Friday, August 19, 2011

We're praying for our vicar to be saved!

On Friday at Together at Westpoint Terry Virgo told an anecdote of his experience of meeting someone who had been awakened to the grace of God and the work of the Spirit at a major Christian conference. As they thanked Terry for his teaching on this they said, "now we're going home, praying that our vicar will be saved".

Terry's reply was of some bewilderment. Reminding us that "just because it's called St. Something's" doesn't mean it's a church.... and if the leader isn't a Christian then the thing is probably failing some sort of test of being a church, right?

Obviously praying for the vicar to become a Christian is good, but the observation suggests that these newly revived believers need to go and find a church they can thrive in - and from there look to win the world for Christ, even the bits that call themselves churches.

If your "church" doesn't love the gospel then it's not a church right? And a Christian has got to be rooted in a church. We, understandably, develop such strong allegiance to our communities...  but there is a world to win for Christ who need to hear the gospel and see real church happening. Sometimes you have to hear the Spirit's stirring and get out of Babylon to go and build the house of God (Ezra 1) - you have to get where God is present.

A Christian leader coming into a religious institution to win it for Christ is probably also not leading a church at first - though it might yet plant a church among the religious. If you're not the leader can you really get very far - and even if you can, don't you need to be part of a church in the meantime? And wouldn't that make the mission more effective? Wouldn't that mean you could stand with others pulling in the same direction - it's fair enough to expect someone who isn't a Christian not to believe in your mission, but when we kid ourselves that the religious are the church don't we betray the gospel, don't we defame Christ?

Do good believers in dead churches just prop up bad institutions? Or might they win them for Christ?
Or, should they get out - plant a new church - and seek to win the religious and the irreligious in their community? 
Got me thinking - what do you think?


If you've ever wondered what the church could be, I cannot think of a better book than Terry Virgo's The Spirit-Filled Church (£4.38 at Book Depository)

15 comments:

  1. The implications are rather city-focussed. What do you do in the hundreds of towns and villages where the parish church is the only thing? Abandon the village and surrounding area to travel for 30 miles to the nearest town which has a true church (or a choice of several, to taste)? Or find a few believers in the parish and have fellowship & outreach within the not-so-genuine-church? Or...? I'd probably incline towards the travel-with-a-view to planting, but it's far from an obvious decision - feels/looks like you're copying the economy and abandoning the local places for the city supermarket churches. Hmm.

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  2. I was talking to a guy today who has been quite put off by church. He regards himself as a Christian, but he said, "I have some issues with Church."

    He listed a few things, quite honestly, not in any way aggressively or angrily, which made it hard for him to walk through the door of a church.

    I offer no interpretation of what he mentioned, but just wanted to add this, to your post about the church.

    So, he mentioned:

    Inauthentic language. Christian language like 'a gospel church', 'a gospel Christian', 'getting saved'. Stand-up, sit-down, pray, sing... He found that he felt that this undermined something more personal and real growing in his faith. It didn't feel judgemental, he was just simply saying that he found that it got in the way.

    People and intimacy issues. He acknowledged some personal struggles with relationships, and said that this makes being part of a community painful and awkward.

    Assumptions that are made. He said that some parts of the bible were really easy to accept and believe, but he was struggling with other parts. He didn't feel that anyone else at church was going through the same thing.

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  3. I'm suspicious of judging "church-ness" only by inward things, since we can't always see those clearly in other people. You can be a church outwardly if you have the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments- without actually having inward evangelical faith. You're still a Church, because you're still in the Covenant, even if you don't keep your end of it.

    Wesley seemed to realize this, because he tried his hardest to stay Anglican, even though he probably thought a lot of his vicars and rectors were going to Hell (and he was probably right). And I think that was the right thing to do. But in the end, the Church itself kicked him out, and that seems to have been what God wanted. So I don't think there's one answer for every situation.

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  4. Rosemary, I don't think it calls for city focus.... takes very few people to plant a church in a village. having come through this scenario as a child, staying failed and only served to disperse and weakens the small group of alive believers.... when a church could have been planted in which they could flourish and reach the village.

