Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Anglican Apostolicity (2)

Our church has a formal title, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, which is, to be frank, a bit of a mouthful.

A great alternative (and used on the cover of our modern prayer book) is Te Haahi Mihinare (the missionary church).

Comments on my previous post on Anglican Apostolicity rightly reminded me that apostolicity is about preaching the gospel and founding new churches as much as it is about faithfulness to what the apostles taught.

This suggests that "Anglican Apostolicity" concerns both how we preserve and hand on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (the Doctrine of Christ, according to our constitution) and how we grow and develop the church via proclamation of the gospel.

From this perspective we could argue that Anglican apostolicity has a lot going for it. The strengths of Eastern Orthodoxy as an apostolic church, for instance, have arguably not translated well into missionary work around the globe. (By contrast the Catholic and Anglican churches have good track records spreading the gospel and planting new churches in many lands beyond commencement points in Europe).

Of course some historians of Western Christian mission would say of both Anglican and Roman Catholic churches that bishops have often been an impediment to missionary work (e.g. resisting initiatives by laypersons and priests). Here in Te Haahi Mihinare, CMS missionaries and the fledgling Te Haahi Mihinare were trucking along pretty fine without a bishop and when one turned up, George Augustus Selwyn, there were plenty of awkward moments which followed.

We might further make a specifically Anglican self-critical point by observing that despite the English Reformation being a movement to renew the apostolic faith of the church by sheering off medieval accretions, there was absolutely no apostolic impulse to new missionary work. That would only come later with the likes of the Wesleys' preaching in America and the evangelical renewal of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries spawning the Church Missionary Society. Later still the Anglo-Catholic revival also led to new mission work outside of England.

So, with that very potted history in the above paragraphs, we see that apostolicity is a desirable quality in the church which in practice is not easy to achieve. Here is zeal to preserve the apostolic teaching but little concern for apostolic mission. There is motivated mission in the footsteps of the apostles with little concern to preserve and promote that mission via introduction of bishops as successors to the apostles. Over there are bishops with a profound sense of their continuity with the apostles but with little vision for preaching the gospel.

Anglican apostolicity, in other words, is a precious but often fragile treasure.

How might we strengthen our apostolicity for the rigours of the 21st century?

Another post is coming ...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Anglican Apostolicity? (1)

I've been challenged to think about "apostolicity" recently (via an article that I am holding back for the time being).

I understand "apostolicity" to be the characteristic of the church in which

(1) it  is faithful to what the apostles taught

(2) it proclaims the gospel the apostles proclaimed

(3) it continues the ministry of the apostles, that is the ministries of teaching and preaching the truth of Jesus Christ and founding churches based on that truth.

Another way of putting this is that the church is apostolic when it continues what the apostles did and said in order to enlarge (through church planting) and maintain the church of Jesus Christ.

The question of "apostolicity" generally arises because when we think "church" we are invited to think what "church" means. Can it mean whatever we make of it? Is it bound to mean what it has always meant? (If so, why?) Is some kind of continuity (apostolicity), comprehensiveness (catholicity), constraint (holiness) and community (unity) critical to church being authentically church?

The question particularly arises when as church we consider making decisions which push against, if not break through the "unity, apostolicity, catholicity, holiness" of the church, or, if you prefer, break through the continuity, comprehensiveness, constraint and community of the church.

Alternatively the question of apostolicity might arise when a teaching pushes against the same boundaries of what it means to be the church. In the letter to the Ephesians in Revelation 2:1-7, we read:

"I know you that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. ... But ..." (2bc, 4a)

Even at the end of the first century, the question of a true or a false apostleship was encountered by the church. (I included the "but" at the beginning of verse 4 as a reminder that when a church has rounded up and shipped out false apostles it is not immune to the Lord's judgment as to it's true spiritual health!).

Now apostolicity has some variations in emphases as different Christians in different traditions have reflected on what apostolicity means. Some place emphasis on content of the faith and its continuity: we are apostolic when and only when we continue to the content of the faith of the apostles. Others emphasise the leadership aspect of apostolicity: we are apostolic when we continue the office of the apostles (i.e. via bishops). On this emphasis, the content of the faith also matters: bishops are chosen who will maintain the teaching the apostles and lead church's the proclamation of the gospel.

Naturally, Anglicans have the best of all apostolic worlds [ :) ].

Revved up by the Reformation we value the (re-formed) content of the faith once delivered and we refused to rid ourselves of bishops. But that claim (made slightly in jest, slightly in seriousness) is not likely to cut much ice with three major alternative views on apostolicity.

The Orthodox propose that they have the purest adherence to the apostles: bishops, strict adherence to (genuinely universal, undivided church) ecumenical councils' interpretation of the apostles' teaching, and continued use of the first Scripture of the apostles (the Old Testament in Greek).

