Culture

Evangelising Nominal Anglicans 

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I remember years ago hearing about two twenty something Anglican Christians who as part of their church’s outreach ministry visited homes in their parish in order to invite people to their up and coming Easter Services. On one occasion they encountered an elderly lady and when the pair introduced themselves and told her that they were from the local Anglican Church she responded saying:

“What? What church? Anglican? What sort of church is that? I am not interested in you Fang-dangle Anglicans or whatever you call it. I have my own church”.

When they asked her what church she belonged to, with pride in her voice and quick as a whip she said “I belong to the Church of England”.

Working hard to contain their laughter, the pair informed the lady that Church of England had changed their name to Anglican. “When did they do that?” She piped up? And so they told her, “1981”. Her response was one of shock “Well I don’t remember that! No one told me that”.

This is a funny example of what I believe is an encounter with a nominal Anglican, that is withan individuals who identify as being Anglican but is for various reasons is disconnected from the church be it physically, relationally or doctrinally. Nominal Anglicans may believe in God, or they may not. They may be good living people. They may see the church as belonging to them even though they may rarely if ever attend. They may define being a Christian is being good to one’s neighbour, and say they are Christian, even though they don’t know or read the Scriptures and the Lord Jesus is more like a distant great Uncle than a close intimate friend. They may even attend church regularly but interpret committed Christian discipleship as extreme.

Judging by the latest census results[1] fifteen percent of the population identify as Anglicans, compared with percentage of Anglicans who are committed to being part of a Anglican faith community on Sundays, which implies that there are a large number of Nominal Anglicans.

But as interesting as it is to ponder the question of how many people there are in our diocese who identity as Anglicans yet never attend church, the more important and if may be so bold to say, urgent question that we do well to ask is this:

 How do we reach them with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ?

While I am absolutely no expert on reaching nominal Anglicans, here are some thoughts to that question:

  1. Keep preaching the whole Counsel of God – If you have a preaching ministry. Preach through the Bible, the OT, the NT, The Gospels, The Epistles. All of it. It will not only serve to ensure that your people don’t become nominal Anglicans, God has given us his promise that his Word will not return empty. If you don’t have a preaching ministry, encourage your minister to do this
  2. Keep preaching the Cross – We preach the Cross because it God’s power to save, we preach the cross because we should not assume that everyone in our parish is saved; we preach the cross because we don’t know whom may come to one of our services on any given Sunday. And we preach the cross because it will give your people confidence to invite their non-church going friends to come to church knowing that if they do come they will hear the life changing message of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus! Again, encourage your preachers do this if you do not have a preaching ministry.
  3. Don’t assume that all non church goers are rabid secularists or athiests – Yes, there are rabid secular athiests out there, but for every rabid secular atheist, you will meet people who identity themselves as Anglicans, (whether it be due to family history, a baptism, a funeral, a good experience with a previous minister or member of the Anglican Church), whom may believe in the God of the Bible and have a high regard for the Lord Jesus. Because of this, you have a point of connection.
  4. Don’t assume that your church does not have nominal Anglicans– while the majority of nominal Anglicans don’t attend church. Your parish will have nominal who dutiful attend, ranging from twice a year Easter and Christmas to monthly, and even weekly. Some may come out of duty, guilt, habit, or some may even come because they simply enjoy church and it is something that do out of habit. This is where morning tea and supper are so helpful (and important). These are wonderful opportunities to talk with nominal Anglicans about the Lord Jesus, about our faith and we are in church so we should not be shy to talk about our love for God, his Son, and/or how and why we were challenged or encouraged by the sermon, or moved by the taking Holy Communion. Nominal Anglicans don’t usually talk about such things, but your conversation with them could be the seed that God uses to germinate a saving faith in their heart.
  5. Connect without Compromise – Build bridges, our parish has a church fete which I believe is a great point of connection in our community. There are many opportunities in which we as God’s people can connect. There is of course the traditional means, Weddings and Funerals, and Baptisms (though this is a tricky one). There are also events such as  having services designed to invite those who identify as Anglicans, Come to Church Sunday Services, or Back to Church Sunday Services or a Welcome Back Sunday service. Perhaps some thinking out of the box is in order. I am working on starting something within our Op Shop called Op Chop where those who are in need can have a hair cut for $5 or $2 or $1. Even nominal Anglicans need a haircut!
  6. Don’t Hide Anglican Quirkiness – This may seem rather contentious, but there is the false theory out there that says we must make our services as appealing, as palatable and as ‘normal’ as possible in order to win the outsider. As if we are saying, “We promise this experience will be exactly what you’re used to.” If you were dating someone and your pitch to them was constantly that you were unfailingly average and totally a good fit for anyone! Your partner would never feel like you were a good fit for them specifically. And our denomination has some delightful quirks that not everyone will enjoy–but a sizable portion of the population will be able to connect with and even like and enjoy. And if we reveal those quirks boldly, well, that’s when people fall in love. Sure, some will walk but some won’t.
  7. Pray – This is the given, the non negotiable, yet so often is the one activity that we forget to do. Pray that God will enable us to build bridges with those who identify themselves as Anglicans, and that in his grace God will open their eyes to the truth that a true Anglican is one who loves and trusts in Jesus, and that they will cross the bridge.

