All We Lack Is The Will

According to Wikipedia,

World Vision International is an Evangelical Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. Inspired by Christian values, they are dedicated to working with the world’s most vulnerable people. World Vision serves all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender.

Ever since I was a child, I have known about the work of World Vision. I remember, as a young adolescent growing up in the hills of southern West Virginia, poring over the pictures and the articles in the World Vision magazine as soon as it arrived every month. In those days, not long after World Vision came into existence in 1950 as the outgrowth of the vision of Bob Pierce, their work focused mainly on caring for the needs of children in South Korea who were orphaned as a result of World War II and the Korean Conflict. Continue reading

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Podcast No. 13

??????????Podcast No. 13 is now available. It is called “God Save Us From The Successful Church,” and it is around 7 minutes long. To download it as an mp3 file, click here. To listen to the podcast now, click on the button below. This podcast is also archived on the “Podcasts” page of this blog. Thanks for listening.

The Arthur Chronicles—No. 15 (Poverty Is Prison)

I had expected to meet Arthur at our favorite coffee shop on Monday afternoon for our regular weekly conversation, but he called mid-morning to ask if we could reschedule.

“I sold my table,” he told me, “and the guy who bought it wants to pick it up this afternoon. Ellie is working, so I need to be here when he comes.”

I think I mentioned that Arthur loves to work with wood, and I knew the table he was talking about. He had found it at an estate auction many years ago. It apparently had not looked like much when he bought it, but beneath several layers of paint and yellowed varnish, he antique walnut dining-tablehad discovered the most beautiful solid walnut.

He had buffed out all the gouges and rough spots with sand paper and steel wool, repaired a loose leg, and attached new drawer pulls and slide mechanisms. Then he applied several coats of tung oil by hand. The result was a stunning piece of furniture now worth ten times what he paid for it.

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Here’s My Dilemma

This may surprise or even annoy some of my readers, especially those who are also bloggers, but I don’t read many blogs. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but I want to be absolutely forthright in what I communicate here.

There are two reasons why I don’t read blogs. First, I don’t have time. I know, I know. TheBlog concept vector illustration. more I write in this post, the more trouble I’m in, since I admit I don’t have time to read blogs, and yet I write one which I hope other people will read. Truth be told, I am amazed that anybody finds the time to read my blog. And believe me, I don’t take my readers for granted.

Second, most blogs are not very good. Good writing, like any proficiency, is a blend of innate ability and hard work. A combination of talent and sweat. A melding of gift and discipline. Let’s face it, few bloggers achieve that level of proficiency. If we did, our work would probably be picked up by a reputable publisher instead of being relegated to the internet.

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The Arthur Chronicles—No. 11

Arthur called on Saturday to tell me we would not be able to meet at our regular time on Monday afternoon. His wife is a breast cancer survivor. She meets with her oncologist for follow-up exams every few months, and Arthur accompanies her. One of those regular Week planningappointments was scheduled for Monday afternoon. Arthur had forgotten about it when we met a week ago.

I thought he might be happy to have a legitimate excuse not to meet with me this week. Some of our recent conversations had taken on an unexpected intensity. That was especially true last week, and Arthur had hinted, at the time, that he might be inclined to take a week off.

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An Outpost For The Kingdom

One week ago, I was in Washington, DC, where I attended a day-long conference on the campus of Georgetown University. The conference was called “Evangelicals for Peace: A Summit on Christian Moral Responsi- bility in the 21st Century.” It was time well-spent, and I will have much more to say about what I learned and experienced there, but I think I will hold off on that commentary until after Election Day. The issues addressed at that conference are far too important to be diluted or misinterpreted or ignored amid the clamor of propaganda and demagoguery, from both sides of the ideological spectrum, that assails the senses and clogs the airwaves and the internet during this highly-charged political season.

I mention this event because of a conversation I had while I was there. I was seated next to a gentleman who serves on the staff of the International Criminal Court, and as we chatted during the break times throughout the day, our exchange became progressively more substantive. During the mid-afternoon break, I shared with him, as succinctly as I could, my vision for a new church in the vicinity of The Ohio State University.

I described the yet-to-be-birthed congregation, which we are calling St. Patrick’s Church, as a community of faith in the Anglican tradition, established on a foundation of evangelical orthodoxy and committed to radical discipleship. And then I used a term which I don’t think I have ever used before. At least not often. I said, “We want St. Patrick’s to be what every church should be but few really are… an outpost for the Kingdom of God.”

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My Hope Is In The Diocese

Like many Christians, I grew up with what I now believe to be a grossly deficient view of the role and purpose of the church. My parents were Baptists. I was baptized, and eventually ordained, in that tradition, which is characterized by a strongly congregational polity (i.e. form or system of government). That is, while Baptist churches may link together for certain kinds of cooperative endeavors, each local congregation is viewed as an autonomous entity, not subject to any kind of outside authority so far as its decision-making apparatus is concerned.

