He tabernacled among us too


A baby, a scandal and a heavenly host

Merry Christmas! I must confess this is the first year I’ve ever celebrated Christmas fully. My first Nativity play in Church, my first Christmas Day service, the first time I’ve had Advent Candles lit; the first time I’ve sang Carols each Sunday. I have been to a few Watchnight Services before, but always in a sense as a spectator.

My old Church did not celebrate Christmas, or indeed any of the Church Calendar. In fact, though people are shocked, Scotland didn’t celebrate Christmas until recently. It was in the mid-1950s that Scotland took December 25th as a public holiday. Up until then it was a normal day. As a consequence of the Oxford Movement (which was an Anglican one) impacting the Church of Scotland slowly Christmas Trees began to appear in church buildings, even a certain element of liturgy and slowly Advent, Watchnight Services and special Christmas services. Much to the bemusement of the nation. Now people are shocked with the idea that some Christians don’t celebrate Christmas.

I remember people saying to me around this time “My, this is your busy period isn’t it?” To which I’d usually smile, but say to myself “not really! Its pretty much business as usual!” Nowadays, the only denominations in Scotland that do not officially celebrate Christmas are: The Free Church of Scotland, The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Associated Presbyterian Churches and the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). Additionally some Independent congregations (some Reformed Baptists and the like) may not either. The largest of these denominations – the Free Church (my old denomination) – however is the most lax in its observation of the old way. The vast majority of Free Kirkers will celebrate Christmas at home, identically to anyone else. Trees, presents, carols even. Most APC would as well. Among the FCC there would be many for whom Christmas is a family holiday. Amongst the FPs however, it would be extremely rare for much observation even in the home for such a holiday. Instead, traditionally New Year would be a bigger holiday. Presents would traditionally be exchanged either on the 26th or New Years Day and to my knowledge that would be commonly observed today. Nigh universally amongst the FPs, Christmas Cards are not exchanged – certainly not with a ‘Christian’ message and instead New Year cards are given. This would be common amongst the FCC as well, though I have received Christmas Cards even from FCC ministers before so its obviously more mixed. Amongst the APC and Free Church most would send Christmas cards, though I remember having to be careful to give the right type of card to the appropriate people!

Recently I was asked why this is all is?! First, it is nothing to do with a disbelief in the Virgin Birth or the birth accounts in the Gospels. All four denominations – and their spiritual forefathers before them – held to a strict understanding of the veracity of the literal, historical, miraculous virgin birth and Gospel accounts. Ironically, some who now are the most ardent celebrants of Christmas in the Church do doubt or plain disbelieve the truth of the accounts. So, it needs to be made clear that non-observance of Christmas as a religious feast/festival, does not deny the truth of the event, nor its significance.

Instead, it is a fundamental disagreement over the whole ‘Church Calendar’ at all. Christmas, Easter, Saints Days, etc. were all put out at the Reformation. Feasts and Festivals of the Dark Ages were abolished. Instead the Reformers understood that there was only one ‘Feast Day’ to be kept by the Christian Church – that established at Creation and reconstituted with the Resurrection – the Second Creation – of Jesus: the Lord’s Day, Christian Sabbath, first day of the Week. The only celebration commanded in the New Testament, the only act of remembrance was the Lord’s death and not his birth. Thus the Feast commanded is the Lord’s Supper, Communion or the Eucharist. Thus, though the Birth is crucial in terms of prophetic fulfillment, establishing how the Second Person of the Trinity took on human flesh and explaining how the Atonement could be accomplished, and how it impacts us today in fellowship with the Creator God, there is little discussion of the Birth outside the Gospel narratives. No indication that the Early Church celebrated it in an organised form. The fact that we have no immutable indication of the time of year Jesus was born (but almost certainly not December 25th – more probably June or July), nor what year (again, almost certainly not or 1AD!) indicates that it is not a commanded part of the Church’s life. Depending on your view of the Regulative Principle (that we only do what God explicity commands in worship and avoid not only what he forbids but anything he has not commanded) all of these facts will determine your importance of celebrating Christmas as a religious event.

