Monday, December 29, 2008

Some notes towards the end of a year

In no particular order of importance:

- if its hard work to find the right beginning to a sermon (so we do that work) it is also hard work to get the right ending (so let's do that work too) ... some sermons are like aeroplanes buzzing round an airfield, seemingly not knowing how to land!

- honour sermons with a standing up action by the congregation immediately following the conclusion, whether by singing a song or saying the creed; and do not follow the sermon directly with intercessions - too much passivity for the congregation!

- there should be some minimum liturgy-based-in-Scripture content to every "informal service": (my minimum) confession-using-an-actual-prayer (not 'silence while we remember what kind of week we have had'), the Lord's Prayer ... and (as commanded in 1 Timothy 2) there should be intercessions at every service

- 'the Peace' or 'the Greeting' should not become, should be changed from a conversation to a brief 'exchange of peace' or 'exchange of greeting' ... the liturgical purpose is to gather us together in one communion ... conversation has ample opportunity in the cup of tea after the service

- ensure sound, light, projection work to the highest possible standard: its tragic when an otherwise superbly prepared service or sermon is disrupted or diminished through 'technical mistake'

- aim for uniform excellence and achieve it: speaking quite personally, I am getting tired of being in services which have both superb aspects and glaring errors which cannot be brushed aside. The superb aspects imply uniform excellence through the whole service is achievable: we can do it; yes, we can!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ministry success in terms of love, not words or deeds

From Dallas Willard's The Great Omission:

"The people to whom we speak and minister will not recall 99 percent of what we say to them. But they will never forget the kind of persons we are. ... The quality of our souls will indelibly touch others for good or for ill. So we must never forget that the most important thing happening at any moment, in the midst of all our ministerial duties, is the kind of person we are becoming." (p. 124)

The great resource for people being great ministers is this:

"Divine love permeating every part of our lives is ... a resource adequate to every condition of life and death." (p. 124)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Possible inspiration for Christmas sermon

Stuck in the last day or so before Christmas for something to say ... or rung out through preparing for Christmas and nothing in the tank for 28th December? Read this and see where your reflections take you, its posted on Thinking Anglicans by David Walker (Monday 22nd December):

"A pregnant pause

As Mary makes her weary way to Bethlehem the Christ within her is about to face one of the most dangerous moments of his existence. For both mother and child the journey from womb to outside world in first century Palestine comes with a high mortality risk; their fates entwined together, either might kill the other.

St Luke gives few insights into the unborn Christ, telling us briefly of how John the Baptist, himself yet unborn, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary visits. But that account, taken with the story of Gabriel’s visit, is enough to establish that the Son of God did not take on human form at any point later than conception. It’s not a point I’ve heard dwelt on by preachers and theologians, and liturgically it all gets lost in the joy of Christmas when we gaze in awe at the infant in the manger, yet the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy matter.

The Early Fathers had a knock down argument for the necessity of the incarnation; “What has not been assumed (by God) has not been saved”, they stated. The salvation of humanity could only be accomplished, and was fully accomplished, by true God becoming truly human. Christ became first a single vital cell, then a rapidly dividing clump of cells, then embryo and foetus. Just as the creed affirms that at Easter Christ descends to hell to save the dead, so, in these nine hidden months God works the salvation of the many that will never see the light of day: the miscarried; the aborted; the stillborn.

At the same time he himself is being fashioned both by God and Mary. A recent academic study found that human metabolism is fixed before birth, so that, inter alia, mothers who diet during pregnancy are more likely to have children with a lifelong tendency to obesity. How Mary has lived during these nine vital months will affect, indeed quite literally shape, her son for the whole of his life. She is no passive incubator of the divine child but fully part of his formation. He shares not just her genes but the consequences of her actions. We, who share her flesh, are both active in the drama of salvation and shapers of the living Christ that is revealed to the world.

In little over a couple of days the full joy of Christmas will be upon us; for today the task is to pause, and be with Mary in her pregnancy, and all that it means for us."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A model sermon

There are many sermons available on the internet. This one caught my eye. It comes via the Covenant site from a recent conference of American and British clergy committed to finding a way forward through present controversies for the Anglican Communion. I note the way the preacher carefully selects six themes in two groups of three matching themes around the two headings of Warning and Promise. Read on ...

Three Admonitions, Three Promises
By Nathan Humphrey | December 19, 2008

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of messages from the Covenant authors’ retreat and our public conference, held on December 4-6 in Dallas. For information on sponsoring a Covenant conference in your diocese, email Craig Uffman at assi… or leave a comment on this post.

The following homily was offered by The Rev’d N.J.A. Humphrey as part of Morning Prayer that began the Covenant Conference on Saturday, December 6, 2009 (I Advent (Year One)) at the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, TX. Fr. Nathan’s text was Luke 21:5-19.

In our gospel reading from Luke this morning, we find an apocalyptic discourse centered on the destruction of the one thing the Jewish people of Jesus’ day took the most pride in: the Temple. I am from the Diocese of Washington, where we have a rather nice cathedral, which I would hardly want to see destroyed. By comparison, I don’t think we can possibly comprehend the disciples’ sheer horror when Jesus proclaims, “the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”(I was reminded, by the way, that in 1974, before the Mormon Temple in Washington D.C. was consecrated, it was opened to non-Mormons for a tour. Afterwards, all the carpet that the tourists had walked on was reportedly torn out and replaced with fresh carpet. Someone I know took that tour, and told me that inside there was a mural depicting the Second Coming of Jesus. Fire and brimstone was raining down upon the National Cathedral.)

Faced with such a dire prediction, it’s no wonder the disciples are anxious to know when this will happen, and what signs will foreshadow such a [catastrophe, a calamity, a cataclysm]!

But wait, there’s more. Jesus tells them that false messiahs will come, that they will be betrayed by family and friends, that some of them will be killed. And yet, paradoxically, he says, “not a hair of your head will perish.”

Read from one perspective, these words are pretty bleak. But from another, they are full of hope and promise and wisdom.

Jesus gives us three admonitions and he gives us three promises. The three admonitions are: “Do not go after them,” “Do not be terrified,” and “Do not meditate beforehand how to answer.” Allow me to re-formulate these admonitions alliteratively as: “Don’t be seduced, don’t be scared, and don’t be studied.” The three promises are: “This will be a time for you to bear testimony,” “I will give you…wisdom,” and “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” These promises likewise lend themselves to a common theme, which I will call the Three Graces: the grace to witness, the grace of wisdom, and the grace to withstand. Let’s look at each one briefly.

First, we are told: Don’t be seduced. Jesus says, “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.” “Led astray”—other translations, following Jerome’s Vulgate, render this, “do not be seduced.” I glean from this that we need to be somewhat skeptical that anyone has a corner on who Jesus is—including people we are inclined to agree with. We are too easily seduced by images of Jesus that are skewed in one direction or another. So, too, we need to resist the reckless urgency of the moment implied when people tell us, “The time is at hand!” We are warned against following those latter-day messiahs on either the left or the right who promise us that they can lead us to a new Promised Land, a purer Church, or even a radically just and better World. Don’t get me wrong, the Church needs discipline and the World needs justice, but in seeking these things it is too easy to be led astray by little messiahs with big agendas.

Second, we are told: Don’t be scared. And what could possibly scare us? Wars, tumults, earthquakes, famines, pestilences, terrorism—in other words, the usual suspects. This advice is easier said than done, of course, though I personally am a fan of Rabbi Friedman’s “non-anxious presence” approach to ministry. If we get wrapped up in our fears and anxieties, if we let the secular or ecclesiastical terrorists of either side get to us, something dreadful happens: we lose perspective. Which is worse, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem or the deposition of the bishop of Ft. Worth? Is this the worst chapter in Church History? It is true that we are suffering from a crisis, but a crisis is also an opportunity to step back and put things in perspective. And we can only do this if we refuse to be terrified or taken over by the pain and sadness that surround us.

Third, we are told, in essence: Don’t be studied. When we face any sort of testing of our faith on the part of others, especially authorities, we are told, “Do not meditate beforehand how to answer.” Luckily for you, I do not apply this admonition to sermon preparation, otherwise we’d be here all day. I don’t think Jesus is telling us not to be reflective, but not to rely on our own wits alone.

This brings us to the three promises. Looking back over the text, we can see that Jesus promises us first that “This will be a time for you to bear testimony.” This may not seem like much of a promise, but it is really a very exciting opportunity. I was told once that the Chinese word for “crisis” also means “opportunity.” (Perhaps this is why an understated Chinese curse, I’ve been told, is “May you live in interesting times.” “Interesting” times are often times of crisis.) The word Jesus uses here for “testimony” is the word for witness—“martyr.” In a crisis, if we are open to receiving it, we are given the first of our Three Graces, the grace to witness to the love of God for us in Christ and the relationship that we are called into as members of Christ’s One (yet broken) Body, the Church.

This promised grace to witness is followed by a promised grace of wisdom, which comes on the heels of the last admonition quoted above: “Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.” Unfortunately, I don’t believe Jesus is promising us that we will win every argument, or that people will be convinced by what we have to say. The promise of a wisdom “which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” is not so much about outcomes as it is about faithfulness. We are not called to manage outcomes. We are called to speak the truth as we know it in Christ, and even more importantly, to live that truth in our relationships with others, whether they are our “adversaries” or not.

