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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

We are invited to the ultimate in parties




"It was just brilliant," Nisha Capper tells Newsbeat. "I never thought I'd be partying in the cathedral. Halfway through the night, I was doing the Macarena."

 

My heart sank as I read the report on yesterday’s BBC News website.  Another trendy vicar story, how to get them into the pews by dancing in the aisles.  For it seems that Canterbury Cathedral, the home of Anglicanism, recently hosted 3,000 people at a silent disco.

 

There’s a sense that some clergy will do anything to get people into church. "I love the idea of people dancing on a Saturday night and praying on a Sunday morning,” commented the Reverend Jessica Fellows.  She added:  “I think we can do both.

 

What she failed to explain is how we get from partying on the Saturday night to worshipping on the Sunday morning.  And from the Sunday morning to the entire week. 

 

For me it was Rochester Cathedral which stole the show last August.  This place of Christian worship since AD604 managed to double its monthly attendance.  Remarkable, and what was its secret?  Simple, a crazy golf course – although sadly only nine holes.  For some the prospect of worshipping God by playing a round of golf would be heaven come to earth.

 

At this point I realise I am sounding like a grumpy old man – for clearly there is a need for the church to relate to each generation in a way appropriate for their culture. 

 

Think Hillsong, with their impressively resourced concerts at the O2 arena.  Even New Wine, with their hi-tech staging for their big top worship. Or Pete Waterman’s model railway display at Chester Cathedral.

 

However, it’s one thing “to engage the community” (to quote the BBC website) but something else to seek a response to the good news of Jesus.  And yes, for many church services are boring and irrelevant. I recall one American commentator ruefully advising some decades ago, “we need to bring on the dancing girls.” 

 

I’m still working my way through the apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, the church which broke his heart.  For sharing the Gospel always comes with a spiritual cost; that’s the way it is.  And he defends his ministry against the accusation that in some way he was underhand, devious even.

 

He is quite clear, insistent. “We refuse to wear masks and play games. We don’t manoeuvre and manipulate behind the scenes. And we don’t twist God’s Word to suit ourselves.”  (2 Corinthians 4:2f, the Message translation, obviously.   No special offers here. 

 

The apostle adds:  “Rather, we keep everything we do and say out in the open, the whole truth on display, so that those who want to can see and judge for themselves in the presence of God.”

 

For to state the obvious, we’re talking about God, his word and his ministry.

Joanna Collicutt in her commentary reminds us that this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit no less.

 

She writes:  “There is no need to be preoccupied with maintaining a personal front nor to invest clever embellishments of the gospel as marketing ploys, not to smooth it into something more palatable and less challenging. Evangelism is simply telling the story of Jesus and proclaiming him Lord.  It is a call to service, not salesmanship, to sharing good news, not making converts.” 

 

For we need to be clear about what is our role and responsibility, and what is God’s.  It is the Holy Spirit who does all the heavy lifting;  it is he who converts and renews, who challenges and transforms. 

 

All we do is “to tell the story of Jesus.” And what is the story of Jesus?  Simple, his shameful death on the cross.  For the apostle Paul is unapologetic:  “We preach Christ crucified!”

 

By any reckoning a totally unacceptable message, an affront to our sense of decency, devoid of any meaning, a challenge to our most cherished assumptions.

 

And yet as Billy Graham, one of the most effective of evangelists of our era, explained: “Though the cross repels, it also attracts. It possesses a magnetic quality.”

 

For the simple reason is that this is God at work, the God of heaven and earth, the God who fills this vast universe with his presence, the God who fills our planet with every conceivable form of life.  

 

Of course, the cross of Jesus is a stumbling block to the Jews and sheer nonsense to the Gentiles but whether we like it or not, this God’s modus operandi. 

 

But as the late Selwyn Hughes explained, there is within every person a silent witness bearing witness to this truth.  It’s our task to encourage people to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying – for it is the good news exceeds our every  expectation, the ultimate in parties.

 

It’s as simple as that.  No need to dress the Gospel up and in doing so make it something altogether different.  No need to entertain but give out invites to enter the Kingdom.  After all, it’s what our hearts long for.

 

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