Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Anglican Apostolicity (2)

Our church has a formal title, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, which is, to be frank, a bit of a mouthful.

A great alternative (and used on the cover of our modern prayer book) is Te Haahi Mihinare (the missionary church).

Comments on my previous post on Anglican Apostolicity rightly reminded me that apostolicity is about preaching the gospel and founding new churches as much as it is about faithfulness to what the apostles taught.

This suggests that "Anglican Apostolicity" concerns both how we preserve and hand on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (the Doctrine of Christ, according to our constitution) and how we grow and develop the church via proclamation of the gospel.

From this perspective we could argue that Anglican apostolicity has a lot going for it. The strengths of Eastern Orthodoxy as an apostolic church, for instance, have arguably not translated well into missionary work around the globe. (By contrast the Catholic and Anglican churches have good track records spreading the gospel and planting new churches in many lands beyond commencement points in Europe).

Of course some historians of Western Christian mission would say of both Anglican and Roman Catholic churches that bishops have often been an impediment to missionary work (e.g. resisting initiatives by laypersons and priests). Here in Te Haahi Mihinare, CMS missionaries and the fledgling Te Haahi Mihinare were trucking along pretty fine without a bishop and when one turned up, George Augustus Selwyn, there were plenty of awkward moments which followed.

We might further make a specifically Anglican self-critical point by observing that despite the English Reformation being a movement to renew the apostolic faith of the church by sheering off medieval accretions, there was absolutely no apostolic impulse to new missionary work. That would only come later with the likes of the Wesleys' preaching in America and the evangelical renewal of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries spawning the Church Missionary Society. Later still the Anglo-Catholic revival also led to new mission work outside of England.

So, with that very potted history in the above paragraphs, we see that apostolicity is a desirable quality in the church which in practice is not easy to achieve. Here is zeal to preserve the apostolic teaching but little concern for apostolic mission. There is motivated mission in the footsteps of the apostles with little concern to preserve and promote that mission via introduction of bishops as successors to the apostles. Over there are bishops with a profound sense of their continuity with the apostles but with little vision for preaching the gospel.

Anglican apostolicity, in other words, is a precious but often fragile treasure.

How might we strengthen our apostolicity for the rigours of the 21st century?

Another post is coming ...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Anglican Apostolicity? (1)

I've been challenged to think about "apostolicity" recently (via an article that I am holding back for the time being).

I understand "apostolicity" to be the characteristic of the church in which

(1) it  is faithful to what the apostles taught

(2) it proclaims the gospel the apostles proclaimed

(3) it continues the ministry of the apostles, that is the ministries of teaching and preaching the truth of Jesus Christ and founding churches based on that truth.

Another way of putting this is that the church is apostolic when it continues what the apostles did and said in order to enlarge (through church planting) and maintain the church of Jesus Christ.

The question of "apostolicity" generally arises because when we think "church" we are invited to think what "church" means. Can it mean whatever we make of it? Is it bound to mean what it has always meant? (If so, why?) Is some kind of continuity (apostolicity), comprehensiveness (catholicity), constraint (holiness) and community (unity) critical to church being authentically church?

The question particularly arises when as church we consider making decisions which push against, if not break through the "unity, apostolicity, catholicity, holiness" of the church, or, if you prefer, break through the continuity, comprehensiveness, constraint and community of the church.

Alternatively the question of apostolicity might arise when a teaching pushes against the same boundaries of what it means to be the church. In the letter to the Ephesians in Revelation 2:1-7, we read:

"I know you that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. ... But ..." (2bc, 4a)

Even at the end of the first century, the question of a true or a false apostleship was encountered by the church. (I included the "but" at the beginning of verse 4 as a reminder that when a church has rounded up and shipped out false apostles it is not immune to the Lord's judgment as to it's true spiritual health!).

Now apostolicity has some variations in emphases as different Christians in different traditions have reflected on what apostolicity means. Some place emphasis on content of the faith and its continuity: we are apostolic when and only when we continue to the content of the faith of the apostles. Others emphasise the leadership aspect of apostolicity: we are apostolic when we continue the office of the apostles (i.e. via bishops). On this emphasis, the content of the faith also matters: bishops are chosen who will maintain the teaching the apostles and lead church's the proclamation of the gospel.

Naturally, Anglicans have the best of all apostolic worlds [ :) ].

Revved up by the Reformation we value the (re-formed) content of the faith once delivered and we refused to rid ourselves of bishops. But that claim (made slightly in jest, slightly in seriousness) is not likely to cut much ice with three major alternative views on apostolicity.

The Orthodox propose that they have the purest adherence to the apostles: bishops, strict adherence to (genuinely universal, undivided church) ecumenical councils' interpretation of the apostles' teaching, and continued use of the first Scripture of the apostles (the Old Testament in Greek).

Roman Catholics propose that they have the safest adherence to the apostles: bishops who teach what the apostles teach and a bishop of the bishops (pope) to secure that teaching by both preventing heresy gaining ground (e.g. ability to sack any bishop around the globe who steps out of theological line) and by only promulgating new teaching after a long, careful, well-tested process of review (possibly taking centuries), including an assurance that the whole (Roman) church is united behind the new teaching.

Reformed churches (in the sense of those churches formed during the Reformation and subsequently (e.g. Methodists) but who eschew bishops) propose that bishops are as often the problem as they are the solution to strengthening apostolicity. They would point out to Anglican and Lutheran churches that individual "rogue" bishops are not easily silenced; and ask of the Roman church, what if the Pope goes rogue?. It is happened. Some say it is happening. I digress!

