The Church and Evangelism
The article is posted on behalf of the lateRev. J. Stewart, M. A.
York Y06 5DZ
The present unhappy plight of the Church of England can be properly understood and faced only in the light of history. Though there are many difficulties, confusions and problems in detail there is one fundamental fact underlying them all.
Roughly and crudely, for her first 500 years the Church was a missionary sect in a hostile and often persecuting world. For the next 500 years she was growing and spreading throughout the pagan world. But in the 500 years of the Middle Ages she had so grown and spread that she aspired to be, and largely was, not a sect but a civilization, co-terminous with society, and at least in theory conditioning all its aspects.
That Christendom in the last 500 years has been undermined and destroyed; religiously by the Reformation, politically by Nationalism, economically by Capitalism, philosophically by the Enlightenment. In the twentieth century two world wars, modern communications, the Last/West political and the North/South economic divides, immigration, and many other things have produced a society with no coherent philosophy, ideology or morality, except secular humanism.
So the Church today is in very much the position of the Early Church, totally different from that of the Mediaeval Church. But the Church of England pretends that she is living in conditions that disappeared long ago. She continues with the methods and assumptions that were appropriate in the Middle Ages but are wholly inappropriate now. To continue the old methods and policy is to be as out of touch with reality and as ineffective as to use the tactics and weapons of the Boer War in 1940.
There are two intelligible positions for the Church in the world. She can be a distinctive missionary body in a non-Christian society, like the Early Church. She can be the religious aspect of a Christian society, like the Mediaeval Church. What is unintelligible and impracticable is precisely what the Church of England is doing; thinking and acting in ways inherited from the past in the totally different present.
If the Church of England is to be realistic and relevant and effective in the world today, she must become what she was in the similar situation of the Early Church, a distinctive missionary body, believing a distinctive faith, and living a distinctive life, obviously different from the society in which she is embedded and which it is her vocation to convert.
As a consequence of this refusal to face facts the Church of England today has compromised disastrously with the secular humanism of society and has lamentably watered down her Gospel. To many people nowadays she has become a negligible relic of the past, organising church services that few want to attend and maintaining amateurishly social services that are provided professionally by the Welfare State and other agencies.
Archbishops Davidson and Lang who guided the Church of England from 1903 to 1942 followed the policy of keeping in step with society and public opinion while avoiding any appearance of challenge or opposition. (See Bell's 'Randall Davidson' vol.2, p.7951, also Lockhart's 'Cosmo Gordon, Lang' p.377f and p. 456f). This may have been the right policy at the end of the nineteenth century, but it was becoming increasingly inappropriate in the beginning of the twentieth.
Archbishop Temple, who was profoundly concerned with Theology and with what was called Christian Sociology (it has now completely disappeared) and therefore with Evangelism, in the middle of the Second World War planned the future very differently. He called the Church to Evangelism and appointed a strong commission (half lay) whose report - Towards the Conversion of England - appeared after his death dedicated to his memory
He rightly asserted that the primary duty of the Church is Evangelism, particularly in England in the middle of the twentieth century.
Sadly, he died after only two years at Canterbury, and his successor had very different priorities. According to Roger Lloyd's 'The Church of England 1900-1965' p. 466, Archbishop Fisher 'had resolved to devote himself and all the resources of the position he held to the achievement of two purposes. The first was the reform of the administrative procedures of the Church the second to further and deepen the togetherness of Christian people everywhere'.
Though lip-service was paid to extravert Evangelism, it was Fisher's introversion that has prevailed ever since. It could have been argued that the Church should 'put her own house in order' before proceeding to Evangelism, as a means to that end; but we have gone on doing it while forgetting the end for which it was but the means. Mackinnon wrote 'Historians of the Church of England may yet recognise that the worst misfortune to befall its leadership in the end of the war was less the premature death of William Temple than his succession by Fisher of London, and not Bell of Chichester.'
In 1946, inspired by Temple and Towards the Conversion of England, a small group of young priests in Hull produced two papers (Garbett called them the Hull Broadsheets) which we circulated to all the clergy in the York diocese, and which we later sent (as a single pamphlet called The Church and Evangelism in England Today a practical proposal) to the Convocations and all members of the Church Assembly. In the first we argued that in the new situation in which the people of England were no longer Christian (if they ever had been) the Church of England should no longer pretend to embrace them all indiscriminately (though of course she must care for them all). Instead she should become again a distinctive body, living a distinctive life, inspired by a distinctive faith. As Temple and his report were ignored so of course was our little effort.
Nearly fifty years ago we foresaw what would happen. We wrote
'If the Church continues in the old ways (as of course she has done) it is easy to foresee what will happen. There will be a plethora of conferences, commissions and reports; a vast elaboration of machinery and organisation - a sure sign of decay and a spate of exhortations, appeals. denunciations and other eloquence. But unless there is a real revival of the spirit in the councils of the Church these can but delay catastrophe. The tendencies at present discernable will be accelerated. The influence of the Church on the nation will decline still further; her membership will dwindle; her clergy will get fewer and older still. Christianity will be eviscerated still further until it becomes even more unrecognisable and negligible through continued compromises. with an increasing secularism. Either the Church will eventually be quietly submerged and carry on a neglected existence in complete seclusion because she has ceased to matter, or she will be forced despairingly at long last to realise and to do then in her weakened and compromised state what she ought to realise and to do now in her relative strength.'
It would be unfair to blame Fisher for what he presumably never intended and would have deplored. But his two priorities, excellent in themselves for the time being as a means to an end, proved disastrous for decades as ends in themselves. The first has concentrated attention introspectively on the organisation. administration and finance of the Church instead of on her Gospel, Mission and Evangelism. The second has concentrated attention, equally introspectively, on the internal relations of denominations instead of on their real purpose of conversion. The ecumenical movement has lost its way because it has followed precisely the wrong introverted lines. Unity is a by-product of working together, for others, on the basis of our remarkable agreements. It is not to be sought directly, least of all by introverted talking together, about ourselves, on the basic of our regrettable disagreements.
For the past thousand years the Church of England has pursued a pastoral policy in a nominally Christian society with Evangelism only 'overseas'. Temple was undoubtedly right in insisting that in the middle of the twentieth century the Church of England needed a very different policy of Evangelism here 'at home'. But after his death and the complete neglect of Towards the Conversion of England this primary extravert business of the Church was forgotten, and we have been introverted and ineffective ever since.
By trying to maintain the old relation with the people of England in their drift from Christianity, the Church of England has come perilously close to leading that drift herself. Perhaps it was fondly imagined that by keeping in step with society and public opinion (in 60's jargon 'being with it') the Church might win favour and acceptance. In fact, of course, it ensured the opposite - neglect and rejection. If the Church says only what everyone else says there is no reason to listen to her at all.
The policy of 'appeasement' by our liberal theologians and leaders (compromising the Faith to accommodate it to modern secular humanism) merely bewilders and saddens Christians, and does nothing at all to convert non-Christians. In fact most of the problems and difficulties in faith and morals that bedevil the Church today are due to this futile but fatal attempt to reconcile supernaturalism and naturalism, Christianity and secular humanism, by ignoring Theology and the primary duty of the Church.
Our Lord's parting charge to His Church was Evangelism. 'Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptising... 'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. Temple called the Church of England to this, her primary duty, fifty years ago and we have completely ignored that call and our duty.
Now we talk of a Decade of Evangelism. But we do little more than talk, and still go on in the old way. We seem to know neither what Evangelism is nor how to do it. It is certainly not just urging people to 'come to church'. What happens in church is Worship which is the purpose and end of Christianity. The beginning of Christianity is Faith and Repentance, without which Worship is impossible, and 'churchgoing' meaningless and boring, as most people vote with their feet.
Evangelism is simply the proclamation of Good News, the Gospel. (One beggar telling another where to get bread.) It is telling people something they do not know. Peter in the first Christian sermon confined himself to statements of fact without a word of exhortation. Only when they asked him what to do did he tell them 'Repent and be baptised'. Ezekiel's watchman was responsible only for giving warning, blowing the trumpet loudly: what his hearers did about it was their responsibility.
Evangelists have no need to be hesitant or apologetic, as though trying to persuade, inveigle, or coerce people into doing what they don't want to do (like going to church). We have a boon to confer, Good News to tell, and our society is sadly lacking in good news. All that matters is that the trumpet should not give an uncertain sound. But that is precisely what comes from the Church of England today; not a resounding assertion of the Reality of God and our Salvation, but a diffident invitation to 'come to church'. (Will the blood of this generation be required at our hands? Has the Church of England delivered her own soul? Ezekiel Ill 17-21).
