Address by the Rt Revd Simon Chiwanga at the Anglican Communion Mission Organisations Conference
Cyprus, 12-18 February 2003
I thank the planning committee of the conference for giving me the honour of leading the discussion on the first of the four major presentations. I count this as a unique learning opportunity for me.
I am sure we all are praising God for enabling this long-awaited conference to take place at this time. I attended the last conference of this kind in 1986, Brisbane, Australia. I was among the few 'Partners' from the South, for the Conference was really organised by Mission Agencies and Churches of the North. I particularly want to thank the Mission Organisations, the Anglican Communion Office, in particular the Secretary General, Canon John L. Peterson, the Director for Mission and Evangelism, Marjorie Murphy and her Staff, for their persistence which has resulted in making this Conference a reality. I am excited by the theme of the Conference: Transformation and Tradition in Global Mission, and also by my Topic - Renewing our Vision for Mission through Biblical and Theological Reflection, Worship and Prayer. I thank the planning committee for their imaginative choice of the theme, topics, workshop subjects, and the venue of this Conference.
Renewing our Vision for Mission
The task of renewing our vision for mission necessarily leads us to focusing on Jesus and His Cross. On the Cross Jesus Christ grappled with the issues confronting all human beings and societies and their shifting faiths and cultures, a situation that still exists today all over the world.
When we too engage ourselves fully in mission, led by the Spirit, we become committed, with and through Christ, to this grappling; we become people profoundly grasped by this divinely sharp yet wounded love, which is fully 'in the world' but never 'of it', as Simon Barrington-Ward, former Secretary General of CMS and Bishop of Coventry in the Church of England, would say.
What is the 'fire' that ignites us to share the good news of our faith with others? Is it a search for wholeness - in ourselves, yes - but to be experienced in its fullest most complete sense through a communal rediscovery of an original wholeness that we have lost.
This wholeness is glimpsed in the central crucified and victorious figure of Christ - and by participating in his death and resurrection we are enabled to gain this wholeness. In this we share:
This quest also drives us to seek to continually renew our vision for mission, to make sure that our passion for mission is not driven simply by human motives, however humanitarian they might be. This quest can be the 'fire' that drives us to participate in the Mission of God in God's world, which is reconciliation and restoration of all people and the world to himself.
The early Church started with a clear vision, but as it grew and became established it lost this central vision. As David Bosch, the eminent South African missiologist, observes, "Its white-hot convictions, poured into the hearts of the first adherents, cooled down and became crystallised codes, solidified institutions, and petrified dogmas. The prophet became a priest of the establishment, charisma became office, and love became routine. The horizon was no longer the world but the boundaries of the local parish. The impetuous missionary torrent of earlier years was tamed into a still-flowing rivulet and eventually into a stationary pond. Institution and Movement may never be mutually exclusive categories; neither may Church and Mission." (Transforming Mission, page 53)
Biblical and Theological Reflection, Worship and Prayer
All of these are dynamic, interactive means to explore, renew, and test our vision for mission and to express our participation in the mission of God. Our doing God's mission is our response to the practice of these activities. We engage in biblical and theological reflection as a way of participating in the mission of God, thereby growing more in the knowledge of Jesus Christ, the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Any reading and study of the Bible will challenge us in how we live our faith and every aspect of our lives can be understood theologically - given that we believe we are part of a greater pattern of existence.
On Biblical reflection, the words of Scripture are both set in an historical time and culture, and are also communicators of eternal truths, pointing to revealing, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ who is the Living Word. We have to continually refer to the Scriptures to meet God who is the missionary working in us and in the world.
Our own development and understanding unlocks these truths at different times for different people - so that the eternal enters or affirms our experiences if we are alive to the possibility of this type of revelation.
The experiences of eternal God's incarnation into our time-bound existence as revealed in the Bible, prompts us, encourages us, affirms us, and challenges us to take our developing faith back into the world we live in - and to bring our experiences into our Bible study and growing understanding of God's will for us as revealed in the Bible. It is a continuous and circular process.
If the Bible is to be a source of vision, what do we do with our differences in interpretation? Do we celebrate differences in interpretation or do we lament and call others heretics? One of the things that came out Lambeth Conference 1998 was inadequate knowledge of biblical interpretation. There are people who think that our problem (African bishops) is ignorance or lack of knowledge of biblical interpretation. Whose hermeneutics are to be taken as normative?
What Tradition, regarding the reading of the Word of God, should we be handing over from generation to generation in order for transformation to be also an on-going experience? The Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent sums up beautifully the essential tradition:
"Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning; help us to hear them, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."
A question that I have wrestled with in my diocese for the last twelve years is, "To what extent am I helping congregations and individual Christians to continue with the tradition of hearing, reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting scriptures?" I know that the intention of this Collect can be achieved partly through Biblical study that is done corporately under a leader who is the only one holding the Bible, while the rest of us listen. Yet, I believe one of the best ways of handing over the received Word of God is the handing over of Scriptures to every believer, who can read.