There is another side to it all however – the issue of evangelism and unity. People are more aware of Jesus at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Everyone (almost) is happy to hear carols telling the story (with varying degrees of accuracy) and, given it is a ‘warm’ and friendly time of year the whole story makes people feel good. This is a huge problem as well as a huge opportunity – but I’ll ignore the problem side just now! It’s a good opportunity for the Church to buy into society’s acceptance of Jesus at this time. To point out the reality of the story, the importance and the implications of the story for them and us all today. To guide people to Jesus who grew up and who makes claims on who they are and how they stand in relation to him. Its a great opportunity to speak God and his activity in the world into the terrors and horrors of our planet – ‘God is there and is not silent’. Its also for me a good opportunity to share in the outward, visible unity of the Church. We regard the Virgin Birth as a fundamental doctrine, acknowledged in all the Creeds. It is one of the few points of unity for the major branches of the Christian Church – even if all the branches don’t celebrate Christmas Day on the 25th of December, which isnt that important – and therefore is an opportunity for us to share fellowship and worship together. This happens too infrequently. The fellowship and opportunity of Christmas should be used to share the Gospel together and the importance of it in our expression as one Body, one Baptism, one Spirit, one Faith – and as a step towards the unity Jesus prayed for in the High Priestly prayer (John 17) and that will be finally, perfectly achieved in Glory.

So, with all its issues and problems, I am happy to say: Merry Christmas – Emmanuel, God with us.

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Planting a seed (of hope?)

DSC00138I have to say I don’t have green fingers. I wish I did, and I am beginning to get into the garden now. I love plants and growing up always enjoyed getting in on the action in the garden, whether it was the vegetable patch, the pond or just general planting.

But I confess to hating all the ground work necessary in gardening. I wanted the veg, but didn’t want the soil preperation, working in the manure and soil conditioner. I enjoyed watching the wildlife enjoy the flowers but hated weeding.

Now its back to that feeling again! We’ve a long border that has had nothing planted in it for years – certainly since we moved in 2 years ago and its been over-run with weeds. But the soil is dreadful. Its very heavy and when it rains the clay-soil just clumps together. With all the weed roots in amongst this its just a nightmare. The lazy part of me (which is very loud) thought we should just biosheet it and put new top soil on top – i.e. start again and then plant stuff. However sense has prevailed. Brian has turned over the soil a couple of times but now we are both doing it its much easier – go figure!

So the other day we got manure and soil conditioner. We planted a himalayan poppy from Gran’s garden. And after another few turns of the soil it feels so much better its not real. The clay is still there, but the difference is incredible after some hard work. This afternoon I’ve planted some sunflower seeds. In 14-21 days (in theory!) there should be some life showing and then over time, there will be a beautiful plant to bring enjoyment.

However, looking at the soil now there is no indication of anything happening. The seed is buried and until life shows its head in a few weeks time. Its a risk.

The resurrection was described in these terms in the New Testament. But it also made me think about the current period of “prayerful dialogue” that is to be engaged in the Church of Scotland over the place of homosexual people within the life and ministry of the National Kirk (and membership as well).

Currently, the soil is a bit of a mess. The Church is divided. The broadness of the Church has been a strength and a weakness. There is little if anything that links one extreme with the other. They don’t have a shared understanding of God, salvation or the Church. The one Spirit, one Faith, one Baptism model just isn’t evident. I can take the analogy too far – but just like my soil which is clay-ey, the groups within the CofS clump together and ignore those with whom they are different from. This makes them feel better, but it doesn’t produce productive ground.

