"If Christ can't attract them, then nothing can." My old minister said this to me when I was an enthusiastic youth fellowship leader trying to access new members. I am sorry to say I didn't quickly learn the lesson.
What has happened to Evangelical* Anglican ministry? In the face of declining church attendance, we have come to doubt the worth of Anglican ritual and order and of the power of God's word proclaimed. Our loyalty to the Prayer Book, commitment to parish ministry, open approach to occasional services, support of unviable congregations, all seem a faded memory. As for the ministry of the Word, we seem more reliant on the new technology, psychology and management techniques of our age, than on the power of the Word proclaimed. Why have we Evangelicals abandoned our unique Wesley Anglican blend for a schizophrenic accessing puritanism?
In the following article I want to suggest a number of reasons for the Evangelical malaise, and encourage a return to the values that once made us a mighty force throughout the Anglican communion.
The Anglican church in decline
The Evangelical party in disarray
Causes of the present Evangelical malaise
Failed restoration strategies
i] Let's have a revival meeting
ii] A return to purity
iii] The Church Growth strategy
A Biblical strategy: gather and nurture "the remnant"
i] The remnant and society
ii] The remnant and the Anglican church
A sound and simple church
A congregational church
A church with links to the wider society
iii] The remnant and Evangelicals
iv] A way forward
Proclaim the faith: gather and nurture
A Biblical survey
The Anglican church in decline
"I think it would be dreadful if more people believed in Christianity: if it were a majority religion like it is in America. I'd far rather have six people in a tent. An over-successful Church can't represent Christ who conquers through vulnerability and helplessness," English Vicar.
The Anglican Church is an institution which has evolved through the hands of Godly, but imperfect people. It is a church which is both "reformed" (protestant) and "catholic" (apostolic - preserving the form and faith of the ancient church). Anglicanism has no substance in itself, it is but a peculiar shape (ethos) which expedites our meeting with Christ and so fosters nurture and discipleship. It turned from Romanism while rejecting the Puritan path to Congregationalism. In that sense it is the via media, the edge of the penny. It is, in its simplest form, Prayer Book Christianity.
During the reign of Elizabeth I, the majority of Englishmen went to their local Anglican Parish Church. Attendance would decrease, increase and decrease again, as it had always done, but the church remained. With the industrial revolution, there was a major population shift into the cities. People who made this move, tended not to bring their village religion with them. Church attendance in the cities was very low.
The institutional church could well have collapsed in the cities if it was not for the development of a strong middle-class. Whereas the Protestant working-class had abandoned the church, the new and emerging middle-class enthusiastically adopted the institutional church. (The working-class existential view of life against the middle-class eschatological view, may be the reason for their different responses. Christianity is eschatological in view [future blessings = success] and therefore is more attractive to the middle-class.)
So, within the city suburbs, areas known as "Bible Belts" developed. These tended to be middle-class areas warm toward the church. In the working-class areas, the church struggled. This struggle was compounded by a most interesting phenomena. When a working-class person was converted, they soon became upwardly mobile and moved into a middle-class suburb.
Australia was founded at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Australia is therefore city-oriented, rather than village-oriented. Although the Anglican Church was part of our Nation from the earliest times, it has never attracted a majority of the nominal C. of E. population. It has certainly been well-attended, particularly in the country and in the broad middle-class Australian suburbs. Yet, the numbers attending have continued to decline as a percentage of the population. It was as we moved into the 1970's that attendance took its greatest dip. For example, it is interesting to note Confirmation numbers in the 1950's and then compare these with the 1990's. The drop is substantial. The decline in attenders has left us with a legacy of many large and expensive buildings housing very small congregations. With the cost of ministry increasing, many Anglican Parishes have become financially unviable.
We would be foolish to assume that this constriction has reached its limits. The results of the National Church Life Survey tell us that the Christian church, and in particular the Anglican Church, is ageing. The figures tell us we have a way to go before we reach the bottom. Yet, we are not just losing attenders. Nominal association with the Anglican Church is rapidly declining. Deaconess Margaret Rodgers' survey on Baptism in Australia states, "statistics bear witness to the ongoing collapse of the nominal membership of the Anglican Church." Secularism, other religious forms and the narrow Baptismal policies of many clergy, have all contributed to the drop in nominal church association.
The number-crunchers tell us that most Protestant mainline churches are dying. The Anglican Church is facing the same scenario.
The Anglican Church is certainly losing numbers, and Evangelical congregations are not spared from the rot. What is the present state of the Evangelical party, and how are we contributing to the disintegration of the Anglican Church?
The Evangelical party in disarray
It was a chance meeting with a Moravian believer from Europe that led John Wesley on a search for truth that would change forever the shape of English Christianity. The Moravians were fired-up children of the Reformation who were very strong on community. They were noted for their simple faith and their simple communal life-style. The English church had slipped into Low-church formalism. Wesley was someone searching for substance in his faith, but following the tendency of his day, he saw his Christian life in the terms of a "continued endeavour to keep the whole law, inward and outward, to the utmost of my power". Only by this means was Wesley persuaded that he "should be accepted of" God. Bohler, the Moravian, understood the Christian life "as reliance on the finished work of Christ". Faith for him was still in the terms of the Anglican Homily composed at the time of the Reformation - "a sure trust and confidence which a man hath in God, through the merits of Christ his sins are forgiven and he reconciled to the favour of God." Bohler, writing to Count Zinzendorf said, "our way of believing is so easy to an Englishmen, that they cannot reconcile themselves to it. If it were a little more artful, they would sooner find their way into it."
Wesley's meeting with Bohler opened him to the sovereign grace of God. On attending a Bible study group at Aldersgate St., London, in 1738 and hearing read Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans, Wesley came to understand the full extent of justification by grace. "I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for my salvation." From Wesley's discovery of the grace of God, a great revival swept England focused on the impossible possibility of a personal relationship with the living God in Christ. It was a revival focused on the truth of the gospel, Eph.3:17.
The revival broke into two parts, the Methodists, who abandoned the Anglican church, and the Evangelicals, a smaller group, who remained in the National church (about one in twenty Anglican clergy were Evangelical by 1800). The focus of the movement was a personal faith in Jesus Christ and a growth into his likeness. Evangelism and discipleship became the main thrusts of the movement. John Fletcher said of the Evangelicals, "they were bright, joyous, philanthropic and brimming over with enthusiastic love". Their life centred around the home, family life, joy of worship and a simple life, all through "right relations with God."
