Thursday, 24 June 2010

The way it is isn't the way it is meant to be

I was recently speaking to a teacher who brought her children to church for a school fact-finding visit. She was bemoaning the fact that althogh she was a Christian, her children chose to get married in a secular setting which allowed for no religious readings or music whatsoever. She was obviously upset by this but accepted her children's reasoning that it would be hypocritical to get married in church when they did not believe in God.

My initial reaction was a flash of despair as my heart sank. Two things struck me:
First, where have we failed/are we failing, to pass on the Christian faith in any kind of meaningful way to the next generation;
Second, what can we do to put it right.

These are huge questions. So big that they can appear like mountains that dwarf us, sending us into even deeper dispair about the future. What will happen when the present generation dies out? Who will come behind us? What will happen to the Church and the Faith handed down to us, sometimes at the cost of a person's life?

I felt for that woman and identified with her despair and sadness. It is easy to shake your head in sadness, take in a deep breath, shrug your shoulders and say "Ah well what can you do? That's the age in which we live. That's the way it is I'm afraid" and get on with what you are doing.

However the picture is not a uniform one. Yesterday I met two novice nuns from Belarrus who are in their early twenties. One of them was a college student of 17 when she felt the call of God to become a nun! She tells me that the vast majority of Christians in her country are young people who are flocking to the faith. Communist Russia had persecuted the church almost out of existence but since its collapse thousands of young people are becoming Christians.

In this country I come across more and more young people who are asking questions about God and spiritual things. Recently two couples in their twenties came to see me about being baptized. They had been asked to be godparents and need to be baptized in order to 'qualify'. Instead of the usual half hour chat about baptism the conversation centred on Jesus and for an hour they listened and asked questions about Christianity which they clearly had no idea about, only one of them having ever stepped inside a church! But they were interested and gladly accepted a copy of Mark's Gospel to go away and read. Maybe this will lead to something? Maybe not. But they are signs and seeds of hope. As the older generations with their rather narrow and legalistic view of church and Christianity die out, the gap that emerges where fewer people are fed this inadequate and inaccurate version of the Gospel, will have a better chance to encounter the Risen Jesus, not some dead historic version which the church has lived off for too long.

Just before the children came today I spent some time in prayer. I looked up at the massive mosaic figure of Christ on the cross which dominates the view at the front of the church. I suddenly realised why I don't like it. It represents all that is wrong with our church today. It is a picture of a dead Saviour nailed forever to a cross, inanimate, lifeless and cold. He is dead and so is much of the faith in all too many of our churches today. He is dead to the people and frozen in time. But I do not worship a dead Saviour but a living one. He died, yes, but He rose again and is loose in the world. The sooner that cross is taken down - a symbol of death and the past - the sooner we can start to believe again in a living, vibrant and powerful Saviour who comes to bring us life in all its fulness.

This Risen Saviour moves mountains, raises the dead and brings people into relationship with Him through the power of the holy Spirit. But the one on the cross? He may inspire gratitude or even a sense of love but what can a dead saviour do for dying people? Not much.

So what can be done for succeeding generations of people who have little or no connection with the Christian Faith? We can do what Jesus told us to do and is with us to accomplish (Matthew 28:19-end). We can tell them about Him and let Himdo the rest. After all He is alive isn't He.

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