Anglicanism must die? (Tim Carter)

Monday, 21 May, 2012

Tim CarterTim Carter asks whether Anglicanism must die.

Recently I was leading a training session for a group of curates on discerning God's call in a fresh expression context. As part of the session I emphasised the importance of the principle of dying to self and asserted that those called to engage in fresh expressions ministry must be willing to die to their own preferences. We are not called to create a church for ourselves, but to enable the people to whom we have been sent to become church. The question came back at me, 'How does that square with it being an Anglican fresh expression? Are you willing to die to being Anglican?'

I've been reflecting on that question ever since. I do believe that the Anglican tradition lends itself well to finding local expression. It has a heritage of self reformation and it is a broad church that has worked hard to maintain unity in diversity. Having said that, I think that this question is worth engaging with. What of its own core identity is the Church of England willing to allow to die in order that the Church might live?

It seems to me that this question might be expressed in different ways at different levels. At each level there are elements of what might be considered Anglican identity that might have to die.

What must die in the national institution?

Common liturgy and forms of worship? Ordering of bishops, priests, and deacons? Geographical coverage of the country?

What must die in the local church?

Is it necessary for inherited churches to die if new churches are to live? Is support for fresh expressions an optional extra from surplus resources, or a core ministry that will be prioritised?

What must die at the personal level for ministers?

Do ministers have to allow ministries that we find personally fulfilling to die? Is it right to kill off branches of church life in the face of the pain of those who live amongst those branches?

I pose these questions without knowing the answers, but to provoke conversation. As we engage with them and others like them, I invite you to join with me in prayer.

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I find it easy to suggest things that need to die when others will face bereavement or the work of consolation. May God forgive me and give me the grace to die well and the courage to console others in their grief. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Amen.

About the author: 

Tim Carter is Pioneer Minister in Priorslee.


I guess I do not think of Fresh Esxpressions of church as causing something to die - I think of it as being approachable and integrated into what we have now. When I started out with a Home Church before becoming Church in the Chaplaincy, we spoke of church for the unchurched, i.e. everything was clear, no hidden bits so that you did not feel excluded from the club. Neither do I like the idea of separate congregations, which is what we are getting here in my Chaplaincy.... people who come to one kind of expression of church don't go to the other kind. Something about that is not right is it? I would hope Fresh Expressions was a way of introducing us to all forms of worship, i.e. when we are young we have a gentle introduction to more when we become mature, especially today when more people have no knowledge or grounding in what the church is or does, or even know much about Jesus Christ. So that we truly grow into one body, knowing and understanding and sharing all experiences.

Hi Madeleine,

There's a lot of things raised in what you write. Underpinning them seems to be a question about who the "Fresh Expression" is for. Is it fresh for people who are already Christian, giving them a new way of engaging with God, or is it fresh for people who are not yet Christian, giving them a way into engaging with God. The answer might be a bit of both, but I would be troubled if we viewed fresh expressions as being restricted to a gentle introduction. It seems to me that we need fresh expressions of church, that connect with the surrounding culture, and which are capable of being places where people grow in spiritual maturity and fruitfulness. Given the depth of the theme of death and resurrection in Scripture and Christian history, it would surprise me if this process did not involve some parts of what we hold dear in the inherited modes of church dying.

Why get rid of common liturgy? To the extent that it is actually used in common now anyway in the C of E, it is said that 'people who pray together, stay together'. Remove the common prayer, and we drift even further apart.

Therein lies where Fresh Expressions is missing the mark when it comes to renewing the church. The basis of the church is the Nicene Creed, and the doctrines of the Incarnation and Trinity, and how they relate to the human experience. Focus there, and I think it will work wonders. Banging on about the bible, whatever ones preferred hermeneutics, is so poisonous nowadays to the unchurched that bible-talk needs to be put to bed for ten years, perhaps longer, which is a shame as it's great literature.

Those who want to worship the bible as a fax-from-heaven now have plenty of places that practice that sort of thing, both within the C of E and elsewhere. Yet due to the success of evangelicals in getting their message out over the past fifty years, if not longer, the unchurched view 'church' as little else than adhering either to a book, or to a series of improbably propositions or both.

