Comments: opinion

Linda Woodhead’s article is remarkable in providing not only an incisive critique of the C of E reports but also positive, imaginative indications of a better way and a richer theology. She is surely right that “discipleship” is overdone as a concept. Properly understood, Christian discipleship is about being called to follow Jesus to the extent that we stand precisely where he is, in the heart of the divine life, but without this more “glorious vision” (as Linda puts it) being emphasised, the language of “making disciples” conveys the impression today that the church is superior. The truth is rather that most people will perceive the event in York Minster on Monday as the C of E at last being taught to follow.

I agree also with Linda that there is a sense of panic underlying the reports. Certain looser comments outside the reports make this even clearer. The strategy proposed leans dangerously close to making numerical growth the primary aim. This can only result in a church focused first on its own survival, and focused on God and the neighbour only as a means to that end. No doubt there are some helpful structural changes to make within the church, and it seems we have an Archbishop of Canterbury particularly skilled in that task, but we should also hear the wise and relevant words spoken by his predecessor on the occasion of his historic address to the Synod of Bishops in Rome as they met to discuss the “New Evangelization” in 2012:

“[Evangelisation] happens most effectively when we are not planning or struggling for it… The enemy of all proclamation of the Gospel is self-consciousness, and, by definition, we cannot overcome this by being more self-conscious. We have to return to St Paul and ask, ‘Where are we looking?’ Do we look anxiously to the problems of our day, the varieties of unfaithfulness or of threat to faith and morals, the weakness of the institution? Or are we seeking to look to Jesus, to the unveiled face of God’s image in the light of which we see the image further reflected in ourselves and our neighbours? That simply reminds us that evangelisation is always an overflow of something else – the disciple’s journey to maturity in Christ, a journey not organised by the ambitious ego but the result of the prompting and drawing of the Spirit in us.”

Posted by Mark Hart at Saturday, 24 January 2015 at 8:29pm GMT

From the NYT interview:

"Q. What difference does the pope make for Christians who are not Catholic?

A. Inspiration..."

Argh! +++Welby had the perfect opportunity to begin his response w/ something like "Well, I *am* catholic, but..." and he blew it. >:-/

Posted by JCF at Saturday, 24 January 2015 at 8:38pm GMT

Michael Paulson's interview with Archbishop Welby confirmed Welby's diplomatic skills and his clear vision of where the Anglican Church is at the moment. He didn't buy into predicting just what may happen. God bestows freedom for us to choose and we are loved whatever way we choose. The Catholics have been brave enough to choose a leader nurtured away from the power base of Europe. And the Anglicans have also chosen well with Justin Welby. Now to make it count!

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 24 January 2015 at 8:44pm GMT

Pam --

No, "the Anglicans" have not chosen Justin Welby as their leader: the CofE chose him. (That's if the comparison is with the RC church and the bishop of ROme).

I would suggest that at the moment, his role as a leader of Anglicanism is so tenuous that one more attempt to lead anyone in any direction will tear the whole thing apart for good. At the best, his role outside the CofE is (or ought to be) as a convenor of councils. That's it. And the sooner he and the CofE accept this, the better for us all.

Posted by John Holding at Sunday, 25 January 2015 at 1:48am GMT

"[H]is role outside the CofE is (or ought to be) as a convenor of councils. That's it. And the sooner he and the CofE accept this, the better for us all."

So true!

But Welby indicated that in his opinion, leadership of the Anglican Communion will not and should not rest with the CofE forever.

Welby also said, of The Episcopal Church, "I’m very careful about lecturing other churches." Which is heartening--but other leadership of the Communion might not be so restrained.

As I've often said, the Anglican Communion is a family of independent churches. Nothing more.

