Skip to comments.Admit Just One: on Anglican evangelism
Posted on 03/14/2006 12:07:47 PM PST by sionnsar
I sat in the bishops office, intimidated by the purple shirt, pectoral cross, oaken desk, and the absolute power the man behind all three seemed to exercise over my future.
This was my first interview with the bishop, one of the initial steps in the process toward ordination. This interview would determine whether I would be accepted as an aspirant, the first fiery hoop in the circus-like process to become an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.
The bishop looked me in the eye and asked a question that I had not anticipated, but one that I welcomed all the same.
What do you know about evangelism?
Well, I said, evangelism is the process of bringing the saving message of Christ to nonbelievers.
The bishop crinkled his nose. Mine was not the answer he sought.
And how do you do evangelism? he asked.
You let as many people as possible know that God so loved the world that he....
No, the bishop held up his hand and I stopped mid-sentence, that is not the way Episcopalians do evangelism.
Oh I said.
We do evangelism by inviting our friends to church. He went on to explain the Episcopalians do not speak of unbelievers, but of the un-churched. We do not cajole or persuade them to accept precepts or doctrines. We simply invite them experience God in the liturgy. The un-churched, he said, come to worship and through it they are drawn to God.
His answer disturbed me. A convert of only two years, I was not drawn to the point of personal surrender to Christ through the beauty of the liturgy, but by a Book that brought me to face to face with the depth of my guilt and face to face with my Savior and Lord who took the guilt away.
People come to that crucial point via different paths and some do indeed come through worship, but it seemed that the bishop was not nearly so concerned with bringing unbelievers face to face with Christ as he was with bringing the unchurched to his diocese. He had reduced evangelism to church growth.
Since my ordination, Ive moved to another diocese, but throughout my experience in the Episcopal Church Ive found this reduction to be quite common if not universal. It well befits a denomination allergic to theological clarity. Just put on a good show and dont say much if anything about sin and redemption. Evangelism loses something of its New Testament urgency in a church where many if not most clergy are devoted consciously or unconsciously to universalism.
For a long time Ive been searching for someone to articulate a specifically Anglican approach to evangelism. Worship is, in fact, central to Anglican Christianity. There is value to my former bishops emphasis on getting the unchurched to experience the liturgy. But there must something more than aesthetic beauty and liturgical showmanship before inviting your friends to church can rightly be called evangelism.
This weekend I read an article by Canon Neal Michell, the canon for Strategic Development from the diocese of Dallas (one of the few growing [PDF] ECUSA diocese) entitled, An Anglican Approach to Evangelism [PDF].
As the title suggests, Canon Michell is also interested in doing evangelism in a distinctly Anglican way. And, like my former bishop, he recognizes that Anglican evangelism is naturally corporate:
as Anglicans we believe that evangelism best takes place in the context of the gathered Christian community. That is, being a Christian and becoming a Christian is not an individualistic and a solitary event. I am not a Christian simply by myself. Rather, to be a Christian is to be a part of a Christian community.However, he recognizes that the whole point of inviting friends to take part in corporate activities is to facilitate Gods salvific work. Relating the story of a man who attended Alpha and fell away only to return later, Canon Michell summarizes:
Having embraced the community, he was put in a place where he could hear the claims of Christ, experience Christian community where he saw the Christian life lived out, and decided to accept Jesus Christ as his savior. The process can be expressed this way: community, then decision, then deeper community.Here evangelism is not reduced to church growth, the two are married, made one flesh in the local parish. They remain distinct but complementary.
our clergy need to give people in our worship services the opportunity to respond to the claims of Christ. Although evangelism is a process, it is made up of discrete moments of surrender. Thus, in our preaching, we clergy need to give mini invitations to accept the challenge to follow Jesus Christ. We can use the baptismal covenant or moments of challenge or invitations to silent prayer, or invite people to be prayed for by our prayer teams if your church has them.In other words, the liturgy, the community, relationships, can, indeed, draw non-believers closer to the truth, but that cant be all. The message of hope and salvation in Jesus Christ must be clearly proclaimed from the pulpit. No episcospeak, no obfuscation, just gospel truth served straight up.
In 1983, the average Sunday attendance of our churches was 13,008. In 2001, we averaged 15,191 in attendance, an increase of 12%. The average Sunday attendance of those 67 congregations decreased from 13,008 per Sunday to 11,635 per Sunday, a decline of 11%. In 2001, there was an average of 3,556 persons per Sunday worshiping in an Episcopal church that did not exist in 1983. This means that nearly one-fourth (23.4%) of Episcopalians worshiping in an Episcopal church in the Diocese of Dallas are worshiping in a church planted within the last 20 years.Dont let the numbers fool you. Church planting is not about filling the diocese with warm bodies but rather it is about extending the kingdom of God.
The increased number of churches, faithfully preaching the Gospel, administering the sacraments, reaching out to a world in need, these extend the reign in of God in our country. Further, as each new church sends out missionaries to other places, we see the reign of God extended throughout the world.This man gets it. Anglican evangelism marries corporate worship with the clear proclamation of the saving message of Jesus Christ.
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