There is much said at this time about ‘church growth’ but not what this might mean in today’s world…
In my view, the role of the church is to ‘Christianise society’, that is to say make real the values of the realm of God in the wider community and to celebrate that through Christ in partnership with the Spirit of God.
Accordingly our main priority should be the ‘Christianising’ of people and of culture, not in an exclusive, closed manner but of transforming the world into something more in keeping with what Jesus referred to as the basileia tou theou (the Kingdom or Reign of God) in our midst.
This reign is marked by how we grow in our human relationships with those around us – and especially in how we love one another into becoming more complete people. In particular, a God of justice demands that we be free from the chains of abuse, excess, fear and hatred.
It is a proclamation of the re-making of Israel (which is how basileia translates in Hebrew) – to revisit the partnership (or Covenant) which the people of God have with their Lord as the Creator of all life. In Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) various covenants clearly set out that human behaviour is to be strictly limited so that all are included. There is to be no racism, nor pollution, nor violence, nor neglect. The healing of brokenness and restoration of an equal sharing of abundance are top priorities.
Furthermore, there is a fundamental rejection of idolatry and a strong recognition of the danger that wealth and power have to possess us. In reality, all is temporal and gifted by the divine, and is to be used not for individual gain but rather to enhance social relationships of love and peacefulness through justice. Those who seek more for themselves are to be sent away empty.
The ecological, economic and social pressures the Earth and its inhabitants face call for radical change. The signs of the times that we need to read suggest that humanity is facing unprecedented challenges and in these circumstances surely the church needs to be as counter-cultural as its originators were? If across the world lights are dimming we may need to seek new sources of light rather than to try and replace ageing light bulbs.
There are examples of hope in our society – the Together Network, citizens’ organisations, Transition movements, liberation groups, resource-sharing, community energy, food and money schemes, collective housing projects, circular local economies, replenishment of habitats, eco-villages and human scale urban regeneration. The church needs to engage more deeply with these movements and set out an alternative social vision to conventional growth in GDP and amoral consumerism.
If the fruits of the Spirit are peace, creativity, compassion, wholeness, cooperation, integrity, can we not work with others to develop a world which is based on these values? We do not all have to be baptised communicants to become more complete human beings. We are Christians in order to become better humans, not humans in order to become better Christians.
It is in loving one another in principled and practical ways in our communities and countries that we respond to Jesus words of promoting a fuller quality of life for all. As Christians we believe each of us in created in the divine image and that it is right to grow into that image. Whatever or whoever prevents this is unrighteous or unjust – including poor health, inequalities of income and opportunity, ecological destruction and the exploitation of the weak and vulnerable.
Of course we trash the Earth if we do not see it as our common home. But poverty, climate collapse, tribalism or social marginalisation are not inevitable. They are the consequences of a distorted society which stresses the importance of individual acquisitiveness not the common good. In biblical terms this hardness of heart and closure of mind is sinful and not acceptable. Those who are not acquisitive are to be welcomed not ridiculed, because they point out both our own inadequate moral choices and the imperative of living differently.
Or in the words of the Millennium Resolution from 16 years ago:
Let there be respect for the Earth
Peace for its peoples
Love in our lives
Delight in the good
Forgiveness for past wrongs
And from now on a new start
All best wishes – Martyn