Essentials

General Synod 2017

General Synod was held in sunny Maroochydore. If you’re going to have to spend five and half days in Synod sessions from 8.30am to 9pm this certainly helped to make it a better experience. On four of the mornings we met in table groups to join in the Daily Office as well as respond to the four Bible Studies delivered by Bishop Michael Stead (Sydney), Dr Matthew Anstey (Adelaide), Dr Dorothy Lee (Melbourne) and Dr John Dunhill (Perth). The group I led was animated and we had wonderful interactions as we engaged with the Scriptures and prayed together. This helped set the tone for the day and was one of the factors as to why I would say it was a good General Synod. The Primate chaired well in his relaxed but clear way.

Synod dealt with a lot of legislation: the Child Safe Canon; Episcopal Standards; The Redress Scheme; screening of volunteer leaders and many other matters. Substantial motions were passed: upholding marriage as currently defined; instructing the Doctrine Commission to produce papers on a range of issues related to human sexuality; giving an apology for domestic violence; investigating and possibly commissioning research on domestic violence in churches; child safety; assisted dying; gender balance on General Synod bodies; and the Reformation.
Matters related to the Royal Commission dominated proceedings. On the one hand Royal Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald commended the Anglican Church on leading the way in establishing comprehensive policies and procedures in relation to Professional Standards. On the other hand the flow-on impact of the National Redress Scheme was sobering to consider. Of the people who have had private sessions with a Commissioner only a third had had previous contact with the institution where the abuse occurred. The Commonwealth will operate the National Redress Scheme. Once an assessment is established with an individual the institution in which the abuse occurred will be invoiced for the cost of the payment to victims plus legal and psychological costs. Given that seven dioceses are currently assessed to be financially unviable, the flow-on impact of this will be massive in those dioceses, but in reality it will be substantial in all dioceses. The consequences of the sins of the past are being visited upon this generation.
Evangelicals had a good General Synod. At my first General Synod in 1994 there were only three diocesan bishops who were evangelical: those of Sydney, Armidale and North West Australia. Today it is a very different scene. All of the clergy and a majority of the laity elected to the Standing Committee as well as the Primatial Election Board were evangelical. Many long-term stalwarts of these boards didn’t seek re-election!
On the Tuesday evening we had 100 people at the EFAC Dinner. Given that the Dioceses of Adelaide and Brisbane had their own dinners this was wonderful response. Bishop Richard Condie gave a rousing address on his new Diocesan Vision. This, in fact, was probably the best speech given at the Synod!
My sense is that the future is going to be very challenging for all dioceses. Some of the structural changes that have been talked about for decades may be forced upon us. That, in itself, may not be a bad thing. God is at work in and through the Anglican Church. There is much to be encouraged about, but massive challenges also lie ahead.

Stephen Hale
Bishop Stephen Hale, Chair of EFAC Australia, judges this year’s General Synod a good one for Evangelicals.

Editorial Summer 2016

The “good old days”?

The olden days feature in this issue. Some may wish to label Peter Brain’s article as a product of the “sentimental generation”. John Yates article maybe might be regarded as antiquarian by some.

These articles remind us of the problem of what happens a generation or so after the “good old days”. Or after a big revival. Both Methodism and Pentecostalism can be see as heirs of the eighteenth century revival. Nowadays neither look like the kind of religious communities overseen by Whitfield and Wesley.

We rightly praise God for the remarkable growth of the church in Africa, Asia and South America. But what will sustain the present life of those churches to the grand children and great grandchildren of today’s saints?

Forms continue but hearts change. Ideas and doctrines change slowly, as much under the power of the culture as under the power of the Word and Spirit.

Book Review: Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life.

Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life.
Sheridan Voysey, Discovery House, 2015

The art of pairing a wine with a meal is supposedly a relatively recent phenomenon. Historically, local food would be matched with local wine without much room for choice, but the luxuries of modern life have birthed a booming industry in the search of paired perfection and the ultimate dining experience.

I wonder if we do a lot of the same when it comes to pairing the right devotional commentary to Scripture. Does the devotional content enhance the experience of God’s Word? Is it a helpful companion or a distraction? Is the overall result more nourishing or vainly exotic? What is the ultimate Bible dining experience? What a luxury to have so many good books available to us that we can think in this way!

