Seventeen blog posts ago, I asserted that “the organized, visible, historic church” needs “to be reborn.” I dared to say “God wills it.” Over the succeeding weeks I first pondered the willingness of ordinary English men and women to die for their faith at the time of the Great Reformation, and then the strange and sad separation that came into the church in England at the time of the Great Awakening. That led to a discussion of what might once more lead to a time of new life and revival in the church the West? Next I told the story of one localized example of a time and place where the Lord graciously brought revival in my own lifetime. I pray to see it agin.
I write, week by week, also praying that those who read may be stirred by the Spirit of God to a renewed sense of commitment and purpose in our own time. I write hoping that there will be a move of God so significant that some day it will have a name, if the Lord tarries. I write as a Christian, who believes that the mission the Risen Lord Jesus gave to his church, to “make disciples of all nations,” is THE mission. I am persuaded beyond turning that there is only one mission. And I write hoping to be a blessing to Christians, of whatever secondary description or denomination. Lastly I write as a lifelong Anglican.
It is this latter reality that has repeatedly led to interesting challenges for my ministry. The Anglican world is largely defined by a system that the reformers in sixteenth century England never questioned. It is called the parochial system, and means that the work of the church is geographically bounded by defined territories – locally called parishes, and more widely called diocese. One bishop overseas a diocese, and one priest oversees a parish. The wider church would call a parish a congregation, but the inner reality in the Anglican Family is still territorial oversight.
In America, and most other nations besides England, the parish in modern times is more commonly a gathered community. It exists side by side with other gathered congregations of other denominational families. Yet its inner reality is still deeply rooted in the idea of a geographical responsibility, and of authority and control over the life of that jurisdiction. That life is normally governed by the diocesan bishop, within the constraints of a constitution and canons. But day by day the heart of the Anglican world is lived within parishes. What might it mean if the parish was reborn?
There were no parishes, in the modern sense, in the early centuries of the church. Nor were there diocese. But there was a pattern of oversight and care, always centered on the believing life of a gathered people under godly leadership. The pastoral charge that was normal was called in Greek a “parochia.” But what it signified was a single community in which a people had been gathered by the Spirit of God through the preaching of the gospel. It was a pattern of caring for people who had become believers, but it was not meant to impede the spread of the kingdom of God. It was meant to further it.
Next Week: Organized for the Spread of the Kingdom of God?