General Synod 2017
- Written by: Stephen Hale
General Synod was held in sunny Maroochydore. If you’re going to have to spend five and half days in Synod sessions from 8.30am to 9pm this certainly helped to make it a better experience. On four of the mornings we met in table groups to join in the Daily Office as well as respond to the four Bible Studies delivered by Bishop Michael Stead (Sydney), Dr Matthew Anstey (Adelaide), Dr Dorothy Lee (Melbourne) and Dr John Dunhill (Perth). The group I led was animated and we had wonderful interactions as we engaged with the Scriptures and prayed together. This helped set the tone for the day and was one of the factors as to why I would say it was a good General Synod. The Primate chaired well in his relaxed but clear way.
Synod dealt with a lot of legislation: the Child Safe Canon; Episcopal Standards; The Redress Scheme; screening of volunteer leaders and many other matters. Substantial motions were passed: upholding marriage as currently defined; instructing the Doctrine Commission to produce papers on a range of issues related to human sexuality; giving an apology for domestic violence; investigating and possibly commissioning research on domestic violence in churches; child safety; assisted dying; gender balance on General Synod bodies; and the Reformation.
Matters related to the Royal Commission dominated proceedings. On the one hand Royal Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald commended the Anglican Church on leading the way in establishing comprehensive policies and procedures in relation to Professional Standards. On the other hand the flow-on impact of the National Redress Scheme was sobering to consider. Of the people who have had private sessions with a Commissioner only a third had had previous contact with the institution where the abuse occurred. The Commonwealth will operate the National Redress Scheme. Once an assessment is established with an individual the institution in which the abuse occurred will be invoiced for the cost of the payment to victims plus legal and psychological costs. Given that seven dioceses are currently assessed to be financially unviable, the flow-on impact of this will be massive in those dioceses, but in reality it will be substantial in all dioceses. The consequences of the sins of the past are being visited upon this generation.
Evangelicals had a good General Synod. At my first General Synod in 1994 there were only three diocesan bishops who were evangelical: those of Sydney, Armidale and North West Australia. Today it is a very different scene. All of the clergy and a majority of the laity elected to the Standing Committee as well as the Primatial Election Board were evangelical. Many long-term stalwarts of these boards didn’t seek re-election!
On the Tuesday evening we had 100 people at the EFAC Dinner. Given that the Dioceses of Adelaide and Brisbane had their own dinners this was wonderful response. Bishop Richard Condie gave a rousing address on his new Diocesan Vision. This, in fact, was probably the best speech given at the Synod!
My sense is that the future is going to be very challenging for all dioceses. Some of the structural changes that have been talked about for decades may be forced upon us. That, in itself, may not be a bad thing. God is at work in and through the Anglican Church. There is much to be encouraged about, but massive challenges also lie ahead.
Bishop Stephen Hale, Chair of EFAC Australia, judges this year’s General Synod a good one for Evangelicals.
Using Cranmer as your prayer-coach
- Written by: Peter Adam
Peter Adam points out that the Reformation sought to reform the praying of the church, and Peter seeks to continue that reform in our lives today.
Peter Adam is Rector Emeritus of St Jude’s Carlton. Vic.
We all need help in our praying. Let’s enrich our prayers by getting someone to coach us. And a good person to do so is Thomas Cranmer, the Reformation Archbishop of Canterbury. One of his most significant contributions to the welfare of God’s people was showing people how to pray, and providing good models for prayer. We might no longer use the prayers he provided for us in The Book of Common Prayer (or perhaps you still do), but he can still challenge and coach us in our prayers today. 3
The Reformation was about reforming and renewing doctrine, as it was about reforming and renewing ministry, daily life, church life, education, the structure of society, and much else. It was also about reforming and renewing prayer, and this included who prayed, to whom people prayed, what they prayed, why they prayed, and how they prayed!
The Gifts of Our Anglican Heritage
- Written by: EFAC WA
The Gifts of Our Anglican Heritage
- an affirmation of Anglicanism from EFAC WA
It is easy to feel that the churches have lost their way. Declining attendances and finances, falling Christian affiliation and loss of reputation, combined with Christian leaders trying to hold together clashing agendas being championed within their flocks, often produce the feeling that things aren’t going well..
And yet, as people who love and are committed to the Anglican church, our conviction is that our Christ-centred heritage is sufficiently deep and rich to provide us with what we need to persevere in faith, hope, and love through whatever may lie ahead. We long to see the churches of our diocese grow, flourish, and be a blessing to our local communities, and we believe that under God this is possible, not despite our Anglican heritage, but because of it. We rest in the promise of Christ that he will build his church, and give thanks for the gifts of our Anglican heritage through which Christ will continue to do this by his Holy Spirit.
So in the spirit of unity, we would like to share with you what encourages and excites us about being Anglican, and why we remain convinced that our reformed catholic tradition holds out such promise for our mission and ministry in the world.
We are Catholic – committed to the Catholic Creeds which affirm that we worship the triune God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In them the uniqueness of Christ the Son, his full divinity and true humanity, his conception by the Holy Spirit, and bodily resurrection on the third day are declared. We rejoice that this faith binds us to all Christians throughout time and place.
We are Reformed – committed to the doctrines of grace, recovered during the reformation and expressed in the 39 Articles of Religion. Accordingly we are committed to the teaching that we are unable to save ourselves because of our sin and are totally reliant upon the grace of God to convict us of sin and draw us to the reconciling love of Christ.
We love the Bible – being committed to the Canon of the Old and New Testaments as God’s gift, written by various human authors who were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We receive them as trustworthy, true, and sufficient for framing our lives, shaping our minds, and teaching our congregations the will, work and ways of God. We value reason and the tradition of the church, and uphold the Scriptures as God’s Word and therefore the supreme and the ultimate authority in matters of salvation, practice and faith.
We cherish our history – recognising with gratitude and humility that we have inherited both good and bad teaching and examples in our denomination. We cherish the good yet are mindful of the bad, including moral failures towards children and adults, and loss of our nerve in proclaiming the Kingdom. Whilst cherishing our history we seek to be humble and repentant, constantly allowing ourselves to come under our Lord’s scrutiny.
We are gospel people – because the gospel of Christ is of first importance, we believe that sharing the gospel is central to everything we do. Some are gifted to be evangelists, but all are called to be witnesses to the hope we have. We therefore encourage one another to take every opportunity to make the love of Christ known, prayerfully depending on the Holy Spirit who enables us to live out the sacrificial love of Jesus. Because the gospel both saves and grows people in faith, we are committed to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, by which Christ welcomes and nourishes us, and assures us of eternal life.
We are pastoral people – mindful of the exhortation given at the ordination of priests to encourage and build up the body of Christ, we are committed to the pastoral care of Christ’s flock and the wider community,‘caring alike for young and old, rich and poor, weak and strong’. We seek by God’s grace to serve our world and communities through evangelism, good works, and striving for justice.
We embrace episcopal leadership – recognising that good leadership is vitally important for the church. As Jesus is the great Shepherd and Overseer of our souls so leaders in his church are called to shepherd and teach according to his example. We are thankful to God for such leadership, especially from our bishops. We seek to respond to Christ’s call and example ourselves when in positions of leadership in the church.
We love our congregations – because in local congregations we see the church in its clearest expression as the body of Christ. This is where God gathers his people, nurturing and equipping them through Word and Sacrament, to serve one another and show forth the love of Christ in their local communities. We see the parish congregations as the backbone of the Diocese. We rejoice in our ordered, Scriptural and participatory liturgy which enables us to worship God in Spirit and in truth. Our Anglican liturgy engages our minds, forms our hearts and equips us for a life of worship.
Why do we need more churches?
- Written by: Scott Sanders
Scott Sanders serves as the Executive Director of Geneva Push. During the last 7 years Scott has working alongside church leaders and planting couples to see over 65 churches established.
Using new research Scott Sanders discusses a question he get asked once he shares that his full-time job is helping start new churches-‘Why do we need more churches?’
‘Why do we need more churches?’ It’s a question I get asked in the park once I’ve shared that my full-time job is helping start new churches. It’s often the reaction of some Christians when a new church plant is proposed – ‘Why do we need more churches?’ Well, in my local area there aren’t lots of churches – a local Anglican church and Armenian Orthodox Church. There are more mosques (three). The cranes that silhouette the skyline at dusk in my part of Sydney demonstrate why we need new churches – Australia is growing. And importantly, new churches are the most effective way to make new disciples, to reach the unreached and to encourage growth in existing churches.
In 2016, Geneva Push engaged Lifeway Research to conduct a Church Planting Study of Australian church planting (the study was undertaken concurrently with the United States and Canada). It was that church plants are 5 times more likely to reach the unreached than established churches. The National Church Life Survey in 2011 showed that only 6% of people in churches weren’t in churches 5 years ago. In a recent study done on Church Plants in Australia, that figure is 33%. So while church plants are often accused of merely hoovering up disgruntled Christians from other churches (and that can certainly be the case), it is also true that church plants are far more effective at reaching the unreached than established churches.
This slide shows the breakup amongst attendees in an average church plant. 33% of people in church plants were previously unchurched. Importantly, church plants exist to reach the lost and demonstrate good engagement. Transfer growth continues to be the biggest number across all contexts which reflects the need to have existing Christians reach the lost in a new church. We need to keep asking ourselves within our churches how we are going at reaching the unreached – measuring new attendees, finding out about where they’ve come from – another church, lapsed church attendance, or finding out about Jesus for the first time.
What impacts the growth of church plants? It’s one of the key questions being asked by church planting teams as they engage in local mission, prepare to launch new congregations and see the lost mature in Christ. The recent study into Australian Church Planting identified the importance of intentionality, experience and support.
Firstly, the importance of INTENTIONALITY. The research showed that those church plants which conduct a membership class or course demonstrate significant increases in church growth over a period of time (note: a membership course is a program that initiates a new person to the church and often requires new members to commit to church). Why is this? Membership courses build community, make new church members aware of the church’s vision and key aims, and help new members integrate and engage in the life of the church. Conduct a membership course.
Pray! As Christians we should see the importance of prayer. The church should be praying. The data from the survey demonstrates that church plants enlisting people to pray directly for the church and continue to use prayer meetings / prayer walks grew and reached the unreached in greater numbers.
A church plant with a desire to plant more churches overflows into the whole church’s ability to reach the unreached. When you are putting together your mission plans have a long term goal to reach the unreached through planting churches. Note: be realistic about when you will plant a church - at least 5 years into the plant; and take the opportunities from the start to support other church planting teams prayerfully, financially or by sending a few people where possible.
Secondly, the importance of EXPERIENCE. Every church planter should get experience in order to have realistic expectations. Being a part of church plant is the most helpful way church planters can gain the necessary experience to plant a church. If you are thinking of planting, join a church plant. The data demonstrates the importance of working on church planting staff teams and having realistic expectations. If you can’t be a part of a church plant - read case studies, talk with experienced church planters.
Most planters have big expectations for their churches. It’s important to have right expectations about growth. Jai Wright established Mackay Evangelical Church (MAKE) in 2011 in North Queensland. He expected to have a weekly attendance of about 100 or 150 within three years. Instead only about 30 people were coming each Sunday.
“It hadn’t gone as we’d hoped, and we were not wanting to waste people’s time, money and effort.” He was wondering whether he should keep going. But its important for mother churches, supporters and church planters to realise that growth is slow and it takes time to build momentum for mission. Average weekly attendance in a new church ranges from 38 to 70 by year four.