So the soil needs prepared. I think this is the start of the “prayerful dialogue”. It means hard work and adding in some matter that hasn’t been there, that is negelected. I would propose that this matter is several-fold:
1) Work out why we believe what we do
This involves looking at our preconceptions. For example, is our position because of how we view Scripture, or our experiences, sense of jusice/natural law, science etc.
2) Listen
We don’t need a monlogoue, we need a dialogue – where everyone is heard. Everyone is inclusive. There are people I don’t want to listen to! Perhaps because I’ve listened before or because I presume to know what they are saying. Acknowledge that and move on.
3) Be open and honest with our narratives
Once we listen people are more willing to listen to us and our stories. Of course, the point of you listening isn’t that you then get to speak. Listening means actually listening, not sitting there waiting for them to finish so you can give your side. Its like the Hebrew word “shema” – “Hear O Israel…” repeated in the Divine voice from heaven at the Transfiguration “Listen to Him” The root means not just physically listen but listen and obey. Well in dialogue we must listen and act/take in/understand.

Of course, in the question of the “prayerful dialogue” and the 2 years of debate, some have given a heads up that they are unwilling to enter into debate. For them, they “know” what the Bible says and “know” what their opponents say. There is nothing to discuss. I find that very difficult, particularly because many of those are “naturally” my brothers and sisters in our understanding of the theology of the Bible, Trinity and fundamentals. I also find it difficult because I held their position re. sexuality. After studying, listening and praying I changed my position, realising I had been wrong. I had a vested interest in the topic, as I had struggled with my sexuality – and so am obviously accused of changing to suit myself. If I had been straight it is unlikely – to my shame – that I would have sat down and looked at the issue which I took for granted. That is why I find “straight-allies” so utterly amazing.

The debate is the poorer for the unwillingness of some to enter into discussion; those who refuse to engage in dialogue are also the poorer for it. Of course, many within the conservative evangelical camp are willing to dialogue which is fantastic and essential.

Its not a one sided problem either. Many within the inclusivist camp (evangelical or liberal) are unwilling to listen or dialogue. Both sides want their own understanding to become the stated position of the Church. Dialogue is risky for both sides – it can lead to chaging our minds after all – thats one of the dangers of listening! It can also lead to you understanding with the other side, even if you don’t end up agreeing with them. And lastly, it can lead to compromise.

Only when we enter into this line of dialogue will the seeds grow for the benefit of the organic unity of the Church of Scotland. Its not just the conservatives that need to listen, the inclusivists need to listen as well. Its not only the inclusivists that need to understand their ‘opponents’ its the conservatives as well.

Planting seeds is always risky. All that work in preperation, watering, tending and in the end there may be no fruit. But its a certainty that there will be no fruit if we don’t do all the hard work. Are we willing to develop green fingers?


Confessing Christ

DSC01025
luther“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point that the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages fiercely is where the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point”. (Martin Luther)

The “Fellowship of Confessing Churches” – a potential church within the Church of Scotland posts this quote by Martin Luther on its homepage, without comment. The FoCC has been set up to specifically address the issue surrounding gay Christians in the ministry of the CofS and conversely elders and members as well.

Clearly the interpretation of the FoCC of Luther’s statement is that they are both professing Christ and confessing Christ in standing on the platform that same sex relationships are not only unacceptable but that being part of one excludes you from being a Christian – i.e. destines you to hell.

Of course, for all Christians it is of huge concern that someone lives a lifestyle that excludes them from the Kingdom of God. That is indeed something to stand against and to urge people not to descend into, or to come out of it in repentance. The difficulty is that many of us disagree with the premise of the FoCC and disagree that same sex relationships fall into that scenario. Indeed, one wonders biblically what – other than the unforgiveable sin – would ultimately and completely exclude someone from God’s Kingdom.

Now, for those who genuinely struggle with the issue of homosexuality – whether it is something they personally have internal struggles with, or more generally are unsure about whether it is biblical or not – Martin Luther’s statement can send a chilling shock down the spine. If that chill sends us back into the arms of the Father to ask “what is truth on this subject” then I have no problem with it at all! After all, doubt, confussion, fear are all useful if it drives us into a closer relationship with God. My problem with using this quote is if it drives fearfulness, outward conformity and is used for control and sadly, bulying.

