Wednesday, 08 December 2021

The church keeps with the times by remaining eternal

SOME regard it as a museum in which the past is preserved

SOME regard it as a museum in which the past is preserved. Others look on it as a hospital for those who can’t cope with the pressures of life.

Others see it as a debating society (answering questions nobody is asking!). To some the church seems out of place in a world of DNA research, organ transplants and quantum physics.

Society has changed over the last 20 years. We now live in an age which offers many more choices to people, and a culture in which the church has many competitors.

Sunday is no longer a national day of rest and worship. For a number of years it seemed as though church attendance was suffering from this competition, and that we were moving towards a culture which gave less thought to God.

But, in a remarkable way, people’s spiritual yearning does not seem to have diminished despite all the alternatives.

Recent research shows that weekly church attendance in Oxfordshire is in fact growing and that overall attendance is much higher than had been thought.

The emerging pattern seems to be one in which more people are attending our churches (while it is true that their attendance may be less frequent).

It is possible we have forgotten that the church remains by far the largest voluntary body in our society. We may forget how many Christians find their church membership supportive and inspirational, enabling them to live fulfilled lives, serving the wider community.

It’s easy to think of “the church” just as a structure standing on the corner, or lump “the church” with other decaying historic institutions, rather than think of the church as a vibrant, dynamic group of people.

Is the church out of touch with today’s needs? Certainly not, with more than a million active members in this country alone. But it may be true that the church is working to a different agenda to much of society.

Is it a caricature to say that most of society runs on short-term goals… quick profits, instant fulfilment, the latest fashion? When the 17th century Archbishop of Glasgow was accused by his fellow clergy of not speaking sufficiently to the political and social issues of his day, he calmly replied: “Gentlemen, when so many are speaking to the times, permit one brother to speak for eternity.”

It is true to say the central element of the Christian message touches on eternal values: how people can come back to God, be forgiven, and numbered among his friends for all eternity.

Is this the redundant message of a bygone era? Or is it still a vital need for pressured human beings seeking the motivation to do their daily work for the benefit of others as well as themselves?

With peace such a precious commodity in our world today – the promise of peace with God, peace with our own past, and the inspiration to work for peace with those around us is not something to be sneered at – especially when the warranty on God’s promises doesn’t expire!

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