Anglican Principles in a changing culture

by Peter Corney

(This article originally appeared in Essentials: The Journal of EFAC* it has recently been revised 11/09)

We are living in a time of enormous and rapid change at every level of our lives. Hugh Mackay in his book Re-inventing Australia describes it as the Age of Redefinition. The church is not immune to this change. The Anglican Church of Australia (ACA) is, along with the rest of society, experiencing profound changes. Experiments with new congregational models following the Fresh Expressions discussions; the new liturgically  minimalist contemporary style of services in many places now;  the ordination of women as Presbyters and Bishops; the strains within the Anglican Communion as a result of the willful and heterodox decisions by the American Episcopal Church and the response of splits in ECUSA and a whole new independant N. American diocese formed and the GAFCON conference saying ‘enough is enough’; ageing and declining congregations; many parishes moving below the line of viability; the growth of ethnic congregations; theological challenges from within to fundamental doctrines like the uniqueness of Christ as Savior and Lord; stable parish life threatened by urban mobility and social changes – these are just some of the more obvious changes.

What are Anglican core values?

As we attempt to evaluate, respond and adapt to the pace and extent of change it is essential that we review our foundational prin­ciples and theological roots. We need to redis­cover our ‘core values’ if we are to respond constructively.

The Constitution of the ACA clearly states in part 1 under the headings “Fundamental Declarations” and “Ruling Principles” that this church has as its fundamental basis: The Nicene and Apostles Creeds; The Bible as “the ultimate rule and standard of faith given by inspiration of God…”; The commands of Christ, including the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion; Preserving the three orders of ministry of bishops, priests and deacons; That the doctrine and principles of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and the 39 Articles is “the authorised standard of worship and doctrine in this church.” (This includes The Preface and introductions in BCP which contains a number of important principles).

Every ordained minister in the ACA gives assent to these” declarations and principles” . In many dioceses an oath of assent is required before ordination and at inductions as the incumbent of a parish. This is not a matter of indifference, nor is this a legal fiction. In­deed it is a serious and fundamental matter of honesty, integrity and loyalty, and the people whom the ordained ministry is set apart to serve have every right to expect integrity and honesty in these matters.

What are the fundamental principles that stand out in these documents? I believe there are at least seven and I have attempted to summarise them as follows:

1. We are a reformed church

The Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles make a clean break with pre-refor­mation doctrine and practice. (See articles 22, 25, 28 and 31)

Of course, like many Christian denominations we are also heirs of the Church’s pre­reformation history as well, and like most we have kept some things and left others behind e.g. doctrinally we have kept the three ancient creedal statements; in terms of polity we have maintained the threefold order of Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons; in terms of our corporate worship we have retained some of the ancient prayers. But the principle that determines what is retained is clearly the reformation one as expressed in Article 7 on the creeds. It says that “(they) ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture”,

Therefore the first fundamental principle that we are committed to as Anglicans, is that as we change and adapt our polity (church government) and organisation, our ministry, the shape of our congregations, our methods, our liturgy, to the changing world, the changes must be governed by scripture. The questions we must first ask are not the pragmatic ones but the theological ones. “Is this consistent with the Bible?” “Is the approach contrary to God’s written word?”

Let me give just one example of a pre – ­Reformation practice that has been re-introduced in some places and that undermines an Anglican and Biblical principle; the Gospel procession. This is usually performed with the following ceremony. All stand and the gospel is carried ceremoniously into the body of the congregation preceded by a Crucifier and accompanied by candle bearers. The book is kissed and read from. Sometimes special music is used before and after the event. Often associated with this is the practice of fairly exclusive preaching from the Gospel readings. Over time this ceremony and practice has the following effect.

(a) In the face of Article 6 it makes a distinction of value between one part of the scripture and another. The importance of the Old Testament and the Epistles is down played.

(b) It undermines the unity of scripture.

(c) It implies that “the Gospel” is not found elsewhere in scripture.

The reformers were very clear that the central theme, the thread of unity that runs through the scripture is Christ. God’s redemp­tion plan begins in Genesis and climaxes in Revelation. It could be argued that if the exegesis of the gospels and the gospel is fo­cused or concentrated anywhere it is in the Epistles.

It is sometimes argued that all this atten­tion focused on the Gospel reading is because we are hearing the words of Christ. But the word made flesh is heard in the voice of the whole Bible as Jesus himself made clear, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4). To maintain the unity and authority of scripture all the readings should be treated in the same manner.

It should also be said that the practice in some evangelical churches of reducing the readings to just one or two, or the passage being preached on, is also one that destroys the principle of BCP andCranmar. In time this will reduce peoples knowledge of God’s Word. So one can see how important is liturgical practice.

2. The Bible Is the Supreme Authority in matters of faith and practice (See the constitution of the ACA Part 1, section 2and articles 6, 8, 20 and Homily No 10).

It is common to hear some Anglican leaders describe our approach to authority to be like a “threefold cord”, the three strands being Scripture, Tradition and Reason. It’s a deceptive analogy and its central thought of a balanced equality of the three strands is not the one affirmed by our formularies, which make it quite clear that tradition and reason are subject to God’s word (See Article 34).

While it is true that we need to use our “reason” to read and understand scripture, we should always do so with great humility remembering that our reason is fallen and imperfect and vulnerable to the spirit of our age. Indeed most of the current challenges to fundamental doctrines come about because people have become captive to the world view of the day. The process of reductionism, where the Christian faith is reduced to make it fit what people find plausible or reasonable today, should alert us to the danger of placing our “reason” on the same level as God’s Word. In the end of course the liberal tendency to reductionism is a disaster for the people of God. It renders us incapable of challenging the thought forms of our day and then once married to the spirit of the age we are simply divorced by the next.

The myth of theological liberalism is that it is objective, open and broad-minded; in fact it is usually amazingly intellectually provincial because it has been seduced and captured by the world view of its day.

It’s a kind of “Dior theology” changing and shifting with the intellectual fashions of the day. The contemporary Christian should look carefully at the results of this kind of theology. Examine the churches that are fed stones in place of bread. It’s not a pretty sight they are either terribly emaciated or ready for the body bags.

As indicated above in principle one, the question of what is the controlling authority is crucial for a church in a time of great change and in the midst of a hostile world view.

3. We are a creedal church

We hold to historic orthodoxy in doctrine as expressed in the Apostolic, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. (See BCP Article 8, and The Constitution of the ACA Part I, section I)

It cannot be too strongly emphasised in our current climate where the process of reductionism is hard at work on the doctrine of the person of Christ that we are a Trinitarian faith. Any reduction in the orthodox teaching about Jesus is in the end an attack upon the doctrine of God. The Athanasian Creed can hardly be described as ambiguous on this matter!

4. Salvation is found In Christ alone (See Articles 2 and 18)

In a pluralist, multi faith society this now becomes a very sensitive issue. It’s the kind of statement that is seen to be politically incorrect. Therefore the pressure of the spirit of the age will be to modify this teaching. There are certainly no grounds for a triumphalist or arrogant presentation of the Gospel. Jesus should always be set forth by us with humility. As D. T. Niles said “like one beggar showing another beggar where to get bread”. There is no place for the mockery of or disrespect for the faith of others. But if we believe Jesus is who he claims to be it is simply a matter of love, obedience and integrity to set forth those claims and call people to respond to them.