There are two essentials for Evangelism. First, the clear and certain knowledge of the Good News of the Gospel. Secondly, a genuine understanding of the modern situation in which, the modern people to whom, and the modern 'language' by which the Gospel is to he proclaimed. And we seem to know none of these things. The Good News we have to give is simply God, His Reality, His Activity, His Love. That is precisely what the world needs for lack of which it is as it is.. Ever since the disappearance of Christendom we have been forgetting God and eliminating Him from every aspect of life, political, economic, moral, social and even religious. Consequently today the outlook and assumptions of our society can be called Post-Christian Secular Humanism; Post-Christian, for it retains relics of Christianity (the secular humanism of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia was more logical and extreme); Secular, for it assumes that this world is all there is and it has no use for religion; Humanism, for it assumes that human beings are the centre of life not God (Christian Humanism was very different.).
Both Christianity and PCSH are faiths, beliefs. They depend on ideas, though very different ones, in fact precisely opposite ones. So it is vitally important to understand how ideas are acquired - in two ways, one far more important than the other. The human mind is like the proverbial iceberg, a bit on the surface and a lot below, the conscious mind and the subconscious. Different ideas can be in the two, and subconscious ideas are more powerful than conscious ones; in any conflict the subconscious wins.
We acquire ideas in the conscious mind by reason, but we acquire ideas in the subconscious mind by 'suggestion' in the psychological sense. Subconscious ideas are caught, like measles; Conscious ideas are taught like mathematics.. A child in England learns English chiefly by suggestion', but has to be taught French by reason. Moreover we are not nearly as rational as we like to think we are. Rationalisation (producing reasons for decisions otherwise made) is very common. Conscious teaching and learning are generally confined to schooldays, but our subconscious minds are learning by 'suggestion' all our lives.
The atmosphere and ethos in which we live and from which we catch infection nowadays is PCSH not Christianity. Christians and Non-Christians alike are exposed to its 'suggestion' from the cradle to the grave. It is far easier to 'shout with the crowd' than to 'swim against the stream', and in our society the crowd is shouting PCSH, and PCSH is the way the stream is flowing. The situation in which, and the people to whom, the Gospel is to be proclaimed are characterised definitively by PCSH.
The "language by which' the Gospel is to be proclaimed is two-fold, reason and 'suggestion'. Both are important but the latter is even more important than the former.
The Church of England emerged from the hundred years of the Reformation both Catholic and Reformed. So today some members of the Church emphasise that we are Catholics and some that we are Evangelicals, and of course we are both. But in the last hundred years there has emerged a third party in the Church which emphasises that we live in the twentieth century and must take account not only of Scripture and Tradition but also of the modern world. lt is generally called Liberal (formerly Modernist, sometimes Radical), and its great danger is paying too much attention to modern fashions and ideas in comparison with the ancient Faith 'once delivered to the saints'.
Thus while we are all exposed subconsciously to PCSH, Liberals expose themselves consciously to modern fashions and ideas which they do not sufficiently criticise and judge in the light of Theology. For it is only a profound understanding of fundamental Theology which can protect us, consciously and subconsciously; and it is precisely fundamental Theology that is most seriously lacking today. For at least fifty years there has been extraordinarily little real Theology - dogmatic, moral and ascetic, not merely biblical - taught learned or written in the Church of England.
There are innumerable little paperbacks but very few solid substantial theological works, and such as there are often turn out to be more negative than positive. It is notorious how widespread is ignorance of, and indifference to, Theology, not only among churchgoers but even among priests and bishops. Priests and bishops deny or ignore with impunity the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and even the existence of God, but the Church seems content to have it Sc). It is highly significant that the Archbishop of York calls himself a conservative liberal' not a 'liberal conservative'. We must, of course, be both conservative
and liberal, but it makes a vast difference whether you are fundamentally and subconsciously liberal with a conservative veneer or vice versa.
'What you are thunders so loudly in my ears that I cannot hear what you say.' If the Church of England acts as an agent of the State, treating all indiscriminately as her members (baptising, marrying, burying - the chief ways in which most people know her) she is proclaiming to the world, authoritatively, ceaselessly, and powerfully, consciously and subconsciously, that she is NOT a distinctive body with a distinctive faith. This thunderous propaganda to the whole nation quite drowns any pipings of individual priests to little groups of the faithful.
Christianity is, among other things, a unique understanding of the world, the meaning of life, and the nature and destiny of man. Obviously it is not the outlook and assumption of our present society, but it is the essential basis of any genuinely Christian life. This fundamental opposition between the Christianity of the Church and the PCSH of society, which is so little recognised and acknowledged on either side, makes Evangelism as impossible, humanly speaking, as trying to teach English to a Frenchman without either pupil or teacher having any clear idea of the difference between English and French.
The history of the last fifty years might almost be called The Decline and Fall of the Church of Er gland. It has been marked by three characteristics which though distinct are closely related to each other
The Rejection of Evangelism
The primary business of the Church is to recall God's children to their true home with Him in heaven, by hook or by crook. When 'there were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold', as in the Middle Ages, the Church's work was essentially pastoral _ with the shepherd's crook. But now that the ninety and nine are 'out on the hills away far off from the gates of gold', the Church's work should be essentially evangelistic - with the fisherman's hook. Of course the Church, expressing 'the tender Shepherd's care,' must continue to be pastoral for the one in the shelter of the fold but it must be essentially evangelistic for the ninety and nine that have wandered away from Him.
The death of Temple and the complete ignoring of Towards the Conversion of England meant the rejection of Evangelism, and that rejection has continued ever since, though it is perhaps due more to the Flight from Theology, unimaginativeness, conventionality, and stupidity than to clear-sighted deliberation. Whereas Temple's priorities were Theology and Christian Sociology and therefore Evangelism, the priorities of archbishops, bishops and the General Synod since have been pastoral reorganisation, liturgical reform, revising Canons, 'the administrative procedures of the Church' and of course raising money - introversion instead of extraversion. Even now when we have been committed to a Decade of Evangelism we are doing little or nothing about it.
The Flight from Theology
For bishops and priests Theology is the indispensable tool, like a spade for gardeners, medical knowledge for doctors, seamanship for sailors, telescopes for astronomers, etc and without it they must be as ineffective and futile as a lawyer without knowledge of the law or a dentist without understanding of dentistry. Theological colleges were set up primarily to teach Theology, the essential for the Ministry, but nowadays they are expected to teach innumerable other things which quite overshadow, if not obliterate, Theology. Consequently it is not surprising that bishops and priests, however otherwise devout and energetic, are like dedicated marathon runners who don't know the way.
The distinctive position of the Church of England as a part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church was defined in the past theologically by the Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles, and the Ordinal. In the last fifty years all three have been jettisoned in practice if not completely in theory.
It was first intended to produce a new Book to supersede the old Book of Common Prayer, and it was only after strong protests mostly from the laity that the new Book was called an Alternative. But it has become so widely used, mostly because of the clergy, and so strongly commended by the bishops, that the Book of Common Prayer is in real danger of being relegated to history. The 39 Articles are so marginalised as also to be relegated to history. (When the bishop assured the ordinand that he no longer need be worried about assenting to the 39 Articles, the ordinand replied 'But my difficulty is that I DO believe them.) And the Ordinal, the one thing that used to keep Catholics, Evangelicals and Liberals together, has now been scrapped by the General Synod's November Vote.
Real Theology (Dogmatic, Moral and Ascetic, not merely biblical), our only assurance of genuine Christianity, our only defence against the insidious PCSH, and the inescapable demand for Evangelism, is sadly lacking in the Church of England today.
The Triumph of Liberalism
In the last fifty years Liberalism has not been confined to acknowledged Liberals but it has been influencing, at least subconsciously, Catholics and Evangelicals, and even more the many who do not claim a distinctive name, for it is the hidden influence of the all-pervading PCSH.
The November Vote of the General Synod for the ordination of women. which has precipitated the present crisis, is simply the latest and most blatant example of the Triumph of Liberalism. (There are many other examples that spring to mind.) It owed next to nothing to Theology and almost everything to fashionable feminism. (There is much that is good in feminism but it has little to do with the ordination of women.) Of course there was an attempt at theological rationalisation by arguing rightly but unnecessarily that women were full members of the Church (which nobody denied) and assuming without arguing that therefore they should be full members of the Ministry (which many do deny). Moreover to approve women as priests but not as bishops, as the Vote did, shows how little Theology was involved.
Only in the last twenty five years has the ordination of women become a serious issue, after two thousand years when it was not. It has been grossly misinterpreted as 'justice for women' and 'the end of sex-discrimination' (which it has not ended) and hardly at all as anything to do with Theology. It has not distracted attention from Evangelism only because there has been no attention to distract, but it has distracted attention from most other worthwhile things, being essentially introspective and introverted.
So long as these three interrelated factors continue to afflict the Church of England, it is obvious, humanly speaking, that her present unhappy plight will continue and get worse. But fortunately we must not speak only humanly, though we generally do.
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