Some Comments from South to South Encounter, by Dean of Bishopdale Theological College, New Zealand
These are some really beautiful comments by a priest from the province of New Zealand, spoken at the Global South to South conference in Singapore.
“Rev. Dr. Timothy Harris, Dean of Bishopdale Theological College, Diocese of Nelson, New Zealand.
[note: this was not an occasion for carefully prepared text and argument, but largely reflections and personal comments. I had only a couple of lines of notes, and what is reproduced below is not word for word as spoken, but reflects to the best of my recollection (and without access to any recording) the essence of what I sought to convey - Tim Harris]
I bring greetings in Christ from brothers and sisters in the Province of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to be invited to join with you this week, and I value your welcome and hospitality. Speaking personally, I have been enriched and refreshed this week. Thank you for inviting me and encompassing me in your midst.
At the time of New Testament, independent city-states in the eastern Mediterranean had a goal in establishing themselves in competition with other cities, and in maintaining their distinctive character and values. There was a particular term used to identify this particular value or quality: ‘HOMONOIA’ - to be of one mind. The Latin equivalent was ‘CONCORDIA’ [as widely attested in coins and temples]. Being of one mind and in such agreement was urged as a matter of civic loyalty. It was to look to a unified city as an institution to avoid dissension and strife.
It is striking in the New Testament that that particular term is not used, although quite similar sentiments are explored. You won’t find HOMONOIA in St. Paul. When Paul urges struggling churches to stand firm in the face of competing cultures, his focus is not on being of one mind as the goal in itself, but more specifically to be of the same mind. And that mind is specifically the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). So, it is superficial just to be of one mind unless that mind is of Christ. It is in sharing the mind of Christ that we are taken into the fullness of the kingdom. All this is reflected in Paul – especially in Romans and Philippians – in the renewal and transformation of the mind from darkened human attitudes into the mind of Christ [note especially the contrast between Romans 1 and 12].
We have a choice before us in the Anglican Communion. Those who would pledge loyalty to the institution are like the city-states, seeking unity through the institution itself. Or those who cry out for a deeper unity: a unity grounded in sharing the mind of Christ.
The crisis in Anglican Communion is largely due to the theological mess we find ourselves in. It is not just theology as an academic exercise, but what is preached from pulpits and in the local church, and what is shared when asked to answer in simple terms ‘what do you believe?’ All too often answers run a whole gamut of opinions and fail to provide any clarity or coherence.
Our great need is for leaders, men and women who know God: God’s character, purposes and the counsel of his heavenly court. We need leaders to proclaim the gospel with a passion and speak of God with courage - to preach the fullness of the mind of Christ. These have been revealed in God’s grace, through the prophets and the apostles. We have the torah, God’s instructions. The Spirit empowers us and convicts us and leads us into God’s truth as revealed in his Word.
We need leaders who know God’s word, not guessing what God might be doing, offering opinions on this or that gospel truth, but going deep into God’s word as a means of grace to shape how we enter the mind of Christ. The crisis we face as a Communion is theological at heart, and needs to be addressed with theological depth.
This is the painful lesson in New Zealand: how damaging it is when the theological education of men and women in ministry brings doubt and confusion, especially in matters where the word of Scripture is clear. And the impact on our churches after more than a generation of such theological education has been devastating.
I read the report to the House Of Bishops in TEC regarding questions of same sex relationships and sexual expression. To be perfectly honest, and speaking personally from an academic perspective, the case put forward to justify same sex blessings and marriage is extraordinary in its treatment of various scriptures. Passages that are actually quite clear are made to say the opposite of their plain meaning. The logic and reasoning is strained and at key points quite incoherent.
As our sister from Uganda urged us yesterday, our responsibility is to be ‘Elijahs’ – to have a concern for preparing for those who will follow, who will take up the prophetic mantle as leaders. The heritage needed for the future belongs to those who will be a light to the nations, a covenant grounded in God’s word and witness. We stand confident in what God has taught us by his grace, not councils and decisions which are grounded in loyalty to the city, culture and the institution, but the Word of God written. May the mind of Christ guide us. AMEN.”
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