On Sunday, in the wake of the Anglican Church's response to the Royal Commission into institutional child sexual abuse, I spoke to our congregation hoping to clarify the issue that the Anglicans received the most strident criticism for and for which our Primate and Archbishop had expressed our sense of shame.
Essentially our Church was criticized because while we can reach agreement on our failures and what needs to be done to move forward, the twenty-three Dioceses of the Province of Australia cannot agree upon the actual process of making those decisions and instituting change in our church. We know what we have to do, but cannot agree on how to do it.
After I made this short address, encouraging people to read and listen to the reporting and statements coming from the Royal Commission, several people expressed their concern about the Anglican position. They expressed the view that God, not Church hierarchies or officers, govern the Church. I believe this is an overly simplistic way of viewing the situation. The Church is the worldly gathering of Christians who believe in what God has revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Having heard Jesus speak to us, having accepted and come to believe in his teaching, we then begin the journey, sometimes even the struggle, to live lives that accord with that belief. We do this because Jesus has shown us that every such effort will bring us closer to God, and to the Kingdom prepared for us beyond this life. Jesus showed us on the cross the lengths to which God was ready to go to bring us home. Knowing all this does not make us perfect, it shows that God's perfection has been placed within our reach. That it is the hope that can encourage and guide us in this life. But once again, it does not make us perfect. Read John 8:2-12 to get Jesus' view on people who consider themselves so righteous that they have the right to sit in judgment on others.
The Church is the worldly gathering of Christians - just that. It is the people in this dark and sinful world who have seen the light and are struggling towards it. For many in our world that struggle is a difficult and painful one. In the balance of things, Australian Christians have got it pretty easy. We can choose from churches to suit every taste or aesthetic desire. Why are there so many different denominations of God’s people? Because humanity cannot even make how you believe in God a thing that unites us.
Human nature makes us want to stand up and say “If you don't see it the way I see it – you must be wrong and I reject you!” It amuses me a little to see that those who condemn the church for not being able to agree are themselves not agreeing! That we as humans never seem able to agree, to find harmony with each other is what I define as the source of human sin. The fuel that powers it is self-importance, self-centredness and self-satisfaction. As I have often commented, in sermons and elsewhere, note the prefix of all those words.
Yes, I agree that it is a sin that our Anglican Dioceses cannot find a way to agree on how to implement the rules, strategies and actions to achieve that which we all agree must be achieved. But it is a human sin, one that permeates every part of human society. It is the same sin that nurtures sexism, racism, ageism and all the isms that blight human society.
But pointing fingers never changed anything for the better. Our dwindling church congregations throughout the world, or more particularly the developed world, are the result of the church being seen to be critical rather than constructive, condemning rather caring. Nobody wants that, and I have never heard God saying it was part of the deal. The deal is “Love one another as I have loved you.” God is aware that the more you really try to live up to that, the harder you realize it is to achieve. But I have nearly always found that the greater the effort, then ultimately, the greater the prize.
Beloved I do not consider that I have made it my own but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
Ven Bill Beagley
reflections and occasional thoughts (appearing in the Parish newsletter)