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CHARLESTON, SC: Amnesia & Anamnesis: How we lost our way

CHARLESTON, SC: Amnesia & Anamnesis: How we lost our way
Remembering who we are; remembering what God has done and reminding God of His many mercies is only hope for future, says Bishop Nazir-Ali

By The Rt. Rev'd Michael Nazir-Ali
www.virtueonline.org
January 27, 2012

The following address was delivered to the annual Mere Anglicanism Conference held in Charleston, SC January 18-20, 2012.

The question is one of mission. It is also about the history of missions. These two hang together.

The Bishop of London Richard Chartres said that Anglicanism after the Reformation was "slow off the mark" as far as mission is concerned. This is true to some extent but it's certainly a perception. To bring an unlikely witness to bear testimony on this, the United Kingdom Border Agency, which is the equivalent of your, Department of Homeland Security has a policy of giving refuge to Evangelical Christians who flee Iran, on the grounds that if they were sent back to Iran would suffer persecution. But they don't do this for Anglican Christians because they say that Anglican Christians don't bear witness to their faith.

Now is this true? I mean this is a very serious charge indeed from an unlikely source, of course. Is the charge of amnesia, therefore as far as mission is concerned true or not?

That's why it's "Amnesia & Anamnesis"... It is both because if we only concentrate on the "amnesia", we'd get very depressed especially in our culture and circumstances to get depressed.

"Anamnesis>" is an important Biblical word and central to our thinking, of remembering God ... remembering what He has done for us; reminding Him of what He has done for us. And, of course, remembering also what He has called us to be.

If we begin at the beginning we find at that time 604AD the sort of origins of that came to be Anglicanism, two prongs of mission were working almost at the same time in the British Islands. So from the north the Celtic Mission was spreading southwards and we have people like Aidan and his disciples Chad and Cedd spreading the faith in the Celtic way down as far south as Litchfield. But, of course, the Roman Mission of Augustine and his companions also arrived, and they were also spreading the faith on both sides of the River Thames. Of course there were tensions between these two groups as the faith was spread, tensions that had to be resolved. The Celtic Mission was, always I think, characterized by peregrines, the tendency to roam The Celts regarded it as a virtue. Pilgrimage in itself was a Christian calling. And as people roamed in the cause of God they brought people to faith, they established churches.

The Celtic way was remarkably flexible. They all trusted in God, but the results of this wandering were not always set out before hand. They trusted in God and what would happen was a result of their wanderings.

On the other hand, the Roman Mission of Augustine and his companions - were spreading the faith and planting churches - but they were also interested in creating institutions and structure. It is actually the people who immediately followed, Theodore of Tarsus, from the continent of Asia, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the man who came with him. Actually the Pope [Vitalian] had wanted Hadrian, the African, to be the Archbishop (of Canterbury) but he was very shy and didn't want to be. He said: "Make Theodore the archbishop and I'll go with him and help him in his mission." Between them they created the structures that we now take for granted many of the institutions and the parochial system, with its commitment of Christian presence in every community.

There was also a commitment to universal education. So this "Mission at Intra", as it were, the two aspects of it, were complementary - on the one hand, flexibility and movement; on the other a creating of structure and institutions in the Name of the Lord.

In this period [mid 7th Century] Britain was also known for sending missionaries. The Celts sent them. I mean peregrines did not end within the island. Many of them went across to the continent [Europe] and evangelized there. Columbanus comes to mind as a very active Celtic evangelist in France and northern Italy. But those who had been evangelized by the Mission of Augustine also became missionaries to Europe and very seriously so.

If I take the names of Wilfrid and Willibrord and Boniface ... The difference that these people made to what was to become the Christian History of Europe -- now so sadly neglected by Europe -- is quite amazing indeed.

Boniface, the "Apostle to the Germans" in many ways, but also, I suppose, the single name, if you had name someone who was responsible for the emergence of a Christian northern Europe. This is a vast claim to make on behalf of someone, but I think, possibly, justified as far as he is concerned.

Now again, there was a tension in the methods employed by the missionaries. This is a generalization if you like, but the Celts, it seems to me anyway, were more accommodating of culture. They were ready, from their own past as it where, to Christianize previous practices.

For example: The debate about the tonsure, we regard it as a somewhat esoteric debate, but the debate really was whether they had adopted the practice from a pagan past, and whether the Roman practice was therefore purer as far as Christian faith was concerned.

