The Basis of New Zealand Anglican

When the Archbishop of Uganda recently said that the basis of his Church was the authority of scripture, the seeds of the martyrs, and the historic episcopate I was struck by how foreign it all sounded. I think the Church in New Zealand has been deeply influenced by an egalitarianism that is wary of the consolidation of hierarchical power. One of the gifts, for example, I think the evangelical movement has given many of us is this sense of egalitarian, priesthood of all believers, unmediated personal relationship with God. Secondly, this Church has been deeply influenced by the spirituality of the tangata whenua [i.e. Maori], the earth on which we stand, and the struggles for justice around land and culture. The third basis I would say is innovation. It’s the make-do, no.8 fencing wire, create-our-own-solutions approach. We bring together our tradition, our scripture and hermeneutics, our peoples and our compassion and we make solutions. Sometimes of course we get it wrong – but more often than not I think we have got it right.


A short history of Satan - Part 1

Satan hasn’t always been about. He seems to have popped up around the 6th century BCE. In the Book of Numbers and Job Satan appears, not as an evil seducer, but as one of God’s obedient servants – an angel who has an adversarial role. Note the Satan was a role.

As a literary device Satan’s presence in a narrative could help account for unexpected obstacles or reversals of fortune. Take the story of Balaam – a man who had decided to go where God had ordered him not. Balaam saddled his ass and set off, but in Numbers 22:22 “God’s anger was kindled... and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his Satan” – i.e. as his adversary or obstructer. In the Book of Job Satan likewise has this adversarial role – with God authorizing Satan’s testing of Job.

However, around the same time as Job was written [550 BCE], other Biblical writers began to use the concept of Satan to explain division in Israel. 1st Chronicles suggests that a supernatural foe had managed to infiltrate the House of David and lead the King into sin.
[i] Zechariah depicted the Satan inciting factions among the people. These writers paint the Satan as sinister and the role begins to change: from Satan as God’s agent to Satan as God’s opponent.

Four centuries later, 168 BCE, internal conflicts within Israel are even more acute. The problem was how to accommodate the cultural and religious traditions of foreigners who now lived in Israel. Some promoted tolerance and integration, others the opposite. Following the Maccabean Revolt, when foreigners were expelled, the internal divisions remained extreme. Separatist groups emerged who used the concept of Satan to demonise their Jewish opponents. Satan was not just the enemy without [foreigners] but also the enemy within [fellow Jews]. These separatist groups also constructed stories of Satan’s origin – one of the more common ones being that he was a princely angel who through lust or arrogance fell from grace.

Of course other Jewish writers tried to stem the tide of racist and religious xenophobia. Daniel, for example, while concerned about ethnic identity never uses Satan language to demonise his opponents.

[i] I Chronicles 21:1.


In answer to Tim - Devil contd

Tim has written a comment following the post regarding Isabelle's question about the Devil. This is my response:

Dear Tim,

Sometimes it is difficult to know where to start a conversation when two people are approaching the same subject so differently. It is always tempting to say “I’m right and you’re wrong”, but that doesn’t assist mutual understanding.

I’m reminded of a story about a young man coming to a well known spiritual teacher. This young man knew his Bible. He not only could quote it, he followed all its commandments. Yet the young man was still not happy. The teacher listened patiently and then, guessing that the young man had considerable wealth, told him to cash it all up and give the money to the poor. The teacher’s advice wasn’t in the young man’s Bible! Yet it was where the young man would find happiness if only he could thwart his love of money.

Tim, you state that the Bible is a book from God. I would say that it is a book that points us to God. For God’s wisdom takes different forms and shapes depending on circumstances and culture - just as it did with the rich young man. It is not the words of the Bible that we are to worship, follow, and obey. It is God, whom the Bible points to that we are to worship, follow, and obey.

You go on to infer that my dismissal of a literal devil is proof that my understanding comes from the devil. I think you need to be careful in labelling the arguments of your critics as from the devil. It is unfortunately a way, well-attested to in history, of plugging your ears to truth other than your own.

There are a number of things in the Bible that are simply not true. The Bible taken literally says, for example, that woman was made from a man’s rib, and that women need to keep silent in church. The Bible contains dietary prohibitions regarding pork, shellfish, and the like. The Bible has God incinerating people from the skies, usually the author’s opponents. Every Christian will work out what parts of the Bible they will adhere to and what they will overlook or dismiss; what bits they will ascribe to the culture and thought forms of the authors and editors and what bits are timelessly relevant. To literally adhere to every word of the Bible would lock you into the 2nd century world of when the last epistle was written, and therefore deny the existent and power of God in the last 18 centuries.

