they realise that this is imminent. As Jesus dies, the curtain in the Temple is destroyed, and with it all that the old Temple order stood for, while Jesus’ body, the new Temple, is built in his resurrection.

And God’s judgement on old Jerusalem, his sentencing of the old Israelite order comes at this point. People observe that darkness in the middle of the day is a sign of God’s judgement, his anger outpoured. But where is that judgement directed? Yes, God’s anger is poured out on Jesus on the cross, his anger at our wrongdoing exhausted upon the one who stands in our place. But is that all? The darkness is not just over Jesus. The darkness comes over “all the land.” What land? The land around about Jerusalem, Israel. Amos 8:8-10 promises that God’s own people, his own land, is ripe for judgement, that that judgement will be like the judgement that fell on Egypt in the Exodus, that that judgement will be marked by darkness in the daytime and an earthquake.

So, at the time of the Passover, when the people are remembering God’s judgement falling on the land of Egypt, a judgement marked by a plague of darkness, so that same darkness, accompanied by an earthquake in v. 51, falls upon Jerusalem. God’s judgement is falling on the innocent Jesus in our place, but his judgement is also being poured out on rebellious, disobedient Jerusalem. The tearing of the curtain is a foretaste of what is to come. God’s final judgement of Jerusalem and the old order is delayed until the Roman destruction 40 years later. We could liken it to the judgement and sentencing in a law court. God’s verdict of guilt on old Jerusalem is passed at the crucifixion, but the sentence isn’t carried out until AD 70.

This overthrow of Jerusalem of course carries good news and some warnings for us today.

The tearing of the curtain and the destruction of the Temple in AD70 points us to the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city. We no longer need to look to the old physical Jerusalem. Some Christians think the earthly Jerusalem still has some special claim n Christians: it doesn’t. It has been judged and abandoned by God. Now we look to the greater Jerusalem, the true city of God. The end of the Temple and its sacrifices, its no entry barriers brings in a time of free access to God. Jesus is the true Temple, and through Him we come to God the Father. We need no human priest, Jesus is our priest, we need no animal sacrifice, Jesus is our sacrifice. We can bring our prayers and thanksgivings to God at any time, in any place.

But the fate of Jerusalem also warns us. In v. 18, Pilate understands that the motivation for the priests’ opposition to Jesus was not religious zeal but envy. Jesus was attracting listeners and followers who should have been hanging on the priests’ words. Jesus made them look foolish in debate despite his lack of theological training. Jesus was threatening the positions of power and wealth and authority they had. Many of us have religious authority, be we clergy, churchwardens, small group leaders, Sunday school teachers. And it is easy to be more concerned with protecting our position than submitting to the challenges Jesus poses. Perhaps we are afraid to admit we got something wrong. Maybe we can’t face the fact that someone else with less training, less experience, less position, got something right. Maybe when a brother challenges our conduct we feel, who are you to correct me? Beware the protection of our position.

The other theme which we can miss is the astonishing kingship of Jesus. In the resurrection or the transfiguration, or as he is teaching, it’s easy to see Jesus’ authority. Less so, as he hangs on the cross, but it is clearer than ever there.

It comes throughout the story. First, his control of all that is happening. In v. 14, Pilate is amazed at Jesus. The judge is taken aback, stopped in his tracks, by the accused. Who is really in control of this trial? In v. 19, Pilate’s wife tells him not to have anything to do with that innocent man. She has been troubled in a dream. A Gentile woman understands that Jesus is innocent.

Back in 20:19 Jesus predicted that he would be “condemned to death, mocked, flogged and crucified” having been handed over to the Gentiles by the chief priests and teachers of the law. In 27:2, the chief priests hand him over; 27:26, he is condemned, and flogged; 27:29, he is mocked, and in 27:35 he is crucified. This didn’t come as a surprise to Jesus. He knew every little detail of what would happen to him before the chief priests or the Romans or the crowd knew it.

And finally, he is in control at the time of his death. Most crucifixion victims would be delirious or unconscious by the time death came round, but Jesus can speak lucidly, in v. 46, and has the breath to cry out in a loud voice in v. 50. Finally, he gave up his spirit, perhaps suggesting that he retained control of deciding the exact moment he would die.

