Thursday, March 29, 2007

April 2007

Dear Friends

Church Growth

I attended a two day Church Growth seminar last week. Substantial input was given by Eddie Gibbs, presently outgoing professor of Church Growth at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California. Eddie has been an Anglican Priest for over 44 years (longer than I have been alive!) and spoke with great excitement for where the Church finds itself today. There are many challenges as the “landscape” has changed as society moves into a post-modern and increasingly post-Christian mode. Two key characteristics of church ministry in this emerging paradigm are that the context is increasingly multi-cultural and mission becomes increasingly effective when it has an ecumenical base. This, however, requires that we become more centred and aware of our own denominational and faith base, and become more radical within our own denominational environment. I asked Eddie Gibbs how he would define a “Radical Anglicanism” – his reply:

By “radical” I mean someone who is living in conformity with the radical message of Jesus – i.e. The Gospel of the Kingdom. This is helpfully and fully spelt out by Bp. N.T. Wright, bishop of Durham in a series of books on Jesus. I hope this helps.

Our Lent course, for the few who attended, has been helpful in this regard by helping us to understand the breadth of Christian Spirituality, both in giving us clearer understanding of those aspects that shape our more traditional Anglican outlook and in giving us a better understanding of what shapes Christians in other denominational environments. It is important that we develop confidence in who we are as Christians and as Anglicans.

Values, Morality and Ethics

As I write this I am attending our Diocesan Clergy School, hosted and directed by UNISA. We have had some outstanding input from various high-calibre academics, including our Anglican sub-Dean Prof. Barney Pityana (also vice-Chancellor of UNISA). We have been exploring what the church’s role is in helping our society rebuild its value base, while exploring the diversity of our call in dealing with the various moral challenges all South Africans face, asking how we reclaim our prophetic voice. Again, the importance of good ecumenical relationships has been raised so that the church speaks with “one voice”, rather than with a fragmented denominationalism. There is a call to re-explore the message of Jesus, to regain a radical commitment to the Kingdom of God as put forward by Jesus, and as experienced in the early church, to be relational rather than legalistic in our interpretation both of Scripture and Tradition.

We have been reminded that poverty should remain one of the church’s main preoccupations, that an “option for the poor” is preferential and not exclusive (i.e. not an “option against the rich”), and that transforming the plight of the poor includes the transformation of the wealthy. Sadly, excessive accumulation of monetary and material wealth is mostly at the expense of the poor. We were asked, “Is inequality ordained by God?” because our lifestyles as Christian people often suggest that it is! Interestingly, while the USA Constitution enshrines “Freedom” as an inalienable human right, our South African Constitution enshrines “Equality”.

In considering the value-crisis in our society within the context of our Constitution and our Constitutional Democracy, we have been asked as Church to consider three important questions:

What is it that undermines our Christian values in the communities in which we live?

How do we “hold the centre” as a faith community, individually and collectively?

How do we become effective moral agents?

The crisis we face, both as Christians and as South Africans, is that our Constitutional Democracy is deliberately misinterpreted for personal (and financial?) gain. Twelve years into our new democratic society there is no consensus or collective commitment to definitive values, even though key values are enshrined in the preamble to the Constitution that include human dignity, human rights and social justice. In South Africa the centre is falling apart as we as a struggle to maintain the consensus gained in 1994, and this is visible in the corruption, crime and other indicators of moral collapse. As Church, we need to exercise authority in bringing people back to the values of the Gospel and values as defined in the Constitution.

Do we have the courage, as Christians and as Anglicans, to regain our prophetic voice?


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