Anyone can use such a quote to defend their own position against another group of Christians. I could turn it round and say that the issue where the devil is attacking the Church most today is adding to the requirement of faith alone, that law not grace is what is important, that outward conformity is more important than real internal heart change. In that context the FoCC are the ones not confessing Christ, and those of us calling for the inclusion of “All” are the ones both professing and confessing. And of course, I argue that is the case!

Luther’s great contribution to Christian history was his unwavering commitment – and indeed radical rediscovery – of justification through faith alone. It is the article of a standing or falling Church. This vein of grace and hope runs deep and true throughout the Bible from Creation to Revelation, indeed Creation to Consummation.

However, it begs the question if his quote is correct. I confess that I do not know the context of the statement. The Reformed Church – indeed all Christian Churches – has fared badly when she leaves the road of defending the broad, fundamental truths of Scripture and sallied out to spend much energy and effort regarding “little points”. Of course, the problem with “little points” is everyone has one.

I remember the story, told by Rev Dr Sinclair Ferguson, of the British student at Westminster Theological Seminary in the USA. He was to preach and Sinclair went to hear him. His text for the morning was 2 Kings 5:1 –

“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper”

His 3 points for the sermon were: 1) Everybody has a but, 2) Some people’s buts are bigger than others and 3) You can see other people’s buts but you can’t see your own!! His American congregation (hearing butt instead of but) were in hysterics.

The student for the ministry was right though! With the formation of the FoCC the debate has reopened in the Free Church to organic union with evangelicals in the Church of Scotland. After all, the Free Church is the obvious ally (whether in its present form or in a new denomination). One main barrier for organic union is the present worship and practice of the Free Church – the historic position of the Reformed Church in Scotland. They sing “inspired materials of praise” without instrumental accompaniement. This was the majority position of the Protestant Churches well into the 19th Century. Yet, the evangelicals in the CofS will say “I can’t be in the Free Church because of her worship”. A little point? Within the Free Church there is now a movement to abandon her historic form of worship, with some of her ministers openly condemning it and saying they no longer hold to their ordination vows. Something applauded (and called for) by evangelicals in the CofS. Yet, many within the FC will not accept liberalising their form of worship – and for them the “little point” of Luther would live true for chainging worship! The evangelicals in the CofS or the FoCC in particular have lived in a broad denomination with lots of issues for evangelicals. Folks in “unmixed” churches have looked on them and declared them “compromised”. The Declaratory Act has protected the vast majority of evangelicals within the CofS and allowed them to adhere to positions that would be simply unnacceptable in more conservative Reformed denominations.

So you see, the “little points” are not so clear cut as the FoCC would like to present. For one, purity of worship, for another unity as a biblical duty. For some its grace, another an avoidance of antinominaism. For others its baptism, church government, worship styles, millenialism, use of the Sabbath etc. The ongoing debate regarding the New Perspective on Paul vs traditional Reformed view, theonomy etc. etc. Depending on our interpretations of Scripture we’ll defend our position and understanding. In the 1640s the Presbyterians in Scotland were divided regarding the imposition of the prayer book by the King. Covenantors raised an army, fought and killed, died for the Crown Rights of King Jesus – and believed that the Presbyterian form of Government was so crucial they endured civil war, torture, imprisonment and death. Few today would be so committed. Even those of us who are most convinced of the ‘rightness’ of Presbyterianism openly have real and vibrant fellowship with Anglicans – which would have been unthinkable to the Covenanters.

So what? We fall back to Scripture, with eyes wide open and preferrably on our knees. But crucially we also open Scripture with an open mind, open hearts and open dialogue with each other. Only then will we see different sides of the prism, learn about God and ourselves as well as our neighbours who disagree. Attempts to silence, restrict, control are self serving, short sighted and out of sync with the Kingdom of God.


