Fishers of Men? Rescuing Mission from the Fundamentalists
From Brother Ivo:
Brother Ivo recently visited Dublin, and on the morning of his return decided to pass the waiting time with a brief walk around Trinity College. His eye was caught by a notice of forthcoming services on the chaplaincy noticeboard, and he was disappointed to discover that as he left to catch his flight, he would be missing a sermon with the intriguing title of this piece.
Fortunately, a suspicion that a modern teaching institution might publish its sermons online proved to be well-founded and it is now available.
The Rev'd Darren McCallig ministers in a college environment where those of different views, experience, and churchmanship live and worship in close proximity. Despite their differences they are able to gather in the same space to worship and praise the same Lord. In this regard there is a similarity between the college mission and that of the Church of England: both admit all-comers. In the college, the congregation perhaps presents itself to the chaplaincy team in a more changing stream as students come and go. The team becomes habituated to working with humanity in all its varied and flawed forms.
They set out their Mission Statement on their website:
Everyone is welcome at all our services. We are committed to a faith that is generous and resists the instinct to exclude on the basis of disagreement and difference.I believe we can be Christians without laying aside any of our convictions about the equality and dignity of all people, whether men or women, gay or straight, young or old. College chaplaincy and state church alike are intentionally inclusive; diverse by design.
The sermon title caught Brother Ivo's attention at a time when he has been having the same conversations with two distinct and separate groups of people who were consistently using exactly the same argument to support polar opposite conclusions.
"Look at your Bible," would say the Bible-believing fundamentalist, quoting from his latest spoils from a smash-and-grab raid on the scriptures which point towards his being unquestionably right. These favourite passages always seemed unremittingly grim.
Immediately afterwards, in a conversation with a militant secularist, the conversation would follow the same pattern: "Look at your Bible," would cry the atheist triumphantly, before advancing the same passages in support of the precisely opposite conclusion.
The God of Wrath featured prominently.
It seemed puzzling that those who seek to draw people to God would enjoy such congruence with those who demean and reject Him.
Brother Ivo continues to resist such readings of the scriptures in the same spirit as Leonard Cohen who remarked: "I've studied deeply in the philosophies and religions - but cheerfulness kept breaking through."
It seems that the Rev'd Darren McCallig is of similar mind to Brother Ivo, and the essence of his sermon is the need to confront the forms of evangelisation founded on fear which are too often presented to the unbeliever, and to replace them with something altogether more attractive.
"The point of Mission is to tell people that they are loved," says Rev'd Darren. He makes his point by emphasising that 'Jesus didn't destroy His enemies; He forgave his enemies... Jesus didn't root out societies notorious sinners in order to humiliate them and belittle them; He shared His meals with them and He loved them into wholeness'.
I love that approach - 'loving into wholeness'.
We cannot hear this kind of Mission advice too much.
The narrow approach has its superficial attraction. With a mobile population you can fill a building by drawing those of like mind from further afield, but that is not the same as growing the Kingdom. As someone recently remarked, the Church needs to decide whether it wishes to become fishers of men, or keepers of the aquarium.
Mission needs to reconnect with the Jesus who drew the crowds; the Jesus to whom the rejected, the disillusioned, the disapproved, the sick and the dispirited came and responded when presented with a new vision of what it is to be God. In their encounter with Him, they miraculously discovered a better way to be human.
If we are to recapture some of the excitement and encouragement of those early followers, we can do a lot worse than refocusing our mission in the way proposed in Rev'd Darren McCallig's sermon, to which you are invited to listen.
(Posted by Brother Ivo)