The Church as an Instrument for Redemption, Not Administration

Here, in one of the most dangerous places in the world, the
gospel is simple: we love God because he first loved us.

We had lunch with one of the Archbishops in Baghdad last week to talk about the struggle Christians in Iraq have and the way the Church is just trying to survive. During the conversation (which was accompanied by terrible food!), the Archbishop made this extraordinary remark: “The Church is an instrument for redemption, not administration.” My mind went back to my days as a vicar and later as a Canon in the Church of England. I was challenged concerning the hours I had spent in administration compared to the hours I had spent seeking the work of redemption.

Clarity at the Iraqi Anglican Church Council
After lunch, we moved on to talk about issues in our Iraqi Anglican Church Council, the only church council in the country to cut across the Iraqi Coalition divide. The members of the council are Iraqi, American and British. My mind went back to the Parish Church Council in Clapham, England. That Council, although very good, was very focused on administration. What would today's meeting be like?

The meeting commenced; each participant gave an account of what was happening in his congregation. Then, without any preparation, the main item of the agenda became clear: How do we prevent our leaders in St. George's Memorial Church in Baghdad from being kidnapped and killed? Our people are increasingly going hungry and relying on the church for everything—food, water, medicine and rent money. Our relief work through the church has radically increased; however, supplying the needs of the people involves huge risks. All of us stopped discussion for a moment, realizing that most of our church leaders have been killed or kidnapped. Oh, how difficult it is for those of us from the West to accept the risk of death for the ministry of redemption! Although all of us are aware of danger and risk (you cannot be ignorant of this if you live in Iraq), I wonder if we are really prepared to take real risks for the sake of redemption.

The key purposes of the Church are to share Jesus, bring
redemption, change lives and take risks.

Challenged by Redemption
After the church council ended, we found ourselves seriously challenged. Yes, I was challenged like I had never been at any church meeting before. My mind went back to the previous weekend at church. Many of our children had their first communion that day. They processed into church in their wonderful white robes, singing the simple word, “Hallelujah!” Some of the children were in tears. As they came to the front of the church, I asked one of the girls why she was crying. She told me it was because it was the most important day of her life and she knew that Jesus was walking with her. Their song was a song of redemption and their tears were tears of redemption. My mind returned again to the words of the Archbishop. These words challenge us here and they should challenge the Church around the world.

Fais, our lay pastor at St. Mark’s, is very concerned about the redemption of our people. He knows that the gospel has always been dangerous and that there has always been kidnapping and murder; however, he is prepared to take this risk for the sake of redemption. Indeed, we must have administration; however, we must not forget the key purposes of the Church of Christ: to share the good news of Jesus, to bring redemption, to change lives and to take risks. Here, in one of the most dangerous places in the world, the gospel is simple: we love God because he first loved us.

I think back to the words of my mentor, Donald Coggan. Every time we parted, he would say, “Take risks, not care.” I hope I have done this and I pray we all will do this more and more when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus with the world.

Rev. Canon Andrew White is president and CEO of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, chaplain of St. George's Church in Baghdad, Anglican/Episcopal chaplain of the International Zone Baghdad and senior advisor in Inter-Religious Affairs to the Prime Minister of Iraq. Over the past few years he has acted as a negotiator in many conflict situations, including the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the riots between Muslims and Christians in Northern Nigeria. In recent years, he has been awarded several prizes for his peace work, including the U.S. Cross of Valor, the Tanenbaum Peace Maker in Action Prize, the International Sternberg Prize, and the ICCJ Prize for Sustained Intellectual Contribution to Jewish-Christian Relations.