Rev Scott Rennie and the Traditionalists

General Assembly Hall

General Assembly Hall

Well, its been quite a week! On Saturday evening the Church of Scotland voted to allow Rev Scott Rennie to move from his current congregation of Brechin Cathedral, to Queen’s Cross Aberdeen. Scott has been honest about his relationship with his partner David. CourageSCOTLAND got involved with other evangelical organisations and 12 organisations sent an open letter to the CofS to highlight that there are evangelicals who support same sex relationships.

There has been some media attention for our position and we have been quoted in numerous papers pointing out that evangelicals are not all agreed on the matter.

In an earlier blog below I mentioned the outcome from the Assembly, so check that out for some detail.

I’ve had a look at a couple of blogs around the issue. I was impressed – as I often am – by the approach taken by Prof Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary. Check it out for yourself here. Of course, Carl and I disagree totally on the gay issue and I suspect that he would view the position of gay-affirming evangelicals as an abberation at very best. However, he brings a real and troublesome challenge to the extremes of the traditional evangelical camp.

The leadership of the self termed “Fellowship of Confessing Churches” has called on congregations to stay within the Church of Scotland, while with-holding funds from the Church at large. This is nothing short of independency. It strikes at the heart of the traditionalists problem. They have displayed a total lack of awareness of Church history or the principles of ecclesiology. Either they are Presbyterian or they are not. Either for them the issue of openly gay ministers is crucial and definitive, or it is not. The consequences of their position on either of these questions are clear and consistent. However, they want to have their cake and eat it.

Another problem for the evangelicals within the Church of Scotland are historical. The debate regarding Scripture and the Confession in the 1920s (with the Declaratory Acts) and the 1960s regarding Scripture and Women’s Ordination are important for the debate today. Many are dismayed by the vehemence of the traditionalists’s position re. Scott’s induction. This is in large part due to the dishonesty of the traditionalists for the last 40 years. Evangelicals are regularly told to cover up their position and beliefs regarding women’s ordination in order to get through Selection School etc. They lie. They squirm. Early in the 2000s a candidate for the ministry was dropped in Glasgow Presbytery because he admitted his position was against women’s ordination. Numerous evangelicals (many of whom are at the heart of the debate now) sat in silence, while the Moderator of Presbytery offered them a chance to speak – 3 times. And 3 times silence.

And this comes to the heart of the problem for the traditionalists in the Church of Scotland. They scream about principles. They chastise their people, they froth everyone up into a great fervour, then they rant and rage. But they act in an unprincipled way. If they genuinely believe that a Church that openly ordains homosexuals is apostate they should leave. But they’ve made clear they won’t. Why? There are several denominations in Scotland that they could retreat too. The Free Church, the APC or the Free Presbyterians, or even the United Free. Or alternatively, since they claim to be so large, they could set up a new denomination.

They don’t and have no intention to. Carl Trueman mentions it, but John Mann, a CofS minister actually gives us the answer. In reaction to Rev David Meredith’s (Smithton Free Church) suggestion that the evangelicals leave the CofS, join the Free Church and create a new denomination of evangelical presbyterians in the UK. (More about that on another day – its been dreamt of in the Free Church for decades and is a worthy goal). John Mann replies thus “To be honest, I think that there are two issues which are bigger than the three you mention – or rather one issue – fear of the unknown – with two manifestations.

First, there is the enormous emotional attachment to the Church of Scotland, and the determination to stay in the national church.

It is not one for all Church of Scotland evangelicals – but for many, it is hugely significant.

