Shaping the Future: The Role of the Anglican Church
Undoubtedly, the future is shaped by several factors, some of which are more intentional than others. Everything from historical institutions to, let’s say, an unexpected pandemic can change any set of cultural conventions. The reality is that the only constant is change. The question then becomes if the Anglican Church will become an active factor in shaping the future or not.
There are usually two problems (or ends of a spectrum) all institutions face when relating to culture, not just the religious ones; they are either passive or reactive. Passive institutions are too detached from cultural change and don’t see themselves as agents of future shaping. Reactive institutions only respond with short-term action like official statements or ‘immediate actions’ with no profound effects on their philosophy or polities.
Further, there are particular issues today that need a sound voice guiding us amid many other voices. Topics like race, abuse, sexuality, etc., matters far too complex to discuss specifics in a single blog post. Still, the global Anglican Church indeed has to contribute unless we want others to take up the mantle and lead the faithful (astray) for us.
However, rather than tackling specific issues and suggest how the Anglican Church should face them, I will suggest a philosophy of cultural change. Picture this philosophy from the ground up as foundations to support subsequent long-term actions the Anglican or any denomination may undertake.
Prayerful Dependence There’s no future-shaping without recognizing God’s sovereignty overall: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Prov 19:21). The NT shows us how God rules over his mission (Acts 16:6–10) and moves the church into his purposes in prayer (Acts 10:9, 30). Paul, for example, holds his plans and church in prayer: 'For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you' (Rom 1:9–10). In this day and age, a global pandemic is an excellent reminder that all our plans and strategies are subordinated to God’s sovereign purposes. We must come to the Father hoping and begging that he will change our culture and shape the future. And let’s consider it pure joy when he allows us to be a part of his plans. We have the wonderful opportunity to do this communally and remind our churches to pray: 'your kingdom come' (Matt 6:10).
2. Theologically Informed
Whatever we do, we must do based on convictions, not reactions. Particularly regarding the future, for our ultimate goal is eternal. The song we will be singing throughout eternity is not about shaping our future but about ‘the Lamb who was slain’ who is ‘worthy ... to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!’ (Rev 5:12). The Lordship and victory of Jesus is our ultimate hope: ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered’ (Rev 5:5). So whatever we plan or do to shape the future, this must be the future we aim to: ‘Your kingdom come’ (Matt 6:10).
3. Intentional Training
If we want theologically informed Anglican churches shaping the future, we need theologically trained pastors. Whatever the future may bring, we must strive to have pastors and leaders ready to ‘stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents’ (Phil 1:27–28). This means deep immersion in exegesis and biblical theology alongside relational mentorship. In the rise and age of online studies and self-paced curriculums, I cannot stress enough the need for communal, in person, theological education. Sure, there are advantages to online training courses and workshops. However, Paul (1 Tim 3) and Peter (1 Pet 5) emphasize character traits for those overseeing the church. There is no better way to cultivate and nurture such qualities than in community and leadership. This may happen within local churches as in seminary settings.
4. Priesthood of all Believers
This, in turn, leads to a churchwide ministry. As much as we need healthy, ordained ministers, they cannot shape the future by themselves. Ministry happens 24/7. And I don’t mean programs and activities. I mean believers poured out into their families, colleges, universities, communications, art, sports, medicine, etc. Our congregants are present in future-shaping activities all week long, serving in their vocations in worship and excellence, proclaiming and living out their faith and hopes, speaking into today’s uncertainties and lack of direction: ‘But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (1 Pet 2:9). Also, as the world witnesses the church ‘turning from idols to serve the true and living God and waiting for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come’ (1 Thess 1:9–10), many will come to see and embrace the future Jesus offers in the gospel.
5. Community Multiplication
Lastly, imagine the influence a prayerfully dependent, theologically informed, intentionally trained, churchwide serving community has in shaping the future. Now multiply that community. How wonderful would it be to see God using the global Anglican church this way, city after city. The church has a special place in God’s plans for the world. Therefore, church planting must have a prominent place in our plans and strategies for the future.
As long as we keep this future-shaping philosophy (or one like it), we will avoid being passive or reactive towards cultural change. We have the joy of collaborating with God in establishing his kingdom. We also need to recognize that any future-shaping Anglican church or diocese must be patient. Cultural changes take time, even generations. So, as we hold on to our convictions, ‘let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Heb 12:1–2).