Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Divine Impulses: Katharine Jefferts Schori

From a video interview on "The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church talks about homosexuality as a gift and the future stability of her church."

(Golly! And to think I could have been watching Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge instead.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What is Jesus Doing?


Unless you have been living on another planet for the past few years, you know that these letters mean: "What Would Jesus Do?"


I saw these letters a few weeks ago on a website. It was Christian gift shop website asking its customers to ask the question, "What Would Jesus Buy? (I looked at the kitsch they were selling, and I thought, "I don't think Jesus would buy any of that stuff!)

As Christians we are in the season of Advent—a time when we prepare our hearts to celebrate once again the first coming of Jesus, when the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son, became incarnate and was born in Bethlehem, lived as one of us, but without sin… died on the Cross for the sins of the world and rose bodily from the grave, "the firstfruits of them that sleep." That is the GOOD NEWS: because if Jesus is the "firstfruits," we will someday be raised in a resurrection body just as Jesus was raised.

We also prepare ourselves for that time when Jesus will come again in power and great glory, and so we get ready—-we "red up" (Bishop Duncan reminded us of that Pittsburgh colloquialism in his sermon in Wheaton the other night. We "red up," we get ready for that time when Jesus will come again. It is not just ourselves we get ready; we are to get the Church ready as a bride to receive her bridegroom. And if we are going to do that, there is another question we need to ask:


What Is Jesus Doing?

"What Would Jesus Do?" is a question to ask when we are confronted with choices, especially of a moral or ethical nature? "What Is Jesus Doing?" is a question to ask when we are concerned about mission priorities. Because if we know what Jesus is doing, we can perhaps get an idea of what we ought to be doing.

"What Is Jesus Doing?" is a challenging question to answer: Jesus is fully human and fully God, so he is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—-that carries “multitasking” to a whole new level! He can do everything, know everything, and be everywhere—all at the same time!

But if we looked in Jesus’ DayTimer, or Outlook, or Blackberry for Tuesday, December 9, 9:00 a.m., Jesus’ "To Do List," would not say: "DO EVERYTHING." I believe Scripture gives us two things that would be at the top of Jesus’ To Do List:

Hebrews 7:23 [contrasting the priestly ministry of Jesus with the ministry of the priests his Jewish readers would have known, he says:] "The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." Jesus, now in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father intercedes for us, His people and for His Church.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul says, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

In these closing instructions to the Thessalonian believers, Paul is here simply laying on them the same ministry he says he has for them in his opening greeting:

1 Thessalonians 1:2 -- "We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul is telling them of his ministry of intercession for them.

Later this week, I am going to spend a few days at the International House of Prayer, in Kansas City. In case you aren’t familiar with IHOP, it arose out of a community of believers who began praying around the clock 24/7 in September of 1999—and they have been doing it continuously ever since. There are churches I know who have done something similar. I think of Bishop John Guernsey’s parish in Virginia—offering prayers around the clock, interceding for the Church and the world—and giving back to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that is rightly his.

In the nine years since the IHOP was formed, IHOPs have been formed in other major cities around the world. They have formed a school of ministry—a seminary. They are really doing what religious communities and religious orders have always done: perpetual adoration and devotion—and intercession. Religious communities have always been formed when the Church whole church ceased to do all that it should in a given area. A group of individuals, called by God, would form a community to do what needed to be done—preaching (Franciscans, Dominicans) missions (Jesuits) acts of mercy (done by many orders) contemplation and devotion (Cistercians and others). They are doing what the whole church ought to be doing but isn’t.

One of the things I believe God is doing among Anglicans who have been forced through circumstances to form closer ties with overseas provinces is that He is making the Communion what it ought to be. I believe that these circumstances have given us new insight into what the body of Christ is meant to be internationally. We have been given a fresh opportunity to take seriously the need to intercede and pray for our overseas brothers and sisters and to enjoy the life of the body as Christ meant it to be.

Now, if we were to look on Jesus’ calendar again and ask: "What Is Jesus Doing?" we would see a second thing. And we find it in a passage of Scripture that is familiar to us:

Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (NIV) The second thing Jesus does is to be with His people, always, to the very end of this age in which we are living, empowering His Church for mission.

