In my attempt to take a prophetic glance into the future I suggested last week that in twenty years’ time, on current projections, there would be many local congregations which have simply ceased to exist due to the elderly faithful dying without managing to replace themselves, and dioceses and equivalent manifestations of ‘the hierarchy’ giving up the battle to keep crumbling buildings standing for no particular reason save that of history. This may be overly pessimistic, but I simply can’t see any way of keeping the show on the road. I think complacency will gradually give way to realism, and we’ll come to the point, like Samson, of acknowledging that we can’t simply ‘go out as before’ – our strength has gone.
But, to stay with Samson for a moment, I think there is better news. Here he is, in prison, degraded, blind, wheeled out to entertain the people, who love a good bit of cruel mockery. But from the depths of his despair he does something which we have never seen him do before in the entire story – he prays. ‘Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more!’ He has lived his entire life in presumption, but now, degraded and with nothing left of himself, he finally reaches the point where he recognises his utter and complete helplessness and his total dependence on God. That appears to be just the kind of prayer God loves, because he answers it and a great victory is won.
I’ve written before on my hope that we’ll see our great church broken and weeping before God, and I suspect it will take a lot more than 20 years for us to reach that point, but I do believe that there are signs on the wind of a move in that direction. My sense is that the C of E is a more godly church than it was 30-odd years ago when I was ordained: there is a lot less posturing and immorality, and most church leaders really do seem to be holy men and women trying their best to do their job well, even if they feel a bit lost and bewildered by the state of the nation. I sense that we’re becoming sick and tired of arguing about sexuality; that we are less ready to write off those of different churchmanships from us as not quite the spiritual ticket; that we are becoming more concerned about mission than about internal politics, even if we’re a bit uncertain about what ‘mission’ actually means.
Anything which takes us in the direction of an awareness of our own uselessness and of our total dependence on the grace of God is to be welcomed, and I believe that God is beginning to get us to the point where we might be able to pull down a few pillars on the heads of our corrupt and godless society. But I suspect we need a lot more and a lot more desperate prayer before we really can see the temple of our greedy and consumerist nation brought down.
In the meantime, there are other signs of hope as we see new things springing up in the church. More of that next time!