Convocation Bishop, Rt. Rev. Andy Lines
Knowing the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
ACE Inaugural Convocation Bishop’s Charge
What an exciting moment, finally to have arrived at our first Synod, in the run-up to Good Friday! What a way to be doing it, in lockdown and online, but with ACE’s spread nature I can see the Lord’s overruling in that….
I know that for some it is with mixed feelings that we are having this synod because it marks a cutting of formal ties with ANiC and ACNA, who have looked after us so well as part of their Missionary District. I hope that that relationship can be continued even if not on such a formal basis, and I remain accountable to the Primates Council through its Chairman ++Foley Beach and we have the opportunity in this Synod to re-establish links with ANiC.
As well as underlining our gratitude for the care we have received from elsewhere I would like to express my gratitude to a number of people who have made this all possible:
Dan and Susie Leafe for helping draft Canons for ACE with input from elsewhere (Phil Ashey and Robert Tong); Dave McCarthy, Graeme Cameron, Annie Gemmill, Polly Skinner, Warren Brownlee, Angela Benzies, Gavin Hamilton, Martin Ayers, Andrew Symes, Darren Jackson, Alastair Brown, Greg and the New Scottish Hymns Band, and Philip de Grey-Warter (must have missed some) for work in communications, design, launch events, drafting and other bits of implementation of the Gafcon Primates’ Resolutions. For Philip again, in accompanying me in liaison group, editing the Canons, and getting this Synod up and running. Many more…
When I was pondering the nature of this first Bishop’s Charge I had thought of focusing on our responsibility, not just to provide a home for those other orthodox Christians, who cannot in conscience remain within other Anglican groups, but also a hope for the massive number of people who live without Christ, now and for all eternity, in these islands and in the rest of Europe. But I won’t. Not this time anyway. That would run the risk of putting the focus on us when we need to lift our eyes to the Lord Jesus who is God’s supreme missionary and whose mission culminated that first Easter, making it possible for people of all nations to draw near to God.
Some of the clergy and other leaders here will know that each week we have an ACE leaders’ Zoom call and we are slowly working our way through 2 Corinthians, as I know are St Silas’ and Anchor Church, Fowey has also done a series. One of the most rightly well-known verses in letter is 2 Cor 8: 9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.“
Paul is wanting to see the relatively well-off Corinthian church demonstrate that they have understood the wonder of grace. In this case their response is to be expressed in the offering they had previously promised for the poor believers in Jerusalem and Judea. He is keen that they should live up to his high hopes but is very careful not to make it a command (‘I am not commanding you’ 8:8; ‘Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver’ 2 Cor 9:7).
It is so easy to go our natural way of motivating people by an appeal to law, to duty, responsibility, guilt, especially when the pressure is on. One of the major lessons of the last few years for me has been to appreciate grace much more; I had been so driven in every aspect of my life, and there were reasons for this. It was unsuccessful and the source of much misery. To be motivated by grace (and it will be a lifetime’s work for me) is such a relief; there is always more of grace.
So how does Paul go about his task? Here he is focused on a financial gift but it is actually his modus operandi everywhere. Dr JI Packer, whose membership of ANiC it was a privilege to share for those brief years said: “It has been truly said that in the New Testament the doctrine is grace and the ethic – that is, the prescribed behaviour – is gratitude. And the gratitude is prompted by both the knowledge of the grace of Christ in one’s head and the power of that grace in one’s heart, with Christ as the centre of attention at all times in both… 2 Cor 8:9. Giving [actually any Christian behaviour] should ever express unending gratitude for almost unbelievable grace”
8:1 “And now, brothers and sisters [Corinthians], we want you to know more about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity”. Macedonia was a relatively poor region and the churches planted by Paul in Philippi and Thessalonica were additionally facing very severe trials for their trust in Christ ( and when Paul says ‘severe’ that means someone from someone who had…). This unnatural generosity by the Macedonians was partly stirred up by Paul’s boasting to them of the Corinthian’s eagerness and readiness to give, but actually, for the most part it was a response to the grace of God in Christ. And Paul says to the Corinthians too: ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor’….
