I don’t really have an original thought of my own. Theologically, liturgically, or in any other meaningful way. As a catholic in the Anglican Church, I have received the tradition passed on through generations of believers in the past two millennia. In our worship, the Church through the ages sings the same song in praise of Jesus. As a Pentecostal, I know I stand on the foundation laid by apostles and prophets and the work of the Spirit in all of Jesus’ people establishing the Kingdom. So I don’t really have any issues with “borrowing” or building on the work of others. But sometimes, I also have to trust that God is speaking clearly enough in my own heart something for the upbuilding of the Church.
So when I read Bp. Jonathan Martin’s reflection on the recent gender scandals in Christian webspace, I was saying’ my “Amen’s” and generally enjoying the wisdom of the piece (for those too impatient to be blessed by it, you could say “Get over yourself” is one main point of application). It preaches well, biblically. It speaks to our situation. But the altar call left something to be desired.
I do not wish to be overly contentious with my colleagues. Tribally we are different, but culturally we are so very much alike. This is intended to be more conciliatory. Why don’t you pull up a chair beside me here on the deck, bring something to drink, and let’s at least watch from over the bow, shall we? I would hate to feel this irrelevant all by myself. It’s a beautiful sight, really. It is not so tragic for the world to lose sight of us. We must decrease so He might increase. So it’s a celebration then. Bring your macbook pro if you like; we can even listen to some Coldplay.
Now I should say I like most of what’s here…And I’m pretty sure Jonathan himself would probably agree. But here’s what I’m not so sure about:
Watch from over the bow.” The history of Christianity is full of demographic/geographical shifts that occur when the dominant region loses its missionary zeal and the Spirit begins a work in new corners (not a cause and effect relationship!). Acts 28 is the first signs of that shift from Jewish Christianity to a Greco-Roman Gentile Christianity. The tides of Islam moved the dominant theological leadership from the Greek East and North Africa into a Germanic and Latin Western Europe. The movement of colonialism brought much of the weight to American shores. In our own day, Latin America, Africa and Asia are emerging. And for the most part, once those shifts happened, the old dominant group just rots away. This is a problem. Because we’re one Body. When one part suffers, we all suffer. When one part rejoices,we all rejoice.
I had the privilege of seeing this personally in Jos, Nigeria a few weeks ago as part of a SOMA mission. The Church in Nigeria has faced difficult persecution from the Islamist north of the country and very few weekends pass without an attack on churches by extremists. We were asked a number of times “Why come now?” Our team leader, in a fit of God-given wisdom, had two answers: (1) obedience to God (He had called and confirmed each of us for this mission) and (2) our family bond in Jesus (“What kind of brothers and sisters would we be if we came only when things were nice?”). In the near-three weeks we were there, all of us were encouraged in our faith in Jesus, empowered by the Spirit and watched as God was expanding His Kingdom into the margins in Nigeria.
I didn’t make friends in Nigeria. I gained brothers. We built each other up. A number of the seminarians I had the joy of teaching for a week (African seminaries are generally an undergraduate level program) call me “Big brother.” It’s an expression of the love and kinship that God has given us in the Spirit. But I also hear it as God’s reminder to me of what my place is. In the Scriptures, the big brother is the guy who has to serve, to be submitted, to not grasp after an inheritance that the world and self say belong to him but has been given by God to his younger brother. I am very aware that what I do in ministry, whether in Africa or in the West, is to serve the people of God, but in terms of the leadership of the Church, I know that it doesn’t belong to me, or to most of the people I have trained and studied with. It belongs to my younger brothers. But I need to dodge the sins of Ishmael and Esau, and support, encourage, and partner in the work of the Gospel with them. Brothers and sisters, we can’t afford to sit around and watch as the center of Christian leadership shifts. We owe it to our brothers and sisters in the Global South to submit and partner joyfully because God is on the move.
And Coldplay? Seriously, folks. Pick up some U2.