Wednesday, February 4, 2015

ACANZP missing self-examination and repentance as it celebrates?

Wellington theologian Peter Stuart's ever gentle provocation has been drawn to my attention.

Writing in Taonga Peter observes a missing element in our celebrations of the bi-centenary of the gospel here in Aotearoa New Zealand:

"to what extent have we proud Anglicans been the soft underbelly of the Christian Church in this country?  
We are stewards of the Gospel, and like all stewards, we are accountable.
In our Anglican commemorations of 200 years of Christian presence in New Zealand, I have missed any call to collective self-examination and repentance.
We rightly seek to speak unwelcome truths to those in secular power Yet as we enter the third century of Christian mission in this country, do we not need to face, on our knees before God, unwelcome truths about our own collective failures?
So yes, thanksgiving for all we discern of grace-filled witness since 1814 – but surely also a discreet Anglican modicum of repentance – the General Confession as well as the General Thanksgiving. For only then can we be renewed for authentic mission, and face the next century of Christian presence here with hope that is truly Gospel-based.
Lent starts soon. Its first reading, Joel 2:12-18, would be a good place to begin the journey afresh."

His point is well made. It is an unexceptional truth that ACANZP is now a long way from its evangelical beginnings.

Will we collectively listen to what the Spirit is saying through this prophet?

PS The chances are we will spend more time in self-examination if we are sent a rates bill!


Father Ron Smith said...

How, now, Peter, after the event - described by Peter Stuart, organised by ACANZP to celebrate 200 years of Mission at the Gathering in Oihi Bay - would you suggest our Churches collectively express its penitence for your and (Peter Stuart's) perceived shortfall in Evangelical enterprise in Aotearoa?

Have you, either or both, thought of some corporate liturgical expression of regret that could be enacted openly in parishes and ministry units around the country and in Polynesia? And would that be for Pakeha parishes only, or would everyone bear part of the blame?

Or is there some other point you both wish to make about our failure to make Christ known in these Islands?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
In part, Peter S is partly regreting a lack in the December events but charting (it seems to me) the possibility that in the year that follows, we collectively do some soul searching and changing of our ways.

It might or might not be helpful to do that liturgically.

I am publishing a signpost to the article because our church, especially once Selwyn got going, lost its evangelical and Maori foundation in favour of a middling, settler church.

Given the general sidelining of evangelical/evangelistic organisations such as CMS and Church Army from any great sense that they are the mainstream or main road our church desires to follow, it is reasonable to ask about our church's commitment to evangelism, to gospel proclamation, to a vision of converting the nation.

But you are welcome to disagree with me, and I am sure Peter S does not mind either.

liturgy said...

This call to self-examination and repentance dovetails well with your questioning whether we have the luxury to be Anglican, Peter.

I would press beyond your wondering about us picking up on some observable traits around the Christmas season to, with there being no Christmas season in what I would regard as being normative (the Early Church), that not being part of the essence at all.

Our own NZ Anglican Church has recently put much energy into changing when seasons begin and end, and has got itself into such a muddle now the lectionary booklet it publishes is increasingly incoherent and incomprehensible.

If which candle to light first, and whether to wear a black or red chimere are our Anglican distinctiveness then most certainly “we need to worry less about Anglican distinctives and be more anxious for gospel living”.

But if Anglican distinctiveness is the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, I might not be in such a hurry to worry less about it.

I was all with Peter Stuart until he said, “until recently, the Anglican Church has been the largest denomination”. Self-examination requires honesty – and that includes statistical honesty. My guess would be that Roman Catholicism in this country has been three or more times the size of Anglicanism for decades now. Repentance from our self-importance might follow.

Returning to the Christmas season: less than half of our Anglican parishes advertised Christmas services in newspapers, less than a quarter provided Christmas service times online, I saw parishes where their notice boards didn’t even mention it. The majority of church-going Anglicanism in this country is an in-the-know club. If the non-regularly-churchgoing majority of those who call themselves Anglican and make up the bulk of “the largest denomination” even wanted to go to the clubhouse at Christmas (even allowing for our extended season now until February 2), most would not be able to discover when the clubhouse was open.

If being evangelical is too much to hope for straight away (in a world where most Anglicans know neither of, nor care about, the General Thanksgiving nor the General Confession), how about starting with How to be a church 101?



Peter Stuart said...

Bosco, 'Honesty' was a rather unkind word, especially when you yourself go on to 'guess'. I was in fact accurate, as I was referring to census stats - the change occurs recently, between 2006 and 2013, when Anglicans give way to Roman Catholics as the largest denomination. (I agree that in terms of reasonably active church membership that change occurred earlier - when, it would be difficult to establish.)
And however we define 'recent', the fact remains that Anglican Church numbers and proportion have steadily declined while 'no religion' numbers and proportion have shot up. We need to ask seriously and persistently what the link is (if any) between those two trends, and take responsibility before God for what we may find. The liturgical ignorance and ineptness which you and I both lament is probably more symptom than significant cause of our malaise.

liturgy said...

I am at a loss, Peter (Stuart), at your criticism of my saying “self-examination requires honesty”. I stand firmly by that statement. And totally disagree with your comment that requiring honesty on the part of our church in our self-examination is “unkind”. [It is certainly IMO no more “unkind” than your own good call for self-examination and repentance!]

The reason why I have to go on to “guess” the number of times Roman Catholicism is bigger than Anglicanism is not in conflict with my call for honesty but actually a result of the lack of our honest self-examination.

An honest self-examination requires proper statistical analysis; until then it is merely a “guess” that church attendance is declining. There may indeed be a correlation between the state’s census statistics and church attendance, but until we do the analysis honestly it could be perfectly possible for a state’s census figures, of those who happen to tick the Anglican box, to show a decline whilst church attendance is increasing. Similarly, it could be perfectly possible for a state’s census figures to show an increase whilst church attendance is decreasing.

My mentioning of the liturgical points, as I indicated, was in response to another of Peter Carrell’s posts, however your contention that “liturgical ignorance and ineptness …is probably more symptom than significant cause of our malaise” – once again, is purely a “guess” on your part. In our lack of transparently honest statistical self-examination we have no evidence of your suggested line of probable causality. I am just as justified in suggesting that the quality of our training and formation of our leadership is significantly responsible for the malaise you delineate. As a church we have no statistical information on the training, study, and formation of our leadership. Until honest self-examination shows otherwise, I will continue to hold that the quality of our worship is part of the cause of our decline, not, as you suggest, merely a symptom.