Saturday, May 23, 2009

Still thinking about our hui

A few more reflections are percolating through the filters of my mind.


In a Three Tikanga Church such as our own the role of culture is very important. With the best will in the world Pakeha culture (mostly European/N. American/Western in derivation) cannot refrain from dominating the shape and character of our church unless the cultures of Maori and Pasefika are structured to have equal opportunity to contribute to our life. Consequently our default mode as a church is to celebrate culture and to embrace ways in which the gospel affirms our respective cultures (which it does in many ways). But the gospel has always changed the cultures of its converts: before God no culture is perfect, all can be conformed to the righteousness of God, the gospel is 'good news' for all cultures. To what extent are we as a church in these islands also in a mode to critique our cultures?

In the context of the three Hui, this is a specific question about the culture shared among us concerning matters of human sexuality which (as I interpret it in its broad expression through the life of our church) endorses values such as tolerance, diversity, human fulfilment, personal choice, and the sacredness of each individual's journey through life while simultaneously refraining from exalting Christian tradition and Christian Scripture as it speaks to the working out of discipleship as sexual beings. (To be clear: I am not saying we are a church which ignores tradition and Scripture. But I am proposing that it is difficult to see signs which point to a strong desire to live under the authority of our tradition and Scripture. One sign is the difficulty we seem to have to embrace the concept - largely uncontroversial when placed against the whole history of theology - that Scripture is the Word of God written.)

Mission worked out through a Political Theology or a Pastoral Theology

One of the charges brought against the commitment of this church, indeed of the whole Communion, to ongoing conversation re human sexuality, is that it is a ploy by a liberal dominated hierarchy to wear down conservative opposition to change. I am firmly of the conviction that there is no 'ploy' at work, rather a genuine desire to ensure that the claim of the gospel to be a message to the whole world - a message of God's saving love to every person - is a claim which has integrity because the church excludes no group from its midst. That is, the mission of the church, because it is the mission of God, must necessarily offer a welcome to all without condition.

It is the next stage of this missional thinking which is causing controversy among us. Beyond the point of welcome, for instance, do we require repentance or not in order to (say) take up a role in the church? In New Testament times, to give an ancient example, some thought church members should repent of eating food offered to idols, others did not. In current times the knowledge that an officer of the church is also a Freemason can stir up intense debate with painful pastoral consequences. One of the matters which came up in my small group at the hui is the question of (so called) 'open table fellowship': is participation in the Lord's Supper open to all present at the service of Communion, or only to the baptised? (Intriguingly this question is one for which both liberals/progressives and conservatives are willing to affirm the former. Me? I am for the latter!!).

Keeping this post to reasonable length I'll simply conclude in this way: the challenge of what the church does with all who come to her, beyond the initial stage of welcome, is being driven forward in some quarters by a 'political theology' (emphasizing things such as human rights, rights of the baptized, changes to canons and liturgies, an ongoing history of liberation through slavery, women's roles, and, now, homosexuality) and in other quarters by a 'pastoral theology' (emphasizing the importance of finding a place for all in the church while remaining committed to the authority of Scripture and tradition). Obviously this is very sketchy ...

A question for the conservative part of our church is this: are we moving forward in the development of a pastoral theological response to the issues of our day? Sometimes it seems to me like we are not; that our intense focus on the upholding of orthodox theology overlooks the challenge of our mission to all. To put it a little bluntly: we could end up with an orthodox Anglican church which concomitantly says to gay and lesbian people, 'Do not come here, you are not welcome.'

How can we, like Jesus (John 1:17), be both gracious and truthful?

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