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Jesus Mafa Last Supper

Remember to Survive

Jesus Mafa Last Supper
“Do this to remember me”

My e-friend and commenter here, Rev. Joshua Bovis, has a blog post essentially on the value of liturgical repetition in a vibrant church life. He reproduces an article by Mark Brolly (in TMA) reflecting on a lecture at Ridley College by retired Bishop of North Sydney, Bishop Paul Barnett.

The primary value of his post, and the lecture, is the questioning of the abandonment of regular, agreed, common prayer. I share the concerns of Joshua and of Bishop Paul and it is good to see this leadership challenging those in that part of the Christian spectrum.

Mark Brolly interprets one of Bishop Paul’s point thus:

+Barnett said that when the Apostle Paul established the churches of the Gentiles, he departed from synagogue practice and encouraged the expression of Christian beliefs by ordinary people. These extempore ministries included prayer for hearings, prophecy and ecstatic speech. However he made the observation that:

It would be a mistake, however to think that Paul left behind altogether the liturgical elements of the synagogue, from which he had come. Both elements are desirable. Where the liturgical alone is found, there is often spiritual deadness, a church being wedded to the past for tradition’s sake and nothing more. On the other hand, where the ‘charismatic’ reigns, individualism also reigns with its tendency to schism and the rise of dubious beliefs and practices.

I questioned this point, and even tried to research for further evidence of this suggestion. Looking at Bishop Paul’s original lecture, I even think that Mark Brolly is stretching the point far too far.

I do not think that “the Apostle Paul established the churches of the Gentiles, he departed from synagogue practice and encouraged the expression of Christian beliefs by ordinary people”.

Furthermore, Bishop Paul appears to underestimate/undervalue the symbolic in Judaism at the time of Jesus and Paul, and over-emphasises the verbal.

Assumptions are at work here that are worth extra exploration. Let me paint a picture: a man finds a Bible in the drawer of his motel room; he has no experience of Christianity whatsoever; he is converted by what he reads in the Bible and goes on to found a church based on what he reads there. This paints a sola scriptura position. He has not received the Bible and its teachings and practice within the living tradition of the ongoing life of the Christian community celebrating in its worship. Creeds, Eucharistic Prayer, Ordination, Palm Sunday, Holy Week – all these mean nothing to him; mere human “man-made” traditions often seen as distracting from the pure Word of God revealed in the motel-room Bible.

Might it be possible to conceive of a type of Judaism constructed like this?! A person who finds solely the Hebrew Bible, and without any contact with living Judaism constructs the Jewish religion he thinks to find there…

Many Christian communities are obsessed with the idolatry of incessant variety and creativity. Bishop Paul and Joshua are right to remind us that our identity is in our memory. We must take great care that we do not make St Paul into a justification for the insatiable obsession with novelty, and the abandonment of remembering to survive.

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5 thoughts on “Remember to Survive”

  1. I heard a sermon in a Church of Christ once that stated your bible-in-a-motel story almost verbatim and professed exactly that, that the bible was like a rule book or blue print for creating the orthodox Christian church. The preacher went on to liken the bible to a rule book for baseball, stating that if a historian of the future found the rules of baseball in an ancient 20th Century book collection, that she would be able to correctly establish teams and again play the lost game of baseball accurately.

    1. LOL Br David. Your preacher hasn’t noticed that there are over 30,000 different groups all claiming that their way is the correct way to “play baseball”?! Blessings.

  2. As a historian I would want to contextualize the baseball rule book, who wrote it, who was it written for, why did they write it etc and then look at what was written in the rule book and what was left out. Good historians certainly would not take material like that on face value. After which it is good to remember the maxim, ‘history is a never-ending argument’!

  3. Hi Bosco,

    E friend here across the ditch.

    Just a small matter. I did say that Mark Brolly wrote the article for TMA which is the diocesan newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne about the lecture +Paul Barnett gave. I merely wrote his article out as I could not cut and paste it due to the format in which is what produced on the Melbourne Anglican website. So it is not my interpretation of anything, nor do I think I am stretching anything as I did not make the observations, simply wrote them down.

    Though for the record I do agree with the Bishop regarding his observations of many Evangelical clergy and laity.

    And for the record +Paul Barnett is an historian of quite high calibre so he is of age, you could ask him. I would give you his email if I had it. I even asked around but to no avail.


    1. My apologies, Joshua, for any confusion. I have clarified the post. I do not think that Bishop Paul is making the claim in his lecture that Mark Brolly extrapolates, do you? Hence I, personally, have nothing to ask of Bishop Paul – but perhaps Mark Brolly also needs contacting for clarification 🙂 Blessings.

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