I am not often moved by a book, not one of this genre. I am intrigued, challenged, educated, infuriated or bored, but rarely moved. Pitting the perspectives of atheism and religious faith against each other can be occasionally stimulating, often frustrating, but moving? Hardly. This book is different.
Graeme and Jonathan Rutherford’s Beloved Father Beloved Son is a very personal book–a series of letters between Graeme, a bishop in the Anglican church, and his son Jonathan, an atheist. By personal, I don’t mean it’s one that wades in the intimate biography of their relationship. Not at all. What they write about is what they believe, drawing rationally on very different world views, multiple disciplines, and articulating their disparate perspectives on life and how they understand it. With rigour they debate the origins of human life, the place of suffering, the veracity of religious texts, the incredulity of divine interventions, and…
My fifth and youngest child, and only daughter, is to be confirmed this Sunday at St. Paul’s Cathedral. She will also be baptised—the final legacy of our Baptist roots, now so far-off, and so foreign to us.
Surely the finest Father’s Day gift ever, to see my beloved daughter embrace the Christian faith in so graphic and public a way. We hope for this. We pray for this. We are overjoyed, and give praise to God, when it transpires.
Yet it is only the beginning, and so much may change in the years ahead. We all know of faltering faith. Belief can hang on a slender thread—for most of us it has been so at some point in our journey. Prayer must never cease!
There is such a precariousness here. It was brought home to me with the news that Bishop Graeme Rutherford would lead the confirmation service, in the absence of Archbishop Philip Freier. Bishop Graeme co-authored with his son Jonathan a book entitled Beloved Father Beloved Son: A Conversation About Faith Between a Bishop and His Atheist Son. Yes, Jonathan Rutherford is an atheist, despite his Christian upbringing. I mean to read this book, which I am told poignantly and touchingly demonstrates the love and mutual respect that exist between father and son, despite deep differences over questions of faith.
Of course, reflection goads me to pray for my daughter, and her four brothers. I pray that this faith once professed will not grow cold, or wither and die. Yet at the same time I pray that God would grant me the grace to continue in pure and godly love towards them, and trust always in his faithfulness and love, whatever future course my children’s lives might take.
In my last post I reflected on the then-upcoming inauguration of Archbishop Philip Freier as Primate of Australia—all the excitement surrounding preparations, and particularly over Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s involvement. And I asked, Why fuss so much about mere men? Why draw attention to mere servants of Christ, attention that rightly and properly belongs solely to Christ himself?
I suggested that men like these, precisely because they are prominent Christians, do indeed deserve attention—the attention of our prayers. My words:
Pray that their witness will be faithful always to the gospel of Christ. Pray that they will proclaim Christ, crucified and risen, without fear or favour. Pray that the Holy Spirit will fill and empower them to be godly and faithful servants of Christ and his church, walking always in the way of wisdom, justice and truth.
Whilst in Melbourne, Archbishop Welby was interviewed by the ABC. The interview is well worth watching. Follow the link below:
Seems there is excitement aplenty at the moment around St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne. I need to confess outright, not only is this the “home church for Anglicans in Melbourne and Victoria” as it says on the web site, but also it is the church I attend regularly, Sunday by Sunday. There is excitement aplenty. Next Wednesday 13 August sees the cathedral hosting the formal installation of Archbishop of Melbourne Philip Freier as Primate of Australia. That is excitement enough for some, but the big excitement is that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will be there, and will preach at the installation service.
Excitement aplenty! The Dean and Precentor have been unable to hide theirs during announcement times these past few Sundays. An extra working bee has been scheduled for Saturday, to get the place all spick and span. This week there have been Tweets of the seating plan, and the evolving order of service and running sheets—yes, the excitement bubbles over and just has to be shared with us all!
Understandable excitement, really. Seventeen years have drifted by since an Archbishop of Canterbury last set foot on Australian soil. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the Anglican Communion’s most senior bishop, worldwide. Not that any authority comes by virtue of his seniority—he is simply the “first among equals.” Unquestionably there is prestige. Also some amount of influence. But no authority outside England. He is definitely not the Anglican version of the Pope—we have none such.
Similarly the Primate of Australia. He too is “first among equals”—the most senior bishop in Australia, with some prestige, a measure of influence, but no authority outside his own immediate sphere.
Why fuss so much about such men? They do not even possess authority to match their rank! Surely the attention paid them detracts from our proper task of proclaiming Christ to the world? Surely we should point past mere men like these, drawing attention only and constantly to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
Yet—like it or not—these men are, and will always be, prominent Christians. You will not hear of me in the media, but you will hear of them. My Christian witness is on view to just a few, theirs often to thousands and millions. I mix only with simple, ordinary folk; they quite often find themselves in the presence of people of real power and influence.
Therefore, at very least, these men, and others like them, deserve the attention of our prayers. Pray that their witness will be faithful always to the gospel of Christ. Pray that they will proclaim Christ, crucified and risen, without fear or favour. Pray that the Holy Spirit will fill and empower them to be godly and faithful servants of Christ and his church, walking always in the way of wisdom, justice and truth. It is when I see these prayers answered—and praise God I do!—that I get really excited.
Hey, and why not make a bit of a fuss once in a while? I admit it; I also am very excited about Wednesday!
A sermon preached by the Dean of Melbourne, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 20 July 2014:
This morning’s lessons (Genesis 28.10-22, Romans 8.12-25) tell us that God longs to live in communion with the human race, and that he invites us into covenant—a binding relationship—with him. They show the transformational power of God at work in the lives of Jacob, a fraudster turned patriarch, and Paul, a murderer turned apostle. And, in turn, they invite us to let our lives be transformed like the patriarchs and apostles of old, by entering into God’s service ourselves: the service that alone is perfect freedom.
In our first lesson, we meet Jacob in the Samarian highlands, on his way to Haran. The future patriarch of Israel had been hurriedly sent away by his mother, Rebecca, who had just helped Jacob to deceive his…
There have, of course, been voices bemoaning the Church of England’s decision to allow woman bishops. As I said in my last post, there is still agonising and deep angst on this topic (and many others) in some circles. These two recent posts from Tim Harris, assistant bishop in the Diocese of Adelaide, are timely:
Worthwhile reflection on the recent decision by the Church of England to allow woman bishops. A conclusive result for them. For many, agonising and deep angst over this and other divisive issues continues. I pray there will be an end, and we can get on with the real work of the gospel. Christ have mercy on us.
The history of the role and definition of bishops is a long and often turbulent one. From the beginning, Paul in his letters to the churches set high standards for his leaders:
‘Since an overseer [bishop] manages God’s household, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.’ (Titus 1:7-9)
Interestingly though, when Paul talks about the order of positions within the Church in his letter to the Corinthians, he places apostles first, prophets second and teachers third. This was all about mission as the Gospel spread rapidly throughout the Roman empire.