I am more and more persuaded that the problems that we face in the Church of England stem from a collapse of faith. We no longer believe in God, we no longer know what we do believe in, and so we chase desperately after idols, hoping that one or other of them can fill the gap.
This will never happen. Between the idol and the Living God is an incommensurable distance.
Which idols am I thinking of? Here are some.
The idol of public acceptability, leading the Church to marry the spirit of the age, leading to inevitable widowhood.
The idol of ‘family’ as if the worth of the church can be measured by how far it can compete with Go Bananas.
The idol of intellectual respectability, as if conformity to Modernist rationalism is the acme of faith.
The idol of Herbertism, as if priesthood could be reduced to the niceness of middle class mores.
The idol of bureaucratic managerialism, as if ministry can be reduced to the manipulation of numbers and financial returns.
Let us not be naive. The worship of idols requires sacrifice – not the sacrifice of thanksgiving but the sacrifice of human flesh: burnt out pastors, spiritually impoverished congregations, human misery in myriad forms. Idol worship makes the church sick, and the sickness then infects the wider body of society.
We no longer know what we are here for. The old has definitely passed, and because we worshipped a particular cultural role, and enjoyed the importance that flowed from it, we didn’t notice when God left the building. We are reduced to more and more frantic efforts to rekindle flames but the world can see the difference between orange paper and that which burns.
The Living God is taking away all the things which we valued, in order that we might concentrate once again upon the one thing needful. This is an act of love, and it is only painful in so far as we fight it.
We need to let go – of all of it. All our inherited expectations of what church looks like, of what ministry looks like, of what worship looks like, of what Scripture and teaching looks like. We need to go out into the desert without looking behind at Egypt and Babylon. We need to trust much more joyously in the provision of the Living God.
We need to have our hearts broken open, so that the rocks might be replaced with flesh.
Woe to us. Woe to us. Come let us return to the Lord, for he has torn us and will heal us. I just think we need more tearing before we are ready for the healing.