Friday, February 24, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

At Oihi Bay: Mission in 21st century Aotearoa NZ

Teresa and I had a marvellous holiday in January. I think - for future reference - a vital ingredient was taking a full three weeks off. No more two and a half week holidays for me! But the "marvellous" involved a highlight or two, only one of which concerns this post.

We had never been to the Bay of Islands (about three hours drive north of Auckland) so we made a plan to move on from a wedding in Auckland to spend a few days in this unknown but famously beautiful region. Here is a beautiful Bay of Islands place to stay.


It will cost you $13000 per night. That is not fake news. I tracked this place down on the internet.

We stayed more modestly at Paihia which, for me, is one of those heaven on earth places where bushy hills meet the sea and the view over the sea is full of interest - boats, hills, islands, more boats. Oh, and golden sand on the beach, and it is a long beach.

The Bay of Islands was where much of our first missionary work was established and then developed. We took this history in as we noted plaques dotted along the main road through Paihia, strolled around Russell, explored the Pompallier Mission House (i.e. printery where thousands of devotional books were printed and bound) and visited the Stone Store and Kemp House at Kerikeri.




We could imagine the missionaries working hard while enjoying a climate considerably more pleasant than the one they left behind in Europe. As we visited the extraordinary Treaty grounds at Waitangi - a "must" for every Kiwi before they die, IMHO - my mind was taken back to Darwin visiting in 1835 and seeing cricket played there or thereabouts.



And, of course, there was Oihi Bay to visit, the site of the first sermon in these islands, Christmas Day 1814 and the first mission settlement. Getting there is slightly more challenging than wandering around Paihia and Russell. We needed our rental car to trek some 45 minutes from Kerikeri to a carpark at the top of a hill from whence a kilometre track descends to the bay. What a great walk down it was, with recently installed displays explaining all kinds of interesting details about the endeavours of the missionaries and the local Maori inhabitants.

But here is the thing about Oihi Bay that struck me that afternoon. It is surrounded by hills with only a narrow platform of flat land for the missionaries to build a settlement. The following photo gives a sense of this (but the platform extends to the left of the photo). There was room for half a dozen houses, a chapel and a school room and not much area for developing flocks and crops.



Moreover, Oihi Bay is on the edge of the Bay of Islands. It was not the best location for growing the mission. While away I read one historian who imputed that Marsden insisted the missionaries stay there, even when they wanted to move. Eventually they did, and Paihia and Russell were better locations, both in area for building homes and growing crops and in centrality to the Bay of Islands.

Of course Oihi Bay's great value was that it was the site to which Marsden and his fellow missioners were invited. They needed to make the most of what they were blessed with.

It is not missiological rocket science to see that two hundred years later the church is kind of back at Oihi Bay. We have been given a place in Aotearoa NZ society. We are welcome here. But the "land" we now occupy is poor, small and a long way from the centre where we once were and to which we often voice a wish to return.

There is no Marsden in Sydney writing letters to us telling us what to do. Nevertheless we feel constrained. And we may be in for quite a lean time. It was nearly two decades before Maori converted to Christianity in significant numbers.

We do not know how long our current marginal state will be for. If it is for twenty years that is more or less the rest of my life :) It could well be longer.

Will we be faithful? Will we lay ground work for the future? Among those first missionaries were those who learned the Maori language (Te Reo), who wrote it down, composed grammars and began translating the Scriptures.

If the 21st century has taught us any one lesson so far, it is that the world outside of Christianity is developing, changing, moving forward at a rapid pace and in the process is evolving a new language to adapt. Who is understanding that language? Who is learning its grammar? Who, most importantly, is translating the Scriptures into this new language?

Added for, I hope, clarity: I am talking to a small degree about the (comparatively) simple exercise of maintaining Bible translations in the language of the day (so we rightly as English speakers have seen a move from KJV to RSV to (e.g.) NRSV/NIV/GNB/NJB/NLT) but to a greater degree about our communicating the gospel in a variety of means (including preaching) which connect the gospel with the way people today think and engage current society in thought forms and with imagery that likely will move them to rationally and emotionally embrace Jesus Christ and his message, and follow him.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

On fire?

