Not for the first time, I ended the day reflecting that the comments to this blog are often better than the posts. The comment on my post two days ago by Alys summed up a particular, and widespread point of view very well:
The Church Of England is dying and will soon be completely dead thanks to weak leadership, female ordination, watering down of scripture and the word of God, identity politics and failure to recognise that the more it attempts to berelevant the less appealing it becomes to what should be its core membership.
That puts in very understandable terms what I have not only often heard, but also read, indeed as I said in my response, I was reading something from the Restoration period recently saying much the same, leaving out, of course, the reference to women’s ordination. Much the same was said in the period marked by Wesley’s ministry. Christianity, or at least the Church, is always about to die, and the leadership is usually at fault. You can’t be surprised, look at that Peter fellow, he even denied knowing Jesus. Has there ever been a time when the leadership,of the Church has been held in universal, or near universal, high regard? As for watering down God’s words, how clear could he have made it that certain foods were. It to be eaten? That Paul fellow claimed to have had a vision to the contrary, but we have only his word for it, and even he was willing to admit circumcising might be necessary. Things change, sometimes even the Church leadership is willing to see the Holy Spirit at work, as the Council of Jerusalem did over diet.
I jest, a little, because in truth, there have been those from the beginning convinced that the Church was going to the dogs and that its leaders were rubbish. Even St John faced break away groups from his church who claimed to know better than he did what Christ meant. It is a permanent feature of Christian life and isn’t going to change any time soon this side of Christ’s coming again in glory.
What did intrigue me was the idea of “core” membership. That set me thinking and rereading. I could see only one “core” in the teaching of Jesus, and that was the Jews. There were many occasions when Jesus made it clear that the ‘bread’ was for the Chosen People. Even among them, Jesus’ “core” was considered odd – his tendency to dine with wine-bibbers, tax collectors and fallen women was not well-regarded by the “core” membership of the synagogues, any more than that same group welcomed the evangelism of the disciples.
A Church that takes Jesus seriously has only one core, I thought, sinners. That’s all of us, and for all its failings as an institution, as long as there are sinners, there will be a Church. It may be that those who have laboured in the vineyard all day will look askance at those who came in the last hour, even as the elder brother had his views about how their father had treated the prodigal. But that’s Christianity for you, all that gratiutous love and grace. As I have been given freely, so I have received, and so I will give, or try to to others. It isn’t just the comfortable and the established who need to feel the church is for them – it is those who think it isn’t. Perhaps they are the “core”? At any rate, there are more than enough lost sheep to keep the shepherds busy.