In the last few years some of the debates among evangelicals have included: What is teaching and its relationship to preaching?  What is worship and its relationship to church?  What is the mandate for continuing with ‘the Lord’s Supper’ in church?  What is the better model for multi-pastor congregations? And Should we return to more formalised liturgical meetings in church?

Now I have views on each of these issues; but I’m more interested just now in exploring some of what I regard as deeply troubling trends that have given rise to these debates.   For example, is there a real problem with the way we understand the vertical (God-us) and horizontal (to each other) dimensions when we gather in Christ’s name, whatever we think about the use of  ‘worship’ as a purpose of church?

I am going to write a book on all this in the next year.  If nothing else, it will help me to clarify some key issues, and, possibly, it may be useful to others.

No, I’m not going to suggest names here.   But because any archbishop has significant power and influence, we need to think very carefully about the kind of diocesan leader we need.  Let me suggest a few qualities I think the next archbishop needs to have.

First, he needs to fulfil the qualifications of any overseer of a congregation as laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  We need a man who is convicted of the great truths of the gospel of our risen Lord, and who lives by them  prayerfully in all godliness.

Second, he needs to be embrace the  reformed, evangelical, protestant anglican tradition of the diocese.  It helps no-one to elect a man who isn’t comfortable with this tradition, based firmly on the teaching of Scripture.  I’d add that he ought to be happy to promote lay administration of holy communion and continue to argue for an increase of women being trained as womens’ ministry workers without endorsing ordination to the presbyterate.  The doctrine of the church as taught in the diocese for some decades now has shaped us very profoundly; I want an archbishop who will continue to lead us based on this understanding of the church.  When bishops and denominational authorities demand loyalty in ways that detract from or overwhelm the integrity of the local church we’re in trouble.

Third, he needs to unify clergy and laity.  In recent synods in some debates clergy and laity have sometimes been pitted against each other.  It is true that there need to be appropriate checks and balances on the way in which clergy lead; but a wise archbishop will not be naive. Some disputes are based on differences grounded in theology even though those complaining argue it’s all about the way the clergyman is behaving or leading.  Others are determined to make a lot of noise about their discontent with their minister.   What’s needed is not to judge either side too quickly but to help both sides understand what’s really going on and to urge both sides to work together for the great cause of the gospel. It’s easy to demonise clergy as a bishop; but it’s also a disaster and can result in clergy demonising laity, which is just as damaging.

Finally, he needs to make wise appointments.  That will mean listening carefully, being willing to consider those he does not know so well personally, and being willing to take risks.

As for us, we need to pray for the synod and for the man elected; the office of archbishop of Sydney is enough to daunt anyone!

Mark Thompson has written a very timely article on the need to guard the truth in our own time and to be aware of how quickly the battles for the truth in the past can be forgotten.  When that happens, we are very seriously at risk of failing to act when we should to guard the gospel.  The article may be found here.

Lionel Windsor has carefully and graciously responded to the new e-book by John Dickson in which he argues why women may now preach sermons.   I commend it to you; it may be found here.

Some years ago now, when Matthew Jensen was a student minister, he preached on 1 John and advanced a very different understanding of the text from the views I’d reached based on my understanding and consistent with the consensus of scholarly opinion.   At the time I was not persuaded  by what seemed like a very novel reading by Matthew; but I must now eat my words!

I then heard Matthew give a lecture on 1 John at  a School of Theology held at Moore Theological College, and I was still  not convinced; my Damascus experience was still to come.

It wasn’t until I read Matthew’s lecture, when it was published, and did some hard work on the Greek text that I became convinced that Matthew’s thesis makes a great deal of sense.

In essence, Matthew believes the the real issue with which this letter deals is not denials of the incarnation of Jesus but rather the ‘resurrection of the Incarnate Christ’.   Suddenly, so much falls into place at so many levels.  From a more convincing understanding of the first 4 verses of the letter  to the identification of ‘we’ and  the antichrists, Matthew’s reading of 1 John makes more sense of this letter than the traditional views that have been advanced over the years.  His argument takes note of important details such as the structure of the letter,  Old Testament echoes, the changes in tense in the 2 main sections of 1 John, and what key words do and don’t mean.

