During my recent sojourn in Jersualem (had I mentioned that I had been to Jerusalem? No! Sorry - thought I had) we sat and listened to a very senior Rabbi, British born, who has the ear of the Pope and Tony Blair (to some of you, both these names would indicate a poor man who needs help, but I encourage you not to be churlish). In short, he is a Rabbi who knows his stuff and is a very influential player in the Jewish-Christian dialogue.
His words, not mine: "We [the Chief Rabbinate of Jersualem] don't really want to deal with Evangelicals; they just want to love us to death. It is hard to sit in a room with people who are only interested in converting us".
In many quarters this is how all Christians are regarded, as a scythe-blade of supercessionists who are only happy when converting the world. I wanted to deny this assessment but then I thought back to just two experiences of my own:
1. When I was 19, and well beyond the point in my life when I felt a sense of calling, had put in 16 good committed years to church life, and had started to read Theology, I ambled into a church with a friend. It was a charismatic church, a superbeast of a place, but despite appearances I am a very open-minded chap, and my friend wanted to try the place out! Within an hour I had been identified, separated, and moved to a small room with three or four others - where I was invited to accept Jesus as Lord - they refused to accept my confession that I really was already spliced with Mother Church. Perhaps it is because I didn't put my hand up during the singing [I didn't need the toilet] that caused me to be identified. Needless to say I left - upset, vowing never to return to the place.
2. I was chatting to a homeless geezer who I used to help out with some electricity and provisions when he was selling Big Issue outside my emporium. He had told me of another Godshop that had invited him and a load of his mates in for a lovely hot dinner one hard winter. He gladly accepted, but while they ate, they were invited to accept Jesus as Lord, or [and I speak the truth] they would all end up in Hell. He had stood up himself to tell the swanky-suited sir that being homeless is as close to Hell as it gets, so it didn't matter if he accepted the invitation or not, really - but thanks for the chow!
It seems that most [yes, these days it seems to be 'most'] Christians are hell-bent on converting the world. Sixteen gazillion lovely people have been exposed to the Alpha Course (though I note that church numbers are still slipping, so where did they go? - a post for later), and mission after mission pop off like firecrackers
- but what are we converting these people to?
Our church is becoming polarised. If you aren't an Evanglical, you are more than likely going to be an Anglo-Catholic (until half their clergy bugger off - thanks boys, nice one ... not) - but very few are in the middle. The middle used to be a large swathe of church life where it seemed to me the real growing was taking part. It was the middle where the heat of charismatic worship and the correctness of catholic liturgy were set aside and nurturing took place. The middle is where families took their kids, where they did the prayers once in a while. The middle is where the sense seems to be spoken - the liberal view.
So what are we feverishly converting people to?
Christians have, I think become embarrassed about church life. We are so keen to specialise it that we have stopped some of the things that people know and love. Jumble Sales and Tombolas, Harvest Festivals and Cake Stalls have given way to Introduction Offers for the Newly Recruited - a course, some Tongues for some, a homegroup where you can properly intitiated and loved to death.
Then what .... ?
What then .... ?
Anwers on a postcard.