Finally, we are promised that “by your endurance you will gain your lives.” (“Endurance” here, by the way, can also be rendered as “patience.”) The life we will gain isn’t necessarily this life, since Jesus gives this promise in the context of a discourse in which he informs his disciples that some of them will be put to death because of him. Rather, I take Jesus to mean in part that if the life we live here is marked by patient endurance, it will be worth the living. Patience is a virtue, and it is one that I know from experience comes only by grace. This third and final grace to withstand is perhaps the most difficult grace for Americans to become open to receiving. We are people of action, after all, and in order to get things done, a little impatience is thought to be a good thing. But with the grace of wisdom comes the grace of patience, both of which are needed in order to claim fully that promised grace of witness.

It is as a witness to patient, wise endurance that we are gathered here this morning. As we meditate on the words presented to us by our conference speakers, I hope that we will be equipped so that come what may, we won’t be seduced, we won’t be scared, and we won’t need to act “studied,” as if we know all the answers ahead of time. Rather, we will, I hope, be equipped to abide ever more deeply in God’s grace and love, that we may in our witness show forth the wisdom that comes from above, thereby withstanding all the temptations that keep us from living into the reconciling mission we are called to as members of Christ’s Body.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Gospel Star Times Christmas edition: Matthew interviews Joseph and Luke interviews Mary

The two versions of the birth of Jesus provided by Matthew and Luke could scarcely be more different! Each is agreed that Jesus’ mother was Mary, he was conceived through the agency of the Holy Spirit, her husband was Joseph, the birth took place in Bethlehem, and the eventual family home was Nazareth. But this agreement is expressed in a very few words: the bulk of each account is taken up with significantly different features.

Matthew focuses on Joseph, barely mentions Mary, recounts several dreams of Joseph in which God gives vital direction, tells us in great detail of the wise men visiting Herod the Great and then the Holy Family, the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt, and finally their return to Israel to settle in Nazareth. Absent from Matthew’s account is any mention of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, the angelic visitation to the shepherds, the shepherds’ visit to the Holy Family, the circumcision and presentation of Jesus. We will never know if Matthew actually interviewed Joseph, but if his report were published for the first time in the Boxing Day newspapers of 2008 we would presume that he had talked to Joseph but not to his wife!

If Luke interviewed anyone it was Mary, not Joseph. On several occasions he conveys insight into the inner workings of Mary’s mind. Joseph barely figures in the story. There are no wise men, no references to Herod, and no flight to Egypt. There is an extensive story of the conception and birth of John the Baptist, with many parallels to the way the story of Jesus’ conception and birth are told. The first visitors to the crib are shepherds and not wise men. Luke provides details of the Holy Family fulfilling requirements of the Law (circumcision, purification), introducing us to the only two named characters, Anna and Simeon, who meet the Holy Family in the course of the infancy of Jesus.

From these differences some investigators make a great deal of carnage, arguing there is so much difference some of it amounts to contradiction (see below) so pretty much everything was made up, apart from the core common elements, and even then there are some doubts (was Bethlehem as the site of the birth made up to suit Micah 5:2?). Further wrecking trust in the historical accuracy of either account is a big question surrounding Luke’s reference to a census in the time of Quirinius governor of Syria (Luke 2:2): if Jesus was born in the time of Herod the Great (Matthew) then Quirinius was not governor at that time (Luke), and vice versa. On the face of it, the historical evidence for Quirinius being ‘the governor’ of Syria is that it was ten or so years after Herod’s death. But there is no need for destruction of trust in the reliability of the gospels in respect of the Christmas story.

My reason for making the last point involves the following way of accounting for the differences, and an explanation given below of the issue arising from Luke’s mention of Quirinius. Others would describe things differently. None of us can “prove” that our account is correct and the others wrong. What I am attempting here is to explain the plausibility of Matthew and Luke writing different factual accounts of the birth of Jesus.

First, for a number of reasons, including Luke’s introduction to his gospel (1:1-4), I believe Luke was familiar with both Mark and Matthew’s gospels. From this starting point I suppose that Luke’s interest in the origin of John the Baptist is fuelled by its absence from both Matthew and Mark’s gospel, and its parallels with Jesus’ conception and birth narrative is inspired by the parallels Mark draws between the death of John the Baptist and the death of Jesus (see especially Mark 6:17-29). Then the points of agreement between Matthew and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ conception and birth (noted above) are accounted for by Luke’s familiarity with Matthew. Incidentally it is entirely reasonable to suppose that Luke agrees with Matthew on these details because he knows them to be true from other sources and not just because Matthew is his only source for these details.

Luke completely discards Matthew’s stories of the wise men, Herod’s execution of Bethlehem’s children, and the flight to Egypt. Just why he does this we will never know but we could imagine Luke, normally keen to paint the early Christian movement in terms of posing little or no threat to the Roman empire, found it congenial to drop reference to Jesus being associated with Egypt and with royal figures from the East (i.e. two areas Rome had trouble with). Positively, Luke takes the opportunity when writing another gospel to inform readers of other recognition of Jesus (shepherds, Anna, Simeon) and to fill out key ‘religious’ details of Jesus’ childhood, absent in Matthew’s account.

By saying nothing about the flight to Egypt, Luke runs a risk that readers of both gospels will bring the charge that there is a contradiction between the two accounts. On the face of it, Matthew tells a story in which Joseph and Mary not only never went to Jerusalem but would have been terrified of doing so. But Matthew’s story is chronologically vague. When Herod sends the soldiers to kill the children, their task is to kill those aged two and under. This implies that his initial interview of the wise men, combined with the time taken to realise they had not returned to report back to him, meant he understood the birth to have happened some time beforehand. We only need to presume that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple (as per Luke 2:22-38) and returned to Bethlehem (just a dozen miles or so apart) prior to the visit of the wise men for Luke and Matthew’s account to cohere chronologically.

On this account some details remain difficult! Matthew gives a clear impression that Nazareth is a brand new family home, following the return from Egypt. Luke gives a clear impression that the Holy Family go directly from Jerusalem to Nazareth. But I do not see these impressions as necessarily implying that Matthew and Luke’s accounts are contradictory. Providing we have some disposition to trust Matthew and Luke’s reliability as historians we can view the two accounts as complementary rather than contradictory.

But this does not deal with the difficulty posed by Luke 2:2. The evidence for Quirinius being governor of Syria is strongest for a governorship after the time of Herod the Great, and the likely census during such a period was one in 6 AD, well after the death of Herod in 4 BC. Has Luke made basic mistakes over a date and a name? Is Luke correct, and Matthew quite wrong about Jesus being born before Herod died? Or, some would go further: did Luke not make a mistake but deliberately manipulate certain facts in order to place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem? That is, to explain how a Nazareth-based family ended in Bethlehem for the birth of their child, Luke took liberty with some well-known facts about a census in AD 6 during the governorship of Quirinius in order to explain why Joseph and Mary had to move from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

If Luke has either manipulated or invented facts to fit the needs of his narrative some sharp questions remain: why play round with public facts, readily challengeable by knowledgeable readers? Far simpler, for example, to invent some family crisis which took the family to Bethlehem! We do well to accept that Luke knew something about what he was talking about: there was a census before Herod the Great died, the census required Joseph to head to his home town, and Quirinius was governor of Syria at the time. As I understand research into these matters we can have some confidence that Caesar Augustus called a census around 8 BC, which may then not have made its way to Palestine till a few years later; some censuses did require return to home town; and Quirinius may not have been ‘the governor’ of Syria, but it is conceivable that he was in a position of power, perhaps working alongside the governor. (Good recent commentaries will have details which expand on these points). In other words Luke is not necessarily guilty of basic mistakes in historical accuracy nor of self-serving manipulation of historical facts in order to make his version of events plausible.

Matthew and Luke each tell the story of the conception and birth of Jesus in terms of some agreed common facts – the most important ones, incidentally, such as the names of Jesus’ parents and the place of birth. They also tell the story with significant differences. Matthew’s version connects the events he describes to Old Testament prophecies about the messiah to come. He tells things from Joseph’s perspective, and he underscores the repeated intervention of God in order to keep the baby Jesus safe. Yet Matthew’s version also has an eye on the world Jesus came to save: the wise men come from the world outside Israel and her social, religious and political leadership. Luke’s version also has a connection to the Old Testament (particularly in the songs of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon) but he particularly connects the events he describes to the political situation in the Roman Empire and in Israel as a subordinate kingdom within the Empire. Thus Luke also has an eye on the world Jesus came to save, but his vision is oriented towards where his narrative of Jesus and his disciples will finally end in Acts 28: in Rome.

By carefully reflecting on the possible contradictions in the two accounts, and doing some research into possible solutions to notable puzzles raised by comparing the two gospels, it is plausible to draw the conclusion that Luke and Matthew’s accounts are complementary not contradictory!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Eucharistic theology in the context of our prayer book

In a comment on a recent post about Extended Communion Bosco Peters wrote the following which I think deserves a fuller rather than a ‘comment’ type response:

“You write "the sacrament is received not as the body and the blood of Jesus".

This appears to go against what our liturgies teach.
We receive the bread and wine as Christ's body and blood, his person and his life.

I can never quite work out why those who have no difficulty finding God's Word in the human words of the scriptures, and Christ's presence in their proclamation, make such heavy weather of Christ's presence in other ways. And whilst they do not make much effort to minimise God's ability within scripture, God's ability in the eucharist appears to need careful analysis.

