Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Problem of Relevance

It’s been three years now I’ve been trying to understand the problem the Anglicans are experiencing. And I’m not entirely sure, but I think I can articulate it now. It’s that they don’t know how to respond to someone who doesn’t find Christ particularly relevant to his life. Such a person – and they are legion in the UK as elsewhere – may well believe in God and perhaps in Jesus as well, but thinks, so what? Such a person has tried to read the New Testament, or has listened to it being read, and just can’t see any meaning in it that applies to his own life. Okay, so for example the Good Samaritan was a good guy; bravo to him. And?

Sure, says our hypothetical person to himself, Jesus had some nice ideas, but what have they to do with me? I already live a pretty good life, try to be nice to people, don’t do anything illegal, immoral, or fattening. (Well, fattening, maybe…) And I certainly don’t need to go to any boring church service to pray to Him if I want to, supposing I would know what to say.

The Anglicans don’t know how to address this issue. They think the problem is that their more traditional church services were boring and, running scared, they are trying every way they can imagine, however outlandish, to cure that. They have puppets and balloons and clowns and they even have what they call “Messy Church” where you can do all sorts of crafts.

I'm sorry, but this is pathetic!

Yet the people who promote all this sor of thing aren’t enemies of Christ, as I once supposed; they are in fact believers with strong emotional attachments to Christ, which they strive to pass on to others. They call it, “Getting excited about Jesus”.

Dear Anglicans, forgive me, but it seems to this observer you are addressing the wrong problem. And in the process, not only are you not attracting the younger generation; you’re inadvertently driving away even more people. The problem is not that your services were boring, but why they were: because the Christ those services presented was simply irrelevant. And your newer services, to be frank, are equally banal because they present the same basically irrelevant version of Christ. Putting make-up on Him doesn’t solve the problem. Presenting His real significance for every human life does.

So what is that significance? Well, Jesus is the Perfect Man, and only in emulating Him do we express and live and fulfill our own human nature. Jesus is not merely relevant but indispensible because it is only by following Him that we recover our full humanity. Obedience to Him is for our freedom and growth and fulfillment as men, as families, as societies. That is the very reason He has given us His commandments. He revealed His precepts for our sake, not His, because He loves us. And indeed, the path He has marked out for us eventually renders us not only complete, finished men, but even more than mere mortals; ultimately it is the path to becoming deified, as our participation in Christ deepens into a sharing with Him in the very inner workings of the Life of God, the Holy Trinity.

In a word, Christ IS your life and mine, and everyone else’s. He is the difference between really living and merely surviving. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)

Anglicans (along with so many others) seem to see following Christ simply in moral terms. It’s a desirable but largely optional by-product of salvation. And/or, the Christian Life is seen as something nice for those few who can do it, but “I couldn’t live that way.” Thus, the sober business of “Take up your cross and follow Me”, the very thing in which we discover Christ’s indispensible relevance, is also the very thing many Anglicans appear reluctant to preach – for fear of turning people off. Terrible irony!

But, beloved Anglicans, if you remember the proper understanding about following Christ – and it has as little to do with upholding a moral code as with getting excited about Jesus – and if you both preach and demonstrate (mainly in the saints you’ll produce) who we can beome when we follow the way of the Cross, then the Church of England will become again what she once was and what the Church is always meant to be: our lifeline to heaven, the umbilical cord conveying my life and yours to God’s Life, and His Life to us.

And then people will come, in droves, because this is the Life for which we were all made, to which our whole being is geared. This supernatural life, the life in Christ, is actually what is most natural for a human being, every human being, at his deepest level. Following Christ doesn’t so much result in salvation as it already IS salvation beginning here and now.

And then, if you preach and manifest this, such lesser issues as the style of worship and the genre of the music will all sort themselves out.


Unknown said...

You hit the nail on the head: What is going on in modern Anglicanism is pathetic.

When we Orthodox "dialogue" with Anglicans, we are often forced into using vocabularies and thoughts that are rooted only in individualism. But they fail to see that individualism is precisely the problem!

It's an exercise in futility.

Weekend Fisher said...

Amen. Nicely said.