Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Called To Be Church for the World

I admit to a certain fondness for Anglicanism, especially Anglican liturgy. (If we had to have Mass in English, a viable model in good English already existed, obviating any real need for ICEL!). Highlighting our shared history, the Holy See has just recently loaned to the Archbishop of Canterbury an ivory handle (photo) of a crozier of Saint Gregory the Great, the Pope who sent Saint Augustine, Canterbury's first Archbishop, to England in 595.

Sadly, the Anglican Communion has fallen on hard times - in part undoubtedly due to cultural changes ultimately beyond the Church's control but in no small part undoubtedly due in some segments of the Church to a post-modern eagerness to be on the right sight of progressive history, with predictably catastrophic consequences. Things seem to have reached a crisis point in terms of the unity of the Communion.  Hence I read with interest the Archbishop of Canterbury's rather personal address to this week's Primates' Meeting.

In that address, Archbishop Welby spoke movingly of Anglican history since Saint Augustine as a mixture of good and bad,of the heroism of missionary endeavour from Augustine onwards, through the evangelism of the savage tribes of Scandinavia by monks from the north east of England, and onwards over the centuries to the great missions from the 18th century which led to so many of the churches whose Primates are here. We are all the heirs and beneficiaries of courage, of loss, of suffering and of martyrdom, of wars of independence and conquest, of the search for freedom and of others who have used the church for repression. But, while wheat and weeds coexisting in inevitably part of the story of every Church, it is God's grace and faithfulness which ultimately defines that story. Apparently that includes Archbishop Welby's own personal story of how indigenous Kenyan and Ugandan faith, through the East African Revival that set the pattern for holiness, for a vigour of lifestyle in relationship with Christ that so impressed an 18 year old teaching at Kiburu Secondary school. 

As he inevitably had to, he went on to address the problem of divisions within the Church - both historical and contemporary - divisions Welby calls an obscenity, a denial of Christ’s call and equipping of the church. He acknowledged a gloomy picture of the moral and spiritual state of Anglicanism. In all Provinces there are forms of corruption, none of us is without sin. There is litigation, the use of civil courts for church matters in some places. Sexual morality divides us over same sex issues, where we are seen as either compromising or homophobic. But in a kind of alternative picture he returned agin to that East African Revival to teach us the need for holiness. We must be renewed as a holy church, defined by our passionate worship and its content, with every Christian knowing scripture, prayerful, humble and evangelistic. In a sentence, we must be those who are, to the outside world, visibly disciples of Jesus Christ.

Under the circumstances certainly the invocation of the African church's contribution to his own spiritual journey and to that of the larger Church is itself a fitting (and clever) effort at reconciliation within a fracturing community. The same could be said for his account of Church of england's efforts to hold its own - against the prevailing wind of our society and to the dismay of the secularists. It remains to be seen how true it will ring to the assembled Primates, already so at odds with each other.

The idea is often put forward that truth and unity are in conflict, or in tension. That is not true. Disunity presents to the world an untrue image of Jesus Christ. Lack of truth corrodes and destroys unity. They are bound together, but the binding is love. In a world of war, of rapid communications, of instant hearing and misunderstanding where the response is only hatred and separation, the Holy Spirit whose creative and sustaining gifting of the church is done in diversity, demands that diversity of history, culture, gift, vision be expressed in a unity of love. That is what a Spirit filled church looks like.

Again, it remains to be seen how effective will be - or even can be - this appeal to get back to the basics of Christian community and mission. So many problems in the Church's life in the past 50 or so years (and by no means only in the Anglican Church) have resulted from an excessively inward focus and a consequent weakening of the Church's ability - and her confidence in her ability - to speak effectively to the world with the Word who is the world's one ans only Savior!World

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