Tuesday, July 14, 2015

When will we have a Church of Aotearoa New Zealand?

Participating on Sunday morning past in the service of St Luke's in the City (Anglican), Christchurch, it was difficult not to reflect ecumenically ...

Currently, in the Knox Presbyterian church/hall complex, three distinct denominational congregations meet, joining together after their services for morning tea: the Knox congregation itself meets in their splendidly restored church, the Durham Street Methodist church meets in the Knox Hall and St Luke's Anglican meets in the Knox Chapel.

As a dyed in the wool Anglican I am the first to appreciate that our denominational distinctives are valuable and to be cherished. Were it to be proposed that the three congregations 'get over' their differences and merge into one large inner city church, I imagine myself being wholly sympathetic to those who metaphorically wept on my Anglican shoulder about what they would lose by doing so.

There is also the not insignificant treasure that each congregation has a community life of its own. Loss of community has its own griefs. No one would wish further grief on Christians in Christchurch post the quakes!

Nevertheless, I am going to ask the question of all our church(es') life in Aotearoa New Zealand, when are we going to form the 'Church of New Zealand' instead of being a series of Anglican/Presbyterian/Methodist/Baptist/Roman Catholic/etc churches in New Zealand?

What, after all, is the Presbyterian church in New Zealand but a distinctively Scottish version of the Reformed churches of Europe? The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is an English version of the moderately reformed Roman Catholic church. That's just to take up two of the transplanted churches from the northern hemisphere. While we have a reasonable flow of Scottish and English people migrating to NZ and, presumably, glad to find local versions of their respective mother churches, is that sufficient reason to continue to have Scottish and English churches in a country far away?

Is it God's will that Christianity in Aotearoa New Zealand is always a transplant?

Might God have a plan for a truly indigenous Christian church in these islands?

Should we be praying for a prophetic figure to lead us to a truly Kiwi church?

After all, it has been significant leaders whom God has used in past times to initiate new church movements and developments: Luther and Germany, Knox and Scotland, Cranmer and England, Wesley(s) and Methodism. Within Roman Catholicism, significant developments have taken place through the likes of Augustine, Francis (former and present!), Ignatius Loyola, Mother Teresa and John Paul II.

Of course the church is global and we should be at least slightly suspicious about attempts to localise the universal church in a Kiwi way. There is nothing intrinsically virtuous about being Kiwi.

On the other hand, most manifestations of the global church which are embedded in our churches are from other cultures and nations. There is nothing intrinsically superior in those cultures and nations, but an ingrained NZ deference often presupposes that what comes from overseas is better.

Why should differences between churches here be shaped by historic church divisions in Europe?

Why can't we have our own local disputes which determine who we are as churches and why we do what we do? (Mostly kidding with that question: God wants a united Aotearoa church!)

What do you think?

Should we be satisfied with the current state of ecumenicity in these islands?



13 comments:

Michael Reddell said...

The case for reunification of the church globally seems persuasive. If only it were possible. I'm less persuaded by the case for something distinctively NZ. It suggests that nationality/citizenship/residence is a more important uniting factor than the commonality implied by being part of the wider international Anglican, Baptist, or Presbyterian community of believers. Uniting domestically would imply a weakening of those global ties.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
We could be part of a global network of 'Churches of nations X, Y, Z'!
In some ways I think being part of a national church is an 'important uniting factor' since nation has a certain localness to it, just as, for the NT church, the localness of the churches of Corinth, Rome, Thessalonia, etc was important.
Nevertheless there are counter-examples which support your point, of (so to speak) nationalistic churches which focus more on local qualities than global unity. Examples which spring to my mind include the 'German' (i.e. Nazi aligned) church of the 1930s, as well as the 'Russian' v 'Greek' v' Romanian' Orthodox churches. (Sometimes for the latter there seems to have been an unhealthy collusion between church and state, which is a further danger of a national church).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Michael
We could be part of a global network of 'Churches of nations X, Y, Z'!
In some ways I think being part of a national church is an 'important uniting factor' since nation has a certain localness to it, just as, for the NT church, the localness of the churches of Corinth, Rome, Thessalonia, etc was important.
Nevertheless there are counter-examples which support your point, of (so to speak) nationalistic churches which focus more on local qualities than global unity. Examples which spring to my mind include the 'German' (i.e. Nazi aligned) church of the 1930s, as well as the 'Russian' v 'Greek' v' Romanian' Orthodox churches. (Sometimes for the latter there seems to have been an unhealthy collusion between church and state, which is a further danger of a national church).

Father Ron Smith said...

"We are already One Bread, One Body, for we all partake of the One Bread" - Who is Christ Jesus!

Much as is might be desirable Peter, as you here suggest, that we be of one mind, it seems that this might be impossible, at least, this side of the eschaton. In the meantime, we could try to embrace our differences, rather than deny them. The Spirit of God fills the whole of creation. We have no need to fear that the Christ of our Baptism will abandon us! For as long as the Presence of Christ is available to us - in whatever Tradition - He will not leave us!

Eric said...


If you're thinking about merging congregations, the inner city is the wrong place to look. Look at small towns where there are a few churches below critical mass.

If we merged all the protestant denoms a la Church of South India, we would surely divide again according today's divisions - theological outlook, worship style preferences, which promininent leader we identify with - and in a hundred years, those divisions might seem irrelevant in the face of their internal divisions at that time.

tachesterton said...

A unified national church was the original vision of Thomas Cranmer. He had no thought of starting the Anglican denomination worldwide. In his mind, the Church of England was the English version of what Calvin was doing in Geneva, Luther in Germany etc.

So this idea you're presenting is not something strange and non-Anglican, Peter. You might say it's been in our DNA since 1549.

Tim Chesterton
Edmonton, AB, Canada

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for comments!

Yes, my proposal is flawed.

But it's not as though the status quo is perfect :)

Pageantmaster said...

Brilliant.

I look forward to the start of Peter's Ecumenical Church of Anglicans in New Zealand [PECAN]

Glen Maxwell Young said...

Hi Peter,
We could start by recognizing the Doctrine of the Apostles and the Creeds.But unfortunately,PECAN sounds nuts to me.
Glen

Peter Carrell said...

Yes Glen but they are nuts worth believing in. If the apostles were alive today they would commend them to the churches. 😊

Jean said...

Well I did go to an ecumenical church in all but name - Baptists, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Catholics ..., and it was great and it was amazing how people just accepted each other's preferences. Some people were baptised as adults (full immersion or not), others had christenings for their kids, the RC's had an Admission to Communion, there was wine and grapejuice etc etc. The result simply came about because it was the only church in that community at that time and the people wanted to attend a local church.

On a nationwide scale, perhaps it would be more painless to crack a few nuts by working on a concept such as the 'Combined Churches of NZ". Whereby churches maintain individual admin and doctrine but work together more closely in practice and spirit. I mean already in my current community there is the combined churches food bank, the combined churches services at Easter, World Day of Prayer and Christmas. In a previous Parish in an Urban service we combined with interested churches in our suburb to run Alpha courses and outreach services. And there has already been nationwide efforts such as the Hope Project.

It would require an attitude of course of being a little less precious about the nuts in our basket and which additional nuts are added to which basket, as we all have different strengths, and focusing instead on just getting the Gospel of God's Church out to all nutters sorry nations.

Peter Carrell said...

Sounds like you have nutted out the important details, Jean!

Kurt said...

If the NZ Roman and Greek Churches also agree, it would be worth trying.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY