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"Vision 2019 is an opportunity to say 'here's what I think our church needs to be about.'"
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Message from Brian J., Toronto ON

To dream is to yearn for things that are not yet real, or to wonder about rebuilding something that once was. Certainly there’s no need to dream if you’ve already got what you want.

I think it’s exciting that the Primate has asked us to think of a ten year dream in terms of the Five Marks of Mission. Quickly, they are: Evangelizing non-believers, Discipling new Christians, Doing Good Works, Seeking Justice and Caring for Creation.

The weight of the Five Marks of Mission is found in the first two, evangelism and discipleship. A survey of bishops attending Lambeth discovered that they hold these two as more important than the others.

Christian mission can only be done by people who are already followers of Jesus. Only the first two marks are exclusively Christian. There are many secular agencies [like the UN] that focus on those goals or the latter three marks, but no secular agencies focus efforts on either evangelism or making disciples. That is the realm of the church, and quite properly the place to put the vast majority of our time, effort and resources.

At any rate, in asking Canadian Anglicans to dream, the Primate thinks something is broken with the church, and he’s wondering what to do? Have we not yet reached our hopes, or laid  hold of that new vision of what we might become? Or have we lost something desirable that needs to be reclaimed and rebuilt, to attain the former glory that previously we displayed?

The Primate knows the answer. Our dreams must not be in moving to new territory or in redefining ourselves, but in reestablishing our foundations, and regaining a clear vision of our leader, Jesus Christ.

Let’s look at two areas where we can begin to rebuild the ancient ruins. First, we’ll look at the role of the Bible, and secondly we’ll look at the storytelling we need to do.

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The Anglican Church of Canada is weak on appealing to Scripture, and weak on applying Scripture.  It is weak on telling the story of Jesus, the main character and actor in the Bible. It is weak on understanding Scripture and on referring to Scripture. The evidence is that there is little evidence.

Where can we find the Bible? We could visit the national church website and look for articles that serve the spiritual needs of viewers. Is there a daily devotional or a weekly message of Bible-based encouragement? Are there talks or blog entries by the Primate that are designed to build the faith of the people over whom he is shepherd? We could look for Scripture references or examples of obvious Christian behaviour like praying or evangelizing or doing Bible studies. Maybe we could look at submissions to government officials that request changes to legislation to see if we’ve included a biblical foundation for our request. When we read the Anglican Journal we get a little Bible teaching each month. Sermons by the current Primate seem to offer a couple of verses at the beginning and end, but don’t offer much exposition. We can look for the Bible in the Anglican Church, but do we don’t find much of it. The Bible is little seen, and seldom referred to.

The dream here is to return to the basics of church life, where Scripture is attended to. We pray: “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”

The dream would be to have the Anglican Church pay more attention to Scripture as the main motivator when we ask others to do things, when we start new programs, when we advocate for justice. We need to be seen attending to the truths of Scripture. Endue all departments with Biblical mandates and motivating verses. Annual efforts in evangelism could be driven by biblical examples, such as Andrew, Timothy, or Philemon. [As an counter example, the recent Toronto effort to invite people to come to church had no biblical reference point.] The Anglican Journal team could recruit Bible publishers to buy adverts by cultivating a hunger among readers for explicitly Scriptural content.

Here’s more ideas. Offer carefully selected biblical promises for every diocese. The Primate can launch an annual “Word of Life, for Life” Program that gives a certificate to people who memorize 10, 25, 50 or more verses in a year. His passion for Scripture would be clearly seen or heard when we read or listen to his sermons because Scripture texts would be at the core of his talk. He could promote annual workshops for all clergy that would review best practices for biblical exegesis in sermons. He could offer his own Scripture comment/teaching on his communications page, like a weekly blog and a short devotional. Here’s an expensive program to consider: Like the Lutherans, a custom-created study bible could be created for Anglicans to purchase and use.

The Primate could insist that a “Bible verse of the day” link be available on the church website by next weekend; he wouldn’t have to wait ten years, he wouldn’t even need to wait for the consultant’s report. Promotion of this kind of coding could be offered to all church congregation websites too.

Or a daily devotional and various Scripture verses

Or a concordance search program

So, back to Scripture. Let’s lift up the Word of God, read it regularly, carry it with us. Let’s read it, learn it, use it. For it is only within Scripture that we find the good news about Jesus Christ, that he died for us while we were yet sinners. The successful future of the Anglican Church rests on reacquainting ourselves with the Scriptures.  Consider how many of the other stories in this Vision 2019 program call for this? Why are we so little committed to taking hold of the very Word of God?

Do you think that in ten years we could be more Biblically literate than we are now? Do you think we could be more vested in the truths and authority of Scripture? That’s a dream worth pursuing that we need to chase. Let’s make it so. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

Among the Marks of Mission, cultivating a love for the Scriptures admirably supports the second mark: To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.

