Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jerusalem or Antioch?

Just as there is a contrast between 'Jerusalem' (metaphor for faith, revelation, seminary, church) and 'Athens' (metaphor for philosophy, reason, university, world), so there is one between 'Jerusalem' and 'Antioch'. In the latter contrast Jerusalem stands for the church strongly connected to its heritage, conservative in thinking and traditional in values, and Antioch stands for the church facing its future in a new world of competing faiths and non-faiths, radical in thinking and with mission as the foremost of its values (further details in the Acts of the Apostles)!

We could also think of Antioch as the place where the first reformation of the church began. In Jerusalem a largely Jewish church worked out its identity in a Jewish environment. In Antioch the church sent out mission workers to the Gentile world with the result that the church became Jewish and Gentile, and developed an identity marked by distance from Judaism rather than inclusion within it. Increasingly I am understanding the twenty-first century as the time of a new reformation of the church (and particuarly of the Anglican Church to which I belong). The raging controversy over the Archbishop of Canterbury's promotion of sharia law (scarcely abated by subsequent attempts at clarification) actually has a huge amount in common with the unending controversy over sexuality issues. In both cases the church is wrestling with life in a changing world and seeking to find a way live it's life as a community among other communities. Questions posed in both controversies include, Can our community live at peace with other communities, and how? If our community is to relate to other communities what do we need to accommodate by way of values, beliefs, and customs?

Its the sense emerging that solutions from the past are inadequate for present challenges which supports the conclusion that this is a time of significant reformation. But what the church will look like post-reformation is somewhat unclear to me. Though I may just be a bear with a small brain! But, again, consider the controversies of sexuality and sharia. One is pushing the church to accommodate the global liberal culture of Western post-modern societies. The other is pushing the church to accomodate the global conservative culture of Islam. Can anyone predict what will emerge from that balancing act?

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