On the other hand, missionaries like Boniface and Willibrord took the line of Christ being against culture and the [723 AD] felling of the Great Oak of Donar, which Boniface carried out, spells the end really of paganism in that part of Europe [Germany]. Of course, everyone thought that if he cut down the sacred tree he would immediately die -- be killed, and when nothing happened to him then, of course, they acknowledged that Christ was after all superior to Donar [the German god of Thunder]. Everything else flowed from that.

This activity in mission, from England to Europe, continued for many centuries. The evangelization of Scandinavia, for instance, Olaf, King of the Norwegians, became a Christian in Britain. So rather like Gregory the Illuminator of the Armenians, he was baptized in Britain and went back to his own people and evangelized them, what an amazing story that has been.

So all of this, we can say, continued until the 12th and 13th centuries. We then have a gap -- the Crusades happened, the Franciscans and the Dominicans developed a peaceful approach to Islam ...

Then we have, what is euphemistically the 16th Century Emergence. There were things at the time of the Reformation which were conducive to mission.

Bishop Richard has pointed out already, the commitment to translatability that is to be found in the fundamental documents of Anglicans. He was mentioning the [1549 & 1662] Preface to the Book of Common Prayer, and the [Church of England Book of Common Prayer] article on ceremonies. [Of Ceremonies: why some should be abolished and some retained.]

We may also, of course, mention the [Thirty-Nine] Articles of Religion. That is to say the commitment that people should worship in their own language [Article XXIV] according to their own idiom in their own way, and that there is no one kind of pattern that every one throughout the world, regardless of national or cultural origin, must use.

This commitment to translatability, how Aramaic became Greek is part of the nature of the Gospel, itself. That the Gospel takes root in peoples cultures, in their mindset, in their values, their idiom, their customs, their worldview and so forth.

I mention this, because it seems obvious to me, that Islam is not like that. Islam is also a worldwide faith, but there is a kind of residual vestigial, Arabicness about Islam that can never be translated.

The Gospel is not like that. There was a recognition even at the time of this emergence, and the years that were to follow, of the nature of the Gospel, and of its translatability by the reformers.

Secondly; there were people like Adrian Saravia, who by the way was a Dutchman, and came to England because he became convinced that episcopacy was the best structure for mission. Saravia did enough to leave his homeland and come to England becoming Dean of Westminster eventually [1604].

In one of his sermons he points out that the Lord's promise to remain with His Church forever is contingent upon the Church being missionary in Matthew 28:18-19.

So the Great Commission and the dominical presence of the Lord in the Church belong together. And we cannot continue to hope for that presence with us if we have forgotten about our mission.

However, it is true to say that the Reformation did not result in a sense of the worldwide obligation of the Church for mission.

The Reformation as a whole, and that includes the Anglican Reformation ... And the question of course is: Why? Why was this?

The Counter Reformation resulted in vigorous missionary activity. I've just been to Peru, and there are signs of that missionary activity all around. The vigorous missionary activity was not always enlightened.

Bishop Stephen Neill, eminent historian of Christian mission, tells us that given the cruelty of the Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America, he was surprised that there was anyone who was Christian there at all.

But under God there were other people who resisted the ravages of those who had conquered that continent and who stood up for the rights of the indigenous people there.

Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas, for instance, comes to mind, and his use of the language of human dignity and of human rights came to influence the enlightenment in Europe.

So why did the Reformation not result in a sense of responsibility for world mission?

The reasons that have been given by historians like Peter Warnek include the following: There is the geographical, first of all. The claim is made that the sea routes were controlled by the Spanish and the Portuguese at the time, and so churches and the countries of the Reformation had no access, as it where, to engage in world mission. Before the Spanish and the Portuguese the sea routes had been controlled by the Muslim-Arab navies. There is something in that.

Another reason that is given is political. The Reformation was so tied up with the history of a particular people, and of, maybe, even a political system, that the reformers, struggling for survival, simply did not have that vision of going beyond the particular people and a particular system.

The third reason is a theological one, that of a certain kind of Dispensationalism, that the Apostles have been given the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel to the whole world and to those nations that accepted the apostolic preaching that was wonderful, they were predestined to salvation. Those who did not, hard luck...

It has nothing to do with us. God was sovereign, and if He wished, still, to bring these people to the fulfillment of His purposes for them, He would do so. Full stop.

This kind of amnesia about world mission began to be challenged. And I was so glad Jonathan Edwards name was mentioned because it was his teaching on the use of means by God to fulfill His purposes that became so important for the recovery of a sense of world mission.

I am also so glad that Bishop [Henry] Compton's work; and the name of Thomas Bray has already been mentioned; the establishing of the Society for the Promotion of the Christian Faith [Knowledge] and of the Propagation of the Gospel -- the SPCK and the SPG as they came to be called.

ANGLICAN REFORMERS

Let's begin by asking, if the reformers did not have a sense of world mission how is there an Anglican Communion today?

It seems to me that there are three main ways in which the Anglican Communion arose, or the churches of the Anglican Communion arose.

The first is what I call the "coincidental spread of Anglicanism". That is to say it spread along with spread of English-speaking people throughout the world. South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia are just examples of how this happened that the [Anglican] Church came with those who came to live here.

Even after the establishment of the [missionary] societies the main thrust of the [Anglican] Church's work was with those who had come from England and had settled here [the American colonies] and their descendants.

Of course, there were people who looked beyond that. Already the 1662 Book of Common Prayer provides for adult baptism on the grounds that this was necessary because of anabaptism, and also it may be useful as it says for "certain natives in our plantations."

Well, there was some such, though Stephen Neill tells us that in the 17th Century, according to the records, only one Indian, that is to say Indian in India, was baptized according to Anglican Rites. Only one.

Now this, coincidental spread of Anglicanism obviously had a very strong organic relation to the English Church. The emphasis has been on the missionary aspect of that relationship and not simply a feeling of nostalgia. I think it would be very sad if the link was only nostalgic.

The second way then in which Anglicanism spread is what you might call properly "Evangelical". And this has to do with the Evangelical Revival when the recovery of a Doctrine of Means", as I have said, that God uses means to fulfill His purposes and we may be the means by which He fulfills those purposes. We may be the means, so there is a personal challenge involved here.

It is interesting that the very people, like [William] Wilberforce, later on [the Earl of] Shaftsbury but along with Wilberforce, the Clapham Sect, who were working for the conversion of people in England; who were working for the transformation of society; for the introduction of universal education; the revival of nursing as a noble profession; and so on. It's these very people who also had a vision for the Worldwide Mission of the Church.

There vision had very much to do with what you might call the "Voluntary Principle." That is to say, not to depend on the state or on the institutions, even of the Church, but on personal and corporate responsibility to further this mission.

So when the Church Missionary Society [CMS], of which I was General Secretary for some years, was established they wanted to be churchmen - they were quite clear about that - nevertheless the initiative was theirs. They wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury for permission to begin their work and took him two years to reply to their letter.

They were convinced under God that this was their calling. So many parts of the Anglican Communion owe their existence to the commitment of these people - those who formed the CMS and [missionary] societies after that to go out with the Gospel. In fact, we may say of these Evangelical missionaries, their work was characterized by their commitment. So when the CMS missionaries went to West Africa - to Nigeria for instance - they sometimes took their coffins with them, because they knew they were not returning. This is long-term, incarnational mission: commitment to the people and to Christ, in Whose Name they were going.

We criticize Victorian missionaries for their paternalism and authoritarianism and all of that, and some of that is justified. But I think we've also got to look at the other side.

There was also a commitment to the crossing of cultures ... to the learning of the language ... the customs and the beliefs of the people ... the translating of the Bible ... and, sometimes in the process, creating the modern form of the language in so many parts of the world.

My own mother tongue, Urdu, was spoken by people as a kind of compromise between the Persian rulers and civil servants, their civil servants, and the common people. It was the British who gave it the form of a literary language. After that it produced great literature. And this story can be repeated so many different ways. A commitment to the crossing of cultures.

So much that we know about other religions, we know about those things because of these early missionary people like William Carey, for instance; Henry Martin -- whose anniversary we are celebrating this year -- and so many others.

Thirdly, there were not afraid to challenge injustice and oppression when they saw it. So there opposition to the practice of suttee in India, where the widow would throw herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, was first challenged by Christian missionaries. The seclusion of women and the lack of education for women was challenged by them. The provision of health was provided by them, and so on. You could multiply these examples.

It is, perhaps, worth saying that once the missionaries had this very sacrificial commitment and ministry they were not alone in this. Quite often what they did would not have been possible without Christians in the locality. Nor were the missionaries from the West the only ones, even then, who were crossing cultures.