Thankfully with Sheridan Voysey’s devotional book Resilient, it is easy to see that Scripture came first and his reflections flowed secondarily. The book came about because he committed to reading the Sermon on the Mount every day for a month, an experiment that tripled in length, and captivated his journaled thoughts enough to make the ninety short reflections that comprise it.

The book is organised into 6 sections and roughly follows the flow of the Sermon on the Mount: Your Invitation, Your Calling, Your Relationships, Your Practices, Your Choices and Your Resilient Life. In that sense, the clear theme of resilience only climaxes towards the end, just as it does with Jesus’ closing analogy of building a house on the rock. Yet the resilient life is consistently built up every step of the way.

The whole collection is meant to be read slowly. This is a good thing, drawing us back to the Sermon that our wayward hearts love to ignore. The extreme challenge of each individual instruction from Jesus is hard to embrace, let alone to absorb it all at once, so to be guided deliberately through it by Voysey’s awareness of the implications is helpful. This slowing down gives space for new insights into our present context and stops the powerful ethical impact from getting lost in the rush. He raises the challenge of Jesus by helping us see it more clearly.

Far from being a harsh call to a self-reliant holiness of living, the book is full of grace. He writes with a compassion that can only come from someone who knows the transforming work of the gospel and he works hard to make sure the reader doesn’t miss the grand narrative of God’s love. It is the kind of thing that comes from someone who has actually done the hard yards of sustained reflection on the glorious Word of God and the lived experience of a Jesus-shaped life.

Voysey has a knack for sensitively navigating topics that many Christians have strong opinions on. People are very quick to give up on a devotional if it starts to push controversial buttons at whim (I should know, I’ve lost track of how many such books are on my shelf with their unsubtle agendas left unfinished). Voysey writes carefully, respectfully, is informed by good scholarship and acknowledges a variety of Christian experience. Typically this is achieved by leading with a story rather than leading with an assertion and it is an effective strategy that builds trust and respect with the reader.
My main worry about the book is the title. I read it because anything to do with resilience draws my attention these days out of a fascination with the buzzword it has become. The Western cultural narrative seems preoccupied with the silver bullet of resilience as it seeks desperately for anything that will plug the hole of widespread anxiety and fragmentation. There is nothing wrong with the word and what it represents, only that the book deserves to last longer than the buzzword is likely to and I hope it doesn’t detract from the impact it should have once we’ve all jumped on the new flavour of the month.

Both endeavours of pairing wine with food and devotionals with Scripture are notoriously difficult. One might find that they have found the textbook perfect combination only to hear scathing critique from the person sitting next to them. Welcome to subjective taste and personal preferences! Nevertheless, I think this is a satisfying, enlivening and ultimately productive combination. Bon appetit!
Mark Juers, Vic

The why and what of assured prayer: The Lord’s Prayer and Ezekiel 36

Thom Bull is the Senior Minister of Ellenbrook Anglican Church, WA

In Luke 11:1-13, Jesus gives his famous teaching on prayer, instructing us in both what we should pray for, and why. The ‘why’ is grounded in the character of God, in vv 5-13. Unlike the friend who will help you out simply to get rid of you, and like a father who knows how to give good gifts to his children (only more so), the heavenly Father is concerned, faithful, generous and kind, and can be relied upon to provide. And because that is who God is, Jesus says: ask, seek, and knock. The Father’s character is such as to guarantee us of our receiving, finding, and having the door opened.
This assurance of the Father’s hearing and answering is, however, closely connected to Jesus’ teaching here on the ‘what’ of prayer. The bold, even extravagant prayer promises of these verses are, it must be remembered, not a blank cheque. Rather, they presuppose and exist in the closest relation to the very specific things for which Jesus has taught his disciples to ask. Of these requests, there are six. The first five come in the Lord’s Prayer, in vv 2-4. Disciples are to ask that the Father’s name would be acknowledged as holy; that his presently contested rule would be fully established on the earth; that their bodily need for food would be met; and that their spiritual need for the forgiveness of past evil and protection from future evil would similarly be provided. The sixth and final request, for the Holy Spirit, is communicated via the promise of v13. These six petitions, then, are those to which the prayer promises attend. Knock on these doors, and God will open them.

