In the coming year we should all plan to make evangelism a high priority, knowing that evangelism (proclaiming the Gospel) should have the result of growing our churches with the addition of new members. For this reason I am looking forward to a draft soon to be posted by Fr. Nalls about evangelism, containing practical wisdom (if it posts anywhere other than the top of this blog, when it posts I will move it to the top).
Evangelism means we make known the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and two facts must be considered. First of all, evangelism is not an option, a good idea or "nice work if you can get it." It is the mission of the church, and therefore of every congregation and of every Christian. Christ has commanded it to His Church. Second, we are supposed to build the Church, and therefore evangelism is incomplete unless we are bringing people into the fellowship and life of the Body of Christ.
Now, some of our people are discouraged as I was in Arizona, where a tiny and mostly geriatric congregation let me know that they were retired, and that I had been "hired" to make everything happen, and where no one was willing so much as to commit to providing a Sunday School if a family with children ever showed up. I have been through it, and I understand. That was then, and this is now.
Let me offer some practical thoughts that could help anyone who may give heed. Ronald Reagan's famous "eleventh commandment" was to "speak no ill of a fellow Republican." In politics it is not helpful, because of the partisan nature of that animal, to speak ill of fellow Demublicans or Republicrats, or fellow whatevers, because politicians need parties and parties need votes. Well, I have my own eleventh commandment (or, for real Torah scholars, a six hundred and fourteenth commandment) that says, "thou shalt not shoot thyself in the foot."
For over a year readers of The Continuum have noticed that I resist those who try to pressure Continuing Anglicans into accepting the Roman option, even when it is dressed up as something that preserves a mythical animal wrongly labeled "Anglican Patrimony." In short, what they mean is Roman Catholicism with Elizabethan English and, eventually for one generation only, married priests. They cannot correctly define or describe real Anglican Patrimony for the same reason that they, like the people of ancient Nineveh, cannot discern between their right hands and their left (notice how I avoided...).
But, those sad folks are only the most extreme example of a common problem, namely ignorance about the wealth of our own heritage. Even some who resist jumping on board the big magical mystery tour coeti bus, have yet to learn anything about their own Anglican heritage. For some, everything they "know" about Anglicanism they have "learned" from Roman Catholic propaganda, including unscholarly fiction works from Ignatius Press-too often a source of historical revisionism and general silliness.
Now, for actual Roman Catholics to build their own churches is right, proper and the only way they may carry out fully their portion of the Great Commission consistent with their beliefs, and consciences (and God bless their efforts among the unbelievers and unchurched). And, for me the only way to carry out fully my portion of the Great Commission, consistent with my beliefs and conscience, is to further the Continuing Anglican branch of the Church. I begin at home, in Chapel Hill with St. Benedict's.
What I have grown weary of seeing is Anglican clergy who seem to go out of their way to convert people to Roman Catholicism, who buy the lie that the Anglican heritage is somehow flawed, and that our Orders are just barely valid in spite of (when in truth, they are really fully valid because of) what the English reformers believed. After buying all the false history, and with barely any grasp of sound learning, such clergy give people no confidence in the heritage of the very church they are charged to serve with honest leadership. How could they expect to grow congregations if they don't believe in their own church?
To such clergy, I offer the words of the 614th or 11th commandment: "Thou shalt not shoot thyself in the foot." Restore your brainwashed gray matter "by the renewing of your minds." Clean off the ring of doubt around your collar, and learn how to embrace the strength of your own heritage, including the riches you have almost thrown away because the Latin-Romans did not understand them. So, they don't know valuables from trash; but, what's your excuse?
Do you know where the name of Saint Veronica comes from? It is because the Romans did not know what the phrase Very Icon (true image, i.e. of Christ's face) meant. They thought it was a name, and so a legend, pure fiction, developed to the point where you can't watch a movie about Christ without the scene of some woman with a veil wiping the Lord's face. Well, it is pretty much the same story when it comes to Roman understanding of English, or Anglicanism.
For example, they think Article XXV teaches two sacraments, when, in fact, it affirms all seven. It affirms them in English, however, a language unknown not only to Latin Romans but also to modern Americans. I really don't care what the Spanish Ambassador thought the Articles of Religion are "patient of" because the man, speaking only his unknown tongue, was a barbarian to us and we to him (remember, his was the Country whose Armada was sunk by an act of God). But, I care when Anglicans think like a Spanish Ambassador.
We have no deficiency of Anglo-Catholics (sort of) who can carry out a High Church liturgy that has every bell, every whistle, every Missal rubric and every Ritual Note under the Sun. That is just fine, but only as long as laity and potential members are not driven out because the smoke is so thick that their asthma begins to kill them, or are otherwise left behind in the dust (mistakes I made in years past, so I know whereof I speak). We have a good grasp of what makes sacramental validity, and in many cases even of grace through the sacraments.
But, for balance we need a good dose of Evangelical preaching, the kind that sets forth the Gospel in powerful and direct terms, that is simple enough to be heard clearly without compromising its integrity. People need to know the way of salvation, what Jesus did for them, and that they must Repent and believe the Gospel. I do not know where the idea came from that the catholic Tradition can be complete without its evangelical message (in Anglican circles Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have been blaming each other for the modern heresies; but, they have come from neither source). You can't be a true catholic unless you are also a true evangelical, and you can't be a true evangelical with being a true catholic. For some of you, that means a radical new understanding, a comprehensive grasp of orthodox Christianity--by the way, that is what Anglicanism is supposed to be.
Finally, your own parishes can grow, but only if you have confidence enough in your particular branch of the Church that your confidence becomes contagious. Otherwise, you may spin your wheels from now to the last day, but nothing much will grow. Someone told you that your own heritage is straw and stubble; but it is gold and precious stones. Open your eyes.