Challenges of a new reality

Published October 1, 2002

Canadian interest in the appointment of Archbishop Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury is vested in his role as titular head of the Anglican Communion, that fellowship (somewhat fractured at the moment) of autonomous national churches around the world which have derived their faith, orders and ecclesiology from the Church of England and are in communion with the See of Canterbury. Many have rushed into print about his appointment, some critically, which caused the archbishop to comment at a press conference that it was a curious experience to read about ?opinions you didn?t know you held expounded on your behalf.? I believe a greater knowledge of the challenges facing the church in the new global reality will help us to understand better what lies ahead for the archbishop. The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins is a good start. [pullquote]While many commentators concentrate on the decline of Christianity, it is Mr. Jenkins’ argument that the opposite is true. Statistics reveal that worldwide Christianity is growing at a tremendous rate. But, “the center of gravity in the Christian world has shifted inexorably southward to Africa, Asia and Latin America.” We have hardly noticed that, “the era of Western Christianity has passed within our lifetimes.”This shift away from Euro-American domination will have a profound effect on our understanding of what Christians believe and how the church is changing. Western Christian assumptions in theology and attitudes will be undergoing strict scrutiny. Not least to consider is that while Euro-American Christianity has developed into a religion of comfortable middle and upper class orientation, in the south it is more truly the religion of the poor and dispossessed. ?Perhaps the most striking example is how the newer churches can read the Bible in a way that makes Christianity look like a wholly different religion from the faith of prosperous advanced societies of Europe or North America.? What will be challenged is our whole liberal theological spectrum. ?For the foreseeable future ? the dominant current in emerging world Christianity is traditionalist, orthodox and supernatural.? Anglicans are already caught up in this challenge as was revealed at Lambeth 1998. By 2008, should Lambeth bishops meet again, some two thirds of them will come from the southern churches. ?Southern Christianity, the Third Church, is not just a transplanted version of the familiar religion of the older Christian states: the New Christendom is no mirror image of the old. It is a truly new and developing entity.? This raises questions about how, as Euro-American Christians, we should respond. That is why the Episcopal bishops in the United States held a meeting in 2001 on the theme, ?God?s Mission in a Global Communion of Difference.? The study papers from that meeting have now been published in Waging Reconciliation: God?s Mission in a Time of Globalization and Crisis edited by Ian T. Douglas who has contributed an introduction and a concluding essay, Restoration, Reconciliation and Renewal in God?s Mission and the Anglican Communion. These papers make good reading for both clergy and laity. They cover how we might move towards adopting policies of reconciliation when differences may lead to division. The lead paper on the topic of mission and the Bible is by a Canadian, Rev. Grant LaMarquand, who has served as a mission partner in Kenya and later on the faculty of Wycliffe College, Toronto. He clearly identifies that mission is God?s work in the world and that the church has no mission other than participating in that mission. ?The church does not have an option about whether or not it wants to be interested in mission. God is already doing the mission. The question is whether we will join in.? The last word goes to Mr. Douglas. ?A new commitment to God?s project, a renewal in God?s mission, is needed if we are to remain in communion across the colors and cultures, nations and nationalities that Anglicanism now embodies?Are we going to react to the changes out of fear or are we going to seize the moment as a possibility for renewal in God?s mission.?


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