May 1, 2008
What a joy it was to have Archbishop Gregory and Sylvia Venables, and Bishop Bill Atwood with us this past Tuesday. The contrast between the pastoral approach of Archbishop Venables and that of Presiding Bishop Jefferts-Schori was unmistakable. In fact, the contrast was so striking that it reaffirmed to me – and I know to many others – that we are moving in the right direction. The doctrinal and theological differences between the two primates are obvious but seeing them worked out “in person” this week was fascinating and encouraging.
My particular reaction to all of this was shaped somewhat by a book that I have been reading by Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, in which he emphasized the biblical norm of making decisions in community, and recognizing how our actions are a witness of the Body of Christ to the World.
While North Americans tend to think in terms of a one-on-one relationship with God, early Christians responded to the Gospel not just as individuals but as families and communities. And, because their faith in Christ created a stronger bond than family, racial and national identities, their Christian family became their primary identity.
Hays’s words were echoing in my mind while listening to Archbishop Venables on Tuesday as he was talking about us coming together as a family. As Saint Paul emphasized the value of table fellowship during the Antioch controversy in Galatians [2.11f], so did Venables in his conversations with us in San Joaquin.
Thankfully, we are experiencing a dramatic shift in worldviews. We are moving from a litigious Western institutional mindset toward a more wholesome and biblical family interaction.
A perfect example of this, is the way in which the bishops of the Southern Cone responded to the plight of churches in North America. While some were debating over canon law, in order to find “permission” to be faithful to Christ, the bishops of the Southern Cone simply offered us their home. Sadly, there have been a number of people who have had the effrontery to suggest that the bishops of the Southern Cone did not have the right to offer that hospitality because their own constitutional documents did not provide for it. But those critics are responding out of a completely different worldview than the bishops of the Southern Cone. Venables’ critics are thinking from a litigious Western view, while the bishops of the Southern Cone are thinking like family. Isn’t that refreshing?
Which would you prefer to receive if you were in crisis, a summons to court, or an invitation to dinner?