Roman Catholics propose that they have the safest adherence to the apostles: bishops who teach what the apostles teach and a bishop of the bishops (pope) to secure that teaching by both preventing heresy gaining ground (e.g. ability to sack any bishop around the globe who steps out of theological line) and by only promulgating new teaching after a long, careful, well-tested process of review (possibly taking centuries), including an assurance that the whole (Roman) church is united behind the new teaching.

Reformed churches (in the sense of those churches formed during the Reformation and subsequently (e.g. Methodists) but who eschew bishops) propose that bishops are as often the problem as they are the solution to strengthening apostolicity. They would point out to Anglican and Lutheran churches that individual "rogue" bishops are not easily silenced; and ask of the Roman church, what if the Pope goes rogue?. It is happened. Some say it is happening. I digress!

Although I am not personally aware of what a "Reformed" critique of Orthodoxy might look like, I can imagine it might point to the divisions within Orthodoxy, including the division between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox as signs that a claim to purity of adherence to the apostles is no guarantee of unity of adherence: patriarchs and bishops can get in the way. Instead, the Reformed approach to apostolicity, as I understand it, emphasises the content of apostolic teaching, and permits all and sundry to advance it, defend it and debate it in order that individual heretics are efficiently condemned and/or sidelined (with no need to pay respect to their episcopal office let alone to their professorial office) while other champions of apostolicity are widely praised and their writings propagated.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent = Coming? Yeah, nah.

Heaven meets earth. Three cricket tests being played around the world simultaneously. Advent celebrates heaven meeting earth as Jesus comes to dwell among us and comes again and again to live in his church through the Spirit and will come again as Lord and Judge in the Second Coming.

Yes, Advent = coming, in multivalent ways.

Nah, Advent should not be thought of in terms of "coming". A soft and gentle word which fails to do justice to what happens when Jesus enters our sphere.

Here is an arguably better word for understanding Advent: disruption.

I understand that "disruption" is a bit of vogue word these days, e.g. in commerce, if one wants to make money, one must "disrupt" the market with a new product. Trump and Brexit are disruptions to the "usual way of doing business."

Yesterday, preaching on the Advent 1 lectionary readings (Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44), I was drawn to the word "disruption." Jesus did not just come into the world, he disrupted it. The suddenness of the Second Coming will be a disruption.

Perhaps one question for the church to ponder this Advent is whether the Christ who comes and comes again in the church means the church is itself a disruption in the world?

Some would say we are blandly quiescent, passive without any aggression ...

Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump is just another swamp dweller

Yes. Back to Trump. But sometimes Anglicanism takes back place to the future of the world.

So, just before you start writing your comment, there is some good news about Trump!

He is walking back a few positions and he is finding some reasonably good folk to fill his cabinet. Likely he will be a better president than some of us fear.

But this is what makes me mad about Trump.

It turns out that he is just another swamp dweller, i.e. politician doing what politicians do.

Read this verbatim interview in the New York Times. Put it together with the folk he is reaching out to (such as Governor Haley and Mitt Romney). Essentially Trump is admitting he said one thing on the campaign trail and now he is saying another thing after winning.

That is two-faced. That is lying in order to gain the prize.

He was very, very rude about Haley and Romney.

Yes, Romney was rude about Trump. But Romney is not claiming to be an "anti-politician."

Note also in that interview that Trump is claiming that as President he is beyond conflict of interest over his continuing business dealings.

If that is not swamp dwelling it is troughing.

Trump is just another politician and we should have expectations of him that are consistent with that.

The good news is that politicians do some good and we can expect that of Trump.

But let us not delude ourselves that everything is going to be just as he campaigned for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hui to change to the world?

On Monday I participated in a hui of local Christians, called by our local ecumenical network Te Raranga. Our focus was on bicultural relations. It was an absorbing day through powhiri, mihi and korero (personal welcome, personal speeches introducing ourselves, discussion). (A highlight was the mihi of our local Destiny Church pastor, who powerfully reminded us that, whatever we think of the recent Brian Tamaki statement connecting quakes with God's judgment, Destiny is having a powerful impact on the lives of Maori men.)

Our witness to the world as a city was a powerful theme of the day in the context of Maori and Pakeha speaking about what has broken in our Treaty-founded relationships in the past and what can be repaired. Christians in Christchurch are relating well together. Churches are working together. (Not perfectly, room for improvement!) Unity between churches and across cultures is a witness to the gospel of reconciliation.

Is this our time to speak to the heart of Aotearoa NZ in order to foster unity over division? Is this our nation's time to speak to the Trump/Brexit world about human unity rather than division?

