The Christian church in Canada and the world is undergoing a deep, profound change.
In case you have been asleep for the last decade, most mainline denominations are declining rapidly. Even the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest and most evangelical of the protestant churches in the United States and the second largest church after the Roman Catholic Church in the US, is in the seventh year of declining membership.
I have said in this column before that the reasons and many and varied. And no, please don’t lecture me that the reason the church has declined is that a particular denomination has strayed from scripture or the Gospel. That has been proved to be nonsense.
Nor is it true, as the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested this week that the Christian church is simply “useful”.
Archbishop Justin Welby recently addressed the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in Westminster. Attended by MP’s church and charity leaders, including the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition, Welby declared that “the Church should always be more than just "useful".
"I hope and pray that we will never just be useful – what a dreadful condemnation that would be," Welby said, and then joked, "the walls of Lambeth Palace (the Archbishop’s residence) are lined with Archbishops looking useful, a bit like Hogwarts".
"There have been moments when we've fallen into that trap," he continued. "But it's always happened when we've lost sight of the fact that at the heart of being a Christian is knowing Jesus Christ, so that together as we meet with him and share in worship, we find ourselves renewed and strengthened for the call of carrying the cross and following him."
Welby went on to point out the suffering of the Church, particularly in countries where Christians face horrendous persecution, but noted that it is in times of suffering that the Church finds courage, experiences real growth, and is able to offer hope to the global community.
"That has always been a scandal since the first few centuries.”, he continued, “But it is a scandal of which we should be proud. We boast in the cross of Christ. It tells us that each of us here – each of us, all of us – need God's rescue because we cannot rescue ourselves.”
"It calls us, the cross, to prayer and worship, passionate devotion to Jesus, who died for us. The Church of the 21st century clings to Christ in prayer, finds its strength in prayer and prays together."
I agree. The Christian church stands for something different. It does not stand for great buildings, immaculately kept.
It does not stand to minister only to the people who pay the bills to keep the doors open.
The Christian church exists to love and serve the world in a radical way. Much of that service is exemplified by Pope Francis, who has reminded the world that God has no preferences, except for the poor, the weak, the orphan, the alien and the stranger. And in the eyes of God, everyone is equal and loved.
It’s not an easy statement to make and it’s not an easy life to live. It’s not for wimps and sissies. And it’s a lot more than being “useful”.
I agree with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It would be a dreadful thing just to be called “useful”. I would hope, at the very least, the church could be called faithful.
No matter what.