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  • Sam D-H

The church is dead, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.

Updated: Mar 5

A few weeks back I read an article in The Spectator (confession: this makes me sound like I regularly read articles in posh publications, thus I'm really clever. It was a link on Facebook). The article in question lamented the lack of action by the Church of England during COVID. It had closed its doors. It was heading towards an unstoppable death.


There is an assumption in our wider culture that the death of the Church is an inevitability, like winter encroaching on the last of the summer flowers. Soon the last blooms will fall and that'll be that.


Nonsense.


Alas, it's also an opinion we find in our churches. One can sometimes discern a genuine panic. "Quick, quick, we need to do something right now or else!"


I am not a fan of the assumption that GOD'S church can only be kept afloat by human beings.


Quick question: Is God in shock right now at the state of faith in the West?


Can I humbly suggest that we all calm down a little bit? If God is God, then he is God. He is in control and not panicking.


Let's have a quick dive into history for a moment. Both John Tyson and Stephan Pas write about the history of the Christian church as always being the 'active or creative minority'. Christendom (now dead in Europe and wheezing its last breaths in America) is not the norm for the Church, and perhaps that is a very good thing. Power doesn't suit it and always seems to end badly (with years spent apologising).


We have inherited an understanding of church from previous generations that thinks in terms of mass 'Christianisation' as the norm but historically the reality is very different. The Church has always really been an active minority seeking to love God and serve those around them who think differently from them.


So maybe we need to stop lamenting the death of Christendom, or even the effects of COVID on the church (in terms of attendance, or forecast returning attendance), and start looking forward with faith in a God who isn't panicking?


As the tide travels in and out, perhaps we just need to re-read this time, in the ever-secularising West, as a moment the tide of faith is out. And even when it comes back in that a new Christendom will not necessarily be the natural result. I don't think we'd really want it back anyway. We need a new vision. One not set on eventual Christian domination (Christendom mark II), but maybe one set on faithfully loving God and trusting the ends to him.



So Church, get used to weakness, get used to small, get used to exile. That is where we find ourselves and it could be the best possible place for the church to flourish.


How many times do we read in scripture, then God called some obscure person to an un-strategic place to do an impossible (perhaps seemingly pointless) thing? We read it all over the place! From Abraham, to Ruth, to Daniel, to Paul.


Daniel feels to me like the book of the moment. The young exile finds himself in Babylon, his home decimated but far worse the temple of Yahweh ransacked. This was not just a successful military campaign for Babylon, this was a 'my god is better than your God' thing. Everywhere Daniel looked he only saw defeat. A young man feeling very small and alone in a foreign land. This should have been it for a tribe the size of Israel. They should have been swallowed up in history, a footnote in the annuls of great Empires. And yet....


Daniel embraces his weakness, he befriend it. He humbles himself before God. He cries out in faith daily, facing his abandoned home, believing that one day God would restore it. God does beautiful and extraordinary things in his life. Does it change nations? No, not really. But does it change lives? Yes it does.



We find ourselves in a not too dissimilar situation to Daniel. The Church is in exile, pushed to the margins, no longer given a seat at the table. People don't really care too much about what we have to say about most things. We can get all huffy about it, or we can trust that God still has a plan, he isn't shocked, and he still wants to do some beautiful things.


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The most beautiful thing God has ever done was die on a cross in utter weakness. It is no bad thing.

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What I'm trying to say is that it's ok for the Church not to have power. It's ok for the Church to be in a place of vulnerability. We don't have to fight the 'listen to us, we've still got something to say' battle. We don't have to feel like victims. Maybe this is in fact the way the Church was created to exist? It is a place that drives us into the arms of God. In plenty we don't ask, but, (to steel a quote from my wife's blog) "blessed are the desperate for they will actually pray."


The story God is writing over human history includes the Church but it is not about the Church. It's about Him. Perhaps this place of perceived irrelevance is perfect for us to recapture the truer deeper narrative of God's story?



So can we all stop panicking. Sure the church, especially the Church of England, in which I am ordained is going to look very different in 10/20 years. It may not even exist, at least in the way that it does today. But God is writing the story of all history. He is in control. We can trust him. We can run to him. We can embrace him. We can depend on him. He cannot be stopped and he knows what he is doing.


So don't listen when people bang the drum of decline and irrelevance. Firstly, they are not God. But secondly, God loves his Church, his Bride. He will not abandon her. Rather He might just allow a time of low tide in order for her to realise her boat is stranded and she really needs help and maybe some sailing lessons.



I want to use this time to ask God again, what does it mean to follow you now? What does it look like for me to be weak? What does it look like for my church to love and serve you now?


I want to live like Daniel. I want to live like Jesus, "who didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the likeness of a servant...and became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8)." It's time to embrace weakness as a norm. "We don't have enough, God is going to have to come through for us." It's time to embrace uncertainty as a friend. A friend who says, "I don't know what's going to happen next, you better go to God." Weakness and uncertainty could be the instructors that teach the Church again how to fill her sails with the wind of the Spirit and plane across the oceans of God's love for this world.


I choose the believe that God is not surprised by where we find ourselves and has plenty of beauty to reveal. Don't be scared. Be excited. We'll meet God here and that is the most precious thing in life.

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