 

[1] http://stat.data.abs.gov.au/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=ABS_CENSUS2011_B14

which says that 3, 679, 907 people identify themselves as Anglicans.

 

Cultural Blindness

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Have a look at this image…have a good look…what do you see? Do you see a number? If someone said to me “Joshua, I will give you 50K if you can tell me what number is in this image”, I would have to randomly guess a number in the hope that I was correct. No matter how hard I have looked at this image, no matter how much I will myself to see a number, I cannot see it. Even people tell me what number is there, I still cannot see it. I have a form of colour blindness where my colour vision is shifted towards the red end of the spectrum resulting in a reduction in sensitivity to the green area of the spectrum. In other words, I cannot see green very well. The problem is not the wiring of my brain (though some may think otherwise), but it is do with my eyes themselves, I will not bore you with details, except to say that my eyes are missing certain receptors so that my eyes cannot pick up certain waves in the colour spectrum. So distinguishing yellow from light green is difficult, pink from grey and blue from purple is difficult, but in every day life everything seems normal (except for buying bananas that are ripe). The thing about being colour blind is that in every day life I am not aware of it.

But there is another type of blindness that all of us are susceptible to acquiring, not colour blindness but cultural blindness. It is the inability to detect the currents, morés, and values of our culture, the inability to discern them in light of God’s Word and the inability to see if they are influencing us.

Recently in our parish we have just finished a series in Judges and this was really brought home to me with the example of a Judge named Jephthah. Jephthah is one of those OT figures whom is not that well known I suspect. He is not one of those OT figures that is likely to be used in a ‘Kid’s Spot’ in church (like Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon). In case the name does not ring a bell for you, his tragic account can be found in Judges 10:6 – 12:7.

At first Jephthah seems like ‘a good guy’. When we are introduced to him, God’s nation of Israel is in a real mess. They had displayed a cascade of failures, morally and spiritually. Verse 6 of Judges 6 shows us how this is the case:

[6] The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him. (ESV)

They not only have done evil in the eyes of the Lord and committed spiritual adultery, they have done it multiple times at the same time. They are have really done evil, not only is now Baal, but also the Ashtoreths, (which is the summary way of saying the male and female Canaanite gods)the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, the gods of Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. So they had taken on every ‘god’ of every nation that surrounds them. They served every false god that surrounded them rather than Yahweh. Their failures are presented here, one on top of the other. They have gone from bad to worse. (The fact they would spiritually go to bed witih the god of Aram is perverse since Aram was a nation that God used to punish them back in chapter 3. God raised up Othniel to save Israel from Aram, now generations later they are now worshipping the fake god of Aram).

Israel had sunk so low. Look again at the last sentence of v.7

AND THEY FORSOOK THE LORD AND DID NOT SERVE HIM

The verb ‘forsook’ is a word we don’t really use. It is past tense of the verb forsake, and we don’t really use that word much. For example if a person gives us Maccas, it would be a rare thing for them to announce “I forsook Maccas”, (though this would certainly be to their advantage!). It means to renounce, or abandon, to desert, to leave, to quit. When it came to Israel being God’s people, living in God’s place, living under God’s rule, Israel said to God as a nation “I quit”! “I’m done” It is like the husband or wife saying to their faithful spouse who has loved them “I am leaving”.

