The Meissen Commission continued it’s work this morning with a review of last night’s interfaith seminar at the German Embassy.

This then led into a deeper discussion of how churches in Germany and England face the challenges and opportunities presented by a wider culture that can be characterised by both (a) multi faith and (b) ‘aesthetically postmodern’ (to use Wolfgang Huber’s phrase).

Part of this challenge stems from the assumptions of many in our societies (and particularly in the media) that religion is inherently problematic and that there is neutral space – and that the neutral space is occupied by the secular humanists. This assumes that if you took ‘religion’ out of people, they would then be secular and humanist and very nice and very humane. Of course, history begs to differ when it comes to evidence, but that is not the main point here.

I was reminded by a colleague here of Walter Brueggemann’s deceptively simple, but devastatingly accurate statement in his book ‘The Word Militant’ that “all reality is scripted”. In other words, there is no reality that is not accounted for outside of a ‘script’ – that is, a narrative according to which the account of reality makes sense and finds place. There is no neutral space. There is no neutral world view. It seems to me that every ‘script’ has to be subjected to testing, and that does not exclude any religious world view.

This arises when we begin to ask why so many Christians lack confidence in articulating a Christian world view in the public square. OK, it can be a rough environment; but, that’s never stopped us before. One of the questions here (and we have at least three serious academic heavyweights in three different disciplines among our number) revolves around how Christians can be helped to understand their faith, articulate it and allow it to be subjected to scrutiny. I noted (I think) Chesterton’s (but it might be CS Lewis) assertion that “if Christianity is true, then it is true because it is true; it is not true because it is Christianity”. Lose the fear. If it ain’t true, it ain’t worth living.

However, we live in a culture in which ‘truth’ is not asked about. Our pragmatic and relativistic culture asks if ‘it works for me’, not if it is ‘true’. And that is why people can believe several contradictory things at once and not be embarrassed. It’s also why we hear so often a view preceded by the phrase, ‘for me’… or ‘it is true for me’. Weird or what?

The concern of the Meissen Commission today was to explore how our churches can give real attention to apologetics and learning in building confidence in the Christian Church in a pluralistic society. I still find the phrase ‘confident humility’ appropriate in this context.

In order to earth some of this, we visited two parish churches in the East End of London, close to where we are staying at St Katherine’s Foundation in Limehouse. It is never good to do abstracted thinking without allowing it to be questioned or shaped by a particular context.

First we visited an evangelical church plant at St Paul’s, Shadwell – a predominantly younger church in the charismatic (Holy Trinity Brompton) camp. Around 300 people ‘belong’ to the church and the population is transient. The church finances itself and its staff and plants in other places from it’s own congregation. It is looking for ways of reaching out to the local Bangladeshi community, but already provides space for neighbours to meet each other (children and youth work, open fun days, etc.). They run menu of services (different cultural milieux) on a Sunday and see hospitality as a vital gift of the local church.

From there we went to St Mary, Cable Street, where we could smell the incense on entry. This is an Anglo-Catholic Church in the midst of a complex housing estate and it has a small congregation of committed people. Here the ministry is incarnational in the sense of being present and engaged in all aspects of the local community in the name of Christ, but not trying to grow the church ‘artificially’ from outside.

In very frank discussions with the clergy at both churches we heard different models of doing the same thing: churches being faithful to God’s call to worship, nurture, reach out and give away. And each has it’s own answer to how that faithfulness should be lived out: one is very well resourced (because of the generous giving of the people) and one is in need of generous support – because, on its model, it can’t grow in that parish into a large well-resourced church.

Te challenge to the Church is how to honour both approaches whilst ensuring that the weaker church is resourced for its particular ministry and outreach.

The Commission will be coming back to the dynamic of evangelisation, nurture, apologetics and learning in it’s future work – but this gives a taste of where we are heading.

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