Now as a collection of individual petitions, these six requests appear, at first, to be a slightly random, disconnected grab-bag of items—all good things to ask for, to be sure, but not necessarily forming a greater unity. On a second reading, a delightful comprehensiveness may be noticed—these requests marry a centring on God’s glory and fame with the reality of individual need; they stretch from the cosmic, universal and eschatological to the most basic, personal and immediate; they hold together both the physical and the spiritual as spheres of divine concern. And yet, going a third step, an even deeper, unifying relationship is evident amongst these petitions, which can be appreciated by turning to Ezekiel 36:22-32.

Ezekiel 36 comes from the lowest point in the life of Israel. Having persisted in rebellion against the LORD and repeatedly refused his call to repentance, the people have been exiled to Babylon, as the corpse of the kingdom they had once been. But out of the valley of the shadow of death, God promises his people, through his prophet, that a restoration is coming. The New Age, the Age of the Kingdom, dawn, when once again Israel will be the LORD’s people, and he will be their God (v 28). And, as we hear the LORD’s description of what he will do that day, we find that it is extremely suggestive as background to Luke 11. For instance, when the LORD’s rule is re-established, he will summon the grain and make it abundant, and lay no famine on the people (v 29)—they will have their daily bread. He will sprinkle clean water on them, to clean them from their uncleanness and their idolatry (v 25)—their past and present sins will be forgiven. He will take away their stony hearts, give them hearts of flesh, and cause them to walk obediently in his statutes (v 26), transforming them such that they are protected from future temptation and evil. This transformation will be brought about through God’s own Spirit, whom he will put within them (v 27). And the LORD will do all of this, not for Israel’s sake, but for the sake of his own holy name, to vindicate the holiness of his name—that is, to hallow it—before the nations (v 22).

The connections are immediately obvious, and they reveal that the petitions Jesus teaches his disciples to pray in Luke 11 aren’t a set of discrete, disconnected requests. They are, rather, one large unified prayer to God, asking him to do the very thing he has already promised he will do in Ezekiel 36: bring the new age of his Kingdom, with all its blessings, upon a broken, guilty, and hungry world.

And this, in turn, further grounds the assurance Jesus gives of receiving an answer to these requests. It’s not only because God’s character is that of a generous Father; it’s also because to pray Jesus’ prayer is to pray the concrete promises of God, which he will be faithful to fulfil. It is to pray, therefore, beautifully within the divine will; and, for that reason, it can be prayed with certainty of receiving the Father’s ‘Yes’.

Book Review: Strange Days

Strange Days:
Life in the Spirit in a Time of Upheaval.
Mark Sayers, Moody Publishers, 2017

In Strange Days, Mark Sayers starts with a personal story that captures the uncertainty and fear of our modern world. After smoothly flying to Europe over various conflict hotspots he finds out:

‘Another Malaysian Airlines jet has gone down—shot down, I’d later learn, over a conflict zone. The plane had been traveling opposite of mine, at roughly the same time, filled with fellow Australians and other nationalities. Torn from the sky. That thin skin, that fragile membrane of security peeled away. I shake my head. The world is going mad.’

It’s a compelling opening. Despite all the benefits of technology and travel, life appears chaotic and insecure. What are Christians to make of this age of terrorism and political dysfunction? How should we respond to the flood of social media and radical changes of globalization? Strange Days aims to help Christians think about this world in flux. Sayers writes:

‘My goal is to grasp our cultural moment, to help you understand its landscape. There is a pattern to the chaos, and what is more, there is a door out, into the holy expanse that is life in the Spirit.’

The book does this in 3 parts. Parts 1 and 2 consider the Biblical and historical patterns of chaos. Part 3 then explores the Christian response to this time of upheaval: the ‘Life in the Spirit’ of the book’s subtitle.

Is this book brilliant or flawed? I found it hard to decide. Sayers’ dense writing, so arresting in the introduction, became wearying as the book went on and I wished for a more plain style, even if it took more words. Some sentences offered profound insight into our culture and context, but it seemed that every sentence was written as if I should consider it profound, until I couldn’t tell if it was anymore. The book interprets the upheaval of our times as a striving for a sense of place, but I found myself questioning whether this interpretive lens was correct. Surely it is unlikely that the chaos of our world can be neatly slotted into a single overarching narrative?

