Thursday, August 25, 2005


Off to Greenbelt Christian arts festival. running a night club including club worship and also helping with two Taize services, we'll be especially remembering Brother Roger at those (see last post). may be see some of you there?

Sad death of Brother Roger

Been meaning to write about this ever since I was phoned last Tuesday evening as part of a 'phone chain' to be told the news that Brother Roger had been fatally stabbed during evening prayer at Taize that evening. Hard to know what to say. So here are a few thoughts, more may follow.

that Brother Roger probably would not live much longer was clear to all who have seen his increasing frailty over the past few years, the manner of his death is however a shock, though oddly I wasn't in one sense surprised. There is something about the powerfully holy that seems to attract violent death, think how many of those who have made a big impact as people of faith even in this century and reflect on how many where killed. Brother Roger was a man of vision spiritual depth and with whom the Spirit of God was strong and in this sense exactly the kind of person who might also be killed. I am not really sure what the deep truth of this is. I do suspect it may enlarge brother Roger's ministry in death, and that this as in the other cases I could mention is an outwork of the power of new life the resurrection principle that causes death only to make those in Christ stronger.

as I reflected in my last blog taize was not only a place that drew people together from all churches and in this set a vision, it did much more. 100,000's of young adults from all of the world have had their faith nurtured by visiting there. The impact of that too on the world church is immeasurable. And faith, spirituality, wisdom and scriptural insight exist there in great depth. Further I do not doubt it will continue after Brother Roger's passing. That in a sense being the last great testimony to one of the key religious leaders of our era. A quiet man, who placed prayer at the centre and watched the ripples spread slowly out.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The importance of the Hellenists (feedback from Taize)

As ever as well as time to reflect and pray Taize offers deeply insightful bible input. This year we had a series on the mission of God in the Acts of the Apostles. I was particularly struck by the role of the Hellenists from Acts 6 onwards. The Hellenists were non Hebrew Jews who lived in the Greek world. We first become aware of them when they complain that their widows are being left out of the food distribution which has only been going to Hebrew Christians. This however is only a presenting symptom of a wider cultural issue, an issue that will define the direction of the mission of God through the church, the distinction between the Hebrew and Greek worlds. The Hebrew Christians led by the all Hebrew Apostles are in Jerusalem, maintaining Jewish custom and attending Temple worship. Unless this changes the real danger is present that Christianity will remain Jewish sect in Jerusalem and the Gospel will never reach beyond it. It is the Hellenists however who will change this. They see the world beyond Judaism and bring a question to the church 'will the church be for non Jews also?' . The Apostles lay hands on the seven leaders of the Hellenists, ostensibly to wait on tables. In reality they are ordaining the people who will take the Gospel beyond Jerusalem. The two key figures are Stephen and Phillip. Stephen can see that Jewish custom and temple must be left behind, that Jesus has ushered in a new order in line with the vision of the Prophets and makes himself deeply unpopular by repeatedly arguing his case with the Jewish authorities, indeed he enrages them so much they kill him, launching a persecution of the church. This persecution seems to largely miss the Hebrew Apostles who stay in Jerusalem but the Hellenists are scattered out into Samaria, and ultimately to Antioch from where the mission of Paul and Barnabas to the Greek world will be launched. The mission of God required those who were from the outside to come in and question the certainties traditions and worship of the established religious system. The conflict this brought, wisely embraced by the Apostles, was the creative place for God to allow mission to break out into a new world. Those who came with this new vision were persecuted for it, but God turned their persecution into the very means of achieving their vision.

we were encouraged to apply this story today, and I think there is much that springs from that as we look to mission at the end of Christendom. In many ways the Christendom church is like the Hebrew church with its customs and certainties, and of itself only brings to faith those who have been raised in Christendom, it cannot reach out to the world beyond its traditions. We need Hellenists who live within the world outside Christendom to come among us. However, the Hellenists will bring conflict, they will undermine the churches traditions and question its codes and practices, indeed they are likely to be persecuted by traditionalists and yet this oposition will become the place from which the baton of the Gospel is passed from the traditional church to the Hellenists who will eventually become the church as the Christendom church fades away.

in these terms my job could be described as 'professional Hellenist' someone called to look from the perspective of those who have no church background and seek to discern what the gospel means in that world and explore what kind of church will emerge from the seed of the Gospel sown in such soil. Seeing my name is Stephen I hope I won't also be martyred in the process! However when I look at the kind of vitriol piled on people like those associated with Emergent in the US I can't help wondering if again the Hellenists are upsetting the traditionalists.

Of course in Acts the traditionalist Apostles laid hands on the Hellenist leaders and embraced them, even if as the rest of Acts and the Pauline Epistles show they probably didn't really understand the radical change this would lead to in the church with the abandonment of Jewish custom. Will the leaders of today's church be able to embrace the Hellenists even if they are fearful of the consequences? What things are we fighting over in the church of today that will turn out in hindsight to have been about a shift in culture and not at all about the essentials of the faith? Will we be able to have our 'council of Jerusalem' in which we are able to find a way forward between the traditionalists and the Hellenists so that the wisdom of the past can also be carried forward into the future as well as that which is actually part of what God was doing and not for the future can be left behind?