Although I am not personally aware of what a "Reformed" critique of Orthodoxy might look like, I can imagine it might point to the divisions within Orthodoxy, including the division between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox as signs that a claim to purity of adherence to the apostles is no guarantee of unity of adherence: patriarchs and bishops can get in the way. Instead, the Reformed approach to apostolicity, as I understand it, emphasises the content of apostolic teaching, and permits all and sundry to advance it, defend it and debate it in order that individual heretics are efficiently condemned and/or sidelined (with no need to pay respect to their episcopal office let alone to their professorial office) while other champions of apostolicity are widely praised and their writings propagated.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent = Coming? Yeah, nah.

Heaven meets earth. Three cricket tests being played around the world simultaneously. Advent celebrates heaven meeting earth as Jesus comes to dwell among us and comes again and again to live in his church through the Spirit and will come again as Lord and Judge in the Second Coming.

Yes, Advent = coming, in multivalent ways.

Nah, Advent should not be thought of in terms of "coming". A soft and gentle word which fails to do justice to what happens when Jesus enters our sphere.

Here is an arguably better word for understanding Advent: disruption.

I understand that "disruption" is a bit of vogue word these days, e.g. in commerce, if one wants to make money, one must "disrupt" the market with a new product. Trump and Brexit are disruptions to the "usual way of doing business."

Yesterday, preaching on the Advent 1 lectionary readings (Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44), I was drawn to the word "disruption." Jesus did not just come into the world, he disrupted it. The suddenness of the Second Coming will be a disruption.

Perhaps one question for the church to ponder this Advent is whether the Christ who comes and comes again in the church means the church is itself a disruption in the world?

Some would say we are blandly quiescent, passive without any aggression ...

Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump is just another swamp dweller

Yes. Back to Trump. But sometimes Anglicanism takes back place to the future of the world.

So, just before you start writing your comment, there is some good news about Trump!

He is walking back a few positions and he is finding some reasonably good folk to fill his cabinet. Likely he will be a better president than some of us fear.

But this is what makes me mad about Trump.

It turns out that he is just another swamp dweller, i.e. politician doing what politicians do.

Read this verbatim interview in the New York Times. Put it together with the folk he is reaching out to (such as Governor Haley and Mitt Romney). Essentially Trump is admitting he said one thing on the campaign trail and now he is saying another thing after winning.

That is two-faced. That is lying in order to gain the prize.

He was very, very rude about Haley and Romney.

Yes, Romney was rude about Trump. But Romney is not claiming to be an "anti-politician."

Note also in that interview that Trump is claiming that as President he is beyond conflict of interest over his continuing business dealings.

If that is not swamp dwelling it is troughing.

Trump is just another politician and we should have expectations of him that are consistent with that.

The good news is that politicians do some good and we can expect that of Trump.

But let us not delude ourselves that everything is going to be just as he campaigned for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hui to change to the world?

On Monday I participated in a hui of local Christians, called by our local ecumenical network Te Raranga. Our focus was on bicultural relations. It was an absorbing day through powhiri, mihi and korero (personal welcome, personal speeches introducing ourselves, discussion). (A highlight was the mihi of our local Destiny Church pastor, who powerfully reminded us that, whatever we think of the recent Brian Tamaki statement connecting quakes with God's judgment, Destiny is having a powerful impact on the lives of Maori men.)

Our witness to the world as a city was a powerful theme of the day in the context of Maori and Pakeha speaking about what has broken in our Treaty-founded relationships in the past and what can be repaired. Christians in Christchurch are relating well together. Churches are working together. (Not perfectly, room for improvement!) Unity between churches and across cultures is a witness to the gospel of reconciliation.

Is this our time to speak to the heart of Aotearoa NZ in order to foster unity over division? Is this our nation's time to speak to the Trump/Brexit world about human unity rather than division?

Someone observed that we are not in an era of change but in a time of change of era. Will our world divide and fracture or reunite and heal? The gospel drives us in only one of those directions!

As a group we do not know what our next step will be but we are listening to Wairua Tapu (Holy Spirit).

A plea, to local Anglicans reading this. There was only one Anglican present at this hui ... could we find a little bit more energy for ecumenical engagement?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Church witness within Kaikoura itself

Lovely to read here of an open air, well-attended, ecumenical church service in Kaikoura yesterday.

Meanwhile too much happening in my life to post in depth. Lots of travelling and long - but worthwhile - meetings ...

Friday, November 18, 2016

This should be the NZ church story of the week [Updated]

Most Kiwis know by now that the biggest church news story of the week concerns Brian Tamaki/Leviticus/quakes/gyas/punishment. That is a pity for all sorts of reasons, including the petition to stop Destiny church being counted as a charity (think: flow on effects, if that happened). Sometimes it is best to fight back against this sort of thing with wit (thank you, Civilian). It can also be useful to write something (as I have been asked to do). Mark Keown (Laidlaw College) has already blogged here.*

No, not that story. I reckon the biggest church news story of this week should be this story, from the Awatere Valley (H/T Taonga). The church in that district has had an amazing "counter-secular" influence for many decades now, under a succession of cracker ministers (and I am not saying that just because they have been great mates!)

So, hats off to Rachel Westenra and the diligence with which she serves as a parish nurse in a genuinely ecumenical role.

Meanwhile many Christians are serving quietly and inauspiciously throughout Marlborough, Kaikoura and North Canterbury.

*UPDATE: This article reminds us of more serious matters in the religious sphere of public speech in NZ. It has been pointed out to me that BT made a connection between quakes and judgment but did not stir the quakes into action. This imam is stirring up something potentially serious ...