The formularies to which Anglican clergy assent include:

Praise and glory to you creator Spirit of God;
you make our bread Christ's body
to heal and reconcile
and to make us the body of Christ.
You make our wine Christ's living sacrificial blood
to redeem the world.

NZ Prayer Book p.541”

In response to Bosco Peters initially I observed that much hangs on the word ‘as’ and on reflection prompted by his comment I think ‘as’ can bear my statement about the eucharist dropping the negative qualifier to become, “the sacrament is received as the body and blood of Jesus”!

But here I would not understand the ‘as’ to bear the full weight of a Transubstantiation understanding of the eucharist. Bosco Peters rightly makes the point in another comment that Roman Catholics no longer understand Transubstantiation in Aristotelian categories (substance/accidence) where he says:

“I suspect you are using "substance" and "transubstantiation" with the Aristotelian categories in mind.

You will have to search widely to find many theologians who still hold to such philosophical concepts.

"Transubstantiation" is now used normally in Roman Catholicism as a synonym for Christ being really present in the eucharist - fully in the bread, fully in the wine, rather than an adherence to Aristotelian categories.

Such a belief of Christ's presence is consistent, I posit, and my quote demonstrates, with Anglican formularies to which we assent.

The bending over backwards, as I indicated, to demonstrate Christ is present everywhere EXCEPT in the bread and the wine of holy communion, is a tendency I cannot make sense of.”

Now I want to engage with what Bosco Peters’ says in these two comments not to win a debate but to (try to) better understand the mystery of communion!

One way to engage would be to ask questions – questions, that is, to get any reader thinking, as well as myself. Here are some questions:

(1) If we have moved on from Aristotelian categories, in what manner do we now understand Christ to be ‘really present in the eucharist – fully in the bread, fully in the wine’?

Notes: I agree that such talk is consistent with Anglican formularies. I also understand it to be close to the Lutheran position known as Consubstantiation (in which the bread remains bread yet Christ is fully within it).

(2) Do all words in our NZPB bear equal weight?

I note that the words cited above from page 541 are from a prayer provided for ‘The Day of Pentecost’. That is these words are part of options which may never be used by a priest otherwise regularly and properly using the main Eucharistic prayers, none of which in my estimation is quite as explicit in its use of ‘make’ language. Does the language of ‘assent’ mean we assent directly to the apparent theological commitment of these words or assent to our formularies as expressing a broad theology representative of theological diversity in our church? Could ‘assent’ mean that we assent to a meaning for these words weighed against other Eucharistic understandings in the NZPB, understandings which (I suggest) enable us to legitimately understand ‘make’ in the Cranmerian terms I originally posted on?

(3) Is there an analogy between God’s Word in the words of Scripture, or Christ’s presence in proclamation and Christ’s presence in the sacrament?

This question arises because many would hold that the words of Scripture are always God’s Word, and Christ is necessarily present in proclamation of Christ; but bread and wine are mostly bread and wine (for breakfast, lunch and dinner!) except in the context of the Eucharistic meal, celebrated by the community of faith under the presence of an ordained presider. To this bread and wine something happens which is of a different order to God’s Word/words of Scripture and Christ’s presence/proclamation … or, so the argument would go!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mark Thompson: Now What was that Text Again

Mark Thompson teaches at Moore College, Sydney; and was a recent William Orange lecturer in this country. Here I pinch his whole column on preaching from Sola Scriptura:

"In the 1950s and 1960s, John Stott, amongst others, raised the bar in evangelical preaching. Stott, in his preaching and in his commentaries, showed three generations of preachers how to expound a biblical text. He unfolded the text, showed what was there, connected it with life, and did it all with passion and a clear, memorable structure. Those who heard Stott and the very best of those who preached like him, knew that they had been addressed by God. They knew why this part of the Bible mattered, why God wanted us to have it, and the difference it makes to life as a disciple of Christ. Whether they were being challenged or comforted, they were gripped by the teaching of Scripture and excited about studying the Bible. This style of preaching nourished faith, revitalized churches and taught people how to read the Bible for themselves.

But nothing good seems to last forever, and expository preaching of this kind has been dealt some body blows in the last few years.
At one end of the spectrum, some practitioners have fallen into dull, lifeless analyses of Bible passages with little sense of their connection to life and little obvious passion and commitment to these words as life-giving and life-transforming. The message they preach terminates on the words of the text, rather than pointing us to the living God who addresses the world we live in and who has something life-changing to say.

At the other end, and perhaps in reaction to what they have seen as growing dullness in many pulpits, others have returned to the launching pad sermon. Nothing they say is untrue, generally. It might be even be genuinely helpful. But the sermon’s relation to the biblical text is impressionistic. The Bible passage suggests a theme, which is handled with a string of anecdotes—some funny, some profoundly moving. People who listen hear the gospel—no question about it. But the message could have been preached from any text, and we aren’t learning how to read the Bible for ourselves anywhere near as much.

Of course, other factors play a role as well, such as the massive internet presence of some very powerful preachers who do not follow the expository model. They are often great communicators and insightful critics of contemporary society, and they are absolutely orthodox in their theological commitments, but the Bible, while open, slides quietly into the background. Add to this the way the basic foundations of confidence in the Bible have been shaken both inside and outside the churches, and can we expect people to listen to what this book has to say anymore? In some quarters, a fascination with technique, which is evident in so many other areas of life, has distracted preachers as well. And perhaps most subtly and yet most insidiously, the desire to be (or to be seen to be) a great preacher can so easily eclipse the desire to preach a great God.

The best preaching I hear is biblical, profoundly theological and thoroughly engaging. It is suffused with a sense of urgency and importance—not the self-importance of the preacher, but the importance of the living God and the word he wants us to hear. The worst preaching I hear might as well be the rehearsal of tomorrow’s shopping list—almost as coherent and every bit as memorable.
Of course, good expository preaching doesn’t have to sound like it comes from the 1950s. It doesn’t have to bore the socks off all who try to listen to it. It can cut through the confusion of our present circumstances and, at the same time, teach us how to read the Bible responsibly for ourselves. And it builds deep Christian faith, rather than itching ears. We will suffer and our churches will suffer if it is lost to us.

We need a serious conversation about what preaching really is, why good sermons succeed and bad sermons fail. And perhaps—just perhaps—we need to learn again that the way we preach and what we preach are inseparably connected. So if we do really believe in a God who is not only living, but present, as we preach, what difference will that make?"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Being Counter Cultural through Advent and Christmas

Is your parish church holding as many services through Advent and Christmas as it did last year? Five years ago? Every so often my antennae pick up signals that the number of services being offered is diminishing. A parish once offering Midnight, 8am and 10 am Communions may now be offering only one service on Christmas morning and reviewing whether or not to hold the Midnight service. Behind all such decisions will lie some statistical factors ... the once packed church for a Midnight service, for example, was only 75% full three years ago, and just 50% full for the last two years ... and so on. But I wonder sometimes if other factors are at work. The general busyness of the festive season collides with the time and effort required to prepare special services; less lay assistants may be available; and the further we move into Hillsong territory with worship, the less relevant and engaging Advent hymns and Christmas carols can seem.

Yet somewhere in the midst of all such factors there is an element of the world's culture telling the church's culture what to do. A challenge for all of us involved in worship leadership may be resolve to place the culture of the church ahead of the culture of the world in Advent and Christmas. To do that we may need to remind ourselves that the coming of Christ is utterly decisive for the world: without Christ's coming there would be no cross and resurrection; with the cross and resurrection there would be no salvation, no hope, no ultimate meaning to life. To celebrate the coming of Christ through Advent and Christmas therefore is not our responsibility but our privilege!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Extending Communion

In my previous post (below) I drew attention to Richard Hooker's understanding of the real presence of Christ in respect of the sacrament of the bread and the wine: it is to be sought in the receiver and not in the sacrament itself. This (I humbly suggest) is more or less 'the Anglican line' on communion.

On this line of understanding, is it possible to 'extend communion' to congregations at which a priest is unable to be present, and what might 'reserved sacrament' mean?

I suggest that communion can be extended from one service to another where in one service bread and wine is consecrated in the prescribed orderly manner (a priest presiding over an authorised service) and in the other service the sacrament from the first service is distributed in an orderly manner according to the authorised service provided for such an occasion. According to Hooker's teaching, the bread and the wine at communion are necessary for the real presence of Christ, following the promise of Scripture, to be received by those receiving the bread-wine-become-sacrament by faith with thanksgiving. Thus the sacrament is received not as the body and the blood of Jesus but as necessary to feed on the body and blood of Jesus in our hearts 'by faith with thanksgiving'! To take the sacrament from one congregation to another, or from one congregation to a sick bed is a reasonable action to take in order to incorporate into the communion of the church those otherwise unable to be present at a communion service presided over by a priest.

'Reserved sacrament' would then be about sacrament from one service 'reserved' for later use (e.g. for home communions during the following week, for a service in an outlying centre a week later) but it would not be the subject of any veneration for, on Hooker's understanding, the bread and the wine have not become 'the' body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On this understanding here - undoubtedly flawed and full of shortcomings - the sacrament of the bread and the wine has a double significance: a sign of the body and blood of Christ and a sign of fellowship between one congregation and another.

