The following is the Presidential Address to the Synod of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, given by the Right Reverend Michael Lewis on 4 February 2013.
“God persuades. He does not compel: violence is foreign to him.” That insight of theological truth comes from an early Christian document, the Epistle to Diognetus (vii:4), dating from perhaps only a few decades after the final writings in the New Testament. It is undoubtedly the fruit of the deepest meditation on the recent events of Jesus Christ’s way of living and dying and being, and on the way his disciples should therefore live and die and be. Christians have no right of compulsion, because God does not exercise his. Rather, because we see in Jesus that God acts gently, persuasively, invitingly, Christians are called to be known for behaving likewise.
Do we behave likewise? Only sometimes, and usually wishing we were stronger. Not to have the real option of or tools for compulsion – enforcement – looks weak. As bishop I am frequently told so. Yet – and excuse me if English is not your first language – to be compelling is rather different from exercising compulsion. God in Christ compellingly attracts by sheer unlikeliness. How could the Messiah, how could the King, how could God be so fragile as to be an unprotected, not to mention time-specific, human being, taken unresisting and despatched by earthly powers? Yet that is how God in Jesus was, and Christians are the Body of Christ.
This is the sixth diocesan synod of Cyprus and the Gulf at which I have had the privilege of presiding, and I see that through every one of them has run the theme of our identity. Is the diocese just the sum of its congregations, or is it the sum and something more? Is our diversity of place and setting and ethnicity and language and background and economic power only arbitrary, or can it be held and even transformed in a larger unity? Is Cyprus and the Gulf merely an administrative unit of Anglicanism, or is there in its Anglican name the invitation to a particular and honourable way of expressing the faith? Is it a useful network for Christian enthusiasts, or is it a place where gifts and callings can be tested and shared with thoughtfulness for the common good? Is it a random and historically accidental confection of flawed and none too saintly churchgoers, or is it a humbling demonstration of what Christ’s fishing net trawls?
We have discussed these things and I know we shall go on discussing them. Most powerfully of all, however, we are the Body of Christ; and Christ is compelling primarily in his gently persuasive invitation, and attracts primarily because of his unlikeliness. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28).
Therefore when we say, as we often do, that we are witnessing, we are witnesses who have seen God in Jesus like that. When we say, as we often do, that we are mission-minded, we are being sent out from God in Jesus like that. When we say, as we often do, that we have a gospel to proclaim as evangelists, the gospel is the one that tells of the vulnerability of God in Jesus like that. When we say, as we very, very often do, that we enjoy fellowship, it is not principally our society with one another that we should be celebrating so much as our society with and in God in Christ Jesus like that.
As the five days of this year’s synod unfold and when we all return to our more normal places, I want us, in our dealings with one another, in our formal business and in our personal encounters, in our strategic decisions about people and money and in our tactical responses to situations that arise, in our councils and committees and groups and circles and chaplaincies and offices, in our thinking and in our communicating, to be persuaded that God persuades: he does not compel; for violence is foreign to him.
For more information about the 2013 Synod go HERE.