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
"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
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
"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."