With respect to the latter I make this observation: in some of our parishes I am given to understand that extended communion using reserved sacrament may take place at time intervals as great as a month from the last occasion when a priest has presided at communion. This raises the question how long the sacrament may be reserved. I suggest the answer is subjective and not objective (i.e. specifying a certain time interval): the question a parish in this kind of situation could usefully ask is this, what kind of presence, including what regularity, from our priest(s) enables our sense of communion with the remainder of the parish to be a lively experience?

Friday, November 28, 2008

How Anglicans understand the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ

I confess that sometimes I find it easier to say what the Anglican understanding of the sacrament of communion is not than to say what it is ... it is not Transubstantiation (the Roman understanding disputed at the Reformation) ... it is not Tokenism (a widespread Protestant understanding in which the bread and wine of communion are mere tokens or emblems which aid our memories of Christ's death).

But reading a little in Richard Hooker's magisterial Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity I found this succinct, crisply clear summary of Anglican understanding:

'The real presence of Christ's most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament.' (5.67.6)

In this sentence Hooker simultaneously affirms the Anglican approach (the body and blood of Christ is truly present at communion but the 'location' of the body and blood is in the worthy receiver of the bread and the wine; the worthy receiver being the one who receives by faith with thanksgiving) and denies other approaches. First Tokenism which denies 'the real presence of Christ's most blessed body and blood'; secondly, the Consubstantiation of Luther in which Christ's most blessed body and blood is 'in' the bread and the wine; and thirdly, the Transubstantiation of Roman thought in which the bread and the wine is converted (changed entirely in its substance) into the body and blood of Christ.

Hooker says a whole lot more - he is never short of a word or two on any given subject - but here I will add a further point made by him. In any attempt to explain the sacrament of communion there needs to be some explanation of why the bread and the wine are necessary for the occasion. Why not feed 'spiritually' on Christ without any resort to material objects? Hooker's explanation is this:

'The bread and the cup are his body and blood because they are causes instrumental upon the receipt whereof the participation of his body and blood ensueth. For that which produceth any certain effect is not vainly nor improperly said to be that very effect whereunto it tendeth.' (5.67.5).

The first sentence makes it clear that the bread and wine of communion are necessary for the real presence of Christ at communion: they are instruments for the receiving of the body and blood of Christ by faith with thanksgiving. The second sentence acknowledges that the effect of being instruments is that they are bound up with the body and blood of Christ so that one can honestly say at their distribution 'This is the body of Christ ... this is the blood of Christ'. The sufficient condition for the real presence of Christ at communion, we can restate in conclusion, is worthy reception by participants.

The beauty of Hooker's position is that a profound emphasis falls on 'communion' at Holy Communion: nothing happens to the bread and the wine but something happens to the participants as they fellowship together with Christ through faith. The bread and the wine are vital to this unique nurturing of believers, but through the faith of the believers and not through some change to the bread and the wine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Church order (or, disorder?)

Recently the Diocese of Sydney agreed to a resolution which affirmed that both lay people and deacons may preside at the eucharist. It did so knowing that (a) their Archbishop is unlikely to license lay people to actually preside at the eucharist; and (b) a recent ruling on another matter in the Australian Anglican church created a legal means for deacons to preside at the eucharist without the Archbishop needing to adjust their licenses in any way. That is, following the resolution, nothing is altered concerning lay presidency (Sydney has been agreed to it in principle for years, but not practised it) but something has altered concerning diaconal presidency. Unexpectedly this move has generated a great deal of controversy which you can follow on sites such as Stand Firm, and Fulcrum (to say nothing of a few posts by me on Anglican Down Under).

It seems to me that at the heart of the controversy are two issues: whether as Anglicans, being part both of Anglican history and of the Anglican Communion, this move is a plausible 'Anglican' move; and whether as part of GAFCON with its Jerusalem Declaration's clause 7 upholding the BCP Ordinal, Sydney can with integrity support both the JD and its own resolution.

Here I do not want to tackle the whole controversy, but to take up a query raised in a comment on the Fulcrum forum - a query which is entirely reasonable and proper to raise in a fair and full discussion of Anglican order:

"In Anglican tradition word and sacrament go together. If we allow deacons and lay readers to preach why can't they then preside/administer at communion. In Anglican tradition word and sacrament go together, surely."

Word and sacrament do go together in Anglican tradition concerning eucharistic ministry. There is also, we should acknowledge, a strong Anglican tradition of non-eucharistic worship expressed through services such as Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer - services of the word and not of the sacrament. But if we are to speak of word and sacrament 'in Anglican tradition' then we can make the following observations:

(i) Anglican tradition goes back into the great tradition of the undivided church itself, and in that tradition priests/presbyters or bishops have been the presiders at the eucharist.
(ii) Anglican tradition has made distinctions between orders of the church in respect of sacramental ministry: bishops may ordain, confirm, marry, baptise, preside at the eucharist; presbyters may marry, baptise, preside at the eucharist, and join with the bishop in laying hands on a deacon being ordained a priest/presbyter; deacons may baptise, assist the priest at the eucharist. It is not inconsistent with this tradition of distinction of orders of ministry to approve lay people preaching but not presiding.
(iii) Anglican tradition does not understand 'ministry of the word' to be equivalent to 'ministry of the sacrament'. A sacrament is a visible word, and the ministry of the word may include explanation of the sacrament taking place in the service, but the ministry of the word is not a straightforward equivalence of the ministry of the sacrament. Preaching should flow from a recognised spiritual gift within the preacher (e.g. 1 Peter 4:11), but presiding at the sacrament flows from a recognised appointment to the office of priest/presbyter. (Later addition: nevertheless all priests should be able to teach/preach since the pastoral responsibility of the office of priest should be expressed through the ministry of the word and of the sacrament. My point is that gifted preachers within the congregation should not be denied opportunity to preach even if they are not called to pastoral responsibility through the priesthood. From a utilitarian point of view, accepting that good sermons take time to prepare, it can be useful for the priest(s) of the parish to be able to share the burden of the ministry of preaching).

I will probably think of a few more things. Here is a final thought for now: in my discernment a considerable motivation for pressing for approval of lay and diaconal presidency is fear of 'clericalism' - domination of the church by clergy; misunderstanding of the role of clergy so that they assume an unbiblical sacerdotal priesthood. This pressure, perhaps fuelled by some post-modern Western desire for as much inclusion and as little exclusion as possible in the life of the church, presses for 'opening up' the ministry. But what does opening up presidency of communion to lay people and to deacons do? It diminishes the point of having a distinct priesthood/presbyterate. Now, let's assume, at least for the moment, that is a good thing. The question then arises in connection with lay presidency, which lay people will be able to preside? If the answer is 'specially selected people', then (effectively) we smuggle the priesthood/presbyterate back into the church. If the answer is 'any baptised lay person' then we have a completely different kind of church, essentially one already in existence called Plymouth or Open Brethren. Similarly with diaconal presidency: effectively deacons become priests/presbyters, even if not actually named as such.

In other words, what, on the face of it, is a plausible desire to broaden the ministry of our church in connection with the sacraments involves a paradox whereby the outcome in the long term is either no actual broadening of the ministry, or a completely different kind of church!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Advent Wreath Blessing, Prayers, Hymn, Comment

Bosco Peters at Liturgy has two posts on Advent Wreath resources, including a hymn sourced from Doug Chaplin's Metacatholic site, and other material, including a joint NZ Anglican-Catholic bishops' letter commending joint services. Check it out here and here.

Wedding Sermon

Click on this link to read an excellent example of a sermon at a wedding, delivered by John Richardson.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reviewing our services

Its always tough being part of a review. Our contribution to worship services is an emotional commitment of ourselves as well as a mental, energy, and ability commitment. So a 'review' of our services can be something we prefer to avoid: 'why were there 17 songs in the service?' is heard as 'why did YOU choose 17 songs?'

Yet without review we may never improve on what we offer; and without improvement we may find that newcomers do not return and regulars slip to irregular attendance.

One smart way to review is to 'self-review' frequently (with 'self-review' meaning either 'I the individual responsible review what goes on' or 'We the team responsible review what goes on'). That way its likely that bad habits will not be fallen into, improvements are constant, and when a "Review" happens, its not so threatening. (A "Review" should happen from time to time since 'self-reviews' are by definition unlikely to incorporate the perspective of 'the other person').

Here are some questions to ask when reviewing worship services:

- how many pieces of paper are we placing in people's hands?
- (if Powerpoint is used instead of paper) how readily viewable is the screen? does its placement enhance the unity of congregation and leader?
- (paper or Powerpoint) is the wording of songs and prayers accurate?
- how well is the sound system working?
- when directions are given (verbally or in writing), are these directions:
(i) clear/understandable
(ii) inclusive/welcoming or exclusionary?*
(iii) appropriately placed?**
- what things are distracting and what are enhancing with respect to worshippers' mood/concentration? (e.g. are there periods of silence? does 'mood music' during (say) communion distract from or enhance communicants' reflection? do Powerpoint slides during intercessions distract from or assist focus on our prayers?)

*A special challenge (IMHO) are the instructions we give around children and infants: all too readily with one badly chosen word we can convey the impression we do not want children and infants present in the service!

**I am continuing to be amazed at the choices some worship leaders make for the placement of notices; but my personal bete-noire is giving instructions on reception of communion just prior to the invitation to people to come forward!!!!!!!???????? The point of the Great Thanksgiving, Prayer of Humble Access and Fraction of the bread is drawing us deeper into union with Christ ... to interrupt the flow of words and actions with banal instructions about dipping, sipping, options re juice/wine is ... just wrong ... and a few other things I shall restrain myself from saying.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let's have just one lectionary cycle!

