On Monday, February 25th, the church celebrated Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas among the twelve apostles. Scripture tells us that the election boiled down to casting lots – sheer luck (or Divine Providence depending on your theology). However you want to spin it, Matthias holds a place of honor among the twelve.
Other than the election, we know nothing else of Matthias. He seems to disappear into history. I’ve heard that this is actually a good thing given Matthias was selected to replace Judas who was the treasurer. And odds are, if history records anything about a treasurer, it is usually bad news – embezzlement or the mishandling of funds.
It seems to me that the election of Matthias is less about the individual and more about the governance of the church. The election takes place immediately after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. The election of Matthias is the first decision of the Church under the direction of St. Peter. It seems this decision is more about preserving the traditions of the community (we've always had 12 apostles) and less about the proclamation of the gospel.
Ten days following the Ascension, Pentecost happens. On Pentecost, the neat and tidy organization of the Church is confused by the rush of a violent wind and tongues of fire standing on each of the apostles’ heads. As one commentator notes, “Affection, not administration, would ultimately shape the church and make it a living witness to the word of God in Jesus Christ.” In other words, administration is always secondary to work of the Holy Spirit.
As I consider the juxtaposition between church governance and the power of the Holy Spirit, I am reminded of what a friend once said, “plan tight; hang loose.” While traditions, vision statements, canon laws, vestries, and policies are important in the governance of the church, they do not control how God acts in the world. We should fully expect God to have other plans (man plans; God laughs). If we do believe that church governance controls how God acts in the world, we are in serious trouble especially in times of conflict.
The good news is that the Holy Spirit is in the business of reminding the Church of the main thing by, from time to time, shattering the church’s sacred traditions. The main thing is that the Holy Spirit calls all the people of the world into relationship with one another through the goodness and mercy of Jesus Christ. Our common life is bound together not because of rules and regulations, not because of cultural norms and traditions, but because of the goodness and mercy poured out in Christ Jesus for the sake of the whole world.
The architect of the first Anglican Prayer Book knew as much. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, wrote in the preface, “There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so surely established, which (in continuance of time) hath not been corrupted.” While these words were written some five-hundred years ago, they seem especially important as we consider where the Holy Spirit is moving the Church today.
In an era when the Church is becoming less and less established in the fabric of society, we are quick to try and figure how to maintain the church as it “has always been.” We make assumptions that culture will come around, and we can go back to doing church like before. While our intentions might be good and pure, they seem to ignore what the Holy Spirit is up to in the world today. And according to the scriptures, that is the gravest sin of all.
Under the direction of Bishop Sloan, I am excited to be a part of a small group on Diocesan Council (note the irony here) who is tasked to discern what the core values of Diocese of Alabama have been while attending to where the Holy Spirit is moving among us today. As Bishop Sloan has said many times, our work is to hold fast to what is good and sing to the Lord a new song.
It is my understanding that our task is not to recommend changes in what we do because what we do is all about sharing the good news of Jesus and his kingdom ways. Rather, our task is to explore how the Holy Spirit might be calling us to do what we do in ways that reach a population that is growing more and more unchurched. How can we share the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that is both consistent with who we are and with where the Holy Spirit is guiding us?
As we discussed at the council retreat, there are a lot of unknowns in this conversation. The conversation will bring up the dreaded "c" word - change. We wonder, where will this bridge take us? But as Anglicans, we needn't worry! It is the Anglican way to build the bridge as we go. There is no doubt that some of this work will call us to let go of some of our sacred traditions. However, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the good news of Jesus and his kingdom are not bound by our traditions. God’s will, will be done – with or without us. But wouldn’t we rather go with God?
In the end, the structures and organization of the Church is not something we use to direct where God is moving in the world. Rather, God can choose or choose not to move through our structure and organization to make the good news of Jesus and his kingdom known. When our structures and organization fail, as they have and will, the Holy Spirit will shatter our illusions of control and remind us what this whole Jesus Movement is about. And that is a community that is ordered not by rules and regulations but by a mutual affection for the other, an affection rooted in the goodness and mercy of Christ Jesus.