Saying the Same Thing in a New Way

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I am back from the House of Bishops in Detroit and the Diocese of Michigan, who showed great hospitality in a city on the rise. I continue to be impressed with our Presiding Bishop and in particular his gifts of personal relationships and encouragement. As you doubtless know, he has sought to encourage the Church by re-describing it as the “Jesus movement,” and it is this which I would like to reflect upon.

The expression is helpful in two important ways. First it places Jesus Christ himself at the center of the Church's life and thereby distinguishes Him continually from all the human traditions and institutions of which the Church consists. The idea is not new - it is really a way to speak of what the Reformers, following Paul, called “justification,” but a fresh way to say it can be good. To be sure, it is through the Church, traditions and institutions and all, that we have access to Him; “spiritual but not religious” is a mirage borne of our hyper - individualist age. But it is valuable to put first things first (and I imagine “movement” is a more appealing way to say it for many these days.

Secondly the Jesus movement is a new way to underline the properly ecumenical nature of the Church. Every community devoted to Him is related to the others – “all who are not against us are for us.”  This doesn't mean that debate over what we believe and how we should relate to the world should end. But it is good to challenge our received  divisions.

At the same time it is good to pose our queries to the phrase, to shore it up where necessary. The phrase is meant to be a big tent - fair enough.  But it is the Jesus of the Scriptures whose movement it is, and He died for our sins and has risen from the dead to inaugurate the coming of the Kingdom. The phrase mustn't blur atonement and eschatology, the doctrine of the last things.

Another way to make my point is this:  the phrase means to hearken back to the spiritual springtime, the days of the apostles.  But it is a 19th century myth that the earliest days had a simpler message of Jesus the prophet and teacher alone. From the first the apostolic preaching centered on his shameful death and its vindication in His resurrection. (As the great C.H. Dodd made clear in his writing on Acts). “Jesus movement” can and should be a new way to say the same creedal truth. I suspect there is a place for the Church's evangelicals and traditional Anglo-Catholics in holding this reminder before the Church.



Back to the Future

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This coming year we in the Diocese of Dallas will be cooperating with an evangelical, para-church group, ReviveTexas to help in an evangelistic effort this winter and spring. Well, we're all for spreading the Gospel, but why join forces with such a group? To answer this question, I want to turn back to look at several chapters of our own Episcopal/Anglican history.

First of all, what does it mean to say 'evangelical'? It refers to 'the gospel'; at one level this simply points to all Christians! But it also points to the reformation tradition and its emphasis on the priority of the gospel. Since the Reformation is a root of Anglican tradition, it pertains to all of us. More specifically it points to the spiritual movement of the late 18th and early 19th century which emphasized personal conversion, attention to the Scriptures, and evangelism. Especially through the ministry of John Wesley this stream of piety owes much to Anglicanism for its origins.

There is more to say. In the 19th century, religious societies were crucial in the propagation of the Gospel, and the vast newer Anglican global churches are their fruit. Furthermore those Anglican missionaries were adamantly ecumenical. Take for example that great instrument of the evangelization of India, the YMCA, which included a great Anglican (future bishop) like Samuel Azariah working side-by-side with workers from many denominations. That, in some measure, is Anglicanism! 

My point is simply this - in light of the history, a group like ReviveTexas 'R' us. I hope you'll join in.



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Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.