Justin Welby’s call to convert this nation is no joke

This Sunday Christians around the world will be celebrating the day the Church was born. At the festival of Pentecost, not long after Jesus had left them, his followers who only numbered about 120 were together when the Holy Spirit came and engulfed the room with power. In a moment these believers who had previously been timid and afraid became the initiators of the biggest evangelistic movement the world has ever seen. Their boldness compelled them to devote themselves to sharing the news that Jesus alone is the saviour of the world.

Not long after that momentous day Peter and John were hauled before the high priest and rulers in Jerusalem and commanded not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. To this Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, by all accounts shares this urge to spread the news of Jesus into a country which has mostly forgotten who he really is. His call on the Church yesterday to use Pentecost Sunday as a focus to pray for those throughout our country who have not yet encountered the love of God in Jesus Christ is the start of something much bigger.

Justin Welby has evangelism firmly on his mind and with the Archbishop of York has put the “re-evangelisation” of this country firmly on the Church of England’s agenda.

And the Archbishop of Canterbury has no doubt that such a huge ambition needs to begin in prayer:

‘The task before us cannot be overestimated. We could easily be disheartened. But God never leaves us on our own, he never throws us back on ourselves. He sends his Spirit to commission us, send us, empower us and help us present Jesus Christ – his life, his death, his resurrection – to each and every person.

‘The commitment to pray is the essential first step. Prayer has to be our first priority, if we are to call more people to follow Christ, and to invite others to share in the story of God’s love for the world. The wonderful news is God is always ready to hear our prayers and to send his Spirit that we may proclaim the good news afresh. I urge every church community and individual to set aside time to pray and to share God’s heart for all his people.’

All of this talk doesn’t feel very ‘CofE’. Anglicans aren’t renowned for preaching the Gospel at the best of times especially outside of church walls. For a long time being Anglican has generally gone along the lines of being well-meaning and nice, but also inoffensive and probably a bit dull too. Intentionally working to see others become followers of Christ is either ignored or left to professional evangelists and other more charismatic denominations. The old saying attributed to St. Francis ‘preach the gospel, use words if necessary’ fits comfortably; be kind, considerate and maybe get involved in a social action project and you’re doing your bit for Jesus.

The thing is though that there’s no evidence that St. Francis ever said that and anyway this line of thinking runs entirely contrary to the actions of Jesus, the apostles and the early church in the New Testament. There is also a good reason why the Church of England and other churches have seen such a marked level of decline over recent decades. It is because too many Christians have kept their faith pretty much to themselves and not shared it effectively. Being a bit too Anglican and polite and generally ignoring the bits Jesus says about making disciples has left the state of Christianity in a far from healthy condition.

This is certainly not the Christianity that Justin Welby believes in and thank God for this. Right from the very beginning of his tenure he has sought to stir things up and put evangelism right at the heart of his priorities. In his own words again:

‘It’s my belief that if only we truly ‘got’ evangelism, we, the Church would live to show what it meant. And to ‘get’ it means to receive it, and to give it. Continually. And if we lived what we spoke of, and spoke of what we lived, no-one would have to point at the Church and wonder what it was for.

‘In Jesus, God has chosen to effect life for us, to make all the difference for us, to free us by bringing us grace, mercy and hope. This is the most wonderful news any of us could ever receive. Following Jesus is the best decision any person can ever make. We are convinced of this.’

Justin Welby’s words are gloriously un-PC. In a world of equality, where claiming that your worldview or religion holds absolute truth is regarded as arrogant and quite possibly deluded, Justin is in no mood to mince his words. This is not empty propaganda or a speech to induce guilt in the faithful. When you have encountered Jesus and seen the power of transformation that comes about from following Jesus, it is impossible to disagree with these statements. Avoiding offending others’ sensibilities is not going to be your biggest worry when you know beyond doubt that you have experienced the joy of God’s love and that it is available to everyone.

Last month Darrell Tunningley visited our church to speak and share his story. He is currently the senior pastor at Hope Corner Church in Runcorn, but his background is not that of your usual church minister. He began his criminal career at the age of 11 by stealing badges from expensive cars. By the age of 16 he was selling heroin and cocaine and funding a £300-a-day heroin habit and  had gained a formidable reputation for his violent behaviour. At 17 he was jailed for five-and-a-half years for his part in an armed robbery. He describes himself at this point in his life as being so evil he was like the antichrist; dead on the inside and full of hate and anger and guilt.

In prison he continued his drug dealing and violence, repeatedly being moved between category A prisons following unprovoked assaults on other inmates. One day at HMP Wolds in East Yorkshire something happened that would change the  course of Darrell’s life – another inmate invited to attend an Alpha course. He decided to go along purely to get out of his cell for an afternoon and for the free biscuits.

