An Australian Suggestion for New Reformation in the Anglican Communion
If the Anglican Communion is to be reformed again it needs to be hear and heed these crucial truths:
1. It is impossible to take Jesus seriously without taking the teaching of Scripture seriously. Faith in Christ entails acknowledging Christ's Lordship. Submitting to Christ as Lord means being willing to conform our thinking and our behaviour to the words he has given us. Since he endorsed the Hebrew Old Testament (Lk 24:44) and appointed those whose mission produced the New Testament (Mtt 28:18–20; Acts 1:8), we cannot avoid the reality that faith in Christ manifests itself in obedience to the teaching of Scripture (Mtt. 7:24; Jms 1:22).
2. The Spirit of God never leads people in ways contrary to the teaching of Scripture, which he has been instrumental in producing. Jesus' promise of the Spirit to his disciples was not that the Spirit will lead the churches on from Scripture into truth which somehow supersedes it, but that he will ensure that Jesus' words are heard until the end of the age (Jn 16:13–14). To pit the Spirit against the Scriptures is to fail to understand either.
3. The most urgent and important need of every human being is to be reconciled to God. We are all naturally God's enemies (Rms 5:10) with the result that we stand under the wrath of the God who loves us (Rms 1:18; Eph. 2:1–3). Our natural disposition is to insist on our own autonomy, to repeat the folly of the Garden of Eden where the goal was to determine right and wrong without reference to God and the word he had given (Gen. 3:4–6). If we are to be reconciled to God, then the cconsequences of our rebellion against him — our guilt, corruption, enslavement to sinful thinking and behaviour, and death — must all be dealt with in their entirety. A gospel which does not explain this most basic need is no gospel at all.
4. The gospel which the Christian church proclaims is that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3–8). Christ was delivered up for our transgressions and was raised for our justification (Rms 4:25). This is the provision of the triune God whose determined love for the men and women he has made causes him to bear all the consequences of their sin and exhaust them (Eph. 2:4–7).
5. The embrace of this salvation is only possible by the work of the Spirit transforming human hearts, bringing new life and creating faith (Jn 3:5–6; Rms 8:9–17; 1 Cor 12:3). Without such a work we all remain lost. No human effort will bring us within the orbit of Christ's salvation, it is entirely a gift of grace to undeserving sinners (Eph. 2:8–9). We are justified by faith alone and this faith which is the instrument of our justification is produced in us by the Spirit (Rms 5:1; Gal. 5:5).
6. To be forgiven, and so incorporated into the family of God, transforms the entirety of our lives. The gospel of Jesus Christ determines an entirely new set of priorities which shape life in the public square, in the workplace, in places of recreation and in our homes. There is no facet of life which stands beyond the claims of Christ's lordship (Phil. 1:27; Col. 2:6–4:6; Eph. 4:1–6:9).
7. While each of us continues to struggle with various forms of temptation, the continuing dynamic of the Christian life is one of repentance and faith (Mk 1:15; Acts 20:21; Heb. 6:1). Our orientation to sin, in whichever form it is expressed in each of us, is not what defines us and should not be given expression in our thoughts, words or actions. Once again it is the Spirit who has been given to us who enables us in this struggle: 'the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do' (Gal. 5:17).
8. We are not saved to a life of individualism, self-realisation, independence or autonomy. God has always been about saving a people for himself (Gen 12:2–3; Ex. 19:3–6; Jn 12:32; Rev. 5:9–10). Following Christ means serving others just as he has served us. This is why the local congregation is at the centre of God's purposes. Here the life of service and love is lived out in relationship with others who have been saved by Christ and reaching out to those who are still lost. After all, it is the church — and not just individual Christians — which Christ presents to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish' (Eph. 5:27).
9. This is not to deny important responsibilities beyond the local congregation, responsibilities modelled at points even in the New Testament (e.g. Acts 15:1–35; 1 Cor. 16:1–4; 1 Thess. 1:6–8). Over the centuries, various institutional structures have been developed in order to support, resource and assist the faithful life and witness of the gathered people of God. Yet these must never become the focus of loyalty themselves nor must the unity of the Spirit be confused with a common institutional structure. The unity the Spirit brings is neither created nor preserved by institutional regulation. It arises out of a fellowship in the gospel (Phil. 1:5) which is maintained 'in the bond of peace' (Eph. 4:3). It is a unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4:13) which cannot be separated from a unity of mind (Phil. 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:8). Denominations need to concerned with faithfulness to the gospel of Christ above any consideration of structural cohesion.
10. Leadership amongst God's people is first and foremost about fidelity to the gospel and a transparent, humble submission to the teaching of Scripture. There should be a mutual accountability of those set apart to serve the churches and those who follow their lead in the churches (Mtt. 23:8). Leaders who abandon the biblical gospel in teaching or lifestyle (ie a lifestyle either lived by them or endorsed by them and contrary to the teaching of Scripture), should be held to account and if they will not repent, be removed for the sake of the people they are meant to be serving in truth and faithfulness (Acts 20:29–31; 1 Tim. 1:18–20; Jude 3).
11. The mission of Christ is the priority of Christ's people. Amidst the myriad of demands made upon the resources of individual Christians, churches or denominations, those being conformed to the image of God's Son share his concern to save the lost. Preeminently concerned to see lost men and women come to faith in Christ and grow to maturity in him, they will not let evangelism and discipleship be overshadowed by other worthwhile activity.
12. A longstanding temptation facing the churches has been a longing for acceptance, a sense of respectability, and an acknowledgement by those with power or influence that they have a legitimate place in contemporary society. Such a temptation has often led to an accommodation to elements of the contemporary secular agenda. In all of this the words of Jesus are easily forgotten: '... because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you' (Jn 15:19; 17:14). The church will always be a despised minority in a world arraigned against God. Nevertheless, despite such opposition, even the power of death will not prevail against the church that Christ is building (Mtt. 16:18). Though we ought not to seek the animosity of the world, or indeed provoke it by our own arrogance or folly, we need to remember that vindication and legitimization will only come on the day we are invited to 'enter the joy of our master' (Mtt. 25:21, 23).