My blogfriend, ‘crossingthebosphorus’ is running a fascinating series about his own religious tradition – Methodism. One of the many reasons I find it fascinating is that he is finding on his own doorstep some of the things he has been looking for in other traditions. It is a reminder to those of us who are nomadic that we should search in our own backyard before we wander further afield; but the grass elsewhere is notoriously greener than at home.
It raised in my mind the question of how much any of us know about our own tradition, which, in turn, raised the issue of how we learn what we learn about our Faith.
When my co-author was a child it was, he tells me, simple enough. At Sunday school he was taught the rudiments of Christianity; at school this was reinforced by compulsory assembly and by Religious Education lessons; at Church it was through the medium of sermons. Even as I was wondering quite how comprehensive that was, I found myself contrasting it with my own experiences.
I didn’t really go to Sunday school with any regularity; but that was more often than most of my contemporaries. Assembly at school was more often ‘inter-faith’ stuff, and whilst I learned what Eid was, I don’t think I learned a thing about the Pentecost; the same was true for religious education lessons; and the less said about sermons at church, well, the better. So, across two generations in the UK, we went from something which might be thought barely adequate to something which was clearly inadequate.
My own church runs the ‘Alpha programme’, which manages the remarkable feat of not mentioning Jesus on its front page; clearly its organisers think that would be off-putting although, to be fair, they make up for it later in the course – and at least they are trying. I looked at my local Catholic course for adults, and by comparison ‘Alpha’ looks like a degree course.
If our churches are not passing on their own traditions, and if fewer children are staying in the church into which they were baptised, then what does the future hold for Christianity? What are churches there for? If they are simply recycling Christians, going from one tradition to another until they find one they feel is authentic and fits them, then the work of evangelisation will dwindle. Where once Christians went out from the West to bring the Good News to the world, now they have difficulty bringing it to each other.
And yet, and yet, we should remember that once, an explosion in an upper room in Jerusalem would have wiped out most of the Christians in the world. The sense of sin which drives so many to search for something or someone to relieve it, has not vanished, despite all the modern attempts to persuade us that sin is simply a bad name for things we like a lot and know we shouldn’t. So what is needed?
The answer is provided by my friend, Servus Fidelis who reproduces a truly excellent argument about how to win the war against Satan; it is provided by crossingthebosphorus who explores what unites his tradition with others; it is provided by all of us if we do one thing – follow Christ and attempt to live as He would have us. We are, all of us, the Church, and if we set an example none would follow, then not all the courses invented by clever people will succeed.