Tim, I would also caution you about assuming whose names are in the ‘Book of Life’. You assume that Isabelle’s isn’t. Whatever you believe about judgement, the Christian tradition is very clear about who is the judge – and it’s not you, or me.

If you wish to read further about the devil can I commend to you Elaine Pagel’s book The Origin of Satan. It traces the history of the Satan/devil idea through antiquity, the biblical books, and into church history. It is a sobering read. Demonizing one’s opponents, other Christians, and Jews, was a precursor to inflicting pain and death. It is a dangerous path and does not lead to life.



Questions from Isabelle - Devil stuff

Dear Revd Glynn,

What are devils? And what do devils do? What do devils eat? Do devils babies come from eggs or do they not?

Your Friend

From Mum:
P.S. Isabelle had a dress-up day at school today, and one of her friends came as a devil. Hence the questions.

Dear Isabelle,

There has always been goodness in the world, and there’s always been evil. Usually when we think about evil we think about a really bad person who might have, for example, killed or hurt a lot of people. But sometimes evil is bigger than just one person or group of people. We call that an evil system. About 65 years ago the Jewish people in Europe were nearly all killed – some 6 million people died. It happened in Germany. While there were a few evil people who thought up this horrific idea, lots of ordinary Germans were involved in it coming about. The evil was bigger than the people involved.

Back in the time the Bible was written some people talked about this idea of an evil system by making an imaginary creature to symbolize it. So like Ronald McDonald symbolizes McDonald hamburgers, the devil symbolizes evil. And like Ronald is just an actor dressing up [there is no real person called Ronald McDonald], so there is no real person or being called the devil.

However we humans always like dressing up and having fun. And dressing up as the bad guy is particularly fun. Our imagination has dressed devils in red, with horns on top, a tail behind, and a pitchfork in hand. At parties we go around and mischievously prod people with the pitchfork! Devils at parties eat what everyone else eats – though they usually have pepperoni and barbeque sauce on their pizza! I haven’t heard about them having babies – they’d probably have to grow up first.

Evil of course is deadly serious, and devils you meet at parties can be seriously funny. There comes a problem when the two are mixed together. If a person who has done evil acts starts being called a devil then people can start treating him or her as less than human. It is very dangerous to our soul, and to the safety of all, to start treating anybody as less than human.

Kind regards,


Questions from Isabelle - Why is God called God?

Dear Revd Glynn,

Why is God called God, if God is love?

From Isabelle.

With a mum postscript:

P.S. Isabelle heard me on the computer, and this was a bit muddled with sleepiness. I think the translation is "Why is God not called love, instead of God, if God means love?" Confused? I am!

Dear Isabelle,

I love your questions!

Words called nouns name an object that we can see – like t-r-e-e names that thing with leaves and branches outside my window. The word G-o-d though names something we can’t see. It names a spiritual power that flows through people’s lives. That power is within, beyond, and between us. It is something we experience, like feelings, but can’t be proved scientifically.

Christians believe that the main feeling and evidence of that spiritual power is love. Sometimes we might meet a person who is so full of goodness that it seems that while she or he is with us that spiritual power called God is with us. This was the experience of people who knew Jesus. He was stuffed full of God.

Some people want to call that spiritual power a ‘Him’ or a ‘Lord’. They make G-o-d into a noun. I prefer to think of G-o-d as a verb: a flowing, moving, loving force. Sort of like the power that lights up the bulb rather than the light bulb itself.

Kind regards,


Questions from Isabelle - what does God do?

Dear Revd Glynn,

What does God do?

From Isabelle

Dear Isabelle,

As you probably guessed by now I would put the word ‘love’ into the question instead of the word ‘God’. So the question would read ‘What does love do?”

Here’s a little list that is by no means complete:

1. Love tucks me into bed at night, listens to the good and bad things about my day, and gives me a kiss goodnight
2. Love encourages me to think about what is good for others. What does my brother/sister need, and how can I help?
3. Love is the joy I feel when playing in piles of autumn leaves, throwing snowballs, making sand sculptures, or running into the sea.
4. Love is joined to wonder – that feeling I get when starring at the stars on a cloudless night.

Another way of saying all the above is that God comforts and encourages us; God urges us to think about the needs of others; God joins us as we play; and God excites us in wonder.

Of course, particularly with no. 1, God has the human face and heart of your mum or dad.

Kind regards,