Therefore, reaching out has to focus around neither the bible, and neither the on the precision of liturgy either.

Of course, the one other elephant in the room for the church is the question of 'what's it all for?' that the unchurched ask. Is it feel-good entertainment? Is it feeling that 'I have the answer to life'? These are some of the questions the unchurched ask. What I hope most Christians would really want to say in answer to the 'what's it for' question - whatever their churchmanship - is to say that 'it's a better way to live'.

So what is a better way to live? Where are our Christian communities that are organised for how people actually live their lives? What about the people who cannot spend all their time coming to locations for worship, discussion or whatever? What about people who want to live a Christian life that is focussed on issues of practical community, yet are fully in the world where people have ordinary jobs and children that take up most of their time?

The church is missing an enormous trick there.

Hi John,

I agree with you that starting with the questions that people are asking is really important in this conversation. Do this we really need to learn to listen to the people that we live among.

I would argue that any answers that we might have to these questions, along with the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation and those expressed in the Creed, are rooted in the revelation of God found in the Bible. We also have to take seriously in this conversation research showing that the churches, from whatever church tradition, that are growing in spiritual health are those that keep the Bible central to what they do. (See Move, Hawkins and Parkinson).

We will have to find new ways of communicating the truth of the revealed word of God, and that might look very different from the expository preaching of traditional evangelicalism, but I do not think that the centrality of the Bible to our faith is something that will die.

Thanks for a really interesting and timely article, Tim. I constantly want both the fresh expressions and "inherited" churches I engage with to be asking the question about dying to self. It's still an important thing for those of us wanting to do new and pioneering mission to hear; that it's not about doing what suits us or people like us, but about loving those who are other, who are different and who don't fit. (I suppose the confusion sometimes comes when we within the inherited church don't feel like we fit there anyway.)

With the biblical thing, I think it's important to remember the massive positive impact of liberation theology, and the ongoing development of methods of reading the Bible that set people free, particularly in poorer contexts. The work of God through his word should never be stereotyped or underestimated. People's lives are materially changed for the better through reading the word of God, which is something I long and pray daily for more of, whatever the theological assumptions their communities read from. Amazingly, God seems to effect this transformation even when people's theology is very limited or ill-formed.

Really interesting post.

As a recent 'convert' to Anglicanism (about to be deaconed as a pioneer), one of the things I love about Anglicanism is the geographical coverage - that each person is prayed for and has a church that is 'theirs'. Yet, also I see the immense struggles undertaken by clergy and dioceses in attempting to cover the geography of parishes and not having much left over for anything else.

It saddens me that we may have to let this one go, but perhaps that is the only way forward. And Jesus did talk about grains of wheat dying and all that...?

Hi Hannah,

As a cradle Anglican, and as a Pioneer Minister called to a specific geographical area, I feel this one keenly. I was intrigued to hear our Archdeacon suggest at our recent AD's visitation that ++Rowan's emphasis on "a flourishing Christian presence in every community" is part of the preparation for moving away from a focus on universal geographical coverage towards universal accessibility through the relational networks that people actually operate in.

evening all. yeah to Ali's mention of Liberation Theology, more so a reminder that church in many parts of the world id growing very thoroughly ...and without much in the bank. I wonder very much that part of the dying is the desire to have things. If we go somewhere without taking many resources and are prepared to live without lots.. also as someone who has both worked as tutor of folks who have had a variety of learning difficulties and physical disabilities, a few years experience in youth and community work and has lived in financially poor multicultural area for the last 8 years (my third involvment in such a described place)...i think there is definetly lots to be done and changed on the words we use, how exclusive they oh so very often they are (from describing a part of a church, to even the word 'eucharist')...are we afraid that if we dont use them these things (the meal which we could really have with our neighbours) will be lost. if any are, well....! I would add though that classic,...actions speak louder than words, and time spent eating is together could debately be more connecting of people with God than a liturgy they dont get. I dont think there is any good reason for these types of things not changing like, asap...last year, a 100 years ago. Do we fear, as academics that we may have spent 5 years in college and so then want to get everyone to learn the new language we have, or can we find afresh the will to go and every day learn the new words, meanings,and very importantly how people have understandings about us, their local church.

