8 August 2023
Mission action plans and outreach ideas abound in the Anglican Church, but do we actually talk about Jesus? How do we proclaim Jesus as Anglicans? And what do we mean by evangelism?
These questions were the topic of a lively all-day colloquium held by Trinity College Theological School as part of its Continuing Education Program on Saturday 19 August.
The day began with an exploration of the theology of evangelism by Professor Mark Lindsay, the School’s Professor of Historical Theology. Professor Lindsay identified there were many theologies of evangelism, saying it was a contested space. He outlined several different understandings of evangelism – as a hierarchical mission activity in 19th century colonialism, as “obedient discipleship”, as linked to different meanings of salvation, and as primarily a mechanism for church growth.
Quoting 20th century theologians such as Lesslie Newbiggin, Professor Lindsay moved on to a significantly different approach to evangelism. Rather than being an activity of the church, evangelism was instead the result of God’s initiative, he said. “Mission” means “sending”, and sending was a central biblical theme: God’s activity in human history. God’s many sendings of the prophets culminated in God’s sending of the Son.
Professor Lindsay pointed out that it is not that the church has a mission that the Holy Spirit helps it fulfil, but that the Spirit is the active missionary. Where the church is faithful, it becomes the place where the Spirit is enabled to complete the Spirit’s work. God is the primary agent of mission and evangelism.
New Testament Research Professor Dorothy Lee focussed her address on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in John chapter four. In a close study of the text, she pointed out Jesus’ spiritual opening up of the Samaritan woman, as he discussed with her the true worship of the Father. So, the woman became an evangelist, rushing back into the town to invite the townspeople to come and see Jesus. The question she posed to them – “Can this one be the Christ?” – portrayed the openness of the true missionary, Professor Lee said.
Professor Lee said Jesus’ discussion about worship with the unnamed woman emphasised that worship was at the heart of evangelism. “First and foremost, worship is at the heart of the church,” she said. “Out of worship, the church then bears witness to Jesus”. Professor Lee said evangelism began with Jesus, the sent one.
Senior lecturer in Ministry Education the Reverend Dr Fergus King argued that an intellectual or catechetical faith is not adequate for mission or evangelism on its own, in a presentation titled “Ushahidi – to know Christ”. (Ushahidi is a Swahili word meaning to give evidence). Dr King said faith needed to embrace three elements found in ancient understandings of the concept: knowing, trusting and allegiance. He said all baptised believers live with three imperatives, which the Holy Spirit enables: the ability to share the basic story of Jesus and what he does for us and the world, the ability to explain how knowing Jesus make a positive difference to the quality of life, and the ability to live, always admitting human weakness, according to his teaching, values, and example.
The fourth speaker, vicar of Christ Church Brunswick Bishop Lindsay Urwin, also emphasised the importance of worship for evangelism. He said his parish’s motto was “enter the mystery” – the mystery being Christ and the church. He said worship was our greatest gift to re-orient the world to God. Bishop Urwin outlined several ways in which Christ Church strives to be open to the world for Christ, from opening the church each day, to worshipping daily, to a Saturday evening prayer group, to its welcoming café, and insisting there be no ungodly talk in the church precinct.
Three multicultural panellists offered their own experiences of presenting Christ in their diverse communities. The Reverend Johnny Maryoe, of the Karen congregation at St Thomas’ Werribee, the Reverend Dr Satvasheela Pandhare, chaplain at Hume Grammar School and priest in charge of the Anglican Parish of Hume, and the Reverend Heidin Kunoo, assistant priest at St Paul’s East Kew.