To resurrect the church, try the gospel truth

Sep 15, 2023 by

by A N Wilson:

Faith thrives when worshippers are given Christianity in the raw rather than the liberalism of the CofE hierarchy.

Some weeks ago in The Times there was a survey conducted among a random selection of the clergy. Those who responded to the questionnaire largely appeared to wish that the Church of England would conform to the changes in the modern world. All seemed unutterably depressed by the falling away of their congregations.

[…]  Christianity is a very strange and a very difficult faith. It is difficult to believe, and it is even more difficult to do what we were asked to do last Sunday — take up the cross of Christ and follow. Yet, in spite of the gainsayers, I do rather wonder whether Britain is as secular as the sociologists of religion maintain. In churches that take the trouble to present a well-conducted liturgy, to preach the difficult and challenging faith of Christ, people still respond.

The evangelicals in the Church of England manage to fill churches. The splendid liturgy of the Western Rite attracts thousands every Sunday to the great oratory churches in Knightsbridge and Birmingham. Even the oft-repeated claim that there are no more vocations to religious orders is not completely true — the Blackfriars in Oxford have a flourishing novitiate.

There has never been a time when it was easy to believe that a loving creator allows the innocent to die in earthquakes or children to suffer from cancer. Since the feminist revolution, and the change in societal attitudes to sexuality, the churches undoubtedly face some problems. But I do not believe that either the sheer difficulty in believing at all, or the sexual revolution, is what keeps people away from church.

Christianity is not destroyed by rival ideologies, such as Darwinism. It is just slowly gnawed at by secularism, consumerism, the “strange disease of modern life”. To visit a church where they still offer business as usual is to be stimulated, as no secular equivalent can stimulate: disturbed as no drama or work of art could disturb.

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Letters to The Times in response to this article:

Sir, AN Wilson’s article in support of Christianity and in praise of his parish priest (“To resurrect the church, try the gospel truth”, Sep 14) will find echoes countrywide, including here in Surrey, where our parish church thrives and the work of its vicar and his team is widely appreciated as a source for good. Current ethical debates are not ignored — how could they be? — but more important is the attempt by church members (who once included a fondly remembered relative of Wilson’s) to keep things simple and follow as closely as possible the teachings of Jesus and his church.

Keith Havelock, Claygate, Surrey

Sir, I read with interest AN Wilson’s piece. Although extolling the power of “the strange and difficult faith” that underpins thriving congregations and insisting that the church is in effect conforming to the liberal “disease” of the world, he fails to articulate what the gospel, as he understands it, actually is. This leaves me rather disappointed given that the seven-word headline promises so much.

The Rev Canon Justin Dodd, Canon missioner designate, Sheffield Cathedral

Sir, The Church of England today generally offers no challenge, no threat. Some among its leaders are offering to tear up the rulebook in the blind and foolish belief that the empty pews will suddenly be filled with all those who, having been told that there is no judgment to come, will turn up on Sunday. Why should they, when there is so much of better appeal and quality to be found elsewhere? Judgment, we are told, will start with the household of God. Christians are called to be worthy of the kingdom. Is the image of the kingdom of God that some in the church try to offer worthy of anyone’s serious attention?

Richard Carter, Reader, Rochester diocese; Sittingbourne, Kent

Sir, What a delight to read AN Wilson’s comment article. He described the short sermon he had heard as “awe-inspiring”. Here lies the heart of the church’s current problems. As highlighted by the recent Times survey of Church of England priests, the church is constantly compromising and trying to please everyone.

The unvarnished message of the Christian gospel is not easy but its acceptance changes lives. Priests and ministers need to stop trying to defend the gospel and instead preach it in all its challenging simplicity.

AJ McKay, Eaglesham, Glasgow




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