I’m struck by how often things are said in churches which have some truth in them, but can be negatively misleading if taken as the whole truth.

So, “It’s not all about bums on seats.” Of course it’s not: there is a lot more that makes a healthy church than the numbers of people attending. But that doesn’t give us an excuse not to be concerned about numbers at all.

“There’s more to mission than evangelism.” Yes, there is: mission is the whole of what God sends his church out to do; evangelism is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, with the intention of obtaining a response. Without evangelism, there wouldn’t be any Christians to engage in mission.

So, yes, there’s more to mission than evangelism - but there’s not less than evangelism!

“Without love we are nothing. “ Yes, that’s true too, but it’s not the same as “All you need is love”, as the Beatles sang. Yes, St Paul wrote that without love we are nothing. He also said that of faith, hope and love, the greatest is love.

Love is at the heart of everything the Christian stands for, but that’s not the same as saying it’s all we need.

“There’s no quick fix.” There is a lot of truth in that.” Similarly, “ To every difficult problem, there’s an easy solution - the wrong one.” But to say that there’s no quick fix is not to say that there is no fix at all, that there’s nothing that can be done when we are faced with seemingly impossible challenges.

“Preach the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” This is one of the most mis-quoted and mis-used sayings of all time. Often attributed to St Francis, there is no evidence that he actually said it. He did say, “All should preach by their deeds,” meaning that preachers’ deeds should match their words. But it is absurd to infer from that that St Francis thought that telling the gospel in words did not matter.

One of St Francis’ biographers wrote that “he preached to any that gathered to hear the strange but fiery little preacher form Assisi. His words were neither hollow nor ridiculous, but filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, penetrating the marrow of the heart, so that listeners were turned to great amazement.”

All those sayings have some truth in them: none of them gives an excuse to avoid taking seriously God’s call to us.

+ Richard

A letter from the Bishop of Hereford

July  2016