When you mention the word church, what do you notice? I wonder whether people have a specific view, a certain perspective born from many year’s of understanding. This ‘wisdom’ may be drawn from the television, the papers and perhaps from some experience from their youth: of stuffy rooms, with a school-like atmosphere being taught a specific set of rules. This gives an impression of the church; hence, the people are seen as from that ‘church’. Yes, I know that ‘Church’, ‘ecclesia’ from Scripture, was supposed to mean the people of God and not the building, but often they are seen as one and the same.
How do we appear as a church?
I spoke with someone this morning who believed that the church was seen as one who make rules, rules which define our behaviour. In fact they were seen as the morality judge for society. This may be seen with marriage, which was discussed in my last post; however, we can see that our pathway of discerning divorce has developed over many years. Once, seen as a blight on society, a sign of breakdown, with the average length of marriage now 12 years, the occurrence of divorce has seen to generally plateau in recent years but is still much higher than the middle of the last century. How does the church now view such a period of people’s lives? Those times of rules and judgements, discipline and even ostracising from the church has, thankfully, changed. The Church has moved on such issues.
The Israelites were keen to ensure that the people would survive, hence a lot of Hebrew Scriptures focus upon codes for morality. Jesus, albeit a Jew, introduced a radical new perspective. There was a renewed focus upon God but not one of looking up but walking alongside a God of love and compassion – of Father, not Lord. This God was not one hidden behind a veil, seen only on certain days, but one whom we can speak with openly and freely. There was a relationship available with God. How radical was this? Have other religions or faiths proposed something similar? Hence I wonder whether the church is perceived as one that creates rules is really missing the boat somewhat…
I was walking along the Rochdale Canal last Sunday morning. It was freezing. There were few people walking in the town and the market was deserted bar for the stall holders setting out their wares, and not venturing far from their electric heaters. Our breath was evident as it lingered, pausing after leaving us before disappearing.
I stopped to look at the Canal. It struck me that it was completely frozen. There were some slices of bread laid ornately on the surface, held in precise positions in the ice. Leaves which had belatedly fallen from the overhanging were again set in place. It was these that gave me a reference point. As I looked, I saw that the leaves were close to being imperceptibly moving. It took some effort to stare, in the cold, at the top of the Canal to notice that it was really moving.
Then I noticed that I could also hear water. This apparent dichotomy: of frozen water and of hearing water moving, caused me to search for the origin of the noise. There, at one side of the canal, was an outlet. Here the water flowed, splashed and bypassed the locks.
The Canal, apparently frozen, was still flowing.
I wondered whether the Church might be seen in a similar light? Was our faith often seen as unchanging, frozen in time, not perceptively moving by society and possibly even by members of the church?
However, underneath, there was a flow of water, that faith which moves mountains.
Where is this element of church where their faith is not phased by the cold but wants to be free-flowing, capable of being diverted to flow around obstacles and make a joyful noise?
Our faith may be seen as traditional, viewed as in the past, historical and dated, but a new expression of faith could be evident, just below the surface. I wondered what society might see, how its perception might be changed, if they could see this element of the church, where rules are not the main issue but our loving relationship with God was key.