Hi Rob,

I tend to agree. The translatability of scripture and of the Christian faith is one of its core strengths. I was reading an article by Alistair McGrath about CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity" and he emphasised that one of Lewis' most important skills was the ability to express the heart of Christian faith in ways in which people could connect with it. It is important that we spend time honing and developing these skills. It seems to me that this requires us to do two things. One is to listen carefully to the those we are among to understand the meaning of words, actions, and things in that place. The other is to delve deeply into scripture and theology so that we understand their meaning well enough to be able to express it in another language. This is probably best teased out in community. One example of this in practice is Peterson's methodology for developing The Message translation.

While I think the question, "Are you willing to die to being Anglican?" is both timely and important, I think the question of whether we are willing to 'live' within our Anglicanism is even more important. Pioneer Ministers need to 'live to' their calling as Anglican Christians much as they need to 'die to' their preferences. So do 'traditional' clergy.

"We are not called to create a church for ourselves, but to enable the people to whom we have been sent to become church." This is a dangerous statement if not fully explained or understood. We are in fact called to create church for ourselves - as long as we are doing it within the context of a genuine community. The question for Pioneers is not whether we're clever or cool enough to 'discard' but whether we are faithful enough to renew fearlessly on behalf of those 'with whom' rather than 'for whom' for are building church.

The Gospel is a call to truthfully envision 'this and so much more' rather than 'this is crap, let's go elsewhere'. Abundant life presumes that life exists but needs expansion.
While I understand the need for the language of dying I am wanting to hear more about the decision to pursue living in the company of Jesus - with all the pain, change and joy that entails.

Hi Steve,

I agree that they are both important questions, but I'm not sure that they have different answers. I think that I would argue that in order for Anglicanism to live, and for us to live faithfully within it, there are elements of it that will have to die.

It seems to me that there are a couple of models of pioneering that are worth exploring here. The first is a deeply inculturated and incarnational one in which we so deeply identify and are part of with the existing context that church for ourselves is church for the people we sent to. The second is a more Vincent Donovan approach, in which the pioneer is present for a season, does not themselves become an intrinsic part of the community but catalyses the growth of the indigenous expression of church.

Both models require the pioneer to listen carefully to the context, and discern what is helpful to bring from place that they come from to the new place. Neither model is about discarding for the sake of it, for appearance sake, or for wanting something new and better for ourselves. Both are "with whom" building models, but I would suggest that the "for whom" question does have a slightly different answer in the two models. In both of them the answer is "for the people in this place", but only in one of them, the first is it also, "for us". It seems to me that this is actually OK, and that the risk comes when we, perhaps subconsciously, are looking to build something, primarily, for us.

I agree that it does seem a bit odd that a faith that has so much good news about abundant life in all its fullness can seem so preoccupied with death. It seems to me that the underlying reason for this is that the life that Jesus proclaimed is resurrected life rather than extended life, and I feel like the implications of this are not widely understood or embraced. Believing in resurrection is risky because it can only be experienced through death. The decision to pursue living in the company of Jesus must be explored in the language of dying.

Hi Tim,
Thanks for your thoughtful and comprehensive answer.

There is no question that elements of Anglicanism will die. They have been, they will be and they are now. Eleven years of my life were spent in the international mission area of the Anglican Church. Different Anglican and Episcopal Churches are grappling with different aspects of death and living within their own contexts. The reality of Anglicanism is that is so many different things in so many different places. Praise God. If only we could allow that to be, rather than expecting conformity.

Donovan's approach seems to be, very strongly, an empowering one, focused on understanding and building capacity to 'be' church in place. I have seen this being worked out really well in the Episcopal Church in the Philippines. It is the primary function of the missionary to allow this to happen and to know when to withdraw. It is an approach extremely risky for institutional church life - and wonderfully so.

The other approach you describe, the "deeply inculturated and incarnational" one, is more the model that pioneers will have to enflesh and live with when missioning to our own cultures. In my opinion it is always preferable to the 'missionary' approach, reflecting more the Jesus model. In this model the learning in the 'for us' mode renews the church.

