The Mission of God and the Future of the Anglican Communion

by Graham Kings

Date added: 26/06/2015

By the Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings, Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion

Introduction

Promotional panelI am very grateful to the Center for Anglican Communion Studies, at Virginia Theological Seminary, and to the Compass Rose Society, for the invitation to attend General Convention and to speak today.

I look forward to the responses from the three Primates here: of Korea, Paul Keun-Sang Kim; of Pakistan, Samuel Robert Azariah; and of Brazil, Francisco De Assis Da Silva; for I have been given an impossibly wide-ranging title!

We start with some wisdom from John V Taylor, in his retirement in 1990. Formerly, he was the General Secretary of the Church Mission Society and Bishop of Winchester:

The shrewdest attitude towards both the past and the future is that taken by Chou En Lai [Chinese Prime Minister 1949-76] who, when asked how he assessed the French Revolution, replied, “It’s a little too early to judge.”

‘The Future of Christianity’ in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, edited by John McManners (OUP, 1990) p. 665.

In this address, we shall be considering first 'the Mission of God' and then 'the Future of the Anglican Communion', drawing on Scripture, tradition, art, poetry, proverb and liturgy.



A. The Mission of God

In our first section, let us ruminate on 'mirroring' and 'exposition'.

1. Holistic Mission mirrors the Co-inherence of the Holy Trinity

Mission begins with God and ends with God. Before time, in time and beyond time, God's very being is outward moving, in generation and procession. In time, the Father sends the Son into creation to set people free: the Embedded for the embittered. The Father sends the Spirit into the lives of his people: the Irrigator for the parched.

This interweaving of the Holy Trinity is not so much incoherent as 'co-inherent'. We are drawn into this astonishing movement from God and towards God. In turn, we are sent by him to embody and to share his good news.

So mission is not so much what we do, as following in the wake of what God is already doing: discerning his surprising purposes and joining in. As a boat sailing in the water creates a 'v' shape behind it, so we are drawn behind his movement into his own creation for liberation. Mission is an umbrella word, which covers all God sends us in his world to do with him. Included under it, is the interweaving of evangelism, development and justice, locally and throughout the world.

When our family lived for seven years in the foothills of Mount Kenya, at St Andrew’s College, Kabare, we enjoyed the staple crop of maize and beans. Maize takes nitrogen out of the soil and beans put it into it, so local Kikuyu farmers planted them in alternate rows. When harvested, they were mashed, and scooped together, with potatoes, and eaten together as nourishing food called mataha. This means literally, ‘that which is scooped’. An intriguing metaphor.

Sharing God’s good news in Christ, being involved in long term community development and striving for social justice in God’s world enrich each other, are nutritious and reflect God’s glory together.

I worked closely with the founder of the college, the late and beloved David Gitari, then the Bishop of Mount Kenya East and later Archbishop of Kenya. He used to comment with insight on Luke 2:52. ‘Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, in favour with God and people.’

Jesus grew in 'wisdom', mind; 'stature', body; 'in favor with God', spirit; 'and with people', in community. So our mission, following the mission of God in the life and growth of his beloved Son, should involve education (mind), development (body), evangelism (spirit) and justice (community).

The five marks of mission of the Anglican Communion echo these interweavings.

2. Exposition of the painting by Silvia Dimitrova, ‘Priscilla’, and African insights on mission

'Priscilla', with Aquila, Paul (left) and Apollos (right), by Silvia Dimitrova

Silvia Dimitrova is a Bulgarian Orthodox icon writer, based in Bath, England and has become a good friend. Together, we are committed to a missional project of creating seven iconic paintings over 30 years, one every five years, of women in the Bible, in Bulgarian folk style. These are not icons, for they are signed and are not in traditional style, but they are clearly ‘iconic.’

So far, we have Mary Magdalene (with Jesus on the first Easter morning); Lydia (with Paul at Philippi), – these may be seen on her web site - and this is the third in the series, Priscilla (with her husband, Aquila, and behind them, Paul on the left and Apollos on the right). For the rest of the series, we plan to cover the stories of Sarah (with Abraham), Miriam (with Moses), Ruth (with Boaz) and Esther (with Mordecai).