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The second dream is that we would tell the gospel by including personal stories of conversion. There are many references in the Journal or even on this Dream 2019 website that suggest that we are all children of God. Sure, everyone is made in the image of God, but not all are inheritors of his Kingdom. There is confusion among Anglicans around the subject of conversion. It seems that the whole subject of sin and salvation and faith in Jesus Christ is inconsequential. How did you become a Christian? What is your testimony? Why should God let you into heaven?

These are questions that only Christians care about. The lost don’t know they are lost. No one seeks for God. We must be ambassadors and witnesses to them about sin and repentance. The overwhelming topic of the Scriptures is the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us about him, about his love, about his willing sacrifice, and it tells us about the meaning of the cross and activities of the early followers of Jesus. The good news is about Jesus.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Life is all about Jesus. Everything we do, every breath we take. Jesus. This dream is about creating a church that wants to tell the story of Jesus, and of a relationship that we can have with him. Oh, that we would know it well, tell it clearly and share it often. When the Amazing Grace song project ran in fall 2008, the Anglican Church barely told the story of what Christ’s suffering and death was about. We wrote about singing the song, but not the meaning of the song. We thought that Wikipedia would be adequate, and we didn’t even think that was necessary at first. We created an opportunity for evangelism, and failed to follow through with the content that would enable someone to step out from the domain of darkness into a place with Christ to stand holy and blameless before him.  [And so the Project page remains- it truly begs for a footnote that explains how to become a Christian.]

I encourage myself every now and again with a peek at the end of the story – that there are people from all nations who gather around the throne of God. They proclaim the good news: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” In their worship, they proclaim, “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” [Revelation 7:12] The Kingdom of God is about salvation: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” [Colossians 1:13,14]

This is the gospel story we must tell. It begins with our sin and our unworthiness. God’s holiness is unapproachable on our own. We need help. Jesus offers that help and gives it to us if we take it. We can be saved from our sin. We do not need to be lost. We can be born again when we trust in Christ’s substitutionary death upon the cross. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8] “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” [Acts 16:31]

I was converted at a Christian camp when I was 11 years old. The director gave a short devotion at breakfast each day. One time he gave directions for praying to God for the first time, like you can hear from a radio evangelist. I chose to ask God into my heart, saying I was sorry for my sins, and that I trusted Jesus to deal with it all. My sins were “lifted up” and I was saved. I became a Christian. There wasn’t much of sin in my life, but it’s our nature that needs redemption. I was a slow learner too. It wasn’t until my later teen years that I realized that my confirmation at 13 was a public declaration of what had happened to me at camp, which was a fulfillment of my parent’s hope for me at my baptism in my first year.

The Primate can tell the personal story of his own conversion. He can invite testimonies from parishoners as he has invited us to share our dreams for the church. I’d like to see a section titled “• Jesus Christ” on the left hand navigation column of the national church website. It could explain who Jesus is, why we follow him, and how to get saved. The Anglican Church has many people who have been soundly saved. Those personal stories of coming to Christ can be combined with biblical material about the meaning of Christ’s death upon the cross. That’s powerful content for evangelism. Out of this passion for our Lord, the Primate could create low cost [or free!] workshops where people can learn to share their faith. He could ask every clergy to deliver them in every parish every year.

That’s a dream I have. Here’s more. By 2019, every clergy and ministry leader will have publicly shared his or her personal testimony of salvation with members of their congregation. Thus: “Here at a property committee meeting, whose turn is it to share their testimony? How did you get saved Audrey?” Or, at the end of a service: “Before the blessing, our senior warden will share with us how he got saved.” It’s easy to practice in a safe place. On the street or at work the actual evangelism is harder. But we need to start.

Clergy need to invite conversion. They need to invite parishoners to break with their past and trust Jesus to save them. Clergy need to speak about sin, and how it holds us back from a relationship with God. Clergy need to teach about the atoning blood of Jesus, and his saving work upon the cross. Clergy need to to revel in proclaiming God’s majesty in displaying his grace toward us – that his costly love in Christ is available for all, but that it must be claimed. People can believe and trust in Jesus. Many have not done so.

If the Primate were feeling bold, he would want to begin to collect a statistical record of conversions along with attendance.

Clergy, lay readers, and other worship leaders need to be careful about their language, because not everyone who attends an Anglican church has been saved. Being Anglican doesn’t necessarily also mean being Christian. We must emphasize being Christian over being Anglican.

I’ve heard frequent references to us all as being children of God, or that we are all included in the church. That’s not always helpful because it encourages people who are not saved to think that they are. Evangelism among regular church attenders can be difficult because these lost people have no sense of conviction of sin, since they think they are justified. So frequent references to our sinful nature are required, as are references to the two kingdoms. This is the business of church, to get serious about sin, and to get into tough talk, to make distinctions about who belongs and who doesn’t. People may end up feeling guilty or offended. Tough. That is the reality of all our lives when our conscience is pricked. We are all unworthy of God’s love; His wrath toward us is reasonable. There is no good work we can do to win his approval. But there is a solution to that sense of guilt and inadequacy – to know and experience Christ’s grace and to make him known.

Among the Marks of Mission, learning how to tell your testimony of salvation admirably supports the first mark: To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.

Brian J.

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