Wednesday, April 14, 2010

World Mission Society Church of God or New Apostolic Church?

I have a hidden agenda for this blog. It is to save world Anglicanism from itself. OK. That might be a bit grand, and the Communion certainly does not need any more grandstanders. My downwardly revised agenda, then, is to serve the Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. I think my church will be well served by belonging to something bigger than itself; a lively and faithful Anglican Communion meets that need. (So I offer thoughts about healthy sustainable life for the Anglican Communion). Our church will also be well served by growing and developing as a lively and faithful Anglican church. This is something I do not think can be taken for granted. Nor is it something which will sort itself out if we just do what we have always done before. No, we need to think carefully and creatively, and act boldly and biblically if we are to remain alive.

Coming recently to live in the city of Christchurch I have been shocked to find that a number of Methodist churches here have been put up for sale (Riccarton, Merivale, Bryndwr, Burnside, and, just in this week's Harcourts' Blue Book, the Burwood Uniting Church) or have been recently sold (Shirley). These sales go well beyond the occasional church building a denomination finds surplus to requirements from time to time (especially in the ever shifting dynamics of rural demography). No, these are parish churches in flourishing suburbs. These sales are a sharp reminder that a church can embark on the wrong strategy in response to the ever shifting changes in culture and society. As a child, for instance, I cycled many times past a healthy St David's Methodist Church in Burnside. More recently, just over twenty years ago, Shirley Methodist was a thriving neighbouring church to St Stephen's Shirley where I served my curacy. I do not know where Methodism in Christchurch has gone wrong, but my hunch is the general liberal theological embrace of this church in its training for ministry, and in its national leadership over recent decades has not served it well. (Tell me I am wrong?!).

I am conservative in theology by conviction, but I am also pragmatically deeply wary of liberal theology's tendency to diminish strong, lively, congregational life across regions and nations. Oh, yes, here and there in these islands there are lively church communities with a sure and strong commitment to liberal theology. But there are no Anglican or Catholic dioceses or regions for other churches in which liberal theology drives forward strong congregational life. Even in the most liberal of our NZ dioceses 95% of the largest parishes would be conservative in theological outlook. (For avoidance of misunderstanding: I am not dimissing liberal theology per se. I appreciate much learned from liberal theology, it offers insights I continue to be challenged by, and it has a role to play in the overall theological life of the church. But it is not a good theology to implement in the life of the church at parish level).

I believe it is imperative that the Anglican church here takes notice of what has happened to Methodism and resolves not to go the way they have gone.

Yes, there are many challenges facing Western Christianity, including Christianity in these islands; and being conservative is no guarantee of growth and development. But it remains the most fruitful way forward for the church.

There is a deep irony in some of the sales of these Methodist churches. This week the Christchurch Press (14 April, page C10) reports on the sales of some of these churches. The recession is biting deep, so even those churches next to major shopping centres have not sold to property developers. No, in several cases these churches have sold to other churches: Shirley to the World Mission Society Church of God (which seems pretty wacky), Burnside to the New Apostolic Church (not to be confused with the Apostolic Church), and Riccarton to a Korean congregation.

There is some irony here, methinks! Empty Methodist churches, possibly emptied through an over indulgence in liberal theology, are not replaced by some better version of liberal Christianity, nor taken over by other mainstream denominations. No, the new face of Christianity in NZ being expressed in these developments is variously conservative or wacky or populated by a new wave of immigrants. Is that a double failure on liberal theology's part to successfully engage with NZ society in recent decades!?

One more question about the future of our church in these islands: God building his church in NZ seems to have had no great loyalty to Methodists. Do Anglicans have any reason to think God will be any more loyal to us?


Anonymous said...

You may need to establish that growth correlates with truth and positive relationship with God - you imply this, but then point out that the growing churches are wacky. Also you have previously, on this blog, indicated that NZ''s most conservative diocese is not growing but losing members, while more liberal dioceses are growing.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous
I distinguish between a church which happens to have bought a Methodist property and which, as described on the internet, appears to be 'wacky' (and may or may not be growing in numbers of adherents) and the observable tendency in NZ mainstream churches that the larger churches are conservative not liberal.

I cannot recall myself saying on this blog that any of our more liberal dioceses are growing in numbers. It is true that our most conservative diocese has been declining in numbers a little in recent years, but I also said in this post that being conservative does not guarantee growth.

