Whose kingdom are we building?

As this year's "Thy Kingdom Come" global prayer campaign gets under way, Martyn Percy challenges the Church of England whose archbishops came up with the idea

Whose kingdom are we building?

Starting today, the Church of England joins other Christian communities in ten days of prayer ‘for more people to come to know Jesus Christ’, In his essay, Martyn Percy calls on the Church of England to reflect on what kind of kingdom it is building, as its focus on charismatic evangelism over the last thirty years risks achieving little and alienating many. This is a synopsis of his essay which you can read in full here

The 'Thy Kingdom Come' pray campaign invites people to commit to pray, as a church, individually or as a family, hold prayer events such as 24-7 prayer vigils, prayer stations and prayer walks, across the UK and in other parts of the world so that, according to the campaign’s website, ‘people will be empowered through prayer by the Holy Spirit, finding new confidence to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.’

Prof Percy contrasts two Church of England reports, both best selling, but approaching the role of the church from opposite poles. The first is Faith in the City (1985), which, he argues, ‘put the people and the places they lived in before the needs and concerns of the Church’. The second, Mission-Shaped Church (2004), turns the spotlight inwards and showcases church communities, which he says were generally socially, politically and theologically conservative. The problem, Percy argues, is that the hierarchy of the Church of England is ‘stuck in broadcast mode’:

‘Like the proverbial Englishman abroad, they cannot make themselves understood in a world that increasingly finds the Church incomprehensible, especially in spheres such as sexuality, gender, equality, safeguarding, the exercise of power, the holding of authority and being open to accountability. But does the Church perceive this? No. It just talks louder, hoping, somehow, it will be heard. It won’t.’

Through such expressive evangelical campaigns as the 1990s Decade of Evangelism, the spread of ‘Fresh Expressions’ of church and the Thy Kingdom Come call to prayer, Percy suggests,

‘the Church only seeks to make itself more appealing and attractive to those who might join. Yet it rarely asks the same public why they don’t join. It is like a business doing even more hard selling, with increasing desperation, but unwilling to ask the consumers why they aren’t buying.’

He proposes a return to a theology of mission and church which is more ‘compelling and credible’ because it represents ‘an authentic and humble Church’:

‘One that listened deeply and lived its faith, faithfully and unassumingly, rather than brashly promoting its brand.’

He cites scriptural examples as evidence of the difference in approach, from Jesus:

‘We must also remember that Jesus did not plant synagogues. Jesus did not grow synagogue congregations. Jesus did not advocate ‘Fresh Expressions’ of synagogue. But Jesus did spend time with the marginalised and disenfranchised. Jesus did challenge prevailing religious structures and outlooks. Jesus did admit people to the Kingdom of God who were not Jewish - often, unconditionally’

and his Jewish disciples,

'"discovering” that God is at work amongst the gentiles - and that God had started something in those communities before any proactive mission had got underway.’

This alternative approach to mission recognises, argues Percy, that ‘God might choose to speak from the world to the Church’ to prepare it to be reformed and renewed:

‘But the Church can’t seem to receive the wisdom of the world on equality legislation, safeguarding practices and protocols, the treatment of LGBTI clergy and laity, and gender-related policies… Here, the Church lags behind the world, locked into its own kind of bunker mentality.’

He calls for churches to spend more time listening to and receiving from the world, engaging in dialogue to enable meaningful, sustainable relationships and growth:

‘Then we might hear what the actual cares and concerns of our communities are. Then we might begin to discern where God is already at work. Then we might receive from these communities what God would have this Church become.’

Read and download the full 4000-word essay, The Church of England: Mission and Ministry after the Decade of Evangelism, by Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy. The essay is published on the website of Modern Church, a society promoting liberal Christianity, of which he is a Vice President. The Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy is Dean of Christ Church, Oxford

This synopsis was put together by Kieran Bohan, Communications Officer of Modern Church.


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