Neo has moved on our discussion most usefully. The biggest problem Christianity has in the UK, and in Europe, and possibly in the US, is the failure to transmit our faith to the next generation. To speak personally for a moment, as two out of my three sons are devout Christians, and the third, although uncertain about what he believes, goes to Church on Sundays, I plead not-guilty. But then all three of them were taken to Church every Sunday when they were young. When we could, we explained to them that this was what we believed and we thought it was good for them. We added that when they reached the age of confirmation, it would be their choice whether to be confirmed, and their choice then whether to continue to accompany us to Church on Sundays. All three made the decision to be confirmed, two of them made the choice to become ever more deeply involved to the point at which one of them pastors an evangelical church in Stoke, whilst the other is a mainstay of his local evangelical church.
What neither of them has done, however, has been to stay in the Church of their confirmation; whilst I have moved across the Tiber from Anglicanism, they have moved in the other direction towards straight Protestantism; in the cases of all three of us, for different reasons, we came to feel that for all its comprehensiveness, Anglicanism failed to offer a coherent Christian message in which we had faith. It may be interesting or not that my third son, unsure where he stands, still attends Anglican service on Sundays. Perhaps we are all peculiarly old-fashioned, but it is the very attempt by the Church of England to be ‘relevant’ which has made it irrelevant to three believing Christians.
When I go, as I do from time to time, to Anglican morning prayer or (more frequently) Anglican choral evensong, I feel like one walking among the ruins. The small parish churches are beautiful, but most have a neglected feel about them; far too big for those who now attend regularly, their congregations cannot afford to do more than basic maintenance work – and sometimes not even that. It feels as though I am a place of a once mighty civilization in the aftermath of some catastrophe which has removed most of its members; there is a memory here, but it has about it a melancholy.
Andrew Brown’s piece in the Guardian, mentioned by Neo puts a finger on something important, without, I suspect, quite knowing it. He points out that the narrative of a Christian nation in a Christian Europe was no longer convincing; that Churches had stopped providing social services; and that Christianity was no longer a source of ‘authority’. That is all true, but it also underlines the way in which a Christianity which saw itself and was seen as fulfilling those needs, was already hollowed out as it was missing the centrality of the Good News.
The Good News is not that Christians are ‘top nations’, nor that it explains how the world was created, neither is it that we can help those in bad circumstances. Christianity may have something to say about these things, but they are not at its centre, not even helping the poor. We don’t help the poor because the State won’t, and we don’t insist the State should; we help the poor because we are helping Christ. The Good News is that He is Risen and our sins are forgiven. Do we hear that? Do we feel it? Do people feel that materialism is fulfilling their inner needs, or do they seek to fill an emptiness in ways which never satisfy them?
There is enough evidence among the ruins of people lost, looking for something they can’t find because they don’t know what it is. Is the witness we bear in our daily lives such as to make them think about what it means? If our own children are not getting the message, how can we pass it to anyone else? To what extent do we who attend Church allow the means of worship to eclipse the Object of worship? Are we focussed enough upon Christ?