In the midst of suffering and humiliation and imprisonment and death, it is easy to think that the cross was some terrible mistake, or that it was the moment of Satan’s triumph, which God was just powerful enough to trump with the resurrection. But, we see here that Jesus is in complete control throughout his trial and execution.

Secondly, there is Jesus’ depiction as a king. The charge against him is his kingship of the Jews, not his radical teaching, not his miraculous healings, not even his alleged Sabbath-breaking. The charge against him is that he claimed to be King of the Jews. And he does not deny this. Then, much of the focus on Jesus’ humiliation is to do with kingship. It is interesting that there is actually comparatively little space spent here in describing Jesus’ physical suffering. The focus is much more on his mock enthronement. In v. 28 they dress him wth robe, crown and sceptre and pay mock homage to him. In v. 37, his title, King of the Jews, is displayed for all to see. The final irony is the mocking of the chief priests in v. 42.

“He saved others but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

But of course it is precisely by dying on the cross, by not saving himself, that he saves others. And it is because he is the King of Israel that he is being crucified, because his kingship was a threat to those same chief priests. The cross, if you like, is his throne.

Thirdly, Jesus’s kingship is seen in his subversive threat to the power of Rome. Sadly, this is something that people often miss. First of all, look at Jesus’ parallel with Barabbas. From Mark’s gospel, we know that Barabbas was not just a petty criminal, but that he had led an insurrection against Roman government. He was a political prisoner. And Jesus takes the place of this political prisoner, indirectly he saves Barabbas’ life. Despite his reluctance, Pilate is willing to let a freedom fighter go free – he himself knows Jesus is a threat to Rome. In v. 38, the word Matthew uses to describe the two men crucified with Jesus is often used to describe rebels against Rome. So we have this picture of Jesus, with the title, King of the Jews, above his head, in the centre of two political prisoners. To many bystanders, the execution would have looked very political, defending Roman political authority against subversion. And finally, there is the cry of the Roman soldiers in v. 54.

These are the same men who mocked Jesus a few verses earlier. These are the same men who paid fake homage to the king. Yet here, as Jesus dies, they see with new eyes.

“When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, Surely he was the Son of God!”

I don’t think we are meant to understand that these Gentile soldiers had suddenly fully gasped Jesus’ identity, though certainly Matthew expects us to listen, to see they spoke better than they knew perhaps. But the title Son of God was a political one. The Roman emperor himself was titled Son of the God… These soldiers see someone on the cross, they see something in the way Jesus dies, that has supreme authority, at least on a par with their own emperor, the greatest authority in the world. And they were right. Jesus was a threat to Rome, to the emperor. Jesus’ gospel is inescapably political. Because Jesus Christ is the King of Kings, and he claims authority over all the kings of the earth.

Certainly Jesus did not come to cause a political rebellion. He told his disciples to put their swords away. He had not come to throw the Romans out of Jerusalem. But Jesus did not just come to be the king of our hearts. We cannot relegate him to some spiritual-only realm. As Jesus hangs on the cross, there is no sacred-secular split. He is the king of the whole world, which was why he was a threat to Rome, not because he would overthrow Rome, but because he claimed a higher authority and a higher allegiance from others than the Emperor could claim.

Christ crucified, the judge of faithless Jerusalem, and the king above all kings.

Why don't you waste your own money?

It appears that the Home Office has spent £29 million on an asylum detention centre which was never built.

I'm sorry, but I find this sickening. This is what happens when you have big government with big tax revenues and big public spending. No-one keeps track of the waste, no-one is held accountable for it, and worst of all, they know that if they go 'bankrupt', they can just force the taxpayer to bail them out.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: ordinary people work out what their income is, and then decide how they're going to spend it and stay within their budget. Governments seem to decide what they want to spend, and then think how they're going to get it.

If your ordinary Joe consistently overspends he will lose his house, go bankrupt and have all his assets taken away and his right to a bank account suspended - there are sanctions that follow from irresponsible economics. If a government consistently overspends, they just raise taxes.

Something not right.

What do you do with your hands?

We had lots of guidance last night on hand movements, some of which, particularly the eucharistic manual acts I find highly objectionable.

But, there were some interesting reasons provided for different gestures, which might challenge the anti-liturgist (or should I say unconscious liturgist - we all have a liturgy, it's just that some people don't realise it).

