Readings: Joel 2:23–32, 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18 & Luke 18:15–30
The history of the Church, that is God’s universal Church, is marked by division. Division that has occurred as a result of disagreement among leaders of the church over certain teachings of the church. We see that from the very early days of the church in the first century. Take for example the church at Corinth, to whom Paul addressed the First Letter to the Corinthians, regarding disagreement over whether people were followers of Paul, or Apollos, or Peter, or Christ himself.
Not to mention the disagreement between Paul and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem regarding Paul’s approach to spreading the Gospel among the Gentiles without the Gentiles adhering to specific statutes of the Torah.
Then there is the famous dispute among the bishops of the church in the Roman Empire over the divinity of Jesus, which forced Emperor Constantine to convene the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, which of course resulted in the formulation of the Nicene Creed.
In the year 1054 CE the Great Schism occurred, which was the break of communion between what are now the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Churches, which had lasted until the 11th century. The Schism was the culmination of theological and political differences between the Christian East and West which had developed over the preceding centuries.
And then there was the Protestant Reformation that occurred in the sixteenth century, which saw the establishment of a number of Protestant churches that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, one of which, was of course the Church of England, which is now known better globally as the Anglican Communion.
In recent years we have also seen division within the Anglican Communion itself, with a number of Anglican churches seeking to align themselves under new or alternate oversight, either within or outside of the Anglican Communion. The major drivers behind this were the 2002 decision by the Diocese of New Westminster in Canada to authorise a rite of blessing for same-sex unions, and the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as Bishop of New Hampshire in The Episcopal Church in America. So we should not be that surprised to find similar division now in our own Diocese here in Melbourne over the same type of issue.
During the 53rd Synod of the Diocese of Melbourne, which was held just over a week ago, two particular motions were discussed and debated that have since been the cause of great angst for a number of people in the Diocese.
Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa / New Zealand
That this Synod:
a) Welcomes the formation of the Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa / New Zealand.
b) Assures the Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa / New Zealand and its bishop, Jay Behan, of our love and prayers.
c) prays for God’s blessing on all Anglicans in New Zealand as they seek to proclaim Christ faithfully to New Zealand.
Response to Wangaratta Synod
That this Synod expresses its sorrow to the Bishop and Synod of the Diocese of Wangaratta for their approval of a liturgy that could be used to bless persons in same-sex relationships at their recent Synod meeting (August 30-31)
Moved: Mr Robert Miller; Seconded: Ms Angela Cook
Both motions dealt with the subject of blessing same-sex marriages, but they did so in different ways.
The Church of Confessing Anglicans Aotearoa/New Zealand is a group of twelve Anglican churches in New Zealand who have joined together to form an Anglican Church that is not in communion with the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Their decision to do so came after the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia passed a motion at its most recent Synod to allow the blessings of same-sex relationships.
The motion in relation to the Diocese of Wangaratta basically expresses disapproval of the decision by the Synod of Diocese of Wangaratta to approve a form of liturgy to be used in the blessing of same-sex relationships.
Both motions were moved and supported by what could be described as the Evangelical arm of the Diocese of Melbourne, which has a far more conservative view on the issue of same-sex relationships as does its more liberal minded peers who form the Anglo-Catholic arm of the Diocese.
Of course a week before the Melbourne Synod, the Archbishop of the Diocese of Sydney, which I believe is safe to say is the most conservative Diocese within the Anglican Church of Australia, made headlines when he called on those who want to change the church’s doctrine on marriage to leave the church. Several days later he attempted to clarify his comments by saying that he did not mean that LGBTIQ people and their supporters should leave the church, but rather bishops. But there was clearly no distinction in his original comments.
So what do we make of all of this in our own parish here at St Andrew’s. Does any of this affect what we believe? Does it have any impact on our own faith? Does it have any affect on our lives? I would say these are questions that only each of us as individuals are able to answer. After all, each of us is called by God to be the person He intended us to be. That is the spiritual journey we find ourselves on. The journey to become the person that God intended us to be, and in coming closer to being that person, we find ourselves coming closer to God.
The key point I would like to make in relation to this situation though, is that it is exactly what I was referring to in my recent sermon series on Religion and Spirituality, when I said that the “unchurched”, which I defined as people having no firsthand knowledge of or involvement with the church, see church doctrine as being synonymous with religion, and because they don’t see church doctrine as being relevant in their life then they effectively don’t believe that religion is relevant.
That is the tragedy for me, because as I said in that sermon series, religion is much more than church doctrine. Religion is also the personal relationship that exists between each individual and God, and it is the series of relationships that exist between people in a community of faith, such as our parish of St Andrew’s.
By continuing to focus on matter of doctrine that divide us, rather than on those aspects of our faith that unite us, which are by the way far greater than what divides us, then we will continue to send a message to the growing secular world of which we are a part, that religion, and Jesus Christ, has no relevance to them.
I can’t help but think that if it was good enough for the church in Jerusalem to agree to compromises over the teachings of Torah (in other words church doctrine) to allow Paul to take the Gospel to the Gentiles without the Gentiles having to observe certain statutes of Torah in order to become Christians, then surely we should be able to agree as a church to compromises that would allow members of the clergy to act accordingly in response to what they believe God is calling them to do? And if that means blessing a same-sex marriage then so be it.
After all, is it not God’s will, rather than ours?