There may or may not be a correlation between truth and growth in numbers. My point here, perhaps obscured, is slightly different: there appears to be evidence that a widespread commitment to liberal theology leads to decline (whether or not it is true) and a widespread commitment to conservative theology contributes to growth, or, at least stability (whether or not it is true). I happen to be convicted that conservative theology is, broadly speaking, true. I acknowledge that many in our churches do not share that conviction. Where they have control of church policy it will be interesting to see what happens in the future!

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, the correlation you have been making here between liberal theology and declining parishes cannot be easily evaded, although it has often been asserted rather triumphantly by conservatives who may be avoiding their own challenges. I have wrestled with this for years, because as you acknowledge there are issues of truth involved as well as the pragmatics of church growth.

For me, the only answer I can embrace with integrity is that liberal Christians have to rediscover what it means to be truly evangelical (as opposed to conservative). That is, we need to rediscover the power of the gospel we preach, which is the unchanging power of Christ, our great liberator. I believe that what our whole church could do with most, liberals and conservatives alike, in this year of reading Luke, is a new experience of the Spirit poured out on us all.

Anonymous said...

Universalism does undercut the desire to share the Gospel and to preach for commitment, for if there is no judgment to come, why change your life? The Church then becomes just a second rate social service.
But some churches are culturally sclerotic as well - musically and liturgically dull, and unable to relate to younger people.
Other people live 'on the edge', afflicted by drugs, depression and chaotic lives, and maybe the 'wackier' end of churches can reach them with loud music, strong relationships and deliverance ministry. Just askin'...
But the big challenge in NZ is surely tapping into the energy of its Asian immigrants. The much reviled Diocese of Sydney has clear plans for evangelizing Chinese and other new Aussies. What's NZ Anglicanism doing?
Again, just askin...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard: spot on!

Hi Outis: I know of no official strategy nationwide to reach Asians; but we have at least one Chinese Anglican Mission (Wellington), and we have a keen interest in reaching Asians in the city of Auckland.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Peter - Chinese people (esp. students) are very responsive to the gospel in many countries.
If Anglicanism lacks a strategy, it's not likely there will be many Anglicans among one of the fasting growing demographics in NZ society.
Celebrating a community's food, language, art and customs and pointing to fulfillment in Christ has long been a good approach. The same is happening, though on a smaller scale, among the Iranian diaspora, and Afghans. The church will only grown through forging relationships and building a community of love and teaching a message of transformation throguh grace.
In any case, we are certainly approaching (or at) a crossroads in Anglcian Communion life and realignment, as the letters from Egypt and the Indian Ocean and the gathering in Singapore indicate. The 80% of Anglicans in the Global South are showing the way.
With prayers for all you are seeking to do.

Anonymous said...

Hmm Wacky does not begin to touch on the reality of what is going on within the Shirley premises.
This group is a Cult no two ways about it. I have a family member sucked into it, she is no longer the sister I was bought up with she is a shell of her former self, a puppet on a string paying as much money as she can afford for every dollar brings her an extra blessing. They use mind control tactics and love bombing to coerce people they then pressure the weak until they give themselves over then once they have them, they train them shake them down send them to Korea and shake them down again all the while teaching false doctrine (the absolute truths as they put it) They return to New Zealand after extensive and intensive brainwashing a different person/people, They begin cutting family and friends out of their lives(because it is not godly to associate with non members or anyone for that matter who will question their teachings)
It is a real shame that a good church with moral values has given way to such a destructive cult. It is also a shame that said cult is parked right across the road from not only a busy mall full of young impressionable students but it is situated right across the road fro Shirley intermediate school and right next to that is Shirley boys high school across the road from that is Marion college... its like lambs to the slaughter. This place is more than a "wacky" Church it is a Cult... I ask you, what other church do you know of with 6ft high fences and security cameras?

Anonymous said...

Hello all,

I would like to suggest that you raise awareness in your community about this cult. Maybe organize a protest? This cult is VERY destructive! They rip apart families and marriages! The only way to prevent this from happening to the members of your community is to make them aware of what the group REALLY believes. The group believes that a dead Korean man is the second coming of Jesus and that a woman living in Korea is the "mother god". Their motive is to make as much money as possible of of their brainwashed members! Please visit and for more info.