Up to 1952, when I was confirmed, no candidate for confirmation would be presented to the Bishop if they did not have their own Bible, Prayer Book and Hymn Book. I have tried hard, as I have said, in the last twelve years, with very little success. Am I pushing a tradition that is dated or am I not doing it in the right way? How are to make of Scriptural injunctions such as Col. 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." In addition to saying annually the Collect for 2nd Sunday in Advent, we have successive Lambeth Conference Resolutions calling for the study of the Holy Bible.
Resolution III.1 of Lambeth 1998 says:
"This Conference, recognising the need in our Communion for fuller agreement on how to interpret and apply the message of the Bible in a world of rapid change and widespread cultural interaction,
(Extracts from - Beyond Colonial Anglicanism: ... page 90)
We need to remind ourselves, however, that the central truths of the Bible can only be made real as we live into God's word in our daily lives, our daily struggles and joys. So we need to know our Bible and to read our Bible out of our lived experiences.
On theological reflection, the desire for meaning in our lives is universal - yet for the Christian this meaning is rooted in the image of the crucified and victorious Christ on the cross.
This was an event in our time-bound existence yet has eternal consequences for all of us. Our lives and relationships are drawn towards this stark event, and we live in Christ's resurrection victory while still journeying with him in the way of the cross.
Our lives are lived in the tension of fallible humanity with the promise of eternal redemption within us.
As with the study of the Bible, our theological reflections are inward and exploratory and at the same time demand that we take our revelations and understandings back into our engagement with the world.
Theological reflection - that is - faith seeking reason, is a community act as well as individual. It is the identifying, the connecting, and explaining the actions of God to the Christian life and the world. This process is important for renewing our vision because it elucidates the action, that is the mission, of God: to find out what God is up to, and what part are we called to play. Any mission-minded person should value theological reflection. Sometimes, especially in some parts of Africa, we become so busy doing mission that we forget theological reflection, and even think that it is for the learned few.
Like the reading of the Bible, I believe that helping our congregations to know the Christian faith and to have unshakable confidence in its transforming power is very central to mission. Archbishop George Carey, speaking at the Mid-Decade of Evangelism Review Conference, in 1995 at Kanuga, North Carolina, quoted from Dr Leander Keck's book - The Church Confident (Abington Press, Nashville, 1993, p.34ff) four shifts that Dr Keck identified in Protestant 'mainline' theology:
Theological reflection grows out of reading the Bible within the context of our daily lives. It is the right and responsibility of every baptised Christian.
Again, if what I observe in my Diocese is in any way representative, I fully agree with Dr Carey's observation that the average Anglican Christian is on the whole unsure of his faith and unable to articulate it.
Worship and Prayer
Worship: corporate gathering expressing adoration, praise and thanksgiving to God. As Anglicans, we are called to celebrate the breadth and diversity of our various contexts as we come together in Prayer and Eucharistic fellowship in service to God's mission. The vision we get has to be lived out in eucharist and prayer.
"An important feature of Anglicanism is our belief that worship is central to our common life. But worship is not just something we do alongside our witness to the good news: worship is itself a witness to the world. It is a sign that all of life is holy, that hope and meaning can be found in offering ourselves to God (cf. Rom 12:1). And each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we 'proclaim the Lord's death until he comes' (1 Cor 11.26). Our liturgical life is a vital dimension of our mission calling; it undergirds the forms of public witness." (Anglicans in Mission: A Transforming Journey-Report of MISSIO, the Mission Commission of the Anglican Communion, to the Anglican Consultative Council, meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, September 1999, page 20)
The intention of all acts of worship is to declare the saving power of God and to make this power a reality in the hearts and lives of those who participate in them. Worship is primary. It is a response to God. It is theology in action. Theological Reflection tests worship - bringing it under the critique of rational judgement and helps us to articulate the essential meanings. So those who worship with their hearts may worship with their understanding also. "God is Spirit, those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth," (John 4:24).
At the end of our worship we are 'sent out' into the world taking with us our heart's responses to God and our mind's understanding of the action of Christ. We also bring our experiences and the realities of the world into our worship.
Each - our worship and the world - is transformed through these encounters. Our worship draws others in - to experience the reality of God encountered in worship. Our encounter with God is taken out into our daily lives. Worship puts our rites of passage into an eternal context. It provides actions and words that reveal the timeless love of God in our time-bound lives.
The Mission of God is manifested in our worship - drawing others into God's presence, experiencing together the saving acts of Christ through his body and blood. The effect will be to take this understanding out into the world.
Prayer - both individual and corporate - continues the process of engagement with God and the necessity to respond to that engagement.
