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Bible Life Church

Bible Life Church

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Published by TheLivingChurchdocs
Introduction to a series on The Bible in the Life of the Church
Introduction to a series on The Bible in the Life of the Church

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Published by: TheLivingChurchdocs on Jul 23, 2013
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In the Autumn of 2009the Very Rev. William Stafford asked me to participatein the Anglican Communion’s Bible in the Life of the Church project. Hisre-quest followed an inquiryfrom the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretarygeneral of the Anglican Communion, on whether our seminary would act asthe base for the North American region of the project.If so, Sewanee wouldthen nominate a faculty member who could serve as a member of the pro- ject’s steering committee and coordinate the regional groups investigations.Canon Kearon sent similar invitations to theological institutions or indi-viduals in Australia, East Africa, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.Cuba, South Sudan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong were eventually in-cluded as well.The steering committee met three times— twice in Englandand once in South Africa— and the members of the North American Re-gional Group met twice in Sewanee to share the findings from their loca-tions. After three years of study (2009-12), the final report
Deep Engagement, Fresh Discovery
— was presented to Anglican Consultative Council 15 in NewZealand(the names of the steering committee and members of the regionalgroups appear on pages 66-68).
Introduction to a series on The Bible in the Life of the Church
By Robert MacSwain
By Bolly Lapok
he Bible in the Life of the Church has come at a significant period in the history of the AnglicanCommunion. The Church faces deep and divisive is-sues, which can create tension within, if not split, provinces, dioceses,and even church communities. At the same time, secularisation, particularly in theWestern Hemisphere, threatens the authority andstanding of the Church. Both of these hinder our sense of unity and commonality within the Commun-ion, and undermine our confidence at the point of mission. At the heart of our differences and difficulties liesthe problem we face in interpreting the Bible, whichshould be our common starting point in discipleship(Article VI: “The Bible contains all things necessary tosalvation”). For, as the Archbishop of Canterbury re-minds us in his foreword to the report, Bible study isnot just about pursuing scholarship and seeking moralguidance. It also needs to be undertaken to answer our need to be “judged and restored.” Because the ma- jority of our people only meet the Bible through thelectionary readings at Sunday worship, the ACC’sstimulating exploration of Bible study amongst An-glicans and its potential value provides challengingmaterial for the future.The project had five aims. The group set out to ex- plore how Anglicans actually use the Bible, by settingup a network of regional, facilitated groups to studytwo major issues(Statements 4 and 5 of the AnglicanCommunion’s Five Marks of Mission), using a selec-tion of set texts. The reports from these groupswould, they hoped, provide empirical evidence of theway in which regions engage with and interpret the
A WelcomeBreakthrough
First in a series onThe Bible in the Lifeof the Church
My understanding was always that the primary goalof the project was descriptive rather than normative.While the final report does conclude with some sug-gestions on how Anglicans
approach the in-terpretation of Scripture, its main interest is in how Anglicans
do in fact
approach thatinterpretation.Wewanted to find out what Anglicans around the worldhad in common regarding this enterprise, and howthey differed.We were also interested in discoveringthe latent or implicit assumptions that we brought tothe study of the sacred text in our respective regions.To this end, we engaged in two case studies duringthis three-year period.One focused on the AnglicanCommunion’s fifth Mark of Mission (“To strive to safe-guard the integrity of creation and sustain and renewthe life of the earth”), while the other focused on thefourth Mark of Mission (“To seek to transform unjuststructures of society, to challenge violence of everykind and to pursue peace and reconciliation”).Thecase studies considered passages drawn from the OldTestament, Apocrypha, and New Testament, with ac-companying questions.Members of each regionalgroup were asked to coordinate these Bible studies intheir respective locations (parishes, chaplaincies,seminaries, etc.) and to record not so much the sub-stantive issues discussed (ecological or gender jus-tice, for example) but rather the extent to which look-ing at these specific issues within the chosen biblicaltexts revealed hermeneutical commitments. After assembling and discussing all of these studiesfrom around the world, the steering committee at-tempted to find both common threads and distinctiveemphases.