Another reason why I am studying the IHOP is that I am a student of revival. Numerous great movements of God have occurred throughout church history, when individuals were called out of society to follow God in devotion and service. The religious orders I have mentioned are examples. Celtic monks took Gospel across northern Europe. Benedictines planted the Church many places, including the See of Canterbury. Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits—their founding was just as much a God-sent revival as the First and Second Great Awakenings were among churches in America and the British Isles. As Archbishop Henry Orombi has stated on numerous occasions, the strength of Anglicanism in East Africa is largely due to the East African Revival, as missionaries who were themselves a product of earlier revivals in England and Australia came to East Africa, and revival broke out there that transformed entire nations such as Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania—and now, through these churches, the revival is coming full circle back to us in the West.

Many of us who are orthodox Anglicans are here because of a renewal movement that began in the Episcopal Church in the 1960’s. That was a genuine revival. How do I know that? Because it resulted in a flowering of interest in mission that led to the founding of Episcopal/Anglican mission societies in the 1970’s and 1980’s—agencies that are now part of the Anglican Global Mission Partners.

Every revival—every movement of God that was true and genuine—has resulted in an outpouring of interest in missions. Why is that? Because when the Church is truly renewed and revived, God’s priorities become the Church’s priorities.

When we ask the question "What Is Jesus Doing?" we see his burden for his people and for the world, and we begin to intercede, just as he ever lives to make intercession for us. When we ask, "What Is Jesus Doing?" we see his burden for the lost, both in our neighborhoods and cities and those around the world who have no way to hear the Gospel, and we go, and we give, and we send, and we pray.

As Bishop Duncan said last week, what better time for a new Anglican province to be born than the first week of Advent? It is time for us to get ready, to be the body of Christ in a new way—-a body that floods Heaven with our intercessions, even as Jesus intercedes for us—-and a church that hurts for the lost, as Jesus hurts for the lost, and reaches out in missions, according to Christ’s Great Commission, to wherever the Gospel needs to be heard. When our hearts connect with Jesus’ heart and his burdens and priorities become our burdens and priorities, then the Church will get ready for that day when Jesus will return and gather those who have come from every nation tribe and tongue to be a kingdom of priests for our God--to whom be glory and honor, majesty and dominion, now and forever. AMEN.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Falling numbers

Over at Stand Firm, they are having fun on two threads [one] [two] regarding the latest statistics released by the Episcopal Church showing declines in membership and average Sunday attendance. Here is my take on the situation:

In 2001, the Rev. Charles Fulton, the evangelism officer for TEC, wrote an article in which he mentioned that the average age of an Episcopalian was 57 years of age.

Specifically, he said:
The average age of a person in the United States is estimated to be 34.6 years old. The average age of an Episcopalian is estimated to be 57 years old. In twenty years many of the “average Episcopalians” won’t be around to know if “2020, A Clear Vision” succeeded. The gap between 34.6 and 57 is often our own children. A big part of the real high-risk challenge is to reach out and negotiate how we worship with other generations who aren’t going to grow up to be like us.

If the average life expectancy is just over 77 years, then the average Episcopalian living at the time Fr. Fulton wrote his article will be dead 20 years later. In other words, roughly 50% of the members of the Episcopal Church will die in that 20 year period; and, to the extent that TEC has not replaced these members through evangelism and retention of its own children, TEC will decline by that same percentage.

Given that families of childbearing age are only a portion of TEC’s membership, and that those families that do have children have a birthrate of 1.3 children per couple, even if TEC succeeded in retaining 100% of its own children, it would still decline substantially. Coupled with the lack of evangelism among Episcopal congregations, one is left with looking at a patient who is quickly becoming terminal.

The latest set of statistics from TEC merely illustrate this demographic decline. It is not so much that the numbers reflect an exodus from the Episcopal Church (although that is the case where individuals and congregations have, in fact, left), the numbers primarily reflect the inability of TEC to replace its members who are dying by retaining its own future generations and evangelizing the unchurched so that they become members.

Thus, the decline is greatest in the North and Midwestern US, where younger generations have moved away. It is not the case, for instance, that Episcopalians left TEC in Springfield or Quincy (to cite two dioceses with which I am most familiar); the children of Episcopalians in Springfield or Quincy either did not remain Episcopalians or else moved away, and the congregations were not capable of evangelizing to the extent necessary to reverse the demographic decline as the older remaining members have died. “2020, A Clear Vision” was intended to promote strategies what would result in growth. But (in a nutshell) the whole program was diverted from evangelism to “inclusion,” and the result is becoming obvious.

Given the trajectory away from a theology that believes that all people need to be converted to faith in Christ, and the lack of a compelling message that will retain young people, it is difficult to see the trend toward decline being reversed.
But you and I, we’ve been through all that,
and this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
the hour is getting late.
~~ Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower

(Just thought I’d toss in a fitting Dylan quote to make Baby Blue happy.)