Where are we in history? We are promised that as followers of Christ, we will move from glory into glory. The censuses tell us there are fewer of us declaring ourselves Christian though. What’s gone wrong? The self proclamation of belonging to a church or faith system is diminishing and seemingly the system is diminishing in power and influence.
The picture to me is more complex than the statistics suggest. In history the instituted church has done its work it appears to me, and has served its function. Could it be we are in a new phase that won’t appear in a census and this phase has been quietly fermenting all along.
I see the church as having established a culture, a core understanding of mercy, beauty, selfless giving, forgiveness, restitution as justice, care for the poor, care for the widow, a common commitment to fairness for everyone. Where Christianity has been central to a society, the secular society is different. The incarnation of God in Christ has led to the embodiment of godliness and enabled pluralism and equality. Where the word of Christ has been preached we find the habitual virtues of faithfulness, hope and love as expectations.
By faithfulness we mean, that we rest in the faithfulness of the Divine who is righteous and true to his promises revealed to people close to his heart. There is truth. By hope, we live in the light that all will be well and all manner of things will be well; all is not lost in the troubles of the day. God is with us in trials, in pain, in disappointment, to hold us and sustain us. By love we understand a willing of the good for all in a non coersive, self giving, enemy loving way poured out to all. The rule of God is exercised through communities of people gathered in love.
Society that has this foundation of love born of the words of Jesus, has this root may hedge it around with laws and institutions. Democracy and the rule of law with an independent judiciary and a free press exist where Christianity has been. Christian society’s life blood is the heart of the people moulded by the word of Christ. The estates of nations are instituted by God. Christianity may have moulded these but the institutions are not God’s rule.
Is the new phase where those who draw succour from Christ bring life, without the rod of power? Could it be that in this phase we see the irrepressible growth of the truly catholic church? Is this where the glory increases, where the kingdom of God is revealed to be not of this world, where speaking truth to power is not having power?