Forgive some rushed thoughts, but my attention has recently been drawn to a business item for the July meeting of General Synod: ‘Progress on meeting challenges for the Quinquennium’. This refers to paper GS 1895, ‘Challenges for the Quinquennium’, which needs to be read in conjunction with GS 1054, ‘Making New Disciples’.
Although I have only been able to give them the most cursory read through, it seems that ‘growth’ has suddenly moved to the top of the agenda. As the first paper comments,
many discussions of growing the Church and evangelization at senior level in the Church of England are superficial, skate over the surface of the issues and make little progress.
And it offers several possible reasons, one of which is that,
The agendas of bishops meetings and other meetings are dominated by questions of gender and ministry and human sexuality leaving little quality space for deeper engagement with evangelization.
Clearly there is an intention that this should change.
However, the two reports also make an interesting admission. Thus GS 1895 offers as another reason for the lack of attention to growth that,
The evangelization and growth agenda is seen as the province of a particular church tradition and which is regarded with suspicion by those not of that tradition.
Similarly, GS 1054 remarks,
... in some circles there is a latent fear that a commitment to evangelism is about advancing Evangelicalism [...]. This fear must be acknowledged, since it is real ...
The cynical might say the trick is going to be introducing evangelism without furthering Evangelicalism. However, the shift to a focus on growth must be welcomed. I was also personally pleased to see a scattering of references to the 1945 report Towards the Conversion ofEngland, a document which may, in fact, be about to be republished by Church House (I have heard rumours to this effect).
Nevertheless, this shift is not without its problems (what is?). And the problem essentially comes down to this: what is evangelism?
Thus a quick search through both documents reveals, as far as I can see, no references to ‘salvation’ or ‘being saved’ (do correct me if I am wrong, as I may well have missed something). This is a gospel of growth and inclusion in the body of the Church. But is it a message of deliverance and departure from something else? Would we recognize in this the words of 1 Peter:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10, NIV)
At present, I would have to say the answer is ‘no’. And this is a serious matter. Remember the words of Galatians 1:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. (Galatians 1:6-7a, NIV)
Not everything which claims to be ‘good news’ is the gospel. And as I was observing just acouple of days ago, getting the gospel right is essential to producing lives pleasing to God. This is not a matter of churchmanship but of truth.
So here is my prediction. We are about to have an outburst of enthusiasm for church growth, and that is a good thing. In my own deanery, I chaired a Church Growth Task Group, whose efforts had a considerable impact on the agenda of the deanery and the life of the local churches.
But church growth is one thing, gospel growth is another. So we must gently but firmly raise the issue: what is the gospel? And at the back of this is the question identified, but never really answered, by the Church of England report The Mystery of Salvation, namely, ‘From what are we saved?’ Until that has been addressed, at least in our own thinking, we will be in danger of the trumpet not sounding a clear note.Please give a full name and location when posting. Comments without this information may be deleted. Recommend: