Monday, July 17, 2006

Looking Again At The Windsor Report

I sat in a meeting the other day where little bits and pieces of the Windsor Report were being lobbed about, used as ammunition, much as shells and missiles are being shot about by Hezbollah and the Israelis right now -- and with a lot of collateral damage. It would appear that various groupings within the Episcopal Church have locked onto certain bits of Windsor, and are now using them to make their case -- seemingly regardless of meaning and context, and have not looked with care at these statements in their setting.

Certainly, when put alongside Archbishop William's excellent theological response to the inadequate actions of the General Convention 2006, the substance of the Windsor Report provides what can best be described as a theological and ecclesiological agenda for the next goodness knows how many years.

There is a huge amount in the Windsor Report, and I think it entirely possible that it will go down in time as a formative document of the church as we have transitioned from modernity into a globalized postmodernity. It has been to the sections on the Authority of Scripture (paras 53-56), and Scripture and Interpretation (paras 57-62), to which I have found myself being drawn, because I believe these are the two elements of the Report that best help us as we seek to make sense of Anglican faith in a changing age.

Interestingly, reading the Windsor Report in the wake of having read Tom Wright's, The Last Word, several months ago, it is an interesting exercise in theological sleuthing to see how much the Windsor statement was shaped by the Bishop of Durham. Wright's attempt to unravel just how Scripture speaks to us is masterly, while the Windsor Report (considered inadequate by some) does at least identify what some of the issues at hand might be in the same way.

Rightly, the Windsor Fathers and Mothers deduced, that the issue of the interpretation of Scripture is huge. "It is the responsibility of the whole Church to engage with the Bible together; within that, each individual Christian, to the fullest extent of which they are capable, must study it and learn from it, thoughtfully and prayerfully" (para 57). However, one of the problems that we have in our time and culture is that when we interpret the Scriptures we must work to ensure "that it really is scripture that is being heard, not simply the echo of our own voices..." (para 59).

All too often, certainly as the debate has developed in the Episcopal Church and the North American setting, we are hearing too much of the echo of our own voices and too little of the voice of God that Scripture mediates to us. I say this not pointing my finger at one group in particular, although I do think that in North American Anglicanism there is a carelessness about the text that is worrisome, but I say this of all the churches as they seek to witness in general into our culture.

I was eating breakfast the other morning with a Baptist pastor who was despairingly talking of the kind of way that the Word is handled in his tradition, and that manner in which they have managed to baptize certain elements of the culture, rather than speak the faith meaningfully into the culture. Mainline Christians have done exactly the same thing, but they have sought for it to echo their own voices in different ways.

Windsor certainly recognizes that the whole church is in danger of not hearing Scripture because of "the assumptions and entrenched views of the Enlightenment (which have often resulted in unwarranted negative judgments on much biblical material), as well as to the assumptions and entrenched views of a pre- or anti-critical conservatism" (para 60). Then comes one of the key sentences in the whole document, that "Biblical scholarship needs simultaneously to be free to explore
different meanings and to be constrained by loyalty to the community of the Church across time and space."

This is a hard tension to hold: how do I manage to affirm the richness of biblical scholarship, some of which is excellent, some of which is turgid, some of which is destructive, some of which is imaginative, some of which seems to sit loose to the disciplines that have been developed over the generations? Yet at the same time how do I work to be constrained by the community of the Church across time and space?

Certainly, I saw little in the deliberations of General Convention that suggested it was prepared to work within the constraints put upon us by the community of the Church across time and space. My Baptist friend also said to me that he had been raised to think that there was this great void in Christianity between the death of the apostles and his own coming to faith in Christ, so it seems this mentality carries over into our tradition as well -- and with distressing results. I sometimes think the only way that Episcopalians want to live within the discipline of the whole church is in their passion for certain kinds of liturgy.

Windsor again says that "we need mature study, wise and prayerful discussion, and a joint commitment to hearing and obeying God as he speaks in Scripture, to discovering more of the Jesus Christ to whom all authority is committed, and to be open to the fresh wind of the Spirit who inspired scripture in the first place" (para 61). I heard this sentence being used last week to justify a separation of the written word from the actions of the Word Incarnate, who with the Father sent
forth the Spirit to blow fresh winds.

To set these two against one another is nonsense and seems to suggest that Christ can and does speak separately from the Scriptures. Indeed, in the next paragraph, Windsor states that it is the Spirit who inspires scripture, and if this is the case, then the Spirit which the Father and Son send is hardly likely to speak against himself. Windsor does not say this, but it certainly implies it -- and thereby challenges us to look at the manner in which we interpret the text to see if we are echoing our own voices or listening to the voice of God.

I suggest that we are so trapped by the values and minset of our culture, that most of the time we find it hard to distinguish the two because we are not prepared to either do the work necessary to discover precisely what Scripture is saying in our day and age. I would further suggest that when the clear meaning of Scripture stands in contradistinction to what we want, we take what we want over what Scripture might urge.

