Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Living Your Faith in the Secular World

 Published in the Fiji Times on 9 October ,2013
Off the Wall 9/10/13

Over the past few years, this column has been a way of me, as a Christian Fijian, sharing reflections on our society and on my experiences. While some of the articles in this column have had an obvious Christian or faith-based theme, those more secular topics and issues have still undergone some form of theological reflection – a sort of Christian response (or my response as a Christian) to the issue in question, even though I may have not written it explicitly.

Last week a group of Methodists and their friends from other denominations (among them Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists, members of Fiji Community Churches of Christ, Presbyterian) spent three days in Suva reflecting on how the Christian faith addresses matters in society at large.

The three-day workshop, titled “The Practice of Christ: Living the Lord's Prayer,” was an opportunity to to examine closely the composition and consequences of the Lord’s Prayer, led by two leading contextual theologians from the Uniting Church of Australia, Rev. Drs. Clive Pearson and Dean Drayton.

According to Drayton and Pearson, the Lord’s Prayer is the most well known Christian prayer and yet it suffers through its over familiarity and regular use. They ask the question, “what happens to our understanding of what it means to be Christian when we slow down and explore the various petitions within the prayer? What does it mean for our Christian life to pray: your will be done; your kingdom come; lead us not into temptation; give us our daily bread; forgive us our sins?”

For Drayton and Pearson, there is more than meets the eye in the Lord’s Prayer. It has a rich history and how it is has been understood differs from one period in time to another, one culture to another. “What’s its place in the life of the church in Fiji? How does that role stand in relation to its biblical contexts in the gospels of Luke and Matthew?”

“The Lord’s prayer is a summary of the Christian Life. It is the essence of the gospel,” said Pearson, former Principal of United Theological College in Sydney and Head of the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University, in his introduction to the workshop. As the Church we need to discover the therapeutic relevance of the gospel, which, from the understanding of therapeutic as healing means there are things that the gospel needs to engage with – things that are broken, things that are fragile and things that need reconciliation and restoration.”

Drayton, former President of the Uniting Church in Australia, has spent years meditating on the Lord's Prayer and using it as his principal framework for organising his thinking and his life, took the group through the scriptural and historical background of the Lord’s Prayer and then looked at its implications for today’s context. Drayton suggested, that as many often simply recite the prayer automatically, it was important for Christians to reflect on each line of the prayer and what it meant for Jesus, for the disciples, for the early church and for the world today.

The reflection on what the Lord’s Prayer means today led to the discussion on the, a public church and the public witness of the Christian faith often termed “Public Theology.”  Pearson who has written extensively on the topic describes Public Theology as:

·         Practical and intellectual Christian engagement in the major issues of society;
·         Recognising both the marginal location of the Christian faith in a post-Christendom world, and the value of other disciplines;
·         Addressing practical questions, often in the secular language of human rights, justice, etc;
·         One voice among many in the marketplace of ideas, concerned with the well-being of society; and
·         Seeking to provide resources for people to make connections between their faith and the practical issues facing society.

“Each Sunday we are involved in public worship – it is not meant to be hidden, it is for society. The Lord’s Prayer is a public prayer, which incorporates everyone when we say ‘Our Father’,” said Drayton.

“The public ministry of Jesus and the purpose of God, the overflowing love and care of God, expressed in the Lord’s Prayer, is for the sake of our world. We are to be involved with the whole world, not just the Church,” he said.

Participants in groups envisioned what the apostle Paul would have written to the Church in Fiji and then wrote their own letters in that same fashion, calling the Church to involved in the events in the community.

Pastor Raj Deo and Rev. Dr. Tuikilakila Waqairatu take
a break from the "Living the Lord's Prayer"workshop
“We have learned a lot of new things in this symposium,” said Raj Deo, a pastor with Fiji Community Churches of Christ, serving in Nausori.  “I have never thought of the impact of the Lord’s Prayer for our community in this way before.”

Methodist Church President, Rev. Dr. Tuikilakila Waqairatu, said that the revisiting of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed through the new persepectives provided by Drayton and Pearson were a simple yet profound challenge for the Church to address the different kinds of human issues we are facing in 21st century Fiji, against the background of a multiplicity of race, gender, religion and social status. We have been helped to reflect on the situation we see and to act because our faith is not only private, but a public faith that should bring about the greatest good for the flourishing of all.”

The test of faith, personal as it may be, is then how it enables a practitioner to face the situations in society as they arise, for the common good.

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