Consecration considerations

No comments: Links
Women and the Church have released the text of the sermon preached at the Consecrations of Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester and Sarah Mulally, Bishop of Crediton on 22 July 2015:

Mary Magdalene:
When Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code, he was not the first writer to be attracted to the scent of Mary Magdalene, and he won’t be the last. She is one of the most iconic and enigmatic figures in the Gospels, providing down the years a rich seam of speculative material for creative minds to adorn and exaggerate.

And exaggerate they surely have. It is shameful, and deeply ironic, that the witness of Christian history – written and formulated by men – so often projects on to Mary little more than the deepest insecurities of the male psyche.

For, on any straightforward reading, the Gospels consistently witness to Mary as one of the foremost leaders in the group that surrounded Jesus. And by appearing first to her in the garden of resurrection, the early church was offered a quite extraordinary ‘join-up-the-dots’ moment, an opportunity to connect the radical inclusion of Jesus with the shape of the church that was to bear his name. That the church failed to do so was hardly surprising. It has, after all, taken us until very recently to join up some of these dots ourselves.

I have been given the delicious task of trying to draw something from Mary Magdalene’s story that speaks in to Rachel and Sarah’s ordination to the episcopate today. So I want to offer two simple thoughts about the distinctive contribution of female bishops to the question of leadership in the Church of England, as you both begin to influence the way in which bishops lead the church.

Socialise us, and subvert us.

1. Socialise us

I have some of my most profound thoughts on rush-hour tube trains. Crammed like a vertical sardine in to a Central Line tin can, nose to nose with my fellow commuters, each of us desperately trying to avert our gaze from the eyes only inches from our own, jealously guarding the smallest bit of personal space, that’s when the biggest metaphysical challenge to Christian faith rears its ugly head.

It is not, I have to say, the problem of suffering that keeps me awake at night, nor the doctrine of the Trinity; not the difficulty of squaring substitutionary atonement with the love of God.

No, it is simply this. There are more than 7 billion people in our world. And the thought that God can be in intimate personal communion with each and every one of them, stretches my weak faith to its limits. Especially on the tube.

I don’t know what it’s like in the spacious fields of rural Gloucester or the rolling hills of rustic Devon, but you simply can’t live in London without being challenged by this on a daily basis. There are just so many people …

It’s why, in big cities, no-one even looks at anyone else, let alone talks to them. The scale of the human landscape is too vast, it overpowers you. People retreat in to screens or headphones, shutting out the insistent presence of those with whom we share immediate space. Little wonder someone coined this definition of a city: millions of people being lonely together.

The thing is this: it affects the way we understand leadership. It reduces it to function and structure and bureaucracy, instrument and agency.

But on my tube journey, thundering through subterranean tunnels, 30 seconds from Liverpool Street, I have a moment of revelation. In the garden of the resurrection, whatever outward form and physical appearance Jesus had in his resurrected body, it was not immediately recognisable to Mary. She thought he was the gardener. When she eventually recognises him, it is devastatingly simple. He speaks her name: Mary.

Despite the weakness of my faith, resurrection is and always will be personal. The risen Christ is known in and through relationship.

The heart of Christianity is a relationship. Not a campaign or a project or a structure or a debate or a review or a reorganisation, but a relationship, a knowing by name.

And this gift was entrusted to a woman.

Sarah, if you will permit me one small Stepney departure for a moment, I have been privileged beyond measure to work closely with Rachel for 4 years. She has taught me more about being a bishop than I could ever teach her. She has modelled relational leadership in a way that is a gift to those around her, and a gift to the church. Both of you will both bring huge gifts to your role as bishops, but I have a suspicion that at heart you will embody a relational approach that is truly distinctive.

I’m not talking here about the rather anodyne idea of a leader as a ‘people person’. I’m talking about leadership for social transformation. The real significance of a relational approach is not so much in the sometimes rather saccharin nature of individual personal relationships – ‘hide less, chat more’ as the graffiti on one of my running routes in East London puts it.

Important as this may be, I’m more interested in the dimension of relationship we might more dynamically define as ‘communion’ – that sacramental relationship between and within God and the created order which expresses itself in social transformation and lies behind Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God.

Eucharistic communion is radical and inclusive and utterly relational.

So when Florence Nightingale brought a revolutionary new approach to nursing, or Octavia Hill developed innovations in social housing, their insights were not so much about medicine or the structures of the housing market; these women placed human relationships back at the heart of medicine and housing management, humanising otherwise mechanistic systems and transforming them in the process.

The challenge to women, as we celebrate your full inclusion at every level of leadership in the Church of England, is to transform notions of sacramental communion beyond pastoral relationships and in to the very structures of society. That will be socially transformational leadership.

In the secular leadership world there is a fascinating trend towards CQ: Cultural Intelligence. Julia Middleton, Chief Executive of Common Purpose, has written a book exploring the significance of Cultural Intelligence for the next generation of leaders. CQ is just a fancy way of saying that in the emerging global world, characterised above all else by diversity and difference, the best leaders will be marked out by their ability to navigate the diversity of the cultural landscape in a relational way; as the Archbishop put it in his Roscoe lecture on Monday: facing each other.

It has taken a woman to point this out.

Socialise us. Be relational in your leadership, and help all of us to do the same.

Secondly, finally – and more briefly – subvert us.

2. Subvert us

I was directed recently by a friend to an obscure short story by EM Forster (‘The Story of a Panic’). Set in the rather crusty, straight-laced world of Edwardian society, the story relates the delightfully agitational and alarmingly disruptive intervention of the unseen figure of ‘Pan’ to strip away the stifling effects of the dominant culture and liberate an altogether more vibrant expression of life.

Pan subverts the patterns of an ordered, controlled society where a powerful elite constrains and limits the cultural norms of belief and behaviour. E M Forster’s story is a fascinating reflection on the positive effects of challenging convention and unmasking the unconscious bias of an unexamined orthodoxy.

Years later the German psychologist Erich Fromm came up with the notion of ‘anonymous authority’ – that unseen influence within the modern world which affects the way that people believe and behave, which he says is “a cultural pressure all the more effective for being invisible and source-less”.

If I’m honest, I’m a bit frightened of Pan. Perhaps we all are. Perhaps that’s the point. But the ‘panic’ that EM Forster wrote about was not a wholly negative thing. He represented it as a catalyst for positive change, both for individuals and for society.

It’s hard to escape the fact that Jesus chose the outsiders of his world to share his life with, those whose very existence was disturbing and disruptive to the accepted norms of belief and behaviour. He lived and preached a gospel of radical inclusion, and it upset the apple-cart of conventional religion.

Was this why he chose Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection? Not so much to ‘disturb the comfortable’ as to disturb the conventional. For it is in the disturbance of people like Mary Magdalene that we may learn to see the world – and God – afresh.

I hope that women bishops will disturb us. I hope they will challenge the conventions of the C of E, which continues to be led and directed by too many people like me – white, male, middle-aged professionals.

I’ve always loved the notion of the court jester – the outsider who is nonetheless welcomed in to the court of power because they are the only one who can speak truth to the King. Every society, secular or religious, needs a way of allowing non-conformity. I hope that women in the college of bishops will raise non-conformity to new heights in the way they exercise leadership among us. I hope they will disturb our conventions, and unmask the unconscious bias which constrains our models of leadership within the dominant cultural norms that are so powerful that we hardly even notice or question them.

Rachel and Sarah, you did not choose to be ordained on the feast of Mary Magdalene. You did not choose her; perhaps she chose you. So look around at this packed cathedral. It is a sign of how much we love you, of how much we value you, of how much we trust you. So be bold and courageous in how you lead us. Filled with the Spirit of the radically inclusive Jesus, and touched with the spirit of the enigmatic Mary of Magdala, please be a little bit dangerous:

Socialise us, and subvert us. Amen.


With a status in Mayfair

No comments: Links

One of the surprising things about coming to London has been the price of Real Estate as my Canadian uncle would put it. We own a caravan and on the basis of its square footage, if we were to park it in central London and Mayfair moreover our caravan's 140 square foot at Mayfair's £5000 a square foot would be worth £700,000, not bad for two wheels and mock pine panelling. 

I look at my caravan in a whole new light these days. Which is probably a good thing because I am about to spend two weeks in it at New Wine.

Why am I telling you this? – because Paul is telling us about the Real Estate: the inheritance that we have in Christ in his letter to Ephesus this morning. St Paul delivers it with all the speed of an Estate Agent. He is so passionate about this vision of the inheritance that we have in God that he expresses it all in one long sentence, the longest sentence of the Bible, comprising 202 words. Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sales pitch?  

