Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Yeats’ lines, written at the end of the Great War, have resonated across the century which has passed since then.
For Western Christians life has actually been remarkably easy. It is quite difficult to think of a time when things have been easier for us. Our societies have become wealthier and the spread of that wealth has become better, if still hardly even. Health care has improved, and until recently, so had the economic circumstances of most people. Yet, in Europe at least, the Churches have been relentlessly marginalised.
That, at least, is the story, and like all stories, it has something of the truth in it. I am not sure quite what people mean when they the Church has been marginalised. If they mean that attendance at Church has shrunk, then that is certainly so. If they mean that the institutional church is no longer at the centre of political and social life, I am inclined to wonder when it ever was – at least in the last couple of hundred years? Yes, in the Middle Ages that was the case, but here in the UK it has not been so for centuries now.
That is not the same as saying that it has no influence, it is simply trying to put things into perspective. Perspective is a problem for us because we live one relatively short life, and we seem to be hard-wired to believe that the times in which we live are most important there ever were. I have written something about this on Neo’ blog, where I quote Gandalf’s words to Frodo when the latter says he wishes he did not live in such a time:
So do I,’ said Gandalf, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’
We can suffer all the existential angst we like, and we can find in Yeats’ lines fuel for our own sense of loss and confusion, but for those of us who are Christians we might recall, as one of my favourite commentators there and here Mike Sweat: ‘Might that we only follow that Star a little more openly… the world was once turned upside down by a small group of followers who did so.’ What influence did that Church have back then, and how many Christians were there?
Why should we then despair? The evidence of our sinfulness lies all around us, but the remedy is also there. We begin the reformation with our own heart, and once we do that, we become part of His family, and we should remember that only God gives the increase. We rely upon ourselves too much and despair; we should rely more on Him – and hope.