Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's a long and winding road

If there is one thing just maybe every reader here might agree on it is that being a Christian in the 21st century seems to get more and more complicated. Whether one is a Christian in England feeling the tide of established Christianity is ebbing fast, or a Christian in the USA trying to negotiate a way through the 'culture wars' there, or a Christian in Iraq bewildered by the way in which life has become more dangerous in the years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, or even an Anglican in Christchurch unable to work out how a secular city with a cathedral has become a spiritual conflict zone over the prospect of not having a cathedral, the way of Christ seems more complicated than it was in the 20th century.

One sign of that complication is that when we think about the best form of Christian community to belong to, that is, which church to participate in, this too seems complicated. One way to think about current Anglican difficulties is that we are searching among ourselves for the things we agree together are characteristically Anglican, the things that is that distinguish us as one group of Christians from our brothers and sisters in Christ. Is it our common prayer, our continuity with English Christian tradition, our coherence in respect of certain theological markers (such as incarnational theology)? Is it somewhat more negative: we are quite catholic but do not think it good to have a hierarchy like Rome, or we are quite evangelical but value being an episcopal church (so long as no bishop tells us what to do!!), or even when all sorts of unsatisfactory things are at work among us, the Anglican church is still the best boat to fish from? The complexity of the situation is that it has become incredibly hard work to secure any kind of agreement among us (dare I mention what is a relatively simple proposal, the Covenant?)

Naturally in such a situation it is tempting, perhaps very tempting to find an alternate community of faith to belong to. Part of what is going on in global Anglicanism is the setting up of alternate communities under an Anglican umbrella (or, if you prefer a different image, within an Anglican framework). But also we are finding that the search for a workable community of faith has led to some unexpected proposals such as the Anglican Ordinariate within the fold of Rome proving attractive. For some this is an unworkable halfway house, and the step is taken to transfer straight through to Roman Catholicism without the Anglican flavours of the Ordinariate. The Telegraph offers a report on one parish's experience in London of losing its vicar and a sizeable chunk of its congregation. (It is worth persevering right to the end of the report to find that the ex-vicar will soon be ordained to be a Roman priest and will be given charge of the congregation which his fellow parishioners have joined, a congregation of no less than 2000 people. How many C of E congregations are that large?)

On the face of it, in an Anglican world of shifting sands of what it is we believe about theology and ethics, the Roman option has definite attractions because of its definite doctrines and ethics. The departing vicar quips,

"In the Church of England, you don’t know what the Church believes from one synod to the next."

Except life is not quite that straightforward, even in Roman Christianity. Head across the Atlantic to find the mother of storms brewing within American Roman Catholicism. Nuns in conflict with Rome is scarcely a new story, but this particular story has an edge to it. In the context of the great culture wars being fought out in 21st century America, Roman Catholics (absolutely, by a huge margin, the largest community of Christian faith in the States) are speaking with a forked tongue, the bishops saying one thing, the nuns another, and many Catholics by their actions (e.g. using artificial contraception) another (albeit more closely aligned to the nuns than to the bishops). Can Roman speech in that context be united? Has the genie escaped from the uncorked bottle?

Time will tell, but right now, surveying the global landscape of Christianity, working out the simple questions of what we believe, how we should live and who we should associate with as church appear to have complicated answers. It's a long and winding road to finding the perfect church.

And, as the old joke goes, when you find it, do not join it, lest it cease to be perfect because of its latest member.

16 comments:

RMBIV said...

I enjoyed this last article as much of it is relative to what I have been thinking about for the past year. I have 2 good friends who each converted from reformed Protestantism - one to Orthodoxy and one to Roman Catholicism. I've since found Anglicanism (AMiA). I'm new, but also 'in the thick of it' with that particular ecclesiastical community.