No revival movement retains its purity for long. The Methodists, arminian from the start, soon moved toward perfectionism. Wesley wrote "by Salvation I mean not merely deliverance from hell, but a present deliverance from sin, a restoration of the soul to its primitive health, a recovery of the Divine Nature." Here lay the seeds of perfectionism, the later Holiness movement, Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement. For these "Methodists", "filled to the measure of the fullness of God" entails an infilling of the Spirit such that the believer can know and live the "love of Christ". Salvation entails not just freedom from the guilt of sin, but complete freedom from its power, such that a believer is able to experience a "moment-by-moment non-transgression of the known will of God", Wesley.
Neither were the Evangelicals immune from theological decay. They were soon decimated by liberalism and later pietism (legalism) and arminianism. Many Evangelicals today have tended to take on Wesley's burden of "a continued endeavour to keep the whole law". As a result, they have little confidence in their standing before God, of his eternal acceptance and love. Also, others have moved from a reformed theological position toward arminianism (while still claiming to be Calvinist), they find themselves looking to the "Golden Calf" of management and marketing to access unbelievers.
The clarity of Reformation truth is easily diluted.
At the time of the "great awakening", the battle cry of the Evangelicals focused on two great principles:
First and foremost, the defining principle of an Evangelical was the gospel of God's free grace through faith in Christ.
It was held as a tenet of faith that access into the presence of the living God is achieved through a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Salvation is a gift of God's grace appropriated through the instrument of faith and not of good works. Thus, the passion of an Evangelical was to live and make known the way of salvation through a personal faith in Jesus Christ. "The gospel is the power of God for salvation."
The second defining principle of an Evangelical concerned the right handling of the Word of God.
When it came to the Bible, Evangelicals were conservative. An Evangelical regards the Bible as wholly the Word of God "when rightly interpreted." The central business of church, for an Evangelical, was the preaching and teaching of the Bible. Word centred ministry, in the form of expository preaching and small group Bible teaching, was the focus. Evangelicals sat lightly with denominational form, for they believed that the Kingdom of God is realised by the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, and not by institutional methodology. "'Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit' says the Lord God Almighty."
Over the ensuing years, Evangelicals have found the Anglican Church an excellent environment for the business of nurture and evangelism. This involved working within a particular "reformed catholic" framework as defined by the Prayer Book. Although Cranmer had removed all that was "contrary to scripture", there was still the rest of the "stuff" of human devising. Yet, the "stuff" did not interfere with gospel ministry, in fact, it confined the excesses of pubescent youthfulness and male territorial marking, and so provided an excellent canopy within which to grow a people of God, and a brilliant platform from which to proclaim the gospel. So, Evangelicals happily lived with the compromise of a church within a church, of a gathered fellowship of believers within a defined institutional structure.
Yet now, as the Anglican Church begins to falter, we Evangelicals find ourselves in confusion, no longer confident in the old methodology of a word-centred ministry within the framework of Anglican form. Not only have we lost faith in traditional Evangelical methodology, we now find our once united cause divided. Even the "Evangelical right" is divided and in conflict. We see again the emergence of sectarian tendencies. The only difference today is that the "sectarians" no longer leave the Anglican church to do their own thing, they stay to do it.
So, confusion reigns, not just in Anglicanism, but in the Evangelical party as well.
Let us consider some of the elements which have led to the Evangelical Anglican malaise since the 1950's.
Causes of the present Evangelical Anglican malaise
Protestants have never quite settled on the place of the law in the Christian life and therefore constantly slip from a full understanding of St.Paul's doctrine of justification, so brilliantly rediscovered by Martin Luther. The tendency has been to follow William Tyndale who saw a correlation between faith and works. The consequence of this partnership is the adoption of semi Pelagianism, of nomism or legalism. Of course, often there is a pendulum swing against nomism in the form of antinomism which tends to lead to "perfectionism" ("the victorious life" or "the higher life" movements).
In Anglican Evangelical circles the theological shift toward pietism seems to have begun in earnest around the 1970's. We buried Reformation Sunday and began to pension off the last of the old-style Evangelical clergy who still believed that the gospel was the power of God unto salvation (rather than the "how" we do church).
Pietism is sustained through a sanctification by works theology. That is, although we believe our salvation (often means "conversion") is gained by grace through faith, we tend to think our eternal security, God's approval of us, and our progress in the Christian life, is gained by works (effort applied to the law of God), rather than a gift of grace appropriated through faith. We believe that "Jesus loves good little boys and girls." The end result of this heresy, of nomism, legalism, is that our constant ("recurrent") failure is emphasised, prompting guilt and thus a loss of assurance. This in turn prompts guilt dissipation techniques (judgementalism...) and denial thinking (creative legalism....). The end of it all is pharisaism.
Many of us have taken our eyes off the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and seek to proceed by an effort of the will. All legalism does is foster a narrow view of Christianity. Legalism fosters "the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles", the doing of "approved" (pop evangelical) religious forms, to confirm and progress our standing in God's sight.
So pharisaism lies at the centre of our confusion.
Evangelicals have taken on board a flawed sociology. Instead of reading declining church attendance as a natural result of the further secularisation of the remaining nominal Christian community, we react as if Christianity itself is in decline. The need for denominational preservation and ministerial security, acceptance and success, drives us to rely on pragmatics.
Although Evangelicals have tended toward a Reformed theological position, our ministry programs are increasingly Arminian, ie. Calvinist in theory, but Arminian in practice. Having lost our sense of the sovereign grace of God, we now strive to build the Kingdom of God through effort and ingenuity. Technique, style, management, marketing..... becomes the means of gathering the lost and growing a people of God. The pragmatic adjustment of the doctrine of the church is a good example. We have abandoned the Biblical doctrine of church as "the gathered flock" (sheepfold) and replaced it with the rather strange notion of church as a "mission station" (fishing boat). Getting "bums on seats" is the name of the game. This in turn encourages our adoption of pop culture for "accessing" purposes.
So then, utilitarianism furthers our confusion.
We have taken the slogan, "a believer and his Bible", to its extreme. Ministers flout the authority of their Bishop, and defy their ordination vows. We often rule our congregations with little consultation, as if the church belongs to us, rather than to Christ and his gathered flock. All do "that which is right in their own eyes."
Stunned and submissive congregations now have to deal with the imposition of ever-changing ministry styles, and these imposed with no Biblical warrant. Those who dare to resist are charged with resisting the gospel. Behind the hoary old "offence to the gospel" argument, lies the curse of self-indulgence.
