Thy Kingdom Come: “prayer must always be the first action of evangelism and witness”

When the archbishops of Canterbury and York inaugurated a week of prayer last year under the banner ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, they could have had no idea that the Holy Spirit would seize those days between Ascension and Pentecost and draw so many into the essential mission of renewal and witness. The call to prayer rippled well beyond the parish boundaries of the Church of England: “Messages began pouring in from churches around the country that were making time to pray for the witness of the Church and fresh confidence to share their faith, writes Justin Welby. “It was not just from one particular tradition or area — every tradition and expression of church was represented.”

Thy Kingdom Come 2017 is an invitation to join the global wave of prayer between 25th May – 4th June. “The Presidents of Churches Together in England are joining with the Archbishop of Canterbury and York to make the call to churches of all denominations in England, and Archbishop Justin Welby is sending out the call to every part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the World Methodist Council to Methodist Churches worldwide.” Some will be sceptical; some will groan. As the Archbishop notes, the invitation might even end up in more than a few vicarage recycling bins. But to cease praying for renewal and reform is to cease renewing and reforming; and to cease renewing and reforming is to cease living Christianly, for we cease being transformed (Rom 12:2).

No doubt the Church of England’s ‘Renewal and Reform‘ programme is also being greeted with scepticism and groans. The mere mention of ‘evangelism’ sends shudders up quite a few ordained backs. Some might even think it antithetical to the richer essential mission of the Established Church to serve and minister to all, irrespective of faith or belief. It all depends how you view the Kingdom; whether you believe it is already here or is yet to come.

The theology of salvation is intrinsically linked to our partial understanding. If the motive for mission is conversion, the Kingdom is limited to the sum of saved souls. If the motive is church planting, the Kingdom becomes the Church. If the motive is eschatological, the Kingdom is a future hope and the exigencies of life are ignored. And if the motive is philanthropic, the priority becomes the pursuit of social justice and the Kingdom becomes an improved society. Focusing on any singular dimension is to limit both the Kingdom of God and the theology of salvation, but when these dimensions are held together in tension, salvation becomes a daily experience, a constant possibility, and a final hope.

Salvation is broad and deep. The path is narrow, but the walk is a hell of a long way and takes a hell of a long time, unless you run for it. Mission means being involved in an ongoing dialogue with God, who offers that salvation, and with the world, which – enmeshed in all kinds of evil – craves that salvation, even if it doesn’t know it.

Since Jesus came ‘that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’ (Jn 10:10), it cannot mean a life of illiteracy, unemployment, the margin of starvation or any kind of oppression or bondage – it is both salvation from sin and salvation into the capacity to be fully human and truly free. Jesus’ proclamation of the arrival of the Kingdom of God may properly be seen as reversing the value judgments of a world that held up its own construction of reality as ultimate. It is because Jesus fleshed out in the midst of his own exigencies the values and spirit of a living, compassionate God that his life and message are so significant for mission, which still demands the communication of that salvation to the inescapable challenges of the present.

Indeed, the kairos is now, and the world cries out for a salvation when love and justice will reign. It begins with prayer, or is doesn’t begin at all.