The Great Awakening in England began with John Wesley's discovery of God's immense grace ("full justification"). As revival spread throughout England and people left the Anglican church to form Wesleyan fellowships, some of the revivalists stayed in the church to form the Evangelical party. Evangelicals functioned with a very simple agenda. While remaining loyal to Anglican ritual and order, they used the church as a platform for evangelism and a canopy for nurture. Serving in dioceses throughout the world, Evangelicals focused their ministry on the communication of the gospel and the pastoring (teaching) of those who responded to the gospel of God's grace. Although some Bishops were suspicious of their missionary zeal, they none-the-less willingly placed Evangelical clergy in difficult parishes, usually with positive results.
Unlike most other dioceses throughout the world, the diocese of Sydney is substantially Evangelical. Up till some 30 years ago, the Evangelical agenda was applied in most Sydney parishes. Parish papers were widely distributed throughout the parish, always with a gospel message; articles were submitted to local papers; occasional services were encouraged and used to access the gospel; visitation along with fetes, school scripture, organizations, missions, etc.... served to use the church as a corner store for direct or pre-evangelism. Along with this dedication to evangelism, believers were nurtured in services that focused on expository preaching along with associated small group Bible studies.
Over the last 30 years this simple agenda has been undermined by two particular influences: puritanism and arminianism. Puritanism, or more particularly pietism (sanctification by obedience), fostered congregationalism and thus, a withdrawal from society and a disassociation from nominal Christianity (eg. the unchurched were refused Christenings). Arminianism, carried as a hidden virus in Church Growth technology, fostered market driven techniques for numerical growth and in so doing provided the rationale for the imposition of prop-culture in Anglican ritual and order. The motivating force behind these influences was the observable decline in Anglican church attendance compared to the growth in Pentecostal fellowships. The failure to read the sociological influences of our time (oft repeated in history), both in secular society and revivalist fundamentalism, has allowed Evangelicals to lose their way.
Archbishop Peter Jensen's agenda for the Sydney diocese seeks to refocus the diocese on the central task of evangelism. The agenda reflects an Evangelical perspective and for the most part, is difficult to fault. The Mission statement, for example, is virtually a motherhood statement easily affirmed by all believers. Yet, does the agenda actually address the problems we face as Evangelical Anglicans? Is it the solution, or is it still part of the problem?
1. Gospel proclamation does not necessarily produce growth
The diocesan goal is to see "at least ten percent of the population in nurturing and expanding Bible based fellowships and congregations by the year 2010", Bishop Reg Piper.
Although Archbishop Peter Jensen's vision ("that everyone may hear about Christ's call to repent") affirms a "priority to proclamation", it ends up giving priority to "growth." The goal is not for gospel access, but for 10% of Australians (approx. 6% growth of believers in the Sydney diocese over the next 10 years) in Bible based churches. Peter states that his goal is "the first stage of our vision of reaching all with the gospel." Peter certainly underlines a focus of evangelism for the diocese, but instead of setting a communication goal he sets a conversion goal.
Peter shapes his agenda by Christ's command to "make disciples of all nations." In Matthew 28:19, "Make disciples" is imperative (a command), while "baptizing" and "teaching" are participles (as is "go" - ie. "as you are going on your way....."). The making of disciples requires "baptizing them in the name", most likely meaning immersing (baptizonteV) them in the gospel, and "teaching" those who respond. This is certainly how Jesus made disciples. Christ's imperative to the church is to make (gather?) disciples by preaching the gospel and teaching those who repent and believe. The focus is on effective communication, not effective people management.
When speaking about revival, Peter warns his listeners of the "trap of thinking that the initiative lies with us rather than with God." The 10% goal faces the same criticism. Of course, Peter doesn't tie God to what is a human management target, but he is trying to tie the church to it. Therefore, the target should have Biblical warrant. Bishop Reg Piper suggests that the "10% is the first step toward the apostolic 100%. Paul in Colossians said that his aim was to present everyone mature in Christ." In Colossians 1:28, the apostle repeats all/every (panta, panta, pash, panta) making the point that the truth of the gospel, its life-changing wisdom, is for everyone who believes, not just a holier-than-thou crew. It is a truth Paul and his missionary team teaches to all believers, to make them spiritually mature, so that they can all stand with (be presented to) Christ in the last day. Paul's agenda is not an apostolic 100% conversion rate, but rather the proclamation of the gospel and the upbuilding of all those who respond that they may all stand "perfect in Christ."