What is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that spurred the Macedonians on and is now held up before the Corinthians? The Lord, the one who is our rightful sovereign and absolute Lord, who shared in the eternal glory of the Father, ‘did not consider equality with God something to be used to his advantage;’ as we would surely have done. He was unbelievably great and wealthy yet for the love of us ‘he made himself nothing, by taking the nature of a servant,… being found in human likeness…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ Familiar words from Paul in Philippians 2 describing the incredible condescension of the Son of God in his completely unmerited love for us. Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor. That is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ for the Corinthians, the Macedonians and for us. He went to that cross abandoned by all, even his own Father, out of love for us, not just to set us an example but that through his poverty on the cross we might become rich. No wonder Paul finishes this section talking of the ‘surpassing grace God has given the [Corinthians]. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.’ (2 Cor 9:14-15).
Why have I spent so much time in this first Synod charge on that simple gospel outline which will be so familiar to us? Because we need to know more and more the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; because we naturally default to thinking of God as a demanding master who is actually hugely disappointed with our performance. Yes, we may accept and acknowledge that God in Christ acted out of love for us to save us, but somehow we try live our lives in such a way as to make it worth his while. We disappoint ourselves and we are left wretched before this expectation. But he did not wait for us to sort ourselves out, rather ‘when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son’ (Rom 5).
What will it mean to ‘know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ as the Anglican Convocation in Europe? Here are a few examples of what that will mean: The more we appreciate what Christ has done for us, and how much he loved and loves us:
- The more we will want others to share in that knowledge – what a task lies before us! – in the nations that make up the United Kingdom, and the other countries of Europe. That will drive us to our knees because it is God’s work but it will send us out to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations and to love them with a sacrificial love that Christ has shown to us.
- It will make us eager to pray for and support our gospel partners around the world – in Myanmar, in Europe, in the Middle East and North Africa. The UK has been a hugely blessed by our brothers and sisters in ACNA/ANiC, by our brothers and sisters in Australia and in Africa through Gafcon. May we be spurred on by their example, as Macedonians were by Corinthians but even more by knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- It will make us eager to serve our brothers and sisters contending within the structures in Wales, Scotland, England and elsewhere. Even though we might disagree with the concessions they might be making we will not ignore them or criticise them, and if they are eventually forced to dramatic decisions – no I-told-you-so superiority but a warmly welcoming embrace.
- Knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will make us love our brothers and sisters in AMiE, considering them as joint recipients of the wonderful undeserved mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, as brothers and sisters that we long to learn from, support and want to see flourish.
- Knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ will humble us as we serve together, as people who have far more in common in Jesus than the things that divide us sharply such as economics, nationality, Brexit or our different churchmanships.
- Knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may even transform us men in our attitudes, actions and behaviour towards our sisters in Christ; we have so much to learn and change.
These things are all hard because we will be loving unlovely people, with unlovely attitudes towards us, but that is precisely what Christ did in the teeth of the hatred of the whole world. He did not deserve it, we did and do. The apostle Paul was so captured by knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ towards him the worst of sinners that he poured himself out for some pretty unlovely types in Corinth who still did not reciprocate.
Finally, this wonderful extravagant gift of grace is a free gift that we couldn’t have paid for if it weren’t free, but that doesn’t mean that it is cheap grace. The phrase “cheap grace” is often associated with German theologian and minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. In his book, published in 1937, he said that cheap grace was “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”
As defined by Bonhoeffer, cheap grace is an approach to Christianity that only emphasizes the good or easy parts without telling the truth regarding the difficult aspects of it. To leave out the more difficult aspects of repentance, church discipline, confession, discipleship, the cross, or the full story of Christ’s life offers an incomplete, “cheap” view of God’s grace. If we need proof of that there is none greater than the LJC, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. No cheap grace; it cost the Lord Jesus not only the humiliation of the incarnation but of the most terrible God-forsaken death in all of history. So, we must proclaim and trumpet the amazing gift of grace but at the same time be amazed at the cost that God in Christ paid. So, if we are to overflow with that grace to others we must not take any short-cuts and we must live the same cross-shaped livers for the sake of others.
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