Someone observed that we are not in an era of change but in a time of change of era. Will our world divide and fracture or reunite and heal? The gospel drives us in only one of those directions!

As a group we do not know what our next step will be but we are listening to Wairua Tapu (Holy Spirit).

A plea, to local Anglicans reading this. There was only one Anglican present at this hui ... could we find a little bit more energy for ecumenical engagement?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Church witness within Kaikoura itself

Lovely to read here of an open air, well-attended, ecumenical church service in Kaikoura yesterday.

Meanwhile too much happening in my life to post in depth. Lots of travelling and long - but worthwhile - meetings ...

Friday, November 18, 2016

This should be the NZ church story of the week [Updated]

Most Kiwis know by now that the biggest church news story of the week concerns Brian Tamaki/Leviticus/quakes/gyas/punishment. That is a pity for all sorts of reasons, including the petition to stop Destiny church being counted as a charity (think: flow on effects, if that happened). Sometimes it is best to fight back against this sort of thing with wit (thank you, Civilian). It can also be useful to write something (as I have been asked to do). Mark Keown (Laidlaw College) has already blogged here.*

No, not that story. I reckon the biggest church news story of this week should be this story, from the Awatere Valley (H/T Taonga). The church in that district has had an amazing "counter-secular" influence for many decades now, under a succession of cracker ministers (and I am not saying that just because they have been great mates!)

So, hats off to Rachel Westenra and the diligence with which she serves as a parish nurse in a genuinely ecumenical role.

Meanwhile many Christians are serving quietly and inauspiciously throughout Marlborough, Kaikoura and North Canterbury.

*UPDATE: This article reminds us of more serious matters in the religious sphere of public speech in NZ. It has been pointed out to me that BT made a connection between quakes and judgment but did not stir the quakes into action. This imam is stirring up something potentially serious ...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Jesus on Trump?

So life is crazy busy this week, long story and I won't give the short version, save to mention that quakes are part of it. No progress on my "apostolicity" post. But here is a quick post. Reading Luke 19:11-28 the other day, I was struck by resonances in the story with the election of Donald Trump as US president AND the reports coming out of Washington/New York of who is in favour, out of favour, in favour then out of favour (etc) re forming the new government. Oh, and reports of people not wanting Trump as their king president!

Jesus, sort of, knew the story of Trump as a perennial story of royalty, grants of favour, expectations and days of reckoning and revenge. Yes, Jesus made it his story of the kingdom, but today, read it as a story resonating with the crazy reports coming out of the citadels of forthcoming US power ...

11 As they were listening to this, he went on to tell a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 
12 So he said, "A nobleman went to a distant country to get royal power for himself and then return. 
13 He summoned ten of his slaves, and gave them ten pounds, and said to them, "Do business with these until I come back.' 

14 But the citizens of his country hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, "We do not want this man to rule over us.' 
15 When he returned, having received royal power, he ordered these slaves, to whom he had given the money, to be summoned so that he might find out what they had gained by trading. 
16 The first came forward and said, "Lord, your pound has made ten more pounds.' 
17 He said to him, "Well done, good slave! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small thing, take charge of ten cities.' 
18 Then the second came, saying, "Lord, your pound has made five pounds.' 
19 He said to him, "And you, rule over five cities.' 

20 Then the other came, saying, "Lord, here is your pound. I wrapped it up in a piece of cloth, 
21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a harsh man; you take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.' 
22 He said to him, "I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 
23 Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.' 
24 He said to the bystanders, "Take the pound from him and give it to the one who has ten pounds.'
25 (And they said to him, "Lord, he has ten pounds!') 
26 "I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 

27 But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.' ""

Monday, November 14, 2016

Real earthquakes strike NZ, again

Much political comment around the globe about Trump and Brexit "earthquakes" but last night, 12.03 to 12.06 by my bedside clock, a major quake, 7.5, struck NZ, about 100kms north of Christchurch. Here the quake wasn't violent but it went on for a very long time.

The way the faultlines of our country work, the damage of the quake spread north and north-eastwards from its epicentre, devastating Kaikoura, damaging Wellington and many other places.

And, two people are dead. These are the real earthquakes of life!

Meanwhile, slightly distracted re my next post on apostolicity ...

Thursday, November 10, 2016

God has judged America [UPDATED]

Notwithstanding a priest's recent comment that the earthquakes in Italy recently are a judgment of God re The Issue, I think God's judgment on this world is best discerned in the course of human history. The decisions we make have consequences, and the consequences come to pass in the course of time. In Paul's repeated words in Romans 1:24, 26, 28, "God gave them up ..." we find that God does not so much visit us with punitive earthquakes as refuse to rescue us from what we have foolishly chosen to do.

