After the U.S mid-term elections in November one commentator wryly observed:
“The people have spoken but we are not sure what they are saying!”
Perhaps the same could be said about the results of the 2021 census in England and Wales.
The results came out last week and the news that those indicating some form of affiliation to Christianity had fallen below 50% (46.2% to be precise) of the population for the first time.
Some Christian leaders take this as a sign of an existential crisis that threatens the end of the world as we know it for the church.
They point to the fact that the 46.2% figure is distorted by the presence of so many churchgoers from other nations, especially thriving churches made up of African immigrants and their children.
Others are realistic that, in an ageing population and post-Covid, many older Christians have been transferred to a place where they are not bothered by census takers!
Others are more philosophical, suggesting that maybe people who ticked the ‘Christian’ box in previous years were merely more honest this time.
Jesus once asked his disciples,
“Who do men say that I am?”
The disciples relate the different opinions they have encountered before Peter, on a good day, makes the game-changing confession,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
A leader column in the Church Times had a nuanced response that reminds the church that not only might many people not have an opinion about Jesus, but are without the resources to form such an opinion:
“But out of the many individual reasons why fewer people see themselves as Christians, the most worrying for the Churches is ignorance: too many people now simply do not know what a Christian looks like — and thus, what Christ looks like.”
For some it almost beyond belief that anyone in the UK has not been exposed to real Christianity in one shape or form. Yet that is probably the situation we are in.
There is an interesting incident in John’s Gospel when Jesus, who up to that point had been packing in the crowds on his stadium tour of Israel, suddenly has a mass walkout. The crowds melt away because what he has been saying seems to be a bit too hard core.
Jesus turns to his disciples and asks if they want to leave too. Peter, acting again as spokesman, gives an answer that is priceless,
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68–69)
Peter seems to be saying that the disciples would be crazy to leave the very source of life in the living God who speaks life to us.
Perhaps if Christian preachers and their hearers displayed more of that compelling conviction, we might find that those who have become disenchanted by the Christian faith are re-enchanted by the beauty of Jesus?