Evangelism

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.

 

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Why I Don’t use Alpha

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There is no doubt about it…the Alpha Course has proven to be immensely popular over time. In recent times the course has been updated, the most recent versions of Alpha I have seen (presented by two twenty something Canadian brothers in Christ) are very well put together. The production is of high standard, the two guys come off very natural and not cheesy at all. But having said that I would not use Alpha and here are the reasons:

Alpha is weak on sin and on the atonement

Episode Why did Jesus Die – quotes

“The Bible says that deep down in our core we are broken and this brokenness leads us to act in a way that hurts us and hurt others and the Bible calls this sin”.

The bad things we are do are evidence that we are broken.

Sin can make us feel like we are chained up and not free to live life to the fullest.

          There is a cost to sin, it can lead to spiritual death, destroy our relationship with God.

Sin has broken our friendship with God

Sin builds a wall between us and God.

Alpha does not define sin Biblically but defines sin as being broken. However this is a consequence of sin, not its substance and presents sin in anthropocentric terms. The consequences of sin that Alpha mentions are true, but does not present sin from a Theocentric position. It does not say anything about God’s wrath or holiness, or that sin is rebellion against God, and that we have offended him. Humanity without God is the subject of God’s wrath. We are not slightly displeasing to Him, with the occasional doing the wrong thing, rather by nature ‘we are objects of wrath’ (Eph. 2:3) because we have offended against God and broken His holy law. The root cause of sin is not a ‘broken relationship with God’; the root cause of sin is that mankind has universally rebelled against God’s holy laws and therefore offended God himself. I find this to be very concerning, as a deficient and unbiblical definition of sin will lead to a misunderstanding of the cross. If the diagnosis is inaccurate then the cure will be ineffective.

Alpha is light on the Cross

Again in this episode sin is defined as being ‘the things we do wrong’ – (which is the effect of sin)

Jesus on the cross was carrying your sin and my sin and therefore he was cut off from God, not because of what he’d done wrong but because of what we’d done. Do you see where this leaves us? Free to have relationship with God”.

There is no mention of Jesus being the propitiation for our sins – the penal substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement is given very little weight – that Christ died not simply in our place but took upon himself the wrath of God against sin. Sin again is defined in a human centered way, sin = the things we do wrong (to whom?, In the course the answer given is not ‘God’. What is said is incomplete – Alpha presents the cross as dealing with the wrongs we have done, our brokenness and disconnectedness, but it does not present the cross as dealing with the sin being what it is – rebellion against a Holy God who will punish sin.

God is a loving heavenly Father who wants us to be close to him. Sin has left us disconnected. Many of us live our lives without any sense of his love and uncertain about where we stand with him. No matter what you’ve done or where you’ve come from, God wants you to know his love. God welcomes us with open arms. He’s inviting all of us to turn to him and Jesus’ death made a way for us to know God. You can be forgiven of all the wrong you’ve done and be given a fresh start.

I think there is a danger when any sermon, book, or teaching presents an attribute of God as being the only attribute of God. The attribute of God that is the focus in Alpha is love. And of course this is Biblical, but it is not God’s only attribute. There is nothing in Alpha about God’s holiness (in my view this is a big omission on the part of Alpha) and this omission contributes to the reason why the death of Jesus is presented as an act of love but without any connection with the reality of God’s holy anger. We are left thinking that Christ sacrificed Himself to rescue us from the consequences of sin and that is all.

When Alpha is viewed as a whole the cross is not central to the course. Compared side by side with Christianity Explored this is quickly apparent:

Alpha          

Christianity Explored (CE)

Alpha: Who is Jesus?

 CE: Introduction

Alpha: Why did Jesus die?

CE: Jesus who was he?

Alpha: How can I be sure of my faith?

CE: Jesus why did he come?

Alpha: Why & how should I read the Bible?

CE: Jesus his death

Alpha: Why & how do I pray?

CE: What is grace?

Alpha: How does God guide us?

CE: Jesus his resurrection

Weekend away

Who is the Holy Spirit?

CE: The Church

Alpha: What does the Holy Spirit do?

CE: The Holy Spirit

Alpha: How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?

CE: Prayer

Alpha: How can I make the most of the rest of my life?

CE: The Bible

Alpha: How can I resist evil?

CE: What is a Christian?

Why and how should I tell others?

CE: Continuing as a Christian

Alpha: Does God heal today?

CE: Choices – Herod

Alpha: What about the Church?

CE: Choices – James & John

Alpha’s Teaching on the Holy Spirit is Charismatic – and teaches clearly that the “fullness of the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) is a subsequent experience to conversion.In the session How can I be filled with the Spirit? – in all intents and purposes it could be entitled How can I be baptised with the Holy Spirit? In the latest Alpha video one of the Canadian guys (who are very good presenters) says:

Every Christians has the Spirit, but not every Christian is filled with the Spirit”.

This is the charismatic doctrine of subsequence, yet it is presented as if this doctrine is orthodox. The results of this teaching are divisive in that the application of this teaching is that there is a two-tiered Christianity. Instead of being two types of people, the unbeliever and the believer, there are three; (1) the unbeliever, (2) the believer who is not filled with the Holy Spirit, (3) the believer who is filled with the Spirit. This teaching comes from a misreading of Acts, where the book of Acts is primarily interpreted through a hermeneutic grid that deems Acts to be prescriptive rather than descriptive. There is nothing in Scripture to suggest anything other than that the believer receives all of the Holy Spirit at the point when he or she puts their trust in Jesus and are justified.

