What’s In A Name?

There has been much debate in the last week or so about the prayer said before each sitting of parliament, which last week didn’t include reference to Jesus or the Queen, as it has done in the past.

Speaker, the Rt Hon Trevor Mallard has indicated he is open to feedback on changing the prayer and I wanted to add my thoughts into the mix.

I can understand the concern around the archaic language of the parliamentary prayer and the desire to pray in Te Reo, which I heartily commend. I would, however, encourage our parliamentarians to consider again the desire to drop the name of Jesus in their traditional prayer.

The question of being fair seems to be the driving concern of Mr Mallard’s desire to leave Jesus’ name out, but will it really be so? What I find in talking to people of many different faiths who come and settle in NZ, and who enjoy this country’s freedom to worship whomever they might, is that almost without exception it is this freedom and the lack of persecution – especially religious persecution – that they enjoy the most. And where does that come from?

It comes from the ethic derived from the person and work of Jesus Christ – the one whose life has also inspired the creation of the central institutions of most of the Western democratic world – modern medicine, science, education and even, dare I say it, modern democracy.

Ah no! I hear you say. That was invented by the Greeks. So it was, but it only flourished once planted within a Christian world view. It is the commitment to selfless service and to the betterment of all which Jesus promoted in his life, death and resurrection which inspired the egalitarian basis of modern western democracy. It is Christ who has made religious tolerance possible, so why would one want, in the name of such tolerance, to delete his name from the prayer of those who represent us in parliament?

When we speak Jesus’ name, we speak of both the understanding and humility which makes room for other beliefs even though we may not share those beliefs. The effect of removing his name from the prayer is to buy into a universalism which so far from promoting unity encourages the exclusive individualism of a fundamentalist belief. That’s the danger.

In a funny sort of way, much the same could be said of the notion of no longer praying for the Queen. Our tangata whenua have taught me much about our attitude towards the past. Maori spirituality takes the past into the present as a living element of existence.

The acknowledgement of our ancestors whose communal efforts have bequeathed to us the world we now inhabit is vital in a world besotted with the illusion of progress. While we may, with hindsight, be critical of our forebears, we cannot deny our link with them and this is extremely important for us as a modern society. We cannot deny our past, both its dark places and its triumphs. This is what made us.

To pray for the crown by praying for the Queen acknowledges the history of our present constitutional status, honours those who gave it to us, and lifts up all who now participate in it. The queen is a vital link to that past and to incorporate her in our prayer is to invite God, in a very real way, to redeem the present.

Finally, to the issue of representation. It is true that not all Kiwis are Christian, so is it not fairer to pray a more general prayer to which all other faiths can subscribe?

It is this last part which I believe contains a flaw in the argument. The ‘neutralising’ of the prayer by removing the name Jesus from it enthrones the assumption that one can esteem all religions by naming none of them – that to pray in general will show respect to all and therefore be more acceptable. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The assumption that we can somehow deal with religious difference by proclaiming a ‘neutral space’ where no god is named and no heaven defined, where every colour is grey and music has become one note is a mistake. This approach subsumes your religion into mine and suggests that I know and understand your faith enough to say that it is no different from mine.

General prayer to a general god does not acknowledge that it is the life of Christ which is one of the very best examples of inclusivity in our culture. Let’s continue then to acknowledge our past and to name the one who has helped us make this society one in which all people of all faiths can live alongside each other in peace.

 

Carey Nieuwhof here in 2018

Carey Nieuwhof, a Canadian minister who has a proven track record of Church growth in both a traditional context and an independent context is coming to New Zealand next year and will be hosted by a variety of churches including a Presbyterian one during his time here.

The image below displays the full itinerary. The Orange Seminar is, I think, a day long edition of the Orange Conferences in the USA which focused on working with teams. The Parenting Seminar should be self-explanatory and the Pastor’s Days focus on the four topics of

The High Impact Leader

Breaking Growth Barriers ( esp. the 200 barrier)

10 Predictions about Future Church

Renewing the Leaders Heart

Early bird tickets are only $75pp and if 5 are bought a sixth will be offered free of charge. I can’t encourage you more to bring your most influential leaders to this. They will be enormously encouraged.

