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Welby: Evangelism a Gospel imperative, not Church survival strategy

06 March 2015


Calling: Archbishop Welby said that Pope Francis's drive, pictured here in the Vatican last month, to increase evangelism mirrored his own priorities

Calling: Archbishop Welby said that Pope Francis's drive, pictured here in the Vatican last month, to increase evangelism mirrored his own pri...

EVANGELISM is not simply a "survival strategy" for the Church of England, but a fundamental imperative for all those who know Christ, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Telling others the Good News should not be motivated by a desire to fill pews, but to share the light of the gospel in a "dark world", Archbishop Welby said. "Our motive driving this priority for the Church is not, not, not - never, never, never - that numbers are looking fairly low, and the future is looking fairly bleak. Never.

"Of course, we want to see full churches, [but] the Church which is concerned primarily for its own life or survival . . . is signing its own death warrant."

Archbishop Welby was speaking at Lambeth Palace on Wednesday, at the first in a new series of Lambeth Lectures. He told the audience that both an apathetic approach to mission and too much "frantic action" masked a lack of confidence in God.

Instead, "the love that has found us in Christ compels . . . us to speak," he said. "Having received the goodness of God in Jesus Christ, it obviously becomes a priority for us, as his Church, to let others know of what God has done for them."

Evangelism is one of Archbishop Welby's three priorities as Archbishop of Canterbury; but he said that he suspected that some in the Church felt their hearts sink when he announced a new focus on witness. But it is a priority for him, because it is a priority of the "Church of Jesus Christ", he said.

Witnessing to an often disinterested world is not done by trying to force people into preconceptions of what it means to be a Christian, he said. "So often we want to fit people who are not Christians into our Church, not make the Church fit for new Christians. Anything manipulative or coercive, anything disrespectful or controlling, is ruled out because of who Jesus is."

But he also cautioned against passivity, urging his listeners to reject the saying attributed to St Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times; where necessary, use words."

"Don't even think about it - mainly for the reasons that he almost certainly didn't say it, and, even if he did, he was wrong," he said. Speaking the Good News to people was unavoidable, he continued, although it should always be accompanied with listening, and living it out, too.

He quoted the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who once asked why Christians often resembled celebrities endorsing products they would never use themselves. He also endorsed Pope Francis's "wonderful" encyclical on evangelism, Evangelii Gaudium.

"Why should people believe what we say about forgiveness and grace, reconciliation and sacrifice, love and commitment, welcome and acceptance, if, when they look at the life of the Church, they see something so diametrically opposed to it?" he asked.

Archbishop Welby closed with a reference to the 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians murdered by Islamic State in Libya last month. The Coptic Bishop in England, Bishop Angaelos, said that each of the 21 men shouted "Jesus Christ is Lord" as they were killed.

"Their last words were witness," Archbishop Welby said. "The question is not whether we want to be witnesses, it is whether we are faithful witnesses. We are all witnesses; it's just whether we live that out."

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