    Tom, agreed labels not that helpful but the objectional language is fairly biblical... conversion and salvation are biblical terms, granted they need careful use.

    Chiarstic, but are those things present? Perhaps there is a temperament that's not so pro-anglican, not so keen to prop up what's lifeless...

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  5. (Obviously plenty of phenomenal life in the c of e, but plenty of death, especially rurally...)

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  6. Where is the door of the church? My front door, my friendship....

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  7. They are all difficult situations, and much wisdom required.

    The church is both a gathered and a scattered people.

    It is gathered around the word and sacrament. In that activity I know from experience as well as the Bible that it is important to seek out a church where the word is rightly preached and sacrament properly administered. If we stay in a 'church' where that doesn't happen then we will die from lack of sustenance.

    It is scattered into the world so we shouldn't abandon the countryside by any means. I know that is happening and accelerating. The countryside desperately needs the Gospel.

    How we do both is difficult. Perhaps stay involved in some activities in the country parish while also attending the church in the city. As a missionary to the country it will be hard, and fruit maybe thin, but it will be a powerful witness to the church and world to the worth of Christ.

    Tom,

    Lots of interesting points. Perhaps the problem is not 'inauthentic' language but 'authentic' language. Any community of friends/family develops its own language. This is natural and authentic. However, you are right that it can be alienating.

    Paul teaches us to be 'inauthentic', to the weak I became weak, so that we reach out in love.

    It is ok to be ourselves, but it is better to put ourselves out for the sake of others.

    On the assumptions point. I wonder if the perception of together/certain/always-happy Christians is a function of cutting repentance out of much church life. Perhaps we need more of that (not least for the hurt we cause others as sinners, as you describe in your second point).

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  8. I agree with chiasticsarcast. The unconvertedness of minister and congregation (insofar as we are able to ascertain this) does not make a gathering a church or not. Christ is still present to teach and nourish through the liturgy - the reading of Scripture, the singing of Psalms, the Lord's Supper. There's an objectivity to those things.

    As Dave K suggests, it may be that what is needed is attendance at the parish church supplemented by some other form of fellowship and teaching.

    The better Puritans advocated attendance at the parish church alongside other meetings, appealing to the parable of the wheat and tares and the injunction not to separate before the Lord does. Toplady said that if Church of England doctrines (i.e. Reformed Evangelical doctrine) were not being taught in the parish church, then one ought to seek them out where they are being preached, whether in a barn or a private house or in a field or on a dunghill, but that one oughtn't neglect the Communion service in the parish church.

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  9. Daniel - wise words, especially that the church is as yet impure.

    Two questions.

    1. Pastorally - would you really advise someone to stay in a church that has a non-Christian minister?

    2. Relatedly, though I still wonder what gives the parish church such priority, over any other place where such things may be happening - just because it was there first?

    If we're saying there's some reason for the C of E being THE church then I imagine someone should stay with supplement, and that it's even ok to stay in a church with a non-Christian minister because there is some hope of other things (like liturgy) remaining... but if not then I struggle to see why we would prop up such things, when there are Christians who need the gospel, and world to be reached...

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  10. (1) If it's a congregation to which they already belong, I think I would advise them to stay, whilst getting extra input for their growth.

    (2) That depends rather on your model of church, doesn't it? Do people gather together because they agree with a certain set of doctrines or practices? Is the Church of England just one such denomination amongst many for those people who prefer the Thirty-Nine Articles and Prayer Book to something else? Or is she something else? Is she a mother who has been England's companion for centuries, whom some have forsaken, and who has herself in her history (arguably) forsaken others, in whose womb we are conceived and at whose breasts we are nursed, so that our ties to her are not voluntary, but organic, familial?

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  11. "Pastorally - would you really advise someone to stay in a church that has a non-Christian minister?"

    I think any answer to this has to be qualified - because obviously we aren't Donatists. There's obviously a point at which staying does more harm than leaving.