Israel’s rebellion is massive and God responds in kind and hands them over to two nations, the Philistines and the Ammonites. But our of sheer outrageous grace God sends a deliverer,  a man named Jephthah.

By the time he comes on the scene, Israel is so desperate, that they have no choice but to turn to this warrior who had a very dodgy parentage, who was hanging out with losers due to being driven out by his own family. To cut a long story short (though it is worth reading), Jephthah gives the oppressing King a theology lesson and a history lesson then goes out to fight him.

Again, this Jephthah seems like a good guy. He lays out the truth. In v.29 we read that the Spirit of Yahweh (or the Lord) is upon him and off to fight the Ammorites he goes! But in his zeal, he sows the seed that will blossom into the tree of tragedy. And this is what i suspect he is remembered for. Look with me at 11:30-31:

[30] And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, [31] then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

It begs the question:

Why would Jephthah, an Israelite make such a vow? And even more tragic, after God grants him the victory, which (very important to remember) God was going to anyway).

The reason…

CULTURAL BLINDNESS.

Jephthah was blind to the cruelty of the pagan cultures around him. He was blind to the evil practice of human sacrifice to gods. He was also blind to the prevailing cultural view of how one approaches the real and living God. Jephthah has imbibed the view that for God to act in a way that was beneficial or favourable, one needed to offer a sacrifice to Him. Thus the greater the sacrifice, the greater the favour. The culture around viewed human sacrifice as the ultimate sacrifice.

The consequences of his cultural blindness are tragic and horrifying!

It was a foolish vow that if fulfilled would have tragic results.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.

We want to step back in time and go there and say to him. Don’t do it. Confess your foolishness to God, break your stupid vow, save your daughter’s life. Your vow is useless, it was won’t sway God, he was always going to grant you victory and save Israel.(See 10:16 and 11:29; God had already decided to save Israel, for he could not bear to see Israel suffer. And in v.29, God’s Spirit was upon him). But he goes through with the sacrifice.

His blindspot was massive, and it had massive and fatal consequences.

And herein liesi the challenge for us, we all have blind spots. The tragic example of this not so well known Judge serves to highlight to us that we as God’s people should never underestimate the effect that our culture has on us. And that by and large our culture can and does have a bigger effect on us than the Bible. Our blinds spots can be really difficult to remove…why? Because they are blind spots, we cannot see them. But the Scriptures; God’s Word – and the Holy Spirit (together) they serve as a lens and a scalpel. They enable us identifies those (what I call) cultural and personal cataracts, and remove them.. Over the years God has shown me many blind spots that needed to be removed. They can come in all shapes and sizes, where we take on and imbibe certain cultural traits, morés, and ethics… that our culture deems normal…yet God’s Word deems sinful. It could be external behaviours or internal attitudes or a real unhealthy cocktail of both.

cataractsNow of course we would all say “Amen”! We would all say “Obviously”. But we are people of our time and place and we don’t always see our culture objectively, we don’t always see our culture through the lens of Scripture, we should, but we don’t always do it. Just as cataracts block sight, cultural cataracts block our spiritual sight, blinding us to the truth of God’s Word, and to how we are living our lives in light of it.

Jephthah had God’s Word, he had God’s Law, God had shown him that He was the true and living God and was not like the pagan ‘gods’ around Israel. Yet Jephthah was blind. He could not see how the prevailing pagan worldview around him, he could not discern his culture in light of how God had revealed himself. He was just like the other pagan kings around him.He was blind to the truth of God’s Word.

There is a term that was coined by the Protestant Reformers and the term is

SEMPER REFORMANDA

And it means ‘Always Reforming’. The Reformers used this term because they rightly believed that the church should always be reforming its doctrine and practices in light of Scripture. Here is the challenge. This term applies also at the individual level. Are you, am I, are we Semper Reformanda? Are we constantly being reformed by the Spirit of God, through the Word of God? If we are not, then our spiritual vision will diminish and over time we will have no vision at all.  God’s Word is the lens and the scalpel, God’s Word identifies and cuts out tt those cultural cataracts, God the Holy Spirit is the surgeon, how is your vision? Do you have 20/20 vision? Or do you require radical surgery?