Now my children know there won't be a particularly good inheritance from their mum and dad, although they too are beginning to grasp the value of the only thing we have to give them: the caravan – they will have to find a way of parking it in the right place, though, to release its value.

And this is the point that I hope you will grasp today. God has this inheritance available for you – but you have to park it in the right place. You've got to get it off the drive and into first gear and ensure you have some fuel for the engine that's going to pull it and I put it to you that God has provided the fuel too – the power of the Holy Spirit. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that you can understand how rich an inheritance you have been given.

If I want you to grasp this, St Paul really wants you to grasp this - delivering his pitch in one long and passionate sentence. Have you ever had a PPI phonecall – hearing that there is this financial situation about which you might be unaware? You have this financial past that could now make you richer than you realised you ever were. Now unfortunately PPI fails to deliver, there never was any pot of money at the end of the rainbow which somehow you have failed to be owed.

St Paul on the other hand wants you to know that one of the key riches you have in Christ is that he has bought you back, paid your debts and secured your place in God. We have redemption through his blood. And this is just one of the spiritual riches we can know in God – this perfect freedom from those things to which we are otherwise made captive, otherwise indebted.

Paul's explanation of our riches in God is beautiful, it is trinitarian in shape. He tells us about God who is the source of everything, Jesus who is the agent and the Holy Spirit who is the seal.

Jesus is our Estate Agent, if you like, and by that I am not being flippant – I am trying to convey the fact that it is through Jesus and by his work that we can receive our inheritance, enter the dwelling place that God secures for us and we have this made real for us by the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit seals this, marks us out as belonging to God just as your signature on the mortgage or the title deeds, or on the cheque marking your transfer of financial funds seals your exchange on a house and makes a new home yours. Your inheritance comes to you because Christ is both the broker and the agent, he has purchased your inheritance for you; makes possible for you those blessings from God. In Christ in the heavenly places we are richer than we understand ourselves to be. In fact, we aren't able to realise the riches God has lavished on us unless the Spirit makes this real for us.

It could very well be that we see caravans parked on front drives when really they are parked in Mayfair. We have to understand that the Spirit has made real for us our new location as a people in Christ.

This was real for Paul – his earthly location as he writes this letter is a Roman jail, his spiritual location is as a person in Christ, hence he is able to write one of the most beautiful sentences describing God's love for us from a prison cell.

His earthly location is prison and that might sometimes feel so for us, imprisoned by circumstances, attitudes, debts real and imagined, ones we could pay off if we adjusted our lives or could just put down - understanding ourselves to be forgiven so that we might forgive. 

We can all experience prisons of our own making and Jesus speaks to remind us today of our real identity not as a people indebted but as a people set free, as chosen, redeemed, adopted, holy and blameless in his sight not because of anything we have or have not done but because of what God did for us before the foundation of the world and moreover through the death and resurrection of his Son. He took you, a bit second-hand and maybe weary, like my caravan and transformed you into Mayfair Real Estate – you don't look much different on the outside, you are still the same square footage but your value to God is infinite and the riches you have in him eternal.

Let's begin then to look at one another as those who are in Christ: chosen before the foundation of the world, beautiful to behold, being made holy and blameless. 

Let's begin to value our worth and the worth of one another, to behave like the adopted children of God that we are, co-operating with God to get the van off the drive, put it into first gear, be fuelled by the Spirit so that we might start moving forward, perhaps very carefully – no caravans in the fast lane, and with a good set of mirrors to watch out for aggressive traffic all around us but into a place where the ground is good and solid and the awning at the front of the van has enough room for everyone.

Let's get on the road and begin to motor and trust that with God the fuel doesn't run down and the value only increases. Amen.


Undoing the reluctance of Adam

1 comment: Links

Jesus' ministry challenges us to reach out and never give up. 

We are to reach out to this Jesus who has revealed himself to us.

We are to start out to meet him only to find him completely turned to us.

It was always about God's grace, remember, God being 'for you' through the cross. God chose you, long before you chose him. God chose you before the foundation of the world. It delights God when we RSVP to invitations he has sent.

