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In the UK, Christians are in a minority, and their numbers are decreasing. Often, it seems to me, we respond to this by becoming closed-off and turning in on ourselves.
This doesn’t just damage our chances of telling non-Christians about what we believe to be true, it also isolates Christians who feel outside – the kind of people I have in mind in setting up guiltyexpression.
What do I mean by turning in on ourselves? Well, here’s an example: Spring Harvest, the annual gathering of evangelical Christians from lots of different churches in the UK. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think this is a bad thing in itself – what I am worried about is the fact that events like this seem to become more and more important each year, as if gathering together were the most important part of our faith, rather than going outside and letting others know.
Some other examples of gatherings of Christians that often feel to me to be exclusive and inward-looking are university Christian Unions (in my experience very cliquey), youth camps (those that cater mainly for Christian kids and seem to me to offer an escape from the real world rather than a preparation for it) and church group gatherings like Spring Harvest.
I’ve been to Spring Harvest, and it was good. It was encouraging to meet other Christians, and to sing songs loudly, and to hear good teaching. However, I also noticed something about it, which is that everyone seemed very similar to each other.
This is the real problem with this phenomenon of gathering together to face the threat of a society that isn’t interested – we develop a culture that is completely separate from the rest of the country, and this culture involves a lot more stuff than just the fundamental Christian principles. For example, many Christian gatherings in the UK consist almost entirely of middle-class people, and there seems to be a feeling that middle-class-ness is essentially Christian – that somehow both involve something to do with being nice, and vaguely informed.
This is incredibly damaging. Let’s take 2 examples of friends of mine who are both middle-class and white, but have suffered from the uniformity of Christian culture, mainly because they couldn’t make their feelings about particular issues fit in with what they were being told. Both nearly lost touch with the church altogether, and jointly they are the inspiration for starting this site.
Cheesey I know, but what did Jesus do? He gathered people in, told them where they needed to change once they were part of the group, and allowed them to leave if they wanted to.
What should we be doing instead? Well, lots of traditional `churchy’ things are much more outward-looking, for example welcoming people to Christmas services and trying to make them enjoyable and inclusive, rather than seeing people that come as not proper members. What about school Christian Unions? They are inevitably more outward-looking because they’re bound to be pretty small, and school is a close-up place, where your notices about the next meeting are bound to be seen by lots of people.
I know I’m giving a very one-sided argument here, and there’s a lot wrong with it, but do you think I’ve got a point at all or am I talking rubbish?
How often do you pray, really? I mean stop and go to a quiet room and just pray? Please, people who feel ok about this as well as people who feel they’re doing badly, answer. I want to know.
There was a quiet muttering of renewed acquaintances subdued by the silence of the hall. Old alliances were acknowledged with a stern handshake and a muttered joke, but they all knew they were here for the last time.
There were two times twelve of them, one from each of the great states of Earth, the Elders of their lands selected for their wisdom and authority.
Most of them were tall, as befit this room with its overpowering arches and this great throne around which the empty half circle of chairs stood.
The arc of chairs was perfect, each fixed for centuries in its position and used once every decade for the Elders’ Congregation. It stuck one of these elders that the room was most unfamiliar with people, being empty for these ten year periods and occupied for a few short hours, a flash in time.
The character of the murmer changed and a drift towards the chairs began.
They settled, and there was silence.
One of the Elders rose to his feet. “Gentlemen, we have one item on our agenda. Would those in favour please stand.”
Those who had arrived with doubts had found them dispelled by the atmosphere of the place. They rose at their various speeds, according to their age and dignity, unanimous.
“Then do it.”
Each man removed his crown, the symbol of his power and the weight of his responsibility, and cast it down at the foot of the throne of the Lamb.
Each gathered his things and returned to his land, a lightness in his step.
Someone explained to me this bit of Revelation recently, and I kind of liked this picture of the elders throwing down their crowns. I’m sure my version of it is completely wrong, but what I really got out of it was that all that they had done during their lives was important, but they could just be freed of the responsibility by submitting completely to God.
I think out of everything I need to learn, that’s the most important thing for me.
Will any church help me get to heaven? Now there’s a question.
Paul’s prophecy warns Timothy that a time will come when people will teach whatever they want to (2 Tim 3v16-17). Peter agreed, saying some people would distort Paul’s teachings, and that it would result in their destruction (2 Peter 3v16b). Timothy was also challenged to watch his LIFE and DOCTRINE closely, then he would SAVE both himself and his hearers. Does that mean that if he DIDN’T live and teach correctly, he and his hearers would not be saved? A scary thought.
When I came to England I searched for a church that would help me to live out what the Bible teaches . . . but there were so many churches!!
Which one should I commit myself to?
What do you think about church? I think it might be interesting to get a discussion started on this, as many of us find aspects of church difficult. A few questions to kick off:
- How important would you personally say it is to be part of a church – essential, important, not particularly significant, very unimportant? What about going to services or other church meetings regularly? What are the advantages and disadvantages of being part of a church?
- What is your reaction to people in church very unlike yourself? What can we do when we find ourselves responding badly to them?
- How do you cope when your church (if you have one) has a style of worship that you find different from your ideal?
- What would you say are the most important priorities in choosing a church?
- How would you change your church, if you have one? Ideas for what we can practically do at the moment to change things would be great.
- Do you think that being part of a group of Christian friends can take the place of church?
I find it very easy to be critical, so I want to add the following sort of questions to balance things:
- What do you think your weaknesses are, that others in church could help you with?
- What’s really great about your church, if you have one?
- Hope that sets things off. I’ll rant about my own church situation in the discussion as it gets going.