Tuesday, February 27, 2007

1 Chron 12:29 report, 30: Amazing Grace -- continuing the story of Wilberforce, Newton and Equiano, two hundred years on

Grace is amazing:

. . . it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. [Eph 2:8 - 10.]

Of course, starting this past Friday, the two hundredth anniversary of the British parliamentary vote that abolished the slave trade in the British Empire, the world is being reminded of that, through the new movie, Amazing Grace. This movie tells the inspiring story of three men: William Wilberforce, John Newton, and Olaudah Equiano. Respectively, the high society rising star in British politics captured by Grace; the former slaver captain turned pastor who worked with him [and who wrote the hymn]; and, the former African slave (who spent some time as a slave in Montserrat by the way), and who also found power to overcome through grace. (NB: There is also a major five hour radio serial by Focus on the Family that is well worth the listening to.)

Such a visually and aurally told story, on such an anniversary is of course a major reminder to Western and world culture of the redemptive, blessing, transforming impact of the gospel on individuals, cultures, civilisations and the whole world. It also opens the door to a major opportunity for us to reflect on how the Gospel can change our own lives, communities and world. Thus, within the Christian community in our region, we can sit down together to watch this movie, then begin a process of reflection, dialogue and repentance, renewal, revival and reformation that can then spill out into our region and beyond. Once we start, then we can engage our communities and nations across the region, with the next chapter of the story of how God through the gospel blesses and transforms the nations.

And since the very same triangle of forces -- the partly Christianised cultures of the West, Islamic partners in the slave trade, and the colonised Caribbean that resulted therefrom -- are still present, and still struggling to find and do the right, it presents to us a kairos-opportunity on the world stage.

So, why should we not . . .

work together to initiate a twenty year reformation and transformation initiative as we the Caribbean peoples and churches, mark the bicentennial of the death of "the Monster," as Burchell called it as he counted down the seconds to that fateful midnight in Falmouth Baptist church, Jamaica, in the 1830's?

In that context of undertaking a long-term, culture reformation ands transformation initiative, I think that Craig von Buseck's summary of Wilberforce's five main principles of reformation is aptly illuminating on what we are up against,and what we will need to focus on if we are to overcome:

[1] The Principle of Pardon
The first character trait we observe in the life of Wilberforce is the Principle of Pardon. We see Wilberforce's faith and his deep relationship with Christ . . . .
[2] The Principle of Purpose
Out of this relationship with Christ, Wilberforce earnestly sought what God's purposes were . . . . He was a man who had sought God, knew what his purpose was, and then with this incredible focus and intensity, pursued it passionately for twenty years . . . .
[3] The Principle of Partners
Wilberforce could not do any of these things by himself. When you make a movie, you're making Wilberforce a heroic figure. But really The Clapham Group were the people that surrounded him, and they are in the movie. The people in this group were so committed to Christ, to the purpose of abolition and to each other that they all moved to Clapham. Some of them were already living there, but Wilberforce moved to Clapham and they all had houses around Clapham Commons, which was a big circular park outside of London. This was a little village in those days. The church sits on one end of the commons and they built their houses around it. They literally became known as the Clapham Circle . . . .
[4] The Principle of Power
Wilberforce had an understanding of the necessity of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his life to empower him to do what he did . . . .
[5] The Principle of Persistence
This is what I think is the biggest lesson in the Wilberforce story. In our culture, if we don't accomplish something in six months or a year we will often abandon it and move on. But Wilberforce relentlessly put this bill on the floor of Parliament -- year, after year, after year for seventeen years. He fought for this thing until finally it was passed on February 23rd, 1807 -- two hundred years to the day when the film open[ed].
Then he turned around and spent the next twenty-five years fighting for the abolition of slavery itself. Of course the British Parliament passed that bill in 1833 and then three days later Wilberforce died. Before his death, William Wilberforce heard that slavery was abolished . . .

I believe that under God we can learn from these principles, and we can over the next two decades move our region decisively towards reformation and God-blessed transformation.

We can then address the same global triangle of forces as a strategic people of God who bridge North and South, East and West and who through the gospel have triumphed over great adversity. Then, we can go back to Jerusalem, through the lands of our ancestors in the 10/40 Window, and through the lands of our former colonial masters with whom we have so much in common.

Finally, in 2034 - 38, we can have a season of celebration, refreshing, reflection and renewal as we celebrate the bicentennial of the blessing of liberation from slavery. (We can also invite the whole world to the grandest party ever in the Caribbean!)

So, again, let us reflect: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us? END

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