Just to give you some examples, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowder, the first bishop in Nigeria, was from Sierra Leone. He was sent by CMS as a missionary to what is now Nigeria and more or less established the mission there and therefore the [Anglican] Church. Neither CMS, nor its missionaries, treated Crowder kindly because he worked in an "African" and not in an "English" way. So there was insensitivity, also, to people and their values and their cultures displayed. Maybe not by people in London, but certainly by missionaries in the field.

Bernard Mizeki, who went from Mozambique, via South Africa, to evangelize the Shona people of Zimbabwe. You see, there is so much to receive from Mozambique, as Bishop Richard was saying. He learned their language, he not only gave them the Scriptures in their language but he used their spiritual terminology to communicate the Gospel to them.

It's always the question in mission: How much of the people's spiritual and cultural terminology is the missionary to use? What is to be rejected and what is to be taken up? This was also a question in the very earliest period of mission.

Apolo Kivebulaya, who went from Uganda to evangelize in the Congo; and Abdul Masih, in India the first Indian to be ordained in the Anglican Church who had been a Muslim imam who became an Anglican priest, and was responsible for taking the Gospel to Muslim people in northern India and what is now Pakistan. Without these people even that phase of missionary activity would not have been as fruitful as it was under God.

At this time certain principles were set out which I believe remain important for us. There were three great men. One was Henry Venn, who was my predecessor as the General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, and I used assiduously to read his correspondence, which was probably as vast as Bishop [Henry] Compton's.

It's amazing how much these people engaged in.

It was Venn, and coincidentally a Presbyterian at the same time in the United States, a man called Rufus Anderson, who developed this idea that the churches that were being planted should be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating.

It's interesting how the Chinese Communist government picked up the "three self-movement" actually from the great missionary thinkers.

But when he was asked: what would these churches that were being planted in this way have to do with the Church of England? He said: that his hope was that they would have spiritual relations with the Church of England.

It is very interesting that the 1930 Lambeth Conference, when it came to articulate the kind of interdependence that there should be in the [Anglican] Communion used the terms in almost word-for-word that Venn has used 70-80 years before then.

Roland Allen, the other great missionary from a more Catholic tradition, his point was: mission is not there to be perpetuated. Mission is for the sake of the Church and he was very hostile to the missionary societies simply perpetuating their structures on the mission field.

In his book Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours ... he said that Paul did not plant missions, he planted churches.

And I think we have always got to be aware of simply perpetuating what we like, what may become a hobby of ours, or whatever it may be.

Now all of these matters that both [Henry] Venn and Roland Allen were writing about and talking about in the 19th Century remain important for us today.

What is the relationship between the proper self-governance, self-support, self- propagation, those tasks that every church has. What is the relation between that on the one hand and interdependence on the other? The spiritual relations that Venn was talking about and many of the things that have happened in the Anglican Communion, in recent years, show us that we've not got this right yet. And, so we must continue to work at these questions.

All of this was followed by the Edinburgh Missionary Conference of 1910. One of the calls of the Edinburgh Conference was the evangelization of the world in this generation.

Talk about optimism. They really believed it - the evangelization of the world in this generation.

EDINBURGH 1910

Perhaps those who gathered there did not know this, but it was a great watershed because, first of all, it gave birth to the modern ecumenical movement. The realization that Christians must work together in mission because working in a way that was divided hindered mission.

This was being felt in [British] East Africa already, with the [1913] Kikuyu [Kenya] Conferences, in Asia and many other parts of the world.

Bishop [Vedanayagam] Azariah, the Bishop of Dornakal [India] who was responsible on his own for the baptism of 500,000 people during his episcopate.

Azariah was at Edinburgh and in describing the sacrificial work of the missionaries, from the West, he said: "Yes, they have given up everything for the Gospel. They have given their bodies to be burned, but we need one more thing..." He said: "We need friends. Give us friends."

How important it is in the cause of Christian mission that Christian mission cannot succeed without friendship. It cannot just be a method, it cannot just be study, it certainly just cannot be preaching at people, but it has to be relational. We are discovering this more and more today.

The third thing about Edinburgh has to do with demography. When Edinburgh came together in nineteen hundred and ten there were 10 million Christians in Sub-Sahara Africa -- ten million. How many are there now?