This Anglican principle challenges the widespread’ ‘universalism” within the Anglican Church. Some will say, “Yes, salvation is found in Christ alone but in the end, whether people have responded in faith and trust in Jesus Christ now is irrelevant to their ultimate state, for Christ will rescue them, even from their disbelief, unbelief or false belief.”

This approach rejects the c1ear teaching of the New Testament for the need for faith, repentance and baptism. (See Acts 2:38; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Colossians 1:15-23; Mat­thew 7:13-23.) It also makes a mockery of the church’s baptismal teaching and its initiation liturgies. (See also Articles 9 and 11)

5. Worship in the Christian assembly

In the Christian assembly our formularies commit us to a form of worship and order that is to be directed by the following guidelines:

(a). Its form and order and ceremonies are to be governed by the Word of God (Articles 19 and 20)

(b). It is to be Bible centered. The sheer amount of scripture to be read and sung, its echo in the responses and collects and prayers of Cranmer’s Services make this point so obvious. What may not be so obvious to Anglicans today is the purpose of all this scripture. It is, as the preface says, “to set forth God’s glory” and promote the “edification” of his people.

For those who have seen the church build­ings built after the great fire of London (1666), all influenced by these principles, it is very clear that they are auditory buildings and definitely not designed for pre-reformation ceremonies. Most have little or no Sanctuary or Chancel. They are built so everyone can hear, the ministry of the Word is now to be prominent and in balance with the ministry of Sacrament (Note: Christopher Wren (1632-1723) designed 50 churches in the city of London following the great fire of 1666. St James Piccadilly is a classic example. Others followed Wren’s principles, St Mary in the Strand; St Martin the Fields etc.)

Anglican corporate worship was not in­tended to be theatre. Drama can be very effectively used to explain God’s word, but the word must remain the focus. It is de­signed to honor and to glorify God through the Word of God and edify people so they will glorify him by living more godly lives. In the Preface in B.C.P. “Concerning the Serv­ices of the Church”, when speaking of the importance of the reading and teaching of God’s word in the Services it says this: “that the people by daily hearing of Holy Scripture read in church might continually profit more and more in the knowledge of God, and be the more inflamed with the love of his true religion”.

(c). A balance of Word and Sacrament The current pattern we have fallen into where the main and often only Sunday Serv­ice is the Holy Communion has upset this balance. The level of Bible reading, teach­ing and reflection has dropped dramatically with a focus only on the Gospels.

(d). Contextualised, in the culture and “the language of the present times”, as it is expressed in the Preface to B.C.P. (See also Articles 20, 24, 34) This is one of the principles that produced the B.C.P.

This means that Anglican patterns of worship need not be monochrome or static. In fact the briefest glance at our history will show that there has never really been one Anglican style or ethos of worship. There have in fact been many styles. This guideline also allows for flexibility from place to place. In the modern city, the culture and style of one suburb can be vastly different from another. A greater flexibility of worship styles is essential if we are to be relevant and effective today.

(e). Traditions are variable. This guideline supports (d) above. In the B.C.P. Preface “Of Ceremonies” it says very clearly that “Christ’s Gospel is not a ceremonial law…. but it is a religion to serve God, not in bondage of the figure or shadow but in the freedom of the Spirit”. Articles 20 and 34 makes it quite clear that the church has authority to change its practices as long as practice expresses the truth of God’s word. Preserving tradition for tradition’s sake is not an Anglican principle.

(f). Participatory and orderly. There should be a balance between freedom and form or as the Preface puts it between “stiffness” and “easiness”.

6. The local congregation is the primary base for mission

Article 19 describes the essential characteris­tics of the local congregation. The primary task of any Diocesan organisation should be to support the local congregation in its mission.

7. Authorised ministry

It is an Anglican principle that our ministries be publicly set apart and authorised. (Article 23) The life and ministry of such is to be “shaped” by Holy Scripture (The ordinal BCP)


There are of course many things that our formularies do not speak about for historical reasons, e.g. the relationship between public worship and evangelism in a post Christian society. Nevertheless on the basis of the above principles we have great flexibility to design new approaches to meet the needs of today. The “Fresh expressions” move at General Synod level is a small but encouraging sign. There are also a few creative experiments being encouraged. But the attitude of many Bishops to these is still one of benign tolerance of something that is not quite Anglican!

The big question is whether our leadership, our legal, governing and administrative structures will become more flexible and imaginative and used to facilitate creativity, mission and growth or used to control and conform to the past. Will our institutional structures be used to set the strategic horizons and facilitate the resources for mission, growth and creativity and effective performance or will they be pre-occupied with maintenance and survival? If it is the latter we are in for a painful institutional death.

In many Dioceses the majority of congregations are now small and the average age over 60 years of age, frequently locked in a liturgical and ecclesial nostalgia with little energy for or skill in outreach. These congregations are generally conservative and not open to major change. Diocesan leaders are in a Catch 22, if they push radical change they fear they may loose the remnant that’s left. But, apart from a slow death, there is really no other option but to develop strategic plans for change and new initiatives and for selecting and training a new brand of clergy who have a Gospel passion, initiative, leadership and entrepreneurial skills. Using the principles outlined above we could see a new era of culturally relevant, vital, Reformed   Anglican churches reaching today’s Australians with the Gospel.

* EFAC – The Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (Australia)

P.Corney  (Revised 11/09)

Would Jesus have worn a mitre? A plea for simplicity, humility and relevance.

By Peter Corney

When I was ordained in 1963/4 at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral Melbourne there wasn’t a mitre in sight. Archbishop Frank Woods was the presiding Bishop. In fact mitre’s and copes did not appear reguarly in St Paul’s untill Bob Dann became Archbishop (1977 – 83), although Frank Woods, inspite of opposition in the Cathedral  Chapter, had worn them on occasions. This was a novelty for Melbourne because of its evangelical origins in Bishop Perry.

Melbourne followed the traditions of the reformation settlement in the Church of England as it had come to be expressed in England for over 400 years, the tradition of simplicity of vesture for the clergy and bishops.

The courtly trappings of the mediaeval church were left behind. The episcopal mitres (crowns), the richly embroidered robes of satin, the regal purple, the bejewelled accoutrements of the mediaeval royal court were seen to be inconsistent with the Gospel.

They did not sit well with Jesus of Nazareth, suffering servant and friend of the poor. They seemed incongruous with his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Nor did they fit with the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone and not by works. There was no place here for human pride, pomp and ceremony.

