by David Driscoll
from Signs of the Times No. 64 - Jan 2017
This article is based on a short talk I gave at the ‘Do we need a new Reformation’ day conference. The talk introduced the afternoon session by setting the task for breakout groups immediately afterwards.
First, we responded to Lorraine Cavanagh’s presentation which kicked off the conference, ‘Reclaiming the Church – a view from the edge’.
What kind of Church did we hope would emerge? Certainly we were looking for a Church with high standards of integrity, accountability and transparency, and also a Church which didn’t simply rely on strategies issuing from the top, but rather would encourage initiatives coming from the grass roots. Furthermore, we wanted to see a halt to the growing tide of clericalism which was stifling the Church and, replace this with an honest reaffirmation of the role of the laity and their essential contribution to its mission and ministry.
Secondly, we wanted to move on from simply criticising the Church and therefore in danger of being too inward looking ourselves. We therefore invited the groups to look outwards through the Anglican Five Marks of Mission to ask the question, ‘How might they be interpreted from a position on the edge.’
The Marks of Mission were the result of a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in 1984, later endorsed by General Synod in 1996. They are:
• To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom
• To teach, nurture and baptise new believers
• To respond to human need by loving service
• To seek to transform unjust structures in society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
• To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
• To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom:
Clearly, the marks relate in some way to each other, but we felt this was the place to start. To discover what this might actually means, we need look no further than to articles which have appeared in recent issues of Signs, especially the series written by Guy Elsmore describing the success St Bride’s Liverpool has had in commending a liberal and inclusive vision of the gospel. I believe phrases like passionate spirituality can fill us with renewed confidence. Not only have we ‘a gospel to proclaim’, but we have one that is attractive. Given the recent events that have created an uncertainty in many parts of the globe, it isn’t too dramatic to suggest that we are now living in a world that hasn’t been so dangerous since the high point of the Cold War. People want to hear genuine good news! I commended words by Paul Brett in a letter to the Church Times responding to an article written by John Saxbee to help promote our conference. Paul spoke of the need for a ‘Church committed to explore how best to understand the nature and activity of God in a 21st century world.’ I think we all know we must avoid the kind of mission statement and strapline which over time begins to sound incredibly bland! We also know that the vital aspects of faith can never be fully summed up in words; music and art and other experiences are needed too.
• To teach, baptise and nurture new believers:
Why stop at those new to the faith, why not to everyone? Surely teaching and nurture are necessary at every stage of our spiritual journey? I think we’re all looking forward to MC’s alternative course to Alpha, hopefully to be published shortly. What we know it won’t do is to promote a catechism with a ‘bank of doctrine’ to be imparted at all costs. Isn’t it often the case that important truths are learned from quite unexpected sources, not just from teachers but also from those who have come to know more? The qualities Modern Church and other liberal groups can contribute to the mix will include concepts like original blessing and kingdom values, suggesting too that gifts of grace are not the exclusive property of the Church but can also be found on the edge and further out. Flexible and creative thinking is needed, and very importantly, we must never be too prescriptive but always prepared to listen, getting alongside people where they are, not where we’d like them to be. Finally, using words from Christian Aid, affirming there is ‘life before death’.
• To respond to human need by loving service:
The Church comes into its own with its food banks, soup runs and things like door-to-door collecting for Christian Aid Week. Many local churches try to identify needs, especially in the present economic situation where the vulnerable easily fall through the net, vividly demonstrated in the film I, Daniel Blake. Sometimes research to discover real need requires an awful lot of time and energy, but is nevertheless absolutely necessary. For example, Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes, popular in many churches at Christmas time aren’t quite what they seem! It is vital for churches to do proper research and certainly to avoid reinventing the wheel. If there are groups already doing something that is really worthwhile, why not work with them? And again, it is vitally important to look at sustained long term solutions rather than short term ones that are hardly more than sticking plasters. When we reflect on how local needs relate to global ones, we almost invariably find we’re getting on to justice issues!
• To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation:
It’s easy to ‘talk the talk’ about the pursuit of peace and reconciliation, but far more risky when we actually challenge violence and injustice. Tackling the former will often be done best by building relationships with other faith communities, and probably justice issues as well. We will find it difficult at times when we are accused of being too political but we shouldn’t give up. We have to challenge the privatisation of Christianity, when people express their faith in purely individual terms. The Church has a collective responsibility in enabling society to flourish. We cannot ignore it, especially as the Judaeo- Christian tradition shows how justice is clearly integral to faith even if many Christians are half-hearted about it.
• To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth:
From a global point of view this is the greatest challenge facing humankind. We need to collaborate with anyone who recognises this, regardless of faith or none. Our faith tradition reveals the vital truth of our covenant with Creation; we cannot withdraw from our God-given responsibilities of stewardship.