The Church in this land is now in a totally new situation. After years of enjoying a comparatively privileged position, we are now clearly facing attack, ridicule and even persecution. We are in a counter-culture situation and our position is increasingly similar to the Early Church.
Viewed from the position of the world, the Church is not a single body giving a clear message, but rather a large number of disparate congregations who each have their own interpretation and presentation of the Gospel message and who appear to be in competition with each other. There is a very real danger of the churches ceasing to engage with our culture. At the two extremes, we either withdraw and disconnect from it, or run the risk of being consumed by it. God calls us to invade and transform our culture, not to collaborate with it, capitulate to it, retreat from it.
This engagement is inevitably confrontational. There is clearly much doubt about the central truths of the Gospel in the churches. There is also evidence of some Christians substituting an ethical or a programme of social action for the Gospel.
I know a bishop not far from here who talks about ‘the coming storm’ and a ‘tidal wave’. He means secularism, but he doesn’t spell out what he means by that, and I am not sure that he knows how to. Sometimes he seems to regret this and to want to do something about it, sometimes not. Our caution and elipticism is becoming a problem. We have to stop worrying about sounding unsophisticated and apocalyptic. We have to bring the people of Maranatha into Church and ask them to teach us how not to be sophisticated or ironic, and we have to learn how to spell this ‘new situation’ out.
Costly discipleship involves using our heads, consistently, and over the long term. No probs there. But that also means getting to know my own tradtion and speaking consistently from it, without attempting to preserve any ironic distance. It also means learning the old practices and practising them, in public. I am going to start reading my bible (big, black, leather) on the Central Line. I am going to kneel in church, dunk my fingers in the holy water when I enter a Catholic church. I am going to learn to cross myself (every nerve screams No!). I am going to learn a half dozen psalms off by heart. I am going to familiarise myself with the readings for each next Sunday. When you see me, test me.