SUMMERVILLE, SC – What will it take to ignite the church to embrace her God-given resources and engage the spiritual battles plaguing the West? The American Anglican Council partnered with St. Paul’s Church in Summerville, SC to explore this question at the Ignite Conference on August 20-21. Sponsored by the AAC’s Anglican Legal Society and Alliance for Defending Freedom, this two-day conference explored current cultural realities and how the church must engage contemporary legal, cultural, and spiritual challenges. Christ calls Christians to think critically and speak biblically to temporal powers, especially when those powers seek to challenge and change the way believers have historically received the faith. In addition to Anglicans, Ignite brought together representatives from several denominations in the Charleston area. Speakers included the Rev. Canon Phil Ashey, Rich Baker, Harrison Smith of Alliance Defending Freedom, and the Rev. Al Zadig of St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Charleston. One hundred and fifty participants were also able to ask questions for further discussion.
The Ignite Conference seeks to answer the difficult questions currently facing the church. Today’s secular society often elevates government and the rights of the individual over God and the rights of Christians to worship and teach freely. Policies and legislation currently being discussed and codified could threaten biblically based Christianity. How do we engage these discussions and prepare ourselves without giving up hope for Gospel transformation of our culture? How do churches avoid solely becoming faith-based expressions of certain political parties? How do we present the Gospel about the living God who is able to bring true solutions to the concerns of people both inside and outside the church? To answer these questions, Christians must think biblically to understand cultural issues without capitulating to the principles that govern a predominantly secular society.
Each conference session was comprised of a lecture with a PowerPoint presentation and a follow up question and answer session. On the evening of Friday, August 20, Rich Baker and Phil Ashey opened the conference after a welcome by the Rev. Tripp Jeffords, Rector of St. Paul’s Anglican Church. Mr. Baker spoke about the Great Deception of Western Culture and the idolatry that Enlightenment thinking brought to the church and culture. Canon Phil explained how, even without physical idols, the Church still struggles with ideological idols that overtake biblical thinking. While secular theories can help us understand the challenges and hurts affecting many communities, they are powerless to provide real, lasting solutions. These theories can become new idols where they, rather than the Gospel of Christ, become the new and definitive truth by which the Church navigates its life.
On Saturday morning, the Hon. Gil Gatch, an attorney and former pastor currently serving in the South Carolina House of Representatives, spoke on the importance of character among leaders and how moral leadership impacts the affairs of both church and state. Mr. Baker then taught on the Equality Act, its legal implications for faith communities across the United States, and on how the Church can remain faithful to the Gospel amid these legal challenges. Canon Phil spoke in the afternoon on the importance of Christian character and witness in an age where the Church exists in Babylon rather than in Jerusalem. Using the Prophet Daniel as an example of faithful living in a pagan society, he discussed how to have compassion toward the surrounding culture without compromising faith. His last lecture, Christian Leadership: Standing Up Means Standing Out, continued his discussion on Daniel and his friends who were thrown in the furnace for not worshipping the King of Babylon’s idol. He noted that our own ability to live in a pagan culture is given to us by the Holy Spirit who often leads us through the furnace, not away from it. Once inside, however, we find the God we worship standing there with us. The conference concluded with a commissioning by the Rev. Al Zadig and a passionate call to prayer for the church, the culture, and those in our sphere of influence.
The American Anglican Council is very grateful to St. Paul’s for organizing this event. We hope to present this conference in many churches and dioceses across the Anglican Church of North America to better equip individuals and congregations to think biblically and strategically to engage the legal, spiritual, and cultural struggles of our day.