Jul 18, 2006

The Way Forward for Evangelicals

Dear friends and all who may visit this Blog. May I invite you to seriously take to heart what Bishop Jensen has to say. His ideas are fresh, relevant, sound and, should they be heeded, may well reform the Anglican church in the West and guarantee a strong future around the world.

Communion in Crisis Part 1 & Part 2



THE PROBLEM

The present crisis in the Communion is only the presenting issue of a set of deeper and more significant problems revolving around authority and mission.

The crisis in the Anglican communion is really a crisis of Christianity in the West, about faith and different ways of handling that... [and] Homosexuality is the presenting issue for this wider issue.

To sum up: the crisis in the Communion is about the relation between culture and revelation, liberalism and the Bible. It may show itself in the area of human sexuality, but it really goes back to the authority of Scripture and our willingness to be subservient to its teaching despite the unpopularity which this may bring in the world and in the church. In order to be obedient under pressure we are going to have to attend more that we have done up until now to the issue of depth in theological education in parishes and in the denomination. Especially we are going to have to care for each other, to encourage and strengthen each other and to support each other in unpopular stands, if these need to be taken. And remember, ‘Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears will want them to hear… But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.’ (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

THE PLAN


A New Reformation?

In effect the church in the west is being strained by significantly different theologies: the question is, will it be strained to breaking point? Will there be a new Reformation? Furthermore, although we can all see that this is an international problem, it plays itself out at the national and local arenas even more sharply. In due course, many of us are going to have to face quite painful questions arising from our fellowship with those with whom we differ profoundly.

There is a Limit to Diversity in Christian Fellowship

It is often said that one of the glories of Anglicism is its comprehensiveness and, inclusiveness and tolerance. There is some truth, in this although I fear that much of it is also romantic wishful thinking, or the dream-world of a majority which fails to see how they are treating the minority. Certainly, however, in the twentieth century in a number of places we learned to get on with each and to recognise the valid existence of other points of view within the church. It helped to have a poor historical memory. We learned to live with a fair degree of pluriformity. But comprehensiveness has never included every available option. The idea that a church has truth-commitments which it will ignore in the interests of inclusion is likewise a dream. To state the obvious such a ‘structure’ could not survive. I state the obvious, but I sometimes wonder how obvious this is....when is the limit of comprehensiveness reached? I think that you can see that I would be troubled by a development which...

  1. Forced me to do what I believe to be unscriptural,
  2. Involved a matter of salvation,
  3. So involved me in the actions of others so that it appears that I agree with the development because I do not protest or take withdraw.

Homosexuality

Here indeed is a salvation matter. This life-style is spiritually very perilous. Encouraging it or allowing it is endangering the lives of those involved and is inconsistent with the duties of being a minister of God’s word. It is a matter of a different nature to such issues as infant baptism or the ordination of women. It is no wonder that it created for St John’s (and the other parishes involved) an immense crisis of conscience. To remain silent and inactive would have been to say that they were complicit in an activity of such significance that the eternal salvation of souls was at stake in a direct way. The whole culture is heading the wrong way – of which this is a symptom. It is anti-human and de-humanising.

Networking


Nonetheless, if I still wish to be called ‘Anglican’ with some degree of authenticity, something must be done to make sure that scripture is honoured, conscience satisfied and it cannot be said that I am passively acquiescing in something that I regard as spiritually devastating behaviour at an official level of the church. I believe that, faced with such a challenge, we need to reform and renew our networks. These will help us to see who we are in fellowship with – and who not. The Anglican church world-wide has already entered into a period of fractured relationships across networks, although it is not true of the church in Australia, I am glad to say.

Let us create new structures of fellowship where necessary. We have been too slack, too individualistic, too touchy about the issues that divide, too parish-focused. Evangelical people everywhere need to unite around the issues which are at the heart of what we believe and make us what we are. At the same time, if and when necessary, and with a heavy heart, they must clearly and corporately dissociate from developments which are unscriptural and spiritually dangerous. An evangelical network can do the following:
    1. Speak for a large number, so that protests cannot be dismissed as isolated and unimportant.
    2. Agree to defend and support any individual or church being disadvantaged because of a principled stand on an issue of the magnitude of homosexuality.
    3. Enter coalitions with like-minded groups without creating compromise on other subjects.
    4. Speak for and with similar networks elsewhere in the communion.
    5. Agree on a strategy by which it will be clear that the network is dissenting from an official but blatantly unscriptural policy.
    6. Adopt polices for joint action where necessary.

Overarching all, however, must be a commitment to the gospel, and hence to mission worldwide and in the secular West. An example of the last in some parts of the world would be for a network to agree not to baptise persons living in a same-sex relationship and to support those who operate on that principle.

Leadership


Leadership
within the evangelical movement is not ever easy; we do not like papal figures with good reason. But for anyone to offer leadership today is triply difficult. The movement has been seriously divided for a generation over other issues. We have not produced well-thought out theologians who can also be statesmen and prophets. Furthermore, the level of vilification of leaders within the community, within the church and within the movement is horrendous. Few will want to be involved at any more than parish level. Unfortunately, without leadership which has widespread support and recognition it will be extremely difficult for evangelicalism to retain a significant place in any modern denomination which is not evangelical itself. Pray for courageous, biblical, recognisable leadership. When it comes, honour it and don’t undermine it.

We will need to be very flexible in how we are Christian and how we 'do' church. It may be that we are going to have to do church on different days of the week, without buildings, without regular clergy: there are all sorts of ways in which the church of the future is going to be experienced.

Let me now turn to one last major issue: theological education...[Liberal Christians in the West] understand the crucial role played by theological education in the health of the church...Western ideas of sexuality [have] come from an understanding of the Bible [regarded] as pre-modern. [Global South churches] are determined to make sure that the next generation of ordinands in the Global South churches are taught what they would regard as better ways of interpreting and applying Scripture. The irony of this is that the theological education of the West has, speaking very generally, enfeebled the churches, taken away the Bible and been the major source of the cultural captivity of the church.

AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
NETWORKS
LEADERSHIP
MISSION
EDUCATION

Let's get to it!

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