Even the architecture of the Gothic church, modelled as it was on the mediaeval court with its ascending steps to the elevated throne – from knave to chancel to sanctuary and altar – and the separation of clergy from the laity which it reinforced – was modified, reflecting the reformed theology. Altars were removed and Holy Tables introduced and moved down to the chancel area where the people gathered around them to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. New churches were built with a more rectangular shape as auditory buildings for the hearing of the Word, Wren was the great designer of these (1632-1723). Central aisles, long chancels and raised sanctuaries’ were eliminated and rood screens that secluded the sanctuary abandoned. Many of the London churches built after the reformation like St. Martin in the Fields, St. James Piccadilly and All Souls Langham Place clearly reflect this change. It was only after the Gothic revival and the influence of the Oxford/Tractarian movement in the second half of the nineteenth century that many churches built from then on moved back to the pre reformed semi Gothic pattern. Centre aisles returned to give focus to the sanctuary and priestly activity. (1)

Sadly the mitres and richly embroidered robes have drifted back in to many Australian Anglican dioceses. Because they often appear in Cathedrals at significant events they usually get the photo shot in the press! This is unfortunate, the symbolism is confusing and bemusing for those both outside and inside the church. Confusing for it sits so badly with Jesus and the Gospel and bemusing because it is so arcane and irrelevant and not understood. It is seen as the trappings, the pomp and ceremony of “religion” something that has frequently been the enemy of real and vital Christian faith.

One of my favorite stories from church history concerns John Huss the Czech reformer (1372 – 1415). Huss was a gifted preacher and drew large crowds, including many students, to his church, Bethlehem Chapel, near the University of Prague. Huss, influenced by the writings of Wycliffe, called for reform in the church and set forth the Scriptures as the primary authority. He was also very critical of the corruption and extravagance of the Papal court at Rome at the time. He drove home his point in dramatic fashion with a wonderful visual aid. He had two contrasting pictures painted on the walls of the chapel; one of Jesus dressed as a simple peasant, the humble servant washing his disciples feet; the other of a haughty Pope with his triple tiered crown, dressed in all his regal splendor riding on a horse. This became the backdrop to Huss’s challenging preaching. The message was clear to the crowds and the irony was made all the more pointed by being in a chapel named after the humble birth place of the Saviour. This was not popular in Rome! Eventually Huss was arrested and burnt at the stake. But he lit a fire that continued to burn in Bohemia, influencing Luther and other reformers and also the development of the German Moravian Church and missionary movement.

The origins of the mitre

The origins of the mitre are not entirely clear but it seems that in the Western church it may have developed from a cap worn in imperial times by Roman secular officials on certain occasions. The papal tiara or triple crowned hat seems to have developed from this. In the East the mitre derives from a cap used in the imperial Byzantine court. In the later empire it developed into a closed type of crown used by the emperors. It was taken over by Eastern Orthodox bishops after the fall of Constantinople. In Armenian Orthodoxy it is said to symbolize the sovereignty of Christ. In the Western church the first mention of a bishop wearing a mitre is not found till the eleventh century, although reference to the papal tiara is found as early as the eighth century.

The fact is that up to the eighth century in the West there was no distinctive clerical dress worn in or outside the church by the clergy. They wore the ordinary street dress of the day. (2) It was very important to distinguish themselves from the pagan priests and rituals of the times. Dom Gregory Dix in his authoritative work The Shape of the Liturgy quotes Celestine 1, bishop of Rome in 425 rebuking the churches in Gaul for introducing for clergy the scarf or pallium at the Lord’s Supper. This was commonly worn in Roman society by consuls, magistrates and others as a sign of office. He chides them for their hubris in these words: “We bishops must be distinguished from the people and others by our learning not by our dress, by our life not by our robes, by purity of heart not by elegance.”(3) Here, here!

The present shield shaped cap with the two fringed lappets became widely used in the medieval church. It was reintroduced after the reformation into Anglicanism by the Oxford/Tractarian movement in the nineteenth centuary along with the recovery of other pre reformed practices. The movement fitted artistically with the romantic Gothic revival in England at the time. The Cambden society was formed to furnish and dress the mediaeval revival. In their attempt to recover a greater sense of holy worship the Tractarians also attempted to make connections between the OT temple cultus and Christian worship. Great attention was paid to the sacred garments described in Exodus 39. It was noted in verses 30-31 that the High Priest wore a kind of turban with a gold plate attached and engraved with the words “Holiness to YHWH”. Was this not a forerunner of the mitre! Later enthusiasts developed the notion that the mitre was a symbol of the flame of the Holy Spirit descending on the heads of the disciples’ at Pentecost, although there seems to be no evidence that this idea was an early one in the history of the mitre. Like many religious accoutrements the alleged meaning of the symbolism is often flexible and frequently a later invention for justification. It’s like all the different meanings given to candles in church other than the need for light before the introduction of electricity!

Interestingly in 1963 the reforming Pope Paul VI, who was elected during the now famous Vatican II after the death of John XX111, abandoned the use of the papal tiara (crown) in a dramatic ceremony during the second session of Vatican II as a sign of Christian humility. Previously Popes had been crowned with the tiara in a ceremony of regal coronation.

The arguments for the use of the mitre.

Those who have reintroduced the mitre into Anglican services usually appeal on the following grounds.

First, is the appeal to continuity with the churches traditions. The problem with this argument is – which tradition? Shall we follow those of the mediaeval church or the reformed church; the post or pre Constantinian church; the apostolic church and the church of the first eight centuries or the Gothic revival of the late nineteenth century?

Second, is the argument from symbolism. It is argued that it is a helpful visual symbol in public worship. Various meanings have been attributed over the years, the current one that is popular with the wearers is that it symbolizes the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, the bishop being a kind of representative figure for the church. Another is that it represents the sovereignty of Christ and the authority of the bishop as Christ’s representative. Of course this one emphasizes its origins as a crown, a connection not always readily or comfortably acknowledged by its wearers. The other is that it is simply a distinguishing symbol of the episcopal office.

A third argument is that these things provide theater, color and movement all things that communicate at alternative or additional levels to words. This is a valid point but it does not alter my main concern that the symbols should be appropriate to the subject and my contention is that in present practice they are generally not. Perhaps a simple wooden shepherds crook would be, although most young people today would never have seen one and in fact they were never used on Australian farms. What about an Akubra, a Driza-Bone and a stock whip?

The problem with symbolism is that it is powerful but complicated and culturally affected. Often a symbol will convey different things to different people. To many on the outside the mitre, the embroidered robes, the bejewelled silver crooks and gold crosses will convey power, prestige, wealth, royalty and assumed authority, even arrogance. While these things may be viewed as works of art the ironic and incongruous symbolism of a shepherd’s crook and a cross made from these materials seems lost on the insider aesthetes! They are certainly powerful symbols but they give the wrong message. They convey a sense of irrelevant pomp and ceremony. Whose side are we seen to be on when we wear and carry these things? To a younger generation today they are associated with a mythical past with bishops looking like Wizards from Lord of the Rings or a Harry Potter story. To others they are just faintly ridiculous and silly. They clearly create a distance between the ordinary every day person and the Christian faith that should represent Jesus the servant saviour. It should also be said that the Armani suits, silk ties and Rolex watches worn by the pastors of some prosperity gospel churches are just as inappropriate and incongruous.