What is normal in the Australian context? The normal Australian church plant does not break 100 people in four years. Its important to have a realistic picture of growth. Australia and Canada have similar patterns of church attendance compared to America - its harder to plant a church in Australia.
Thirdly, the importance of SUPPORT. We see the positive impact on church plants receiving administrative support (accounting help, marketing infrastructure, systems and structures) helps speed up the growth. Denominations, networks and hub churches can provide accounting support, providing volunteers for children’s ministry and seed funding until the church becomes financially self-sustaining.
When do church plants reach financial self-sufficiency, if at all? Among Australian church plants the majority of church plants (55%) are reaching financial self-sufficiency within a handful of years. If you are not getting to self-sufficiency by year 4 or year 5 it is likely that you will not reach financial self-sufficiency.
We need more new churches. Importantly, as we start these churches we need to have the right expectations. Establishing a new church will take time, growth will be slow, but by being intentional, learning from experience and supporting new churches we should see new disciples and churches being evangelised into existence.
Notes about the study: A detailed quantitative survey was fielded between October 2015 and February 2016. Planters were individually invited to complete the online survey by email and phone. The draft report provides analysis of 110 church plants started in 2000 or later that continue to exist today and were started as new church plants, church plant restarts or new church sites.
The full report can be downloaded here:
Telling another old story
- Written by: Rhys Bezzant
Rhys Bezzant is Dean of Missional Leadership, and Lecturer in Christian Thought at Ridley College
First published in The Melbourne Anglican. Used by permission.
Rhys Bezzant looks at sixteenth century Biblical and theological debates that are often overlooked in modern state and secular universities.
Many of us have watched the gripping drama of Wolf Hall on TV, because we didn’t get around to reading the book. Others of us have watched the tabloid Tudors, or seen Elizabeth or The Other Boleyn Girl at the movies. Period dramas draw us in, and sixteenth century England has sumptuous stories to tell. In fact, most of what a younger generation knows about Tudor England comes through movies, and not books. Movies make for great entertainment, but aren’t so helpful for theological reflection. We forget that King Henry VIII wrote a theological tract that was honoured by the Pope, or that Queen Catherine Parr composed a magnificent conversion account, Lamentation of a Sinner. In fact, many sixteenth century Biblical and theological debates are simply overlooked in modern state and secular universities. Alister McGrath has written fantastic books on the Reformation for undergraduates at Oxford, because while teaching there he realised that so few students had been trained in theological disciplines and were ignorant of motivations, context, and the power of theological ideas. We’ve been watching too many shows.
We misunderstand the shape of the English Reformation for other reasons, too. We project back onto the Tudor dynasty our assumptions about the British Empire, but in the sixteenth century England was a minor player on the European stage compared with France or the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. She was in that period dependent on the European continent in so many ways. Today her independence and claims to exceptionalism are celebrated when she decides to keep the pound or exit the European Union, but in the early sixteenth century England had porous borders and her language was only just adequate to express noble ideas – Latin was still the language of academics and French or Spanish the language of the nobility and court. In Tudor times, England did not yet rule the waves.
In fact, in the period of the Reformation, modern England was only just being born. If we have learnt anything about the Tudors, we know that Henry married six wives, but there is more to his relationships than mere lust. We easily forget that after the disastrous Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century, Henry’s deepest drives were generated by the desire to settle England and establish stable government through siring a male heir. England could not be allowed to descend into anarchy again. Witness the tapestries commissioned by Henry in Hampton Court Palace which do not depict Solomon with many wives, nor David wooing Bathsheba, but Abraham beginning a nation. England was in the process of rethinking how it should see itself in the world.