For an America which has given itself over to the debauchery and quackery (reality TV) which passes for Hollywood entertainment, which has rorted the political and financial systems in favour of the 1%, and more recently doubled down its relentless critique of the Christian gospel, God has given them up in this election to the perfect expression of 21st century American culture.

The rest of the world is under this judgment too, the pain of it almost certainly to be felt in economic strife and stress, if not in many more wars or even one big WW3.

Yesterday, NZ time 9 November = US 8 November, our morning office OT reading was Daniel 5:13- the end, the memorable "writing on the wall" story. Within the writing on the wall is the word "MENE" meaning "God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end" (5:26). Are we seeing the end of America as a "kingdom"?

Even a secular approach to these matters has some coherence here, in the old political adage that we get the leaders we deserve!

POSTSCRIPT: There are thousands of blogs etc being written about the election and I have read a few of them. The best comes from friends in Uganda, offering a wry observation on all that we can celebrate about Trump's victory!

UPDATE: I have read widely, consulted with rocket scientists, and I suggest the wisdom of the wider world a few days after the election is this: Trump will not be as bad as some people fear and he will not be as good as other people hope. :)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Beatitudes and Best Fielding Ever, what more could one ...

The End is Nigh, or is it? Maureen Dowd sets the two candidates before us with her usual droll insights and sharp reporting.

Good things can come from dialogue. A few weeks back I reported on a story which suggested a banning of IVP from the annual SBL Conference. But now peace and light has broken out.

Moving beyond conflict, Pope Francis has announced six new beatitudes. I like the last one especially.

Then an interesting, thoughtful, non-religious argument for marriage!

Only to be matched by an interesting, thoughtful and, of course, religious argument for celebrating critical theology but not being nostalgic for the days of sceptical theology.

Great news for the All Blacks at the weekend. They received one of their occasional lessons in humility. Enough said. No doubt the best links to this dose of comeuppance are in Gaelic!

But the sporting moment of the weekend might just be the "Best Ever Fielding" ever, when Bavuma ran out Warner at the WACA, with an extraordinary feat of athleticism and accuracy.

Remember, when all else turns to custard in the world at large, there is always Test Cricket :)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Transformative teaching

Earlier this year the clergy of the Archdeaconry of South Canterbury requested that the theme of our annual retreat be 'the environment/care of creation' and we agreed that we would shift from a one day retreat to an overnight retreat. For a venue it was suggested that we go to the Eco Lodge at Peel Forest.

That was many months ago. Finally, Tuesday - Wednesday this week we actually had the retreat, at the lodge pictured above, with Paul Heard, a clerical colleague in the Diocese of Christchurch as our retreat leader.

The Eco Lodge is pretty cool - off the grid with solar powered batteries to provide lighting, gas burners and a wood-fired oven. Unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle you have a five minute bush walk in from the carpark.

Anyway, you are not reading here for a travelogue!

All retreats in my experience - no doubt in yours too - offer something, but some offer more than others. This retreat, through Paul's five talks, challenged my thinking about eco-theology, the importance of the environment, and care of creation as one of the five vital marks of mission.

I found myself reflecting on how little I offer about these matters in my own teaching and preaching.

Part of the challenge - arising out of a scriptural focus on God as Creator as well as Redeemer - I found was recognising that disrespect for this world, misusing the gift of creation is a grave sin. We are as much out of sorts with God, I found myself thinking, when we pollute (say) a stream as when we pollute ourselves through (say) sexual immorality.

In Canterbury currently, for instance, we are booming ahead through an agriculturally driven economy, but that economy, which we ALL benefit from, has created terrible pollution in some places. Yes, I am talking about Lake Forsyth and the valleys behind it from which toxic waste pours, and then Lake Ellesmere and the flatlands surrounding it. Colleagues at the retreat mentioned rivers in South Canterbury which once were swimmable but now you daren't let your dog lick the water.

This is WRONG!

However my main point is not to get into the details of dairy farming (and, yes, I know many if not most dairy farmers are trying their hardest to plant trees by waterways, fence their cows off from the same, and generally avoid polluting water tables with nitrates).

Rather, reflecting on what the Bible teaches, on who God is and what God has given us really got my mind thinking new and deeper thoughts about our (my) responsibility as Christians to treat God's gift well. To say nothing of reflecting also on the justice of situations in which our poor treatment of the land often means the poor are being treated unjustly, to say nothing of the heritage we are taking away (i.e. thieving) from our grandchildren.

I shall try to be both a better and a different person, and a provocative and challenging preacher and teacher in new ways.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


So, TH is in ordered chaos. Staff are connected to the internet and sit at desks, but our library shelves, due today will come tomorrow. Next week we might get some books reshelved. Etc.

Meantime my week has included a lovely two day retreat at the Eco Lodge at Peel Forest. More on that soon as it was a transformative experience ...