Alpha has greater emphasis on the third person of the Holy Trinity than on the Lord Jesus Christ and yet Jesus teaching on the Holy Spirit in the gospels, particularly the farewell discourse in John 14 – 17 is ignored. These chapters teach us that there is an unbreakable connection between the Word of God and the Spirit of God, a connection which runs right through Scripture. That connection is that they both point to Christ. For the Spirit, another ‘Counsellor’ (John 14:16-17) ‘will guide you (the disciples) into all truth’ and He (the Spirit) will bring glory to me (Jesus) by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. (John 16:13-14). Given what Jesus teaches about His Holy Spirit we should expect Him to point towards Jesus and His words and not to himself and use the Scriptures to do this. Yet in Alpha, the Lord Jesus Christ is not central, he has been moved aside for the Holy Spirit.

Alpha’s teaching on Conversion is different –

We live in a unique time in history: the age of the Holy Spirit. He’s at work in the world today in a way that was never known before the day of Pentecost (then a quotation from Gal 3:14 but ignores the context of the verse). Men and women from every country and culture and economic background are invited to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The mandate of the Gospel message is that people are to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, Then, and only then, will the regenerate person be justified before a Holy God, be filled with all of the Holy Spirit, and have absolute assurance of anger propitiated, sins forgiven and of heaven ahead. Alpha seems to invite people to have an experience of God’s love and of the power of the Spirit (and the examples given are healing, words of knowledge, the gifts of speaking in Tongues) rather than calling for obedience to the message of the gospel of the Lord Jesus.

Conclusion:

While Alpha has its strengths, such as the videos that have come out, the presentation, the quality is very good, the two Canadian guys are very good at what they do, and no doubt God has used Alpha to bring people to himself. But the fact that God uses crooked sticks to make a straight line is due to his grace not due to the Alpha Course in my view. For Evangelicals the lack of emphasis on the Holiness of God, its deficient view of Sin, of the Cross, and the Charismatic pneumatology and take on conversion should give us serious pause when it comes to using this course with unbelievers, especially in light of the fact that there are so many better alternatives such as Christianity Explored.

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The Saul’s in Your Life – Part 2

Cracked

For Saul, the Christian life has begun, Saul has become captive to the very person he sought to conquer. He is now begun his walk by faith in the Son of God.

Saul the destroyer has been humbled. He is led like a child into Damascus, by the hand by the men he was travelling with who also heard the sound (Jesus voice but saw no –one) and Luke pauses in his account of Saul with the words of Acts 9:9:

9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything

Not unlike another man who rebelled against God and spend three days fasting in repentance in darkness – Paul is very much like Jonah in this regard.

What I love about the book of Acts is the way lives of people, which are on very different trajectories intersect. They seem like one of those amazing co-incidences, but in reality these co-incidences are nothing of the kind, they are sovereign God-moments; not a co-incidence, but a God-incidence. God was at work, his sovereign plans are coming together. In Acts 9 we see two lives meet, Saul meets Ananias (not to be confused with the one who died in Acts 5), and by the time he meets Saul, Saul is a transformed man. In Luke’s account of Ananias meeting Saul, we see evidence of Saul’s conversion. He is now praying. As a Pharisee he would have prayed before, but not like this. His prayers bathed in pride and self-righteousness were now prayers of humility and praise and of repentance. Ananias is commanded by the Lord Jesus to go and see Saul from Tarsus. And predictably and understandably Ananias voices his concern:

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

His concerns are real. They are not based on rumour. This man was the destroyer. And he knows why Saul had come to Damascus. But the Lord Jesus tells him to:

“Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

The Lord Jesus Christ saved Saul by grace, but it was grace with a purpose! He was saved to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to Gentiles,and it was a ministry that Paul would suffer much for the sake of Christ. So Ananias obeys and goes to see him and amazingly and quite movingly he calls Saul ‘brother’ and welcomes him into fellowship. The one time destroyer of the church is welcomed by the same church.

Saul had changed. He was a different man. His encounter with the risen and glorified Lord Jesus, transformed his view of God, his view of the Lord Jesus, his view of the His Church, and his view of the world, (when I say the world I mean his view of people).Saul the Destroyer – Saul the humbled – Saul the Welcomed – was now Saul the proclaimer. He was a different man, with a very different message. It is no wonder that those who heard him were astonished.

When I think of Saul’s conversion I often think of that pub in the inner west of Sydney on my 18th birthday. And if I knew then what I know now, instead of writing those people off and feeling despair, I would have felt hope, because Saul’s conversion reminds me vividly (and it is my prayer that it will remind us all vividly) that God’s Grace is bigger and more powerful than the hardest of hearts.

I once heard the former Archbishop of Sydney Harry Goodhew tell me that Gospel ministry in Australia is like “trying to plough concrete”. And as true is that is, and as often as sharing of our faith can feel like that, God can crack the concrete surrounding the unbelieving heart. He cracked Saul’s. He cracked my heart. He can crack anyone’s!

I don’t really need to state that there are many many Saul’s in our world. And often we don’t have look too hard to find them. I think almost every Christian has a Saul in their own family, some of you who are reading this may even be married to a Saul, or have children who are Saul, or have parents who are Saul. Don’t despair!

God’s grace is bigger and more powerful than the hardest of hearts, 

and that grace is found in the Lord Jesus Christ seen most clearly in the cross, where he died in our place and in his empty tomb. And the wonderful thing brothers and sisters is that we don’t have to worry about making people become Christians, because that is God the Holy Spirit’s role. He transforms, we proclaim! He transforms, we pray! So let’s tell people of him. Will you pray with me, will you pray for your ministers, all the Christians that you know, and all the Christians that you don’t know; that God will use us, weak messy jars of clay that we are, to proclaim Christ to others, to introduce people to the Lord Jesus Christ, and help them home to heaven?

Don’t despair. God’s grace is bigger than the hardest of hearts, and his grace can crack the hardest of concrete