Those of us who advance the cause of using the lectionary, apart from bringing any canonical considerations to bear ("you must use it"), commonly draw attention to the catholic and communal considerations of everyone everywhere preaching on the same readings. We worship God together and read Scripture together. But yesterday I had an experience which highlighted the folly of operating two canonically permissible lectionary cycles.

At 8.30 am I preached in one church on the theme 'Things of eternal worth' with the readings 2 Corinthians 4:6-5:10, as laid down by the main lectionary cycle followed in our NZPB (i.e. the two year cycle). At 10.30 am I was in another parish listening to a sermon on Matthew 25:1-13, the gospel prescribed by the three year "RCL" lectionary.

Is it time for our church to settle on one and only one lectionary?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The privilege of preaching

There is an important doctrine called the 'perspicuity of Scripture' or, a little simpler in language, 'the clarity of Scripture'.

As I understand this doctrine (over which there are interesting debates) most can agree that Scripture in respect of its main message of salvation is 'clear' - the ploughman and the barmaid can understand it through reading or hearing Scripture. Things are not so unified if the doctrine is pressed to mean that any reader of Scripture (i.e. with or without education in theology and biblical studies) can understand any part of it so long as (say) they follow a simple interpretative strategy such as allowing 'Scripture to interpret Scripture'.

When evangelicals press the doctrine there is an interesting paradox going on because evangelicals typically press the case for preaching - substantial sermons at every service, if not every meeting of the church. If Scripture is wholly clear, why preach it and not just read it? (!!)

The fact is that parts of Scripture are not easy to understand, or are capable of different interpretations, not all of which are necessarily true. The point and privilege of preaching is the opportunity and responsibility it provides for the preacher to explain the meaning of the passage under consideration.

One such passage occurs tomorrow, Sunday 9th November, in our NZPB two year cycle: Luke 16:1-13.

Actually, this gospel passage is so difficult to interpret I defy any preacher to make perfectly good sense of it!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Anglican Hero

Bosco Peters offers a fine tribute to Richard Hooker (3 November). I agree with Bosco: Hooker is the man for the hour. Especially this hour when, surprisingly or not, a via media is still required between the 'puritanism' of (e.g.) Sydney - see its recent decision to endorse (though not implement) lay presidency and support implementation of diaconal presidency) - and the attractions of Roman Catholicism (which has a lot going for it but still has commitments to teaching difficult to swallow).

Among Hooker's great characteristics is the sheer intelligence of the man; another is the wisdom associated with that intelligence.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On visiting a graveyard

At the weekend I had the chance to be in Wanganui which was the home of my paternal grandfather before he married my Christchurch grandmother and lived the rest of his life with her in Christchurch. I was able to visit two graveyards - the Heads Rd 'Old Wanganui Cemetary' and the Aramoho Cemetary - between which his parents and grandparents, and various uncles are buried.

For me that visitation was very moving. I felt reconnected with the past of my family. The gravestones, albeit a little battered and bruised by the elements, stand as they stood at the time of their erection, presumably not long after the actual burial of my ancestors. Their inscriptions reach out across time and say on behalf of the deceased, 'we are here, your past is not separated by time, or by space.' Through such knowledge of our past we gain security in our personal identity: from death comes life!

Since none of our family live in Wanganui I guess the visits by family to these graves are few and far between. (It may be 26 or so years since I visited the Aramoho grave, and its about 14 years since I visited the other graves). So for long periods of time these graves simple stand there, making no connections.

But I am grateful that they are there for the rare visit. Part of that gratitude goes to the Wanganui City Council for the care they take of their cemetaries. And I am reminded, since many churches have graveyards, that while graveyards may look lifeless, even sterile, and in this day and age offer all the 'wrong' images for the business of offering life to people ... and thus from time to time tempt us to think about whether there is a point to continuing to have graves surrounding our churches ... in fact they contain within them, let the reader understand, messages of life.

And all this reflection leads into this week's sermon on All Saints ...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Brilliant timing, excellent preaching

The RCL lectionary offered brilliant timing yesterday, with both NZ and USA elections close at hand: Matthew 22:15-22, To Whom Should Taxes be Paid?

Praise God I heard a preacher on the gospel passage respond excellently to the opportunity.

Two brief 'memorable moments' in the sermon:

(i) an audience hook: the introduction built up to the point where the preacher solemnly informed us that therefore he would now proceed to tell us how to vote, but there was a glint in his voice, so we all chuckled; and he knew, in fact told us, that he now had all our attention!

(ii) a provocative, take-home idea: why is it in our country that we have immense protection for our native (endangered) species of birds, but none for the 18 000 babies aborted each year?

Incidentally, there was no Powerpoint, DVD, post-modernist paraphanalia - which can be useful aids (as flannel graphs were in another age) - but are not necessary when a sermon is delivered with certain verbal skills rather than others.

Again, I would make the point that it is possible through preaching to achieve what I felt was achieved within me yesterday: nurture, challenge, encouragement, education, inspiration, and renewed appreciation for the power of Scripture.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Some thoughtful words on confession and absolution

From the Archbishop of Sydney's recent presidential address to his synod:

"Last year we asked the Doctrine Commission for a report on the nature of congregational assemblies. I thank them for the report and look forward to discussing it. With its help we can certainly ask whether what we do in church sufficiently reflects the gospel. Take the confession of our sins and the declaration of forgiveness for example. In a church I was in recently, we had confession and forgiveness. The clergyman invented his own list of sins for us to confess; they sounded exactly what the uneasy conscience of a modern middle class person may dredge to the surface, if pressed hard to say where they had failed in the last little while. The declaration that we were all assuredly forgiven of these mainly imaginary sins was, if I remember correctly, perfunctory, but certain enough to make us all feel a lot better. Apparently God was pleased with us after all.

But this business of coming into the presence of the Lord is no light thing. And the business of assuring people that their sins are forgiven, is no light thing. These are the keys of heaven and hell, administered with great solemnity by the appointed preachers of God’s word. Woe to the one who casually assures us in the name of God that we are forgiven when we are not! By what right is this done? I have been invited to confess my sins in such a way that my sins are never identified and my repentance is never required. I was not aware that forgiveness was so cheaply offered; we would take more pains to mollify a fellow motorist than we give to thinking about our relationship with the living God.

In this Diocese, we claim to be Cranmerians - that is, the protestant Reformation has come down to us via Archbishop Cranmer, his thirty nine articles and the Book of Common Prayer.
Let us study and incorporate what he taught us about our approach to God. In his great confession of sin, he identifies our sins not according to the standards of the middle-class conscience, but by the Law of God: ‘We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws…there is no health in us…’ He does not pretend that a mere outward confession is what is required, but ‘He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe his holy Gospel.’ And he gets us to pray for the gift of ‘true repentance and his Holy Spirit that those things may please him which we do at this present and that the rest of our life may be pure and holy…’

It is all very well for us to smugly criticise others, but if we fail to manifest the fruit of repentance and godly living we are hypocrites. How long is it since you have examined your own life, starting with the devices and desires of your heart? How many sins flourish there, secretly watered by you and never dealt with, never put to death, to use the violent and painful image of the New Testament? Greed, lust, covetousness, malice, jealousy, anger, hatred - these are some of the inward sins which need to be dealt with if we are to walk in the light. I think that they are present within us because I see them break out into ungodly displays often enough. But they start in the heart. Remember the great text that R.B.S.Hammond stood for: “Not everyone that saith unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven.”"

Monday, October 13, 2008

A tiny note on preaching

I preached yesterday. The first time for a month or so. Some aspects of delivery - not as smooth as I would have liked - remind me that some regularity in preaching is important. Preaching involves a skill factor which is maintained at a high level by actual preaching practice!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Saving wax

There is an old saying, re candles and the like in church worship, that we are saved by grace not by grease. Of course the 'grease' reminds us that it is the Light of the World who saves us and not we ourselves! Anyway, to the point: here is a tip for saving grease, or not having to buy large candles. The other day at a baptism I observed that the Paschal Candle had been brought out for the occasion. But when the priest went to light the candle he reached to the top and pulled off a tiny 'tealight' candle. Having lit the little candle and replaced it, for all the world it looked like the large candle was alight. Neat trick - simpler to light and no wastage on the large, expensive candle!

The baptism, incidentally, was lovely, and the priest made the loving and lovely point that in baptism we acknowledge that our children do not belong to us but to God.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

With vision, the people live - here is a cracker

Worshipping the God of the Gospel
a dream for evangelical worship

by Chris Cocksworth

An address given at the Evangelical Worship Consultation, Ridley Hall, Cambridge organised by the Liturgical Commission, 15th September 2008

I would like to begin my dreaming further back – with the actual identity Anglican Evangelicalism, not simply its worship.
My dream is that Anglican evangelicalism will:

· realize its potential
· fulfill its calling
· inhabit its character
· (to put it more theologically) that it will receive all that God has for it in Christ through the Spirit.
I happen to believe that this shape of Christian faith that has been given to Anglican evangelicalism is a deeply true, authentic and satisfying way of living the faith. Moreover, I am convinced that it is deeply attractive and could, if configured properly, capture the imagination of the people of our age, and win their hearts.

