Thursday, 7 July 2016

Death and resurrection

In a conversation with a fellow Christian the other day we were talking about what constitutes devotion to Christ. Part of that of course is Church attendance. 20-30 years ago a regular attender was someone who went to Church morning and evening on a Sunday. 10-20 years ago a regular attender was seen as someone who went every Sunday morning. Recently the Church (England or Wales?) has redefined regular attendance as going to church once a month. No wonder the church is in decline.

Or is it? Reading the Old Testament is very sobering and informative at this time as we see there the rise and fall of belief in God over centuries rather than decades. You just have to read 2 Kings for example and you will see this over the reigns of the various kings of the two kingdoms. Good kings lead the people closer to God and bad kings lead them further away. Good kings cleanse the temple, remove the Asherah poles and renew the faith of the people. Bad kings bring in false worship and raise up more idols . It is up and down, back and forth. One minute the tide of faith is in and the next it's out. Is that what is happening in the West?

In one key text in the Old testament - Isaiah 11 - the prophet talks about the "stump" of Jesse. The inference here (see earlier chapters) is that God has pruned back his people through judgement, invasion and the withdrawal of His Presence, until all is left is the bare stump of faith. What has gone?  Dead and fruitless branches (see John 15). By cutting right back to the stump God is bringing new and fresh growth, and from that will emerge the Messiah - Jesus.

Today Christianity as we know it is - on the whole - lifeless, nominal, inward and backward looking and bound to the past. For too many it is either an insurance policy, an inheritance from their parents or a leisure activity. Or, in Dallas Willard's words what he calls 'Consumer Christianity'. This is what he says:

"Consumer Christianity is now normative. The consumer Christian is one who utilizes the grace of God for forgiveness and the services of the church for special occasions, but does not give his or her life and innermost thoughts, feelings, and intentions over to the kingdom of the heavens. Such Christians are not inwardly transformed and not committed to it"

Ouch! That certainly hits the nail on the head and is a painful reminder of what the above stats tell us about devotion to Christ. That is, that it is largely absent! People use the Church - and God - to suit their busy lifestyles. There is no cost for them, and Sunday is just like any other day of the week. What happened to "remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11)?

It is tempting to go on a rant here and reference the erratic attendance at my own church but I won't. Suffice to say that all that has been said above is true of the vast majority of churches in general - and in my experience - the Church in Wales in particular. However despite my despair at times and my depression at others, I still believe in the sovereignty of God. That He is in control and knows exactly what He is doing. And as if to underline this a text that comes with unusual regularity into my daily Bible readings, online surfing and in the books I am reading, speaks powerfully into this:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

So despite my concerns and despair, I cling to "the rock which is higher than I" (Psalm 61:2). The storm will break, the floodwaters recede and the sun will come from behind the clouds. "Hold on" is God's message, along with:  "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18). All that is left is for me to reply: "Amen."

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