Advent is a season of waiting – but also of watching. No man knoweth the time, we are told, and so we watch for them. Of wars, and rumours of war, of the distress of nations and their breaking, there is no end; in this fallen and broken world it is bound to be so. Do we ask why? Have we no shame? Have we no insight into our interior lives? Can we not see from that why the world is as it is? Our small sins which do small damage in our small lives would, given the chance, be large ones and do greater damage; we have no spiritual health in us. Yet God reconciled us to Him even whilst we were his enemies, and once we have received him, in our hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving, we are saved by his sacrifice. But this world remains what it is, and it is in permanent enmity with the Lord and his followers; how could it not be so – the dark hates the light.
What other explanation than the Fall can there be for the refusal of so many in our society to accept the sacrifice the Lord made on their behalf? One of them has to be the witness so many of us offer to the hope that is in us. How often, when talking to folk, have I heard them say that such and such a thing done by ‘the church’ has ‘put them off’. Very often it is not, when you pursue the conversation, the big things. Yes, folk cite things like ‘the Inquisition’ and the burnings at the stake, but when you get into it, it isn’t these long ago happenings, which I think only come to mind because they are out there is the culture and are an easy answer. It is almost a kindness, because if you can draw folk out, it gets a bit more personal: it is the censoriousness, it is the kill-joy quality people see in many Christians; and it is the divisiveness.
We hold information sessions for those who are enquiring into the faith – no point doing our Saturday street preaching if there’s no follow-up for those interested – and one of the things which is always said is ‘what’s the difference between you and the church off the high street?’ That church is the Church of England parish church. The vicar does that, and six other churches locally; when I was a lad the vicar did just that church and the other six had their own vicars, and folk got some religious education at school. All of that is now gone. It may be a self-selecting sample, but not one of those who come to us has any idea what the C of E is, or, for that matter, what a Baptist is (though they somehow know we only baptise adults), and as for Catholics, they know they ‘follow the Pope’ – but beyond these simple generalities, they know nothing. Not one of them ever talks about the love and generosity they have seen any Christians they know evince.
We deliberately avoid any sectarianism in our classes. Rudimentary knowledge is so wanting that we do what I suspect the first Christians did – we talk about our experience of the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus. That almost always hits home, as folk want to talk about what is on their consciences. I’ve lost count of the number who, once they’ve ben able to open up, come to Christ through that process. Which Church they go to is up to them – many choose to remain with us, but that, I think, is simply because they feel at home where they first came. It is not indifferentism, it is a recognition that God calls us and we come. Those who think otherwise, fine, but my question is a simple one – how many people have come to the Lord through the Spirit by your own favoured method and through your help?