I don't think it's odd that we're often preoccupied with death. I do think that our emphasis is often skewed that way. It is true that death is necessary to resurrection but also true that our faith in the Risen Lord helps us to face the fear of death with greater confidence, knowing (hoping) that Jesus will walk with us through the many 'deaths' we will face. In Jesus death is real but life is more real.

But perhaps I'm just reacting to the echo of a voice that denies life rather than celebrates it in the life of the church. Whichever, I am grateful for your stimulating and honest article.

i think its a bit like gardening (hmm,...who said that in the Bible?)....some things are great and grow well, other things need a change of location, others have a mix of good and of my thoughts for a while has been, we need to be kinda counter-current-culture in the church and allow people in roles (whatever they would be called?) to say, "thats good", "thats not" etc...not in a making everything uniform stylee but in a 'that is relevant to Christ or not stylee' a Bishop or Arch Deacon to a priest or may be better still...a member of a church council or even congegation to a priest, with all the apt 'vice versa'

as we think on the earth (im thrilled to be involved in community gardening at the mo)...imagine a patch of grass sat between houses or flats, just grass. then one day a few folks start growing food and then they share it and then people start sitting in the sun together and chatting. some of them may talk about God. Maybe one of them is thought by some of them to be a leader, a teacher even. imagine the beautitudes being lived and discussed and shown where the grass was (only leave some grass for the kids and sew wild flowers in place of pesticides for weeds)...could it be said that God has already given all our greatest church, in a way at least, the earth and everywhere and everyone in it???

Hi Rob,

I'm all for gardening metaphors, and I love the picture you paint. I just wish it was that easy, and maybe it is, maybe I'm just pushing too hard. In my experience though, the grass where I am is the turf that is thrown down by the builders before they leave the site to cover up the rubble. Nothing else is growing, and the grass isn't doing that well.

Where I am is mostly red clay. It's pretty hard graft getting it dug and broken up so that I can grow veg. I'm anticipating it taking at least three years of digging in compost and manure, trying to grow stuff, getting rid of the stones, etc before the soil is anything like properly fertile.

Back to my original question, staying in the metaphor which, I must admit, is getting distinctly stretched, what needs clearing from this garden so new stuff can grow and be fruitful. What tools and methods of growing are going to be useful here, and which ones need to be binned? What plants are going to grow well here, and which ones is it pointless planting because the conditions are wrong?

What about keeping it simple, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and then let's just love all the others as we would ourselves?

Hi Suzanne,

I guess that I don't find doing those things simple, and it's my observation that not many others do either. The reason that many of us don't find it simple is that those commands demand of us the willingness to engage with difficult questions, like, "what of you preferred mode of worship are you willing to give up so that others may find a mode that enables them to worship" and "what ministry that you find fulfilling are you going to sacrifice so that you can minister more effectively to those that God has sent you to"?


I think that one of the most important aspects is the need to see the Fresh Expression leader, doing the gardening, or taking active steps in the mission of what Fresh Expressions needs to be, outside the conventional walls of the Anglican Church by acts of Anglican purpose. The clear intentions of the set stone of this is the ability to enable and demonstrate the work.

Too often the bogging down steps of Anglican traditions are seen as the main problem, they are the solution. By sharing faith in active daily worship, conducting the services of faith, the sharing of scripture in common settings, will and does tend to the vines that need attention, THE people of our world. Jesus ministry was for all, by use of prayer, teaching, and active involvement with all who would listen or respond.

I am an active theologian in the visual use of the full capabilities of Anglican, and common prayer format. If two or three are gathered, that constitutes the forum of worship, the time and location are not the real substance of the issue. As a Canadian trained seminary graduate the needs of church life are essentially the same as the Pioneer Priest. You need only the readings, the willingness to travel and attend to those who will be near you when you begin to worship in community. All the person leading to do is be open, share the scripture of the day, and the reason of two or more are now a tradition that is the principle of why we are Called to serve as Anglicans. We often over think the sound simple foundation of who and what we are, and forget the needs of others is to listen to the Bible and what it teaches by daily office practice. If you follow this simple step the rest is elementary.