Unfortunately, that narrative is assumed more than argued for. The book gives only sixteen pages to Part 1, which means the biblical data that the rest of the book builds upon is poorly sketched. Was Cain’s building of a city in Genesis 4:16-17 really ‘an attempt to carve out meaning and legacy apart from God’? Perhaps, but the point isn’t adequately explained. Much of the use of the Bible felt deductive rather than inductive. As a result, I found myself unconvinced that the categories of place, sacrifice and purity really provided the right lens through which to see our tumultuous world.

There are both strengths and weaknesses in Sayers’ historical analysis. The reflection on the fall of the Berlin wall and the rise of the age of optimism is excellent. It helped me understand more about the origins of globalization and the achievement culture we now live in. However, his depiction of online environments as ‘non-places’ is disappointing. Along with communal, commercial spaces like cafes and airports, he presents them negatively: ‘There is no shared identity there, no story in the soil, no legends of a people or group.’ And yet, many in today’s world feel otherwise and genuinely find a home and relationships there. Are there not some aspects of the online world that are redeemable and good for the believer? I wanted Strange Days to dig deeper into questions like this.

In the end, Strange Days would have been better if it had been longer. A longer book would have allowed for more detailed exegesis of critical Bible passages, more sustained and convincing arguments, a simpler writing style and allowed greater scope for unpacking complexity rather than forcing evidence to fit particular categories. Nevertheless, Sayers’ final landing point is tremendous. In the midst of the confusion of our age, he directs Christians towards deep discipleship that looks to the word of God, prioritizes the fellowship of the church, rejects the influence of the world and so stands as salt and light, holding out the joy-giving gospel of Jesus.

Jeff Hunt, WA

Editorial Summer 2017

Synod season is over for another year, and I don’t know if you attended one, and I don’t know how you feel it went for you and your fellow members of EFAC, but Stephen Hale gives us the encouraging news of a good General Synod session for evangelicals, and a well-attended, worthwhile EFAC dinner to boot.

We could not let the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses pass without one more Reformation-oriented piece, so we kick off the features section this issue with an article by Archbishop Glenn Davies, EFAC President, on the place the Reformers gave to the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

We move then from the affairs of the church to Christian engagement with the wider society we participate in. Firstly, Penny Taylor relates what it has been like to take a big step into the political arena, and run for public office as a Christian. More than that Penny writes of the valuable ways she found to engage with politicians before plunging into election campaigns.

One ongoing concern for many in our nation is the experience of Indigenous Australians after European arrivals here, and down to the present day. I had a rather wonderful opportunity to visit the Northern Territory with some fellow evangelical Anglicans in June, and I write about my encounter with an Australian experience rather different from my own. I have a go at relating something of what that was like, and I hope it is worth something to others.
In our Bible Study, Thom Bull draws intriguing connections between the Lord’s Prayer and Ezekiel 36, and a clutch of book reviews follows, before Tony Nichols closes the issue with a delighted report on his recent return to Tawau, Borneo for the centenary celebrations of a school and church ministry he worked in fifty years ago. Read and rejoice with Tony to see what God has done there.

If over the summer you fall into reflections over modern parish life—the good and the bad, the new and the old, the flourishing and the failing; buildings, websites, liturgy, staffing structures, small groups, evangelistic endeavours or anything connected to how we do church these days—and if you find yourself moved to write something you think others might benefit from, then take a chance and send it to me. I’d love to see whether it could end up in Essentials soon.

Ben Underwood, Editor
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Book Review: Phenomenal Sydney

Phenomenal Sydney:
Anglicans in a Time of Change, 1945-2013.
Marcia Cameron. Wipf & Stock 2016.

One of the things friends and enemies alike agree about Sydney Diocese is it is different. What is it that makes Sydney so Sydney? Marcia Cameron explores this partly by analysis and partly by telling stories of this most recent period in the life of Sydney.

Her opening chapter is a good outline of the background and the main issues to be raised in the book. Four main characteristics of Sydney are a commitment to the centrality of the Bible; a militant faith; equipping clergy well; and a shying away from conforming to the current model of “Anglican” in the wider Australian church. Plus a few others.