In the end, therefore, the English Reformation was a lot more like the Reformation in Germany or Switzerland than we imagine. There were times when it looked like the Protestant cause in England would fail under Queen Mary Tudor, but failure was experienced on the continent too. After all, Calvin was kicked out of Geneva and all appeared lost. Saxon lands reverted to Roman Catholic faith in the Wittenberg Capitulation of 1547. The fortunes of reform everywhere looked bleak from time to time. But it was not only that reform movements experienced common vicissitudes. People and ideas were mobile, and feeling part of an imperial project was everywhere. Luther’s ideas took ready root in the University of Cambridge in the 1520s, long before they had impacted Paris or Geneva. Melanchthon, Luther’s right hand man, was invited to teach in England. In fact, Lutheran and Reformed thinkers took up positions at Oxford and Cambridge and brought with them assumptions about confessional faith (often summarised under the term “articles”), the reform of the liturgy, and hopes for national (not just regional) transformation. This was a mighty project! Exiles from Poland or Germany moved to England, and under Mary many Protestants fled to the continent where they saw models of church life that they in time brought back to England with them after Elizabeth had acceded the throne.
The English Reformation was not isolated from the continent. There were debates about the doctrine of justification by faith – see the notes in Tyndale’s books – just as there had been in Saxony. When King Henry commissioned and paid for the publication and distribution of the Great Bible to be placed in every parish church, the English thereby demonstrated their commitment to re-evangelising the laity, just like Luther had done through translation work or Zwingli had done by writing in a German dialect and keeping his Swiss name. Since 1415, the Bible in English had been outlawed, but finally it was available in parish churches for all to hear in the vernacular. Homilies were written by Cranmer and others to be read and preached when the priest was unskilled in homiletics, just as Luther had done in his postils some years earlier. Theologically, the English church experimented with and adopted continental scholarship, and promoted a vision for renewal common to many continental reform movements that was based on engagement with the Scriptures.
On the matter of the sacraments, historians as diverse as Diarmaid MacCulloch, Euan Cameron and Peter Newman Brooks all argue that Cranmer’s views of the “true presence” of Christ in the elements was shared by Bucer, Melanchthon, Bullinger and Calvin. As the great Yale historian Jaroslav Pelikan says of the English Reformation, it was “Lutheran in its intellectual origins, Catholic in its polity, Reformed in its official confessional statements.” Of course, there were leaders in England (known as Lollards) agitating for reform of the church long before Luther, but theological sparks from Germany or Switzerland were instrumental in fanning English reformist flames.
Anglicans like to speak of the via media. By this, we commonly mean that England tried to steer a course between Roman Catholicism on one hand, and Genevan reform ideas on the other. The English temperament tends towards the moderate and the practical, so we allow ourselves to see the English Reformation as avoiding the extremes of continental positions. We forget, though, that Elizabeth was excommunicated by the Pope in 1570 and the Spanish tried to invade in 1588. She was in no hurry to placate Rome. As Diarmaid MacCulloch argues so eloquently, the true via media for England was not between Rome and Geneva, but between Geneva and Wittenberg. Continental Protestantism was a powerful influence, template and norming strategy for attempts at reform on the other side of the Channel.
Teaching the Reformation is difficult, not least because we live in an age that prizes the immediate, and in which history is marginalised in our schools. We can read about dynastic or imperial politics in the Reformation world, investigate social movements using class or gender or linguistics as our frame of reference, or examine the lived experience of work, worship or warfare to ask how deeply reforming ideas were planted. All these approaches bear some fruit and are worthy of our attention. Furthermore, discussion of the Reformation in our own day carries with it concerns about ecumenical relationships, the nature of private judgement or freedom of conscience, and questions concerning the birth of capitalism and nation states. It is undoubtedly complicated. What we must not do, however, is assume that the English Reformation played by a different set of rules, or was not animated by theological debates or intellectual history. As people all around the world prepare to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 (on October 31 to be precise), let us be included in their number. Luther’s Reformation is ours too as Anglicans. The continental reformation is central to the reformation of the Church in England in the sixteenth century, and the reverberations of the hammer in Wittenberg can still be heard distinctly in Melbourne today.