Nearly 400 million. So maybe the evangelization of the world in this generation was ambitious but from 10 million to 400 million is a big difference.

The same can be said about a country like Korea where evangelization had barely begun at the time that Edinburgh met.

I was driving around with a Korean pastor, a few months ago, and he was shaking his head and he was saying: "Bishop, secularism is very strong in Korea, and the Christian population has gone down from 35 percent to 30 percent."

And I thought: "Well, what would we give for 30 percent in England?"

China: three million in 1949 at the time that Mr. Chiang [Kai-shek] escaped as we were hearing from John McCardell. Now, a conservative estimate is 100 million.

The point about all of this is that demography effects mission. You see, this is not just a numbers game. I was asking Archbishop [Peter] Akinola of Nigeria of how many Nigerians went to the Holy Land every year? And he said: "Twenty thousand."

Twenty thousand Nigerians go to the Holy Land every year. What is the missionary significance of that? A kind of peregrines if you like. Totally unimaginable 50 years ago or even 30 years ago. But it is happening now. Great movements of Christian people throughout the world.

Last month I was in Iran and the Church [the Anglican Diocese of Iran] is under tremendous pressure and we need to pray for that church. But the active missionaries in Iran are the Korean technicians and engineers and health workers who are there to earn a living but also who bring the Gospel in that very difficult situation in a way that Western people simply could not do.

The Chaldean Catholic Church in Iran using Indian clergy and the Anglican Church uses mostly Pakistani clergy. So South-south Mission, because of the changed in demography, South-south Mission is becoming ordinary.

When Apartheid was ending in South Africa the Church in the Province of Southern Africa became aware that there were other issues apart from racial justice that the Church has to address. One of them was the multi-faith nature of South African society.

The bishop said to me at the time when I was with CMS: "Can you help us with this because we don't know how to begin."

So we arranged for people from the [United] Church of North India to go to South Africa to help the Church there with relationships with people of other faiths.

There is also, of course, what you might call South-North Mission that is to say the need of churches the Western world to receive the enthusiasm and the sacrifice and the witness and the love of the Lord from Christians in other parts of the world.

This is necessary for the sake of the flourishing of the Gospel herein America, in the United Kingdom, and in other Western countries.

The Lord continues also to call people from here to go elsewhere. I've just been with Pat, a deacon, from the Diocese of Rochester, who has gone to work in the barriers of Lima.

It's nothing short of apostolic ministry. I was standing with them in the middle of one of these barriers where the people literally live with the pigs.

The smell ... I don't remember too much about the barrier but I do remember the smell.

This kind of incarnational ministry God is still calling people to fulfill. And, indeed, there may be some people here whom God is calling.

Finally, for our time, as we recover, as we remember what has gone before is a glorious history of Christian mission going right back to the reorganizing of the Diocese of London [circa 1846?] ... let's put it like that.

As we remember this glorious history before God and plead to Him for His assistance as we remember what we are to do. What are the issues for today that we face?

THE CALL TO MISSION

The first has to do with the need for the Church vigorously to promote freedom of belief, of expression, of the need to manifest ones belief and to live by it, throughout the world.

So with the "Arab Spring", [circa late 2010 through mid 2011] for instance, that was so celebrated in the Western media -- I never thought it was a spring, and it will prove not to be as you will see. Whatever it was in the context of that movement, or series of movements, it became quite clear to me that democracy is never enough.

It's repeated like a mantra by the Western politicians and the press, but democracy could simply be a tyranny of the majority. It's not better for that and it was clear to me in countries like Egypt, for instance, that what was also needed was a rule of law, a commitment to freedom, equality of citizenship if the future of the large Christian community there was at all to be safeguarded and where we could have hope. And what I say of Egypt can also be said about other countries.

But this commitment to freedom of belief, expression, of manifestation of belief is also relevant with the encroaching totalitarianism that we now see in the West.

References made to it earlier by Bishop Richard, when I think he was speaking of the state pretending to be some kind of church, where aggressive secularism is making a society where disagreement with its governing ethos is not tolerated.

SECULARISM LEADS TO TOTALITARIANISM

Secularism, by the way in history, has always resulted in totalitarianism. There's not a single instance of secularism leading to freedom; whether you look at the kind of national socialist kind of secularism of [Joseph] Stalin [Soviet Union]; or Mao Tse-Tung in China; or Pol Pot [Cambodia]; or even Saddam Hussein [Iraq]. I mean, the Ba'ath Party in Syria and Iraq was consciously modeled on European fascism of the 1920's and '30s.

