Saturday, 14 July 2012

Let us be Indifferent

"Adiaphora". Not perhaps a very slinky sort of slogan in a sloganising world, but one with potentially great value. It means "things indifferent", and it was used in the 16th century to describe those things about which Christians could validly disagree without falling out. You'd think that would be quite a useful tool today. We may disagree about gay vicars and women bishops, but we aren't prepared to shove the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Ministry, and the Sacraments, out of the window along with them, are we? That would be foolish. Compared to those building blocks of the faith, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, as received and passed down, our present controversies are silly little things: "things indifferent - adiaphora". When the dust settles, we still have not just a part of, but the whole of, our Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, inheritance. We still have the means of grace, and the hope of glory. This is not a counsel of despair and snivelling. I am foresquare behind women as full participants in the threefold ministry of the church; I am foresquare in favour of an adult and sensible approach to sexuality in considering candidates for the ministry (straight, gay, bi, trans, or whatever). I am not saying these things don't matter. But I am saying they don't matter THAT much. Does an angel die when a gay man is made a bishop? I doubt it. Does a Seraph have a coronary when a woman is made a bishop? The jury isn't out, because there is no jury - there is no case to answer - God doesn't care. We care, sometimes too much, and sometimes at the expense of our charity and kindness. And God cares mightily about that. The idea of "adiaphora" was part of the genius of Anglicanism from its first days. You have only to read Cranmer's eucharistic rites to realise how much he wanted to appeal to everyone; only to read him on "The Lord's Supper" to realise that he thought it mattered less what each person thought was happening, than that they came to the altar to think it, pray it, be open to it, together. Our great foundress Elizabeth I did not desire windows into our souls. She wanted Christian people to come and pray together. She might have thought me an ass. Probably would have done; she was far better educated than me. But an ass who would come to communion with his neighbour, the queen, was a good enough ass for her. It was Elizabeth's first archbishop, Matthew Parker, who is most associated with "adiaphora" in England. The two of them, both single people, who would have raised a wry eyebrow at our present controversies, were the ones who set about creating an ecclesiastical polity that would work for the English people. And so it has worked, and so it can work still. If you don't like your bishop, you can always shove off and find another. For ordination, that was always so. The fearsome Bishop Warburton of Gloucester, in the 18th century, ordained almost no-one because they couldn't pass his test. He granted them papers to go elsewhere. John Wesley ordained priests for the American church because English bishops afraid of the government wouldn't. Generatations later, those same Americans ordained the first women en bloc. We change, we adapt, our little crises are not of ultimate importance. What actually matters? What is not indifferent? It is proclaiming, and living, and praying, the Good News of God's love revealed in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The rest? Details. The bathwater without the baby is a pretty foolish thing. I guess you can drink it, but it will probably make you sick. Mine's a G & T - with Jesus.

1 comment: