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Archbishop Speaks On Intentional Evangelism

Archbishop of York

Monday 18th November 2013

The Archbishop of York Speaks To Introduce the Intentional Evangelism Debate at General Synod November Group of Sessions

Today’s theme is nearer to my heart than any other theme; it is vital that we consider how to approach the re-evangelisation of England.

How do we re-discover the well-springs of our solidarity and partnership in the Gospel? What must we become in order to re-kindle the fire of God’s “love, abundantly poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Next to worship, witness is the primary and urgent task of the Church. 

“Come to Jesus,” wrote St Peter in 1 Peter 2, “and like living stones be yourself built into a spiritual house.”  Why?

First, “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”

 (1 Peter 2:4-5). That is WORSHIP.

Second, “to proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). That is WITNESS.

Therefore worship and witness, in the power of the Holy Spirit, are the Church’s reason for being. Like breathing is to the human body, the Body of Christ lives to worship and witness to what God has done and is doing in Christ. As the late Canon David Watson said, many years ago, “EVANGELIZE OR FOSSILIZE”.

Compared with evangelism everything else is like re-arranging furniture when the house is on fire.  Tragically too often that is what we are doing.  Reorganising the structures; arguing over words and phrases, while the people of England are left floundering amid meaninglessness, anxiety, and despair. 

Evangelism: Are we up for it?

The truth is that not every Christian is an evangelist. An Evangelist is the person who stands at the intersection where human need and divine love meet. Evangelists are specially gifted by the Holy Spirit to proclaim.

But EVERY CHRISTIAN IS A WITNESS. Witnesses are empowered by the Holy Spirit simply to tell the story of their encounter with Jesus Christ; to share what they have experienced.

“You are my witnesses” said God through the prophet Isaiah in his day.  And “You shall be my witnesses” said Jesus when he promised his disciples the power of the Holy Spirit. 

All people in Britain experience weather, and they talk about it readily, and repeatedly. If only disciples of Jesus Christ in England did the same about him!

‘We are witnesses of these things’. Because we have encountered, learned, and experienced Jesus Christ in our own lives.

All the best communication is done through story – the story of relationship; the story of events and new happenings; the story of perception and understanding; the stories of our past, our present, and our future.

The past two years, during the summer, I have spent several days in silence on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Each morning I have joined in prayers at St Mary’s church, then walked to St Cuthbert’s Hermitage, as soon as the tide is out.

In those days my question was, how did Aidan, Cuthbert, and their monks build communities of  prayer, worship, hospitality and care for the poor, so radically transforming and converting the North of England and spreading as far south as Essex?

What was it that drove these tough men, who were sustained by a diet of prayer, study, and manual labour?

Paulinus, Aidan, Cuthbert, Hilda, Cedd, Chad – they learned the Psalms by heart, and recited them as they walked from community to community. When they met people on the way, their question was, “Are you a follower of Christ?” If the answer was ‘Yes’, they taught them a psalm before moving on. If they were not, they presented the Gospel of Christ to them.

Their discipline was rooted in sanctuary, journey and welcome: forever going in to prayer, going out on the road, and always being open in their offer of loving hospitality.

From the time I became Archbishop of York, I have been inspired by these Northern Saints. Their story has made me focus on making Christ known throughout this land. In my Inauguration Address in November 2005, I stated that “the first priority of my ministry, as a ‘Watchman for the North’, would be “to take a lead by preaching, by public address and by informal discussion, in sharing this Good News of God with the people of England.”

Like the early northern saints, at a time of economic hardship of England for many in this country, Archbishop William Temple called on the Church both to make disciples, and to convert the social order. If a choice had to be made, making disciples was paramount, because there would then be more people to make the social order more Christian.

Northern bishops are gathering on Lindisfarne next May to encourage and support each other in a shared evangelistic responsibility for the north. 

We hope to re-create communities of prayer, worship, hospitality and care for the poor and lonely, as well as communities of proclamation. Like our Lord, going “through all the towns, villages, neighbourhoods, churches, teaching and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and illness among the people” (Matthew 4:23, 9:35).

If we do this, we will see what God did in the lives of Aidan, Cuthbert, Hilda, Paulinus, happening in our own generation, calling the Church back to the Good News of the Kingdom.

We each have a story to tell of how God in Jesus Christ has met with us and changed our lives.

My own story of faith began when I encountered Jesus Christ at the age of 10.  I could not keep silent. Before long I was part of a mission with Bishop Festo Kivengere, delivering an Evangelistic address to thirty thousand people gathered in Kabale. I was only 17.

This debate is about HOW rather than WHETHER we witness.

The paper begins by focusing on the inestimable value of the Gospel – the Pearl of Great Price. And we propose that across the English nation at every level – diocese, deanery, parish, chaplaincies - we focus on the task given to the Church by Jesus Christ, to make disciples of all nations - making disciples of all the people of England - presenting the good news of the Kingdom, in word and deed.

 I suggest we are not here to come up with ideas, and ask others to do something. We are here to share good news stories from each of our dioceses. How are people becoming disciples of Christ where you live? How confident are you in the Gospel?

So, Chair, if you start hearing members of this Synod suggesting that we set up a meeting, get the House of Bishops, Archbishops’ Council, Diocesan Synods, the PCCs to organise something – rule them out of order!  It is not on to say, “Here I am Lord - but send my brother, my sister”!

Nor, in this paper, should we wallow in discussions about the inadequacy of the Doctrine of Salvation or some other doctrine. Please don’t avoid the challenge of Intentional Evangelism by calling for a fuller elucidation of Christ’s saving work. Why?  Because it is Jesus Christ himself who, from within, impels us. As the Apostle Paul said, “Woe unto me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

Making disciples is at the heart of our Christian faith and our Anglican tradition, both catholic and reformed.  

Christ died for our sins once for all, he rose again for our justification and in his Name the Father sent the Holy Spirit for our glorification (Romans 8:30). That’s good enough for me.

Please give your resounding support for today’s motion. It will signal a lasting culture change, and a fresh commitment to make Christ known in this generation.

May this debate encourage and inspire us all as we hear stories from one another of what is happening in our varied contexts. Evangelize or Fossilize!

Chair, I beg to move the motion standing in my name.


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