In our scriptures (Mark 5:21-43) two more people reach out to Jesus and will never give up. They both have much to lose – and face potential judgement from the crowd. Both would be untouchable - the woman due to her condition and the man because death has visited his abode. They both reach out to Jesus with actions that are humble and full of faith - the woman pushing on in a condemning crowd, the man, a religious leader, with his face in the grit of the ground. 

Grit and sweat and heaving crowds – gospel stuff that overwhelms because God's love is overwhelming - unstoppable as it resounds around.

Grit and sweat and heaving crowds – I took my ten year old to the fair yesterday. I walked with my daughter to Ealing Green and as we walked along we negotiated holding hands. “Sticky hands mum” she said – so hot – and we let go. We negotiate touch all the time depending on such things. And yet Jesus touches the untouchables and makes them clean, reaches out in all the awkwardness with little regard for himself.

As a family we see friends soon I meet annually as we New Wine holiday in Somerset, I will have to remember after a year how I greet each person when we gather again. Will I handshake? Cheek-kiss? Single hug? Double-hug? I need to remember one friend who has said quite jovially she doesn't hug, it's not a problem instead she does this kind of squeezy fore-arm thing. I share this point about touch because in Mark's story today Jesus touches the untouchables and we are challenged by this as we negotiate contact all the time. The Christian story is about a God who reaches down in being born and with arms outstretched upon the cross to give his world a mighty hug restoring us to him.

In the Cisteen chapel, Michael Angelo's famous painting of God and Adam shows God's body twisting as he completely extends his arm to Adam to touch him with a fingertip. Adam only partially raises an arm and doesn't lean on in to God. We need to acknowledge that this is our tendency and reach on out to him.

We have a Jesus of the untouchables, a scandalising Messiah as we watch a woman reaching out to him, pushing her way into the crowd and having faith that knows no bounds. We watch Jairus whose name means enlightened who will learn something new about a God who has the power to bring life again where all was thought past dead.

Jesus ministers to them and not to others in that crowd because these two dared reach out to him, despite what others said.

Winston Churchill famously admonished the boys of Harrow School to: "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." Jesus said it first and by outsiders it's still heard. Never give up, he says – keep reaching out to me, I already have you spotted, I am in fact there before you in the crowd, I've come to take you home again, like the Father of the prodigal, Christ hitches up his robes and positively runs to restore the life half lived. Jairus' little girl will go on to live again and a woman returns restored both in her body and to her kind, she'd known her very life blood draining away for twelve years long but would now live a life in Him with a kind of wholeness never known.

We are challenged then today to undo the reluctance of the Adam in us, to twist ourselves perhaps uncomfortably to reaching out again– to a sweaty, sticky, uncomfortable, scandalising gospel. To risk a little reputation for the life that comes from him.

So the next time you mess up a greeting, lunge for a hug to be offered a fore-arm, shake a hand and find it sweaty, mix your lives up in uncomfortable ways think of God who in his Son did sweat and blood and grit and crowds and think upon his promise to never, ever, ever, never, ever, even to the point of his own death, ever give up on you. Amen.


The fear (being in awe of) the Lord or Whose church is it anyway?

No comments: Links

Do you think that the disciples were more frightened before or after the stilling of the storm? 

Which is more challenging – accepting your own demise, that the water might fill the boat or that you'll be saved and plunged into an entirely new way of life?

The Christian faith requires your acknowledging Jesus as God.

The Christian life leads to the slow death of the self for your new life in Christ.

Therefore do you think the disciples were more afraid before or after the stilling of the storm?

After the stilling of the storm, he who had only been teacher is now something else altogether – he is God.

He is God because only God has power over the very things God has made: the elements.

The elements dominate man no matter how hard we exert our mastery over them. In a fight with the ocean, the ocean will always win and it is heart-breaking to hear frequently of the drowning of so many people taking to the oceans in make-shift boats to flee countries where life hangs in the balance, to then lose life completely against an enemy that is ocean; those 'proud waves' as God describes them for Job. There have been many who have lost against the ocean.

When my second daughter, 18 months old, slipped beneath the water in a play pool we had in the back of our garden and drank the water into her lungs as I distracted fought with a deck chair, I learnt that day that her life was so fragile – that two foot of water could win and as I threw her over my knee and hit her on the back and watched the water gush out and the air rush in, I learnt that life is always 'gift.'