Second, and closely related, there is, for many, the fear of going into the wilderness. Will there be congregations out there? Will there be money to support ministers?”
And there I think we have the heart of the matter. Fear. They are scared that if they leave they won’t have a ministry or enough income etc. As Trueman points out, the big congregations are fine, but the little ones would suffer. They claim to be in the spirit of the Disruption fathers – which is frankly a nonsense. The Disruption fathers left their buildings, their manses, their incomes and walked because of belief in principle. The traditionalists were more than happy of trying to strip Scott of his income, home and ministry for their principle and conscience. However they are not willing to risk it themselves.

Lastly, the calls of being “hurt”, “devestated”, “reeling” etc. doesn’t make any sense to me. Why are they upset? Is the induction of an openly gay miniter who has been in that circumstance for some years really that devestating? What about the ministers and elders who deny real, crucial and fundamental doctrines of the faith? What of those who deny the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the atonement, the Resurrection, the Trinity?! Why is that not “devestating” “hurtful” and “crushing”?! If it was about principles, I would be looking for the traditionalists to be exerting the same effort, heat and discussion on those crucial subjects rather than at best a secondary issue which – for all their attempts to justify their raising it to primary concern, leaves the Church looking like homophobes rather than folks concerned with the Glory of God and the salvation of Scotland.


Open Letter from Evangelical Organisations

Open Letter To the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland From Evangelical Organisations

As you meet this week, you are faced with a difficult subject – that of homosexuality in the Church. We want to assure you of our prayers. We are evangelicals who believe that Scripture does not condemn homosexual relationships. We are made up of heterosexual and homosexual Christians. These are of course deeply personal questions. As a result of the traditional view on homosexuality, it has been our experience that many gay and lesbian Christians have been forced down a path of self hatred, which all too often leads to loss of faith, breakdown or even suicide. After much wrestling, prayer and heartache both individually and corporately we have come to understand that God affirms loving faithful same sex relationships.

As evangelicals, we believe in the Authority and Supremacy of Scripture, and wholeheartedly affirm “The holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience” (Westminster Larger Catechism 3) without question. We understand the various positions within the Church and believe it is a difference of interpretation not biblical Authority that characterises our debate. We support and affirm our brothers and sisters who have had the same struggle with sexuality as we have and yet who feel called to singleness, as we feel called to affirm relationships.

We stand with the historic orthodox Christian teaching of ‘justification through faith alone’ – that a person is made right with God because of the Work of Jesus Christ and it is faith in Him that brings us into relationship with God – without any additional requirements, no matter who makes them. This is the heart of the Good News that Scotland – and the rest of the world, whether gay or straight – needs to hear from the Church. No one is excluded from relationship with God (or service for him) because they are in relationship with someone of the same gender.

We affirm the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul that all the Law is summed up in love for God and love for our neighbour (Mark 12; Romans 14). We can see nothing in Scripture or our calling as God’s People – both gay and straight – where a loving monogamous same sex relationship is inconsistent with this summary of the requirements to live a holy life. We pray that the General Assembly will follow the example of her Head, King Jesus, who reached out to the marginalised, the suffering, the oppressed and those on the fringes and who continues to do so today.

Finally, we are not just ‘out there’. There are thousands of faithful people sitting in pews, standing in pulpits, working in your Kirk Sessions who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. We urge the Assembly to embrace the message of transformational grace and, inclusion, to stand for justice and mercy and signal the openness of God’s compassionate love to his children – straight and gay. You will be in common with a vast and growing number of evangelicals and others across the world who do not exclude homosexuals but understand that the Church has erred in its rejection of them. The question you are facing is, will you send a clear message of God’s love and welcome, or one of rejection and fear. We urge the General Assembly to take this opportunity to act biblically, in the spirit of the inclusivity, holiness and love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be pastorally sensitively to the LGBT community within the Church of Scotland.

