window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetMy past two posts — here and here — have discussed the Church of England’s annual pledge drive which takes place at this time of year.

Our priests raise associated questions and ways that our denomination and dioceses can be rescued, given less money and falling church attendance.

Yet, it is rare that we see a mention of ‘faithfully preaching the Gospel’ in these discussions.

Psephizo has two posts which typify the thinking of our clergy: ‘How to save a diocese’ and ‘How to save the Church of England’. These offer businesslike remedies. One illustration appears in each which states these objectives concerning the execrable strategy of church growth:

– Churches that have a clear mission and purpose.

– Clergy & congregations who are intentional about and prioritise growth.

– Clergy & worshippers who are willing to change and adapt.

– Churches where lay people as well as ordained clergy are active in leadership and other roles.

– Churches that actively engage children and young people.

– Churches with a welcoming culture who build on-going relationships with people.

– Churches that nurture disciples (offering specific encouragement through courses & activities).

– Clergy / leaders who innovate, envision and motivate people.

Fortunately, the Anglican dioceses in England state their objectives more spiritually. This list dates from the summer of 2014. Some of these are better than others, but one wonders how they work in practice.

Confessions of a Ridiculous Vicar has a post on the inadequacy of the church growth concept. An excerpt follows (emphases mine):

If the push for Church Growth makes us resent our people, rather than cherish them, we are talking about it in the wrong way.

When we talk about Church Growth the focus seems to be on all the wrong things. On a recent course, (by a well respected national organisation) we were encouraged to start small, and find achievable changes we could make, to get us heading in the right direction. I’m in favour of starting with the small and achievable, so I was encouraged. Then I saw the list.

“Install Dimmer Switches” was the most memorable item.

Really???

There were other suggestions too. Serve better coffee, was another, and pay attention to the quality of your church notice board. They would all make the church a more attractive physical environment. But honestly, it felt more like advice from The Hotel Inspector than how to grow God’s people.

Did people follow Jesus because he had such a nice building? Or any sort of building at all? Because the loaves and the fishes were particularly good, organic loaves and fishes, from Waitrose rather than Cost-cutter?

Because his sermons were 10 minutes, rather than 12?

Because when they came to hear Jesus preach, they were welcomed by those with name badges and good small talk?

Because there was a special meeting, targeted precisely at just their demographic?

Have we lost confidence in what really matters? Like David as a boy, are we putting on all the armour of King Saul, trusting that it will help us to fight Goliath. Trying to wield a sword that is bigger than we are, and stand up in armour that is just wrong, we are trying to grow the church by all the wrong methods, but unlike David, we do not yet realise where our true hope lies – what it is we have of value, that can be found no-where else.

I agree, as would many other pewsitters.

The answer is simple: preach the Gospel faithfully and they will come.

How does John MacArthur do it? He explains what Scripture says, ties the Old Testament into the New. He helps people to understand the Bible and what our Lord accomplished on our behalf. He preaches the Gospel of grace. But, then, he has unshakeable faith. Not all Church of England clergy do, and that creates an insurmountable problem.

In ‘How to save a diocese’, reader Clive suggests:

They could try the really unthinkable thing of returning to Christianity.

Everywhere else in the world the Church that believes in Christianity is actually growing.

He elaborates:

I am just aware that some clergy say the 39 Articles with their fingers crossed!

Article II affirms that Jesus is God’s word. It says:
II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father…

Article VI defines Scripture, in the Bible, as sufficient in all respects:
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Article XIX has the Bible preached to everyone:
XIX. Of the Church.
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached,

Article XX puts authority in the Church only so far as Scripture allows:
XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written,…

The danger for any Church is that you simply become an extension of social services.

Reader Tony Oliver wrote:

Well in my church, which is supposed to be an Anglo-Catholic church, the worldview preached from the pulpit and announced on its web-site is that of “Progressive Christianity”. This was not always the case. Whatever “Progressive Christianity” is, it is certainly, to my mind, neither “Progressive” nor Christian…Now I’m confident that Progressive Christianity will wither on the vine; I just hope that the Church does not wither along with it.

He added:

When I attended the Living the Question course I got the impression that the teachings of the Buddha were highly regarded and so I’m sure it won’t be long before the Eight Points become indistinguishable from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Let’s wait and see.

Another Psephizo post, ‘What does it mean to be “lost”?’ discusses the use of language in evangelism. Here again, we see only a few mentions of what true evangelism is, best summed up by Steve Hollinghurst, formerly of the Church Army:

… I find some who are lost and wandering, I find others who are one the road but off beam, I find others who have stppped and need to start moving and I find that I still am not always on course and I have some way yet to go – only the first of these are lost, but all of us need Jesus to change our lives and overcome the power of sin and death – oh and BTW I wouldn’t use the language of sin and death in my evangelism either – but I would want my witness to help people find God dealing with its reality.

I know of a Church Army member who was very schooled in Scripture and preached a great sermon at church, despite his young age. It was hard to believe he was an Anglican. He carried his Bible everywhere and, when preaching, would open it frequently to cite various passages which tied his scriptural message together. Unfortunately, he got fed up with the Church of England and left to attend his wife’s Evangelical (non-denominational) church which was more faithful to the Gospel.

Oh for the days of the great — and first — Bishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle, who lived in the 19th century. He was a man of great faith. This site has a collection of his sermons and another, Grace Gems, has more. Ryle once said:

My chief desire in all my writings, is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and make Him beautiful and glorious in the eyes of men; and to promote the increase of repentance, faith, and holiness upon earth.

May our clergy discard the emptiness of church growth and follow Ryle’s example. That is the only way the Church of England can be saved for generations to come.

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