Windsor envisages us reading the Scriptures in communion with one another, for in paragraph 62 it states that since the Spirit inspires Scripture, the Bible ought to be the means of unity and not division. "In fact, our shared reading of scripture across boundaries of culture, region and tradition ought to be the central feature of our common life, guiding us together into an approriately rich and diverse unity by leading us forward from entrenched positions into fresh appreciation of the riches of the gospel as articulated in the scriptures."

What, in fact, Windsor is saying is that now that we are a genuinely global community of believers, and able to be in close communication with one another, there is no excuse for us to hide behind our own cultural barriers and preferences when it comes to the manner in which we handle the Word of God. While I am absolutely certain that those in the Global South bring their own slant to the manner in which they use Scripture, so are we in the West.

As I watched the General Convention 2006 deliberating on Windsor it seemed to be fixated in an almost entirely western-centric mindset. For a majority of my 30 years in the USA I have worked to interpret the world church to the American church. That, I have to tell you, is a hard job because American culture is so huge and all-consuming that often it barely notices that there are different ways of seeing things elsewhere in the world that need to be taken into account -- and which sometimes might have things to say to us. General Convention reflected that, right
down to those who were grumbling that we do not need the Anglican Communion any more (because it won't let us do our own thing and have our own way in the truly radical individualism of our culture).

There are many, many reasons we are in the fix we are in now, but what Windsor does is give us some good ideas of what we need to be working on to find a way forward. I suspect that the mindset will now be "Well, Windsor is out of the way, what's next on our agenda." If folks are thinking like that then they are very wrong. The lessons that Windsor teaches are only beginning now to be looked at and considered. I would urge you, therefore, to go back to the Windsor Report and give it
careful consideration.


leander harding+ said...

This is an excellent piece. Windsor commends itself for serious study at the parish level quite apart from the current controversy. One further point that Windsor makes is that we need not only the right hermeneutic but the right practices including shurch wide reading of the Bible not just going to the scriptures when there is a dispute.

Anonymous said...

This may be an excellent piece but it has no relevance whatsoever to ECUSA.

Windsor was crafted as compromise so that ECUSA could continue to have gay and lesbian leaders, ordain them as priests and conduct civil unions for them - but remain within the commnion provided it was willing to pay the price of continued admittance: an apology (not repentance); no consecrations (but many ordinations); no authorisations (but many pastoral provisions).

ECUSA definitively rejected this compromise, so it no longer applies. The choice for all Western "Anglican" churches who wish to remain in communion with the Global South is now Lambeth 1.10 in toto or nothing. And this choice applies to the Church of England as much as any other, and all the signs are that it will fudge this choice.

Which is why CAPA will meet at the same time as Lambeth, in Nigeria, and thankfully, the split will be over and Gods will made plain.

The Observer said...

If this piece has no relevance to TEC or is it ECUSA (these days I'm not sure which is which), some of us certainly are past the point of no return.

It is; however, my fervent hope and prayer that by the grace of God our Communion can be saved.

I will personally grant disappointment with General Convention, but I choose to allow the Lord time to work His wisdom within our Church.

IMHO The Windsor Report is truly a magnificent attempt to resolve differences and a last chance at standing together. I do not see it as a compromise but a path to continue in Communion with the Church of England. For I desire to follow the path of historic Anglicanism and not be led solely by the global south.

Anonymous said...

Saying the Spirit has led them in their denying Holy Scripture that was inspired by that very Spirit, and which has been supported by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church for 2,000 years. I always remember that Matthew in 12:30-32 quotes Jesus as saying, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven man, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come.” Thus, the unforgivable sin, the utter rebellion against God, that denies Him as the doer of His own acts. If one believes what Christ has said, and I do, we have been, and will continue to be, led in TEC by people who have guaranteed reservations in hell for all eternity. Yes, and I do believe in Lucifer, his minions, and some particularly nasty hell he rules over.

Richard Kew said...

It is sad that the first Anonymous is determined to dismiss one of the most significant theological products of the WHOLE Anglican Communion as a compromise, therefore of negative value. Actually, the Thirty-Nine Articles could also be dubbed a "compromise," but they have served is well for 400+ years. To dismiss something as a compromise is to say that it doesn't dot ever "i" or cross every "t" that I want it to. I believe Windsor is the church doing its best to think its way through the implications of someting that this fallen culture is throwing at it.

Has Windsor got it all right? Probably not, but then the Thirty-Nine Articles didn't get it all right either, although the direction it has provided for Anglican theology for centuries has certainly proved it under testing.

When they are being true to themselves Anglicans are bible people. Being a bible person, however, means being willing to wrestle with what the bible actually says as we seek to apply its teaching to real life situations -- not what we want it to say. The problem for all of us is that we want to project our own particular agenda onto the bible, rather than listen to how God is speaking to us through his inspired Word.