It must be said that quite a number of clergy have ignored their ordination vows and introduced a worship shape which is not Anglican. Even with Prayer Book revision now allowing variety and latitude in the liturgy of our church, introduced free-style forms of worship are seriously undermining Anglican uniformity. The problem is not so much that we have rebel clergy. Free-spirited Evangelicals have been with us since the "awakening". The problem is that now our Bishops don't bring us into line.
So, the Evangelical malaise is furthered in the breakdown of order.
The Women's Movement has had a devastating effect upon Evangelical Christianity. As we moved into the 70's we were a male-dominated church, and as guilty as sin. That guilt served to weaken our stand against socialist egalitarianism which was beginning to dominate the secular agenda. Sexism soon became the substantial watershed for evangelical Anglicans. As conservative Evangelicals took up defensive mode, a New Evangelical Movement emerged to do battle on traditional Biblical issues. The heart of the debate concerned a proper method of interpreting the scriptures. The battle has focused on whether Biblical theology is culturally affected. This has prompted a reinterpretation of "headship" and other ethical issues.
Many once conservative Evangelical clergy are now New Evangelical. We have introduced a fundamentally alien principle of Biblical interpretation which has greatly reduced our capacity to bring an authoritative word of God to our church.
So then, the undermining of Biblical authority expands our confusion.
Increasingly influenced by secular humanism, our view has moved from God to man, such that our focus is now subjective rather than objective. As a result, the church is no longer worship-orientated. Evangelicals have lost their God-centredness. Being man-centred prompts us to shape our church services and programs to affirm human needs. The package (the Asherah pole?) rather than the contents, becomes the important factor.
Secularised by our humanist culture, we adopt a person-centred pastoral theology, seeing our survival in marketing ("accessing") through the use of technology, psychology and management principles. Thus, we adopt "Amway" promotional schemes, forgetting that the gospel is only for the true seeker.
The church service is also subjected to our unthinking adoption of a secular agenda. Revamping our Evangelical "meeting" technology, we seek to counter declining nominal attendance ("gospel fodder") by turning to secular marketing and group dynamic methodologies. We import the "nouveau pseudo church" model of the Crystal Cathedral through to Willow Creek (popular age/interest-related outreach Sunday services supported by a small group ministry), without understanding that it is not really a church, but rather a marketing organisation, and in so doing establish a mechanism for socialising the children of middle-class baby-boomers into the Christian religion rather than into a true faith. We forget it was the pattern of the 50's and all it produced then was froth and bubble.
Against the hard-won rights of the local congregation, we see the adoption of secular notions of "efficiency of scale", of centralised power, strong leadership, to break the "log-jam" of congregational inefficiency. All the agenda of the secular city, of Babel.
So, our malaise increases as we adopt the agenda of the secular city.
Society constantly goes through generational change where it reinvents the wheel and paints it a different colour. In Australia, this century, we have gone through a generational change every 20 years. At this moment we are moving from red, white and blue, to green and gold. The church often picks up the atmosphere of change (often a generation later!) and gets out the paint brush as well. We call it "relevance", and often believe that a church's survival depends on its new colour scheme.
In the 50's we began introducing an extra less-formal service at the same time as Sunday School in an attempt to attract nominal parents to church. Sunday School had now moved from the afternoon slot to fit between the two morning services. The 11am members soon moved to the earlier Morning Prayer service and so the later service was discontinued. The direct result of the move was to remove children from the worshipping community of God's people. Not only had we divided a single congregation into four age-related congregations, but we had removed the next generation out of the Sunday service where they once learnt the worship traditions of our church. Now churched a non-conformist Sunday School opening, these young people soon entered the evening service and agitated for a similar "Wesleyan" service format. To keep their young people, Rectors gave them what they wanted. In years to come, some of these young people would offer themselves for ordination. Thus, we find today a large number of Anglican ministers, not only untrained in Anglican worship traditions, but opposed to them. So much for relevance.
In the name of relevance we rip off the robes and rip up the Prayer Book. We set out to make church attractive to the new generational push. We hype up our services with endless chorus-singing on the assumption that Australians like to sing (Australians only sing when they have a few on board). Yes, even when we try to be relevant we get it wrong. I recently watched a young minister take a wedding. The congregation in their finest, the groomsmen in tux's, the bride in a $3000 wedding dress and the minister in slacks and an open neck shirt. Few in the congregation thought he was relevant. One man's relevance is another man's lunacy!
It is more than likely that our present drive to dismantle Prayer Book Christianity, is but a reflection of generational change and is without substance. It only serves to confuse, divide and divert us.
Our malaise continues in the quest for relevance.
Although Anglican Evangelicals tend toward a conservative, rather than literalist approach to the Bible, we do often slip into fundamentalist mode. Whereas the Bible gives us broad principles of ecclesiology (a theology of the church) we tend to create a narrow and explicit church framework which divides and isolates us.
Of greater concern, we have picked up on the fundamentalist mood presently touching world religions, politics, ethics etc. The insecurity of our present age tends to encourage a harking back to the security of social and belief systems of the past. Such simplistic linear thinking applied to theology destroys the possibility of an open-minded analysis of revelation and of rational debate. For a Fundamentalist, to accept the possibility of counter views only destroys their man-made security.
Fundamentalism prompts narrow classifications of the brotherhood. For example, the term "reformed" often gets used as a narrow classification of believers. As a result, not only are Evangelical Anglicans isolating themselves from mainstream Anglicans, but we are dividing up into narrow groupings within the Evangelical party.
So, our problems increase through narrow bigotry.
Following Wesley's lead, Evangelicals have tended to flirt with second blessing theology. When Pentecostalism burst into the mainline denominations in the early 1970's, we tended to reject much of the theology, yet we did begin to toy with the worship forms of the Charismatic revival movement. Evangelicals are naturally attracted to revivalism, and so we have adopted Charismatic technology so as to emulate their results. The adoption of climactic choruses, overhead projectors, bands, female song-leaders, and the like, do not sit easily with a liturgical service. The origins of Pentecostalism in the Negro Holiness movement of the U.S.A. clash with our English "catholic" origins. Our unthinking adoption of Charismatic technology has left us confused when it comes to the business of doing church.
Finally then, the adoption of worship forms incompatible with liturgy further compounds the Evangelical Anglican malaise.
So then, the malaise of Evangelicalism itself has further compounded the present difficulties experienced in the Anglican Church. We have every reason to smell the aroma of death about us. This has prompted a number of schemes to boost attendance and so deny the angel of death.