While greatly influenced by its Jewish background the early church clearly separated itself from the cultus of both the Jewish and the Pagan temple and, as we have seen, for at least 700 years there was little or no distinction in dress with those conducting public worship between lay and clergy, they wore the ordinary street dress of the day. (4)

What we wear in church should reflect the one we claim to follow; it should also reflect our missiology and ecclesiology.

Would Jesus wear a Mitre today? I don’t think so. He might wear a hoody or a Collingwood beanie or even a baseball cap but a piece of mediaeval headgear that made him look like a lost cast member from a Harry Potter movie is most unlikely. As a carpenter Jesus may have cut a few mitres but he would never have worn one! Let’s get back to simplicity, humility and relevance.

(1) K. White “Shrines for Saints – how parish churches evolved” 1975 Grove Liturgical No 3 (Grove Books) pages 16 – 17, 23 – 28.
(2) Dom Gregory Dix “The Shape of the Liturgy” 1960 (A&C Black) pages 399-404

(3) Dix page 401.

(In the 16th C. professors of divinity wore elaborate head gear as  a symbol of their status. Erasmus the great reformer in ‘The Praise of Folly’ mocked their pride along with their obscure theological speculations in these words: ” Don’t be supprised when you see them at public disputations with their heads so carefully wrapped in swaths of cloth, for otherwise thay would clearly explode”. Pomposity and hats often seem to go together!)
(4) Dix page 404

Further information on the development of the mitre can be found in Dix on pages 405 -407 and “The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church” Ed. by L F Cross 1961. (Oxford Press)

The future of the Anglican Church in Australia in the light of the decline of the Anglo-Catholic movement

By Peter Corney

(This is an edited version of the original lecture. The full version can be found on the TMA website……)

The Australian Anglican Church, like most old mainstream churches, is in numerical decline.

Many of the reasons for the Anglican church’s decline and difficulties are shared with other older mainstream protestant denominations like the UCA and the Presbyterians,


  • The marginalizing pressure of modernity and secularism on the church.
  • The process of institutionalisation. It’s a long time since we had a revival or major radical institutional change.
  • Over-centralisation and the compliance and control syndrome that aging institutions develop to cope with anything outside the institution’s cultural framework.
  • Loss of passionate evangelism
  • The dominance of the pastoral maintenance model of ministry
  • The slowness of the majority of local congregations to contemporise their worship style and music
  • The failure to plant new churches and adopt new models of church planting.
  • Theological Reductionism and the cave-in to secularism and modernity. Many of our current leaders were trained in the 1960s when the loss of confidence in orthodoxy reached its peak. The pattern of reducing the gospel to fit the prevailing plausibility structure of society became entrenched and historic, credal Christianity was profoundly weakened.

But with Anglicanism there is another unique and very important factor that has accelerated and contributed to our decline – that is the role of the “Anglo-Catholic movement”, sometimes referred to as “Tractarianism”.

This movement has been greatly influential in Australian Anglicanism. By the 1960s it had become the dominant force in most dioceses in Australia, even assuming its style as the “Anglican norm”.

At its most vigorous and vital, its influence was profound – theologically, liturgically, architecturally and aesthetically, pastorally, governmentally, and particularly on the way the nature and role of ordination and ministry was understood.

It developed at its height, numerous institutions, parachurch organisations, orders and societies for education, welfare and mission. E.g. The Brotherhood of St. Laurence, Mission to Streets and lanes, Bush Brothers, hospitals, schools, religious orders like “The Community of the Holy Name”, retreat centres, a theological college, “Crafers” in SA. It was also the primary support base for the Anglican Board of Missions (ABM).

But by the 1960s it began to run out of stream as a movement and has now lost its vitality and momentum. With the exception of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, almost all of the organisations above have died or been absorbed into other organizations like Anglicare – or, as in the case of ABM, have had considerable difficulties.

And here is the point! Having developed such influence, its decline and loss of vitality at the very time the church was under so many other pressures from the late 60s and 70s on has had very serious consequences for Australian Anglicanism.

A brief historical sketch of the movement

The movement began in the first half of the 19th Century in Oxford in 1833. It became known as the Oxford movement. Its most famous name being John Henry Newman, later to become Cardinal Newman.

They became known as “Tractarians” because of a series of tracts or papers they produced on major issues of theology and church life. They also inspired an association of artists, architects and designers called the “Camden Society”. Their influence on church architecture and interior design was very great as there was a church building boom in the late 19th Century. The Camden Society reinforced the Gothic revival of the 19th Century in the U.K

They were really a “renewal or restoration” movement. In their case they wanted to take the church back to some of its pre-Reformation roots and traditions. They made a careful study of the Early Fathers. They were concerned about personal holiness and committed discipleship and so the recovery of the spiritual disciplines in the Christian life.

They were also concerned to restore a sense of awe and beauty and holiness to worship. This led them to recover a more elaborate and symbol-rich liturgy. They were concerned about the aesthetics and the accoutrements of formal worship. They wrote many beautiful hymns:

Blest are the pure in heart,

For they shall see our God;

The secret of the Lord is theirs,

Their soul is Christ’s abode.

[Rev John Keble, 1818]

They wanted to restore what they believed was lost and among the things they believed we had lost was a particular pre-Reformation concept of the Lord’s Supper and Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. This also led to a greater emphasis on the priestly identity and role of the minister, particularly as the celebrant (or president) at Holy Communion.

They had a very high view of Scripture and the creeds and were deeply orthodox and theologically conservative on credal fundamentals. They were not a theologically liberal or reductionist movement.

They also emphasised a more central and Catholic notion of the role of the Bishop and the diocese – “The Ignation” idea of the church being the people gathered around the Bishop and the Bishop standing in direct historical succession to the Apostles.

They also set forward a vision of Christian service and commitment that challenged a whole generation of young men and women to start new religious orders to serve others in evangelism, welfare and education.

Later they developed a strong emphasis on “Incarnational Theology”. At one of their conferences in 1923, Bishop Frank Weston, a noted Anglo-Catholic said: “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the Slums.” Father Tucker’s work during the great depression and the development of the Brotherhood of St Laurence in Melbourne is a direct outcome of this emphasis. This emphasis led to some outstanding work and ministry.

But by the late 1960s, the vision was running out of energy. Today it is almost exhausted. Many of the movement’s institutions, societies and organisations have collapsed,been absorbed into other organizations like Anglicare, or are terminally sick, e.g.

the female orders that ran the schools and hospitals have almost completely gone.

  • The “Bush Brothers” are no more.
  • Their theological college, “Crafers” has gone.
  • The Brotherhood of St Laurence is still going but is now a highly secularised agency.
  • The Anglican Board of Mission has shrunk to one office for the whole of Australia and has had to realise most of its assets to survive.
  • The Retreat House is gone.
  • Their student ministries are almost non-existent.

And with one or two notable exceptions, the parish churches they dominated for years are now small, struggling and aging.

Outstanding people like Archbishop Strong and the Rev Dr Barry Marshall were among the last of their inspirational leaders and thinkers. In recent years they have not produced people of this caliber.

