In Sydney, our evangelical theology is one where we treasure the local parish and congregation. This is an absolutely right thing to do at a scriptural level but we need to recognise that there is also a bigger fellowship that occurs between like–minded people.
So, one of the things that the diocese has been, really since Bishop Barker, is a movement. That is, we are not just a group of people, nor just as a denomination, nor just people who share a common ordination, but we have been a movement of Anglican evangelicals. Indeed, this movement is about wanting to see the glory of the Lord cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. That is really what we are about as a diocese, and it has been the beating heart for a long time.
The movement we know as the Anglican diocese of Sydney has two important prongs to it: 1) we want people to know Jesus and come under his Lordship, and 2) we want to make sure that we are true to what God has revealed and so that is why we are not just evangelistic. We are biblically evangelistic as a diocese. A movement comes together because people share a common vision, and that is our common vision. I think if you spoke to most congregational members and most clergy persons that is what they would say they exist for.
The trouble is that movements come undone through other vested interests, and you might not even realise that it is being undone. For example, if we focus only on our own local parish, what will happen is that we lose a great win-win opportunity. We lose the opportunity to see this ministry do well and lose the opportunity to see other churches do well too. All throughout history movements which turn against each other from the inside come unstuck. You see it in the corporate sector, and you see in the Scriptures also. For instance, Joab and King David. Joab was just great commander aligned together with David, but then they fell out with each other, which brought them no end of trouble and hindered others too.
It is right that we want to see our local ministry grow and that is what we need to focus on. But what we also need to do is work with each other. We need to think, “how can what I am doing help others as well as helping my church” in the back of our mind all the time. And we need to be thinking about how to be intentional in this, not just being reactionary or driven by circumstances. So, when it comes to thinking about our diocese, our archbishop is the one who needs to keep before us that vision of seeing the lost won (that is evangelism) and seeing the lost won to what God has revealed in his word (that is defending the faith).
All of us have a part to play in making that movement succeed. One of our dangers is that we forget who the enemy is. We must remember that the enemy is the devil who is prowling around. We see it out there all the time as Christianity is attacked from the outside. Sometimes, when we forget this, and when we feel Christianity being attacked from the outside, we can tend towards attacking one another. Especially because we think fairly similarly to each other, we start attacking those within our own movement. Imagine being in the trenches on the battlefield. You see the enemy across the ground in their trench and you know they are the enemy. But when they are visibly running over no man’s land to try and attack you it is so easy to start to get frustrated and annoyed with the person who is next to you in the trench. Now we must not do that. Our enemy is the devil. Our friends are those brothers and sisters with whom we are united in Christ.
Sometimes the presence of bigger and smaller parish ministries can test our sense of unity and fellowship. Both in the United States and here in Australia we see this problem. Sometimes the big ministries have increased, and the smaller ones have died. And I think that one of the dangers that we have is that our society likes the big and the flashy events, and our society pushes us towards having the big and flashy churches. But if we only have a few big churches, a whole lot of people are lost and left uncontacted. Actually, we need both. We need the big flashy ministries and we need to keep making sure that the other ministries keep functioning well. The example I use is McDonald’s. What they have are big company owned stores. And the big company owned stores exist to keep the quality up so the smaller franchises can function really well. One of the dangers we have if we’re only looking at our own parishes, is that we will make a few company owned McDonald’s work really well and lose the franchises.
The other thing that happens is that we become self-centered. Self-centeredness is part of the fallen condition. It is one of the consequences of the fall, and God’s redemptive work by the Holy Spirit is actually to make us other-person-centered.
We all know that and yet it is so easy to fall back into self-centeredness. So we actually need to keep working hard at asking, “how can I be a blessing to other people?” You see great examples of selflessness in the way that churches are willing and excited to give up their best people to the mission field, and how churches are excited to give up their best people to come to Moore College so they might go and lead ministries elsewhere. That has been the history. People used to wear as a badge of honour the number of people that they had sent onto the mission field, now the badge of honour is how big my congregation is, and how many services I run, and how big my staff team is. We have got to be careful of all that because it starts to cement our self-centeredness.
When it comes to evangelism, we need to have a big vision because we know the future where the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. It is not the glory of the Lord covering this 3 km square geography only. One of the ways I put it, is to ask: is there any postcode in Sydney or Australia that doesn’t need the gospel? And the answer is that obviously is no. Every person in every postcode needs the gospel.
We need to go back to rejoicing when people go on the mission field and rejoicing when people leave us to go and do other ministries. We have a particular responsibility to those that we are proximate to, and that’s why local churches matter. But we can also impact and influence every postcode or any postcode in Australia by our prayers, by our giving of money, or resources, or people, or technology, or best practices. And rather than being tapped on the shoulders to provide them it would be great if we started thinking about that right from the beginning. The vision of the diocese should be about what is best for the gospel in this diocese, not what is best for my local parish.