PAYNE, Bishop Claude E, & BEAZLEY, Hamilton, Reclaiming the Great Commission. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000 (I paid $36.92 CAN including tax - and well worth it).

by Robert Brow   (

Can anything good come out of the Episcopalians?  Here is the account of an obviously successful shifting of the Episcopal Diocese of  Texas out of "The Maintenance Model" into a very vibrant "Missionary Model" (5, 49-50). Like forcing the ninety-degree turn of an ocean liner that is under way, this faces huge inertia (63).

Most of the book is about the changes which were needed in the mentality of well-meaning people at every level of the denominational organization. How do you "barbecue the sacred cows"? (104).

There are over two hundred pages of specific guidelines for doing just that. Which will prove mightily useful for those in any denomination who have to undertake that kind of operation.

I want to focus on one component, the way the good news is presented in this new kind of "Missionary Model." You begin with the fact of a vast "unsatisfied longing for spirituality." It is proven fact that "a large majority of American adults remain dissatisfied despite the material rewards they have accumulated. " Large increases in the sale of spiritual books of every kind indicate that "people are searching for something more meaningful and more enduring" (5).

Admittedly of the 96 per cent of Americans who believe in God (up from 95 per cent in 1947) one third "did not believe in the biblical God but in a 'higher consciousness' or eastern god, or even 'many gods.' And  between 4 and 54 percent believe that they themselves are God" (7). That reminds me of the definition of an Englishman : a self-made man who believes in his Creator.

Many reasons for and forms of spiritual hunger are mentioned. Here is one that struck me. "A third source of spiritual hunger is found among those who have felt, however briefly, the divine presence and want to experience more of it." They are open to opportunities to grow and learn more, but they do not find it in our mainline churches. So "they search elsewhere and become prey to others" who promise spiritual food (9, 12).

The implications of this for evangelism are very far reaching. "The role of the Church, therefore, is not to create a demand for religious experiences within people but rather to address and effectively satisfy the demand that already exists" (11),

Even though people begin their search in many wrong-headed directions, our task is not to condemn them for heretical ideas, but to welcome them to engage in their search with us. As Paul said in Athens, God has put people in different cultures "so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him" (Acts 17:27).

I have decided I must welcome and listen carefully to the vague spiritual longings of ordinary people, and then make sure we offer the heart of what they are looking for. People are interested in ways to pray, raise children, find love (in loneliness), and joy, and peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness (in marriage), gentleness, self-control (dieting, etc.). We have all that, and much more to offer (Galatians 5:22). It is only the Spirit who can crucify the works of the flesh that so viciously tries to run our lives (Galatians 5:16-21).

Based on my review this morning of Bishop Payne's book on Reclaiming the Great Commission, 2000, I suggested that whatever spiritual hunger people brought to our church, we should not condemn them but show them gently how the Holy Spirit can meet that hunger.

By way of response Greg Bloomquist told me of an encounter with a waitress in Nashville who said that when her first marriage ended in divorce "the church I had been taught to love and obey, threw me and my two young boys out on the street and said that we weren't good enough to be part of them." But then "these two marvelous women found me and started teaching me all about the joys of the earth and their religion." As a result she had become a Wiccan, a member of a witches' coven."

So I found myself wondering what I would say to a Wiccan who came and sat down next to me in St. Paul's Anglican Church? Before reading "Reclaiming the Great Commission" I would have rigorously explained the difference between her model and the model of Creative Love Theism in the Bible.

Now I have been persuaded I should listen carefully to her own account of her spiritual longings. And having got that clear, help her to see that what she really cares about is offered to her, and much more, by the Holy Spirit of God (which she calls the Great Spirit of the aboriginal tribes of North America). Here are some of the approaches I found myself trying to put into words.

"You clearly distinguish what you care about from black magic, or doing harm to others. I am interested to hear that members of the genuine Wiccan are concerned for others to be filled with love and joy and peace. Would that in any way correspond to what we call the fruit of the Holy Spirit ?(Galatians 5:22)

"You feel that there are spiritual powers that most people never dare access. That interests me because Jesus told us that by the Spirit we would do the works that he did, and in fact do greater works than he ever did" (John 14:12).

"You mention the great love and acceptance you have experienced in your Wiccan fellowship. And obviously you experienced horrendous rejection from your Christian church. I feel bad about that because Jesus said "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).

"Do you think Jesus would have been comfortable in one of your Wiccan fellowship meetings?"

"Jesus was crucified, and his corpse was put in a tomb, but he came back and disintegrated it so no one could venerate it. How do you understand about life after death?"

"We have a prayer group that prays for the sick and others who are in special need. Would that appeal to you?"

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