Failed restoration strategies used to overcome declining church attendance
We are constantly seeking some answer for falling attendance. In the past, Evangelical Christians put it down to a failure of evangelism. Our response was to pray for revival. Liberal Christians often identify the problem as a failure of the church to address the social needs of society. Their response is to try to make the church socially relevant. Puritans will tend to identify the cause of the problem as the compromised belief and practice of the church. Their response is to further reform the church. Charismatics will identify a dearth of the infilling Spirit. Their response is to affirm Spirit-filled ministries. "Catholics" often identify the problem in sacramental terms. They call for a purity of form. Let us now consider three of the solutions presently adopted in Evangelical Anglican circles.
i] Let's have a revival meeting
From the earliest days of my introduction into the Evangelical community of the Anglican Church, I learnt to pray for revival. We dreamt of revival, hoped for it. Given that the Evangelical party had its origins in mass revival, it is only natural that we hope for a historic repeat of the Evangelical revival that swept the English-speaking world.
Yet, we have never quite accepted that the Evangelical revival finally petered out in Wales early this century. We have certainly not accepted that Australia has hardly ever been touched by revival. Revivals that occurred, tended to be localised, and often found in Welsh mining communities.
Some years ago, I served in the Parish of Helensburgh in New South Wales, and I found, while writing a parish history, that the local Methodist Church was once touched by a revival which had similarly affected a number of South Coast mining communities. It was fascinating to observe the "Welsh" link and to see how that revival was secularised. The religious fervour of church attendance soon moved into the local Welsh choir, the Protestant Lodge and the Workers' Club. The church was handed back to the "women's police".
It is a rather sad thought, but it is most likely that Evangelicals in this century have lived on the faded power of what was nothing more than a sociological phenomenon. We cling to the musical forms of another era; we even ritualise its dogma. The gospel we proclaim is bereft of power and outside the cognitive process of most of our fellow countrymen. It is the message of another age. We take the atonement theology of Calvin, the personal experience of Wesley and the polemic of the American evangelists, and regurgitate it ad infinitum to deaf ears. Our theology is true enough, as was that of the Pharisees. We just forget to proclaim the good news of the grace of God in the risen Christ. As the former Archbishop of Sydney, Sir Marcus Loane, often tried to remind his clergy, the Christian faith focuses on an "empty tomb".
The traditional response of Evangelicals to declining numbers of church attenders, is to work and pray for revival. The simplistic answer, for many years, was to organise a Billy Graham crusade. Today, the technology of "the sawdust trail" lives on in revival programs supported by American person-to-person "selling" systems. In typical "pyramid selling" style, the impact of these systems declines, but we still dream of an Australian revival. With little Biblical warrant to support the view that revival (in the terms of mass conversions) is "according to God's will", we pray for revival. All this is a far cry from the instructions of our Master who illustrated the business of evangelism in the words "go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find."
We Evangelicals have turned the gospel into a ritual which we believe will counter falling church attendance.
ii] A return to purity
Many Evangelicals see declining numbers in the terms of judgement. Falling numbers is the product of faithlessness. There are two basic streams, or answers, to this perceived failure. There is the Charismatic movement and the Puritan movement.
The Charismatic revival is a return to pure Wesleyanism. It sources Wesley's stress on a personal experience of Christ within the framework of second blessing theology. Naturally, Charismatic Christians would reject such a description of their movement. For them, it is a return to the roots of New Testament Christianity. Twenty-five years ago, when the Charismatic revival moved into the mainline churches, it was claimed that this movement of the Spirit would unite the people of God and reap an abundant harvest for Christ. Any honest assessment of the movement would have to admit that it has only further divided the people of God and dissipated their witness.
The Puritan movement is a return to the puritanism of the post-Reformation, of the Scottish church and the Congregationalism of the Commonwealth period, and is imbibed with the secular humanism of our age (ie., the focus is on human needs, rather than on God's grace). This thinking stresses the purity of Reformed theology, ethical pietism, and in particular, proselytising. Proponents of this view seek to further the reformation of the Anglican Church, removing "catholic" form, separating from the "liberal" dioceses of the Anglican communion and so establishing an uncompromised New Testament church. Sadly, history is littered with the wrecks of puritan churches.
Purity of church form is seen by many Evangelicals as the way to counter falling church attendance.
iii] The "Church Growth" strategy
For many Evangelicals, the strategy of the moment, to counter falling church attendance, is Church Growth. As a system, it identifies the group in our community most likely to respond to the marketing of the Christian faith. It seeks to develop strategies for targeting that group and accessing them into the local church community. The problem is that we may only be creating a new batch of weeds. That is, the secular dynamics of Church Growth may only serve to socialise people into the Christian religion rather than into true faith.
Consider the example of how easily we incorporate young people into a youth fellowship group. Puberty is a difficult time in our human development and the support of an identifiable peer group decreases our fears and shapes our ideals. Yet, we know that most young people, who give their life to Christ, enthusiastically pray, read their Bible, witness, etc. soon have nothing to do with the Christian church. Fellowship simply serves to help them through that particular life-stage. Once into work, off to Uni., married, only a handful of psychologically dependent people and a remnant of believers remain church attenders. The rest wistfully remember their youthful excursion into religion.
Yet, those who left the church as teenagers can easily be caught up again into a new group dynamic that will support the years of suburban loneliness, the difficulty of child-rearing and of the marriage relationship. Not only can the ex-fellowship member be sold the new dynamic, but their friends and neighbours of the soulless secular city can also be sold the dynamic of the Friendly Church Community. Thus they find purpose for their life. We mind their kids, set up pre-schools, develop friendship groups, marriage encounter, and we run our services like a daytime talk show with lots of music. We tie them into a bright, friendly, caring community. Yet do they find Christ? They come to say the words, depend on the structure; but! The truth is, you can sell anything to anybody if you pull the right strings. No, we have just bred up a new batch of "weeds".
The point is simple enough. We are slowly moving out of socialised Christianity. It was the done thing to go to church. It gave a framework to life, but for the majority, eternal life was most probably not part of the deal. The last thing we need to do is start playing the socialising game again with the middle-class children of the baby-boomers. Growing a church by means of management skills, marketing the faith, employing sociological and group dynamics criteria to fill our pews on Sundays, destroys the cutting-edge of the gospel and dilutes the faithful. We all know in our hearts that the way you grow a church is through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.
So yes, for some, the technology of "mega-church" seems the saviour.
Given the depth of our present malaise and the doubtful nature of our strategies to overcome declining church attendance, we may conclude that there is little value in Evangelicals trying to struggle on in the Anglican Church. Yet, there is value, and it lies with the gathering and nurture of a remnant people of God within the overarching Anglican institutional framework.
