Ruth Gledhill, in the Times last Saturday, wrote under the headline, ‘Church faces certain death if it clings to its outdated views.’
And maybe she’s right, but her column raises a number of questions, perhaps the most obvious being, can the church die? Wasn’t it Jesus who said,‘I will build my church and all the powers of hell will not conquer it’?
So the question is, if the church dies – and it seems to be making a pretty good fist of it – is it really the church that has died or is it some man-made structure that has been masquerading as the church for centuries?
The inference being that if the church dies then Jesus was wrong, and if he was wrong about that one, can we trust anything he said or taught?
It seems to me that as organised religion tears itself apart arguing about women bishops and the position of gays in the church, a disinterested world looks on at the strange looking men in long purple frocks and silly pointed hats who complain about being seen as oddities. They are worse than oddities, they are irrelevant oddities.
The true church, however, can never die, for it is a living, breathing organism that cares little about petty rules that divide and condemn and discriminate. The true church consists of a vast army of ordinary men and women who simply get on with it as the foundations of the manmade structure crumble and teeter on the brink of destruction.
I say ‘get on with it,’ but get on with what? These men and women are salt and light, they mingle, they are in the world without being of the world. They are salt to preserve and to purify and to add flavour. They are light to show the way with no demands to be followed. They are everything that the men in pointed hats are not, for their driving passion is an internal principle and not an externally enforced code.
I think of the religious leader who once asked Jesus, ‘Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?’
Jesus answered, ‘You know the commandments: You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honour your father and mother.’
‘I have obeyed all these commandments since I was young,’ said the man.
‘There is still one thing you haven’t done,’ said Jesus. ‘Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ And we’re told that the man went away sorrowful.’
I find it interesting that Jesus did not pursue him, he simply showed him the way and respected his freedom to choose. That is liberating.
There is no pressure for those in the true church to proselytise, for the expectation that others to be like themselves can lead to a gross arrogance. It can generate a culture of do, do, do and you end up in the do-do.
However, the true church consists of people who are human ‘beings’ and not human ‘doings.’ They are in the world but not of the world, receiving the Father’s love and passing it on.
That is the true church, and it will never die.