There is a lot of talk these days about Church. Where’s it all going? What happened the Church of our childhood? Will there be a Church for our grandchildren? What will remain, if anything? There has been so much change. Surely the Church could not die? It might be better to get this last one out of the way first. The Church has lasted two thousand years. It is God’s Church, it is the Church founded by Jesus, therefore it cannot die. God is always with his Church and so it cannot possibly come to an end, right?
Well yes and no. Of course it is true that the Lord is with the Church. ‘I am with you always, yes, even to the end of the ages’. Yet with all this, we know that the Church that has thrived in certain parts of the world has at other turns been wiped out. This has happened at times because of the most horrendous of persecutions. However we should never underestimate the insidious power of a materialistic culture, or the corrosive indifference that often comes with being too cosy, too comfy.
Could it be that the Lord, the Creator of the World, wants us to be involved with him as builders and maintainers of his Church? Is there a sense that he wants us to be his co-workers? Is this not directly connected with the fact that he became one of us. Is it not central to our baptism? Are we not his hands and feet? It is against this backdrop that we must see the danger in throwing up our hands and saying no matter what happens, indeed no matter how little we do, the Church will survive. This could be the ultimate in letting ourselves of the hook! If we recognize this we then begin to see that we are called to use our gifts and talents, our energy in being active
workers for the Kingdom.
All that said, and presuming the Church will survive, what of the Church of tomorrow? Many will say of this question that we simply cannot know, that it’s all in God’s hands. Of course this too, is true. However we have more than a few clues. It seems all over the world and throughout the ages when the Church has suffered persecution it begins to thrive afresh. It would appear that being rich and powerful and comfortable does not sit well with a healthy Church. Actually it is more stark than this, it is clear that when the Church gets really powerful and successful it often becomes corrupt and ultimately unwell. The unbridled powerful Church quickly loses humility and becomes puffed up with pride. Before we know it we have moved from being the servant to wanting to be served. In some ways it’s understandable, part of the human condition, and a short hop from being on our knees washing dirty feet to getting ensconced on the fat cushion on the big chair.
Of course the real ‘clues’ to the Church of tomorrow lie in the life and teaching of Jesus. In his teaching we have clues in mustard seed and yeast. Very small but very potent. Could it be that we as a Church will be smaller and yet more passionate about Jesus. Smaller but alive, on fire. In the life of Jesus we see that he has a preference for the company of sinners, and clearly a special love for the sick. Maybe that tells us that the Church of tomorrow will acknowledge its own fragility and brokenness. Could it be that we will be smaller, on the edge, amongst those who others despise.
If, and I believe, when this happens we will be somewhere between the stable in Bethlehem and the Cross on Calvary. At that stage we will be more than ever, Church. Church as in vibrant faith community in imitation of Christ. Church alive and active in the world. Church as Christ present in the world.