 Deep Engagement, Fresh Discovery
con-sists of our assessment of the project’s results, as wellas links to a wealth of documentary evidence, includ-ing official Anglican Communion statements on theauthority and interpretation of Scripture.We also of-fer ten themes that we believe are characteristic of contemporary Anglican interpretation of the Bible (p.41), and seven principles that gesture toward morenormative proposals to guide this essential enterprise(p.42).It remains to be seen how this project and reportwill be received by the Communion.I thus welcomethis public engagement by T
andhope that others will follow its example, both in North America and around the world.
The Rev. Robert MacSwain is assistant professor of theology and Christian ethics at the University of the South’s School of Theology.
nificance of the different experiences brought to thegroup by participants. The diversity of approach wasclearly the result of bringing together those from dif-ferent traditions. It is, then, clear that the success of the group and the value of the discussion relies onopenness in the group, a willingness to share re-sources and value the views of others,and, above all,good facilitation. Equally, however, the report warnsus that we must have the right expectations aboutthe outcome of such work. The value, as the groupfrom Aoteora, New Zealand, and Polynesia puts it, isnot so much in changing the views of participants asin increasing respect for one another. Our unity, thisgroup concluded, is only as good as “our ability to en-gage with our differences.”The report places great emphasis on understandingthe context of passages of Scripture and the personaland corporate contexts of the participants. InMalaysian society the recognition of the context inwhich we explore the Bible together is vital. There isa world of difference between those who come to thetext in what the African Group calls “the primal con-text”and those who gather in the United Kingdom or North America. Further, the Malaysian context, inwhich our churchseeks to further the kingdom and atthe same time coexist with the strong presence of other faiths whilebeing dominated by aggressive Is-lamisation, is different from that of a Western churchworking in an increasingly secular society in whichthe pursuit of equality and the importance of personalrights prevails. The church that seeks to promoteunity and commonality between provinces may behelped by structured Bible study not just in regionalgroups but even with more widely drawn participants.Bible, and allow the distillation of some working prin-ciples for Anglican hermeneutics. The report includesresource materials for Bible study for all levels of Christian education, a review of the Bible in the his-tory of the Church, and research into how Anglicansunderstand the Bible.Adding a guide to significant lit-erature on this topic, the report’s aim is to stimulatefurther and deeper engagement with the Bible in thewider Church. The project’s findings, arising from thisambitious, worldwide programme, do not surprise,but are significant for those eager to further the unityof the Church and strengthen its capacity for missionacross the world.The breadth of the project is impressive. The world-wide regional groups were charged to bring together a diverse group for biblical study, not the like-minded,and their reports make interesting reading. Whilstsome found a ready echo in the Malaysian experi-ence, the forum’s synthesis provides a challengingand helpful platform for common fu-ture action. One would expect clear evidence of biblical engagement of churches across the Communion,but it is the challenging evidence for the value of deeper exploration thatis valuable. Regional groups ac-knowledged the value of exploringissues not usually put under the bib-lical microscope,experiencing sec-tions of Scripture not encounteredbefore, and seeing familiar texts as-sociated with the unfamiliar and theenormous stimulus of participatingin communal study in a diversegroup of participants. Such conclu-sions clearly endorse the project’smethodology but they should also challenge dioceses,encouraging them to be confident in suggesting thecentrality of Bible study in community life and guidingthem in providing a suitable and creative structure for it. The resources provided by the report will be a use-ful guide for those who take up this challenge. Thereare, however, a number of significant findings thatneed to be heeded.
he regional reports point to a remarkable diver-sity in the way churches engage with and inter- pret the Bible, underline the very different contextsfrom which the Bible is approached,and show the sig-
First in a series onThe Bible in the Lifeof the Church
The Bible has always beenat the centre of church life,even if at times its interpretationhas been divisive.
(Continued from previous page)

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