|Bishop Lawrence’s Address to the 223rd Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina|
The following address was given by the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, XIV Bishop of South Carolina, at the 223rd Annual Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina held at Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant on Saturday, March 15, 2014. Download a printable version. Listen to the address.
“The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.” So wrote the Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner, several generations ago. And it was clearly under the burning fire of the Holy Spirit that the apostles moved out to engage the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. For what God had done in Jesus Christ for the world must be made known to the world. “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?” wrote St. Paul. “And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!’ … faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10: 14-17) So these early Christians sent out and so they went out. Pressing on, as one missionary statesman has written, “… going from city to city as heralds of the King, not staying to argue with gainsayers….” We spend too much time arguing with those within the church who do not believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be proclaimed to all people while we remain in guilty silence about the Gospel in the presence of its many cultured despisers. It was not so for the early disciples. Inflamed as they were with a saving message and filled with an unspeakable joy they brushed off the dust of those who had rejected their message and moved on looking for the next opportunity. The Holy Spirit never allowed them to let the need to consolidate what they had gained to replace the need to advance. In fact advancement became the method of consolidation. I am gripped by these words from Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, writing about the church’s need to press forward “… both to the ends of the earth and the ends of the world, rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God.” Of the Church’s need to press on in the strength of the Holy Spirit, living by grace, turning outward to engage the world, resisting the constant temptation to play it safe, he writes:
“When she (the church) becomes settled, when she becomes so much at home in this world that she is no longer content to be forever striking her tents and moving forward, above all when she forgets that she lives simply by God’s mercy and begins to think that she has some claim on God’s grace which the rest of the world has not, when in other words she thinks of her election in terms of spiritual privilege rather than missionary responsibility, then she comes under His merciful judgment (of God) as Israel did.” (p. 132)
Pressing forward in mission and rejoicing in hope: that is the glorious calling which we need to rediscover at the heart of our common life. One profound characteristic of the exploding growth of Anglicans in many parts of the Global South is their joy—joy in the midst of deprivation; joy in midst of persecution; joy in the midst of temporal uncertainty; joy that is rooted in the new life in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. I yearn to see such unspeakable, irrepressible, iridescent joy within the life of our congregations, and frankly in my own life as well. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) The man recognizes that the treasure is worth more than all that he has and with joy he does what we too often fail to do—he acts according to what he has discovered!
In this address I will take up three dimensions of our calling as a diocese to make biblical Anglicans for a global age. The first is the call to do this within our congregations and local communities. The second is the call to do this in the larger playing field of emerging Anglicanism. Finally, I want us to deepen our understanding of our God-given identity and to embrace our providential opportunities.
Every Congregation Engaging Every Generation
Much has been written and discussed in recent years regarding the challenge traditional churches have in reaching across the generational divides in our society. But, it is not just the traditional churches or congregations that are experiencing this problem; and not just the church either. The broader society struggles with it. When Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman published their book, When Generations Collide—raising questions about who these generations are? Why they clash? How to solve the generational puzzle at work?—They hardly knew what to expect from the reading public. But they didn’t need to wonder for long. Soon media outlets from CNN, Time magazine, local news stations, and even corporate businesses wanted in on the action. Still the questions hang there, challenging us as a diocese to find ways to help equip each congregation to engage every generation with the good news of Jesus Christ.