Thursday 20 November 2014

Two recent reports have suggested the demise of the Church of England is foreseeable; one reckons in twenty years, the other in six. The Methodist Church is similarly assessed, A radical re-think and some initiatives are called for.

One commentator discussing the reports has called for the Church to go to the public rather than the other way round, and have bible studies and prayer meetings in pubs and clubs. The mind boggles. Can you imagine going into a pub in Liverpool, or other town or city for that matter, and trying to have a bible study. I guarantee the idea would not be taken up again.

Another commentator added the unhelpful comment that church services are not the important part of the Christian faith.

I believe Church services are a vital part of the Christian faith. We have had Messy Church gatherings; café services and services in Asda stores, and whilst the initiatives are worthy and well meant, they just do not bring lasting commitment, if in fact any.

People expecting, and more importantly wanting, spiritual nourishment expect to find it in a Church, that is after all why the Church exists. But if we examine why the Church is falling apart, it is not hard to see. Many services are casually put together because something has to be offered, they are poorly constructed and are lifeless.

In a desperate attempt to maintain services in every parish Church we have put several churches together where one Vicar or Minister has to be responsible for. I remember when I was in training I was with a Vicar who had three Churches which he was expected to attend on a Sunday morning, dashing from one to another. I was supposed to take the sermon and when I asked how long I should speak for, I was told just two or three minutes.

Scattered around the country there are evangelical Churches which do offer wonderful acts of worship. There are also High Churches with glorious ceremony, each ministering to large congregations, but this is only due to serious effort and attention.

The Methodist Church has a glorious history but the belief in itinerant ministry in today’s culture is leading to confusion. I may go to a Church one Sunday and preach a conservative sermon with strict fidelity to Scripture, (in the Methodist tradition) and the following week another preacher will take a liberal line and find what the Bible says unacceptable; in fact it has happened. When there are so many clergy who just will not accept the authority of Scripture it leaves people in the congregations bewildered.

A recent poll suggested 16% of clergy in the Church of England don’t even believe in God!! I am sure the Church of England is not an exception. Let us be honest in equal desperation we have appointed men (and now women) who are not in the profession not so much for reasons of belief, but rather career reasons or status.

We must accept we will never get a majority of people to attend Church, we never have even in the good old days, and Jesus only foresaw one I four responding. But I have enough faith to believe that if we have services where the hymns have the right tunes, the readings are read by able people, and the sermons are based on Bible exposition, with faithful acceptance and communication of Scripture, we would see attendances rising and not falling.

It would also be helpful if certain men in the Church of England could keep their ideas to themselves and their mouths firmly closed, however frustrating to their egos. When a bishop can encourage other clergy to ignore the Church’s stance on same sex marriage, and when we have the majority of senior clergy openly rejoicing in acting against the teaching of Scripture, and so breaking off union with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, then we really are in trouble.

Is it not significant that the Eastern, Chinese, African and South American Churches, which are so loyal to the Bible, are growing in such large numbers?

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