Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Voice

I'm not a big fan of reality TV and don't tend to watch any of them unless I am with other people who are watching it, or find myself extremely pushed for something to do. That said in recent weeks I've stumbled on the odd performance on the BBC 1 show, The Voice.

If you aren't already aware, the show's initial twist/hook is that in the opening rounds, the judging panel didn't get to see the hopeful contestants. The idea being that they could not make preconceptions on a person based on their appearance or any back story... but solely on vocal talent. This sets it apart from its main rival on ITV (Britain's Got Talent), where judges form their opinion on who to take forward with other criteria.

It got me thinking about preconceptions in the church, especially as in recent months the ongoing debate between liberals and conservatives on such matters as women bishops, gay marriage and the appointment of the next Archbishop of Canterbury has become more and more amplified. It is a matter that may also strike particularly close to home because early next year, the minster I worship in will be looking to appoint a new vicar/head of ministry.

To be honest I'm fed up with it all... I'm exasperated!

Those who are most vocal on either side of the divide seem so sure of its own position in matters of theology and scripture and community. Each tries to either batter the other side into submission using rhetorical blunt force trauma, or wrong foot them by concocting elaborate schemes. 
Child covers ears to try and block out parents arguing
While outspoken liberals and conservatives bicker, the rest of the Church suffers
When did we become so sure of what God wanted... that we decided we'd make His decisions for Him? I think there is a severe, ever present danger in each one of us - the danger that we mistake the reflection of our own ego and its preconceived ideas, as being God's. Or perhaps it is a lack of spiritual confidence/maturity. We are so scared that if we don't speak for God, there will be awkward silence and nothing will happen... and we will look foolish. I don't believe any one of us is truly immune to these threats, because each and everyone of us carries within us the potential to be selfish and insecure; each one of us plays host to a sinful nature that even though it has been crucified (for those of us who accept Christ's sacrifice), constantly craves to put "self" on the throne of our hearts either as a result of hubris or insecurity.

I think our fear of losing control directly feeds into this danger and I think that we rely so much on our own convictions that we neglect or lose sight of the most important factor in the guidance and direction of the Church...

... The Voice.

No, I'm not talking about Sir Tom Jones, I'm talking about allowing God the room to intercede and intervene directly in our debates. I think we get so wrapped up in our own earthquakes, winds and fires, that we become deaf to what God is saying. I want to share two passages that I believe demonstrate his willingness to intercede directly in changing the direction of his Church. The first is from the Old Testament. It is quite lengthy so I won't be pasting it, instead you can read the passage by following this link.

In summary, Elijah challenged his opponents to demonstrate to the watching people through an act of power, that their god was worthy of following. Despite all their chants and efforts (even cutting themselves), no such demonstration was forthcoming. After rolling around on the floor and laughing at them, Elijah then made it impossible for his own altar to catch fire... and then called upon the The Lord.

What followed was the biggest barbecue in history.

The god who answers by fire - he is God.

But that's Old Testament... surely I'm not suggesting God is in the business of burning up people at Church who get it wrong? Am I?

No I'm not. But I do still believe God answers by fire.

Which brings me to the second passage:
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they travelled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”  The apostles and elders met to consider this question.  After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.  God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

  “‘After this I will return
   and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
   and I will restore it,
that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
   even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’—
things known from long ago.
“It is my judgement, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath."
Acts 15:1-21
Again it is a slightly lengthy passage but I think it makes the point eloquently. It demonstrates that God does still answer by fire - the fire of the Holy Spirit. When the Church hit a wall, a deep theological divide that threatened to split it or create a two tier system, they did not just argue amongst themselves and rely on their own understanding of God's Word... they left room for the Holy Spirit. Peter recounted his experience in the household of Cornelius, where the baptism of the Holy Spirit first came to Gentiles. Following this, Paul and Barnabas shared their similar experiences of the Gentile Christians they had encountered en route to Jerusalem... and how the Holy Spirit had been present then also.

There is a place for personal conviction... but it must take its place alongside the authority of scripture and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. We need to soak our churches in prayer... clothe ourselves in the Spirit and avail ourselves of all the fruit, blessings, gifts and tools God has to offer. As much as our humanity gets us into these situations... it is God's gracefully given divinity that will get us out of them. Conservatives who object to liberal attitudes need to remind themselves that you can't expect people to be refined by the Holy Spirit if you make it difficult for them to encounter him... by shutting the door to God's storehouses firmly in their face unless they change before they are convicted. Liberals need to be prepared to be honest and accept and respond to the Spirit's conviction if they find in their relationship with God that he is calling them to abandon something they otherwise understand or accept to be okay. We all have to do that sometimes... none of us "like" it, but spiritual maturity accepts God's discipline.

So all I'm saying in essence is that before we make any decisions about what God wants; let's open the floodgates and allow him free reign to make us into his people.

Liberal? Conservative? Let us not get hung up on these worldly positions, let us instead give God the floor. For when God answers... there is no longer any debate.
  • How do you think the Church of England should resolve its issues?
  • Have you seen the Spirit been poured out supernaturally in liberal/conservative churches?
  • Share what happened if you are willing.

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