Friday, 29 February 2008

Following the Leader

This month's comment in All Saint's parish magazine.

Many of you will no doubt have seen and heard the media reports regarding the nomination of our new bishop. The process is meant to be confidential until the wider church in New Zealand has had a chance to confirm the nomination and the person is formally invited to accept the position. This has meant that some of the reports are a bit loose with the facts, and as a result some folk have expressed their concern about what the future holds. Change always brings worries – we like the status quo, we’re happy where we are, etc. But my purpose is not to dispel those worries by telling you about our new bishop (I’m not allowed to!). Rather, let me remind you as we move forward that the church is not run by a minister, by a bishop, or even by the vestry! Our church is, always has been, and always will be run by her Lord, Jesus Christ.

The Church is made up of people – normal people like us – who have been called by God and saved by his Son. And it is because Jesus has made us Christians, because he has made us his church, that we, and therefore the church, belong to him. The bible uses great language of us being bought by Jesus, being redeemed by Jesus, being married to Christ, being the body of Christ. This means a number of things.

Firstly, Jesus will care for his church. Speaking to his apostles, Jesus declares that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. The history of the church shows us that this is true. Even in parts of the world where the church is physically attacked, Christ cares for his church – nurturing and growing it by his Spirit through his word. This makes sense, of course, when we remember that the church is spoken of as Jesus’ own body. To quote Paul – ‘no one ever hated his own body, but he (or she) feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church’ (Ephesians 5:29). Jesus cares for us, his body. He will always care for us, and we entrust ourselves to his care.

Second, Jesus will get his church home. As Christians we have been made for a relationship with Jesus, and God is bringing us to heaven where that relationship will be made perfect. We have confidence that God is working towards that purpose, and confidence that we will reach that goal. We believe God when he says that he works everything for the good (that is, the accomplishment of God’s big plans) of those who love him. No matter what happens to us – in our personal lives or in the wider denomination, we trust that God has got things under control and is working towards that big goal – getting his church home.

Lastly, because the church is Jesus’ church, his body, we are loyal to Jesus. Only he has bought us, only he truly cares for us, only he is bringing us home to be with him. No person, no structure, no institution commands the same loyalty from us as Jesus does. He is king of king and lord of lords, and our first allegiance must always be to him and his ways. If we stick to him, we’ll be right.

A new bishop will bring change – I’m hopeful that much of it will be good for us. But a new bishop also changes nothing – as those with faith in Christ we have always been his people, always been loved by him, always been cared for by him, and will always be loyal to him.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Taking the 5th.

While I was typing the last post, this was published in this morning's Press (Christchurch's major paper). There you go. Of course I can neither confirm nor deny.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Electoral Synod

This weekend the diocese of Christchurch elects a new bishop. There are six candidates - if they were pigeonholed there would be two who are liberal, two who are evangelical, and two who are somewhere in the middle. Of course being ordained only a few weeks ago I have come into the whole process fairly late on, but can I urge you, blogreaders, both of you, to pray for a number of things this weekend.

  • That whoever is elected would be converted, godly, faithful and committed to the gospel of Christ.
  • That the process itself would be characterised by speaking the truth in love. I'm sure that things will need to be said about candidates that not everyone will agree with - and while the content of these things can't be changed, we can watch how we say them.
  • Pray that the synod will, if necessary, take time to elect the right bishop, and not, in the lateness of the hour, elect someone simply because they’re ‘electable’ and we can all go home.
  • That people would recognise that God's will is as much about 'doing' as 'discerning' (see Eph 6:6, 1 Thess 5:16-18, Heb 10:36, 1 John 2:17, 1 Pet 2:15). God has set out clearly the marks he requires of a leader (1 Tim 3; Titus 1) - let us discern those characteristics and understand them as God's will.

Please do pray for us, that God might give us through the synod a bishop under whom the gospel will go forth in this place. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Ordination IV

Another of the questions asked of me was:
Will you so live the gospel that you challenge us with the demands of love?

Sure, I thought. What's the problem with this one - just live the Christian life. No difference here between me and anyone else who trusts in Jesus.

Now that's true, of course, but I've come to realise that in a small town, 'the vicar' (although I'm not!) is always on view. At the shops, as people walk past our front yard and see me playing with the kids, and especially on the golf course, I'm on view. I'm a walking billboard for our Saviour and for the church here in Methven. And therefore what I do and say, even on my day off, even when I'm having a bad day (or a bad round) is seen as a representation of the gospel. And while that is, to be honest, pretty scary, it is also incrediblypowerful. I have an opportunity to declare grace, love, compassion, honesty to a town who will immediately associate what I do with what Christianity is - with what the gospel does in people's lives.

Will I do it?

I will. God give me strength and humility

Thursday, 7 February 2008

How would I respond?

I would respond by
a. not keeping my laptop near the breakfast table (not helpful, I know)
b. spreading one condiment on top of the other, dumping it down in front of him, and starting on a very dad-like rant: 'when I was your age...'
c. escaping to my study, looking at the view, and reminding myself that the God who created the beauty of the mountains also created the beauty of my son, and that Psalm 127:4-5 is still true even when you begin to seriously doubt your doctrine of inerrancy.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

You know you are a parent…

…when your wife asks you to pick up a goat that has fallen under a bed and it doesn’t seem strange to you in the least.