This first chapter should be contrasted with the final one where Cameron refers to Wei-Han Kuan’s PhD thesis that four vital contributions are required for evangelical continuity in a diocese: healthy evangelical parishes; healthy evangelical societies; a healthy evangelical training college; and a supportive diocesan bishop. All four of which Sydney has had in recent years.

Chapter Two is a helpful overview of the years between 1788 and 1945 and makes it clear that evangelicals didn’t always rule. Chapter Three outlines some of the big issues in Archbishop Mowll’s time including the transformation of the CENEF centre, the Red Book case, and the CESA. This chapter introduces a major sub-theme of the book – the ministry of women. When I first read the book I found this very interesting since it provided a lot of detail about things that happened after I left the diocese (and my fellow student Jacinth Myles got a good press). On a second reading it became clearer that this is a major theme of the book. Readers may be divided as to whether this makes the book better or worse. Sydney is often portrayed, by outsiders at least, as anti-women. Cameron is obviously sympathetic to the cause and does provide a lot of detail about the progress of both the debates and the actual ministry of women in Sydney diocese.

The discussion of the Constitution of the national church is good, partly because of the various interviews with key players and the use of the archives of the Australian Church Record (a significant source for the book). Cameron regards the debates over the constitution to be essentially about identity. This is a helpful insight. She says, “The threat to who we are makes Sydney defensive and also forces us to experiment.” (64) This is an important bit of history and I would have liked to have been told a bit more about it.

The Gough years are portrayed as a mixed bag of some good – the Billy Graham Crusades, election of women to synod, the Archbishop’s Commission; and not so good – the tensions between the Archbishop and some of the younger leaders such as Knox, Robinson and Loane. Cameron also deals well with the alleged reasons for Gough’s resignation.

The Loane episcopacy outlines some of the debates – homosexuality (briefly) and women’s ministry (nearly seven pages). In this and other chapters some attention is given to parishes – in this case St Barnabas and the ministries of Paul and Anita Barnett. Prayer Book revision was a big issue in Loane’s time and Cameron gives a helpful overview of it, as well as his time as Primate.

John Chapman is introduced in this chapter – but only gets a few mentions – mostly in relation to his work with others such as Barnett and Philip Jensen. This for me is a major omission. I think there is a case for considering Chapman to have had a more significant influence than even Philip Jensen in the diocese. Perhaps it indicates a lack of source material – or a difference of judgment between the author and the reviewer.

The Robinson years were dominated by the debates about the ordination of women. As we might expect by this stage in the book, Cameron gives a thorough report on the progress of the debates and events. I think this section is a very helpful contribution to the history and understanding of the issue. Lay Presidency, homosexuality and the consecration of a CESA bishop also occupied Robinson’s attention. Cameron has some sympathy for the Archbishop whom she describes as an irenic scholar. She admires the unity (without agreeing with it I think) with which the diocesan leadership and Moore College stood together on the question of women’s ordination, but is also sympathetic to those who had different views – some of whom moved out to other places.

Cameron identifies Harry Goodhew’s time as less than happy. More about women’s ordination, the Pymble matter, the Anglican Counselling Centre controversy, lay and diaconal presidency, new prayer book revision, the rise of REPA are all discussed. And a long section on Philip Jensen’s ministry morphs into women’s ministry and the appointment of an Archdeacon for the Promotion of Women’s ministry, MOW and Equal but Different. The “Sydney Heresy” gets some good analysis.

The Jensen episcopacy is too recent according to the author to bear too much analysis but some sketches are made to do with the Priscilla and Aquila Centre and GAFCON. Cameron concludes with the comment that it is missionary and evangelistic action arising from the centrality of the Bible that sets Sydney apart; as well as its wealth, size, and positions on women’s ministry, lay presidency, church planting, homosexual behaviour and so on.
Overall the book is very interesting and gains from the use of a wide variety of sources including lots of interviews. However neither the four characteristics of Sydney outlined in the opening chapter or Kuan’s four identifiers of evangelical continuity are used as a structural or thematic grid for the book. Neither is Kuan’s summary used as a way of drawing the threads together. The book is mostly about the archbishops, the issues they faced and what they did, and the development (or not) of women’s ministry.

Dale Appleby, WA

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