    "in whose womb we are conceived and at whose breasts we are nursed, so that our ties to her are not voluntary, but organic, familial?"

    I think these are properly descriptive of the visible church - rather than any particular institution. With the stipulation that the visible church is present wherever the Gospel is preached and the sacraments faithfully administered - the 39 articles themselves say much the same thing.

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  12. Being an Anglican, I think this post is rather interesting. I do get and understand the points raised, but I do have some objections.

    Firstly, it's very important to understand that whilst the church is something that preaches the gospel, this isn't what those who aren't Christians think. There will, whether you admit it or not, be people who go to these dying churches and stay there. If we left those people there, what hope is there of them ever hearing gospel preaching. Also, might it not be that Christ wants us to stay there to persevere and be salt and light in that community?

    Apart from that, what about still going to the dying church on Sunday and getting and being 'church' with a gospel believing one another night of the week? Maybe joining a Bible study or small group, for example. How about asking members of that church to help you out in witnessing to the vicar and to the church?

    Could it be that we are subconsciously limiting the power of the Holy Spirit by thinking that he is unable to change the heart of the vicar and the heart of the church? Are we undermining the power of us being present and the power that our prayers have over that dying church?

    I'd also like to point out that many non conformists (and myself in the past) have fondly talked and marveled at the great reformers who 'stood up fro gospel truth and left the institutionalised church'. Where, in fact, that was the LAST thing they wanted to do.

    On a side note (and I know the vicar is just being used for the sake of this post) why are we just attributing this situation to just Anglican churches? There are many calvinist/non conformist/baptist/evangelical churches that have ministers in them that don't believe the gospel. Just sayin'. We need to be careful in this area...

    And also... the comfort I find being an Anglican is whilst the Vicar may not be evangelical, the liturgy of the church stays the same. And so does God's word. I've heard countless stories of people saying the Eucharistic Prayer and giving their lives to Jesus just because they suddenly realise what communion means. And then the rest is history...

    It is a mission to stay in a dying church, which is why I think you need to get church from other places whilst you're evangelising, but I don't think you should ever write off a church that God has so clearly started sometime in the past. I also understand that some churches God does close. But who are we to make that decision for him?

    Just some thoughts...

    http://deanroberts.net

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  13. Hi Dean,

    You're right this isn't just an Anglican thing - the couple in question just happened to be that... I agree some will go to churches like that though really today, how many is that... those attending church in the UK are a very very tiny minority so lets not kid ourselves that the occasional lifeless church is much of a front door through which people tend to come.

    Especially rurally it'd be worth getting churches planted where we wouldn't fear for people going and being left without the gospel... if these things aren't places of life, they're not really churches are they?

    Reforming a church is possible - though v.hard to do if you're not the leader. I watched people try for years and it's ruined them and made no real impact on the church itself.

    Can God override all of that - of course! Can we ever make perfect church here - of course not. But we can try and make a better job of it, and the old buildings and their histories are both glorious and often a stumbling block....

    Ultimately I'd biased. I grew up in a village where the only church wasn't great, and where I saw people labour to change things and barely scratch the surface whilst doing their own faith a lot of harm... had there been the courage and the support to plant something fresh there I think more advance could of been made for the gospel. In the end those who were there have either been scattered to surrounding villages, travelling out to church, or fallen by the wayside.

    I long for renewal, for revival, believe for it, from within and from without the existing churches.

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  14. You're definitely right in saying that it's the more rural churches that are prone to libralisation and neglect of the gospel.

    It's a toughie... but I like you long for revival from within the church. And I just pray that God has mercy on some of the churches in the Anglican Church, more specifically that he would wake up the Church in Wales, which is where I'm based (currently on the Staff Team of a growing, evangelical Anglican Church in Newport).

    This is a good post, Dave. I've bookmarked it. :)

    http://deanroberts.net

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  15. Dean, thanks for interacting. Be great to catch your thoughts on terrys book if you get. a chance to read it.

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