I’ve been digging around looking for a new insight on Palm Sunday, and yes, I came to the conclusion that I have little new to say. Not that that has ever shut me up yet! So, I’ll talk about something else. No, not the Synod on the Family either, we’ve generated plenty of heat (although little light) on that recently. But, I’m an analyst and a history buff, I like to look at causes. So, I will.
We all know that the decline in our churches runs in parallel with the rise of Progressivism/modern liberalism or whatever one chooses to call it. But is it causal?
The answer to that is, ‘Maybe”
Jess told us quite a while back about a book written by her online pastor called The Hope in Hope Street, frankly I haven’t read it (yet) but I trust the reviewer, and his sermons are excellent, and available online. (like father, like son, I suspect) It tells the story of a church built by its parishioners when the Established Church couldn’t or wouldn’t serve them.
Since this was in the early part of the Industrial Revolution, I suspect it was mostly the fact that the CofE is and was a big institutional church complete with bureaucracy, and just couldn’t move fast enough, but that’s a guess.
This is a bit of an aside but, the British historians like to talk about how bad it was for the workers in the industrial revolution but I’ve always wonderred. What did those workers think? Because frankly if it was so much worse, why did they migrate into it in such numbers and have kids as well. They weren’t slaves, after all. they could have stayed on the farms where they were born. So they must have thought offered something better, like enough to eat. I suspect many of those historians are looking back through twentieth century glasses at the conditions, and that their opinions are not what those folks thought.
But anyway, what Pastor Gervase describes is the story of almost all churches in America, and as always, having local skin in the game matters.
And my point to all that is in that world, if you were in trouble you went to the church, if you were hungry, cold, homeless, whatever. the church was your refuge, it wasn’t perfect but, mostly you’d survive until you got on your feet again. yes, you’d get a sermon or three, which you may or may not have deserved, a fair amount of praying, and you’d get a healthy helping of shame, which wouldn’t hurt most of us either. And best of all, it was local, and would bring you in touch, through the vicar, if in no other way, with people who could teach you to fish, in the old phrase.
But with the rise of the ‘nanny state’, first in Germany but also in Britain and the US, the churches passed that responsibility to the state and its tax money. But that came at a cost. I think it made the church less relevant to the common man, and instead of a tertiary duty of the vicar, people earned their living by making sure people were on the dole. In other words we created a bureaucracy to do what the pastors had always done.
And maybe most importantly, the unofficial contacts, and the shame was removed. Geoffrey wrote about ‘the victim culture’ and how it allows us to transfer the blame from ourselves to anybody (or everybody) else., That’s not healthy for our kids, and it’s not healthy for our society either.
So maybe that one of the root causes of the malaise in our churches, our abdication of the call “to feed the hungry and clothe the naked” to the cold charity of the state. I think that by shirking our duty, we cut off our nose to spite our face, and we hurt the poor and destitute in the process, as well.