Matthew, I’m sorry I was so slow to come around!   Let me add, you have done us a great service in writing what is essentially your PhD thesis on this subject, so thank you.

I recommend  Matthew’ s new book : Affirming the Resurrection of the Incarnate Christ.  It is in the Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series.   I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading it as I work on the text of 1 John.

It’s depressing.   One of the regular contributors to Sydney Anglicans writes

I love it when we realise that we’re not lots of churches, but one church serving one God.

Clear teaching on the church from men like Donald Robinson and Broughton Knox and so many pastors in our diocese has apparently made no impact here.

The one church is the heavenly church.  On earth, many churches serve God.   And yes, of course we share a fundamental unity in the gospel; indeeed, we can work together in all kinds of ways as those who are partners and participate together (fellowship) in the work of the gospel.

We used to care about theology as a diocese.   Can’t we do better on our diocesan website?

My wife was chatting with some other mothers recently about the busyness of life.  One of the mothers was talking about the problem of having no time together as a family.   The only time she talked with her children was when she was taxiing them to the next activity.  Her house is typical of a modern family; each member has many things to do as an individual.

But how much time does a family have together as a family?   And do members look out for each other and help each other out?   I ask the question because we are no longer doing this as well as we might as the body of Christ.  Let me give you a typical example.   A young man recently noticed that a sister in Christ had double-booked, going to 2 events at the same time.   Yet he chose to say nothing to her; “That’s her responsibility.”  It just did not occur to him that he might have served her by pointing out the double booking.  Apparently, though, the body of Christ is now a body  in which individual members look only after themselves.

When preaching on the body of Christ, we can  no longer assume that people understand how families and bodies work in a relational sense.  We need to teach this, not assume it.  And we need to model it; we need to have families in which there is family time, and time for members of families to help out each other.

 

 

This is a hot issue at the moment; our Synod in Sydney recently passed an Ordinance (church law) to amend an existing ordinance, the effect of which would have been to make it easier for a Senior Minister (Rector) to be removed  and to be offered a new appointment.  However, the Archbishop of Sydney has exercised his right not to assent to this Amending Ordinance.  Why?  I don’t know!  But I for one thank God that he has not assented to this ordinance, because, in my view, it would have made it far more difficult for fearless preachers to lead and teach faithfully in our diocese.  Anglicans have not embraced the Baptist Churches polity where a congregation can effectively sack their pastor.  Why?  Because it would mean that godly pastors are sacked for preaching the gospel.

I am against any ordinance which takes us down the Baptist Union path.   But does that mean parishioners have no voice if a pastor is relating to them unhelpfully?  In the past, the answer was arguably ‘yes’ ; but not now.  We as a diocese now have a diocesan procedure to assist parishes and pastors when such relational issues arise.  Let’s see how effective it is; on paper it looks very promising.

But to use law to deal with this problem?  Will we never learn.  Let me detail my specific concerns with what almost became the law of the diocese:

