Thursday, January 19, 2012

Do the work of an Evangelist

Not of an underwriter.

(Re-posted from 2007. I was younger and less refined, a tad more feisty. But, I still believe this.)

"Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry."
II Timothy 4:2,5

The insurance business has that dreaded class of gate keepers who study every new application sent by an agent, examining it thoroughly to find whatever reason they may to reject it. The agent has worked hard to sell a policy, only to have it fall into such hands, those who are trained to be suspicious, to protect the company's assets and reserves, and to this end to show no pity on a would be customer. The truth is, the insurance companies do need these menacing figures in order to control losses. They are necessary in insurance, but not in the priesthood.

A while back I listened to a priest, a man with little experience but generous with unsolicited advice, describing how he had protected his church from the wrong kind of people. A couple, both Episcopalians, were moving to his area, and wanted to find what they called a "Bible believing church." The alarm bells went off in his head, since he took the expression "Bible believing" to indicate that they were Protestant in their thinking, Low Church in their tastes, and just not the right sort for his "Anglo-Catholic" parish. He was practically boasting about how he had scared them off by arguing over who was and who was not orthodox, and by his firm refutation of women's "ordination." Yes, he manged to keep the wrong sort of people away, and they did not even come by on Sunday morning to visit and see the church for themselves. He had scared them off just fine over the phone.

The man should have been an underwriter.

The famed Barrister of fiction, Horace Rumpole, once said about a colleague, "It's no great trick getting people into prison. How good is he at keeping them out?" The opposite applies to the sacred ministry in the Church. It is no great trick keeping people out of the Church. Just decide, O' Priest, that you shall be a gatekeeper instead of a fisher of men. It's much easier, and you get to play the role of the Bad Vicar.None of that nasty business of being patient and kind, none of that drag on your time. And, you get to cater to the desires of the most fussy and effeminate contributors who think it is more important to observe all of the choreography of Ritual Notes than to tend to the salvation of souls. Golly! You can even console yourself as your congregation remains stagnant, or drops off to nothing, that you had done well by keeping it pure. You can concentrate on the gossip and who's who of the bitter Continuing divisions, and treat everything to do with learning as a matter purely theoretical.

But, guess what my friends; we don't need underwriters among the clergy. So, if you are the type who examines visitors to see whether or not their "application" is solid, please go do something else. The world always needs good waiters and janitors, and insurance companies could use very fussy people as, you guessed it, underwriters. Get an honest job.

This is a time of opportunity for us. At this point in history, the Anglican world is exploding. When it falls back down it will be resorted and reconfigured. Many of the people in official Cantuarian Anglican churches are fleeing for their lives; and they are looking to African Primates, or going to Rome or Orthodoxy, because for too long the Continuing Churches have been choking the supply of the Gospel, and of the power to save souls through the pure preaching of God's word; they have been squeezing the hose shut instead of allowing the water to flow through it. The Spirit has been quenched for too long among a people who, having the truest and best of orthodox doctrine, nonetheless have made evangelism the lowest priority, if a priority at all.

When I say, "evangelism" I do not mean, first and foremost, church growth. Church growth is a consequence of evangelism; but the purpose of evangelism is the salvation of souls. When all is said and done, we will not answer on the Last Day for how well we performed the Ritual Notes (not even for the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Procession); but we will answer for whether or not we had been moved by charity to become vessels meet for the Master's purpose, pliable to the Holy Spirit for the work of evangelists. How much have we cared about the eternal destiny of lost souls in a fallen world? How much have we sought to welcome them, in fact to "compel them to come in?"

Now, if this couple had asked me if my church were A "Bible believing church," I would have said, as every true Catholic, including Catholic Anglicans, should say: "Yes, we most certainly are." I would have urged them to come, to taste and see that the Lord is good. We can deal with ignorance. In fact, dear priests, expect ignorance since you are supposed to be the teachers, and you cannot teach people what they already know. Welcome people whose minds are confused, and learn to speak in and interpret tongues enough to communicate in terms they receive. If such faithful Christians think in terms too foreign for your understanding, how do you hope to win the nations for Christ?

"O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
to tell to all the world that God is Light;
that he who made all nations is not willing
one soul should perish, lost in shades of night.
Publish glad tidings: tidings of peace
tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.

"Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation
that God, in whom they live and move, is Love;
tell how he stooped to save his lost creation,
and died on earth that man might live above. Refrain

"Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious;
give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious
till God shall bring his kingdom's joyful day. Refrain

"He comes again! O Zion, ere thou meet him,
make known to every heart his saving grace;
let none whom he hath ransomed fail to greet him,
through thy neglect, unfit to see his face. Refrain"

O' Zion Haste, hymn 261 in the 1940 Hymnal
Words: Mary Ann Faulkner Thomson, 1870


Anonymous said...

The priest's behavior was outrageous, of course. I know the type. I've seen this kind of Catholic snob in the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and, as you also testify, Fr. Hart, in the Continuing Anglican Churches. It's sad, but one of the *interesting* things to me about it is how this person's anti-Evangelicalism unites him with the liberal Protestant, who also detests Evangelical Christianity. Strange bedfellows, to be sure.

Or are they? Perhaps they are each an unbeliever and an idolater, the one worshipping all manner of theological radicalism and the other worshipping liturgical aestheticism and "conservatism", and each missing the Evangelical center of it all.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

My general impression of my clerical colleagues has improved greatly since entering the ACC. I feel like part of a proper army now.

Canon Tallis said...

This was truly excellent, Father Hart, and I hope that every deacon, priest and bishop in the Continuum takes it to heart. As much as we all say that we hate such behavior, there has been simply too much of in in the Continuum. Anglicanism, real Anglicanism in its glory is the most Bible believing Church of all. And we don't just believe the parts of it which we like but as a once young evangelist at St Mark's, Portland, said after his non-Anglicans left a seemingly difficult visit, "they believe parts of it, but we believe all of it!"

And it is because we believe all of it that we have not only water baptism but the laying on of hands (for the sealing of the Holy Ghost); that we continue to practice auricular confession because Jesus gave the Church through his apostles the power to forgive sins; that we keep Holy Communion as the central act of our worship in response to his command and even that in places we retain the liturgical use of incense. These are all parts of the Old Testament and the New that seem to have escaped so many "that call themselves Christians," but who need to be led "into the way of truth," real Biblical truth.

I also appreciate and would add my second to what 'Caedmon' had to say.

AFS1970 said...

This is the danger of defining ourselves from a negative standpoint. Granted the media does us no favors, we need to be positive in what we believe not negative in what we do not.

Historically the continuum (like the REC before it and the ACNA #2 after it) exist because of the realization that we do not believe the same thing that someone else believes. However we can not survive or grow if we dwell on what we do not believe in. Frankly that is not all that interesting or mission oriented.

I cringe every time I read a story about ACNA #2 that talks about Gene Robinson. Because while the issues surrounding his supposed consecration may have been the straw that broke the camels back, it was certainly not the whole camel. To the continuum I guess Philadelphia and the fallacy of WO would be the same thing.