Saturday, 29 June 2013

Evangelism — the next big debate?

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.
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  1. Like you, I'm very positive about this change, John - and I'm more optimistic than you that the message of evangelism focussed on will have content, especially with Steve Croft (the Bishop of Sheffield) leading. Take this example:

    "God's love can only be experienced as we are washed, forgiven and made clean. We cannot earn that forgiveness. Our souls can be washed and forgiven only through faith in Jesus Christ and in his death on the cross. There are so many ways to understand this, but right at the centre of the meaning of Christian faith is the simple truth that Jesus gave his life on the cross so that our sins can be forgiven - so that my sins can be forgiven - and so that I can be reconciled to God. In the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, there is complete cleansing and a washing away of the dirt and stains of sin.

    "God is not an indulgent parent who turns a blind eye to transgressions and forgets about them. That is not the picture offered in Scripture at all. Our wrong doing is serious. It stains and corrupts our souls and harms others deeply. God does not overlook our sins. He forgives them. And God forgives them only because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross...

    [John 13 is narrated]

    "The Christian life is
    *to experience the joy of having been washed by Jesus, and
    *to be given the command to wash the feet of others in loving service. Remember, in the serving, to keep the emphasis on God's grace in washing our souls and forgiving our sins because of the death of Jesus on the cross. How deep is his love!"
    Steven Croft, Experiencing God's Love (London: CHP, 2011), pp35-36

    Andy Griffiths, Galleywood

    1. Andy, I've no doubt there are bishops with the 'right idea', and I'm glad Steve Croft is one of them. The problem is that not all share this. Look at the latent fear of evangelicalism admitted in both reports and ask yourself what this means about the attitude to both the evangel and evangelism. If people can play down evangelism because they worry about evangelicals, what is their gospel?

  2. Thanks John. I agree. I was just expressing my sense of hope, because those who are leading on this (notably Croft and Cottrell) are people with a gospel as well as a strategy for church growth. Their task - and that of others like them - is now to express BOTH the church-growth strategy AND the gospel message again and again and again in ways that commend them and make them attractive to the whole church, even those portions that would be distrustful of the word 'evangelical'.
    Andy Griffiths, Galleywood

  3. This is a serious debate well worth having. I was looking at our local ministry training scheme website the other day which says "SWMTC’s mission is to provide formation for Christian ministry and promote Christian understanding of the world." Absolutely nothing about mission and evangelism. How will the next generation of ordinands learn to spread the gospel?

  4. Not all doom & gloom. I was at a meeting for our (albeit tiny) denomination. 10% growth in 1 year across the churches, & in a few it's more like 30+%. So, good things are out there.

    Darren Moore

  5. "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"

    On other pages:

    Pope confesses to an admiration for Catholic doctrine

    Bear admits to using woods as "latrine facility"

    Conservative Evangelical Anglicans remind me of the quintessentially English couple in a restaurant They spend the entire meal complaining that the steak is underdone, the vegetables overdone and the sauce lumpy. The waiter comes by and asks: "Is everything alright with your meal?" They mutter "Er.. yes...fine, thanks". The bill arrives. They pay, quietly, adding a small tip, and then go home a write a poor review on TripAdvisor.

    David, Cheltenham

  6. I heard the ABC speak recently in Cairo during his Middle East trip, and was greatly encouraged that he has a firm grasp of the gospel and a commitment to share the Good News with others. Like any organisation, the leader's vision isn't embraced by everyone (even within his senior leadership team), but for those who do share that vision it makes all the difference to hear the leader state it clearly and regularly.

  7. An aside on the 'Complementarian' line of thinking on male headship:

    This idea is projected in evangelical circles, most often without the meaning being properly thought through. Headship evangelicals use it to mean a relationship which includes both complementary difference and headship of one over the other. But if we are using the word 'complementary' accurately, it only denotes complementary difference, without the added layer of meaning of one as head over the other. In a complementary relationship there is actually no need for a dominant one and a passive one. Just two individuals whose qualities complement each other.

    So accepting differences between men and women does not mean that it follows that one has to dominate or control the other. You hear people say that on occasion 'someone has to decide'. But it has been shown that couples can in fact take turn on calling decisions, as they come along.