I choose the people and the texts and discuss the theology of the passages with Silvia, and suggest some ideas. She studies the scriptural passages, listens to a recording of me reading them, prays and develops a sketch. We consider it together, make some adjustments and then I do not see it, till it arrives at our home during a party.

In terms of God’s mission, the process itself echoes the significance of ecumenical, international and gender partnerships across cultures, which interpret Biblical passages afresh for the purpose of eliciting wonder, delight and questions. With our guests at home, from all walks of life, these often lead into deep discussions about God and his good news.

Acts 18:1. ‘After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew, named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.’

God’s mission, then and now, involves national and international politics, persecution and subsequent new meetings. A Filipino proverb runs: ‘God writes straight with crooked lines.’

Verse 3. ‘Paul went to see them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together – by trade they were tentmakers.’

You can see the canvas for the tents on the left, centre and the rolls of it on the right. Partnership in work leads to intense partnership in the Gospel.

Paul travels to Ephesus with this married couple (after Acts 18:1, Luke mentions Priscilla first), and then on by himself to Caesarea, Antioch, and Galatia.

The painting is set in their home at Ephesus. Apollos, top right, arrives, from Alexandria, according to Acts 18:24-26:

...an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately.

Since Apollos ‘knew only the baptism of John’, Luke seems to imply that they taught him about the Holy Spirit: hence, in the centre of the painting, Priscilla is holding a dove. In understanding God’s mission, the Holy Spirit is pivotal.

The next passage, Acts 19:1-10, tells of Paul’s return to Ephesus and the twelve people who had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit and who were then baptised and filled with the Spirit. We often miss the link between these two passages, which both mention ‘only the baptism of John’, because of the chapter divide. It is often worth ignoring chapter divisions.

Paul, in the painting, is writing a letter – there can be multiple times in one painting. This is his first letter to the Corinthians, which was written from Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8-9) and mentions greetings from ‘Aquila and Priscilla, together with the church in their house’ (v. 19).

In the first three chapters, he is dealing with divisions in the church there. Some are for Paul, some for Cephas (Peter) and some for Apollos. He asks ‘Has Christ been divided?’ (1 Cor 1:13) and – ironically, with fine rhetoric - shows the centrality of the cross over human eloquence, rhetoric and wisdom.

Paul seems to me to be tilting at Apollos, whom, we saw was known for his eloquence. In 1 Corinthians 1:19, he may even, I think, be punning on his name, quoting the Greek translation of Isaiah 29:14, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise’. ‘I will destroy is apolo in Greek… In the painting, the window nearest, Paul, has a cross in it: the window nearest Apollos does not.

However, Apollos is carrying a letter too. With Luther, and some modern commentators, I think he may be the author of the eloquent Letter to the Hebrews.

In the end, Paul states ‘I planted, Apollos watered and God gave the growth’ (1 Cor 3:6). As well elucidating unity in Christ, amidst strong diverse leaders, later on, Paul deals with various crises in the church at Corinth concerning sex (chapter 5), lawsuits among believers (chapter 6) and directions concerning marriage (chapter 7). Sounds uncannily familiar... God’s mission involves unity in Christ, careful nurture and the protection of discipline.

Priscilla and Aquila end up back in Rome. Their end is their beginning. Paul sends very warm personal greetings to them in Romans 16:3-5. ‘Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the gentiles. Greet also the church in their house.’ What an extraordinary married couple.

God’s mission involves partnership, risk taking, and the keeping up of long term friendships.

To illustrate further, let me draw on the experience of two African friends in theology and the church, Kwame Bediako and Hilary Garang.

Concerning mission activity in Africa, Kwame Bediako, the Ghanaian Reformed theologian, wrote perceptively:

In missiological terms, the cross cultural transmission did not bring Christ into the local African situation. If that were to be the case, in African terms, Christ would be a disposable divinity, actually able to be taken, carried and brought…and presumably also, disposed of, if not needed. The deeper insight is, however, that Christ, already present in the situation, called in His messengers so that by proclamation and incarnation, He might be made manifest.

Kwame Bediako, Christianity in Africa: the Renewal of a Non-Western Religion (Edinburgh and NY: Edinburgh University Press and Orbis Books, 1995), p. 226.

Kwame’s early death in 2008 is much lamented but his legacy lives on at the Akrofi-Kristaller Centre he founded and the multiple scholars he influenced and taught throughout Africa.

In 2012, Hilary Garang, the Bishop of Malakal in the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, who studied theology in Germany, invited me to his diocese to lead a week’s refresher course for clergy and lay leaders, on the theme of mission. Tragically, Malakal is now flattened as a result of the warring groups in South Sudan. With 25 men and 15 women, we explored together 18 passages of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

We used role play for three of the sessions as the Bible came alive in extraordinary ways. The most vibrant and moving role play, based on Galatians 2:11-21, portrayed the crucial row at Antioch between Paul and Peter. Before people came from James in Jerusalem, Jewish and Gentile Christians ate together, with the consent of Peter and Barnabas. Afterwards, there was a danger of a split and Paul counteracted this, vehemently. Some pulling and shoving took place as the groups responded to this possible split. The Dean, Michael Miakol, playing Paul, was magnificent in fury and intellect. He insisted on justification by faith being at the heart of unity, and eating together being based on that foundation.

In God’s mission, justification by faith is central not because it is easier or more spiritual than justification by works of the law, but because it thereby includes the Gentiles, who do not have the Law.

The Gentiles flooding into the Church produced tensions, changed its character, and renewed its theology.

Something similar is happening in the worldwide Church today, with the shift of its centre of gravity having moved from the north to the south of the world.

B. The Future of the Anglican Communion

In his prophetic book on ecology, published 40 years ago, Enough is Enough, John V Taylor argued against ‘any conjectural projection of present trends into the future without allowing for unforeseen change of a radical kind.’ He wrote:

By plotting a graph of the expansion of the monasteries throughout the Middle Ages we might easily have concluded that nine-tenths of the British people were celibates today. But such a calculation would not have allowed for such a change as the dissolution of the monasteries.

John V Taylor, Enough is Enough (London: SCM Press, 1975) p. 13

The future of the Anglican Communion, in 165 countries and 38 provinces, is in the hands of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is holy, loves justice and mercy and longs to save. Our calling as a Communion is to be Catholic, Evangelical and Ecumenical.

In particular, today - for we have to have some foci - let us consider together how new missional leaders and theological invigoration may contribute to our future together in Christ.

1. New Leaders in Canterbury, the Anglican Communion Office and The Episcopal Church

The ministry of Justin Welby, as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury, was inaugurated the same week as the ministry of Francis as Pope, in March 2013. Their first meeting in the Vatican had a surprising start.

‘I am more senior than you’ said the Pope.

‘Yes, your Holiness’, replied the Archbishop, wondering why he was immediately bringing up centuries of division and discord.

Then, with a twinkle in his eye, the Pope continued:

‘By two days’.

Angst was punctured by humour and personal relationship.

Pope Francis also has a close relationship with Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and with Evangelical and Pentecostal leaders in Argentina. This bodes well for the worldwide Church of God.

The Pope's first encyclical, on the mission of God, Gaudium Evangelii (The Joy of the Gospel) was breath taking. His second, on the environment (The Care of our Common Home) last week, Laudato Si, is encyclopaedic, and has been encouragingly endorsed in a joint statement by the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Justin Welby, with his wife, Caroline, has visited all 38 Provinces of the Communion in his first 18 months, staying with the Primates and listening attentively to them.

