Sunday, December 30, 2012
The New Evangelization?
By The Very Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond
Over the past number of years increased attention has been given to evangelization. Originally rooted in the Roman Catholic Church, other denominations have also sought to re-present the gospel of Christ in ways that are far more comprehensible to modern / postmodern culture. Anglicans have also sought to re-form the ancient faith in ways that are far more palatable or pertinent.
These efforts are not entirely bad, although many are manifestly misguided. Just the other day I was reviewing a jurisdictional publication whose newest energies targeted building "Celtic" communities. Before this, and continuing, the renewal of worship (worship with "relevance") has been emphasized. Similarly, although striking a different note, the Inaugural Assembly of ACNA featured Dr. Rick Warren and his "missional" approach.
Other examples abound. Almost everyone today seeks to jump on the "missional" bandwagon, obviously overlooking at least three fundamental issues: (1) Evangelism is not a new idea, it is a gospel imperative, (2) Programs do not accomplish the purpose of God, and (3) By emphasizing programs above prayer we place the cart before the horse.
When reading about such efforts, and many others like them, I am often reminded of Hebrews 6:3 where the anonymous author tells us that we must do these things, but it is well past the time when we should have grown up and moved on (Hebrews 5: 12 - 6: 3). And it is indeed well past the time that we should have moved on by moving back into the patterns - priorities, principles and practices - that God has revealed.
In my opinion, our misconstrued "missional" emphasis is simply "elementary" teaching that has been long neglected. What Christian does not know that the Great Commandment and Great Commission are our priorities in life, priorities given by God and quite natural to those who are genuinely "alive in Christ?"
In order to move on we must return to our biblical and theological foundations. These are very briefly noted in Acts 2: 42. On the day of Pentecost, and shortly thereafter, the church was built upon four priorities: Apostolic Teaching, Prayer, Fellowship, and the Breaking of Bread. Each of these will be briefly commented upon.
Recent efforts to return to full orbed catechetical instruction and formation among North American Anglicans are commendable. Our Prayer Book, in both its structure and substance, is a catechetical masterpiece that is firmly rooted in apostolic teaching. It is to this apostolic teaching (centered in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit) we must become and remain faithful. Programs do not build the church, the Paraclete does. Strategies do not enlarge our borders, the Scriptures and Spirit do. More often than not programs and strategies are shallow human substitutes for biblical fidelity, theological integrity, prolonged waiting and patient prayer. Bibles, not busy-ness or business, build churches.
The primitive church was built upon prayer. Prayerfully waiting upon the Spirit, and being enflamed for service, the early church proclaimed the "good news" of Jesus Christ both efficiently and effectively. They had no program beyond "waiting on God."
Their strategy was decisively spiritual. When the Spirit spoke, they spoke. Where the Spirit moved, they moved.
Anglicans are rooted in prayer, or at least should be. We practice what has been called (I believe by the late Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse) "Prayer Book Spirituality." If we are not people of prayer, we are not truly Anglicans. If we are not people of prayer, there may be cause to question whether we are even Christians. If we build houses apart from sustained supplication we build upon a Babel foundation. "Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it."
As such, I believe that it is imperative that we Anglicans return to our Book of Common Prayer, to free prayer, to ejaculatory prayer, to sustained prayer, to warfare prayer, to prayer that sweats blood. In order to build churches we must build ourselves. It is my challenge to every Anglican, especially clergy, to return to our Daily Offices and an hour a day of simply waiting upon God. No prayer, no power. No Spirit, no success.
Community is critical to effective gospel communication. We come from and are made for community. In my soon to be released article, "Orange County or New Testament Evangelism?," I write: "We have our small groups, our cell groups, our fellowship groups, our accountability groups, our gregarious groupings of genteel gropers who so desperately want to "feel" good. And these are not entirely bad, but they are barely a beginning. What we really need, however, is deep fellowship. Fellowship is far more radical and far more personal. Fellowship is found when we practice commonality, community, and communalism..." (Daily Press, 2013). Are Anglicans truly building fellowships or are we simply hankering after Celtic, Benedictine, Saddleback, or other forms of well-meaning but often ill-informed substitutes? I truly "get" these efforts. I am myself Benedictine and believe that St. Benedict's Rulehas a great deal to teach us. I have been associated with a monastic community for almost a quarter of a century, and this association has enriched my life. I value George G. Hunter's The Celtic Way of Evangelism. I "see" the need for creating fellowship. But, in spite of "getting" and "seeing" this need, I often baulk at how we conceive and seek to create these communities. Any community building without the caritas of commonality and communalism is ill-conceived.
Any informed reader will note that these four focuses, culminating in the Breaking of Bread, suggest that we must truly become liturgical communities, Eucharistic communities. Although much could and has been said about this topic, suffice it to say that a liturgical and Eucharistic community lives its lifeafter the Service of Worship has ended and the Benediction has been given. The Breaking Bread community that builds the church is the broken hearted community that limps through life along with and among others.
The Breaking Bread community does not seek to artificially create effective means of evangelism because, when liturgy and Eucharist are lived, it naturally emerges. In such a community, the Liturgy of the Word becomes the proclamation of the Gospel, the Liturgy of the Sacrament becomes the promulgation of sacrificial living, the Anamnesis becomes the radical re-presentation of life giving incarnation and the Epiclesis becomes the center point for ministry in, through and by the Holy Spirit. In short, this type of community becomes and behaves as the "altar of the world." The so called "New Evangelization" and our "missional" emphasis is nothing new. It is, in fact, ancient. It is biblical, spiritual, mandated by God and an imperative placed on every believer. But we must build God's way, not our own.
The Very Reverend Doctor Donald P. Richmond, a Priest-Oblate with the Reformed Episcopal Church and Order of Saint Benedict, is a widely published author, poet, and monastic cartoonist.
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December 29, 2102