Do you think the disciples were more afraid before or after the stilling of the storm?

More afraid as Jesus slept or more afraid with him fully awake?

It is often in the storms of life that we become more aware of Jesus:

“Bail me out we cry, don't sleep, I need you now, it's convenient for me now to seem to wake you up – only really it never was you that were sleeping - it was me, to your presence that was always there, but I left you at the far end of my boat, made you a little cosy on a cushion and forgot you. I was asleep to you but now I am awake and I am crying “Bail me out Jesus, still the storms, don't have me perish.”

And for many there is that turning point.

Life changes, the life of Christ grows in you after such events.

He is no longer asleep.

The doll I brought back from hospital as a gift from my newborn baby to her older sister (so we could both care for babies together – I had read somewhere it helps the older child adjust and not become jealous) had a button where we could switch her off. She could switch off plastic baby Annabel with all her expensive accessories, I couldn't and wouldn't want to turn off my second daughter and I was constantly present to her presence apart from one moment caught up with a deck chair...

Is there a way in which you could become more attentive to Jesus, present to his presence?

Realise that it isn't him who sleeps at the far end of the boat, he just demonstrates rest, which is, after all the goal of creation: that all should be calm because reconciled to God.

That it might be you who needs waking, perhaps with the splashing of a little water, the slight sting of the salt that is to characterise your life. Your saltiness is a distinctiveness which has other people notice to whom you belong.

You belong to Jesus.

Is this frightening this being distinctive, this admission that Christ is God, that he has power over all the little things and the hugest storms that sweep into your life, that he knows your every thought, all your yesterdays and tomorrows and that all he requires of you is that you stay awake to his glorious and disturbing presence?

Do you then think the disciples were more afraid before or after the stilling of the storm?

"Why are you afraid?" He asks and they were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

When I take a funeral, as I do from time to time, there is one part of the set liturgy that I am bold enough to change. It comes near the end of the service when I realise, that in a moment, the grieving will really begin, when the activity of planning and orchestrating music and memories will come to an end and people will return to lives and homes that will never be quite the same.

It is these lines:
Our days are like the grass; we flourish like a flower of the field;
when the wind goes over it, it is gone and its place will know it no more.
But your merciful goodness endures for ever and ever toward those who .. and I say...are awed by your presence

Not those who 'fear you' – but those awed by your presence - because this is really what we mean when we talk about 'fearing God.' When Jesus asks the disciples why they are afraid, he will replace their fear with wonder and with awe and with perhaps just silence – as they become still and encounter the Word gone forth, the Word of God, the Word made flesh, God come down from heaven to earth.

There is a right fear of the Lord which is a being lost in wonder, a being lost in praise. A being lost which is a being found again, a coming round to God, an awakening to his presence so that where ever and when ever storms might blow about, we will know a certain peace that is only found in God.

Our God is not a frightening God. But we must dare stay in the boat and behold this God who loves, who only asks us for our hearts so that he might do the rest.

Do you think the disciples were more afraid before or after the stilling of the storm?

It's because the call of discipleship is costly but the gains outweigh the losses, that we are to push on into his presence as a people characterised by love, that we are not to be afraid but only lost in wonder and journeying to the other side which will likely look quite similar to here.

Praying always for stiller waters,
Trusting the Father and the Son,
That in the presence of the Spirit his plans might be begun,
That we can be so distracted, bailing water from the boat,
Trust that Christ will calm our storming and we will all stay afloat.
We have a God of rainbows,
Of promises he keeps,
He is faithful even when sometimes he only seems to sleep.
Let's awaken to his plans for us,
Row on, reach the other side,
Don't imagine it before you have landed,
Let it take you by surprise,
It will not knock the wind from you
Or have you clinging sickly to the side,
Jesus wants the best for us,
His church: his earthly bride.

Have faith I say with Jesus. It's his church, not yours or mine. And so, in some ways, yes, the disciples were probably more afraid after the stilling of the storm.

After the stilling of the storm, they had to get out of the boat and actually do something.
Whilst they fought the wind and waves their energies were taken up with that.

Enough, peace, be still.

'They took him with them into the boat, just as he was.' Christ the captain of this ship, steers us in his direction to acknowledge him as God and that this Church is His.


Towards a Theology of Church Growth

1 comment: Links
A bit of theology.....

