Thank you heaps to the commenters to last Monday's post. With vim and vigour, intellect and insight, experience and exegesis, you have exemplified what Anglican blogging ought to be ... every post!
The reality in my experience has been that some posts occasion very few or even no comments, and others generate lots of comments because they are about That Topic.
So, it has been very pleasing to have lots of thought provoking discussion generated by simply raising the question, Why people are not coming to faith today in a Western country such as New Zealand.
But do these erudite and energetic comments help me if (say) I were to write a book called The Secret to Success: 21st Century Church Growth?
Yes and no.
Yes, there are explanations for growing churches within the comments made during the past week.
No, the subject of Christian faith, why people are drawn to it, and how we might maximise the drawing in factors turns out - according to some comments - to be a complex matter, admitting to no simple, adoptable formula.
For instance, while I read some comments as helping us to identify that churches X, Y and Z are likely to grow and churches A, B and C are not, I do not see that any comments conveyed a confidence that such growth would grow the Christian faith as a whole in a country such as NZ.
Put another way, it is observable here in NZ that despite the success (compared to other churches) of the Catholic, Pentecostal and (to use a controverted word) conservative mainline churches, the percentage of Kiwis believing in God continues to decline (according to successive censuses) and (as best I can tell via some anecdotes and some data) the numbers of Kiwis regularly in church on Sundays is static (if not declining).
That we might agree on how to grow churches would not be the same as finding the secret to restoring Christianity to its majoritorian glory days in Christendom.
In sum there is a lot to ponder in the discussion to last week's post. Here are a few ponderings from me:
1. The role of God in the world and in the church is a mystery
Why is there suffering? Why is Christianity divided when Jesus prayed for its unity? Shouldn't God be doing something about it? (This week as I write, questions involving both God and suffering are highlighted by the renewed war between Israel and Palestine, fuelled in part by religious motivations and motifs)
Answer to all such questions: we do not know.
But here are a set of questions to which we do know the answer, and the answer is Yes.
Should we do what we can to alleviate suffering?
Should we work for Christian unity rather than disunity?
Should we be praying to God, Your kingdom come?
For all the diversity within Scripture, the differences of views on what Scripture means and so forth (as highlighted in the discussion thread below), actually, a number of things are perspicacious!
But, agreed, exactly what God is up to in the fraught situations of the world and in the fragmentation of the church, it is a mystery.
2. There is more to the church than meets some eyes
An immeasurable number of people have been disappointed by innumerable ways in which the church has failed them. And that there are so many church denominations is a travesty and a tragedy (because almost certainly our fragmentation is a stumbling block to belief).
Nevertheless the church is good for something - I reckon - and it is this: people gather together and tell the story of God's work among humanity, especially the story of God becoming human in Jesus and sharing our flawed and frail life, and the telling of the story includes the insights of past tellings, and thus the church today is blessed by the church of yesterday, most especially when we open the Bible and pray the liturgy.
The church holds the treasure of the Good News, the Good Story of God in Christ. It is a mighty treasure and it is a privilege to gather week by week if not day by day with fellow sinners to talk about God's kindness and generosity towards us.
Doesn't the treasure, the pearl of great price the church holds, outweigh the shortcomings?
3. Abundant life in Christ requires a rich theological imagination
A number of comments in the discussion below lament the thinness of our understanding of God, of what God has done for us and what God has in store for us.
Having created us, God invites us on a journey full of feasting and fascination. We've rejected the invitation and spurned God and God has not given up on us. Through Christ God dies for us that we might live - live that life full of feasting and fascination. Justification by faith is, we could say, the entry door to this life, but not the whole of it. The fascination lies in the inexhaustible depth of being Father, Son and Holy Spirit have, as Persons and in their Union-of-Being. The feasting is the communion we participate in with them.
Isn't a significant point to Scripture that it offers a thousand insights into this fullness of life in God?
Who cares if we debate Scripture and cannot agree. Scripture is more than an argument over which we argue. Scripture is invitation and inspiration, fuelling our desire for God and leading us ever deeper into the still water of God's oasis of life.
Will we see this? Do we have the theological imagination to envision how deep and wide and long and high is God's love for us and the logical consequence of God's inexhaustible love? That there is an abundant life to be lived in the spacious security of that love.
Whether or not the world beats a path to the door of the church, isn't it worth living the abundant life God wants us to lead?