Showing items filed under “The Rt. Rev. George Sumner”

The Tower

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The Church’s interior provides human beings with a space to stand and to see things aligned with reality, that is, ourselves and the world in light of God. But from the tower we can see the world around us, wandering from Him but still belonging to Him. And at the conclusion of a service it is out into that world that we go.  We bring the Church with us, like a tortoise with a shell, in that we bring our perception of things under God into our everyday lives, our work,  So the Tower raises the question about what lies beyond: how are we as Christians to look at it?

Our answer will be divided into a series of matters traditionally dealt with in theology, ethics, evangelism, dialogue, culture, the State, vocation.  But we need in this first entry to offer an overarching way to look at all these.   Let us find this in the category of mission, with the recipients being the Gentiles, that is, the nations of the world.  These traditional questions are different angles of approach on the nations, now that Jesus is raised and the time of gathering, of the Kingdom, has come. These nations are God’s, and yet they are darkened and confused.  They rage and conspire against God’s anointed (Psalm 2), and yet they are fascinated, they have inklings of Him, and they can use the gifts of mind, of words, of hope, to enter into conversations with Christians.  There is no way to consolidate their reactions, though they be incongruous one with another: longing, hostility, partial understanding, a desire for empathy, pride, insecurity.  We as missionaries are their siblings, and yet we bring news they could not of themselves have imagined.  This relation of blessed and costly collision is to be found in each of the classic questions we will ask in the coming entries.

Another way to put the matter is this. Each topic, ethics, evangelism, dialogue with culture, social outreach, politics, could fill a library. The best we can do is to place them all in relation to one another under to heading of ‘mission to the Gentiles in the time of the kingdom.’  They are different aspects of the same question, how shall we relate to the peoples of the earth, in the image of God and as yet enslaved by sin. 

To show this connection, we will consider all these questions in relation to an extended passage from the New Testament, Romans 12-15.  Paul has laid out his central doctrine of grace. He has related it to the mystery of the place of Israel, God’s people, in the drama of salvation.  Consider where Paul offers a series of Scriptural passages about the joyful summons to the nations:  ‘praise the Lord, all you Gentiles.’ (v.11)  Paul’s ministry is meant to circle the Mediterranean so as to proclaim the Gospel to them all (or at least those he knew of).  The offering he exhorts the Gentile Churches is a sign of this circuit, binding the nations together with Jewish believers and one another. (So we see that stewardship too, and the question of our use of money in general, are placed in relation to the nations and the time, the kairos, for proclamation to them).


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How ought we to behave? Should we make our judgments based on an arithmetic of outcomes, or by obedience to God’s commands, or in accord with the end to which we individually and corporately move?  Christians have at various times opted for each option (consequential, deontological, or teleological). 

The problem posed in this chapter is a very specific one: what should Christians who have scruples about diet (presumably from prior religious commitments) be told? How much ground should be given to their tender consciences/ anxieties?  In response Paul does not put the emphasis on the question itself, but rather on their welfare, for which the fellow Christian should have a burden.  And this was true because he or she is also part of the one Body, someone for whom Christ died as well.  One could find elements of outcome and obedience here, but primarily the emphasis is on the goal, the overarching purpose, namely life shaped by the one toward whom all move, Christ their Lord.  So in some cases freedom from scruple might show that Lordship, but in many others submission to the brother or sister for whom Christ died shows it forth more clearly. 

But what of those who do not recognize that Lordship? Our ethics are a kind of extension of that relationship: what would show Him forth as Lord? What would reflect the kind of community which Christians aspire to? What acknowledges human limits, namely that one day we all will stand before Him in judgment and mercy?

Read the baptismal covenant in the BCP and discuss as a program of Christian ethics: what is missing? Relate it to the end-oriented view of ethics.  


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