Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

When not immediately engaged in the "frank exchange of views" that characterizes the Anglican blogsphere these days, I do manage to reflect from time to time on what might be the meta-issues--i.e. not sex, and not integrity of the Anglican Communion. I still haven't identified the elusive Alpha Issue--an ideological Rosetta Stone that can unlock how anyone in particular will come down on a whole array of questions if you know their position on just one or two. It's fun work, though, and in my copious spare time, I shall keep on trying.

In the meanwhile, I interview an occasional suspect. One such candidate is a document known as the Millennium Development Goals. (Look here to see what they are.) General Convention has pretty much adopted them in toto as the sine qua non of the Church's missionary imperative. But over on the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv today, here comes the Very Revd Benjamin Shambaugh, dean of the cathedral church for the Diocese of Maine, responding to a thread on the success of non-denominational mega-churches:

Perhaps the success of the evangelical churches is related not to their moral strictness but to clarity about their product: A relationship with Jesus Christ.

Somehow we have forgotten that the baptismal covenant begins with the creed, not the five questions that follow. At the risk of sounding like a heretic, the MDGs and the radical inclusion and the incredible outreach to the poor of many of our congregations are not the mission of the church. Rather they are signs of it.

Unfortunately, we have not done a good job of saying why we do these things and making the connection back to -- and helping people connect to -- Jesus. Rather than being jealous or spiteful of other's success, we need, in deference to Star Trek, to remember our prime directive. If it is just helping others, I would put my support behind heifer project, habitat for humanity or United Way. These are good things but the church has so much more to offer, if we would only let people know...

(I quote with the permission of the author.)

Now, to my knowledge, Ben Shambaugh doesn't have a reputation as an ideologue of either stripe, which means that he is hardly a card-carrying "conservative" or "evangelical." So what he writes is especially significant. And he is entirely correct. The MDG's are good and worthwhile in an of themselves. I don't know any responsible Christian who could say otherwise. But they are not the mission of the Church.

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