There has been a real emphasis of late on The Green Report in the Church of England. The book Towards the Theology of Church Growth was launched this week by David Goodhew and Graham Tomlin at St Mellitus, London and is an answer, in part. 

It questions whether really a perfecting of technique will help to grow church, it wrestles instead to articulate that church growth is necessarily theological and only theology can help. It purports that a church that neglects theology will shrink. It finds that a theological response is the one required, that only by reawakening a right theology of the Spirit will churches buck decline.  

A Passion for God's Reign Jurgen Moltmann

Graham Tomlin shared his overview of his contribution to the book describing how it addresses the ways we speak, live and preach the gospel in a very different world. The Growth of the church can be seen in a growth in holiness, service to the wider community and in numerical growth. This book does focus on the latter. It doesn't doubt that there is church decline but it believes that better theology is the answer. Graham raised Giles Fraser's recent contribution to the debate where Fraser said that a gospel shaped church is likely to be empty not full (sending its people into the world) and that worries about church growth are worldly.

Guardian 3 April 2015 – the worst of them (churches) judge their success in entirely worldly terms, by counting their followers...' (Giles Fraser)

Of course, numerically the church is not declining in particular parts of the world. We are also to consider the exponential rise in church attendance at churches like Hillsong and the Kingsway International Centre where congregations can reach 10,000 and HTB which gathers 5000 people into church on a Sunday.

It is evident that churches that are growing are either pentecostal or charismatic. Peter Brierley has analysed age profiles across denominations finding that the average age in a Pentecostal church is 33, far lower than the 50s, 60s age profile of Anglican and Catholic churches. in fact, Pentecostalism is expanding at a rate of 19 million people a year. There is also the massive growth of Christianity in the Global South, which could be described as a new reformation.

Graham Tomlin wants to understand why it is that Pentecostal and Charismatic churches grow. His conclusion is that such growth can only be explained by the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the expectation within these congregations of the Holy Spirit's power. 

How Christians understand the work of the Spirit varies but without the invocation of the Holy Spirit the church really is an empty shell.

Graham then gave a brief synopsis of the Spirit's presence in Scripture and the world explaining how the word 'Mission' is derived from 'apostelo' which means 'to send.' In John's gospel there are three major movings or sendings:
  • the sending of the Son – 1:33 Jesus is the one whom God has sent. 
  • the sending of the Holy Spirit – the advocate whom the Father will send in my (Christ's) name  
  • the sending of the church
The two primary acts of mission are the sending of the Son and the sending of the Spirit.

Begetting and proceeding and sending are different. The Son and the Spirit do not come into being because the world needs saving, the sending has temporal but moreover eternal dimensions. It is important for us to understand that the sending might be temporal but the begetting is not. The sending is an event of the imminent trinity and not just the economic trinity and this then is why 'sending' is in the very character (ontology), essence of God - God is Mission. The outward centrifugal movement is not the action of an Aristotelian unmoved mover but instead we have a continual sending. The begetting and sending are conceptually different then but are together a part of the centrifugal movement. The procession of the Spirit occurs within the trinitarian life of God even before creation. 

Graham concludes that the logical and theological outcome of this is that we have a doctrine of mission that exists even before the world and human beings are created. In the very heart of God is this eternal movement of God which continues with the sending of the Son and the Spirit into the world. This is not a secondary activity put into place once the world has gone wrong. This is intrinsic to the character of God. Mission is part of God's nature – God is missionary. His activity is his being – there is no split between economy and ontology.

[I think about how if this is so and we are made in the image of God, then surely there is similarly no split between human economy and ontology. This has implications for that more conservative evangelical articulation of the Trinity in which gender relations are thought to find their locus in economic and ontological functioning of the Son to the Father (the female to the male for humans). But after a brief meander back down the avenues of the ESS debate, I am back in the room.]

We move on to what Graham's thesis means for the church. Graham explains the implications: we have to bear witness to such a God. We are to invite the Spirit, to become caught up in this centrifugal movement of God. We are to invoke the Spirit and be caught up in a movement of God into the world. It is in our very nature to come to reflect the missionary God.