There is nothing intrinsically evil in a church setting management goals. As Peter puts it, the 10% goal is only an "instrument of mission." The mission is making disciples. Yet, we would be on safer ground if we set gospel communication goals rather than conversion goals. A goal which requires a count of bums of seats, inevitably leads to the application of people management and marketing techniques rather than effective gospel communication. A woolly statement like "our priority must be to grow if God is going to be given rightful honour in our land", should remind us that growth (mustard seed theology) is a highly questionable theme. Even Peter admits that "whether God will so bless us, is in his hands, but this aught to be our aim." If it is God's will it aught to be our aim, but if God's will is the faithful proclamation of the gospel and the upbuilding of those who respond, then a 10% conversion goal is more a market driven incentive than a Word driven directive, cf. Jn.6:40.
2. Multiplying churches does not necessarily multiply believers
Archbishop Peter Jensen argues that his fundamental aim is to "multiply churches, to have lots of churches" and in this way to "penetrate society" with culturally relevant fellowships and thus "build the sort of bridges which unbelievers will be able to traverse." The multiplication of fellowships is the key strategy "to reach our goal (10%) and fulfil the vision ("that everyone my hear about Christ's call to repent")." As Bishop Reg Piper explains, it is "the most effective method of reaching the goal of 10%."
Bishop Reg Piper attempts to support the case from Scripture. "This is the method Jesus and the apostles used. The Lord Jesus called 4, then 12, then 70 as he built an expanding, moving, evangelizing fellowship. From this base the apostles were sent into the world. The apostle Paul built his teams and with them founded so many fellowships that by the end of his generation, churches had been multiplied around the Mediterranean." Given that a description is not a prescription, we can't give too much weight to the missionary methods of the first century. Don't forget the staff, or is it now a sword? What is Christ's stated will for his church, that's the question, not what the early church may or may not have done? As noted above, it is to "make disciples of all nations" - communicate the gospel and teach those who respond.
Church Growth influences on the Anglican church have driven the imposition of pop-culture in congregational worship as a means of accessing the unchurched into a familiar environment where they can come under the sound of the gospel. As a consequence, we already have multiple Christian fellowships meeting in the same church building - Anglicans at 8.am, Congregationalists / Baptists at 9.30am and Semi Charismatics at 7.pm. This reliance on group dynamics for effective evangelism has also driven church planting outside the diocese and within parishes where it is judged the local parish church is not effective in "gospel ministry". Yet, church planting, or as here, the multiplication of Christian fellowships, is not necessarily an effective method of evangelism in itself. In fact, there is always the danger that it becomes nothing more than a market driven socializing hothouse for "weeds". Nor is there any Biblical support for the notion that evangelism is made more effective through the multiplication of congregations
There is, of course, nothing intrinsically wrong with church planting, with the creating of a multiplicity of Christian fellowships. The Anglican church has been doing it forever along geographical lines. In the past, I was associated with the House Church movement and I suspect it may well be the way of the future, a flexible, floating, visible expression of cyber church. House churches are springing up everywhere and quite a few use the resources on this site. Yet, what we have in the "Fundamental Aim" (multiplication of Bible believing fellowships) is a proposed change to the Anglican Parish structure requiring a massive reallocation of resources, a change which rests on neither Biblical warrant nor sound sociological research. It seems like an idea plucked from the air.
The trouble with management theories is that they are here today and gone tomorrow. Over the last 10 years centralization was the buzzword. We sold off our branch churches, amalgamated parishes, all with the aim of reaching the magical 200 mark. We were told once we got to 200 members, growth was inevitable. So, small congregations were closed down to further "gospel ministry." Now, once again, "small is beautiful", or to be more precise, lots more are beautiful.