Open Letter to Mr Shorten

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This morning, Ian Powell, an Anglican minister in Canberra confronted the Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, about comments that Shorten made about those who disagree with same-sex marriage.

Following from this, I wrote the below email and sent it Mr Shorten:


Dear Honourable Mr Shorten,

My name is Joshua Bovis. I am an Anglican priest in NSW, I have been married for nineteen years and I have four children aged 15, 14, 13, 9. Today I saw the footage of your conversation with the Rev’d Ian Powell in Canberra and after viewing this I felt it prudent to write to you in order to highlight something pertaining to the debate surrounding marriage equality that perhaps you may not be aware of.

For many proponents of same-sex marriage, the prevailing paradigm (for the want of a better term) that is being put forward, is as follows:

Those who are for same-sex marriage, (aka marriage equality), hold to this position because:
1. They are tolerant;
2. They are loving;
3. They are accepting (of Gays & Lesbians);
4. They are informed

Those who are for the traditional view marriage (marriage between a man and a woman), hold to this position because:
1. They are bigoted;
2. They are haters;
3. They are homophobic;
4. They are stuck in the past

The problem, with this paradigm, sir, is that it a false paradigm. This paradigm does not even allow for the possibility that there are those who believe and uphold to the traditional view of marriage (between a man and woman), and who disagree with same sex marriage, who are:
1. Not bigoted;
2. Not haters (of the LBGTI community);
3. Not homophobic;
4. Who are informed and not stuck in the past

I understand from your public discourses presented in the media that you are for marriage equality and as an Anglican priest, who believes that the Bible is God’s final authoritative word in all matters of faith and practice, I disagree with your view.

But living in a democracy, of course, I realise that this is part of life and that we are all free in Australia to hold to a plethora of views and opinions. Not everyone will agree with everyone. However what I find rather disconcerting and disappointing is that your view seems to be articulated in a way which is invective rather than thoughtful and respectful.

For example:

1. You have been quoted from the Labor campaign launch in Sydney (19th June, 2016) as having said[1]:

“Instead of providing a taxpayer-funded platform for homophobia we will gift every Australian an equal right in respect of love.”

2. At the National Press Club in Canberra (June 28th), you were quoted as saying[2]:

“NO $160 million plebiscite, no hurtful, hateful government sponsored advertising campaign for us.”

3. Your response to the the Coalition’s decision not to allow its members a conscience vote on same-sex marriage[3]:

“We hear some of the arguments used last night … one leading conservative right wing Liberal MP said that `Dolce and Gabbana never got married’. They are people who are genuinely stuck in the past.”

4. You made this comment, during your response in a debate on the 17th of June 2016, which was aimed at those in our nation who believe that marriage laws should not be amended[4]:

“I think we’ve seen with two terrible events in the last week [the Orlando nightclub shooting and the murder of UK MP Jo Cox] that hate and extremism does exist in modern societies.” “I don’t want to give the haters the chance to come out from underneath the rock.”

Sir, your comments are not only invective, but they are also appear to indicate that you are also operating out of that same false paradigm. That those who disagree with marriage equality are homophobic, hateful, and stuck in the past.

Furthermore, your fourth comment which I have cited, where you equate those responsible for the appalling and heinous crimes in the USA and the UK with people such as myself, my family, and those within my parish who believe that marriage is between a man and woman is downright offensive to say the least.

The motto of the parish where I have the privilege to serve is this: Love God, Love His Word, Love People. We strive to be a people who love God, who love his Word, and what it says (including what it says about his intents and purposes for marriage, which is reflected in Australia’s current Marriage Act) and we strive to be a people who love people, even those who disagree with us, even those who are of the LGBTI community.

We may not agree with their lifestyles, we may not agree with same-sex marriage, but this does not mean that we are bigoted, hateful, or homophobic people who are stuck in the past.

If you are ever in Tamworth, NSW, you are most welcome to visit our parish, and I am certain that you would see that this is certainly the case.

Grace and Peace
Joshua

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