Christchurch (for those who do not know it) is a city mostly spread out on flat land but on one boundary are the Port Hills and on a quite a few of those hills houses are built. A few days a go a couple of fires started (as far as can be determined thus far, accidentally or spontaneously). Seemingly no big deal at the time. But there are various plantations of trees on the hills and lots of summer-dried grass. A mixture of time, wind and sunshine now mean the two fires have become one large fire.

Winds which keep changing have spread the fire and kept firefighters guessing as to where to be and what to do about containing it. Helicopters have been used but that has led to a tragedy with one crashing and killing its pilot. And helicopters cannot fight fires after dark so each evening the fires have burned without much constraint. I personally live a long way from the hills, on the other side of the city. No worries. But your prayers for our city and for the fires to be dealt with would be appreciated! (Current forecasts are for rain to not come any time soon). #porthillsfire. Report here.

The Church of England General Synod is meeting and debating You Know What. One way to keep up with the debate is via Thinking Anglicans or on Twitter #synod. A cursory glance at the Twitter feed suggests the Synod is "on fire" (though I suppose it is all very polite and English :).) [LATER: I see the Synod has voted somewhat narrowly to not take note of the Bishop's Report. Read here.]
[EVEN LATER: ++Welby responds and charts the way forward in a profoundly wise, helpful statement.]

Noticed also on Twitter this morning is this Catholic Herald article re doctrinal turmoil centred on the Vatican. Is Rome burning too? Although the main part of the article is devoted to the Roman version of You Know What (Communion for the incontinent divorced-and-remarried) intriguingly it notes at the beginning a significant voice making this beautifully expressed point for the ages:

"“There is unease,” Fr Pani wrote, “among those who fail to understand how the exclusion of woman from the Church’s ministry can coexist with the affirmation and appreciation of her equal dignity.”"

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Politics of Jesus in the Year of Bill

In many ways NZ had its Trump period a long time ago, and it just maybe that we shouldn't be looking around in 2017 wondering who our Trump might be. He has already been and gone and his name was Rob Muldoon.

I was quite politically conscious in my teenage years and vividly remember the sense of excitement of the Labour government (1972-75), the vigour of Norman Kirk's leadership and the shock of his death in 1974.

Bill Rowling became Prime Minister and he was a decent bloke but the Trump-like Muldoon was barnstorming the country in 1975 with ads of dancing cossacks provocatively asserting that the Labour Party was just Communism by stealth. There were also some massive fuel price rises to cope with and other alarms on the economic front, so in came Muldoon and nine subsequent years were as feisty as these past few Trump weeks have been. Moreover Muldoon spent big on NZ infrastructure and with another economic collapse threatening, he called a snap election in 1984, almost certainly drunk as he slurred the announcement out, and out he went. NZ has never been the same since the next Labour government turned the tide with market-oriented policies (which mostly, IMHO, has been a good thing).

It requires not the slightest bit of fancy to assume that had Twitter existed in 1975 Muldoon would have used that form of social media to direct the country. He was that kind of Trump guy. (Though he did know more about economics than Trump!)

Now we have Bill English for our Prime Minister and this year is going to be fascinating for at least one reason. If he can win the election he will have redeemed his previous parlous attempt to win an election. In 2002 he led National to its lowest ever percentage of the vote as it lost that election.

On New Year's Day this year it happened that I was in church with Bill and Mary English! They were holidaying in Nelson with their friend and local MP, Nick Smith, and went to the nearest Catholic church for Mass - in Stoke, where my parents-in-law worship.

Of course it is no surprise that they should have been at Mass somewhere in NZ that Sunday. It is widely know that Bill and Mary are both deeply and regularly involved in the Catholic church, and that Bill's Christian convictions influence the shaping of his political leadership (most clearly seen, I and others perceive, in his running of the economy as Minister of Finance, where his concern in various initiatives has been that our economy yield better outcomes for all, not just for the rich).

On that particular Sunday one of my own internal responses to recognising Bill and Mary English at worship was that it felt very good to know that our current Prime Minister is a committed Christian. I have had huge admiration for our previous two Prime Ministers, Helen Clark (1999-2008) and John Key (2008-2016), but each was openly not a Christian. (And good on them for their honesty on that score.)

This does not necessarily mean that I will vote for Bill or that you, dear Kiwi reader, should either. Yet it might be a factor if our decision narrows down (other things being equal) to what drives the leadership of the next government: a gospel or other motivation?