Posted by Jeremy at Sunday, 25 January 2015 at 12:23pm GMT

John Holding's view of the Anglican Communion today seems to me very negative and unnecessarily so. The Christian Church has had far greater crises in the past, but by God's grace they are behind us. I am greatly encouraged by Archbishop Welby's recent visits to the Provinces of our fellowship and his current leadership, and (moderate Evangelical) Andrew Atherstone has given us a very fine story of his extraordinary life before he became Archbishop in "Archbishop Justin Welby : The Road to Canterbury". In Archbishop Rowan Williams we were also blessed, with a very different man but a very great Archbishop indeed, and his wise words regarding evangelism, in particular,I hope will be widely shared.

Posted by John Bunyan at Sunday, 25 January 2015 at 12:24pm GMT

Congratulations to Linda Woodhead for many aspects of her critique, especially in drawing attention to the way all these reports represent a shift in the C of E's ecclesiological stance (i.e. making it more congregational, less societally-focussed, and how an emphasis on 'discipleship' in the narrow sense draws energy inwards). If we allow these proposals to take us down this road, the situation will be more dire than these reports envisage; because we will become a membership organisation, geared to the internal expectation of 'members of the club', with less and less space for those outside or on the margins. In short, we will no longer be the National Church. This is why we need a more imaginative theological perspective - because good 'discipleship' (in the wider sense) flows from good theology. A little less panic and rather more depth would be welcome.

Posted by James A at Sunday, 25 January 2015 at 4:47pm GMT

@JCF "From the NYT interview:

'Q. What difference does the pope make for Christians who are not Catholic?

A. Inspiration...' "

Anglicans outside the C of E could ask a similar question, and get a similar answer re the ABofC.

Q. What difference does the ABofC make for Anglicans who are not in the C of E?

A. Inspiration.

The answer implies he will received variously, and on an issue by issue basis, since inspiration usually has a strong subjective component.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 25 January 2015 at 4:50pm GMT

John - Hear, hear! Though I would ask why there is any reason to hold the whole thing together? Perhaps it would be best to let each country nurture a church which is indigenous and responds to the needs, culture and understanding of its mother country. To whatever extent we are held together, I submit it is through a more-or-less common liturgy (less and less as time goes by - but that is another topic).

Strong, self-confident churches - ECUSA and hopefully, eventually the C of E - should and could thus lead by example. Leading by authority is clearly a thing of the past, and an accident of colonialism. I wonder how much the whole thing is held back by Britain's nostalgic, even atavistic memory of Empire?

Posted by Nathaniel Brown at Sunday, 25 January 2015 at 6:26pm GMT

The CT leader still doesn't seem to have got it: "We suggest that the task of theological education continue to be a priority, passing on the fruit of academic study and learned experience to a laity that is best placed to produce the numerical growth being called for and, with training, can provide a perfect seedbed for the next generation of clergy."

Er, why isn't that a seedbed for the next generation of laity? Is the only role of the laity to produce clergy?

Posted by cassandra at Sunday, 25 January 2015 at 7:09pm GMT

John --

I was working on the assumption that, although the Archbishop of Canterbury is chosen by the CofE, that this position is seen as leadership of the entire Anglican Communion. I realise there is significant disagreement within Anglicanism over 'issues'. I also believe that Welby's role outside of the CofE is to bring non-believers to Christ. A role each believer shares. His credibility depends on support from all of Christ's followers. This doesn't mean agreeing with him on every single issue. Or even going to church.

Posted by Pam at Sunday, 25 January 2015 at 8:40pm GMT

I am increasingly of the view that we need Linda Woodhead on the bench, and quickly.

There were instances during the Byzantine empire of laymen being appointed patriarchs of Constantinople, and being put through all orders within a few days (e.g., Tarasios in 784 or Photios in 858).

There have also been instances of laymen being appointed to senior positions in our own church (e.g., Robert Weston and Sir William Gerard to the deanery of St Patrick's, Dublin - Weston was also dean of Wells, and was succeeded by another layman/jurist, Valentine Dale; or Sir Henry Savile to the provostship of Eton, which was then tied to the rectory).

I am not joking!

Posted by J Drever at Sunday, 25 January 2015 at 10:55pm GMT

Pam: "I was working on the assumption that, although the Archbishop of Canterbury is chosen by the CofE, that this position is seen as leadership of the entire Anglican Communion."

