A Church in Whose Image?

What image shall we liken to this dilemma in our church, a church that riles against the government as well as its own people? Where does it get knowledge or understanding, how can it be wise to the law? Even if wisdom cries out in the street, on the busiest corner between Macquarie and Murray Street, if the prophet Isaiah cries out, what should they cry?

The constancy of the Bishop of Tasmania is under question in the minds of the people from every corner of the land. Well, may we say God save the churches, but who will save the Bishop and address the behavior that carries on, not just in the backrooms of vestries, but in the offices of the keeper of the crook and in the press?

Bishop Richard’s gospel vision is not ‘A Church for Tasmania.’ While he may employ the youngest and enthusiastic leaders who will follow his word and extradite those who object  – inevitably these talented young bright-eyed people might go down with his ship.

The one thing the Bishop and I most certainly agree upon is that the church is always in need of reform. Five hundred years ago it was the Lay Ministers who saw the corruption in the church and spoke out, leading the way of reform; suffering exile and prosecution, in order to hold the church accountable for its actions. The Bishopric was taking money away from the people to fill up the church’s coffers, to ensure suitable building works and stipends for Bishops’ and priests’ higher-than-average living costs. What has changed in that time is that the church is not only a place where the people belong, run by the people for the people – but the church land and building, ornaments and furniture were donated, built and maintained by the people. The church in Tasmania is an ancestral tree of faith from the roots up. The Bishop stands with axe in hand, ready to tear it down limb by limb.

During a recent tour to the Holy lands, the Anglican touring group was told by one of the Bishop’s senior Ministers that God was not present in that church, where decades of conflict had torn apart a religious community. This kind of theology, that God is not present among the icons, religious statues and the people in robes, is an insult to God who is everywhere and sovereign over everything. Is this a subtle kind of manipulation to convince our Anglican leaders to abandon their buildings and take to the lawn bowls clubs of Tasmania for congregational worship? Well, we can thank God for the resurgence of lawn bowls in the last decade, or else some may be worshipping together under a tree – perhaps that’s what is meant to be…?

The wound that is festering beneath the polished press interviews, vision publications and Bishops’ training events is where the people are being ‘whacked with the Shepherd’s stick’ by these young and bright-eyed leaders who take a draconian view of leadership in the church. Their view of leadership is wholly based in Scripture’s context when it was acceptable to own slaves as long as you treated them fairly well, and women… well, they shouldn’t get too big for their boots. Their conceptualization of the gospel for Tasmania is like a deconstructed smashed avo on rye with King Island fetta – a church for the wealthy, RM Williams-wearing, cold-drip coffee drinking suburbanite. Tasmanians are proud of their generations of faithful landowners who have raised up this landscape log by log and shingle by shingle, communities were founded on their blood, sweat, and tears – their graves mark their years – and they do not take kindly to ‘mainlanders’ tearing it down.

The social conditions in Tasmania are, in some places, borderline destitute, and yet the Anglican church is on a money grabbing expedition around Tasmania while sampling its finest wine and seafood. The vision was concocted somewhere in a GAFCON convention and drip fed to the most enthusiastic leaders of the land. The sinking ship has abandoned its women and elderly, while the male-dominated leadership are grasping at the next generation to enable their disciple-making venture into the future. We are already suspicious of ministers and their dealings with our children, can we trust this next generation of young leaders who unquestioningly convince young men they are future born leaders and young women that they do not have the ‘gifting’? They should try medicine or law or join the military if they want to be a leader in society as these vocations are accepting women in droves, but the Protestant church leadership has a quota nationwide of around 3%.

One day, a lay minister of the gospel in the Anglican church climbed the stairs in Diocesan office to fulfill a calling to become ordained in the church after long years of study and service. The first question in the interview ‘Why do you want to become ordained, is it because you are a WOMAN!?’ Her response… silence. It was appropriate.

I will dare to ‘preach the Word’ to the leaders of our church at this time, from the pages of a wise woman:

‘Happy are those that find wisdom, and those that get understanding,

For her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold.

She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour.

Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.

The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens…’ ~Prov 3:13-19

 

So, let’s restore the biblical view of wise leadership in Tasmania where men and women are commanded to love God and one another, they are commissioned to make disciples of all nations, empowered by the Spirit to prophesy the word of God and are free to be led by God’s vision for the church. This is an image of the Shepherd who is gentle, gracious and merciful and carries the wounded to shelter, leading them to feed on good pasture. The stick is for the wolves.

 

Featured Image: the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg: by Amy S. Eckert/ Chicago Tribune: Source

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