A Biblical strategy: gather and nurture "the remnant"
The faith of secular man has moved from the robed priest to the robed technocrat. The doctor, the scientist, now has the answers. Both the State and the individual have adopted new gods to give meaning to human aspirations. Society has found new secular prophets. Yet, this shift is not a shift in substance. It is a sociological phenomenon, rather than a spiritual one. It does not intersect with the gathered remnant of Christ's followers.
i] The remnant and society
The righteous remnant of Israel (Isaiah 37), the true Adam, encapsulated around the "chosen" line, finally culminates in the one and only righteous remnant of Israel, namely Jesus. In association with Jesus a remnant again forms of those like the apostle Paul, who identify with Christ's death and resurrection. They are saved by grace, not by works, inheritance or National association. "Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel," Rom.9:6. Gentile believers are grafted to this remnant.
The Bible exegetes the issue of nominalism for us in the theology of the "remnant", Rom.9:27, 11:5. Faithful Israel was but a remnant of the visible children of Israel. The remnant in Elijah's day was 7,000 of all Israel. Yet, what of the vast majority who attended the same shrines, the same Tabernacle as the 7,000? They had slipped into syncretic worship; they bent the knee to Baal. They worshipped the nature gods, but did so in the framework of the religion of Yahweh. They found meaning and identity in the religion of Israel, yet they did not worship the God of Israel. The Jews of Jesus' day were faithful Bible-believing, synagogue-attending children of God. Yet, the majority did not follow Jesus, they did not see the day of their salvation. In the end, only a remnant was saved.
In Western society, Christianity was adopted as the State religion to bind the nation together. That's our heritage in the Anglican Church. To a people constantly faced with the uncertainty of life, it gave meaning and purpose. Our generation has actually witnessed the final flush of socialised Christianity in the post-war middle-class flirtation with church association. We have also witnessed the realisation of middle-class eschatology in the blessing of upward mobility. Of course, realised eschatology removes the necessity of church attendance.
As a result, the church today is increasingly made up of a remnant of true believers because socialised believers have left in their droves. Christianity is therefore in a better position today than it has ever been. A few hundred years ago the majority of Anglo-Saxons went to church. Up till the 1950's, the church was well attended. Now numbers have hit rock-bottom. Yet, what brought people to church in the "good old days" was often not related to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The drop in church attendance has most likely only increased the proportion of true believers in the church. There is therefore no need to worry about falling numbers. Christianity is not about to die out. The church is not necessarily on its death-bed. The institution may be stressed. We are certainly finding it increasingly difficult to maintain our top-heavy centralised administration, our historic buildings and our full-time professional clergy, yet in the pews there remains a viable remnant community of God's people.
So then, under the shadows of the "secular city" and within socialised institutional Christianity, there exists a remnant worshipping community of believers ready to be discipled in the faith. The management of this "two or three gathered together" is not a size promotional one, but is rather the shaping of a worshipping community of believers bound together in love, reaching out to the lost. The church is God's remnant people bowed before him. Our business is to realise that truth.
ii] The remnant and the Anglican church
The crucial question we face is this: is Anglican form a viable framework for remnant Christianity or is it an "old wine skin" past its use-by date?
The Anglican Church is particularly well-suited to operate as a framework for a remnant community of believers (a "corner store" operation). This is not to say that it is anything more than a framework of human devising. It is not in itself the church. The church is the congregation in union with Christ. As a friend of mine once commented after a diocesan regional conference, "somewhere in there is the church of Christ"; indeed, somewhere in there. Nor could we argue that the Anglican church doesn't need a trim around the edges, a little less British and a little more Australian; a little less archaic and little more modern. Yet, consider the qualities of Anglicanism:
A sound and simple church
Our church possesses an uncomplicated style of Christianity where a fellowship of congregations is bound together by a common form of liturgical worship, a common Biblical faith as in the Creeds and the Articles of Religion, and a common rule under a godly Bishop. All this is set out in our prayer books (BCP, AAPB and APBA). Being Anglican means being both "catholic" and "reformed". We inherit the form and faith of the ancient apostolic church, and weld that with the Biblical fire of the Reformation.
In the preface of the first Prayer Book of Edward VI, 1549, Cranmer laid down five principles for the received English apostolic church reformed. They were:
i] Preservation. The retention of English worship traditions.
ii] Simplicity. Simple services that relied on the "often reading and meditation in God's Word."
iii] Purity. The removal of anything that was contrary to scripture.
iv] Common tongue. A worship form in the language of the people.
v] Uniformity. A common use. "Now from henceforth all the whole realm shall have but one Use".
Against the diverse, complex and relative shape of our age, stands the timeless and uncomplicated shape of Anglicanism, a sound and simple form of government, faith and worship.
The government of our church centres on the local parish. Here the clergyman is able to personally minister to a community of believers, under the oversight of a Bishop whose role is to see it is done as "received". There can be no more effective ministry than a devoted pastor and teacher operating in a local community to build up God's people and reach out to the lost.
The faith of our church is clearly and simply set out in the creeds and 39 articles. We even have a simple gospel outline in the Catechism which serves to introduce the faith.
The worship of our church, detailed in our three Prayer Books, provides services, both Sunday and occasional, which work as well with three hundred people as with three. Prayer book worship can be one of the most effective ways for old and young, educated and uneducated, to adore Christ. It is not the only way, but it is our way.
So, Anglicanism affirms the simple faith of Christ's remnant people.
A congregational church
This may be a bold statement, but in truth the Anglican church is lay centred, not clergy centred. The church is the people, not the priest. In the Anglican church the congregation is protected from the personal agendas of powerful leaders by the legal and moral demand that they do it as authorised. Clergy are to lead according to a form the congregation has committed itself to, not to a form thought up in the minister's study.
Against the wonderful schemes, management plans, visions, etc. that cross the mind of we clergy, the prayer book simply tells the clergy to be pastors and teachers of the flock, and to seek out the lost. Nothing there about managing change, or being accountable to this or that scheme, "blown here and there by every wind of teaching". Against the personal agendas and styles of individual clergy who "would innovate all things", our prayer books detail the faith and adoration of the gathered people of God.
So, Anglicanism affirms the remnant as community.
A church with links to the wider society
Although no longer legally an established church, it is our heritage. In that sense we are rightly The Church of Australia. Although this notion is constantly attacked by puritan Anglicans, we are by nature a church which happily associates ourselves with, and opens our doors to, the wider local community. Yes! even welcome the opportunity "to baptise infants". We are not a closed fellowship of believers. Some 25% of the Australian population still see us as theirs.
