Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Can the RCL be improved to be a better vehicle for reflecting biblical scholarship?

I share this comment from Dave Clancey (to a post below about the lectionary) in the hope that further light may be shed on the mysteries of the RCL's choices:

"I share your beef about the 'continuous' nature of the RCL. And while I can appreciate Bosco's point about texts coming up in other places in the year, that argument appears to assume that texts can be picked up and moved around in the canon - that what is important is the simple fact that they are read - and where they are read is of less importance. But the Bible hasn’t been constructed like that – as so many have been so keen to point out, God has not given us a set of divine propositions – rather he has given us carefully crafted literature.

For example, I’m sure you, like me, are currently preaching through Mark’s gospel. Yet the RCL omitted the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, and thus omitted a clear piece of the evidence which Mark offers as to the authority held by Christ – over nature (4:35-41), disease (5:25-34), and even death (5:21-24; 35-43).

Similarly, the Markan sandwich of the sending out of 12 (6:7-13; 30) which is arranged around the account of Herod and John the Baptist was set out in the RCL over three weeks!

I note too that later in the year that account of the ‘partial’ healing in Mark 8:22-26 is omitted. I’m not sure how we’re to preach on Peter’s confession of Christ 8:29 and Jesus’ subsequent rebuke in the following verses without first dealing with Christ’s miracle in 8:22-26. So I share your beef – now all we need is to figure out what to do about it!"


liturgy said...

In the context of some within Anglicanism seeking to affirm a “set of divine propositions” it is refreshing to see someone denying this here. But as I type that I am doing something similar to the point that is being made about me here, taking one comment out of context and applying it to a quite different question. I do not in any sense “assume that texts can be picked up and moved around in the canon”!

In my own first post on this topic I highlight that the three year lectionary is imperfect.

In further posts I will highlight that the Sunday Eucharist ought not to be the only encounter that Christians have with the scriptures. Christians ought regularly to be encouraged to read a book as a whole, for example. Mark’s gospel, your example, takes only little more than an hour to read. A Christian community can provide other opportunities for encountering the scriptures in a deeper way. I am amazed when communities are not providing online resources and discussions to facilitate the deeper, ongoing, systematic, continual working through the scriptures to complement what is provided Sunday by Sunday in their common worship.

I have yet to be pointed to any Christian community that is providing a viable alternative to the three year lectionary. What Dave Clancey’s community does is one example. When the lectionary is abandoned 2 Peter 1:20-21 is followed next week by John 14:1-6 then Luke 10:25-28 then Isaiah 53:5 then Matthew 23:1-37 then Hebrews 10:24-25!

As I point out in my post comment – it may very well have been possible to have produced something better than the three year cycle we share with more than half the world’s Christians, but that opportunity has now passed. Whatever we alter in this taonga will lead to greater losses than gains IMO. Our church concurs with that opinion and has made the RCL a formulary of our church that we pledge as clergy not to depart from – a pledging that is even binding on us as a church by Act of Parliament.



Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
I join your comment together with Dave's and appreciate them together as a lectionary 'sandwich' of insight. I certainly appreciate two things from this comment, and another you made a while ago: (i) critics of the RCL have the challenge of producing something better; (ii) the compilers of the RCL are open to critical analysis leading to improvements.

There is one question I would like teased out further by you (or anyone else, for that matter), whether in a comment, or on Liturgy: is the obligation to use the RCL strong enough and clear enough for licensed clergy and lay preachers of ACANZP (as your last comment implies)?

My hunch is (a) embedding the RCL in the NZPB along with another lectionary cycle, (b) having just one word in the eucharist (viz. 'appointed' readings) to point preachers to what they should be preaching on, provides insufficient clarity and strength of legislation to require clergy to unwaveringly follow the RCL, or the alternative lectionary ... noting (as I have) that there are strong traditions in our church of preaching series not connected with the RCL. Better would be a specific canonical statute that laid this requirement down in black and white (and while it went about it, it might remove the two year cycle from our books)!

liturgy said...

I think there is always a danger from some to turn liturgy into rubrical fundamentalism – always following the instructions of our liturgies to the letter solely because they are there. I am far more interested in understanding the reasoning and principles underneath our rubrics (liturgical instructions).

The CofE and TEC are two Anglican churches that provide a systematic collection of canons. New Zealand Anglicanism does not. You could certainly move your suggestion at your Diocesan Synod. Possibly you are also a member of General Synod and could hence move it there.

RCL is not merely one cool resource, however, alongside others that people might choose from or create their own. We’ve already said NZ is not that systematic in its canons, yet when it comes to RCL this went to General Synod, where it was passed without amendment, then all our diocesan synods and Hui Amorangi passed it, then General Synod passed it for a second time, and then a year had to pass allowing for anyone to appeal this new formulary – plenty of opportunities for the sort of discussion and amending you are now having here. Everything passed unanimously. Clergy promise and sign at their ordination that they will use only authorised material in leading services, and sign again each time they get a new position and licence. They study liturgy, are formed and trained in leading worship prior to ordination, and in their curacy, and in ongoing ministerial development, training, and formation. Not adhering to our authorised formularies is a reason by our NZ canons to remove their licence to lead the Christian community. Our diocesan bishops have also been clear about our requirements and no bishop can diminish this requirement as our Act of Parliament makes clear. Ministers, including lay ministers, are themselves responsible for having a good understanding of the service they are leading and the requirements of our church.

Finally, RCL is not against a preaching series – quite the opposite. I say again: I have yet to be pointed to a parish website where they have abandoned RCL and have actually produced anything which is an improvement. Anybody?! Furthermore, the loss of common prayer with over half the world’s Christians would still need to be weighed against any “improvement”. RCL in fact encourages a good preaching series and some long-term planning. It can be complemented by study groups, online resources and discussions, pew sheet and parish magazine studies, and services that focus on systematic preaching and complement the Sunday Eucharist.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
Thank you for the clarity of your reasoning and explanation re the RCL in the life of our church. I guess whether it is by (further) canonical clarification, or by joint episcopal recommendation, or consistent 'common' ministry education across out church, (or all three) it would be, or could be helpful to have a renewed sense of the commitment of our church to the RCL. One aspect of that commitment would be the dropping for ever of the two year cycle ... after all the very existence of authorised two and three year cycles mitigates against the principle of 'common prayer' because there is no impulse for common reading of Scripture within our liturgical life, only for 'using one of the lectionaries'!