When he arrived for the session he found two retired nuns leading it. He gave them a tirade of verbal abuse but all they did was listen and reply with love and compassion. Their response completely stopped Darrell in his tracks and broke something inside of him. He went back to his cell and before he went to sleep prayed to God vowing to devote his life to Him if He would take away his demons.
The next morning Darrell woke up but when he tried to have his usual cigarette he felt violently sick. The feeling went away only when he threw his cigarettes and lighter out of the window. Exactly the same thing happened with his cannabis. When he looked in the mirror he didn’t recognise the face staring back at him; it was no longer filled with hate. When he left his cell the other inmates immediately saw that something had changed. His anger and violent temperament had vanished. He knew that God had done something remarkable in him and followed through with his promise.

Alongside leading a church, Darrell now visits prisons and travels around the world explaining how God has utterly transformed him.

This is the reality of the Christian faith. God changes lives for the better and miracles are His currency. Most Christians’ lives are a lot more tame than Darrell Tunningley’s but his experience is far from being unique. Christianity is not a crutch or an intellectual argument to be won – it goes far, far deeper.

Justin Welby knows full well that this incredible promise that Jesus gives of new life is not to be kept secret. It was never meant to be hidden away. Archbishop Justin has made it quite clear that his call to prayer and evangelism this Pentecost is not a one-off or a limited campaign. It is about bringing the Church back to its roots and becoming a Church full of individuals who fully know the love of God and want to share that good news. This talk of re-evangelising this nation is not a joke, it’s a sign that our Church leaders mean business once again. And it’s the job of every Christian to play their part.

Categories: Archbishop of Canterbury, Church, Faith in society

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10 replies

  1. wonderful news of Justin Welby and his stance on evangelism, the church of Christ (universal) is awaking from it’s slumber, let all sit up and take note! (but do not remain seated – act!). The key? “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” We have tasted the resurrection glory of Jesus; let it inspire and thrust us forward to proclaim His name.

  2. Gillan, you appear to be falling into the belief, fairly widespread among the so called evangelical Christian community, that there is one correct way to spread the Gospel. If, as a teenager, I had only encountered that aspect of our faith then I would probably have not become a Christian. Instead, I attended an excellent state grammar school, wherein the philosophy was entirely Christian but generally understated and then heard the call. That was 55 years ago.

    Before my receiving the call I had become moved by science, I still am and have, in a long career, worked as an industrial chemist. I wanted, probably needed, a rational explanation and that is what I received. Above all, what caught me was the sudden surge of hope, among the disciples, following the resurrection. I could see only one logical reason: Jesus had indeed returned from death, nothing else could have washed away the grief, desperation and despair.

    Since then I have experienced what militant atheists might refer to as long (impossible) sequences of coincidence. That which I interpret as the hand of God, acting in my life and leading me, among other journeys, to successfully persuade changes in Government policy, for the benefit of many others. Logically, I can see and understand how I have been gently led and supported.

    To this day, I just cannot ‘fit in’ within ‘evangelical’ worship; it grates. I’m a member of a thriving, growing church within the City of London, on Tower Hill; it’s a place where I have both worked and, for a short while lived and to which I have been drawn back. It’s probably the sort of middle of the road Anglicanism of which you write but it is capturing new people in a place where there is only a very small local residential community. It’s also the area, but not the church, wherein I was confirmed: I grew up within the URC – Congregational during my youth – and another series of God’s little coincidences led me into the Church of England.

    This is really the point. I don’t make value judgements between URC and C of E, between Catholic and Protestant or between high church and charismatic. We are all different and the Church of Christ has evolved such that there is a place, somewhere, for all of us. That is the way it will remain and for some, active preaching rather than answering is anathema.

    • Thanks for this Roy. I’m sorry gives the impression that there is only one right way to spread the Gospel. Doing good things might not be enough alone but is trying to argue others into Heaven is not the answer. You like me had Christian input during your youth. We have a Christian framework to hang our experiences on. For millions you children and young adults, this is not the case. They really have no idea what and who Jesus is.

      For those who have such a limited understanding of the Christian faith, we need to demonstrate God’s love in practical ways. Bible bashing is of no value, but there is a need to explain our faith as well as live it out. By talking openly and in a natural way with others about our experiences and understanding of God we can being to explain the bones of what we believe.

      I have a certain form of churchmanship that I feel comfortable, but I’m never going to put down others because of the way they worship and live out their faith. The problem is that when we talk about evangelism we get all sorts of wrong ideas about what it is and how it should be done. It’s not just preaching and apologetics. In essence it’s sharing what God has done for you with others.

      I don’t think our thinking is significantly different. I picked on Anglicanism as that is the form of Christianity that many of us are familiar with. It is not necessarily better or worse than other denominations, but at the root of things it makes no difference what your denomination is. It’s more about being a follower of Jesus and your willingness to live your faith out in public as well as in private and on Sunday mornings at church.

      • Thanks, Gillan, for your thoughtful response.