So is there going to be reasonable accommodation for Christians and others in terms of conscience, of belief, of expression of belief or not?

We are under tremendous pressure, these days, whether it is from European laws -- that originate goodness knows where - or from British courts that interpret them in a certain way restricting the freedom of Christians to live according to their belief. That may also be true of people of other beliefs.

UNIQUENESS OF CHRIST

Secondly; as we face this worldwide mission of the Church, the question of how Christian faith is to relate to culture and to other faiths ... You may call this "The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ" sort of question. I've always felt that you can't talk about the uniqueness of Christ without the same time and in the same breath also talking about His universality. Whatever you say, this is a question that will not go away and so often Christians will lose their nerve for mission, lose their nerve because they do not believe that God has revealed Himself uniquely in Jesus Christ and in the salvation that He brings for all people.

In a strange way, uniqueness and universality are related because they (Christians) who do not believe in His uniqueness also do not believe in His universal significance.

Thirdly: What has this to do with the Gospel in the Western world? It seems to me that are a number of things that should be pointed out. First of all, the need for a "Big Story", a meta-narrative will be necessary if the West is to be rescued from continual fragmentation, anxiety, and also trivia.

How do we read our politicians speeches and say: "What is there that gives us any reason for living?" Hence, so much depression that is around. There is a need for a "big story". The point about the Western world is that such a story cannot be achieved without reference to the Christian faith. There is no alternative.

Aggressive secularism sometimes assumes values that stem from the Bible without being able to give a reason for them. Certainly it has not provided any kind of grand narrative that may undergird the lives of peoples and of nations.

Now, in this context it may be that some of these stories take a particular form. So the English story is not the same as the French. The conversion of [King] Ethelbert and his court is quite distinct from the baptism of Clovis [the First], for instance, or of the cutting down of the [Donar] Oak in Germany or the story of the spread of the Christian faith in Scandinavia.

So there are particularities about the stories that are legitimate, but without them I cannot see how a nation can have any sense of being a nation.

In this sense it is, perhaps, right to say it is not so important about what happens to the Church - whether, for example, the Church of England remained established or not. Bishop Richard was pointing out how marginal all of this is already. But what is important is the "Christian Story". How the Judeo-Christian tradition of the Bible lies at the root of national life in Britain, sustains many of its institutions, and provides the way in which we can think morally -- for today and for tomorrow. I mean, that is its value. This is irrespective of whether there is an Established Church or not.

Secondly, the Christian Story provides what Peter Berger has called the "Signals of Transcendence." That is to say, if people are to look beyond their immediate circumstances -- the daily grind ... the common round -- however you want to put it. What are the stories? From where will they come to take them out of themselves rather than condemn then to the daily grind and the common round if they do not come from the Bible and what flows from the Bible?

These signals of transcendence were particularly seen, of course, as we know in the way in which the year was structured, so there were times when people were taken out of themselves. We are just coming out of the Christmas cycle - the period of Epiphany and beyond. Then there is Easter, then there is Pentecost and so on.

Holy Days that made people understand their situation and also pointing them to what was beyond their situation. And now "Holy Days" have become "holidays". That is what secularization has done to these signals of transcendence.

Thirdly, of course, the Christian Story is needed for living responsibly, living for other people, turning away from greed and the dogma of self-fulfillment, of having a regard for the poor ... the moral resources that we need day-by-day to live, not only individually but as communities.

PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON

[British] Prime Minister David Cameron has been talking about the "Big Society". Well, where are the moral resources for the Big Society to come from? His advisor, Phillip Blond, perhaps is responsible for this idea in the first place, sees quite clearly that they must come from the Christian tradition. But, does his boss see it like that? That's the question.

So, yes, there has been a losing of the way, there's been amnesia. Not just once, but from time to time, and maybe we are coming out of that period now - the latest sort of bout of amnesia.

But the Bible tells us that anamnesis is also possible. Remembering who we are; remembering what God has done for us and with us and through us; and reminding God of His many mercies so that we can go forward with hope and with confidence into the future.

-------------------

Bishop Michael Nazir Ali is the former Bishop of Rochester, UK. He is currently Director of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue. He holds dual citizenship of both Pakistan and Britain.

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