I have tried to write up that dream in a book, Holding Together: Gospel, Church and Spirit (London, Canterbury Press, 2008). Its title is my longing for Anglican evangelicalism: that here, in this form of Christian Faith, Gospel, Church and Spirit will be held together.
Or, to put it another way, my conviction about Anglican evangelicalism is that it is ideally, perhaps uniquely, poised to be a meeting point for the creative connection between the deep themes of Christian faith, the fundamental gifts of God to his people, each of which has been emphasized by one of the classic traditions of the Church.

· One: Gospel – by definition the great virtue of evangelicalism: the defining feature of evangelicalism: the euangelion, the gospel of God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ and, consequentially, the dynamic spiritual authority of scripture as the testimony of the gospel, the word through which Jesus, the word of God’s grace, is made known.

· Two: Church – by definition the great virtue of the catholic tradition because catholic - kata holos- means according to the whole, an existence lived with and accountable to others. Fellowship is of the gospel. It is the work of God in creation and in redemption: it is not good to be alone, God formed a people, Jesus gathered disciples, Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi, my relationship with Jesus brings me into relationship with you.

· Three: Spirit – by definition the great virtue of the charismatic tradition. The Spirit is the gift – the charismaton – giver. The Spirit is the one in whom and by whom the word of the gospel comes to us: God breathes his Word and creation comes into being, God overshadows Mary and Jesus is made flesh, by the Spirit we come to know Jesus as Lord, through the Spirit gifts of ministry and worship and mission equip the church.
Anglican evangelicalism is a tradition that traces itself back to the gospel reform of the church according to scripture that took place in the C16 within the English Church. The tool for the reform of the Church’s life was the liturgy of the Church, its life of worship.

Anglican evangelicalism, therefore, is not a new form of the church. It is a reform of the church that can be traced back to the first flowering of the gospel in these lands. The tradition of worship that Anglican evangelicalism inherits is an ancient tradition, that has been passed on, sometimes faithfully and sometimes less faithfully, sometimes losing its shape and needing to be reformed, but still an ancient, historically rooted tradition that is held in common with Christians today and yesterday (and, hopefully, tomorrow). It is common prayer.

Anglican evangelicalism is placed by God in a living tradition of the Holy Spirit, an ongoing work of the Spirit, that can be tangibly traced to the origins of the Spirit’s work in England and is continually and creatively responding to the changing features of English life with the abiding realities of God’s good news in Jesus Christ.

In summary, I am saying that Anglican evangelicalism is wonderfully placed – perhaps, as I have said, uniquely placed - to not only know Jesus as the truth (the gospel of God, according to the scriptures) but also to live in his way through living and moving and our having our being in his body the Church; and in so doing to be enlivened, inspired, enthused by his life through the breath of his Spirit in his body.

And no where more so than its worship.

Well what does this mean in terms of practice?

It means attending to three dimensions.

A. Evangelical worship is called to make the gospel known

It is to be a demonstration and celebration of the gospel; an enactment and experience of the gospel.

It is to tell the gospel so that the gospel can be heard and believed.

It is to show the gospel so that it can be seen and felt.

And this hearing and believing, this seeing and feeling of the gospel through worship is to lead to following and living – to the faithful life of the missionary disciple, the member of the messianic community of Jesus.

Clearly the telling of the gospel involves good preaching and effective public reading of scripture. Both of those are indisputable in scripture and non-negotiable in Anglican worship. We should be able to take it for granted that they will be at their most excellent in evangelical worship. Unfortunately that is not always the case in my experience at least. Particularly when it comes to the reading of scripture in worship I am regularly shamed by the attention it is given in other traditions compared with evangelicalism. And although evangelicals do generally have a commendably high regard for preaching, the predilection for attractive themes and relevant topics, can reduce evangelical preaching to a talk on a subject supported by scriptural texts, rather than the exposition of scripture itself.

Much more could be said but I want to take a lead from Colossians 3.16-17 and widen out the reference to telling the gospel. The Colossians are exhorted to let the word of Christ dwell in them richly, by teaching each other in all wisdom, and with gratitude in their hearts, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.

The implication here is that the word of Christ takes deep and rich hold of us as we gather together and do what Christians do together. That includes singing, of course. One of the purposes of sung worship is so that the word of Christ, the word of grace, the word of the gospel can dwell in us richly. (More of that later.) But there are other ways as well. Some are verbal and some are non-verbal.

· We pray scriptures through psalms and other liturgical texts.
· We proclaim the scriptural faith through the church’s creeds.
· We use scriptural texts given for worship – eg the grace and blessings.
· We share the scriptural experience through testimony.
· We spread out the scriptural story through the church’s calendar and we focus on particular stages of the story in particular seasons.
· We enact the salvation of which scripture speaks through the actions and sacraments that Jesus gave to us.
· We see the scriptural faith in the scripturally given symbols of the faith.
This is my dream for evangelical worship: that we will take all these gifts that God has given us to tell the scriptural story so that people will begin to live in that story (inhabit it), and tell that story to others.

B. Evangelical worship is called to tell and show the gospel in and through the life of the church.

This gospel is the ‘faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3). I’d like to make three points in this connection.

(1) Continuity

For few years now I have had a flirtation with the Syrian Orthodox Church. This began when I visited Damascus and joined with the Syrian Church on Palm Sunday. It was a powerful experience being where Ananias and Paul worshipped and hearing the Lord’s Prayer sung in Syrian, a dialect of Aramaic, Jesus’ own tongue.

Christians now worship all over the world, of course, and in many languages, but this faith once entrusted to the saints is passed on in part by texts that were once for all entrusted to the saints: the Lord’s Prayer, the Grace, Songs in Revelation; and it goes back further, into the faith inherited by the apostles – the psalms, the Holy, Holy, Holy, the Aaronic blessing and so on.

My dream for evangelical worship is that our wonderfully gifted song writers will provide contemporary expressions and settings of these Spirit-given texts in charismatic voice.

(2) Commonality

One of the most moving experiences of the Lambeth Conference for me was attending a Eucharist each day prepared by a different Province. There were common shapes to the liturgy, and common meaning to the words, even if in many cases the actual language – Korean, Swahili, Portuguese etc - was beyond me, and there were common actions. It was wide and deep experience of catholicity – of being with other members of the one body of Christ.

My dream for evangelical worship is that our song writers will write more songs that can be used in the common shapes of worship, and that planners of worship will use songs of worship in the ebb and flow of a service rather than just as a block.

(3) Celebration of the actions of the gospel in the life of the church

I could talk till Christmas on this theme. I simply want to say at this point that if we neglect the actions of Christ in baptism and the Lord’s Supper we are disobedient to Jesus and unfaithful to the bible, and we betray the gospel.

Baptism is the Spirit-given sign of coming to faith in Christ and the means of entering fully into the life of his people. The Lord’s Supper is the Spirit-given sign and means of growing into the full stature of Christ.

My dream for evangelical worship is that we will use them and love them because Jesus uses them and loves us through them. And my dream is for song writers to write songs that relate to the sacraments and can be used when they are celebrated.

C. Evangelical worship is called to tell and show the gospel in the life of the church through the powerful working of the Spirit.

Beyond underlining the need for our worship to be enlivened and inspired by the Spirit – a calling that requires a continual invocation and expectation of the Spirit, I want to make three points briefly.

1 Worship is to be responsive and open to the movement of the Spirit.

A positive approach to the use of liturgy does not mean being bound by the book, it does not mean being straitjacketed by liturgy. The deep evangelical instinct for room to manoeuvre in worship is a godly thing. Since C17 evangelicalism has brought varying degrees of pressure on the Church of England to loosen up its worship. In the latter part of C20 this joined forces with shifts in liturgical scholarship and major cultural changes. The result is an official approach to liturgy – embodied in Common Worship – that is a wonderful gift to evangelicals, especially to evangelical charismatics.

My dream for evangelical worship is that it will grasp this opportunity – that it will take hold of this freedom in the liturgical freedom or, better, that it will take hold of this liturgical tradition as a framework for freedom.

2 Worship that will embrace the use of spiritual gifts

Properly used, there is nothing un-Anglican about the use of spiritual gifts in worship. They are part of the ancient apostolic liturgical tradition which has been passed on to us.

My dream for evangelical worship is that we will see these gifts being used in the normal course of worship in a culturally appropriate form.

3 Worship – this sort of worship – will require Spirit-inspired leaders of worship
My dream for evangelical worship is that this ministry will not just be devolved to the leader of musical worship, but that there will be inspired presiders of worship who can work creatively with musicians and every other ministry to respond to the movement of the Spirit in the planning and leading of worship.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Further key elements to services

As signalled in the previous post ... some thoughts about a family service attended on Sunday (yesterday), concentrating on 'key' elements which I think need to be present in every service, though the actual working out of these elements may vary from one type of service to another:

(1) Timing - in two senses: the service kept moving along, the leader assisting with a good sense of momentum and where we were heading; also, the service was completed in 50 minutes. So, no points of boredom, no anxiety that 'gosh this part seems interminable and there is lots yet to come ...'.

(2) Consistent message: the service was about Moses, and the Lord's message to Israel, and to us, that God is with us. Nothing in the songs, or prayers, or drama, or message deviated from that theme or imposed another theme on top of it.

(3) Comprehensive message: being a family service the leader/messenger rightly did not subject us to a long "adult" sermon; but the whole service was the message, so no adult should feel disappointed about the shortness of the part of the service designated as 'the talk'.

