Discipleship is important part of Church of England reform programme

13 January 2015

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Jesus and his disciples: The Miracle Fishing  (1618) by Peter Paul Rubens 

Jesus and his disciples: The Miracle Fishing  (1618) by Peter Paul Rubens 

THE Archbishops' Council on Tuesday published a significant report on the development of discipleship in the Church of England. It is one of four reports being unveiled this week as part of the Archbishops' call on Monday for a major programme of renewal and reform.

In the report, Developing Discipleship, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, calls for a revised catechism for the C of E, a new theological conversation on discipleship and ministry, and the exploration by dioceses, parishes, and Fresh Expressions of "Ten marks of a diocese committed to developing disciples".

The Ten Marks, appended to the report, include supporting "a lifelong journey of discipleship and growth in Christian maturity", and the affirmation of discipleship in daily life. It says that innovation and experiment in mission, ministry, and discipleship should be encouraged; and that dioceses should have specific policies and plans to promote discipleship development.

The report says that the C of E's current catechism is "an important but neglected document". It was written "primarily as a resource for children growing up into the faith in a predominantly Christian society rather than as a resource for children and adults aiming to live out their discipleship in a complex and changing world."

It calls for the development of a revision of the catechism over the next five years, to "help the whole Church explore and live out our common discipleship".

The Ministry Council has already begun work on "a new theological conversation", by drawing together theologians, bishops, and educators - to "prepare the ground for a larger conversation" by the College of Bishops in September 2015, ahead of the development of fresh theological resources for the next quinquennium of the General Synod.

"There is no well-developed source for the theology of discipleship to which the contemporary Church of England can readily look to inform its teaching," the Revd Canon Jeremy Worthen, secretary for ecumenical relations and theology, is quoted as saying in the report.

"This does not mean, of course, that there has been no writing on this subject by Anglicans and others," Dr Croft said. "There are some excellent and recent studies, particularly at a popular level. However, the thinking they represent has not been fully absorbed into the lifeblood and culture of our Church and our understanding of discipleship and ministry."

This "lack of a coherent and concisely stated common understanding of discipleship", he said, had a "number of consequences for the life of parishes, dioceses, and the Church of England as a whole", including a "lopsided" theological understanding of ministry. And, "most seriously, the witness and mission of the whole Church is impoverished, as Christians are neither encouraged nor sustained in the living out of their Christian faith and daily life".

The report says that discipleship movements have sprung up in the Church throughout history, and particularly at key points, including the Roman Empire's acceptance of Christianity, the monastic movement, the Reformation, the development of Richard Baker's catechesis, and the Wesleyan movement.

"As the Church of England in 2015, we face the challenge of calling one another afresh to follow Christ in the face of a global, secularised, materialistic culture, often experienced as a desert for the soul," Dr Croft says.

"We need to draw on the deep wisdom of the past but also to apply ourselves afresh to an authentic and Anglican understanding of discipleship for the 21st century."

The report will be discussed by the General Synod in February, and in more detail at its meeting in July. An online forum has been created on the Church of England website for people's responses to the report: www.churchofengland.org/discipleshipreport.

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