Through Biblical and Theological reflection, Worship and Prayer, we are engaging with mission in that all of these activities prompt us into a response to God to both explore and express our faith. Our vocation as Christians is to God's mission of justice, compassion and reconciliation (Luke 4). The Church's mission should always serve God's mission.
If our worship, theological reflection, Bible study and prayer life are in tune with God, mission then becomes the prime outward expression. Mission is also an organic process - salt to the taste; yeast in the dough. The Churches' participation in mission is the touchstone of our faith. Mission then has to be the prime responsibility of all Christians, and consequently, then renewal of our vision for mission should be encouraged among all Christians. We are all missionaries by virtue of our baptism, called to cross boundaries of culture, geography, class, race, language, to both herald and discover the saving work of God in Christ already at work in those who are different from us.
The renewal of our vision for mission should embrace the identification of those who are called to facilitate mission and the nature of their training and equipping at Seminaries and through other means, in particular Theological Education by Extension. Our style and role of leadership has to be mission driven.
Leaders, especially Bishops, have to be Vision-bearers. As it is put in Proverbs (28:29), "Where there is no vision, people perish."
At the level of the worldwide Anglican Communion, I think we are emerging from our conflicts on Biblical and Theological understandings to become a more vital, more relevant, more influential Church that is rooted in worship and prayer. Not that we have solved those conflicts in interpretation of Scriptures and our theological convictions, declaring a victor and a vanquished, and divided the spoils of that war. Rather, I see us Anglicans as engaging together in mission without needing first to "solve" hot button issues as such. As a church we emerge from these conflicts stronger than we were before, because different views grow out of all of our efforts to find the best way to do mission. They grow out of an intense discernment of God's mission for us in our respective contexts.
We have seen this in all the instruments of unity. Although a lot of noise was made about human sexuality at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, those of us who were there know that the spirit of solidarity was in evidence every day on the ground, in issues such as international debt, ministry in Christian-minority areas, response to the AIDS crisis, and concern over war-torn areas of the world. We saw the Primates, emerging from a 2001 meeting many feared would divide the Communion - but the Primates were praising God for the spirit of solidarity they experienced, at the leadership of George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Much the same thing could be said of the recent ACC Meeting in Hong Kong, and other sub-committee meetings.
I think we are learning to live with differences on certain issues toward a more mutual mission vision within our diverse Anglican family. Not that any of us need feel any less firmly about those issues, any less guided by our consciences, but rather that the issues are receding into the background as we grow into a deeper appreciation of each other's contexts through worship and prayer. This is true koinonia, true church fellowship. And we are doing that by doing God's mission together, which always happens in the confines of a particular context. We are doing that by participating in our global village, knit together by e-mail, internet, telephones, faxes, and air travel, ever more closely every day.
In this way, we can cherish both our diversity and our unity: both our particularity and our universality. We will avoid both the errors of allowing diversity to destroy our unity, or equally bad, allowing the pursuit of unity to manage or suppress or paper over our essential diversity. We can hold unity and diversity in constructive tension. I do believe that we have started down this road; that we are called to this place, and that we will travel farther and farther down this road into the future. We need to, for the sake of the mission of God, which is one though incarnated in many contexts.
In the Third World I see another healthy development: the way the Church there approaches these international hot button issues. I see more and more efforts to move away from our doctrinal myopia, the inability to work with others who see things differently than we do. We are gradually letting go the tendency to substitute tenacity for a deep rooting in sound reading and research. In Africa, for example, we are learning how to resist the new scramble for Africa, where factions of our world-wide Church, cozy up to Africans and African dioceses looking for supporters for their social agendas. These positive developments are things to celebrate.
Mission today is about solidarities in action. Solidarities across borders of language, experience, culture, wealth, liturgical expressions; and action, discerning and doing God's mission on the ground in a particular context. More and more of us are realising that we don't need to agree on human sexuality in order to advocate for persecuted Christians; we don't need to have the same churchmanship to combat poverty; we don't need to agree on our theology before working for peace and safety in Sudan.
If we do this we will realise "the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God," which for Paul is a sign of maturity, a sign of "the measure of the full stature of Christ." If we do this, we will "no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine"; rather, we will "grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by very supporting ligament, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Eph 4:13-16).
If we do this, focusing on God's mission in God's world, we realise the promise of God: "Behold, I make all things new" (Rev 21:5). Our hope and future as an ecclesial community, is our united witness and participation in God's mission. If we do this we will be effective signs and instruments of Transformation and Tradition.
I wish this Conference God's rich blessings. As together we seek to renew our vision for mission through biblical and theological reflection, worship and prayer, all very well provided for in the Conference Program, we will be granted three things, aptly put in a prayer by Saint Richard Chichester, an English Saint who lived in the 13th Century:
Dearest Lord Jesus,
Saviour and Friend
Three Things I pray:
To See Thee more clearly,
To Love Thee more dearly,
To Follow Thee more nearly,
Day by day,
In order to serve Thee more diligently