From time to time it is possible to detect what I call ‘straws blowing in the winds’ of Australian church life. These are indicators of the health, vitality and growth, or otherwise, of the Australian church.
Some more ‘straws’ have become evident recently in reports submitted to the recent three yearly General Synod of the twenty three dioceses of the Anglican church in Australia. The general relevance of this being that, after the Catholic church, the Anglican church is by far the largest denomination in Australia). Mention was made of the ‘parlous’ nature of the financial position of many of these dioceses with six of them deemed to be financially unsustainable and another three close to being so.
There are of course many reasons for the failing financial health of many dioceses and parish churches. Falling attendances and financial giving (in real terms) are major contributors. Falling attendance, except in areas where the population is reducing, is to a large extent a result of a failure of mission. Members of ‘mainline’ churches in particular have a marked resistance to making the major changes required for the church to become effective in the ‘pagan’ mission required for our culture. Continuation of the ‘attendance at a standard church service and maybe a Bible Study during the week’ model with which we are comfortable will just increase the problems.
One commentator on the Synod said this:
“We do need a revolution, (which) is none other than the recovery of the Biblical gospel, and the urgency to proclaim it to the church and the world that desperately needs to hear the word of life.”
There are two very important points in that quotation.
1. “Urgency” – The gospel is urgent, that is because (to crystallise the urgency) it is not unreasonable to say that there are millions of Australians who are going to hell.
The question is ‘Why are so many church members complacent about that?’ Why is there so little passion to reach the lost with the only thing that will save them—Jesus? Or could it be that we don’t really believe in the ‘Hell’, about which Jesus talked more than he did about faith, heaven etc? Could it be that the problem then is that we don’t actually believe in the real Jesus at all, the one who died on the Cross to save us from that eternal fate.
2. “To proclaim it to the church” – Why is it necessary to do this? It can only be because large numbers of members are grossly disobedient to Jesus’ instructions to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8) or because they are themselves not actually converted, i.e. not Christians, at all. This point seems to be backed up by another quote from the Synod:
“Structural change will be possible and effective only when it is accompanied by a deeper spiritual transformation—transformed hearts and minds—conversion.”
Is this where we are at? With a recognition that large numbers of church members are not Christian at all and need to be converted. How about those of us who are reading this? It is not a new concern as this quote from the 19th Century Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle reminds us:
“But alas, how little fit for heaven are many who talk of ‘going to heaven’ when they die, while they manifestly have no saving faith, and no real acquaintance with Christ. You give Christ no honour here. You have no communion with Him. You do not love Him….Oh, repent and change before it is too late!”
Apathy and lack of passion for Jesus and His saving gospel is a comment I hear from many Senior Ministers of churches. It must not be so. Firstly, because the unconverted church member is as much on the road to hell as the person who has never darkened the door of a church building. Secondly, where there are many unconverted members in a congregation, it will exhibit the lack of spiritual vitality and of passion that is causing the unhealthy state of the church in Australia.
Another report to the Synod stated that:
“The time has come for a revolution if (the church) is to be a strong and stable church for the future.”
These are some of the ‘straws’ blowing in the winds of the Australian church (not just Anglican) a wind strengthening every year.
The way forward, God’s way forward, is for congregational members to have a sacrificial passion for the gospel. This requires a real and life-changing conversion, which for many especially long time ‘church’ members is likely to be painful. However only such conversion will produce the passion and the sacrifice which will ‘change the wind’. Only when people move from church membership to kingdom membership will there be enough Spirit-filled hearts that will drive the costly pagan mission required to our society.
As might be said the ‘ball is in our court’, and ‘church attendance plus a Bible study’ each week will not do it.