I am questioning weather or not I've made the 'right' choice, this is my eternal soul (not to mention my family). There are no easy answers. I imagine I could be happy in another community (swim the Tiber), but as a student of history I cannot abide the way Christians of earlier ages treated each other, and how modern communities continue to 'cover' for them.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we need a better sense of Church History..as Henry Chadwick used to say, as a church historian you always know that however bad things are now, there has always been a time when they were worse!.Looking back it seems to me that liturgical revision has a lot to answer for..I wouldnt have wanted to remain in a 1662 straightjacket but in the C of E at least itis the demise over the last 40 yrs of what might be called the PBk evangelical and PBk catholic ethos which seemed to me the bedrock of the Church which has disorientated it..plus ecomomic difficulties which have created a growing congregational feel to the whole thing.
A propos a more recent posting, I rather suspect an Abp of C shorn of some of his AC responsibilities would meet with a sigh of relief...if the job is an impossible one it is largely because of the fractious nature of the AC. What a miserable time +Rowan has had! We in the Canterbury diocese (UK) who have found him an inspiring teacher and pastor for us are very sad to see him go, and what he has had to put up with. Who on earth will want to take the job on!!
Perhaps we need to ponder Lambeth 1948 which talked of the provisional nature of the AC and its vocation to disappear..and ask whether we set off on the right trajectory in the late 1950's.
Perry Butler ( Canterbury ,England)

liturgy said...

Greetings

Hidden here, amongst the comments, is this insightful point from Perry Butler that I can echo in NZ.

I’m not so na├»ve to suggest that all our woes are caused by liturgical neglect, nor that all would be solved by liturgical renewal,

nor to confuse cause and effect (which are complexly intertwined)

but we clearly have lost trust in what we offer; instead, we flay around desperately trying to find new alternatives (often following commercial models in total disregard of this medium, so at odds with the gospel, becoming our message) and so end up with incessant bait-and-switch which fools few – and certainly not the perceptive young.

Shared spiritual discipline (Perry’s “bedrock of PBk evangelicals and PBk catholics”) is mocked as “ritualistic” and “liturgical fundamentalism” etc., even in comments on this site.

We have severed ourselves from historic Christianity in a way that our Reformers, even, would not recognise. Should the pendulum ever begin to swing the other way – it may be too late.

Christ is risen

Bosco

Shawn said...

"we flay around desperately trying to find new alternatives (often following commercial models in total disregard of this medium, so at odds with the gospel, becoming our message) and so end up with incessant bait-and-switch which fools few – and certainly not the perceptive young."

I have visited dozens upon dozens of churches in both Auckland and Christchurch, and it is the churches that Bosco is speaking of here (evangelical charismatic, contemporary worship, media savvy and non-prayer book) that are in fact growing and thriving, especially amongst the perceptive young. St Paul's in Auckland is one of the largest and fastest growing churches in the country, and has a very young congregation.
PB churches on the other hand are either stagnant or dying.

Outside of the mainline churches the story is the same. All of the large, growing, thriving churches are those that follow the model Bosco is criticising. Some of these churches have congregations numbered in the thousands, and are heavily filled by the young and young families.

So I have to question how much Bosco gets out and about and actually looks at what churches are growing, and what are dying because his analysis does not seem to reflect reality.

I do not mock shared spiritual discipline as "liturgical fundamentalism". I mock the fact that the PB is held up as the only way in which spiritual discipline can be shared when it is clear that PB churches are failing missionaly, and when those that insist on the PB then happily ignore Scriupture with regards to atonment theology and marriage. That is what I mean liturgical fundamentalism.

The PB has its place, though the current NZ version has serious problems, but a lack of PB worship is not even remotely the cause or symptom of our problems and certainly not the answer. Fifty years of theological and moral compromise by liberal leaders is a far more likely candidate.

Anonymous said...

"We have severed ourselves from historic Christianity in a way that our Reformers, even, would not recognise."

In more ways than one. Sexual ethics? Ministry?

Martin

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Bosco..i have just discovered this site vis links elsewhere. I think being a liturgical church is an essential part of anglican identity. I will keep my eyes on events in NZ. My mother now 98 and afflicted with dementia ,who I now care for, had a NZ penfriend in Dunedin.the corresponded for 62 yrs but never met. Lilith was a baptist at Hanover St Baptist Church and when I became rector of Bloomsbury I was delighted to find my near neighbour Barrie Hibbert at Bloomsbury Central Bap Church had been Pastor their and had known Lilith and her husband.,,,Perry

Anonymous said...

PS Bosco do u know Frank Senn's ( lutheran) Christian Liturgy Catholic and Evangelical..p676 onwards some very pertinent and wise words about Contemporary liturgical challenges re the unchurched.

liturgy said...

Greetings,

although Shawn recently promised to try and reply to actual comments, I, once again, struggle to recognise Shawn’s “Bosco”.

Shawn “mocks the fact that the PB is held up as the only way in which spiritual discipline can be shared”. Who is holding this up in this manner?

