Radical reform programme for the Church
The Church of England is in the headlines for two rather different reasons. The first, reported by The Guardian, is that the new synod is to table a radical programme of ‘Reform and Renewal’ to make the Church ‘fit for purpose’ in the 21st Century, initiated by Archbishop Welby. There is a ‘demographic time bomb’, with a huge dearth of young members that will be terminal for the Church, and the programme is to address this in terms of training bishops as MBA-style managers, fast tracking ‘game changers’ for promotion, and redirecting cash to dioceses that are using it well, notably away from the rural areas.
The Guardian cited fears that this programme was a combination of business techniques wedded to the Holy Trinity, Brompton, style of presenting and teaching the Gospel. Sociologist of Religion Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University doubted that this approach would enable the Church to regain its social breadth, and would rather turn it into a sect-type church. Instead, it needs, says Woodhead, to become fully ‘inclusive’ – presumably in the politically correct mode of that term - and increasing lay and community involvement, with multi-functional use of church buildings – perhaps a Tesco at the back of Bath Abbey for example? She rejects a conversionist model of church in favour of a form of cultural Christianity. The new Dean of Christchurch, Oxford, reputedly the highest paid dignitary in the Church of England, thinks that the programme could do more harm than good to a very complex historic structure, and has failed to consult with theologians about the nature of the modernisation. To both these sociological critics the programme seems to smack of evangelical functionalism.
The second reason the Church is in the news is that its effort to get the Lord’s Prayer, in video form, into cinemas has failed, as they think it offends policy on political and religious propaganda. This rejection has produced far better publicity than could have been hoped for, and maybe a YouTube presentation might go ‘viral’? The Lord’s Prayer is surely a wonderful gift from Jesus himself to the church and to the world, and other faith groups would surely benefit from it, as well as our secular neighbours and their children. This was a good initiative, and we must ask for more simple projections of the Jesus way from the church central administration: this kind of simple message is exactly what has been missing from the national level of the church.
Some decades ago the Catholic Truth Society issued a small plastic-backed booklet ‘The Thoughts of Jesus Christ’, to match ‘The Thoughts of Chairman Mao’, or ‘The little red book’, fashionable at the time. Some way of getting gospels and epistles out into supermarkets and social media would be another simple and vital initiative in our ‘post-Christian’ society, now ignorant of Jesus. Business models and sociological cultural religion are both false pathways. Faithfulness to Jesus Christ is our primary task, and we can leave the Spirit to implement the response.