It’s a sad story, but the bigger tragedy is that they have taken large sections of the Australian Anglican church down with them.

Why? What happened?

The answer is important because it has very significant lessons for all of us. “Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat its mistakes.”

What happened is that the movement gradually embraced a series of theological trends that eventually sapped its vitality. It lost touch with its theological and ideological core – the very things that had produced its energy and passion. As someone said: “Passion leaks” – it must be constantly renewed by its source.

This is a brief summary of the trends that, once embraced, eventually ate the heart out of the movement.

1. It drifted away from the credal and biblical orthodoxy of its founders and gradually embraced a reductionist liberal theology. Most people in ministry now who have been influenced by this movement could be more accurately described as “liberal catholic”. They have retained some of the outward expressions of the movement but departed from its core theological ideas.

When a movement that has a highly symbolic and formal liturgical expression of Christianity goes down the theologically reductionist pathway, what you end up with is “religion” – form without substance. What happens is that the meaning of the symbols becomes more and more mysterious and fuzzy as the orthodox core is reduced, lost or reconstructed to fit the spirit of the age. The appearance of Christianity is preserved but the essence is lost. The signs and symbols are retained but their first order meaning is changed. Reductionism is a familiar pathway for Liberal theology.

In spite of its claims to be broad and open, Liberal theology is frequently intellectually narrow and provincial. It becomes trapped in the immediate landscape of the spirit of the age and what its host society finds plausible or implausible.

2. The second trend was to allow a recovered incarnational theology to become unbalanced. The idea of the importance of “presence”, particularly presence with the poor, eventually over-powered the importance of proclamation. So instead of a balance of “the whole gospel for the whole person” confidence in preaching was eroded and the link between word and deed fatally weakened. The inevitable eventually happened: preaching, evangelism and proclamation were devalued and diminished.

Historically the very opposite trend happened in many parts of evangelicalism before and after WWII. It wasn’t till the Lausanne Movement in the early 70s that evangelicalism recovered a proper emphasis on social justice and restored the balance of deed and word. This was largely due to the influence of evangelical leaders like John Stott in the UK and Ronald J Sider in the US. [1]

There were two other negative results for Anglo-Catholicism that came from its unbalanced incarnational theology. Because Biblical teaching and preaching was diminished, this produced a poorly taught laity.The second result was the development of an insipient “Pelagianism” – salvation by good works. Being good and kind to others came to be seen as the essence of the Gospel.

3. As reductionist liberalism ate the heart out of its theology, the distinctiveness of Anglo-Catholicism was left to depend more and more on its particular liturgical, symbolic and cultural expressions.

Many people associated this with elements of so-called “High Culture” – classical music and art. It was, and is still seen in some circles, as a more cultured and sophisticated form of faith expression. The result of this rather snobbish attitude was that the movement began to attract people and clergy who were more drawn to its style than to the core ideas and earlier passions of personal holiness and a desire to evangelise and care for the poor and marginalised.

These more “effete”[2] recruits often displayed a worldly sophistication that Newman and his friends would have felt very disturbed by. These new followers were not so drawn to sacrificial ministries to the poor or in difficult places or in highly committed “orders”.

The other effect was that this style was well out of step with ordinary Australians and further marginalised Anglicanism from the mainstream of Australian life. We were fast becoming a boutique church.

4. Because the emotional tendency of the movement has been to look backwards to a very late-19th Century English expression of Anglicanism, the movement failed to assist the process of really grounding Anglicanism in Australian culture. The model of the English village church is a sentimental and anglophile vision that has been fostered by the movement and helped to alienate us from Australian culture.

I am sure that many of you have seen and chuckled at the TV show “The Vicar of Dibley”. At one level it is amusing; at another level it is very disturbing for the thoughtful Christian, because what it does is to trivialise us and, by association, trivialise the Gospel.

Once we can be identified as eccentric, odd and quaint, we can be dismissed as a harmless anachronism, an amusing curiosity, a source of nostalgia, a bit like a tableau in an historical theme park – but of no serious threat or challenge.

Sadly, there are Anglican clergy who think this is wonderful and positive: they imagine the world is laughing with them, while in fact it’s laughing at them!

A gutted Anglo-Catholicism leads to this sad scenario – “The Vicar of Dibley Syndrome.” It’s not what Newman, Pusey and Keble desired. To them it would be better:

  • To be violently disagreed with
  • To be a challenge to people’s beliefs
  • To hold views and ideas and behaviour that people find confronting and disturbing
  • To be a John the Baptist to Herod
  • To be a Paul before Felix
  • To be a Christ before Pilate

than be dismissed as a trivial, harmless and amusing anachronism.

5. They focussed on a pastoral maintenance model of ministry and so did not grow churches. The emphasis on the priestly role fed this trend.

6. Because of the tendency to look backwards nostalgically to the English village or cathedral model and ethos, and their commitment to more formality in worship, they were very slow to embrace contemporary and informal styles in worship and music. They were totally unprepared for the rejection of formality in the 70s and 80s by the “Boomers” and very few ever worked out how to minister to them effectively.

All the liturgical experiments and changes from the 1975 Prayer Book to the 1995 Prayer Book were basically changes to the written liturgy. They were helpful, but basically the project completely misunderstood the fundamental change that had taken place in the minds and emotions of the average punter as to how the style and ethos of the service should be set and the worship conducted. Pentecostalism and contemporary evangelicalism understood this and swept the field.

7. The Parish Communion Movement of the 1920s and 30s was a child of Anglo-Catholicism. The idea was that the principal service of the day should be Holy Communion and that everyone should be present including youth and children. This view has had great influence but it had several very negative effects:

(1) Other non-eucharistic services disappeared. This created a barrier for non-communicants and fringe people. It also made outreach and guest services difficult to hold in a way relevant to outsiders.

(2) Because it downplayed Sunday Schools, insisting children be in the whole service, the Sunday School movement was undermined and children’s and youth ministry suffered. A generation of clergy had little interest in either and this was a disaster for the future.

8. The issue of women’s ordination created a crisis in the Anglo-Catholic movement. The traditionalists were opposed but their offspring, the liberal Catholics, were pro. As the traditionalists are now a minority, their bitter rearguard action failed. This has left many unhappy legacies and further weakened the movement.

The issues surrounding gender and sexual politics have been a major pre-occupation of the movement in recent times, and so it has had little energy for other fundamental issues.

To conclude

Anglicanism is essentially protestant and its formularies were forged on reformed anvils. The Anglo-Catholic movement, for all its early achievements in ministry, really took Anglicanism too far to the Catholic right – we are now seeing a major correction to that trend.

It must also be remembered that, historically, in Australia the major dioceses of Sydney and Melbourne, including almost all their Provincial dioceses, and others such as Tasmania were founded by evangelicals. (Bishop Perry the first bishop of Melbourne was an evangelical – he also created the first lay representative synodical government in the Anglican Communion.) That history is now reasserting itself.

