When He comes again in glory to judge, we are told that all things will be made new. We, as the fine flower of civilization can’t wait that long. I think the first time I heard the argument that the Church had to become more ‘relevant’ was at a meeting I attended in Westminster Hall sometime in the 60s. The late, sainted, Michael Ramsey was trying to say something sensible (as he usually did) but whichever ninny was Dean of Westminster at the time was, along with luminaries like Bishop ‘Honest to God’ Robinson, in fine form about what we could expect if we updated ourselves – I fear some fool actually used the phrase ‘got with it’ (it was the sixties, Lord have mercy).
I recall going back up to Manchester from Euston with a fellow Baptist, and we both took the gloomiest view of what we had heard. Ever the Cassandra (and don’t forget, she got it right and no one listened) I said that it seemed to be a recipe for throwing out the baby with the bath water. Being a Baptist chapel, the elders listened to my report on what was going on, and we all agreed to file it in the cylindrical receptacle in the Pastor’s office – where it remained. We watched the Catholic Church tear out its rather fetching early twentieth century altar and put in a ‘table’ of such banality that my brother, who is a carpenter, offered to make them something better for free – and offer they refused. The Anglicans ditched their old prayer book and adopted some mammoth thing of such proportions that if you needed a spare brick, it would have done, though in truth it was less useful than a brick. There were guitars, there were youth events (which fewer and fewer youth attended), and there was fiddling around with service. Where, once, you had a morning prayer and an evening prayer service at the Anglican church (and I was quite partial at one stage to Mattins at 8 am with the Book of Common Prayer) you got nothing but communion services.
And us, we carried on as we always had. Two services on Sunday, Monday evening was the ladies’ meeting, Tuesday the men, Thursday was Bible study, Friday morning the men’s prayer breakfast and Saturday we’d take ourselves into town equipped with banners and tracts – and good thick coats in winter. I’ll not say we grew, but I will say we did not shrink, and as folk went to their eternal reward, the Lord would provide fresh recruits: we never got above 60, we never fell below 45, and, thanks be to God, we not only continue to be able to pay our Pastor and maintain our Church, we send money abroad to those in most need. We are very old-fashioned, what we inherited seemed to work, and we had no urge to ‘fix’ it. The doctrine we inherited had done our forefathers, and we, in our time, thinking ourselves no wiser than them, left changing things to the itchy ears brigade.
We are still here. The local Anglican church is now part of a six church union all served by one woman and a few unpaid deacons; if there are as many attending all six as there were once in the one nearby, I should be surprised. The local Catholic one got closed down and replace by a building of such ghastliness that it is a genuine sacrifice even to pass it. We’ve discussed here before the many reasons for these things, but here, all I wish to say, is that none of those things that were going to make the local churches ‘more relevant’ have achieved it. My advice, should any one want it, is ‘stick to the old time religion’ – it was good enough for Jesus and it’s good enough for me!