Basic Bible skills are vital, in being an effective Anglican worship, lead, not leader. Humour in your voice love, grace and mercy, in your mind, a body willing to be strong enough to go on, and the strength of Christ in the words you use bring hope to all who will listen and be thankful for it's gift of wisdom and comfort to the human soul, needing the guidance of attention to the soul in those who are listening to a church of action, regardless of the walls they in or near.


Faith in Various Expression

As an ordinary church member in a village, I love the Anglican tradition, the litergy that is used to convey the common beliefs held within our broad church and the fact that wherever I go in the country I will find a service which is recognisable, even if adapted to its own setting.

However, I recognise that for the majority of the people I share my community with, the ordinary service we hold is not understandable, has no relevance to their lives and does not fit with the culture they know and love. And more modern expressions of worship may be equally daunting!

Our village community benefits from many people who are Christian, some of whom attend our church, some of whom attend fresh expressions of church, and some of whom are from other Christian denominations. All do much for our village community, whether they attend our village church or not.

My question is, how do we bring all these Christian people together to work to God's glory, bring people to Christ and serve people in God's name so that they are both saved spiritually and served practically? Not many of us separate Christian groups have the strength to do this on our own. Perhaps God would like us to work together for the benefit of those not yet Christians and those who will never be Christians because they choose not to be. It should be possible to set up joint parent support groups, projects such as Christians Against Poverty, etc so that our communities are served as Christ served his community.

Pray for openness between groups, leadership to emerge between them and God's spirit to lead us where he will and the faith to step out and do something for those around us.

God bless you all,


as a Methodist taking part in an MSM course at present I read all these comments with interest. Anglican ministry is stretched in just the same way as Methodist ministry and part of our woes lie here.Clergy are stretched just keeping the show on the road.I get the feeling,also that the idea of 'dying to live'means that some of them will be out of a job!
Nine years ago the Anglical Methodist Covenant was signed and there were high hopes that shared ministries would emerge and there would be shared desk jobs and staff would be freed to work on the front line. (sounds like Cameronspeak, sorry) If we all really believe that Jesus has a word for the 21C it's high time we buried our differences. A divine centuries said that Christians lost their way when they shut themselves in churches.

What about theology, and how it is used? Surely the main reason why many people who are sympathetic towards the christian faith are not involved with the church is because they do not agree with various parts of christian theology, but effectively (though not always intentionally today) the church uses outward assent to theological statements as a test to decide who can be involved and who cannot. I think the church has inherited an approach towards disagreement that can lead it to assert as true things that are unknown or unresolved. Traditionally disagreement is excluded instead of considered, so disagreement results in fragmentation or shrinkage of the church. This approach also makes it very difficult for theology to change. There are challenges to christian theology that have been raised over the past couple of centuries as we have learned more about what human beings are, and come up with alternative and apparently good methods for deciding whether something is reasonable or not. So far the responses that have emerged from the church require either taking an even more 'absolutist' position to some part of the religion, or relinquishing some difficult to define but essential dimension of the christian way that stands outside the world, challenging and inspiring people. Perhaps we can borrow from the examples of inspirational people from other religions (or with no religion) to help understand how to come up with a better response. Perhaps Christianity must always contain some small absolutist element (in which case, there is no need to dress this element up in a reasonable disguise, and I would like to find out how small this element can be, if it is needed at all). I am glad that churches have made liturgical changes that address the problem of treating some ideas as though they are more valuable than some people.

I fund this article some time last month and just came back to it as I am preparing to discuss my calling to pioneer ministry with people...
Personally, I died to traditional Christian language of God when I was 9 - no father in heaven, no kingdom. I left the Church when I was 14, after I had asked my RE teacher, "what DOES it mean He died for us?" - and he rolled his eyes heavenward, hands folded over big belly "you just have to believe". That did it for me. I still, more than 40 yrs later, think if he had said "I don't know (and perhaps added; but my heart tells me there is something important in it...) - my life would have been dfferent.
I came back to theology in my thirties and 40s and have benefitted greatly from Karl Rahner: The future Christian will be mystic - or he won't be. See - letting go of religious language of certainties! Barbara

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
We use spam protection. View privacy policy.