  •  We have a  new diocesan procedure, which deals with rectors, wardens, and others who are relating inappropriately in a parish.  This new policy sets out very clearly how the matter is to be dealt with and how a bishop is to act.  This means, for the first time in our history, we have agreed to a way of handling such matters without escalating the situation to have as the goal the removal of the rector from the parish.  This should be tested first before any amendments to this ordinance are made.
  • The Parish Relationships Amendment Ordinance will fail in that it will not prevent a parish falling apart in the event of  dissatisfaction with or a break down of relationships between parishioners and the rector.  History shows that using an ordinance to deal with such a matter only polarises people, causes many people to leave the church, and heightens bitterness and rancour.  If “Pymble” taught us nothing else, it surely taught us this truth.  Yes, “Pymble” happened with the use of a different ordinance, but the problem was not just with the old 1906 Ordinance; it was with the use of an ordinance to remove a rector for reasons other than committing an offence to be heard by the diocesan tribunal.  So then, this Ordinance will do nothing to help a parish faced with a breakdown in relationships, and nothing to protect parishioners’ hurt ; it will only damage relationships and congregations more deeply.
  •  When highly respected, godly clergy  have been condemned by parishioners, those parishioners have invariably attacked the relevant pastor’s  character: he is cold, unloving, dismissive etc.  In one Synod a member accused such a pastor of being given to losing his temper (the Goodhew Election Synod). This was a slander; there was no truth in it.  People who disagree with a preacher’s theology and leadership decisions are often too clever to criticise the pastor for those things; they will attack the man’s character- and unjustly so.  So then, this Ordinance will mean people will more easily use it to prevent clergy from bringing reform and clear Bible teaching that is confronting to some.  It will mean that clergy will be more afraid to preach fearlessly.  This is a very high price to pay.
Let’s learn the lessons of history, heed the implications of what we do, and allow new relational procedures to work without providing people with the heavy ammunition of a law that will be used to ungodly ends.

Last night I heard the very sad news that Alan Hohne has died.  Alan was a man with full of faith by God’s grace, whom God used to encourage so many others.

I will never forget his support for me and the work of the gospel in Slovenia.  He was a wonderful encouragement to the CMS Missionaries serving there, and to Peter Novak, who trained at Moore College then to return to his homeland to pastor a reformed, evangelical church there.

Thank God for his mighty work in and through others.

A few years ago, the Synod “welcomed” the report of the Sydney Anglican Doctrine Commission on the Theology of Christian Assembly, including its recommendations. This outstanding report acknowledged how we will need different forms for what we do in our different congregations.  Let me quote:

Not every assembly should try to do this in the same way or with the same component parts, nor in the same style. An assembly of 20, for example, will provide different opportunities for individuals to speak God’s word to one another and offer mutual exhortation, than an assembly of 150. Similarly, size and context will usually affect the level of formality in a gathering—the easy-going informality of a home Bible study group will be different from the greater degree of organization and structure required for an assembly of 200. However, regardless of style, context, size and culture, all assemblies should build toward maturity in Christ by prayerfully speaking his word, fellowship in Christ as we listen to and respond to his word, and be a testimony to Christ by our love and unity.

The report also made this vital theological point:

In planning and leading the regular Sunday assemblies that are the most common feature of our corporate life, we would do well to consider the entire time we are gathered as ‘the assembly’. In particular, the common practice of having ‘the formalities’, preceded by the various activities of arriving and being welcomed, and followed by morning tea/supper, should not be regarded as delineating ‘the service’ from the ‘fellowship’. Instead, we should give careful thought to how the different phases of the gathering could most usefully fulfil our purposes in being together. For example, it is not easy to help busy, distracted people to turn their attention to the God who is addressing us and to whom we bring our prayers. During the whole time we are together, from arrival to departure, how might we speak God’s word to each other, and respond to him together—in a larger group, in smaller groups over food, and informally one-to- one?

Well, what have we done so far?  We have produced a book with some new orders of Common Prayer, the Lord’s Supper, Marriage and funerals.  That may prove useful and helpful.  We also have  a website with some guidance and teaching for those leading our gatherings.  However, there is so much more to be done.

As a matter of urgency, to use the language of the report, we need a range of new templates, not just formal liturgies, to be prepared.  These need to provide guidance and various resources.  These will include: large congregations, smaller congregations, congregations where the average educational level is less than the norm, congregations in which English is a second language, congregations that are so small that they meet in homes, and many others.

It is unfortunate that the liturgical group uses different language from the report when describing church.  The report moved away from the language of ‘worship’ and ‘services’ in  a very helpful way, to help us to see what we actually do when we come together in the Name of the Lord Jesus.  But, this point made, the website is producing some helpful resources.

I look forward to the ongoing work of the panel, and the opportunity, with all synod members, to offer constructive feedback.  Our focus should be on the theology of Christian Assembly when discussing liturgy, not on some predetermined way we believe liturgy should be used or how formal liturgy should be.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 163 other followers