GSE4 Opening Service (2)

But then, perhaps not everyone agreed on the nature of the Covenant. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said that ‘the covenant is an extraordinarily rich word.’ For example, how Akinola understood the word might illustrate the complexity of the word. Akinola mentioned a few ways that a covenant implies:

  • First, covenant is God’s own way of binding himself to his people.
  • Second, in all the covenants in Scripture there are conditions for the sustainability of the covenant just as there are blessings for obedience to its obligations and severe sanctions for violating them.
  • By the way, the whole idea of covenants is not peculiar to the people of Israel, there were also covenants established by neighboring peoples and common in other parts of the world
  • In all of them you will find that Covenants are a very serious matter that often involved the shedding of blood either of animals and birds as in the case of Abraham or the blood of man as in the case of Jesus Christ on Calvary.
  • A Covenant is not to be taken lightly, wantonly, or entered into unadvisedly.
  • A Covenant requires absolute loyal commitment and faithful adherence to its terms and conditions.

Yes, they are really serious about the Covenant. But I also got the sense that he was unsure whether the Covenant would solve the problem: “This Encounter gathered here in Singapore needs to assure itself if the proposed covenant offers any such hope.” When you listened to him, you sensed a tone of frustration. They felt that they were not being listened by the leadership of the church: “It appears that some of our leaders value the ageing structures of the communion much more than anything else, hence, the illusion that with more meetings, organisations and networks the crises will disappear. How wrong.”

Indeed, he said, the recent ordination of an openly lesbian bishop by The Episcopal Church (the Anglican Province in the USA) made him even more pessimistic on whether the Covenant would be able to solve the problem. And I guess the question that Akinola posed would sum up the whole meeting well: “Where do we go from here?”

Thus it would be interesting to see how this meeting will progress. We should pray that there would be “a new Pentecost for the Anglican Communion.” (Rowan Williams) When we saw our Anglican brothers fighting for unity in the midst of controversy, we were reminded that usually we did much worse. In Indonesia, for example, we break up easily from each other for usually nonsensical reasons. The very existence of nondenominational churches usually owed to a break from a mother church. I’m not blindly defending denominationalism here. We might not see the traditional denominations (Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) in a few hundreds years time, but when they’re here, we better don’t break them into further smaller species. Curse of Protestantism, I guess.

The sermon was followed by the Holy Communion. It’s interesting to see how the bishops lined up to get the bread and drink from the cup. A perhaps not-so-subtle difference: the bishops got the bread and the wine first before the rest of us, while in our Presbyterian tradition, the elders and the deacons would get them last. And I just knew that we could drink directly from the cup. Ko Tjeli did so. I still dipped the bread into the cup. Old habit dies hard.

The service ended and all of us were dismissed. We didn’t immediately go back, since I still wanted to know whether we could attend the first thematic address. The answer was no. The address was only opened to the participants. Ko Tjeli also greeted some persons that he knew. One person might illustrate why I bother so much with the Anglicans with the fact that I am a Presbyterian (aside from I admire Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham). The person is Dr. Bobby Sng, the President of the Bible Society of Singapore. Tjeli greeted him and introduced me, “This is one of our graduates.” Bobby Sng was the first chairperson of NUS VCF in 1960 (go figure and estimate his age now). He replied, “Wonderful. This is one of the reason why FES exists. We want to prepare for the future church leaders. You could see our graduates here as well [referring to John Chew, currently the President of the FES as well].”

History is not finished yet. First, what is the present for us now would become the past for our descendants. History is still written, and, whether you like it or not, it involves us as well. Our children will look at our era and they could be ashamed (or grateful) for what we are doing right now. Now we are ashamed of the German Christians in the World War II. At that time, they might not think that we would think this way today. In this sense it is important to be engaged with the issues that revolve around us. As the catchword at Food for Thought says, “Apathy is so last millenium.” Ignorance is worse than bad judgment. I don’t know what the Global South Anglican leaders will come up with in this meeting, but at least they take a risk by taking an action. The risk is inherently there, undoubtedly.

Second, looking forward, we practice for the future. We learn how the church leaders handle the problem that they encounter now so that later on all these experience will be useful for us if God put us in the similar situation. “This is one of the reason why FES exists. We want to prepare for the future church leaders.”

Or that I am just being a busybody. Bleh. It’s almost six o’clock and we needed to go.


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