Thursday, March 26, 2009

Anglicans need doctrine AND outreach

I’ve been catching up on my Issues Etc. podcasts. I don’t listen to all of them, but try to pick the meatier ones plus those from guests that I generally enjoy (such as GetReligionistas Mollie Hemingway and Terry Mattingly).

One podcast I listened to over the weekend was called, “The Future of American Evangelicalism,” an interview with Michael Spencer of InternetMonk.Com. The main focus was to play off his Christian Science Monitor column called “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” and also his (more detailed) blog postings on the same theme.

Whether or not one agrees with his predictions, I would commend the interview (if not the written words) to any thinking Christian.

I was particularly struck by his dissection of the pros and cons of the megachurch movement:
  • Some churches are going to be better than others at leveraging new media opportunities, and many of the megachurches have done an admirable job of adapting to the new media.
  • Many evangelical churches have grown by being good at welcoming and outreach (i.e. evangelism), at the expense of doctrine.
  • Often, standing firm for a specific doctrine inherently requires making choices at odds with church growth.
All of these points seem applicable to 21st century Christians beyond the evangelical movement. My sense is that the Schism II Anglican evangelicals (such as the new St. James San Jose) are trying to engage contemporary technology, welcoming and reaching out to new members — but, by leaving TEC, have made it clear that doctrine still matters.

Spencer noted that Pope Benedict XVI has said that he expects the 21st century to bring a smaller but more faithful Catholic church. (I have not found the exact quote, but it is alluded to by a 2005 New York Times story and an Australian blog.) The early Christian church was a small minority of society, but was quite clear about its beliefs, and Benedict is not the only theologian who sees parallels between today’s post-Christian Western society and the early pre-Christian Roman times.

Still, I think there is a clear lesson here for Anglo-Catholics. All of the Schism I and Schism II Anglo-Catholic parishes that I’ve visited are solid on doctrine. However, they generally seem quite set in their ways, not reaching out or integrating new members into the fold. While the Bob Duncan-style Schism II Rite II Anglicans see such outreach and welcoming as an integral responsibility of laity, the Anglo-Catholics seem to delegate (elevate) the task to the priest and don’t even follow through systematically when a new parishioner walks through the door.

So we need to be less smug in our doctrine and more evangelical (small e) in our view of the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.”

1 comment:

Warren said...

Having followed both Michael Spencer's group blog and personal blog, on an almost daily basis, for the past five years, I greatly appreciate his writing on a wide range of issues. I "check in" on many blogs, but his is my favourite. I think he now has a book in the works - partly because of the interest generated by The Coming Evangelical Collapse.