I think you will find, Pam, that in much of the anglican communion the role of the ABC as leader has been profoundly tarnished by a succession of ABC who may (or not) have been excellent leaders of the CofE but who have failed dismally to lead or even notice the realities of the rest of the Anglican communion. Your vision, which was certainly valid when Michael Ramsey was ABC, began to fray under his immediate successors and became largely a romantic fiction under Carey and Rowen WIlliams.


Posted by John Holding at Monday, 26 January 2015 at 1:23am GMT

re the article about the Finnish Church & Internet:

In my humble opinion, The Body of Christ is incarnational - that is, personal. It cannot be merely virtual. Probably this is why God became incarnate in Jesus Christ - to 'dwell amongst us - not on the Internet, but in the flesh. There is no substitute, even in the world of today, for the Presence of Christ in the midst - in the Eucharist.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 26 January 2015 at 7:45am GMT

"There is no substitute, even in the world of today, for the Presence of Christ in the midst - in the Eucharist."
This is absolutely true, of course, Father Ron, but as soon as human beings developed writing they were using ways of communicating that were virtual, that didn't require the physical presence of the one who was communicating. It may not be the same as face to face communication, but it is communication, and it can do things that physical presence can't. Writing developed because communities grew beyond the scale at which going and speaking directly to a number of people was possible, with the development of early towns and cities. These needed more complex administration than a small village or clan had done, so the only way to communicate was by putting pen to paper (or stylus to clay). Written communication can do things that oral communication and physical presence can't. It means that I, in South East England, can talk to you in NZ (? if I rightly recall). It also means that I can talk, through my church website and blog, to people who might never come through the doors of the church, or who might come, but never have the courage to ask the question that was burning in them. It enables people to take an anonymous look at us, and discover that, actually, we aren't as scary/bad as they thought we were (hopefully).
There were societies that rejected writing, like the Druids, thinking that it damaged the ability of people to learn and remember by heart, which it probably does. The end result of that decision, though, is that we now know very little about them, apart from the biassed views of those who conquered them! If the Church doesn't embrace and use virtual technology we become similarly invisible and silent. The Word needs to become Flesh in every generation, but there are lots of ways in which that can happen in people's lives, and we should embrace them all.

Posted by Anne2 at Monday, 26 January 2015 at 9:11am GMT

I perfectly understand Father Ron Smith's view: "That there is no substitute, even in the world of today, for the Presence of Christ in the midst - in the Eucharist."
Yet, looking back to 1974, in the chapel at Salisbury Theological College; imagine a gargoyle of a man called Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, erstwhile Dean of Johannesburg, as he recalls reciting the prayer of consecration after months of torture and solitary confinement - before us he reaches his hands outward and upward to receive the body and blood of Christ, just as he did in that cell without bread and water and we knew and felt more than ever before the real presence of Christ in this sacred mystery.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 26 January 2015 at 11:38am GMT

How can the church overdo discipleship? Jesus begins his ministry by calling 12 disciples, and 'ends' it by commissioning them to make disciples of all nations.

Posted by David Keen at Monday, 26 January 2015 at 12:12pm GMT

David, the church can’t overdo discipleship, I agree. My remark was meant to be taken in reference to the reports, to make the point that the language of discipleship can be overdone, especially if the more negative connotations are not balanced by that fuller vision of what it means to follow Jesus, which the word “discipleship” alone does not convey, and which Linda noted was missing. The church can’t overdo its mission for people to be saved, but it can overdo the language of “being saved” and it can understand “being saved” in a narrow, diminished way.

Posted by Mark Hart at Monday, 26 January 2015 at 4:06pm GMT

A very good point, Martin. However, within the person you speak of here - Gonville ffrench Beytagh - there was an instinctual 'presence of Christ' that not all people are able to express. AND, it was evoked in the presence of others of like mind. His symbolic gestures were undoubtedly the Holy Spirit's way of making Christ present on that occasion.

Thanks for that reminder of a good man.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 27 January 2015 at 9:32am GMT
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