Reinvigorated Hope in the Church

Recently, my hope in the Church was reinvigorated. I would not go as far as saying it was renewed; I already had a good deal of hope in the Church and I am generally enthusiastic about its future. I would be lost without the Church as a place where I can reorient myself towards what matters – a living relationship with a living God – each week and gain a sense of perspective. Attending church represents the start of the week for me.

Yet for anyone who has moved in church circles for any length of time will know, it is possible to become disillusioned by the Church. I also believe that external attitudes towards the worldwide church are currently negative. The Church is held to a standard of perfection which it seeks but does not pretend to attain; any blemish is laid bare by the press for all to see. Its internal debates, which are bravely held in a reasonably open arena, are seized upon. Traditional, orthodox views on ethical issues of the day are dismissed as benighted – and ridiculed. Even within the Church, we can write ourselves off: pointing to declining attendances in the West.

So, what reinvigorated my hope in the church? Mainly two services on consecutive days, which I shall briefly describe.

The first one was the ordination of a good friend. Although only in his twenties, over the years, he has discerned God’s call on his life towards full-time ministry. After three years training in seminary, he became a reverend along with nine others at a ceremony. Several other such ceremonies took place on this day across the UK.

The second one was the licensing of another friend and former colleague to a new internal position. She came to full-time ministry in her forties after a career in social work. After three years in a training ministerial role (curacy), she moved into this new more experienced role which had become available.

Two different people: different gifts, different personalities, different biological sexes, different ages, different stages but both ordained for significant ministries in places where I am confident that, with the help of God, they will flourish.

I came away from both events with my hope in the Church reinvigorated. Not just on account of these two individuals – as brilliant as they both are – but calling to mind others who had supported them at various stages in the process: friends, family, theological educators, clergy, laypeople from many different congregations. Of course, it hadn’t been all plain sailing; of course, it won’t all be plain sailing going forward; but God, who is consistently in the business of transforming and strengthening, had been faithful.

Before the ordination, there was a beautiful rendition of a recent song with which I was somewhat but not overly familiar: Simple Pursuit (originally written by Worship Central, but also popularised by Passion).[1] Since then, I have listened to it often. It was a perfect song for such a service for at least two reasons.

Firstly, its opening: “God, take us back, the place we began, the simple pursuit: of nothing but you”.

For ordinands who had journeyed a long way and were about to set out on a lifetime of ministry, this would have been a helpful reminder. Indeed, it serves as a reminder to any disciple of Jesus of the simple pursuit, “the making the main thing (God) the main thing”, not forsaking our “first love”, as one church in Scripture is memorably exhorted (Revelation 2:4).

Secondly, the particularly melodious line of the bridge: “A church that is known for your presence again, God take us back…”

Such a pursuit happens within and from the Church. I have recently spent some time reading a thesis on Ephesians and, through it, I have been reminded of the centrality of the Church in this letter. In broad terms, the relationship between a husband and a wife is likened to the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). It is a wonderful passage, but it is perhaps not the easiest to interpret – not least because both relationships have an air of mystery (Eph 5:32).

At bottom, however, the Church is the bride of Christ. Her goal is to work towards ‘the edification of the body of Christ … oneness of faith and knowledge of the Son of God’ (Eph 4:12).[2] Very often we, the Church, have fallen far short of this. As is often joked, instead of being the beautiful bride of Christ, we resemble a pig wearing make-up. It might not be God that so many people reject as much as the Church – and that is understandable. We are not the perfect man, Christ, the head of the Church; but we are called to work towards attaining ‘a measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Eph 4:13).

This involves everyone working together and using their different gifts. Within the context of the Church, these are described as ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers’ (Eph 4.11). Everyone, whether ordained or not, who has received Christ, will have a gifting in at least one of these areas in Church ministry.

I returned reinvigorated: particularly thankful for those who have listened to God’s voice and offered themselves for full-time ordained ministry. Moreover, I am hopeful that there is a generation of people living for Christ, ordained and not ordained, with various gifts, who will take the Church forward and on track with the simple pursuit: loving God and ushering in the presence of God. Such a Church would indeed be good news for the whole world.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STnw7OpPhkc

[2] My own translations.

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