Friday, October 21, 2011
Killing God's Work
This is a stark portrait of a church in deep trouble. The status of the Church of England as the established national church has granted its leaders a false sense of security and importance. There are more principled reasons to oppose the very idea of an established church, but this practical effect is no small matter.There is a heck of a point here, but I think he may make a bit too much of it. We see a similar trend in the traditional denominations of this nation - relying on the cultural dominance they once enjoyed, they now are dying. Maybe no establishment, but culture has moved on, and that, I think is the key to what is happening in England as well.
The formality of state occasions may provide drama and a sense of vitality, but these are masks. How many in the congregation gathered for last week’s royal wedding knew any of the words to the great hymns that were sung? Only three percent of the nation’s population attends Church of England services even once a month. Given current trends, few Anglican parishes will have ministers in just a few decades. Like many other historic churches and denominations, the Church of England is passing through decline, and it faces nothing short of demise unless these trends are somehow reversed.
As valid as the institutional question of establishment may be, the more important factor in this pattern of decline is theological. Churches and denominations decline when they lose or forfeit their passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for the Bible as the enduring, authoritative, and totally truthful Word of God. If life and death are no longer understood to hang in the balance, there is little reason for the British people to worry about anything related to Christianity. If a church is not passionate about seeing sinners come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, if there is no powerful biblical message from its pulpits, then it is destined for decline and eventual disappearance.
It's not about establishment nor is it about cultural dominance, it is about change, vitality, and a genuine sense of commitment to Christ. It is about idolatry. The Church of England made its established status an idol, and sacrificed it's commitment to Christ on that idol.
The American traditional denominations are far more problematic. Relying on cultural dominance, one would think they would transition with the cultural. The problem is the culture has moved away from church and they failed to use their dominance to constructively influence culture. What we are really looking at here are two extremes on a spectrum. The Church of England has come to resemble the Catholicism of the Reformation - corrupted by political power. The church in America has so focused on the individual that it has forfeited any role in the political or the cultural.
What scares me is that what has arisen in America - Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism - continues the trend and does not fight it.
If the church is to survive in either nation it must reclaim that which it has lost. In our nation it must become more culturally engaged and properly politically engaged. But that involves sacrifice.
Are we willing to make it?