M is for Missional… and for Money

The Anglican Church in North America is facing almost unlimited opportunity but with limited financial resources.  If we are to realize our potential and take advantage of that opportunity, we will need to be creative in the use of our finances and willing to sacrifice for the good of the Kingdom.  I know that God is infinite and possesses boundless assets, but I am always amazed that the infinite God has chosen to accomplish His purposes in the world through finite humans and to make the advancement of the Gospel dependent on our faithfulness.

This has been the case since the church’s very beginning. The second chapter of Acts records the story of some remarkable events that took place in Jerusalem just seven weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Ten days earlier, Jesus’ disciples had watched as He ascended back into heaven, having completed the work for which He had come to earth, and with joy in their hearts they waited to see what God would do next. Then, with Jerusalem teeming with Jews who had come there to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost (fifty days after Passover), the Holy Spirit came upon them, resulting in the conversion of thousands who understood and believed the good news about Jesus the Messiah.

The Christian community faced an immediate dilemma. Many of the new believers chose to stay in Jerusalem, where they could be nurtured in spiritual growth, rather than to return to the lands from which they had come. This was both a blessing and a burden for the church in Jerusalem. The infant church would benefit from the fellowship and enthusiasm of the multitudes of converts, many of whom would eventually return to their places of origin as missionaries for the Gospel of Christ. In the meantime, however, they needed to be housed and fed and cared for.

And the church rose to the challenge. As Luke records in Acts 2:44-45 (ESV)—

All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

We have wasted a lot of time over the centuries arguing about whether or not the early church practiced some form of communism. That is beside the point, which is that the early church did whatever was necessary to provide the material resources which their situation, and their calling, required. The ACNA faces a similar challenge.

God has moved among us, His Spirit has descended upon the Anglican communion, and the Gospel of the Kingdom, once again faithfully preached and practiced in the beauty of the historical liturgy, has proven enormously attractive to many, including me. Many of us “converts” bring gifts and talents and enthusiasm and vision to our new “Jerusalem.” We want to live here, to serve here, to help the ACNA realize its potential and to do what we can to make the Archbishop’s vision for 1000 new churches a reality. In this historic moment, however, at the threshold of what could potentially be an “Anglican hour” in American Christianity, too many voices are calling out, “But we just don’t have the money.”

Nonsense. There is always enough money to do what God is calling us to do. Where God guides, He provides. Any apparent shortage of financial resources means either that the vision is not really from God or that the people of God need to rearrange their priorities and reconsider their view of Christian stewardship in order to make sure that their resources (all of which come from God anyway) are not being mismanaged or misused.

The ACNA is not the Episcopal Church (TEC). Especially for those parishes, formerly in TEC, that have been led to align with the new work of the Spirit which God is beginning to do through ACNA, this is a potentially transformative moment. But that transformation involves far more than merely changing the name on the church sign. It requires one of those “paradigm shifts” that so often accompany, or give evidence of, authentic transformation. It may very well be that, for ACNA, one of the most significant paradigm shifts will involve a change in the church’s attitude and practice in the area of financial stewardship.

I have much more to say on this important subject, including some specific suggestions and recommendations, and I will share them in future posts.

What’s In A Name?

In his book, Soul Survivor, author Philip Yancey describes the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy, as engaged in a “relentless pursuit of authentic faith.” Few will ever compare me to Tolstoy, and I am not altogether sad about that, but I would not mind sharing that description. For most of my life, I too have been on a relentless pursuit of authentic faith.

My parents were Christians, and I followed their example, embraced their faith, and was baptised as a child. During my teen years I asked, of my parents and my pastor, many of the typical questions about the existence of God, the merit of non-Christian religions, and the meaning of life which adolescents often ask. Although I found many of their answers inadequate and unsatisfying, I never really doubted that there were adequate answers, and I assumed that I would eventually find them.

I envy those persons who are fortunate enough to have been born into the “right” tradition. Folks who are certain that the beliefs they inherited from their parents require no testing. That their group’s history is noble and superior to other traditions, whether they know much about their history (or anybody else’s, for that matter) or not. Folks who have never experienced the wrenching emotions and almost physical pain which accompany the dreaded but unavoidable conclusion that what you have grown up believing may not, in fact, be totally true. And that you are forced, by dint of growing convictions, to repudiate earlier beliefs and, yes, to change your mind.

It must be immensely comforting to make the sojourn from cradle to grave without having to wrestle with new ideas or to explore, and later embrace, a new pattern of belief which will, invariably, be misunderstood and misinterpreted by family members, former colleagues, and friends.

Unfortunately, I have not been so blessed. Several times over the course of my life I have had to abandon some long-held assumptions and, at the risk of permanent damage to personal relationships, to admit that my earlier understanding of truth had undergone a major revision, to change my mind, and to adopt a new heading.

I had to do that when I moved from fundamentalism to a wider, more inclusive, more grace-full evangelicalism. I had to do it again when I concluded that modern American suburban evangelicalism had become too much like the culture it was supposed to bear witness to. And I had to do it yet again when I was drawn into the beauty and mystery of the liturgical tradition in Christian worship.

It has been a “relentless pursuit,” and it’s not over yet. Thanks for joining me on the sojourn. Buckle up. It may be a bumpy ride.