How would you respond?

Imagine this scenario: You are feeling behind on your work so you set aside an hour early in the morning to get going. Your son wakes up an hour early. Your other son wakes up in a bad mood. You make them breakfast. You put honey instead of peanut butter on one son’s toast which leads to a melt down (for both of you). Meanwhile, the other son plays with his straw and (accidentally and it is your fault anyway) flicks milk onto your laptop. You can tell something is wrong when you hit the ‘A’ key and 10 random letters appear. You turn the computer off immediately. A few hours later you finally settle down to do some work – which you are now feeling even more stressed about. Your laptop now won’t turn on at all.

How would you respond? I wish I had remembered James 1:2 at the time. I didn’t.

There are two morals to this story: 1. Back up your computer now. 2. More importantly, remember James 1:2 the next time you have a morning like this…

Post-script: the lap-top is now working, the kids are asleep and a bit of perspective has returned…

Waitangi Day

Today New Zealanders celebrate Waitangi Day and remember the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, a foundational document in this country's history. It is a treaty between the Crown and Tangata Whenua, the people of the land, and legally sets out a relationship between the Crown and Maori. Waitangi Day is a time to remember and think about what it means to be a New Zealander, to live in this country, and to have our history.

It's also a holiday, and so we headed out for a drive in our new backyard. We found a nice spot, the boys threw rocks in a stream, ate some bread roles and enjoyed the very nice land that God has given us. I read the paper.

And of course the paper was full of treaty issues, of discussions about the relationship between Maori and Pakeha (that's us white fellas), and so on. And again there was the perennial plea for us to focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us (Waitangi Day has, in the past, seen more than its fair share of protests, violence and calls to 'honour the treaty'). We are all New Zealanders, we're told. We have so much more in common than that which is different. And yet the protests continue. Our unity doesn’t seem to be that deep.

As Christians our unity comes from the fact that each one of us is indwelt by the very same God. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. That is where our unity comes from. We can't help being united. It's what we are. And it comes not from a piece of paper but from the death and resurrection of Christ, and the gracious pouring out of his Spirit.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Ordination III

Part of my ordination required me to agree to a number of statements. Some of my more ‘independently’ orientated friends had me on about these afterwards! One point of contention was me agreeing to this statement:

Do you hold to the doctrines of the faith as this Church understands them?

The suggestion was that I was agreeing to believe the doctrines of the church solely because they were the doctrines of the church. If this were the case then it might be problematic. Exegesis, of course, comes to our rescue.

First, exegesis of the liturgy. The statement quoted above was the second I agreed to. The first was this:

Do you believe that the Bible contains all that is essential for our salvation, and reveals God’s living word in Jesus Christ?

The doctrines of the Church are grounded in the Bible. The ‘the faith’ of the second statement refers to that which is found in the Scriptures upheld in the first statement. ‘The faith’ could be epexegetically translated as ‘the faith revealed in the Scriptures’.

Second, exegesis of the Scriptures themselves. In 2 Timothy Paul urges Timothy to identify and equip men to carry on the work of gospel proclamation. In 2 Timothy 2:2 Timothy is urged to entrust ‘the things you have heard me say’ to reliable men. There is meant to be a progression of teaching throughout time in the church (for part of what these 'reliable men' is to do is pass on to other reliable men that which was passed on to them). And this teaching is described a few verses earlier as conforming to the pattern of u`giaino,ntwn lo,gwn – sound words, or correct, or well grounded words. u`giai,nw is used 8 times in the pastorals and every time it refers to sound teaching, sound faith, or sound words – that is, sound doctrine. Sound doctrine, grounded in scripture, is to be held, believed, and passed on by the church (those reliable men). I think that the 39 Articles are a good articulation of u`giaino,ntwn lo,gwn – maybe not as good as the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, but then, on this side of glory, we live in an imperfect world!

Friday, 1 February 2008

Ordination II

One of the first things to happen in my ordination service was that I was ‘presented’ to the bishop and the church by a minister and a lay-person. I was fortunate enough to have Wally Behan, my minister from St John’s Latimer Square and a very fine expository preacher present me, and also Cam Gracey, a friend of mine who runs Christianity Explored at the same church. However, as a preface to this, the bishop said these words:

People of God, we have come to ordain a deacon in Christ’s holy church. Christ is the head of the church; he alone is the source of all Christian ministry.

He alone is the source of all Christian ministry. What the Bishop says goes on to allude to Ephesians 4 and Christ giving gifts to his church. But it was vital to remember at the very beginning of both the service and my ministry here at Methven that Christ is the source (and therefore the content) of all ministry. This church is his church, the people are his people, he ministers to us by his Spirit and Word, and builds us up into his likeness. He alone is the source of all Christian ministry, and may our ministry be spent proclaiming him alone.