[1] See the very influential and popular book by R J Sider, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” (Hodder, 1977) and “Issues Facing Christians Today” by J. Stott (Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1984).

[2] “Too refined”.

What sort of church do we want to be … need to be … should be?

by Peter Corney

The future of the Diocese of Melbourne in the next twenty years

This address is about the future. They say that in relation to the future there are three kinds of people: Those who let it happen, those who make it happen and those who wonder what happened!

It is tempting to begin with structural and institutional issues and there are plenty of them! The future shape and size of parishes, the question of mergers and rationalization, the cost of maintaining the traditional suburban parish model with shrinking and aging congregations, our unwieldy synodical structure, our need to develop new models of missional congregations, church planting and the limitations of parish boundaries, the better use of our property assets, etc., and I will return to some of these issues. But I want to start somewhere more fundamental with what I believe is the big theological issue before us.

A choice has been constructed for us by a section of the Diocese of a future led in one of only two directions; the direction of a broad liberal Church or that of a caricature of a narrow constricted Church. There is also abroad a number of misleading ideas like the notion that a broad liberal Church is normative Anglicanism and that this will produce a Church more engaged with its society. The alternative to this that is painted is a caricature of a narrow conservative Church that will be disengaged. I want to challenge this construction and move the focus of our choice to a different and more helpful place.

The idea that a broad liberal Church is the Anglican norm just doesn’t fit the facts. Any objective survey shows that in reality it occupies only a part of our very diverse history.

When it has prevailed it has proved to be very uncreative. In the late 18th and early 19th C when it had a run its followers were called “Latitudinarians”. As the name suggests they wanted to be characterized by breadth not narrowness, moderation not emotionalism. They were partly a reaction to the strong theological debates of the Puritan era and, as they perceived it, the emotionalism of the dissenters and early Methodists of their own times. As one Latitudinarian Bishop famously said “enthusiasm is a horrid thing.” They were also strongly influenced by the rationalism of “the age of reason” and the developing natural sciences.

Unfortunately the condition they produced in the English Church could be described, to use a modern phrase, as “not dead but deeply unconscious!” As one writer of the time put it “a sacred dullness” fell upon the Church, “sleep crept from pew to pew”.(1) Sermons became dull, lifeless lectures that bored the hearers into a spiritual as well as a physical torpor. This is the world of the novels of Jane Austin, George Eliot and Anthony Trollope. The Countess in Eliot’s “Scenes of a clerical life” on one occasion says with some feeling of her Vicars sermons that “It’s the cold in the pulpit that affects me not the cold in the pew!” That’s a serious comment given the damp unheated churches of 18th and early 19thC England. Sermons were full of dull moralisms but without any social or cultural critique of the moneyed classes or the low morality of the Restoration court. As a result an incipient Pelagianism crept into the Church. This atmosphere and the avoidance of emotion contributed to the climate of spiritual and emotional hunger that helped prepare the way for the Evangelical revival of the late 18th and 19thC.

The idea that a broad liberal Church leads to a greater engagement with society just doesn’t fit the facts. It was the Puritans with their radical political critique and desire for a true “commonwealth” who engaged with the big socio/political questions. It was the Dissenters, Methodists and Evangelicals who tackled the issues of justice and fairness for the poor and working classes and who formed the basis for the beginnings of organized labor. (The first leader of the British Labor Party was an evangelical Christian, James Keir Hardie.) It required conviction and courage not blandness to challenge the establishment in the highly structured society of that time. It is also worth noting that along with their socio/political engagement both the Puritans, the Methodists and the Evangelicals recovered a passion for the preaching of grace and vital worship. So many of the hymns we love came from this period. They brought together the three great emphases that we desperately need today – passionate worship, passionate evangelism and a passion for justice.

Some Evangelicals lost this three fold emphasis for a time but in the 1970’s it was recovered through the influence of the Lausanne Movement and the leadership of John Stott. But there is always a danger that we can narrow moral issues down to only the personal and individual level and fail to see the radical implications of structural and corporate evil. This happens when the Gospel is disconnected from its New Testament Kingdom framework and so the implications for the whole of culture. Evangelicals need to keep in mind the great record of their forebears and their passion for the gospel in word and deed.

Let me give just one more example. The Anglo Catholic movement in the 19th C. was born out of a renewed vision of the glory and holiness of God. It expressed that in a revival of dignified and awe filled worship, beautiful hymns, evangelism and a passion for working with the poor. While strongly influenced by the Romantic movement of the time they nevertheless produced a holistic theology. In 1923 a noted Anglo Catholic Bishop, Frank Weston said: “You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slums.” Father Tucker’s work during the great depression and the development of The Brotherhood of St. Lawrence in Melbourne is a direct outcome of this emphasis. The movement developed and staffed schools, hospitals, and missional orders to work among the poor and marginalized. Sadly as the movement gradually departed from the classical orthodoxy of their founders and embraced a liberal theological agenda the passion waned till now the movement and its ministries are but a shadow of the past. Passion leaks, if the original vision of God fades it will not be renewed!

These passions do not arise from a bland liberalism they arise from the recovery of a

“Vital orthodoxy”, classical Christian faith, historic orthodoxy, the great tradition, the faith of the creeds, the faith grounded in the Word of God and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. A community enlivened by the Holy Spirit who holds this faith will have a much greater chance of being captured by the Biblical vision of God. It is that vision that will drive us to passionate worship, passionate evangelism, and a passionate concern for social justice. The key is the vision of the Holy God not a God reduced to fit the prevailing plausibility structure and moral framework of contemporary Australian life. In the history of our Church the passion for worship, evangelism and justice has always arisen from a recovery of this vision. Theological liberalism slowly sucks out the oxygen of classical belief that produces passionate faith.

So we must reject this false choice that has been constructed for us and the misleading ideas on which it is based, that is our first and key decision.

(By Passionate Worship, Passionate Evangelism, and a Passion for Social Justice I mean the following:

“Passionate Worship” is where peoples experience and vision of the Holy God brings forth a profound desire to worship with awe and love and deep feeling and where people are able to express these desires and feelings in the idiom of their own culture.

“Passionate Evangelism” is where people have a sense of urgency and concern to share their faith because they realize that the Holy Love of God can only be approached and experienced by sinful people through Christ the mediator of grace.

“A Passion for Social Justice” is where the vision of the just and Holy God drives people to live and act justly like God and to work to conform their societies values to the character of God.)

Let me turn now to other matters.

First a statistical snapshot:

  • 1981 235 parishes
  • 2006 216 parishes
  • In 25 yrs a loss of 19.
  • In the last 5 yrs -13 amalgamations and 7 closures, one new parish.
  • Estimated total attendance on an average Sunday:
  • 1981 50,000
  • 2006 21,000
  • In 25 yrs a loss of 29,000.
  • From 1991 to 1998 we lost 22,000 Christmas communicants
  • From 2001 to 2005: 5,000
  • Our current age profile: 40% are over 60 yrs, 11% are under 30 yrs.
  • Currently we have 275 “worshiping congregations”, if you remove the attendance figures of the 10 largest congregations you get an average attendance of approximately 62 per w/congregation.
  • Currently 6% of active clergy are under 35 yrs, 59% are over 50 yrs.