In corporate prayer there are two different gestures. When the minister is praying with the people, he holds his hands together in the traditional prayer gesture we always teach children.

When he prays on behalf of the people, he holds his hands in the orans gesture, which is a relaxed and open position with the hands held out either side of the body, arms pointing upwards from the elbow. The Precentor suggested this was an ancient position for prayer which is found in wall paintings in the ancient Christian catacombs, which led me to think, is that what Paul means by lifting up holy hands in prayer (1Tim 2:8).

Worth pondering perhaps.

Where's the epiclesis?

A common cry down our way.

This came back to me again last night at our Eucharist training. In the eucharistic prayer at the Lord's Supper, where is the epiclesis, and what does it mean?

Epiclesis is the liturgical anorak's term for the calling down of the Holy Spirit, and it happens in all the Church of England's eucharistic prayers, back to the BCP.

In Common Worship's prayers (A to H), there are basically two options. In some, the epiclesis is clearly on the elements. So, we pray that God would send his Holy Spirit to do something to the bread and the wine.

In others, the epiclesis is clearly on the people. So, we pray that God would send his Holy Spirit to do something to us.

In others, it's unclear (more yummy Anglican fudge), and in Prayer B you have a double epiclesis, on elements and people.

I don't think most evangelicals have any comprehension of the signifcance of this. The general response to Common Worship was, how lovely to have some variety, because of course you wouldn't want to repeat the same words too often in case they become meaningless would you? After all, you wouldn't want to tell your wife "I love you" too often in case it becomes meaningless. But of course, what the variety has smuggled in is Roman sacramental theology.

My advice, stick to Prayer C, which is basically Cranmer's BCP prayer. If you insist on variety, it seems to me Prayer D also has a clear epiclesis on the people rather than the elements.

I absolve you, or do I?

Yesterday evening we had a session at the Cathedral on Presiding at the Eucharist, led by the Canon Precentor. Inevitably, one didn't quite agree with everything. But there were some very interesting snippets from a man who knows his liturgical history.

Following confession in most Anglican services, the minister's absolution/assurance of forgiveness has two forms - Lord have mercy upon you, or upon us. Which to use?

In most of the evangelical churches I've been in, us is preferred. It shows the minister includes himself with the congregation as a sinner in need of forgiveness. And the assumption is that they you form is a bit too Catholic.

How ironic then, to discover last night, that the us form is an innovation the Church of England has borrowed from Rome!

In the 1960s (isn't it always?), the Vatican introduced the us form. They were concerned that the number of penitents attending confession was falling, and they wanted to make clear that the "absolution" offered in corporate worship was of a lesser order than the real absolution given by the priest in the sacrament of penance.

Now, of course we don't believe in the sacrament of penance, nor that the presbyter has that sort of power of absolution. However, the Reformed have always believed in the power of the keys - that the ordained ministers of the church are given the authority to declare Christ's forgiveness to the people. So it would be perfectly in order, and not at all Roman, for an evangelical minister to pronounce after corporate confession,

The Lord have mercy upon YOU.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Pot calling the kettle...

The Church of England Newspaper and Church Times are both reporting a leaked Ministry Division report that a third of bishops feel that up to half the parochial clergy are not equipped to cope with the demands of ministry.

Now aside from the fact that I might actually agree (for very different reasons), here's a few questions:

  1. Who ordained these people?
  2. Given that many clergy do (amazingly) look to their bishop for support, leadership and a model of ministry, why are they struggling to cope?
  3. How would they know? 12 of the current diocesan bishops have no experience of being a parish incumbent. And 3 of those (Canterbury - yes the big man!, Europe and Durham - sorry NTW) have no experience at all of ordinary parochial ministry. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Or as the famous Chinese proverb says - he who points finger, finds three pointing back at himself.

Government-sponsored swimming

I appreciate that there are some good reasons why people think the civil government should be responsible for health, education etc.

But whoever thought the State should concern itself with sport (except Communist dictators of course, who in East Germany, the Soviet Union and China, have always been keen on that sort of thing)?

Monday, 2 June 2008

New Labour: a despotic government?

Sir William Harcourt (Liberal Home Secretary and Chancellor under Gladstone) speaking in 1873:

Liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes. It has been the function of the Liberal Party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the country where people can do more what they please than in any country in the world.

Not any more it isn't.