He has written a significant Foreword to the 2014 book, Living Reconciliation by Phil Groves and Angharad Parry Jones. It is entitled ‘Reconciliation is the Heart of the Gospel’, and is worthy of an extended quotation:

We agree on these [five] marks [of mission]. Yet in so many other things, we disagree. Given our transparent and open structures, we often do so loudly. But we do so as part of a family which, however much it falls out, remains linked. We have to deal with the reality that, no matter how strained our relationships may become at times, we belong to each other…
I am not arguing that we should resist making decisions until the whole Anglican Communion (let alone the universal Church) is in total and unanimous agreement. That would be a legalistic and regulatory response to a problem that is relational and missional.
Rather, I am eager to encourage each of us to take full account of the way in which decisions in one province echo around the world. We do not have a volume button that can limit or determine how our voices are heard beyond our own country or region. The impact of their echoes is something to which we must listen in the process of our decision-making, if we are not to narrow our horizons and reject the breadth of our global family. That process requires extensive conversation and prolonged engagement – an honest reinforcement of the bonds of the relationship – amidst the confusing and costly work of common discernment.

Justin Welby, ‘Foreword: Reconciliation is the Heart of the Gospel’ in Phil Groves and Angharad Parry Jones, Living Reconciliation (London: SPCK, 2014), p. x and xi.

Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the new Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, will be commissioned in September 2015. His long term work of mission and dialogue with Muslims in Nigeria, and on the Network for Inter Faith Concerns of the Anglican Communion, is remarkable.

Frank Griswold, the 25th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, has known him since 1998. He told the Episcopal News Service in April:

Josiah is, above all, a man of communion, a careful listener, and a respecter of the different ways in which we are called to articulate and live the good news of God in Jesus Christ.

Frank invited Josiah to preach at the Sunday Eucharist at your 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis,

because I wanted the Episcopal Church to have the benefit of his gracious spirit and his particular perspective in aid of broadening our understanding and appreciation of brother and sister Anglicans in a context very different from our own.

Expounding Ephesians chapter 4 that morning 12 years ago, Josiah said:

We are the new society God has called into being…It is one people reconciled, of every color and culture, the one and only family of God.

And went on to comment:

Our church family takes the Episcopal Church very seriously. When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. America, don’t sneeze too much.

At this General Convention, there will be an election of a new Presiding Bishop. Be assured of our prayers for the wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit and for the significance of the Communion in the life of The Episcopal Church to be fully recognised.

My own personal plea, for your whole Convention, comes in the form of offering a Kikuyu proverb and an English poem.

The proverb runs: ‘Nyoneka na rua yuraga na rua.

Which, being interpreted, means: ‘That which is quickly acquired is quickly lost’.

My poem, ‘The Pause’, grew out of noticing the usually overlooked gap between the full stop at the end of one sentence and the capital letter at the beginning of the next. If we remove that gap, and the capital letter is rushed and pushed up against the full stop in each sentence, it becomes very difficult to read ‘reverently and deliberately’.

The Pause

Sentences, like people,
need spaces to breathe.
Between the full stop
and the Capital
lies        the pause.

Without the space,
sentences are breathless;
without the Sabbath,
life is restless;
without the pause,
the rest is lifeless.

Sentences, like God,
have a preferential option
for       the pause.

2. Hopes for Raising up Voices of new ‘Doctors of the Church’

So, we move on to consider ways in which inter-cultural theological reflection may be stimulated and encouraged across the Anglican Communion for deeper mutual understanding.

In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers were sent on their way in The Mayflower by the words of the Puritan Pastor, John Robinson, ‘I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.’ A wonderful model, it seems to me, for authentic contextual theology.

In 2009, 'The Bible in the Life of the Church' project of the Anglican Communion was commissioned at the Anglican Consultative Council, in Jamaica. Its findings were published in an excellent report on the web, ‘Deep Engagement, Fresh Discovery’, and in 2014, in the book of the project’s title, edited by Clare Amos.

Clare Amos, The Bible in the Life of the Church (London: Church Publishing, 2014)

In 2015, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church Mission Society and Durham University have become partners in creating a new seven year post: ‘Mission Theologian in the Anglican Communion’.