(Figures supplied by Diocesan Registry and NCLS data.2001)

There are four ways of looking at where we are as a Church at the moment:

  1. We are an institution /organization in serious decline and so we need renewal, revival, reform, radical transformation. Internally our core motivation is low and our current structures are proving ineffective for our core mission.
  2. We are an institution /organization in a social and cultural environment that is hostile to our core meaning and purpose, to our world view, our values, indeed to the very way we organize, meet and express ourselves. So we need to consolidate, and sit it out till the environment changes. Survive till the Post Christian, Post Modern climate changes!
  3. Nostalgia – let’s hang on to or remake the past.
  4. Denial – never underestimate the power of denial!

My own position is that the only creative way forward is to start with the first view – renewal, reform, radical transformation. So the rest of my ideas proceed from that basis.

A metaphor: Pioneers –> Settlers –> Establishment –> Rural decline –> New Pioneers

Let’s think of the Church in terms of rural Australia: First we have the “Pioneer phase”, it’s rough, tough and basic, then the “Settler” phase, the homes are built the farms established, then the “Establishment” phase. In the “establishment’ phase there is now a small town, a shire office, schools, banks, some small businesses, etc… Then comes rural decline – the world changes, the economy changes, technology changes, the markets for rural products change, etc… Now there are fewer jobs for young people, the population begins to fall, the banks close, the Doctor leaves, the kids go to Melbourne, etc…. The decline cannot be ignored it’s a painful reality. After a difficult period people begin to adjust and then in some rural areas they begin to reinvent! They enter a “New Pioneer” phase.

They consolidate farms, go for economies of scale, they plant new crops, bring in new breeds, some specialize in super fine wool and value added production techniques, spouses take second jobs off the farm, the way farms are staffed and run changes, the shire attracts a new technology business with low rates and other incentives, they start their own rural bank with some other towns, they begin a tourism campaign, B& B’s spring up and the old store becomes a coffee shop! Etc, etc… Renewal begins!

Like rural Australia we must enter the “New Pioneer” phase or continue the slow painful decline. Well what will that look like for us in concrete terms?

First, we must recognize that the Church militant only lives by continuing to reproduce its self in living people with a living faith. Institutions, structures and buildings are not unimportant but they can survive while the Church dies.

The primary places where we reproduce, nurture and disciple people with living faith are the family and the local congregation. Sector ministries are important, Christian schools are important, particularly as places of interface and mission with parts of society that the local congregation does not normally reach, but the primary places of reproducing and nurturing faith are the family and the local congregation.

The local congregation and the Christian family are the fundamental expression of Christian community. The local congregation is vital as a primary support for the Christian family. The local congregation is also a base from which we initiate outreach and service to the wider community. It is also the base that provides the resources of people and money for non parochial ministries. It is a key place where future leadership is nurtured and ministry gifts identified. If we have strong healthy growing congregations we will have a strong, healthy and growing Church. So strategically this is where we need to focus, where the “new pioneering” needs to be concentrated.

The Diocesan framework has a variety of roles but its priority role must be to revitalize parish ministry. It can no longer be “business as usual” we have to move to strategic action mode. If we want a different future we have to create it.

There are at least 10 key areas relating to the local congregation that we must address:

(1) The leadership/ministry area. We need to recruit leader/pastors not pastor/ maintainer’s. We need people who can innovate and initiate, who can regenerate communities, entrepreneurs. Men and women with gifts and abilities in communication, recruiting and motivating others, building teams and community, the ability to teach, persuade and build vision – in a word, leaders! We no longer have the luxury of accepting well intentioned sincere pious people who think they have a call to pastoral ministry but are not strong in leadership gifts. We can not continue a “Vicar of Dibbly syndrome” unless we want to be trivialized as a charming anachronism or an historical theme park. Remember they are laughing at us not with us! We also need to move the general recruiting age to a younger profile. Movements are renewed by the young not the middle aged! In terms of recruitment, training and placement strategy we need to have parallel tracks to the conventional one that are more flexible. The traditional track of 4years study and 4years of curacy can not be the only model E.g.: We need apprenticeship models and recognition of prior learning. We need approaches that allow growing and healthy congregations with good models of ministry to have a larger role and authority in the process. We need to encourage intern schemes, “Gap” programs and participation in multiple staff teams as part of training.

(2) New models of ministry/congregations. We need to think outside the traditional Anglican box. The conventional model of the cross generational family village Church needs to be expanded and in some cases abandoned. The future is in a variety of models of different styles and sizes, large and small. In some cases mergers and consolidations will be appropriate. Preferably strategy should dictate these rather than economic necessity. There is significant evidence that mergers out of economic necessity in fact diminish numbers rather than enhance them. Particularly if the leadership that oversaw the decline remains or the new leadership is not strong. The small suburban congregation of 60- 80 with a vicar and the usual suite of buildings and an aging membership moving on to fixed incomes has a very limited future economically.

(3) Church planting must be encouraged in established areas as well as new housing developments and new experimental alternative missional congregations encouraged to reach into the diverse “urban tribes” of Melbourne. The rules on parish boundaries will have to be relaxed.

(4) We need to take more initiative to encourage the planting of new settler / ethnic congregations but in association with English speaking ones so there is some integration and second generation involvement assured. The staff need to be integrated with the established congregation. There is a spiritual vitality and energy in many of these new immigrant Christian communities that we need.

(5) Redeveloping, redeploying or realizing the assets of existing property to promote and fund new initiatives. We are asset rich but cash poor. But this needs to be done against a master plan.

(6) Develop a master plan for each region in relation to questions of property, new missional initiatives, new church planting and congregational revitalizations. This plan would determine what properties we sell, keep, redevelop, what congregations we merge etc. E.g.: Each university should have an excellent student focused congregation in its student catchment area staffed appropriately.

(7) Youth and student ministry must become a major priority. This is where the future leadership will be drawn from. E.g.: The diocese should allocate funding for training youth and student workers as well as ordained clergy.

(8) Congregations must become focused outward on missional outreach, in word and deed.

(9) The development of a strong sense of community. As community breaks down further in Australian society this will become enormously attractive.

(10) The central leadership and administration must develop a permission giving culture and not be drawn into a negative compliance and control syndrome. The current social climate of over protection, litigiousness and fear of risk reinforces the tendency to compliance and control. This must be resisted! We need diocesan leaders who are relaxed and very flexible and willing to take risks with new models and approaches. The leadership needs to be very focused on our core values and mission but flexible at the edges, willing to develop new alternative parallel programs alongside old ones. The institution must create a structural framework that allows the social movement of people with enthusiastic living faith to revive. Only rewarding creativity and growth, openness to new models, flexibility, and relaxing the institutional rules and attitudes will do that.

In the process of tackling these strategic structural issues we must remember that structural renewal does not always produce spiritual renewal. The two must go hand in hand.

Second, there are a series of “myths” we must challenge if we are to go forward.