The church is to send people into the world – "As the Father has sent me so I am sending you." This sending of the church is not parallel to the other two sendings. The church is sent by Jesus himself. The church does not proceed from the Father. We do not think of the church as part of the trinity. We are sent by Jesus to bring about the healing and transformation of the world and draw the world back to God and his healing and restoring love. We are sent by Jesus but birthed and constituted by the Holy Spirit. 

In Acts the church is born after perhaps its own version of a PCC in which the council (the disciples) were reconstituted by the Holy Spirit. There is then a period of waiting and in Acts 2 the church is born when the Spirit comes upon them. The church announces the 'evangel' as it is sent out. Community forms around those who respond and then they too are sent out in mission.

This centrifugal force of God is communicated by the Spirit. When the Spirit is present he turns people and communities outwards. 

We concentrate for a while on the inward and outward curvings of any community of people, how Martin Luther described sin as that curving in on oneself that can dominate any community, a being overly concerned with 'us' when we are actually sent to serve 'the other.' When the Spirit comes there is a movement outwards. You are turned outwards towards the world with its pain and hunger – you can not help but be engaged with that suffering world. A church turned in upon itself, overly concerns with its own whims and preferences is a church that is lacking in the Spirit and does not grow.

The church is instead to reach out and recruit more and more people to the Kingdom of God. Pentecostal and charismatic churches do this because they invoke the Holy Spirit. They then find themselves becoming caught up in the pain of the world. Sometimes where they are lacking, these churches, is in their having an under-developed theology of the cross. The pain of engaging with the world constitutes the joy and this must be remembered. Also where they can slip into over-emphasising numerical growth which is really only a means to an end. Bishop Paul Bayes says we want a big church so that we can make a big difference; so that we can recruit people to the call of God.

If numerical growth becomes the idol, the manifestations of the Holy Spirit can equally become so. It is not about having a good experience if this does not lead to something concretely Kingdom-building in the world. 

In conclusion we have to ask ourselves that where we have concluded that the procession of the Spirit is for the sending of the church into the world might not then our lack of openness to the Spirit hamper our call into that world. 

For those nervous about the invocation of the Spirit, this movement of the Spirit doesn't have to be expressed in Pentecostal or charismatic form. On the other hand, though, one can not ignore that the Spirit's expression is often characterised by something joyful and expressive and it is such expressions that we often find in more charismatic churches. We are to think through, nevertheless, how Evangelical and Anglo-catholic churches might find their own authentic expressions of the Spirit at work. Jurgen Moltmann is keen to impress upon us that every believer is to continually invoke the Spirit. We have to care about this because as Justin Welby has expressed: Church Growth is as fundamental as worship to every tradition of the church.

A series of questions come from the floor pertaining to the scriptures' emphasis on the departure of the Son and Graham responds with a focus on the universalising of the Son through the Spirit.
Another question seems to pose mission against discipleship but Graham explains how discipleship is often talked about as if it all depends on this – the terms are different in register – mission is the church sent into the world and the church is sent into the world to disciple – part of the mission of the church is to disciple – these are not competing things.

Another participant reminds the room helpfully that our response must therefore be to 'pray more' and Graham responds in agreement that indeed the praying and the doing are not in opposition to one another and how often we are driven back to praying when the failures set in. Renewal of the life of prayer, reconciliation and evangelism are Justin Welby's key foci.

David Goodhew reminds us of this place of the Saints and how Cuthbert is an example of someone profoundly prayerful and profoundly missional. In an ecclesial context that is profoundly unmissional we are to pray. David Goodhew reminds us not to be caught short by concluding that the language of church growth and evangelism is only Evangelical. This is a warped understanding – all flavours are to grapple with this. Evangelism is about Good News – the invitation to 'rest.' It is also about recruiting people for the work of the Mission of God. It is also about our being caught up in areas of the groaning world. A Mission strategy that doesn't ask people in to rest and out in sentness to the world misses something. Theologies of mission must have both these arms.

Steve Clifford from the Evangelical Alliance reminds us that some Pentecostal and charismatic churches can over-enjoy the Spirit. We must always keep the 'evangel' at the very heart of the church to avoid becoming inward looking. The key sign of the Spirit at work is in seeing the world being transformed and joining in with that.

We finish with the helpful reminder that Mission happens through the ordinary local church often in ordinary, local ways and so we earth the theology in praxis in ways that help us leave the room to return to those ordinary and local places energised. All in all a good book launch experience. Do read.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.