So Anglicanism affirms the remnant "in the world."
The Anglican Church provides a specialised framework in which to know and serve Christ. There is little point in abandoning it, little point in moving ourselves into the saturated market of nonconformity, given that the "popular" market is an ever-shrinking one. Why not stick with what we've got, what we're good at? Our numbers may remain small, even constrict further. So what? Remember, it only has to be two or three. And to that remnant we can provide a specialised form of Christianity, unique even, the interesting blend of being both "reformed" and "catholic". The edge of the coin, if you like.
Being Anglican fits well with being a remnant community of believers, but is that an effective framework for Evangelical Bible-believing Anglicans?
iii] The remnant and Evangelicals
When John Wesley grasped the full meaning of St.Paul's doctrine of justification by grace through faith, the fire of the "great awakening" was kindled. Wesley, like most Anglican clergy of the time, had not grasped the full extent of God's grace. Like most children of the Reformation, he had slipped back into a form of pietism. Getting saved was through faith in Christ, but staying that way and progressing in the Christian life was a matter of effort, of works.
Although the majority of the "Methodists" left the Anglican church, some of the children of the "great awakening" remained to found the Evangelical party. Remaining loyal to prayer book Christianity, they focused on their love of the "evangel". Within the frame of Anglican form, they nurtured a people of God and reached out to the lost. They happily worked within the frame of the received English apostolic church reformed, even though human in its devising, because they knew that Christ grows his church through the proclamation of the Word of God. It is all of grace, through faith.
The Evangelical clergy tended to use the Anglican frame in two particular ways:
First, as a sheep-fold to build-up believers;
Second, as a fishing-boat to reach out to the lost.
The centre of Evangelical ministry lay in the building up of the people of God through the teaching of the Word of God. The Sunday sermon and weekly Bible study served to nurture the congregation and so realise the true substance of church. In partnership with nurture, Evangelical ministry gave great weight to evangelism. Although the congregation was constantly reminded of the substance of the gospel, evangelism proceeded via occasional services, special services and events, and face-to-face pastoral ministry. In this way the Anglican frame was used to serve both nurture and evangelism.
This fairly simple approach to Anglicanism was clouded by the Oxford movement and later Liberalism. The Oxford movement prompted a suspicion of liturgy, while Liberalism prompted a suspicion of reason. Thus, the seeds for our present malaise were sown.
Although by 1800 only some 5% of Anglican clergy were Evangelical, the party developed into a strong force within the church. Sadly, at the very time when loyalty to the Prayer Book and a reliance on the Word of God proclaimed, could have shone out as a beacon to an ailing church, we Evangelicals have turned in on ourselves and shuffled toward schism.
Yet, against this malaise, the traditional Evangelical model is as good today as it ever was. Within the framework of this rather "peculiar" catholic and protestant institution, it is still possible to nurture believers and reach out to the lost. The careful exposition and application of scripture to the faithful, and the communication of the gospel to the wider community, is still the means Christ uses to build his church.
When it comes to nurture, it is easier than it ever was, seeing the church is increasingly a remnant. Yet what of outreach? Have we lost our ties with the wider Australian community? There has certainly been a change in the relationship nominal Anglicans have with their church. They don't come to it much, but they still call it theirs. In the Anglican church we have witnessing access to millions of nominal members.
So then, for a lover of the evangel, the Anglican Church still perfectly fits our desire to build up a people of God and reach out to the lost.
If the Anglican Church fits well the Biblical shape of a remnant community, and is still an effective organisation in which Evangelicals can seek to nurture the people of God and reach out to the lost, how then do we break out of our present malaise?
iv] A way forward
We Evangelical members of the Anglican Church need to return to the substance of our association. We must be fired again with the reformation truth that "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast", Eph.2:8,9. Given that Christ's Kingdom "is not of this world", and the gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes", let us abandon system and return to the substance of the Word proclaimed. Let us see ourselves as a remnant community of disciples focused on the substantial worship of Christ. We gather to meet with Jesus, and in that meeting we adore him, we praise, thank, confess, pray to and hear him. Then, united with Christ and each other, and filled with the knowledge of God, we go out again into the world to proclaim our Lord. We must therefore not be distracted by few attenders and end up getting ourselves into the "bums-on-seats" business. We must focus on the Word.
When it comes to the structure, the institutional framework of the Anglican Church, we need to again recommit ourselves to the uniformity of prayer book Christianity. We must do this, not because the Prayer Book is the only way of doing church, not even necessarily the best way of doing church, but that it is a Biblical way of doing church, and it is our way of doing church, a way entrusted to us by godly men and women who have gone before. Prayer book Christianity is tried and true, it has preserved "the deposit", and integrity demands that we maintain uniformity that gospel ministry may continue.
So then, in summary, let us look at the essential elements of substance and structure necessary for the survival of Evangelical Anglicanism.
Proclaim the faith: gather and nurture
a] We are saved to freely share God's bounty. "The unsearchable riches of Christ", both now and forever, is wholly a gift of God's grace in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as proclaimed in the gospel, and is appropriated through a simple child-like trust in Jesus, Eph.2:8-10.
b] We are saved to gather, to form as an eternal community, a family of God. Church is the gathering of two or three with Jesus. We meet with Jesus to worship him (adore him) and be renewed through his Spirit through the hearing of the proclaimed Word. In this way we taste and anticipate our reign together with Christ, Eph.1:22, 2:14-22, 4:1-16.
c] We are saved to serve. The truth proclaimed shapes us for our rule with Christ in eternity as we learn to love ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and as we reach out to the lost through the proclamation of gospel, Eph.4:17-5:20.
Maintain Anglican uniformity
Cranmer's 5 principles for the reformation of the English church and the parameters of prayer book Christianity as clearly defined in BCP and maintained with some latitude in AAPB and APBA. We need to affirm again the substance of our Anglican heritage:
a] A simple faith. A conservative, reformed, Biblical faith as focused in the Creeds, the Catechism (although as an Evangelical I do have to admit that I choke on the 1604 addition on "the Sacraments") and the Articles of Religion.
a] A profound worship tradition. A substantial form of worship as outlined in our prayer books. A liturgical prayer-form with an emphasis on the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It is the niche all Anglican churches should seek to continue to fill, rather than trying to emulate the worship patterns of our non-conformist brothers and sisters. Worship should be substantial.
c] Parish ministry. A local Parish community of fellowshipping and evangelising believers, the framework of which is clearly defined in the Articles and the Ordinal. We must affirm inclusive localised Parish ministry. In substance the Anglican Church is a fellowship of worshipping congregations open to the local community.
d] Orders of ministry. An episcopal eldership with orders of ministry: bishops, priests and deacons. We must resist the present tendency for everyone to do that which is right in their own eyes.
"A dance without spirit is just pretty moves." Shape without substance is a vile thing. The Anglican institution of itself is not substantial, but it has served as a wonderful framework for Evangelical Biblical ministry in the past, and there is no reason why it cannot serve that role in the future.
Is there any point in Evangelicals remaining in the Anglican Church, living with its broad encompassing ways and preserving its "reformed catholic" traditions? There certainly is! The Anglican Church serves as an effective framework for gospel ministry and if it is left alone, it will continue to provide a positive environment for the upbuilding of God's people and outreach to our broken world.
Each generation of Evangelicals will have to make its own assessment of the worth of this strange "old lady". We have no right to substantially change the nature of a church form entrusted to us. We can remain or leave, but can't stay and destroy.
As for this child of the enlightenment, I cannot express enough the worth of twenty-five years in Anglican ministry. The exceeding complexity of ministry today stretches me to the limit, but none-the-less, I happily remain an Evangelical Anglican.
"Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom" Luke.12:32.
A Biblical Survey1. Worshipping in spirit and in truth
Does an Anglican shape sit well with a Biblical view of church? As the reader is aware, the Biblical nature of church is an issue of continual debate, let alone whether the Anglican church aligns with it. This paper has implied that Evangelical Anglicans in Sydney face the danger of becoming the "church of the absent Christ". We have forgotten that the purpose of our gathering together is to meet with Christ. The church is a gathering of believers with the risen Lord. Article XIX of the Thirty-Nine Articles clearly defines the visible church in terms of a worshipping congregation.
i] A Congregation
What is the church? Answers range from an organisation to a building. As far as the New Testament is concerned, the word ekklhsia always means a congregation - an assembly or gathering. There are many different types of assemblies, eg. Political rallies, Acts.19:32. The type that concerns us is the Christian assembly. The common usage of the word "church" in the New Testament is of local gatherings of believers. Whenever two or three meet in Christ's name, he promises to be present, Matt.18:20. The church is a gathering around Christ at a certain time in a certain place.
Yet there is another way of viewing the church. The gathering in the here and now images the gathering of believers in heaven. This is the "church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" and who are "seated with him in the heavenly places", Eph.2:6, cf. Col.3:1-4. In reality, believers are assembled at this very moment with Christ in heaven. We are even now part of that great multitude assembled around Christ, Rev.7:9. The writer to the Hebrews sees the church that Christ is building as a heavenly assembly. It is a congregation which fulfils the gathering of Israel before Mount Sinai, Ex.19:4,5. We gather before the heavenly Zion, Heb.12:18-24.
So then, the church is a local gathering of believers with Christ which images the heavenly assembly.
ii] A Worshipping Congregation
What is the church supposed to do? In simple terms we might say that the purpose of the church is to meet, yet more specifically its purpose is to meet with Christ. If it is to meet with Christ, what are we to do when we meet? As far as the New Testament is concerned, when a believer meets their risen Lord, they worship him. We meet to bow before our living God in adoring wonder, praising him, thanking him, asking of him and hearing him.
Much of the problem we face over doing church relates to a misunderstanding of the word "worship". We have been misled by our Bible translators. They translate two basic Greek words (both with Hebrew equivalents) into the English word, "worship". This is not done consistently, but enough to give us the idea that the words are integrally linked. The words are latreuw, which means something like to minister, to do worthy service, and proskunew, which means to bow before, go down on the knees, to do obeisance.... in reverential fear, adoration, awe and wonder. The result of this link is that we end up regarding worship as something like, "giving God his worth in our day-to-day living for him." In that sense, we have removed the word "worship" from its particular religious ceremonial sense and given it a far wider meaning. We have then argued against the idea that a church meeting is about the doing of adoration.
A simple check of key Bible passages will expose the problem.
The worship word: proskunew. 1Cor.14:25, Rev.7:11, 11:16, Luke.24:52. The disciples worship the risen Lord, Matt.28:9,17, Luke.24:52. These usages indicate awe and reverence to the living God.
The service word, latreuw. For Rom.9:4, 12:1, the word "worship" has been used in some translations when a word like "service" would be more appropriate. Heb.9:14, Rev.7:15, the word "serve" is used in these cases. Hebrews 12:28 is again another example of a misuse of the word "worship". The NIV uses "worship" rather than "serve" and so interferes with a proper understanding of the word.
When believers gather together there is a sense where they gather in the eternal realms with Christ and a sense where they gather with Christ here on earth, Matt.18:20. Adoration (worship) is the natural response of a believer who has come into the presence of Christ. Like Peter we cry, "depart from me for I am a sinful man." Even more powerful is the response of the adulterous woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. When we meet with Jesus we respond in adoration.
The substance of congregational worship/adoration is not hard to define. We "speak to one another (antiphonally!) with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs", Eph.5:19. Praise, thanksgiving (Eph.5:20) and prayer are constantly referred to in the scriptures. Of central place is the hearing of the Word of God through the ministry of the Prophets and Pastor/Teachers, Eph.4:11-13, Col.3:16, Heb.10:25. "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation, I will sing your praises", Heb.2:12.
This is certainly the shape of an Anglican service. When we gather for Prayer Book worship, God is set before us in the sentences of scripture, we bow in recognition of our unworthiness, we are reminded of the good news of God's grace toward us in Christ, we respond in praise and thanksgiving, we pray to Christ, and we are encouraged to rest on God's grace through faith in the Word proclaimed.
As for the style of worship, there is no particular Biblical requirement. All that is required is that we "worship the Father in Spirit and truth." Worship services either focus on the imminent Christ or the transcendent Christ. Both styles are valid. Anglican worship is transcendent.
So then, the church is a gathering of believers for the purpose of worshipping Christ. It exists, not so much to access unbelievers, but to access the "still small voice" of God. Such is Anglican worship.
2. The Christian walk
The church is certainly a community, a gathered fellowship of believers, but its purpose is not really to function as a spiritual gymnasium, education centre or mission station. Yet it is true to say that the gathering of believers aids the individual believer in their pursuit of holiness, their love for the brotherhood and their outreach to the lost. The Anglican church aids us in our Christian walk.
i] A personal walk with Christ
Developing a right relationship with God the Father through the Spirit.