(1) The denominational franchise myth – all Anglican congregations must look alike. In a “Mosaic culture” contextualizing is a key, this will produce variety.

(2) The myth that the cross generational family village church is the only model. It will continue to be a valid model but only one among a variety of ways of organizing Church.

(3) The myth that people under 45 are denominationally loyal. Denominational tags are increasingly irrelevant to contemporary people and of little influence in their decisions about attendance of a congregation. That will be decided by the variety of programs offered, the quality of worship and teaching, and whether there is a healthy children’s and youth ministry.

(4) The myth that local communities are residentially stable. At least 17% of Australians move every year and 40% every 5years. This means that Christian communities have to be constantly rebuilt. Welcoming systems, the constant development of voluntary leaders and clergy being willing to hang in for the long haul are all vital.

(5) The myth that the pastoral maintenance model of ministry grows churches. This model has in fact presided over decline. In a high change culture leadership and creative initiative are crucial.

(6) The myth that new churches are only planted in new housing areas. New Congregations must be replanted in established areas as well as new ones.

(7) The myth that in a mass media urban culture personal faith is still caught by association or socialization. In fact the power of the mass media is so great that it socializes young people out of faith. Young people, including the children of Christian families, need to be brought to a personal decision and a “conversion experience” if their faith is to survive in this culture.

(8) The quality vs. quantity myth. The idea that numbers don’t matter its quality not quantity that counts. This is a false dichotomy – both matter! Ministry to the few means that the majority are left out. This can be an irresponsible position and an excuse for failure.

(9) The myth of the charming amateur. The notion that the bumbling parson who runs a somewhat chaotic service and organization is charming, authentic and attractive and anything else is merely slick and superficial. If attendance is a any measure of this myth then clearly the majority of punters have voted with their feet. Frankly we can do without the Rowan Atkinson image!

Effective new paradigm churches have challenged all these myths.

Third, we need to become a church that lives creatively rather than defensively with the following tensions:

(1) Between denominational distinctives and contextual relevance. This is a common tension for all denominations today. But the overriding priority must always be the mission imperative not the preservation of denominational culture. If there is a choice to be made the mission imperative must take priority. Sometimes that may mean celebrating or reviving a tradition. Sometimes it will mean radically reshaping a tradition, at other times it may mean abandoning it altogether. The mosaic culture demands variety not a bland uniformity of Churches and so the expression of the heritage will vary from place to place. It is naïve to think we can dismiss our denominational history and traditions but they must always be subject to the principle of making effective the mission imperative.

(2) Between our distinctive Christian values and contemporary Australian culture. There is an ever present pressure that can seduce us into cultural conformity, it must be resisted. (E.g.: The “Prosperity Gospel” or novel alternatives to the Christian understanding of the identity of the family and the divine intention for human sexuality, etc.) Unless we are a community of distinctive values, lifestyle and belief we have nothing to offer our culture. A community without boundaries is destined to disappear. As Thomas Oden has written of the circle of faith “A center without a circumference is just a dot, nothing more …to eliminate the boundary is to eliminate the circle itself.”(2) The future of the Christian community lies in our obedience to two imperatives – distinctiveness and mission. We must live and work in the creative tension between the two commands – “Be holy for I am holy” and “Go and make disciples.” Without boundaries we are destined to disappear, but equally if we fail to focus beyond our boundaries we will disappear.

(3) Between the prophetic role in politics and the active role. Over the next few years there are a number of critical socio/political issues that face us as a nation. The Christian faith has a unique and important contribution to make to each of them.

They are:

  • Industrial relations and extreme views on privatization.
  • The environment, global warming, water, energy, etc.
  • Multiculturalism, immigration, refugees, religious fundamentalism.
  • The future of Indigenous Australians.

Our theology of creation, incarnation, relationships, reconciliation, justice, compassion, community and unity in Christ speak powerfully to each of these issues. The question we face is will we just take a so called “prophetic stance” and only speak out or will we also become more practically engaged in the political process? Given that the interface between politics and religion is very much alive again in Australia it may be hard to avoid this question.

Finally let me close with the biggest challenge of all, which if we fail, all the above becomes irrelevant.

The need to be a church that can retell the Gospel story so that it connects and engages with the people of our contemporary culture.

A parable – “The shattered story”

Imagine a 14th C. Church which has a series of beautiful stained glass widows that tell the Biblical story of creation, fall, and redemption. They begin on the south side with a window nearest the chancel arch that depicts Adam and Eve as the crown of God’s creation, and then the fall and their ejection from the garden. As we proceed along the south wall the windows continue the story. There is the flood, the Ark and the rainbow of promise. Then we see the call of Abraham, we move on to King David and then to the great prophet Isaiah. When we turn to the north side wall we begin with John the Baptist and Christ coming to be baptized, then there is the healing of the blind man and the Sermon on the Mount. As we approach the chancel arch on the north side we come to the last supper and the betrayal window. As we walk up through the chancel into the sanctuary there on the east wall above the Holy table is the powerful crucifixion window with its ruby red and almost blue black glass with touches of gold. Then our eyes are taken upward by a mosaic of the resurrection and ascension to the apex of the arch to rest finally on the great east window of three intersecting circles. Each circle containing a symbol, one for God the Father, one for God the Son and one for God the Holy Spirit. The light shines through the glass in brilliant colors of transcendent beauty.

The whole is a magnificent artistic depiction of the Judeo-Christian view of history and reality, the great story of creation, fall and redemption.

But a catastrophe is about to overtake this place. There is a great earthquake and the building is almost completely destroyed. Such is the magnitude of the shocks that every window is shattered, even the mosaic on the east wall is shaken free and destroyed.

Later if you were to approach the building, although now a ruin, its shape is still discernable, but the windows and mosaic are broken and scattered in a thousand fragments on the stone floor of the remains of the building.

Imagine visiting the building some years later and finding a child sitting on the flagstone floor. She has never known the building as it was. She is playing with the fragments of mosaic and stained glass. As you watch she moves them into little random patterns of color and shape, lost in her game. As you observe this scene you wonder how you could explain to her what all these fragments really mean, what they once represented.

This child represents the people of post modernity playing in the wreckage of western culture.

To quote Jean Baudrillard on the deconstruction of all meaning and absolutes “..all that are left are pieces. All that remains to be done is to play with the pieces. Playing with the pieces – that is post modernism.” ( 3.)

Our task now is for us to so engage with God and His Word that that we will be empowered afresh by the Spirit – empowered to retell The Story so powerfully and meaningfully that it engages and makes sense to this generation and delivers them from their world of fragmented meaning into the love and grace of Christ the Lord of all.

(1) “Charles Simeon Preacher Extraordinary” Grove LS18 1979 p5.
(2) Thomas Oden “TheRebirth of Orthodoxy” Harper Collins 2003, p131.
(3) D.Groothuis “Truth decay” IVP 2000 p169.

Peter Corney July 2006.

(Address for meeting sponsored by CMS, EFAC, New Cranmer Society, and Ridley College. July 15th 2006)