“It is the churches that Bosco is speaking of here (evangelical charismatic, contemporary worship, media savvy and non-prayer book) that are in fact growing and thriving… All of the large, growing, thriving churches are those that follow the model Bosco is criticising.” Really?! Is Shawn actually reading anything written here? The comments are a response to Peter Carrell’s post in which Peter is writing about “a congregation of no less than 2000 people”. Did you actually read this, Shawn? Ummm – what was the type of church that Peter was writing about?! “All of the large, growing, thriving churches are those that follow the model Bosco is criticising.”

The founder of what appeared to be a very large, thriving, youth-attracting community came and talked to me greatly concerned. He had just, for the first time, done careful statistical analysis on his large, young congregation. On average, he discovered to his horror, they stayed 18 months. And when they left, generally they did not go to another church, they left Christian church completely.

Which is the world’s largest Christian denomination? Which is NZ’s largest church-going denomination? What has been the shape of the majority of Christian worship throughout history?

Shawn’s “Bosco” should get out more! But should I? I’ve worshipped with underground Christians in China, with 5,000 young people at Taize for hours each day, for several weeks, with missionaries in the slums of South America, on a boat with 2,000 people on the Congo River, in Jerusalem, and in the depths of the Muslim-dominated Sahara. Etc.

May I rephrase Peter Carrell’s and others’ good question asked here repeatedly: depart from the Christian model of prayer and worship all you like – but by what will you determine whether the departure is authentic or not? Certainly one would struggle to call Cranmer or Luther as witness.

Christ is risen

Bosco

Peter Carrell said...

Perhaps we could all forswear to mock anything and focus on what are the things that make for great churches today. Some great churches (one measure being the large number of people who go which shows appreciation for what is offered) stick faithfully to the common prayer of the ages (i.e. the formal liturgies represented in the Roman Mass, NZPB 404, and the like). Others are finding other ways, perhaps through great music (think Hillsong in Sydney as one example), or profound preaching (think of the churches of John Piper, Tim Keller, and Rob Bell (who has recently moved to a writing and peripatetic preaching ministry)).

For Anglicans there is a special tension because those of us who are licensed clergy at the helm of a parish have vowed to used the authorised liturgies of the church. We may follow these liturgies with some flexibility, weave into them wonderful music (of any style) and provide the best preaching we can. But ultimately an Anglican service should have a character not quite found in Hillsong or in John Piper's church.

By the way, it is not liturgical fundamentalism to observe the obligations of Anglican licenses. It is a simple statement of fact.

Anonymous said...

I always thought being a liturgical Church was part of Anglican identity...and certainly it is this aspect that has been valued by converts from Non-conformity and evangelicals over the years.I completely agree with Peter about the character of Anglican services being different to Hillsong /Piper. There are some pertinent remarks p687+ of thatfine book by Frank Senn ( Lutheran) Christian Worship,Catholic and Evangelical. i esp liked his distinction between worship as enchantment and entertainment.I suspect at root is a sense of historical continuity.Perry Butler

liturgy said...

May I complement your good points, Peter, by reminding people that there are other ways of “measuring” a “great church”. The Anglican vision has generally included churches for, say, a worshipping community of 150ish (let’s not get distracted by the exact number – suffice to say smaller rather than bigger). A worshipping community clearly in every local area, sufficient to support one or two stipended church leaders, serving the local community, deeply pastoral, immersed in a growing relationship with God through Word and sacrament. I have written about this here http://liturgy.co.nz/small-church/833

And, yes, Perry, I have the book you mention. I wonder how many books on worship, and which ones, are read in the liturgical training, study, and formation in preparation for ordination here now…

Christ is risen

Bosco

Peter Carrell said...

Books, Bosco? As you know we only encourage reading blogs :)

Shawn said...

Bosco,

Given that I was responding to a very clear and specific comment you made I am not sure why you are confused.

The comment was:

"we flay around desperately trying to find new alternatives (often following commercial models in total disregard of this medium, so at odds with the gospel, becoming our message) and so end up with incessant bait-and-switch which fools few – and certainly not the perceptive young."


This comment was pretty clear, and I repeat that in terms of mission, traditional PB churches in Anglicanism seem to be failing and dying at an alarming rate, and churches like St. Pauls are thriving. If you want to find large numbers of young people and young families in Church, it is generally non-PB contemporary worship churches that are suceeding. And again I am talking about NZ Anglicanism, which is what my comment about "getting out more" meant. Because this pattern is clear in NZ.