But long before we who are not dyed-in-the-wool Lab/Nat/Green/NZF/Etc voters get to choose whom we might vote for, it is always and everywhere worth considering what God wants and what God is doing in the world.

A recent post by Ian Paul at Psephizo is relevant on this point. He is reviewing one of the latest Grove Booklets, Mission and evangelism: a theological introduction by Tim Naish. All good stuff, but pertinent to this post is the following comment by Ian:

"What missio Dei [i.e. that mission is primarily God's activity] is emphasizing is that the church is a secondary goal in God’s longing. The primary goal is what Jesus in the first three gospels means by ‘the kingdom.’ And we might add that it also comes close to what the fourth gospel means by ‘life’ (or ‘life in all its fullness’). God has a purpose, which is the kingdom, or heaven, or life, or salvation, or (to use biblical phrases rather than single words), ‘the reconciliation of all things’ (cf Col 1.20), or ‘the creation itself being set free from its bondage to decay and obtaining the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ (cf Rom 8.21). The church is brought into being through Jesus the Christ as a step towards that goal."

The politics of Jesus is establishment, advancement and completion of the kingdom of God. This is the primary goal of God's work in the world. Not the church, but it is for another post to have another reminder to self and to readers that the church should not be all consuming! Here we might ponder that if the kingdom of God is God's first agenda item for the world then what our human politics is working towards is pretty important. Is it attuned to the kingdom of God?

Having a Christian Prime Minister/President is - of course - no guarantee that the politics of a given country is going to be any better attuned to the kingdom than under the previous government. But what could be guaranteed is that if Christian voters understand the primacy of the kingdom and the importance of working to align with that kingdom rather than against it, then we will vote more wisely than if we vote the way we have always done, or for the most popular person/policy, or for naked self-interest.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Good news and good news

ACANZP is (of course) a weird and wonderful church. The weirdness mostly refers to people like me obsessively blogging, Tweeting, etc :)

The wonderfulness pertains to all sorts of people, projects and stories.

Here, for instance, is a lovely good news story of a young man coming to Christ at a recent New Wine conference.

Then there is good news of our church making progress on its Way Forward (here, here and here).

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why "Thy"?

I have been alerted to something which I had seen via Twitter but not stopped upon: Archbishop Justin Welby's promotion and propulsion for a prayer campaign to make a difference to this sorry world of ours, 25th May to 4th June 2017.

The website for "Thy Kingdom Come" is here.

The invitation is to #PledgeToPray

Follow on Twitter:




But, why, oh, why, is this mod, social media savvy campaign using "Thy"??? It is 2017 ...

Great video with ++Justin ... worth a watch!





Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Doctrine of Marriage 2017: Roman (g)rumblings

The Anglican Communion is not the only communion of churches having difficulty reaching a settled state of tranquility on marriage in 2017. The controversy within the Roman Communion, sparked into deeper grumblings and rumblings with the recent publication of Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia, rolls on, as this Catholic Herald article reports.

It all seems very Anglican, this emerging phenomenon of local bishops determining pastoral practice (i.e. how their pastors should respond to the situations of remarried couples in respect of receiving the eucharist).

I happen to think it is the right thing to do because it allows the mercy of God to follow paths of discernment which acknowledge the complexities of life while being guided by principles. The alternative is to be bound by a one rule fits all approach. In the case of communion the latter approach is seriously at odds with the teaching of Jesus who was tightly prescriptive around marriage and divorce but never said a word about what state of purity a person needs to be in before permitted to share the eucharist. The eucharist, we might recall, at its first celebration included a traitor and a denier, to say nothing of ambitious would be prelates.

A specific point of reflection, however, for Anglicans looking across the Tiber at this ongoing (g)rumble could be this: marriage is doctrinally important!

It is so important that churches - not just funny old Anglicans - are hugely stressed when some aspect or other of marriage is tackled by bishops/commissions/synods with a view to making changes.

One strategy within our Anglican debates which keeps getting wheeled out, is what could be called the minimization strategy. As in "It's not a big deal, why so much fuss?" or "Hey, marriage as doctrine is not central 'cos it isn't mentioned in the creeds."

Try telling that to Cardinal Muller! Or Burke!!