‘Setting God’s people free to do what they are told’ is a statement by Modern Church responding to a report by the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.
The Archbishops’ report, Setting God’s People Free, aims to generate more active engagement by lay churchpeople. Modern Church supports the report’s concern to improve the relationships of lay people to their clergy.
However it offers an alternative to the proposals for encouraging evangelism and ‘whole-life discipleship’ by lay people in their daily lives and occupations.
Far from setting lay people free, the Report’s proposals would impose extra burdens on them. Instead Modern Church believes church leaders should focus on improving theological resources for the laity. Lay people can then make their own judgements.
Modern Church believes that, rather than presuppose a uniform Christianity which does not exist, church leaders should encourage open debate between different views. They should feel free to debate ethical issues without agreeing with each other. Until a generation ago this was a characteristic role of bishops. It would help laypeople to develop a more realistic understanding of their faith and make their own decisions.The Report rightly states that Christian mission is not a matter of rescuing souls from a degenerate world, but the case would have been more convincingly made if it had not used the language of dualistic and other-worldly cliques.
Modern Church laments the report’s generous use of management-speak, with its plans for more surveys and information-gathering to facilitate top-down decision-making. Decisions should be made at the most local practical level. National Church leaders should resist the temptation to give more instructions to local parishes than necessary.
The report proposes to invest more heavily in artificial evangelistic projects. It is well known that they often give Christians a bad name by requiring people to talk about their faith to people who are not interested. Instead the Church should focus on providing theological resources to help Christians understand the different versions of their faith traditions. They will then be better equipped to develop their own beliefs and talk about them intelligently as and when they judge it appropriate.