In some Baptist churches, the form of government in the local congregation is something close to a pure democracy, where a vote of the membership is required for virtually every decision of any significance. Others operate under a system in which the pastor, as the lone “elder” in the church, pretty well runs the show, assisted to some degree by a board of “deacons” who presumably advise the pastor and, in rare cases, may actually possess sufficient authority to override a pastoral decision.

A similar polity is favored by “independent, non-denominational” churches, many of which use terms like “Bible Church” or “Community Church” in their names. My first two pastorates were served in churches of this sort, without denominational identity but decidedly congregational in polity. I was in my thirties before I began to think of “church” as anything other than a local, autonomous assembly, responsible for its own program, accountable to nobody except its own membership, and sometimes not even to them.

Well, that’s not entirely true. As a Bible college graduate, I understood the term “church” to be used in the New Testament with reference to the “body of Christ,” composed of all Christians, everywhere, across the centuries of “church” history. But this “universal church” was sometimes called the “invisible church,” and a church that you could not see was, in practical terms, nonexistent. The only church I knew anything about, so far as personal experience was concerned, was a local, independent entity, operating according to its own perception of Christian doctrine, and often in competition with similar local churches in the same general area.

Eventually, I came to believe that affiliation with a local church assembly alone, to the exclusion of formal and official identification with a broader, more diverse community of Christian believers (as in a denomination), revealed an inadequate understanding of the concept of the church as the “body of Christ.” I had read the Nicene Creed, with its declaration that “we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” and I wanted to do something, in terms of formal identification and official membership, which reflected my commitment to that church.

The proliferation of Christian denominations, I maintain, is one negative consequence of the Protestant Reformation. Thus it is not possible, in organizational and institutional terms, to identify formally and officially with the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Even the Roman Catholic Church, since Vatican II, recognizes that there are genuine Christian believers not covered by its umbrella. The best we can do, or so it would seem, is to identify with a denomination—ideally one with worldwide membership—which also recognizes its place within the family of churches, denominations, fellowships, coalitions, and alliances which, ostensibly, worship Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and King of the Universe.

That was the decision to which I came, nearly thirty years ago, when I became a member of what is now Mennonite Church USA. MCUSA is a tiny denomination, but it is linked to a worldwide Mennonite/Anabaptist network. Moreover, at the time, affiliation with even a small denomination was a big step for someone with my background to take.

I took that decision seriously. I could have embraced many of the distinctives which drew me to Anabaptism—an emphasis on radical discipleship, Biblical nonresistance, simplicity, and a commitment to social justice, for example—without actually joining the Mennonite Church. But I was ready to identify with an entity that included brothers and sisters in Christ outside of my local congregation.

Twenty-five years later, I was captivated by the beauty and mystery of liturgical worship. For a time, I tried to “scratch the liturgical itch” without identifying formally with a denomination in the liturgical tradition. Initially, I wanted to be an Anabaptist with liturgical sensibilities. The more I learned about Anglicanism, however, the more I was drawn into the communion as much for its polity, its history,

The Flag Of Worldwide Anglicanism

and its worldwide witness as for its liturgy. Today I consider myself an Anglican with Anabaptist sensibilities.

Anglican polity is decidedly not congregational or democratic. It is episcopal, which is the English form of a Greek word often translated “overseer” and is the etymological root for the English word bishop. In Baptist churches, authority rests with the congregation. In Anglican churches, authority rests (or is supposed to rest) with the bishop. The bishop’s authority extends to a specified number of local congregations (known as parishes) which all together comprise what is known as a diocese.

In congregational polity, the local church is the fundamental unit of ecclesiastical identification. In Anglican polity, it is the diocese. Local parishes exist to embody the vision and mission of the diocese in a particular community. They are the means by which the diocese interfaces with a specific neighborhood. Clergy are not members of a local parish. They are members of the diocese only, and their role is to represent the bishop in the parishes where they serve in a variety of roles.

This system of government, which is based on a particular understanding of terms and patterns found in the New Testament, has some weaknesses, but overall it is workable and efficient. Its efficiency and its effectiveness depend on the character and competence of the bishop and the faithfulness and commitment of the diocesan clergy to the system and to their vows of loyalty to the bishop.

I believe that episcopal polity (i.e. parishes in a diocese living under the watchcare and authority of a bishop) is not only efficient and effective (at least in theory) for the organization and operation of local churches or parishes. It is also tailor-made (again, in theory) as a mechanism for the planting of new parishes.

Here’s what I mean. A single local parish within a diocese may not possess sufficient resources, either human or material, to support the birth and development of a new church in its area, even when the need for such a new congregation is obvious and indisputable. By pooling the available resources from all the parishes in the diocese, the cost of planting a new church could be underwritten for a year or two. As the new church grew and took on responsibility for its own support, diocesan funds could be re-directed toward another area with a need for a new church. In this way, each new church would be a joint effort of the diocese, and the entire diocese could rejoice in its success and benefit from its ministry.

I have proposed a pattern such as this for consideration by the parishes in my own diocese. So far, it has gone nowhere. That makes me sad, since I have pretty much concluded that this approach may be the only way our vision for St. Patrick’s Church can be realized. And it may be the only mechanism by which I can find a context for vocational ministry in the Anglican communion.