Saturday, February 16, 2013

What on earth is happening to the Church?

A few thoughts following an unusual start to Lent:

I have always thought that Christians should strive to be “both/and” - rather than “either/or” - people as often as possible, resisting the temptation to define ourselves over and against others unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. And, of course, sometimes it is.

The problem for people and communities who are ALWAYS “both/and” is that they end up believing everything and nothing at once, as we see with the Church’s theological liberals. 

But just as wrong are those who are ALWAYS “either/or”. They end up believing that the only truth is the little bit they have stumbled across. They become pathologically judgmental and sectarian. 

We sing the carol, “Love came down at Christmas.” Love is generous and kind; it is open to “the other.” Jesus personifies love. If we take together the things he said and the things he did as indicating his heart, it is clear that he was generous, kind and welcoming. He taught, he gathered people, he reached out across social and political boundaries in order to touch broken lives with his healing love. On the cross he absorbed our woundedness and the consequences of our sin so that we might be free. His judgment was reserved, not for ordinary people whose lives had become tangled, but for the extreme “either/or” people - often to be found running the religious establishment - who spent all their time judging others.

Clearly, the Church - the entire Christian community - faces a huge credibility crisis at this moment in history, due partly to developments in secular society, and partly to the Church’s own lack of Christlikeness in a whole range of areas. All churches, unfortunately, are good at destroying people and crushing their spirits (and I mean churches of EVERY tradition!).  The terrible sexual abuse scandals are only the tip of the iceberg.

It is often the case that the most caring and pastoral clergy and lay people have a liberal and reductionist anti-supernatural view of Jesus, the Bible and the sacraments. It is also often the case that the clergy and lay people who are most “orthodox” in their beliefs are bereft of loving care and pastoral instinct. I don’t know why this should be. 

A lot has been said over the last few years about “Anglican Patrimony”. I suppose that in some respects we might apply that phrase to the culture of our worship, and to our tradition of theological scholarship. To me, however, one of the most beautiful aspects of “Anglican Patrimony” is the way in which - certainly among Anglo-Catholics - rock-solid orthodoxy of belief, and loving, caring sacrificial pastoral instincts have co-existed without polarisation. 

There are many issues to be faced by the Church in the years to come. A lot of clear thinking, examination of heart, and spiritual renewal needs to happen. Questions need to be asked about structures and authority. Right now, as we welcome a new Archbishop of Canterbury, and - very soon - a new Pope, we need to rededicate ourselves to living in Christlikeness and grace, sharing the Gospel of Jesus with those around us, and teaching the Faith in its fulness. We focus on Jesus, in whom God is loving the world back to himself, and we think of Jesus’ words to the apostles when he breathed the gift of the Spirit into them: “As the Father sent me, so send I you.”



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