 

carey nieuwhof nz tour 2018 (1)

Please Be Political

Richard is the current Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Aotearoa New Zealand

Politics is the ultimate expression of the fact that we have to exist with people who don’t think like us. Derived from the Greek polos – meaning ‘people’ – politics is the art and, perhaps, science of being a people – being together. Every expression of politics is basically a reaction to this fact. Fascist and communist expressions of politics are simply more extreme reactions. Democracy is simply an attempt to find the fairest and broadest expression of this reality. As such we who are Christian should avoid two extremes in our involvement with politics.

The first is to reject the whole notion of politics as worldly sinful expression of human attempts at self-government. This is how many Christians view politics and as a result they refuse to become involved or even to register their right to vote and have their say. The rationale for this is usually that politics is part of a worldly attempt to govern that will ultimately fail and won’t address the real need of humankind which is salvation and the spiritual governance of God through the Holy Spirit. The problem with this is that it is not biblical in the least.

Jesus Himself said ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s’ establishing forever that Caesar did indeed have some rights, rights established in heaven itself. Paul is perhaps even clearer when he states in Romans 13:1 ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.’ And he goes on in the next 6 verses to establish very clearly that political authorities are both necessary and God ordained.

Now I realise that this seems to be at odds with all the some of the less palatable realities of politics and especially the fact that many political leaders down through the ages have used their authority to do terrible things to the people under their power. However, that does not in and of itself mean that we’d be better living in state where all people do what they think is best. This is simply another form of tyranny where the power resides not with an individual but with every individual. Under such a regime there is little chance for ‘righteousness’ to thrive since no one could challenge the individual’s right to govern themselves.

The Bible is convinced that political power is both necessary and right even if it’s administration is often corrupted by corrupt human beings.

The second extreme is to replace our hope in God with hope in politics, political parties and political figures. Here we become far too optimistic about what political power can achieve for us and we are therefore attracted to those who promise the most or with whom we identify the most. This is certainly a feature of our age and of Kiwis and it is a very human thing to want to see our hope. But let’s be clear, there was never a closer thing to outright idolatry than this view. Our idol becomes the party or person who seems to think like us the most and to promise to act like we think they should. This idol is clearly made in our image and they remain our hope and the promise that the future will be what we want it to be. In this regard we act like idolaters.

We identify with the ‘visible’ features of the idol; how they look, how they express themselves, what they say; all these things have to line up with our imagination and our hope just as a little wooden idol would.

We enjoy control of our idol. We rejoice when things go well and we hide it away when things don’t – making excuses for it and for the loss of some of our hope.

We protect our idol. We defend our party or person. We feel offended when they are attacked. We are prepared to rigorously defend our idol even when a defense is not available in which case we will recall the mistakes of those who are attacking our idol.

Finally, we imagine that our idol has so much control that they will be able to change our personal circumstances and make things different for us according to… our desires and dreams. In short, our world is in their hands but, and what is more to the point, their hands are really all about fulfilling our world!

Friends, this should not be!! We should recognize both how limited our political masters are and, much more importantly, who our true lord is! Yes, politics is both important and necessary but it should not be our idol or where we place our true hope.

Perhaps the worst feature of this is the party spirit this sort of thinking brings out in Christians especially around election time. I am horrified at the cynicism and barely disguised hatred expressed so freely by card-carrying Christians around election time. There’s simply no need for it. Yes, by all means support your person/party but don’t do it at the expense of the dignity and grace which is the mark of your faith.

When we behave in the manner I have outlined above we proclaim a different message from the one we’ve been given as Christians by our Lord and it this – ‘I am your true hope; I am the One in whom your dreams and desires should be invested – not the political powers of this world.’

By all means be political but do so in a way that reflects who you are – a child of Christ whose true hope is Christ.