Gifts for the World
The UK 2021 census showed, for the first time, that less than half the population of England and Wales describe themselves as ‘Christian’. The URC has declined from 190,000 at its inception to under 50,000 now.
Around Christmas and perhaps Easter there’s a surge of churchgoing, whether out of sentiment or conviction, but the overall truth seems to be that for the great majority of the British public, traditional Christian beliefs and practices convince and appeal less and less.
Should we therefore, some Christians ask, rethink our faith asking whether those who in the fourth century and under pressure from the Roman Emperor Constantine, got it right. Theology apart, I believe our response to the stark reality should be to discern and then share what, in essence, Jesus offered humanity to enable it to flourish. What were his crucial gifts to the world?
I suggest these gifts – derived supremely from his life and ministry – were: a glorious vision, world-transforming values, and crucial clues to spiritual vitality without which neither vision nor values can take off.
Fired by the stirring dreams of his forefathers in faith, Jesus offered his own vision of a world filled with the all-pervading creative, transforming and inspiring energy we name ‘God’. His overarching metaphor for this vision was, of course, the Kingdom (or Rule) of God)
It is Jesus’s values and their acceptance by which God’s rule is established.. Building on his Jewish faith, Jesus both lived the vital values and highlighted them in his teaching. These special values include: true happiness (poetically listed in the Beatitudes – and contrasting sharply with those bombarding us at Christmas); true wealth (riches of soul, character and relationship rather than money, property and possessions), true greatness (movingly illustrated when Jesus washed his disciples feet).
To sustain his own vision and embody his own values, Jesus regularly sought a quiet place to relax, reflect and pray – to offer mind and heart to the invigorating spiritual vitality derivable from God, symbolized in different ways, and named the Holy Spirit, an inner power, he taught, available to all.
It’s surely clear that the world today, as ever, needs: Christlike Vision; Christlike Values; and Christlike Vitality.
How we promote Jesus’s extraordinary vision, outstanding values and crucial vitality in an unpromising, in some ways hostile, environment is another story. But I do believe Free Churches like this have a crucial role. Free from the shackles of questionable creeds and outdated practices, we should highlight what happened between Jesus’s birth and death when, vitalized by the Holy Energy of God, he shared his glorious vision and its ever vital values.
Revd Edward Hulme