Monday, June 14, 2010

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba's Refreshing Approach

Having finally read the whole of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba's address to the USPG Conference in the UK last week, here are some excerpts worth a careful read (IMHO). The whole (after introducing it via summation) is here.

Gospel and Culture

"No-one, nowhere, is without culture. All of us find ourselves in cultures of one sort or another, and the gospel has a message of both judgement and hope for each one. It is only dependence on the Spirit’s guiding that will enable us to hold each up to the searing light of Christ, and to know what it is we may affirm, and what we must challenge.

Even where there is much to affirm, we will generally want to do this through a recontextualisation within the perspectives of life in Christ. Or, to put this in the language of Scripture, we will want to ensure it is transferred from the dominion of darkness, to the kingdom of light (Col 1:13), and that it is understood from within that perspective of light and life. What I mean is that we must make clear that we uphold what is good and godly, for reasons that are good and godly. Often we may not want to affirm the assumptions and motives behind practices of contemporary societies, even though we may support the practices themselves.

It can be helpful to speak of ‘baptizing culture’. In doing so, we recollect that baptism means being united with Christ through dying to the old life and being reborn in him. So even where our faith finds expression in ways that align with surrounding cultures, we expect there to be a radical dying to the underlying assumptions of that culture and a rebirth into new life where Jesus, and Christ-likeness, reign."

Interpreting Scripture

"We must sit with Scripture before us. We must bring to bear all that we have learnt from two millennia of tradition, the history of God at work among his people and in his church. And – being Anglicans, and wedded to the primacy of Scripture, interpreted through tradition and reason! – we must then use all the skills that reasoning offers. This is the reasoning of the wisdom, understanding, discernment by which the Holy Spirit helps us find Christ-shaped, redemptive and life-giving answers. These answers may appear different on the surface, but on a deeper level, they will be coherent with each other and with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is the vital point – Jesus Christ is the standard for discerning the path between authentic cultural expression and flawed syncretism; between ensuring we do not quench the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19), and yet nonetheless properly testing what we believe may be the Spirit’s leading. As St John writes in his first letter, we recognise the Spirit in the confession of Jesus Christ incarnate (1 Jn 4:1-2). Orthodox Christology, orthodox life in the Spirit, and orthodox praxis, all go together, whatever the cultures we find ourselves in – and our ability to recognise this in one another is what holds us together in our different expressions of gospel truth.

This is a profound truth. It is fundamental in helping us discern between acceptable diversity, and unacceptable deviation. It is what helps us in our vocation to ‘make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ when we wrestle with the really difficult questions (Eph 4:3)."

Unity amidst Diversity on Human Sexuality

(After characterising the Church of South Africa as a mix of Global South and Global North)

"Nonetheless, we still hold together – and are managing to do so over human sexuality.

It is well-known that within our Province, and within our Synod of Bishops itself, one can find pretty much the whole range of views on human sexuality that are found within the global Anglican family. This ranges from seeing Mary Glasspool’s longstanding lesbian relationship as no impediment to her suitability for consecration, through to membership of the Fellowship of Confession Anglicans.

This is a live issue within our Province also, since South Africa now allows for civil partnerships between people of the same gender. In response, and though we are by no means of a single mind, we continue to affirm that the marriage of Christians is between a man and a woman, and that clergy who are not married should be celibate; and we do not allow clergy to officiate at civil unions or to bless them.

We are also considering pastoral guidelines for the consequences and questions that civil partnerships raise for ministry within our parishes. Do we welcome people in such partnerships in our congregations? Should their children attend Sunday School? What if they seek baptism for their children? What if those children in their teens seek baptism and confirmation for themselves? And what do we say to the parents of those who enter civil unions, who may be overwhelmed by confusion and conflicting emotions?

These questions also prompt us to think more deeply about the essence of marriage. It is not solely the legitimating of genital acts, but sometimes our discussions of polygamy and of same sex relationships seem to reduce it to little more than this. Therefore all this is no light or easy matter to us.

When we meet – as, for example, the Bishops do twice yearly – we feel sharp, sharp, pains and great distress when, as inevitably is the case, we are called to consider developments around these issues. But we are united in this: that none of us feels called to turn to another and say ‘I no longer consider you a Christian, a brother in Christ, a member of the body of Christ’. None of us says ‘I am no longer in communion with you.’"

Resurrection and Redemption for and in the Church

"But resurrection comes. Fr Michael invited us to a service of thanksgiving: not only that his life was spared; but that out of the great evil perpetrated against him, God by his grace is bringing a far greater and more lasting good. For Fr Michael set up and runs the Institute for the Healing of Memories which conducts significant work among victims of violence and torture all around the world. As he says himself, this ‘is not to say that I will not always grieve what I’ve lost … Yet I believe I’ve gained through this experience. I realise that I can be more of a priest with no hands than with two hands.’ Fr Michael is a living embodiment that walking the path of Jesus Christ opens the possibility for God to take all that is destructive or broken, and transform and transfigure it, and bring a good that is far greater than what went before.

This is the redemption that we seek for our Communion. Therefore we must go forward, unafraid to bear our pain honestly as we keep journeying with Christ, and seeking his mind for us at each step of the way. This is our experience in Southern Africa. Looking back, we see God’s grace in the painful struggle against apartheid, that not only threatened to divide the church, but was for many a life and death matter. Against those experiences we find it hard to understand how human sexuality has become such a touchstone of faith, and mark of fellowship or enmity within the Anglican Communion.

Yet today, especially in what I have experienced within our Synod of Bishops, what counts is not the past we shared in adversity; but rather it is the continuing sensing of Christ in and among us, in the pain of our divisions, which holds us together, through our suffering – confident in the resurrection. And so we dare to join together in the prayer of St Paul, who said ‘I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in death if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Phil 3:10,11)."

Jesus is the Standard for Synods and Communion

"All this goes back to what I said earlier about Jesus being our standard. If in our Synod of Bishops we did not see Christ in one another – and if we did not agree on the central issues of who Jesus is and of the salvation that he brings – it would be another matter. But we do. And so our differing views on human sexuality therefore take second place alongside the strength of this overpowering conviction of Christ among us. As long as we know unity in Christ in this way, human sexuality is not, and cannot be, a church dividing issue.

This is why our Synod of Bishops said last September ‘we remain committed to upholding the bonds of unity with one another, as we journey together through the difficult questions that confront the worldwide Anglican Communion. Differences of opinion are inevitable, schism is not.’ Therefore our heartfelt prayer is that the Anglican Communion will also find ways of continuing to journey, even in pain, together – sharing in both suffering and resurrection hope."

Responsibility for Introducing Indaba to the Communion

"Faced with all this, my reason for introducing the concept of Indaba into the Anglican Communion (and yes, I was the guilty party on the Lambeth Design Group!) was to help us reconnect with more gospel-shaped approaches, that better reflect theologies around the work of the Spirit, and the body of Christ. I believe it can powerfully enhance our traditional ways of doing business."

A Challenge to Certain Approaches to Current Issues

"In these circumstances, I find myself returning to the words of St Paul, when he warned the Corinthians that not everything that is lawful is necessarily helpful (1 Cor 6:12). St Paul writes that even when we believe our understandings, our actions, to be justifiable and correct, we can – and sometimes should – choose not to pursue them, while that is to the greater benefit of the whole body of Christ. Yet this runs so counter to so much of today’s culture, in which we are far more conscious of our so-called rights, and our freedom to exercise them to the full."

No comments: