Reformation of PECUSA


St Mary and All Saints, ChesterfieldBruce Robison put a note on our ‘Upcoming Events’ page that deserves wider circulation:

2012 is of course in the rear view mirror now, but I wonder if it’s too late to talk about some kind of gathering in the Fall of 2013. VTS would be fine, though there’s an Evangelical seminary in the Anglican tradition just a little downriver from Pittsburgh. Might be an interesting location for Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church to gather.

I second Bruce’s suggestion, and would like to hear what other Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church think. Is there a theme or speaker who would be particularly helpful? Our last gathering was at VTS in 2010, so we are definitely overdue.

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Most Christians are familiar with the Latin tag semper reformanda, which is literally translated ‘always to be reformed’. It’s often understood as ‘always reforming’, and interpreted as ‘constantly seeking to improve’. The grammatical force of the Latin, however, is rather ‘always requiring to be reformed’, ie always broken, always in need of repair. Or, as a friend put it the other day, ‘Of course the church is broken. It’s the body of Christ—what else could it be but broken?’

I live in a diocese that went through a bitter split four years ago, and most of its members have tales to tell of painful episodes; and ever since then diocesan conversation has been dominated by a perceived ‘need for healing’. I have been really tired of this for some time, but castigated myself for being hard-hearted and unsympathetic, and continued to do my best to look sympathetic whenever the familiar refrain was sung. But my friend’s remark put it in perspective for me: all this moaning and weeping really is out of place. Not that I’m not hard-hearted and unsympathetic—I am, believe me. But in this case, if no other, my ‘get a grip on yourself and snap out of it’ response happens to be the right one.

There is no example in either the New Testament or in Church History of a church that wasn’t broken by sin, usually coming in more shapes and sizes than anyone can keep track of. What my diocese has gone through is not just normal, but inevitable. Yes, there have been some unusual features about our recent experience, but they are merely curiosities; they make absolutely no difference to the basic situation: we are a broken church. We always have been, and always will be. Nothing will change this until Christ comes again in glory—neither the passage of time, nor a new way of being church, nor recovering lost property, nor getting a new bishop who will be soft-hearted and sympathetic. All those things may be desirable, but not for the reasons most of us want them, and they may even further complicate the situation if we get them without a more realistic view of our present self-absorption.

The Great Commission was given to a broken church. It was a broken church that spread Christianity into every corner of the globe. Being a broken church is no reason not to get on with the work of proclaiming salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to a world that is as broken as we are. And the sooner we stop whingeing about what we’ve suffered, the sooner we can get on with the work we’ve been given to do.

From the Reform web-site:

New Book on Bishops by Michael Keulemans: The changing nature of the Anglican episcopate in mainland Britain

“This book, one of only two major studies on the subject for over sixty years and certainly the first ever written from an Evangelical standpoint, looks at the New Testament and Early Church evidence for the episcopate and traces its development in Britain from Roman times.  It discovers that it became increasingly politicised almost from the start, a process which was not halted by the English Reformation, even though, at least on paper, Cranmer returned it to its original teaching function.

“Particular attention is paid to how Queen Victoria and her Prime Ministers sought to balance the bench between the Latitudinarians, the Evangelicals and the new Catholic party, while the backgrounds and careers of all diocesan bishops between 1905 and 2005 are examined in detail.  Developments within the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church are also given a chapter each.  The results of a major statistical survey of clergy and churchwardens in the dioceses of Leicester, Bradford, Monmouth and Edinburgh are probed to see how these two groups view the modern functions of a bishop, compared with the opinions of recently retired bishops.

“In the final chapter suggestions are made for the reform of the episcopate to make it more Spirit-filled and attuned to the pastoral needs of the parishes.  A practical proposal is also presented to solve the impasse over women bishops in a way that is scrupulously fair and provides opportunities to both sides of the debate.”

Should be interesting to all those wondering who’s going to replace Rowan Williams as ‘Archbishop’ (whatever that is), and actually useful to anyone in a diocese that is beginning the process of electing a bishop—although reforming the American episcopate is an even bigger task than reforming the English one, I’d say.

The recent visit to the US, apparently a positive one, by future Chinese President Xi Jinping, reminded me of some recent reading about the situation of Christians in China that had me thinking. First, there was an article by George Conger here that described how China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) plans on ‘bringing all Protestants into the fold of the China Christian Council/Three Self Patriotic Movement’, saying that this ‘would help the activities of Protestant churches proceed in a normal and orderly way’.

Second, a letter to The Living Church (February 13th 2011 issue) asserted that the Roman Catholic Church in China, which functions under the CCC/TSPM, is ‘more Catholic than the Pope’. Assuming that this means not only that it hasn’t departed from historic Catholicism, but believes it has  preserved it more effectively than Rome has, living under the CCC would not appear to be as bad a thing as Americans naturally assume. A thesis written by an evangelical Chinese student at Liberty University, available here, suggests that Evangelical Churches in China have also had a positive experience under the watchful eye of the TSPM.