The communication of the gospel of God's grace in Christ is not dependent on the multiplicity of churches. Evangelistic communication is the business we are in and should not be confused with notions of growth.
3. Abandoning traditional Evangelical ministry does not necessarily aid evangelism
Archbishop Peter Jensen's mission agenda for the diocese transcends Anglican polity as if no longer relevant to Australian society. In fact, he implies that it is a hindrance to the gospel. "Conformity with the prevailing Diocesan or parish ethos -will be futile and unworthy." "We have reached a point when the Anglican church must become a native Australian or it will pass from the scene."
"We have to recognize there is nothing holy about
adherence to dead traditions which may themselves have been
revolutionary two centuries ago."
Peter goes on to make the point "that a city like Wollongong or Sydney is not simply a
one-dimensional geographical entity. It is a multi-layered
conglomerate; the old parish system is never going to penetrate all its
recesses. We are going to need whole sets of different churches and
fellowships which follow the relational and professional and recreational
lines of the city and lodge within them." Of course, this is true, but it has always been true. The English church has only ever suited a particular group in Australia with an anglo/celtic culture and with the increasing diversification of our society, those attracted to an English liturgical tradition will inevitably decrease. Yet, for clergy who happily accept the agenda of traditional Evangelical ministry, attendance numbers are neither here nor there. The smaller the congregation, the more time there is for evangelism. Given that some 38% of the population identify themselves as Anglican, will we ever run out of evangelistic contacts?
Bishop Reg Piper states that "culture, customs, use of resources, deployment of ministry must be serving the Mission's advance." True, but the mission is to proclaim the gospel not play number games. For years Synod failed to fund gospel initiatives such as TV and Video evangelism. Recently we even questioned the funding of small "unviable" congregations as if a gospel ministry is somehow limited by congregation numbers. The truth is that the Anglican church, as received, is far more likely to enhance evangelistic opportunities, than some generic multiplication of pop youth fellowships.
The drive toward generic worship services and now the multiplication of fellowships, is primarily numbers driven; it's all about "growth" rather than evangelism. The problem with growth is that it is easily achieved despite the gospel. It is very easy to work up middle-class youth fellowship graduates by the application of group dynamics, people management and marketing. There is also a fearful capacity to tie dependent people into small groups that are led by highly trained and motivated leaders of a pietist bent. We are foolish to forget how Anglican form has given Evangelicals the freedom to gather and build a healthy people of God.
The traditional Evangelical approach of sitting easily with Anglican ritual and order while taking every opportunity to evangelize the local community and nurture those who respond, still better fits the Lord's command of "making disciples" than embarking on a dubious program of "multiplication of fellowships" for the numerical growth of Christians (believers?).
Finally, there is the issue of loyalty. Loyalty to the gospel does not give us the right to be disloyal to the Anglican church received. For over 200 years Evangelicals have remained loyal to the gospel and to the Anglican church. The proposed agenda furthers the abandonment of Anglican ritual and order by Sydney Evangelicals, all in the name of growth
Archbishop Peter Jensen states in his 2001 Presidential Address that he does not believe he was "brought to the position of Archbishop in order to acquiesce silently to the passing away of Anglican Christianity" in Sydney. Radical ministry initiatives are demanded because "Sydney cannot be reached merely by the parochial system; the threefold ministry on its own is not enough; the world has utterly changed." So, Peter has called on the diocese "to multiply Christian fellowships, not to be content with a parish-based Anglicanism alone, but to insist on a spiritually based Anglicanism in which the reality of the church is more important than its outward shape."
The mission is a bold vision, one Peter calls "a prophetic application of God's word to our present situation." It is certainly a brave attempt to engage with post-modern society, an engagement with one intent, to "make disciples." Yet, it fails to come to grips with the real problem facing Evangelical Anglicanism, namely, our failure to understand the sociological reasons behind the decline of institutional Christianity and our attempts to address that decline by a reliance on "the holy huddle" and church-growth technology.
Although some of us do question elements of the Archbishop's agenda, "all remains well between us."