The question which stands at the head of this post is, I want to suggest, one which the phenomena described in my last two posts has sought to answer. Here, I want to say that if you have to ask that question, then you are not likely to find an answer.
My chapel, like all Baptist chapels, exists because we want it to, we want it to because we have been granted the Grace to know God and to love Him, and it pleases us, it is our privilege and glory, to be able to come together and share fellowship and to thank Him in worship. Fellowship matters to us. We sustain each other in our journey. We give of our common wealth to all who are in need, and we live to witness to the hope that is in us. Should any of that cease, then our mission will cease and this place will know us no more. What will not happen is that we shall be looking for some use for our building and the manse so that we can keep the institution going. Too often I have the feeling that that is precisely what is happening in some of the bigger denominations.
Once, men and women ploughed substantial amounts of money into building great places of worship, and they did so for various reasons, but the results are all around us in England. But the tide of faith has receded. The Anglicans seem to have off-loaded a very large number of churches and vicarages, whilst the Catholics have trimmed back from what was already an inadequate presence in rural areas. When, as I did at our recent ‘week of Christian unity’ service, I asked our locals what they were doing to reverse this, they spoke of the ‘new evangelisation’, and when I asked what would make this have a result any different from the last round of such evangelisation, there wasn’t much by way of answer, although one chap did bang on about racial and climate justice.
At my age I’m more concerned with God’s justice than whatever ‘racial justice is’, and quite what ‘climate justice’ might be, I thought I’d best not ask out of deference to my rising blood pressure. These things seem to me to substitutes for those who have ceased to believe in the Great Commission of Jesus to his followers – go proclaim the Good News. It is hard for those who don’t believe in sin, repentance, the resurrection or judgment, to begin to do what Jesus commanded, and easier, and certainly more in tune with this world, to pursue more fashionable causes. It justifies the stipend, it keeps the upper echelons of the hierarchy happy, and it keeps things going along, offering those in need of it a good cause to support. This may not be why those off whose endowments such folk live, gave money to their churches, but what’s that to those who are convinced they are saving the whale/ the Third Word/ the climate /the polar bear – or whatever?
A church exists for one reason, that is that it is the body of those who worship the Christ who have saved them – we can do it where ever presents itself, and if you have a lot of old buildings and don’t know what to do with them, you could try worse than using them for their original purpose – once, that is, you manage to explain how, under your enlightened stewardship they became redundant.