Thursday, 16 February 2017

Setting God’s People Free

‘It is only possible for the Gospel to reach the whole population through the active co-operation of all church people. We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities for evangelism daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.’

That could so easily be a paragraph of promotional blurb from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, where I work, committed as we are to advocating a whole-life and comprehensive mission strategy through focusing on the ‘frontlines’ of all Christians.

Instead, it’s from a report by the Church of England Commission on Evangelism, published in 1945. Yes, 72 years ago. What was needed, according to the report, was a recovery of ‘the Apostolate of the whole Church’, where all – clergy and laity alike – are to witness to their Lord, and where such witness is seen as ‘the very essence of the Christian calling’.

It so happens that today – at the General Synod of the Church of England – a new report is being presented, one commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council and prepared by the members of the Lay Leadership Task Group.

It’s called ‘Setting God’s People Free’, and it’s available as a pdf here.

It speaks about us being ‘summoned... to a common vocation’, where ‘the whole people of God, clergy and laity, gathered and sent, are charged with continuing Christ’s priestly work of blessing, mediation and reconciliation on behalf of the whole of humanity, to bear witness to, and participate in the mission of God’.

Early on, the report identifies ‘the need for two shifts in culture and practice’ that are seen as ‘critical to the flourishing of the Church and the evangelisation of the nation’:

‘1. Until, together, ordained and lay, we form and equip lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life in ways that demonstrate the Gospel we will never set God’s people free to evangelise the nation.

2. Until laity and clergy are convinced, based on their baptismal mutuality, that they are equal in worth and status, complementary in gifting and vocation, mutually accountable in discipleship, and equal partners in mission, we will never form Christian communities that can evangelise the nation.’

The report explores those shifts, looks at some ‘constraining factors’, and suggests eight ‘proposed levers of cultural change’. Unlike previous reports on this issue, going back to the one in 1945, this report offers some recommended next steps and priorities for implementation.

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