(4) Internal and external foci: the service was 'in house' in the sense that it conveyed the last term's worth of lessons in Sunday School, and 'showed off' (in the best sense) the work of the children, including a magnificent reproduction of the 'ark of the covenant', and its message was 'internal' to our faith journey, emphasising that 'God is with us' BUT there was a lovely external focus in the intercessions which took us to the trouble spots of the world - children suffering from tainted food in China, people suffering from the major bomb blast in Pakistan.

Well done!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Those key elements to services keep recurring

Yesterday attended/participated in our Diocesan 150th celebration service for the Diocese and Nelson as a 'City' being simultaneously promulgated by Queen Victoria. Outstanding. Why?
(1) Coherent - music, readings, drama, sermon, prayers all worked together around the central (and obvious) theme for the day
(2) Depth - the sermon (preached by +Richard) gathered the feelings and thinkings generated by the occasion and the different parts of it and drew our minds into a deeper appreciation of the most significant common theme for church and city, "community"
(3) Both/and - the service did not rely on one element being outstanding, it grew its quality from doing all things well
(4) Connection - there was lots in the service for the varied and diverse congregation (regular Anglican worshippers, non-Anglicans, irregular worshippers, and - presumably - with various civic authorities there, agnostics, and atheists also present) to connect with. Among the connection possibilities were some deft touches of humour.
(5) A lovely touch or too - my two favourites, make that three ... an anthem by Elgar (Ave Verum), Taize responses to the prayers ("O Lord hear my prayer" - always wonderful when sung by a large congregation), and God Save Our Gracious Queen - felt like I was at the last night of the Proms!!

This morning another service with some 'key' elements to success present in it. Will post about that soon.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Anglicans missing in action

The other day I had a conversation with someone who described herself as an Anglican. She asked whether the Anglican church had modernized. I said I thought it had. She went on to say that she could not go with Anglican services which were just words said by 'rote', and nor could she go with Pentecostal-style services.

I thought those comments were interesting because they implied a middle way which might be expressed in many Anglican services today which blend elements from here and there, but then again might not ...

Reflecting further on the conversation I am wondering if we are missing Anglicans from our services because they do not agree with the two main lines of styles we pursue, on the one hand the objective, traditional, repetitive words of formal written services, and on the other hand the subjective, non-traditional, spontaneous words (and actions) of informal services (whose only 'written' parts may be the songs). I mention 'actions', by the way, because one specific critique of Pentecostal services was the actions represented in waving hands and arms.

Readers of this will surely say, 'but we do have services which find a way between the two styles you have described'. The question might then be, Are we communicating this fact?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Arresting decline with the Lord’s Prayer

Today I preached on the Lord’s Prayer (per request, it was not a lectionary reading). I found in preparing the message that my mind engaged with some anecdotes from the past few days in which some of our parishes are noticing a decline in worshipping numbers.

When talking about decline in numbers there are always some specific factors to consider – people move geographically, leadership may have made a mistake (insisting on the Latin Mass when everyone wanted it to be in French etc!!), lousy winters and Saturday night rugby tests impact some Sundays, and so forth. But there has been for 50 years or so (some might say 250 years or so) a more general factor of Western world secularization. In this general factor, as I understand it, a combination of advancement in knowledge, improvement in conditions of living, widespread materialism, and critique of religious belief undermine either commitment to Christian faith or openness to the possibility of Christian faith. In simpler terms, temptations to leave or ignore the church abound, and pressing reasons to seek the solace of the gospel are fewer.

So, if we are facing a declining situation in our own parish, we need to reflect at two levels. One level is the specific situation and addressing questions such as ‘why are people leaving?’ The answer may be something we can do something about or it may not be. The other level is the general situation of the impact of the gospel in the Western world. We need to find (in the words used just on Friday during a course I was running) where people are itching and let the gospel do some scratching.

The Lord’s Prayer is a gospel prayer. There is no relationship with the Father (for example) without the death of the Son. That death also leads to our forgiveness and to assurance that we can be delivered from evil, and so on. In preparing for the sermon I realised that people itch in different ways, and the Lord’s Prayer is a useful summary of the gospel in its different ‘scratch’ applications. In this season of election preparation (now NZ, as well as the US), for example, we are reminded of the tawdry imperfections of the kingdoms of this world. ‘Your kingdom come’ reminds us that there is another kingdom which offers promises which do not fail! I am sure you can think of the itches that ‘Father’, ‘bread’, ‘forgiveness’, and ‘deliverance’ scratch!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Musing on sermons

Struggled this week through more drafts than usual to get a satisfactory sermon, from my delivery end. Receivers will make their own judgement. At heart of the struggle, I think, was a lack of clarity in my mind about what I wanted to deliver. Information? Bible knowledge? Inspiring thoughts? I had a passage, Romans 13:8-14 which is perfect for 'teaching the Bible' - juicy verses dripping with exegetical possibilities. But was the congregation agog with desire to listen to exegesis? Possibly. But in the end I took another tack. I thought of a problem and a question and set out to solve one and answer the other.

The problem and question were a 'best guess' at something of interest and relevance to the congregation. The problem was, being tempted to give up on doing good as a Christian. This led to reflection on 13:11-14. The questions was, how do we know what to do? This was related to 13:8-10.

The question about what the purpose of preaching is, not just this sermon, but any sermon, has stood out for me this week. I suggest it is worth every preacher thinking about!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Getting informal worship right

Sitting in a service yesterday which was informal in general character, it was pleasant to notice the form and structure of the service which were right. Ministry of the sacrament succeeded rather than preceded the ministry of the word. There were public intercessions which concluded with the Lord's Prayer. There was a confession (which involved the congregation praying the confession together). The sermon attended to the readings (and the prayers picked up on the major theme of the sermon).

At a superficial level one could participate in such a service and conclude that it passed muster on form and content on the basis of its conformity to the form and content of Anglican worship according to the prayer book. But I am also interested in the way in which Anglican worship patterns conform to Scripture!

When Jesus went to church (i.e. the synagogue) he read from the Scriptures and expounded them. Paul commands us in 1 Timothy 2 to pray publicly in our services. Jesus commanded us to pray the Lord's Prayer (if you do not think he did, look again at what Jesus says)! Jesus also commanded us to reenact the Last Supper - which itself was an event occurring after Jesus' ministry of the word (e.g. in the days preceding), to say nothing of our presumption that, being the Passover, the Scriptures had been recited priort to Jesus taking the bread and the cup. Confession of sin is not only biblically appropriate in worship (think of what happened in Old Testament temple worship etc) but also crucial to our healing (James 5).

Yesterday's service also had singing of songs of praise (of course!) and that feature of biblical worship permeates the Old Testament, and is enjoined by Paul.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The gospel is the love Jesus has for me and for you

Came across this amazing 'freebie' - the journal Themelios, now published only in electronic form - but, be warned, dial-uppers, its nearly 6 MB from here.

In the latest issue - actually the first electronic issue - there is an article entitled "How a Mega-Church is Rediscovering the Gospel" by Joe Coffey, lead pastor of Hudson Community Chapel, one the fastest growing large churches in the States. But the article has little to do with mega-churches and lots to do with the gospel.

Here are a few excerpts which challenge, encourage, and inspire us as preachers.

"Ever since the mission trip, I had been feeling that it was more important for me to understand how much Jesus loved me than it was for me to figure out how to love Him. I watched in amazement as relief spread across my friend’s face. He said he had tried for twenty years to be sanctified through his own effort; it had ground him to powder, and he would not go back.

A couple of months went by and I finally picked up the Keller CD and listened to it as I drove. Before long, I found myself sitting alone in my car, fighting back the tears. Keller was connecting the dots: Christ’s relationship with his Father was shattered so that mine might be made whole. I suddenly realized that I had undervalued the Gospel by treating it as merely the starting point of the Christian life, instead of as the all-encompassing source of truth and grace that empowers all of the Christian life.

The Bible came alive over the months that followed. When I read in the Old Testament about the wrath of God, the frustration of God at the Israelites in the desert, or the mercy seat in the Tabernacle—it would all take me to the cross. Everything everywhere was about cross-centered redemption: the Bible, relationships, even creation itself. The over-arching story of salvation became more clear to me than ever—beginning with creation, moving to the fall, and then redemption, and finally restoration. What I learned, I preached. Almost overnight it became the Gospel every week displayed in a different passage."


"The belief system of a pastor is bound to come out in his preaching at least in subtle ways. My emphasis was always on grace, but it was also laced with the discipline of effort and inner strength to be what God called us to be. The result was either pride or defeat. My preaching has changed as a result of the Gospel going deeper inside of me.

The truth is I have existed as a pastor with gods in my closet. There were times when these gods sustained me. Giving them up has caused more death this year than I would like to admit. The closet is still not empty, but the death of these gods has made me ravenous. Without the Gospel as my source of security and significance, I would die. So as one who has vacillated between self-sufficiency and depression, Gospel-driven transformation is both liberating and terrifying."

Free Study Notes on Jonah

In October this year the ESV Study Bible will be published. Its publisher, Crossways, is offering Jonah - text and study notes for free. Its about 2.5 MB so those on dial up may or may not want to download ... which can be done from here.

