Friday 9 March 2007

The Part of the Laity in Evangelism

112. The inalienable right and duty of the laity to take its full part in the spiritual work of the Church, finds forceful expression all down the Church’s history. [...]

It is not, therefore, as a matter of expediency that we put the mobilisation of the laity for the work of evangelism in the very forefront of our Recommendations. It is a matter of simple obedience to a Divine command

113. [...] What, then, are the objections which are likely to spring to the mind of the average layman when confronted by the challenge to take his full and rightful part in evangelism? Usually they are pre-occupation and reticence.

114. [...] the excuse “I have no time” cannot be pleaded where evangelism is concerned. Evangelism is not a part-time but a full-time, obligation; and it is exercised at home, at work and in society, rather than in specifically church organizations. Generally the plea of pre-occupation is a cloak for the real objection, which is shyness in speaking about the things of God.

115. This shyness, deep rooted in the natural reserve of the English temperament, is not without its value. It is a safeguard against the glibness which repels, and ensures that the testimony of the lips shall not outrun the reality of conviction.
As we have seen, personal witness to Christ must always be two-fold in character: a life that reflects the love of Chris in human affairs, and spoken testimony to Him as Saviour and King. The one must interpret the other. [...]

We cannot exaggerate the importance of breaking down this traditional English reserve which produces a Church of “silent saints”. As Prebendary Wilson Carlile (who coined this phrase) declared: “I have got the biggest job I have ever tackled in my life. I am trying to open the mouths of the people in the pews.”

116. The Christian obligation of spoken witness does not require from all the duty of addressing public audiences: still less of button-holing comparative strangers. It does demand being able to give a reason for the faith that is in us, when asked by a friend; and of praying that such openings shall be given and used by us. [...]

117. How are we to help the ordinary layman to overcome this shyness, which is so largely reducing the value of the witness of his life?

We believe that ordinary Christians may be helped to talk naturally and openly about Christ if they do not regard themselves as isolated prophets, but as representatives of the evangelising Church, and as the tongue of the Body of Christ. [...]

The Training of the Laity in Evangelism
119. [...] The chief obstacle (as we have seen) is that so many church people are only half-converted. But, clearly, it is impossible to wait till the whole of the Church shall be wholly converted. On the contrary, it is by engaging in evangelism that the whole Church will be revived and its ardour fanned into flame. [...]

120. We have urged that the first step towards the evangelising of England must be a call to the clergy to renewal. [...]

The next step would generally be the summoning, by the clergy, of their Parochial Church Councils to review the position and to plan for action. It is “the primary duty of the Council in every parish to co-operate with the Incumbent in the initiation, conduct and development of Church work both within the parish and without.” (The Parochial Church Council (Powers) Measure, 1921, Sect. 2) This chief function of the Parochial Church Council is often overlooked, or crowded out by other business. Thus to place upon Church Councils the responsibility for evangelising the parish, would effect an evangelistic work upon the members themselves.

124. [...] We cannot do better than commend the idea in the words of the late Archbishop William Temple: “Why should not a team of witness go from one parish to another to join in a campaign of witness, just as they go to play cricket or football? [...] We must turn our congregations into teams of evangelists.”

125. From evangelistic companies, training schools and teams of witness, there will emerge potential leaders, capable of becoming specialists in evangelism. [...]

The Scope of Lay Evangelism
128. [...] Not infrequently, the laity make better evangelists than the clergy. In every congregation witnesses, and even potential evangelists, are to hand, but they need to be discerned and trained. Neither prophetic nor evangelistic gifts are dependent upon the grace of Orders. [...]

129. The laity have both wider and also more intimate contacts than the clergy with non-worshipping members of the community. They can demonstrate the practical working of Christianity in the home, at their work, and in all their social relationships. [...]

130. [...] We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities for evangelism daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.

131. First and foremost among the crafts is that of home-making, a creation towards which all members of the family must contribute their share.

The Christian family has been defined as “a community of persons, with reference beyond itself to the civil order of society on the one hand, and to the Divine society of the Church on the other.” As such the family provides the first cell of truly social living—political, cultural and religious. Thus, a self-regarding family, which is thought of solely as an end in itself and is unmindful of duties to neighbourhood, community, Church and State, “may be a breeding-ground of arrant selfishness and anti-social tendencies.” [...]

132. In this context of home-making, the importance will be recognised of recovering the practice of the family uniting in prayer. Where the father is priest in his own household, the recognition of God as the “Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name and nature” enriches both personal relationships and the worship fo the Church. Where there is no such act of family worship, religion becomes an outside matter of teaching at school and of Sunday worship at Church—that is, something away from the vivid centre of home, and other than ordinary daily life. [...]

133. Intimately connected with home religion is the once almost universal practice of daily Bible reading. It is impossible to exaggerate the effect on character of the continual play of God’s Word upon the human mind, when the Bible is thus read daily. There can be little hope of religious revival until the English become once again “the people of a book, and that book the Bible.” [...]

The position can only be regarded with grave disquiet so long as many ordination candidates know their Bibles less well than most educated children fifty years ago, or while congregations are mystified by Scriptural allusions such as abounded in any ordinary English book, journal or newspaper from 1611 to the last war. [...]

134. Next in importance to home evangelism is the bearing of testimony to Christ at work. [...]

135. Evangelism in the working world means more than bearing personal testimony to Christ in the attempt to present Him to “the man next to one at the bench.” It also means claiming for Christ the whole of the particular occupation in which we are engaged, and the doing of our work to reflect His likeness. [...]

136. This involves ... a two-fold Christian witness.

First, there is the continual witness to Christ’s law of love as the criterion which governs all human relationships, not excepting those of the economic order of society. [...]

137. There is, also, the other, and complementary Christian witness, of acting like Christ in the economic order as it now exists. [...]

138. This being so, the Christian laity should be recognised as the priesthood of the Church in the working world, and as the Church militant in action in the mission fields of politics, industry and commerce. [...]

Thereby there would cease to be this “discontinuity between the sanctuary and the life and work in office, factory, or home.” [...]

140. In all that we have said we would emphasises the truth—so evident in the ministry of Him who went about teaching, preaching and healing—that evangelism is not a specialised activity, nor can its duties be strictly defined. Rather it springs from an attitude of mind and heart which sees all the relationships and activities of this life in the light of God’s relationship to man, and of His power to redeem the whole of life through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. [...]

(From Towards the Conversion of England: The Report of a Commission on Evangelism appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, pursuant to a Resolution of the Church Assembly passed at the Summer session, 1943, London: Press and Publications Board of the Church Assembly, 1945)

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