Saturday, 1 September 2012

Theological Lunches

This year we launched a Bible Training Group to help a rising generation to get to grips with teaching ministry.  I was impressed because Huw and John did their handouts for the four intended sessions in advance, and made them available on our church “documents” website.  After two, the list of “wouldn’t it be nice ifs” and controversies is growing. 

Our Multiply partners had also urged us to strengthen our foundational distinctives.  So, at Annual Church Convocation, Mick gave over an hour of the afternoon programme to bible teaching.  We covered Covenant in the various facets in which we make it our practice. 

About the same time we gave over a couple of lunchtimes to create a process to address the needs that have been exposed.  And secondly, to sharpen up the content.  John sat under Noel’s ministry in Northampton through 30-plus years.  He has observed a clear framework of how our basic teaching sits within our corporate lifestyle.  The vertical God-to-men component must sit in good balance with the horizontal man-to-man dimension.

My journey has been different.  Working in the outer regions, I’ve concentrated on tying our practice into biblical principles.  This has also contained an intention to train others in the means to take issues forward for the future.  The key words for both of us are apostolic rather than apologetic.  At some point, we break off from deliberation and promote discipleship.

Taking the question of female church leadership as an example, which I can do safely, because we didn’t make this our principle focus.  I ordered my contribution to the discussion loosely along the lines of Wesley’s “quadrilateral”.  He applied the four tests:
(a) is it biblical?;
(b) does it accord with the church’s traditional understanding? (we’re not the first to grapple with most issues);
(c) is it prophetic? (carrying a discernible present spiritual conviction);
(d) does it fit experience? (we could say, is it liveable?).   
We may call this a template for pastoral theology, rather than philosophical (or systematic) theology.

(a)  Biblical writers consistently reinforce the creative position of woman as valued helper.  A home is structured so the most vulnerable are surrounded in the centre, women attend to their care, and the outer circle is held by men positioning and protecting the unit, etc.  The New Testament vision of the church often employs “family” language, and builds on this.  By contrast, if we were a hierarchical ecclesiastical corporation, then the best person for the job would be the boss, whether male or female.

(b) In traditional/historical terms the present feminist agenda can best be put in context on an immanence – transcendence continuum.  What do I mean?  Religions tend to be rooted either in:
near-at-hand earthly paradigms, including paganism, animism and Canaanite idolatry, with naturalistic (if fantastic) creation myths and pantheons with human-like behaviours; or
“gods from the sky” that are remote, magisterial, separate from the created order, etc, (we need look no further than Islam).
The first cluster celebrate the feminine, with earth mother figures and priestesses (which is why Catholicism’s Mariology breeds much syncretism).  The second are patriarchal and have representative male priests.  Clearly, Western culture is moving away from a Christendom sovereign heavenly deity towards resurgent paganism and the feminine.  In fact real Christianity is the only religion that celebrates equally both the transcendent (God the Father) and immanent (Holy Spirit).  So, it’s a caricature that is popularly being rejected. 

In this understanding, the evidence points to transcendence being the agreed major influence.  In fact, in embracing women priests, Anglicans have crossed a serious line, because the ordained clergy are representative of the incarnate God-man: they’ve effectively redefined (their) God.  We, Jesus Fellowship, only have to worry about leadership issues.

(c)  Prophetically, we can note that Jesus chose 12 men.  If we are to call men to a committed Kingdom discipleship, we must do so in terms that resonate with their deepest impulses.  This includes leadership responsibility.

(d)  Experientially, we’ve demonstrated that our teaching and practice is productive towards both men and women.

A final thought.  When deliberating amongst theological issues, careful pastors note that our minds are never fully renewed.  We carry the noetic effects of sin.  The rule for discerning truth is not extensive academic investigation, but an obedient heart (John 8:32).  Four key words are: 
(a) Darkness (you may simply have found no real light from God); 
(b) Deceit (you may have had wonky revelation); 
(c) Dissuasion (you may get talked out of your proper position); 
(d) Disinclination (what you know to be right, and its implications, doesn’t fit where you want to go).   
We must pray for the humility to discern and apply aright.

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