        I don’t believe that we live in a post Christian age, certainly we have lost the element of people ‘being Christian by default’ and have moved past the terrible period when people were persecuted for not being Christian or for following the “wrong” kind of Christianity. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made reference to the ‘salt of the earth’ and that, surely, is what we still are called to be. It is noteworthy that, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to us as the lights of the world that should “shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”The suggestion is that evangelism starts with deeds rather than words and that is where we have fallen far short.

        We are called to show that light and not to hide it and that is what I have tried to do. That gives rise to opportunities to answer questions about what I believe or why I do what I do. Of course it also occasions difficulty and rejection but even rejection can be an introduction, a chance to talk.

        I confess that I do not see God as some kind of potentate who requires our worship, in humans, that is seen as a failing. To me, God is the creator of the laws of physics by which the universe came into place: a far greater creation than just creating physical worlds. Worship is for us, we benefit as we do, also, through Christian fellowship and worship is a spectrum allowing for our differences. Neither do I limit the great gifts of God, first the incarnation whereby the great creator gave up his unimaginable power to live with us, as one of us. Then the life, betrayal, death and resurrection. Forgiveness is for all, for Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, atheist and so on. The parable of the prodigal son teaches us just how far that love will go to welcome us back. Nor do I devalue the faiths of others.

        What I have found, where I have been led, I would have others follow that they may share the fullness of life that I have been given. In order to achieve that perhaps we need to find new ways of communicating our belief? In September, my church will embark on pub theology:


        This has worked in the US and it may well work here, too. Talking about faith away from the formality and constraints of a church – but with the hope of persuading more to eventually go to church. Our church is only a couple of doors away from our local so it’s fairly easy. We will see!

  3. I have nothing against this recommissioning of the Great commission by the archbish.

    My only reservation in evangelism is that individual Christians have individual strengths. Not all of us are extroverts and not all of us are skilled (or successful :-D) in evangelism.

    It does put the Christian layperson in a strange position though. The Government and society make subtle inferences that faith should be taboo (through various subtexts and pressures). But churches encourage us to share the gospel.

    I think I would like to see the archbish lead by example in this before I next go on a mission. I would like him to convert a few of the politicians he meets. That’s fair isn’t it? I learn best by example.

  4. Reblogged this on Amy's Interweb Corner and commented:
    Hi all,

    This is powerful stuff. Read if you dare!


  5. In an age where the Christian faith is being marginalised we need to find creative ways of getting the message across. Because we are all individuals we respond to different approaches. Prayer i agree is central to the whole task. People are very attracted by Christian action and schemes like Street Pastors and Credit union help enormously. There is a place for working alongside people and showing by example but for many Christianity needs to make sense and people at a time when there is spiritual yearning need reasons to believe. Talking to a long time ”New age believer ” yesterday it was a T.V. evangelist who spoke directly into her heart. Love in action, Education, and apologetics are all important and we are all blessed with different gifts to the work of Gods kingdom. We are probably more comfortable with ”Deed” rather than ”Word”. By speaking we may be challenged by rather difficult questions and this is what Justin is saying. We need to speak and this is why blogs such as this are so important. Its great news to hear this with such clarity right from the top of the C of E.

  6. Gillan. It is interesting that Darrell, like countless others, was converted OUTSIDE the church which itself speaks volumes. 2 comments.
    Firstly, whilst the church (C of E and nearly all denominations) perpetuate the ‘clergy/laity’ divide, then many will continue to think that the task of evangelism is the province of the professional “clergy” class. This divide is the very antithesis of the New Testament, and until it is rejected the existing church structures of the traditional “worship service ‘, preaching as a one way communication, and failure to recognise the priesthood of ALL believers, then there is very little prospect of the status quo changing in the radical way needed.

    Secondly, imo, simply repeating the mantra that evangelism is somehow “introducing people to Jesus”, or “getting to know Jesus” is vacuous and far removed from actually proclaiming a doctrine of sin, salvation through the atoning work of Christ, and the primary need for personal repentance. Without these elements there is no real preaching of the Gospel. I do not buy the vague and empty sound-bites (above) of the simplistic “follow Jesus” as being recognisable in New Testament terms.

  7. Reblogged this on Richard's Watch and commented:
    This is excellent news when we recall Graham Goldsmith’s guest post asking two years ago, “Has the Church fallen asleep on its feet?”. Archbishop Welby’s words, Gillan’s own eloquent exhortation and in-depth commentaries bring hopeful promise to the fulfilment of 3 prophetic words/visions received 2 weeks earlier – and on the same day! – in Wales, England and Arizona!

    • I agree with Richard it is excellent news and very welcome, and with the comment above about getting outside of the church, I too came back to Christ in the workplace and then led others, just because it started with one woman praying for me and showing me love at a time when I needed it and this time I got discipled which made such a difference even though as a teenager I had made a commitment to Christ but was not discipled so went the way of the world within 18 months. Jesus just walked around and met people where they were, on their level and if He did then that’s what we need to do also. I will be honest I still feel a hooligan in the presence of some Christians and its 20 odd years now since I came back but God gets you to where you will make that difference whether hooligan or a woman/man of God since a child we need each other.

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