DISCIPLESHIP and evangelism provided the theme of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential address on the Wednesday afternoon, as for a large part of the Synod’s business at these sessions.
The Church was resolutely not a “club with a membership drive”, and evangelism was not a means to something else, but an end in itself. “Both worship and witness spring from our own experience of the unmediated love of God in Jesus Christ,” he said.
He then spoke on 1 Peter, the book that would provide the theme of next year’s Lambeth Conference. Written to insecure churches, feeling threatened and uncertain, St Peter called for “absolute faithfulness” to Christ against the current culture, but always speaking and act with gentleness and grace, Archbishop Welby said.
Love and truth were not conflicting opposites, but impossible to separate. The absence of either stopped the other from fully operating. The Church existed to communicate the truth, in love, of God’s grace and hope, and the power of Jesus’s resurrection.
But communication was complex, and whatever was said must also be heard, and then reflected on. “The language of love, hope, and holiness is a common language, [but] it’s a language which the Church has always struggled with.”
The complexities and brokenness of the world and of the Church meant that there was an “eternal struggle” inside everyone to “speak love fluently”. “Our tongues stumble over its expression and find law, and rules, and exclusion.”
But for the Church to witness compellingly, it must look like what and who it spoke of, the Archbishop said. “The witness is both the carrier of the message and its embodiment.” This was also true of the Synod, which he likened to a test tube in which all the raw ingredients of the Church were mixed together and then heated to “see what happens”.
In many places, the resultant reaction was Christlike, holy, and filled with hope. The Church of England was not only “alive and well, but showing signs of growth, renewal, and reform”, he suggested. Numbers of ordinands continued to rise, church-plants were going ahead (2500 were planned by 2030). Churches provided debt advice, food, or shelter, and friendship, besides helping to educate more than one million children.
This Lent, why not give up “cynicism”, the Archbishop suggested. This was not easy, especially as many in the Church held views so “obnoxious” that “we” would prefer they left. “But we and they are equally loved by God, equally sinners needing to repent, equally part of the body.”
He then asked members of the Synod to turn to their neighbours for a few minutes to hear each other’s faith stories.
Click here to read about other General Synod debates and motions