“The Church will always be there.” This sort of thing is often said when there’s news that numbers in our churches have fallen again. It has just been announced that attendance at Sunday services over the country have fallen below one million. I do believe that there will be Christians on earth right up until the whole thing goes bang, but I also believe that it will be a very different sort of Church to what most people are used to or picture in their minds when they hear the word. My fear is that it is said by those with an ostrich mentality who are ignoring the signs of what is really happening in the world.
This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and ends this weekend; the week of prayer that is, not the unity! The unity of Christians is in fact unassailable. For those who believe in Jesus Christ and the eternal life to be found in him and the acceptance of a God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit we are already as one and joined to one another across the whole planet and united with all those already with God in Heaven. Unfortunately down the centuries, just as all human beings have an unfailing knack for, so Christians of different persuasions fall out. There have been the tensions between Roman Catholics and Protestants crystallised in the troubles in Northern Ireland. There have also been historic troubles which caused groups to flee to the land of the free, America, thus creating the USA.
Sadly it’s not all historic as even today we have groups of Christians who refuse to talk to other Christians over some difference in approach to one theological or ethical issue or other. Last week the leaders of the Anglican Communion worldwide, of which the Church of England is just one part, issued a statement highlighting some of the differences. Different parts of the Church are more liberal than others and it is all too easy for those differences to cause painful splits and divisions. It is so important for Christians, and in fact all human beings to learn to accept one another’s differences without resorting to a desire to annihilate!
So at the end of this week of prayer churches all over are holding services inviting all Christians together to worship God. At Hellingly we have a service at 5.30pm and welcome all to come and worship together. Only as Christians truly unite do we stand a chance of being an effective and relevant force in a world where our faith is under threat. If we cannot express our unity, which Jesus himself prayed for, then we deserve to fail!