Saturday, February 15, 2014

"The Reconciliation Thing"

Recently, a longtime friend of mine, the Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, was named by the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of the Six Preachers of Canterbury Cathedral.  Tory is an outstanding preacher, pastor, and leader, and is worthy of this honor quite apart from any other accomplishments that might be mentioned.  However, this honor cannot be viewed apart from the fact that, as the press release from Lambeth Palace states, "his appointment is also recognition of his commitment to reconciliation, which is one of Archbishop Justin’s ministry priorities."

That set me thinking about the Archbishop's ministry priorities:  What is this reconciliation thing?  What does it mean?  And how should we view it?

At the time of Justin Welby's enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury, he was quoted as saying:
“We are struggling with very, very significant divisions, different ways of looking at the world coming out of our context, coming out of our history....  Learning how we deal with those differences — which are of themselves valuable things — is really significant.
Welby went on to say,
“It is the key theological concept for Christian faith: reconciliation with God and the breaking down of barriers between people,” he said. “And therefore for me, I have this sense that part of the church’s role is to be reconciled reconcilers.”
Reporters at the time noted that Welby's role as Archbishop of Canterbury, "will be no easy task."
For the past decade, the Anglican Communion has been in turmoil after the Episcopal Church consecrated two openly gay bishops and moved to approve blessings for same-sex unions.  Several African and Asian jurisdictions accused the U.S. church of heresy.  Some conservative American congregations have broken away from the Episcopal Church and aligned themselves with Anglicans from other parts of the world.  There have been a series of contentious lawsuits over church property, and bitterness still prevails in many quarters throughout the Anglican Communion.
In response to the challenges ahead of him, Welby attempted to clarify his view of reconciliation:
“Reconciliation is extraordinarily painful for those involved in the conflict,” he admitted.  He said his view of reconciliation is not a “fuzzy wuzzy tolerance, sort of fluffy, where it would all be nice if we were nice to each other sort of rubbish.”
Frankly, it is on this last point that I am going to need convincing.  And the longer I see Dr. Welby in action, the more doubtful I become.

First of all there was the conference at Coventry Cathedral last year.  Anyone who has been around what I call (for lack of a better term) "professional religious dialogue" for very long knows how this sort of conference works:  Learned papers are shared; there is a lot of "deep" discussion; everyone shakes hands warmly and goes home feeling good--and nothing really changes.  With all due respect to those who met in Coventry, it seems that it was precisely one of those instances "where it would all be nice if we were nice to each other."  I am still waiting to see any real outcome from that conference that can affect the problems in the Anglican Communion. 

Today, I read the following headline:

Archbishop of Canterbury appeals for 'gracious reconciliation' in divided Church

The article was about Dr. Welby's presidential address to the Church of England General Synod, in which he said, 
"There is going to have to be a massive cultural change that accepts that people with whom I differ deeply are also deeply loved by Christ and therefore must be deeply loved by me, and love means seeking their flourishing."
He called on the Church to exhibit a love of the kind described in 1 John 4:18, which says "perfect love casts out fear".
"We all know that perfect love casts out fear. We know it although we don't often apply it," he said.
He pointed to the importance of the Church staying together in the midst of disagreement and how this could be an excellent witness to wider society.
"A Church that loves those with whom the majority deeply disagree is a church that will be unpleasantly challenging to a world where disagreement is either banned within a given group or removed and expelled," he said.
What was that again about reconciliation not being a “fuzzy wuzzy tolerance, sort of fluffy, where it would all be nice if we were nice to each other sort of rubbish”?

As I commented in a 2009 post on this blog, "Rowan Williams, Meet Neville Chamberlain," what the Anglican Communion needs is a Winston Churchill; but instead we keep getting Neville Chamberlains who proclaim peace in our time while the world goes to hell in a handbasket.

The problem in the Anglican Communion is not that we don't know how to live together despite our disagreements.  The problem is that Anglican (and other religious) leaders in the West have been so influenced by secular values that they have replaced the Gospel with those values and are incapable of asserting a faith that differs from what the secular culture around them can accept.  This is seen most clearly in matters of sexual morality, but that is only a presenting issue--a symptom of a deeper problem.

The problem in the Anglican Communion is that its leaders in the West have allowed so-called "modern biblical scholarship" and contemporary theologies (influenced by the skepticism and rationalism of our age) to undermine their confidence in the Bible and the message it proclaims.  They are no longer capable of believing that the eternal Son of God truly became incarnate through the Virgin Mary, died an atoning death for our sins, rose bodily from the grave with a body like that which all who believe in him shall someday receive, and ascended into heaven, from whence he shall come again at the end of this age to judge the living and the dead and to complete the redemption begun in his first coming.

Those who have listened to the message of the secular world instead of the authentic Gospel are incapable of believing the good news that is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).  They are incapable of believing that, "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).  And they are incapable of believing Jesus' words: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).  

In short, they are lost, unbelieving souls, who should be the objects of evangelism, not partners in religious dialogue.  Which brings us to the biblical definition of reconciliation:

In Romans 5:6-11, we read:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Do we believe that we were sinners, enemies of God and objects of his wrath?  If not, then we cannot be reconciled.  Do we believe that Christ's death was an atonement for the sins that separated us from God?  Unless we do, we cannot be reconciled.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, we read:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.   All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Our ministry of reconciliation only exists because, in Christ, we have been reconciled to God; and this reconciliation is grounded in the fact that the Incarnate Son of God, who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  Do we believe in Jesus' substitutionary atonement for us, paying the penalty for the sins that separated us from God?  If not, then we cannot be reconciled.  Have we, in gratitude, submitted ourselves to Christ?  Do we follow his commandments (John 14:21)?  If not, then we cannot be reconciled to God, which is the only basis for our being reconciled to each other.

1 Corinthians 1:10 says, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."  Reconciliation is not living together despite our disagreements.  The basis for reconciliation is agreement in the truth. 

Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand."  Friends, this is the sad state of the Anglican Communion--a house divided against itself.  And unless there is agreement in the truth, talk of reconciliation is meaningless.

This is what the Anglican Communion must have if it is to survive:  Not a leader who tries to hold a plurality of viewpoints together, but a leader who leads us in the truth revealed in Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures and who calls us to follow.

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