CourageSCOTLAND http://www.couragescotland.org – Rev Ruairidh MacRae
Evangelicals Concerned http://www.ecinc.org – Dr Ralph Blair
Scottish Region of Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians – http://www.eflgc.org.uk
Changing Attitude Nigeria http://www.changingattitude.org.uk
Davis Mac-Iyalla
Baptist Network Affirming Lesbian and Gay Christians http://www.affirmingbaptists.org.uk – Martin Stears-Handscomb and Sarah Hill
Changing Attitude England http://www.changingattitude.org.uk
Rev Colin Coward
Accepting Evangelicals http://www.acceptingevangelicals.org
Rev Benny Hazlehurst
Christian Lesbians UK http://www.chrisitanlesbians.co.uk – Cindy Mccarron
Courage UK – http://www.courage.org.uk Jeremy Marks
Ekklesia http://www.ekklesia.co.uk – Simon Barrow
Inclusive Church http://www.inclusivechurch2.net – Canon Giles Goddard
Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians http://www.eflgc.org.uk


Dead Body or Empty Tomb?

scan0026You don’t have to go far to hear someone heralding the death and destruction of Christianity in the Western World. That the influence of the Church in Europe has been waning for decades is obvious. Statisticians and trend watchers herald that, for example, the Church of Scotland will cease to exist in 2050 if the decline continues apace. Similarly dire conclusions are drawn for other denominations. In England the Church of England has been overtaken by the Roman Catholic Church in Sunday morning Church attendance for the first time since the Reformation – this because of immigration from RC Eastern Europe rather than a revival in native Catholicism; and all a sign that Church attendance has dropped massively since World War 2.

Looking more closely, ministers, pastors, priests and so on are more and more beset by depression, stress and sickness. While there are notable examples of optimism and growth, the general picture for the Church in the UK at least is a dark one.

But while the doomsayers reign supreme the Church itself should be heartened. Not of course that the Church (visible) is in a rosey position in the Northern hemisphere. There is much work of reformation to do; those of us now on the edges of the Church (visible), who have ourselves been opressed, discouraged and even rejected have good reason for feeling down too.

2000 years ago Mary and the other women went to honour the dead and rotting body of their friend and master. That first Easter morning they went to honour him. They went with the low expectation of finding a dead Jesus. The period from the crucifixion to the morning of the first day of the week was the darkest, most depressing in the history of the Church (and indeed Creation). All hope was dead. Death had won; so had the enemies of Truth. Fear was the master now of the disciples and the wider Church.

The band of broken, weak and fearful men and women didn’t stay that way for long however. Within a few weeks they were out and about across Judea and Galillee speaking boldly about Jesus as the Saviour and Messiah. The difference? They met the Risen Jesus. The women and indeed the disciples expected the dead body in the tomb and yet were confronted with an empty tomb; instead of a dead Jesus they found a Risen Lord. Instead of decay they found lifegiving life – for them and the millions that have come to faith in the Prince of Peace and Suffering Servant over the last 2000 years throughout the world. From fear to boldness, weeping to joy, death to life, the end of all things to hope eternal.

When we think of the Church we all too often think of a dead, dying, frail and decrepit organisation that has failed and persecuted us; ignored us and ignores the needs of the world. Of course, thats sadly true of much of the visible Church. But the real Church – which of course is seen in the visible; encompasses the visible but is so much more vibrant under that surface, crosses denominations and traditions – the Body of Christ on earth today is alive, growing, dynamic and will be ultimately triumphant.

The Church’s head is Christ. While it is made up of a union of flawed humans it of course messes up. However, it is the most cosmopolitan, diverse and inclusive community on the face of the earth. Even that doesn’t contain it for the Church stretches through time and eternity. When the Church worships in a locality it meets with the Risen Jesus as well as those Christians who have died and gone to heaven already.

So, while we are downtrodden, oppressed and disappointed – all too often expecting a dead body – remember that there is hope. That broken small band was transformed into a glorious body of flawed, sinners who have met and been impacted – no, saved – by meeting the One who was crucified, but who rose again. We’ll never be as broken, depressed or fearful as the disciples in the period between crucifixion and resurrection. We’ll never know the despair of a dead Christ for now we have a Risen Lord.