Hat-tip to the Sola Panel for this lead.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My ideal family or all age service

60 minutes or less in length, coherent around one message/theme

Any 'talk' or 'sermon' makes one point with a double audience in mind (children-and-adults) ... so all of congregation is engaged

Children who participate through reading, prayers etc previously rehearse their roles

Songs as a total mix offer participation to whole congregation in worship of God

Save for a moment or two, the congregation never become spectators - always remain participants in the act of worship

One outcome is a congregation looking forward to the next family or all age service

(My strong personal preference is for such services to be Communion services, not least because the act of receiving communion involves significant congregational participation through movement, but there are arguments for/against).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Two notes on liturgy

Bosco Peters' Liturgy site (including blog) are highly commended. Two recent notes are worth reiterating here.

First, a note about calendrical confusion in our NZ Anglican church. Its hard to get these things right, given that there are only 365 days in most years, and some birthdays/deathdays of saints old and new are mathematically certain to double up on other celebrations. If you are a synodsperson in your diocese with opportunity to contribute to debate at your forthcoming synod, you could follow up on Bosco's request for clarity.

Secondly, a book promotion concerning a very useful introduction to liturgy, Beyond Smells & Bells by Mark Galli.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What should we preach on?

It may be useful if our vicar is suggesting we preach on this rather than that to recall an ever so slightly more regimented day. For example, in the late 16th century, in England, preachers were expected to conform in these ways, according to Archbishop Parker's 'Advertisements', 1566:

"First, that all they, which shall be admitted to preach, shall be diligently examined for their conformity in unity of doctrine, established by public authority; and admonished to use sobriety and discretion in teaching the people, namely, in matters of controversy; and to consider the gravity of their office, and to foresee with diligence the matters which they will speak, to utter them to the edification of the audience."

Of course, one wonders where the Anglican Communion might be today if this advice had been followed 'with diligence'!

Hat-tip to Zane Elliott

Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Orthodox View of Liturgy

During an interview at Lambeth, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, shared these thoughts on liturgy (his other thoughts are worth a look):

"KW – Liturgy is fundamental to the life of the church. At the Last Supper Jesus did not tell us, “Say these things,” he didn’t give us a verbal message that we were to pass on to others. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me”. He gave us an action, the operation of the Eucharist. And so the Church becomes truly herself when she celebrates the Eucharist. Therefore liturgy is fundamental.

But there are different ways of approaching liturgy. Sometimes discussions of liturgy become deeply archaeological. For example, when was this particular prayer introduced and in what places? Then liturgy seems very distant from the practical mission of the Church. There is the story told about the great Anglican dean of St. Paul’s in the early part of the twentieth century, Dean Inge, who was asked at a dinner party by his next door neighbour, trying to make conversation, “Dear Dean, are you interested in liturgy?” To which he replied, “No, and I do not collect postage stamps.” [i.e. he was not interested in an archaeological discussion of liturgy] So that’s the false idea of liturgy, which turns it into discussion of minute questions of ritual and ceremonial.

But if we understand liturgy in the broader sense of the action of Christ in the Church, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with Jesus Himself as the high Priest present invisibly offering the holy gifts, and giving himself to us, then surely we see that liturgy is central to the existence of the church, and central to the church’s mission.

The celebration of the Eucharist, communion in the holy sacrament of his body and blood, this is the life-giving source from which all our social witness, all our practical action, to relieve disease and poverty and injustice, has to proceed. This is the fountain from which all else springs. And so liturgy in that sense is inseparable from mission and social action.

Liturgy is the inspiration and the power that is given to us by God to change the world. So at the end of the Orthodox celebration of the Eucharist, the celebrant says, “Let us go forth in peace,” and that is not an epilogue but a prologue. It doesn’t mean, the service is over, go off and have a cup of coffee. It means, the liturgy is over and the liturgy after the liturgy is now about to begin. Go out into the world to transfigure the world through the power of the communion that you have received in Christ’s sacrament."

Noteworthy here is the connection between liturgical action and Christ's command, and between liturgy and mission. Somewhere in Anglican worship diversity, we may have lost the sense that in our gathering for worship we gather with the Lord Jesus in our midst, and we leave renewed in his commandment to serve God in the world in gospel mission, with the eucharist as important for our renewal as the ministry of the Word.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mission through funerals

I went to a funeral today. It was for a lovely man, well-respected, and admired in his family, friends, and profession. All went well (save for a small glitch with the sound system ... remember: sort the sound for services)!

But the funeral got me thinking - most services do these days - about funerals.

(1) They are Occasions: people gather from all parts of local community and wider national life; Christians and non-Christians gather; members of the local church and people from other churches and of no church get together; and the coming together marks a significant binary event of celebration and farewell.

(2) They are Statements: words are used at funerals; quite a few of them; and in a variety of genres. Today we had welcome, hymns, prayers, tributes, readings, a Bible reading, a message of reflection, committal, blessing. In the course of all these words statements were made: about the deceased, the community to which the deceased belonged, the ways things once were, life, death, love, and God revealed through Jesus Christ. But funerals make other statements (super-texts and sub-texts): 'here is the place where we meet with God as community', 'no matter your relationship to God and to the church in everyday life, significant transitions in life may involve God and you without recrimination about how everyday life is working out for you', 'life does not end with death', 'death is significant', and so on. I am sure you can think of others!

(3) They are Encounters with at least the depth of our beings, if not between the divine and the depth of our beings. Tears came to my eyes today. I had lost a friend. The depth of grief was exponentially greater for the wife and children and grandchildren of my friend. Something emotional happened during that service that defies easy description (though some of the great poets do this well). In that emotion parts of our being were exposed, at least to our own sight, which are not exposed when we live scrambled lives of busyness and repetitive routines. The hymns and prayers, the words of Scripture connect that experience with the being of the universe, with God Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life.

So, even without a specific set of words in the service 'preaching the gospel', the mission of God takes place in a Christian funeral service. The Occasion takes people to a place of hearing Statements (explicit, implicit) and enables Encounter with God.

Then we could draw out a lot of implications for preparing funeral services, performing them, and also make connections to pastoring people through funeral services.

But its a little late. So just two observations.

Take the opportunity to lead a funeral service - do not palm it off to another.

Do the best job possible with the opportunity - do not offer it your second best.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Perfect theology

Pleased to report hearing two sermons this week where the preacher stuck to the text like a train to the tracks!

During one service we sung this hymn. Its well known, I have sung it many times and not thought too much about it. But this time I noticed how perfect and complete its theology is ...

Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour,
first-begotten from the dead,
You alone, our strong defender,
liftest up your people's head.
Jesu, true and living bread.

Here our humblest homage pay we,
here in loving reverence bow;
here for faith's discernment pray we,
lest we fail to know you now.
you art here, we ask not how.

Though the lowliest form does veil you
as of old in Bethlehem,
here as there your angels hail you,
Branch and Flower of Jesse's Stem.
we in worship join with them.

Paschal Lamb, your offering, finished
once for all when you were slain,
in its fulness undiminished
shall for evermore remain,
cleansing souls from every stain.

Life-imparting heavenly Manna,
stricken Rock with streaming side,
heaven and earth with loud hosanna
worship thee, the Lamb who died,
risen, ascended, glorified.

G. H. Bourne (1840-1925)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A sermon is a train not a rocket

Recently I heard a sermon 'somewhere' which bemused me. It attended to the gospel text, misinterpreted its imagery, neglected a significant aspect of its message, and provided a fine message about trusting God whatever circumstances may befall us.

The text of Scripture was a launching pad for the sermon, which, like the biggest of rockets, hovered near the pad for the first few seconds after blast off, and then took off into outer space. Such rockets are spectacular, inspiring, and turn our eyes heavenwards. All good stuff, as it was on this occasion. But is that what Scripture's purpose is? Are we being fully and properly informed by Scripture when it is made a launching pad? And, is there not a grave danger that the rocket, once launched, might fizzle out and head away from heaven?

Better, is it not, to think of the sermon as the more humble, prosaic train. The text is the rails, and the train can only go somewhere useful for its passengers if the train stays on the rails at all times.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Arcane matters of canon law and authorised worship

In a recent post on Anglican Down Under I provide a copy of a long response I have made to an open letter circulated by Archdeacon Glynn Cardy of the Diocese of Auckland. The issue giving rise to this exchange is the status of services of blessing for same sex partnerships (and/or civil unions). Such services are happening in the Western Anglican world, including New Zealand, but mostly 'under the radar', and sometimes in an 'informal' matter. So not much canonical scrutiny has applied to them.

The relevant point to this blogsite is that it can be easy to overlook the fact that licensed ministers - lay and ordained - have an obligation to lead services of worship which are 'authorised' by the church. The reasons for this include (a) following St Paul's injunction to conduct worship with 'decency and order', and (b) ensuring that the content of our worship is theologically sound, giving expression to the doctrine of our church (as agreed and hammered out over centuries) rather than to the opinions and speculations of the worship leader.

The simplest way of fulfilling this obligation is to leader services according to the prayer book (noting how much wording in these services is drawn directly from Scripture itself)! But it is also possible to fulfil this obligation through a more flexible order of service (which the prayer book provides for) so long as the content of such services conforms to the doctrine of our church (one way to help this occur is to include prayers drawn from the prayer book into our mix of songs and hymns and testimonies; another way is to ensure that Scripture is actually read in the service)!

Briefly, part of my dispute with Archdeacon Cardy is that our rules or 'canonical law' lays down the law rather than 'guidelines'. If we had guidelines then anything could happen in our which, and no formal accountability would exist between the bishop and his/her licensed ministers. But we do not have guidelines, we have rules. Yet the rules are not for their own sake: they are to ensure that our worship is truth-full.