Spirituality. The intimate friendship or union we have with Christ is a heavenly reality which is made real for us now through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, Jn.4:15-18, Rom.8:1-27. The Bible describes this union as: abiding in Christ, John.15:5, Christ in us, Gal.2:20, members of Christ's body, 1Cor.6:15-19, marriage, Eph.5:23-32. Our friendship with Christ is similar to a human relationship in that it can be harmed, grieved, or enhanced in love, union and oneness. It is unlike other human relationships in that we cannot see Christ face to face, Phil.1:21-26, 3:10-14. There are limitations, 1Cor.13:12. The objective touch of Jesus is experienced when he teaches us all things, renews us, equips and empowers us for service, Rom.12:1-8, cares and encourages, answers prayer and disciplines. The subjective touch of Jesus is experienced in a sense of acceptance, hope, trust, Rom.4:21, 8:38, fatherly care, Rom.8:15-17, a sense of being filled with the fullness of the love of God, Eph.3:16-19, joy, 1Pet.1:8, and peace, Phil.4:4-7. All these elements are prompted in the word-centred liturgy of our church. The gathering of God's people serves to expedite our oneness in Christ. It is in the loving care of the brotherhood that Jesus manifests himself to us. When we touch each other in love we touch Jesus, Matt.11:25-30, 25:31-46, Jn.13-17, 1John.
Sinlessness. Believers today need to return to a simple faith in Jesus. There is nothing that pleases God the Father more than a child-like acceptance of his Son; knowing that in Jesus we stand completely forgiven and approved in the sight of God; knowing that in Jesus we are daily being shaped by his indwelling Spirit, shaped by the renewing work of the Holy Spirit apart from subjection to the law. Faith manifesting itself in love is the fruit of God's unmerited grace. The reformed theology of the Book of Common Prayer encourages us to see that our standing in the sight of God is "by grace alone" and "not by works lest any man should boast", Eph.2:1-10.
ii] Upbuilding our Christian community
Encouraging and equipping.
The command of Christ is that we "love one another", John.13:34. This love is primarily exercised within the Christian fellowship, toward our brothers and sisters in the Lord, 1Pet.2:17 - "the least of these brothers of mine" , Matt.25:40, "the poor in spirit", Matt.5:3. This love within the Christian fellowship serves as the sign of the dawning Kingdom to a dying world, Jn.13:35, 16:7-8, 17:20-23. Love is seen in encouraging and caring for one another, 1Thes.4:1-12, and equipping each other for service through the exercise of spiritual gifts, Rom.12:1-8, Eph.4:1-16. The business of encouraging best develops within the life of a worshipping community, a "one people" church. This is very much the shape of traditional Anglican parish life.
The business of equipping believers for service is achieved through the proclamation of the Word from the pulpit Sunday by Sunday,1Cor.14:26-33. A Biblical teaching ministry is the role of an Anglican clergyman - "to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; to teach and forewarn, to feed and provide for the Lord's family; to seek for Christ's sheep who are scattered abroad, and for his children who are surrounded by temptation in this world, that they may be saved through Christ for ever."
iii] Reaching out to the lost
Powerfully presenting the claims of Jesus by word and action.
Bringing Christ to a broken world by word. In simple terms, salvation is available only to those who come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, Jn.3:16, 14:6. The gospel proclaims who Jesus is and what he has done for us, 1Cor.15:1-4. He is Lord and God, he has risen from the dead and because he lives we may live also, Ac.2:32-33. The church serves to preserve the purity of the gospel, 1Tim.3:15. Believers are to equip each other with the pure gospel that each may give a defence of their faith when asked to do so, 1Pet.3:15. The fellowship of believers also facilitates those gifted as evangelists, setting them apart for the work of evangelism, Eph.4:11. In facilitating evangelism, the Anglican institution is an excellent platform through which church members may, as individuals or as a group, effectively make the gospel known. Our church, more than any other, provides a marvellous structural channel for evangelism to the many who claim a nominal association.
Bringing Christ to a broken world by sign. "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples." Evangelicals have often ignored the social element of the gospel. We are not just to proclaim the Kingdom, but to live it. The imperfection of the present age limits the degree to which we can realise the reign of Christ in the world, let alone in the church or in our personal lives. None-the-less, live it we must. We must be merciful as God is merciful - "He sends the rain on the just and the unjust alike." The Anglican church can be proud of its caring ministry.
The Anglican Church is a reformed, congregational, worship-centred church. She may be a peculiar old lady, but to the degree we are able to develop an accurate ecclesiology, she is Biblical. For that reason alone, Evangelicals should respect her eccentricities.
3. The issue of compromise
Trying to serve Christ in a human organisation like the Anglican church, remaining faithful to scripture and to the formularies of our church, is a complex juggling act. How do we live with compromise?
This paper cannot properly tackle this issue. I simply raise it and hint at my own way of surviving with one foot in heaven and one foot on earth. This I know, in Christ I stand acceptable in the sight of God, by grace through faith. As for everything else, I do what I can.
I was converted after my mother told me it was about time I had my daughter "done". At the service we prayed for the sanctifying of the "water for the mystical washing away of sin", If these words have power, they surely only have power to the children of the faithful. Yet I am thankful that an Anglican Rector condescended to say the words for my child, for the event opened me to Christ.
For an Evangelical to survive in the Anglican Church without becoming neurotic, we are bound to have to compromise. We end up having to accept that the Anglican Church is a broad religious organisation of human devising, closely linked to the secular society.
If Baptism is for the children of believers only, Confirmation for believers only, Communion for believers in fellowship only..... then we Evangelicals had better leave the Anglican Church. We had better join or form a church which adopts the stance of a holy people apart from the corrupt secular society, for the ethos of the Anglican Church is certainly not a closed fellowship of believers. There are many exclusive churches around, but that is not the Anglican model. We have a history of being established, of being linked to the wider secular society.
Trying to be a sheep-fold and a fishing-boat demands compromise. When it comes to our Sunday services, we need to compromise very little. The remnant is increasingly those who attend. Our whole focus can be on Christ, who is in our midst. We can be fully about hearing Christ. In that environment we can be one. As for many of the other ministrations of the church, such as occasional services, evangelism can be our focus. Yet in the end there is always some conflict of purpose, and so compromise remains our daily friend.
For Evangelicals to maintain their sanity and their faith, nurturing the remnant and reaching out to the lost, all within the framework of the Anglican institution, it is necessary to accept some compromise. cf. 1Cor.7.
First published as a monograph in 1992, with a revised second edition in 1996
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