I will be based in London, employed by CMS, studying at Lambeth Palace Library and Durham University, as an Honorary Fellow, and will work closely with mission and theology colleagues in the Anglican Communion Office, and around the world.

Henry Venn, the great 19th Century General Secretary of the CMS, talked of 'self-supporting, self-governing and self-extending churches' throughout the world. There are echoes of this in the Church in China today. For many years, more recently, there has been a 'fourth self': 'self-theologising'. It is these voices which need to be heard more clearly throughout the Communion.

Priorities for the post include the following:

  • Stimulating a network of theologians in the Communion as “Doctors of the Church” and encouraging their fellowship, writing and publishing.
  • This will involve convening a seminar in Anglican Communion Studies in different regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America in particular. The new Theologian Database, on the Anglican Communion website, will be a place for scholars to contribute their details and areas of research, to serve as resource persons for all of the Communion.
  • Editing the new website www.MissionTheologyAngCom.org , with its Twitter account @MissioTheology, and publishing papers given in the seminar, as well as articles from elsewhere.
  • Working with publishers and editors in the Global South, as well as the Global North, to create and partner a new book series, “Anglican Theologies: African, Asian and Latin American”.
  • Helping to arrange university and college sabbaticals for theologians to pursue research for such publications.
  • Doing research and writing on such developments in inter-cultural theology in the Communion, including their ecumenical contexts, and, when invited, lecturing in appropriate courses.

We need to discover and encourage modern day Saint Augustines in Africa, Asia and Latin America to think, write, reflect and transform the Church and God’s world. Marcus Dods, who translated Augustine’s City of God magnificently in 1871, commented:

As Augustine considered what was required of him – to expound the Christian faith and justify it to enlightened men; to distinguish it from, and show its superiority to, all those forms of truth, philosophical or popular, which were then striving for mastery, or at least for standing-room; to set before the world’s eye a vision of glory that might win the regard of men who were dazzled by the fascinating splendour of a world-wide empire – he recognised that a task was laid before him to which even his powers might prove unequal; a task certainly which would afford ample scope for his learning, dialectic, philosophical grasp and acumen, eloquence and faculty of exposition.

Marcus Dods, original translator’s preface (1871) to Saint Augustine, City of God (London: Folio Society, 2012), p. xxix-xxx

We would value prayer for similar such Augustines in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Conclusion

So, we have attempted to outline and interweave the Mission of God and the Future of the Anglican Communion, through mirroring and exposition, leadership and theology. May we follow in the wake of God's mission, and enjoy the surprises of God's future.

I look forward to learning from the co-responding Primatial perspectives emerging out of Korea, Pakistan and Brazil and - as always - pray for mercy and elucidation.

Let us conclude by joining in a ‘litany poem’, 'The Church and the Nations.' It was written exactly 30 years ago, during a conference I attended of theologians from around the Communion, in Johannesburg 1995.

The Church and the Nations

God the Father forms his people,

from out of the nations to bless the nations;

Jesus the Christ saves his people,

from out of the nations to bless the nations;

The Holy Spirit draws his people,

from out of the nations to bless the nations.

 

Abraham called,

from out of the nations, the people are blessed;

Moses leads,

from out of a nation, a people oppressed;

David fights,

against the nations, the people assured;

Isaiah speaks,

to lighten the nations, the people restored.

Jesus dies,

betrayed by the people, for the people;

Jesus dies,

pierced by the nations, for the nations.

Jesus raised,

the people remade, the nations reproached;

Paul proclaims,

the people reshaped, the nations rejoice;

John sees,

the people redeemed, regathered from every
tribe, tongue, people and nation.

 

Source of the Church,

Desire of the nations;

Head of the Church,

Judge of the nations;

Breath of the Church,

Light of the nations;

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

renew your Church to bless your nations.

 
Graham Kings

Graham Kings

 
 
Wood panel

Interweavings

A bronze

Wood panel