Perhps you need to choose your words more carefully if you think your being misunderstood.

"The founder of what appeared to be a very large, thriving, youth-attracting community came and talked to me greatly concerned. He had just, for the first time, done careful statistical analysis on his large, young congregation. On average, he discovered to his horror, they stayed 18 months. And when they left, generally they did not go to another church, they left Christian church completely."

I was in one of those churches for several years (Grace Vineyard in Christchurch), and they had no problem keeping youth engaged and keeping them in church. In fact I would be hard pressed to remember when I have ever found a more deeply spiritual and disciplined group of youth. While I was on a GV men's camp I found that the entire youth group were back in CHCH praying and fasting for the weekend in support of us.

Some churches do struggle, but there can be many reasons for this. Lack of PB liturgy is not one of them.

"Which is the world’s largest Christian denomination?"

That would be the one that is rapidly losing ground in Latin America to Pentecostal churches. At least one Latin American country now has a majority Pentecostal population, and several others are fast approaching the same. So things are changing rapidly.

And things are changing rapidly here in NZ as well.

"What has been the shape of the majority of Christian worship throughout history?"

I am not arguing that we should abandon the general "shape" of Christian worship. But PB liturgy, while it may have been the majority form, has not nor ever been the only form, and more importantly, the issue is, is it any longer working as a vehicle for worship, and for allowing God's Spirit to work amongst His people? I would argue that Pentecostalism has made an important contribution and challenge to the older forms of worship, a challenge we should not ignore. That does not mean we adopt that model uncritically, nor abandon our own traditions.

But let me turn that question around. What has been the "shape" of majority Protestant theology since the Reformation?

Sola Scripture.


Now just a final point so I am not misunderstood myself.

I am NOT saying that we should abandon the PB or liturgical worship. I am also not saying that I have no respect for traditional forms of worship. I do. My first ever experience of church was in a Roman Catholic chapel, the Holy Cross Chapel in Chancery lane back in the 1980's when it was part of the RC charismatic renewal. In fact I took confirmation classes and the sacrament in the RC.

But I am saying that today Anglican parishes need a strong degree of freedom with regards to worship forms in order to adequately address their missional needs. Sometimes this may mean PB liturgy and sometimes not.

liturgy said...

Shawn, I feel little value in continuing this ping-ponging.

I continue to see little resemblance to the straw-man “Bosco” that you appear to find it necessary to create. I was involved in charismatic renewal long before the 80s that you are writing about, leading prayer groups of young people that numbered 150 members, leading music and worship nationally. I have long been advocating for a missional and emergent approach and value much in the Vineyard approach and have been writing about that quite recently.

I am thrilled to hear that statistical analysis show a perseverance within your Vineyard community. Only very recently another massive church in Christchurch at that end of the spectrum found that all except three of its massive teenage youth group had left by the time they were young marrieds a decade later.

It is not the either/or that you appear so insistent on – it is the both/and IMO of translating our inherited Christian tradition into our new context.

That you have not seen that done well in NZ Anglicanism is not a surprise to me (the real Bosco gets about a lot more than Shawn's "Bosco"). It is an indictment on the study, training, and formation of worship leadership in our church, and of the liturgical resources and approaches in our province.

So yes, we differ totally on what we think Anglican parishes "need".

Blessings

Bosco

Shawn said...

Bosco,

"I continue to see little resemblance to the straw-man “Bosco” that you appear to find it necessary to create."

I was simply reflecting on some of your own comments here. Perhaps blog forums are not the best place to discuss these things with the depth they deserve. I honestly did not think I was mis-representing you, nor that was I creating a strawman. My apologies if I have. For what its worth I have been in a fair degree of physical pain recently due to a damaged arm muscle. That and trying to get through first semester Koine Greek means I am not at my best. I think, out of respect for you that I will refrain from commenting on your posts, or at least asking more questions about what you actually mean first.

Ironically, at least on the worship/liturgy issue, your last post leads me to think we may be much closer in our views that I thought.

liturgy said...

Thanks, Shawn,

I hope your pain eases;
and blessings on your learning Greek. I greatly encourage people to learn the Biblical languages.

Blessings

Bosco