Given that the Protestant Episcopal Church is still about as far from proceeding in a normal and orderly way as can be imagined, perhaps Episcopalians who are still tempted to believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Primates, or the Global South Primates will restore order in our church, should keep an eye on the CCC/TSPM instead.

Historic Anglicanism is, after all, thoroughly Erastian, and since Episcopalians in the US cannot look to their own government to keep order in their church, perhaps they could consider ‘outsourcing’ the job to those who appear to be better at it than any international Anglican body. Not time to propose a General Convention resolution yet, but keep your eyes on Chinese religious policy for a decade or two.

One of the recommendations of Towards the Conversion of England was the appointment of Diocesan Missioners or Directors of Evangelistic Work (p 156). Whether as a result of the influence of the book, or of the influence of the growth of Evangelicalism in the Church of England since the book, Diocesan Missioners appear to be a standard feature of many dioceses of the Church of England. The Diocese of Gloucester seems to have the most active, to judge by the amount of stuff on its website here and the number of times its different pages come up in internet searches. I also found Diocesan Missioners in Bath and Wells, Exeter, Oxford, and Canterbury before I got tired of looking, not to mention depressed that the Church of England was so far in advance of us on this. There was reference to a Diocesan Missioners‘ conference in 2011, but only in passing, and I couldn’t find information about one in 2012. There was reference to Fresh Expressions on almost all the sites, although these seem more like non-traditional church plants than evangelistic endeavors—but might be all the more appealing to Episcopalians for that reason. Anyway, lots of ideas on these sites that might spark ideas that would work here. If you get a brainwave, please advise!

The book Towards the Conversion of England suggests that a parish can put on an evangelistic mission to its own community. Apparently several of these were held in the first few years after the book was published, although I can’t find any record of how successful they were. Here are the basics:

First, plan both the preparation for the event and the follow-up to it. ‘It is worse than useless… unless the “follow-up” has been carefully planned and the promoters have answered the question, “What do you plan to do with those whose hearts are touched?”‘

The first preparation event is what we would call an every-member canvass, but for the purpose of explaining the need for an evangelistic mission rather than the need for money. ‘Every house in the parish should be visited twice, and the visitor should make personal contact with the household.’

The main preparation event is what the book calls a teaching convention, to which parishioners are invited in order to prepare them to participate in ther mission itself. Parishioners must be able to summarise and explain, in ordinary language, the main outlines of the Christian faith. The teaching convention will be spread over several sessions, and should continue until those attending feel that they can make such an explanation. ‘The convention must be prepared for and followed up both in the pulpit and in the parish.’ To the extent possible, lay people should do the teaching.

The preparation should also build up the sense of fellowship in the church. ‘It would be of little use to to hold a mission unless those who are converted by it and, perhaps, brought to church for the first time, find within the Body of Christ a warmth of welcome that breaks down the natural barriers between man and man… This intensification of fellowship will develop from the sense of responsibility in the common task.’

The mission itself should bring in someone with experience of or at least a perceived call to evangelistic preaching, and should last long enough to reach everyone in the parish. There might be five or six talks over two or three days, in different places in the neighborhood where a different audience might be found. ‘The missioner must be able to build men up in the faith and fellowship of the Church; for a Parochial Mission which ignores the intellect and relies on emotion is not likely to have lasting results.’

Towards the Conversion of England does not say more about follow-up than the above remarks about fellowship and welcome in the church. Follow-up was apparently the subject of a pamphlet published later. The book also recognises that small-group campaigns may be the wave of the future, ‘as the age of big public meetings seems to have passed, at any rate for a time’, but it seems to me that the need now is something unmistakeably associated with a local Church. Unless local churches really don’t have a future.

John Richardson’s A Strategy that Changes the Denomination (reviewed below), and the book which inspired it, Towards the Conversion of England, both contain a number of suggestions that are worth considering. God willing, they will appear on this blog over the next month or two. Richardson’s point that we need to start where the church is now is one we need to take to heart, and the Episcopal Church has its own equivalent of the C of E’s Commission on Evangelism, which produced Towards the Conversion of England: the Standing Commission on the Mission and Evangelism of The Episcopal Church (details here).

On the Commission’s web-page are links to the minutes of all meetings since the last General Convention, and some earlier reports, although there’s no detailed information about their work. But it’s one place where Evangelicals could put their energy, and perhaps a place where that might be appreciated. The minutes are detailed but not always clear, and until I’ve read them all I’m not going to say much. But its most obvious difficulty is the fact that evangelism is only half of the work assigned to it, and since the word ‘mission’ is often used to refer to all the work the church does—educational, social, political etc—it is very easy for that half of its work to consume 90% of the commission’s time, and a cursory glance at the minutes of a couple of meetings suggests that this has been the case.

Take a look at what the commission has been doing, and let’s talk about how we can encourage it to give equal time to evangelism. The report of the commission (known at that time as the Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism) to the last General Convention can be read in the Blue Book, downloadable from here. Don’t expect much in the way of anything Evangelicals would understand as evangelism, but do ask yourself, how could I help the commission do better?

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