Ivan Clutterbuck reminds us that every churchgoer can have a role in the life of the Church
We have a problem’ is a phrase sometimes heard today when some project grinds to a standstill; the more vital the work, the more serious the hold-up. Our Church after Pentecost had the great challenge of moving from spreading the Gospel in Jerusalem to spreading it to the whole world. At first, it seemed, it might remain contained in house groups which met for prayer, teaching and the breaking of bread as the Acts of the Apostles tells us. The command of Our Lord to take the good news into all the world drove them further and further afield on a teaching mission.
They had been prepared for this by the Lord himself. A close look at the four Gospels reveals a system of education, first to the Apostles and then to seventy followers, then to large numbers who heard him gladly. From these a team of teachers was formed, not only the Apostles but those whose names we do not know but who had learnt their lessons well under the master. The result we know is that the Gospel spread rapidly until it reached the borders of modern Iraq by the end of the first century AD. Michael Green in his book Evangelism in the Early Church writes, ‘enthusiasm to evangelise which marked the early Christians is one of the most remarkable things in the history of religion.’
Today our Church has a problem: it is in danger of being overwhelmed by unbelief and error; secularism increases daily. As secretary to the Church Union I organised tentatively a society for young people called the ‘Young Seventies’ with the rule of ‘learning, love of God and neighbour and leisure’. Over the years interest increased in our church and I was invited to be a member of the Archbishop’s Council for Evangelism and I developed a scheme for teaching and empowering the laity in a Lay Apostolate. It is one thing to put down facts about the place of the laity in the life of the Church; it is another to put that information into practice. It could cause a major revolution for church members reluctant to leave their place in a pew. It could be as drastic as the Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan for a ‘Big Society’. People are happy to let others do the work for them and be unemployed. This is true of most church congregations – let Father do it! And Father can no longer do it on his own; he needs reinforcements for the essential work of teaching, for the prophetic work of the ministry and this means full employment of the laity.
As the statement on the laity for the Second Vatican Council says, ‘many people can only understand the gospels through the laity who live them.’ Teachers need to be found who can teach others to pass on the gospel. No liberal theology must be allowed. The first question to be resolved is whether a parish wants a lay ministry of teaching. It must be made clear that this is not infringing on the duties of the priest. Once volunteers are found they must be trained. My book, A Church in Miniature, contains more information. The Lay Apostolate is not just another society but a demanding way of life.
The challenge will not go away. People need to hear the message of the gospel from those who live near them. ND