Tuesday 30 November 2010

An Antidote to the Covenant

Cartoon by Dave Walker  http://www.cartoonchurch.com/
Over the last few weeks as controversy around the Anglican Covenant has intensified, a story has come to mind that I heard as a young teenager. 
It was told by a young Argentinean preacher called Jaun Carlos Ortiz, and it made a deep impression on me when I was a young Christian.  His book 'Disciple' made a deep impression on many Christians in the late 1970's and I still have a copy on my bookshelf.   So I clearly remember going to hear him preach on a UK tour.
The story relates to what happened whenever he used to come back from time away from home.  On his return, he used to be greeted by his children with their tennis rackets, asking him to play tennis with them.  "We have been waiting for you - we can't play tennis when you are away" they would complain.
"But why don't you play tennis with each other?" he would ask, but they both came up with excuses.  "She's hopeless - she always misses" one would say.  "He hits the ball too hard" the other would complain.
So what did he do?
He played tennis with one, and then with the other - but he couldn't help wishing that they would find a way to play with one another.
The point of his story is that we are exactly the same with God and each other.   We fall out with each other as Christians and Churches so easily.  We won't play with each other, even though God wishes we would.  So He plays with each of us, but longs for us to play together.
As I pondered this modern parable, I wondered what had become of this young insightful preacher, so I 'Googled'  his name, and found that despite a number of personal challenges and tragedies, he is a senior Pastor and teacher at The Crystal Cathedral - one of California's evangelical mega-churches.
As I dug a little deeper, I found a chapter in one of his books which spoke to me so clearly about the mess we are getting ourselves into, as we try to define who is and who is not a proper Anglican.
The Book is "Living with Jesus Today" and Chapter 14 is called "We cannot choose our brothers" 
Here are some excerpts from it:
The problem really isn't the denomination itself.  We are fooling ourselves if we believe that. We are the problem! The denomination is just another excuse for our flesh to become enmeshed in division, which it likes to do....

Most denominations begin in the same way. In a church, one group of people barks at another group, dividing over a particular issue. The other group then barks back. It takes two to fight. So we bark at one another, and division follows...

Really, we shouldn't speak of the church as divided.  You can divide the number ten into ten ones, into two fives, or into five two's. You can divide a group of five into two groups (three and two) or into five ones. You also can divide two into two ones. But you cannot divide one. The church is one, and it cannot be divided. You can only break one.   When they amputate your leg, you don't say, "They divided my body." You say, "They cut off one of my legs." So, too, the church is not divided; it is broken in pieces...

Today we are not under Christ, but under other banners. So we have a broken church that is fractured into hundreds of denominations. But Jesus does not have many churches.  The church is the bride of Christ, and He is not a polygamist. He is going to marry just one church...

The church has a tendency to be a Christian club. A club is an institution in which all of the members agree to certain principles... 

When we gather together around principles or doctrines, that's a club. Anything that is centred in a set of rules or concepts is a club. But when we gather together around a living person whose name is Jesus, we are a church...

When Jesus comes to church, He does not find joy in our doctrinal divisions.   He commands us to repent of our hatred of one another.  And when He lives within us and we are led by His Spirit, we will accept each other as members of His body not because of doctrines, but simply because He has accepted us. We will be one church because we all share one common life—the life of Christ in us.

In the current climate of the Anglican Communion, Covenant and GAFCON, perhaps this is just the challenge we need.  There are probably many things he preaches which I would not agree with today (and vice versa) but that is exactly the point.  We are one church, no matter how much we try to divide ourselves against each other.  We are one church, with one faith, with one Lord, Jesus Christ.
If only we would play tennis with each other...

(You can read the whole Chapter at Called to Be Free)


  1. Excellent blog post, Benny, Thank you!!!

  2. I have heard this expressed as " we are called to be the welcoming committee not the selection panel".