…Fortunately not from the seagulls, but the human sort, whilst I was on holiday last week. You know how hard it is not to pick up on words spoken at conversational levels from the next table in a restaurant, once they catch your ear. In this case one of the foursome who sat down next to us had already spoken to me when he nearly knocked over my cider with his rucksack and laughingly apologised.
It became clear pretty soon from the conversation of the two guys immediately next to me that they were Christians, and not only that but evidently fairly senior members of what sounded to be one of the new church movements over here, who had once belonged to the same fellowship but had since moved to different places, and were comparing notes. So although I was not remotely concerned in following every word of the exchange, my chargrilled salmon being more interesting, I picked up the gist, and I have to say identified with the kind of problems that we church leaders sometimes have.
One guy had apparently had trouble getting his co-leaders to accept their new minister, owing to the latter’s leadership style, it seems. His discussion ranged around the way the denomination was organised, the role of “apostolic” leadership (that’s how I realised they were “new church” people rather than Baptists or Anglicans) – all that kind of stuff. He even joked about moving to my old home-town, where it seems there must be a successful and large congregation in their network.
The other guy was talking about having been in the same church for forty years or so (around the time when the house-church movement was generating new denominations aplenty), and now finding, with new leaders and a bigger congregation, that there was little for him to do in the way of leading or teaching. Again that’s familiar territory – when we moved away from my last church after my retirement, one factor was the feeling of being supernumerary following a successful period of growth.
In short, these two guys (and their wives, who dropped into the conversation from time to time out of their own, as women can) seemed mature and sincere Evangelical leaders going through the kind of issues that must be recognised by mature, sincere Evangelical leaders across the world.
It was only after we’d paid our bill and left, after maybe half an hour of my involuntary eavesdropping, that I realised that not once, during the entire conversation, had anyone mentioned the Lord who is, especially in the charismatic movement, believed to be the executive leader of each individual Church, not to mention denomination. He was not even mentioned in the third person, let alone being (as it were) a participant in the conversation. Here were brothers, sharing the indwelling Spirit of Christ and discussing their part in his work, and yet never mentioning him or discussing how he himself might be viewing their respective situations. I got the absurd impression that a fifth chair had been pulled up to the table for Jesus, and yet nobody was letting him get a word in edgeways concerning his own business.
Now, I’m not judging these folks. Far from it – it just struck me as all too familiar. If anything, I’d be less likely to focus an entire lunchtime conversation with old friends on focused discussion of our church situations. It just seemed, in retrospect, odd that we build communities around our faith in the risen, ascended and immanent Christ, and then converse as if our community was simply another human institution.
And, I thought, isn’t the same spiritual detachment often the case when we are engaged in conversations on “science and faith”, and especially “creation”? Just as soon as we bring that word “creation” into the discussion of the operations and origins of our world, or our life, or our humanity, we are, like my neighbours in the restaurant, actually discussing the work of our almighty Father, the Son who has brought us out of darkness and into his kingdom, and the Spirit who indwells us if we are in Christ. We’re talking about the world as constituted to reveal and glorify him, and as given freely to humankind to delight in and to govern on his behalf. It’s all rather personal, or should be.
I find myself, rather self-critically, wondering if there can be any genuine science-faith conversation that doesn’t constantly verge on worship and praise. This is so whether one is thinking of evolutionary creation, intelligent design, Genealogical Adam or anything other aspect of how our God has made our world, or is planning to make the next one.
As an analogy, consider Beethoven scholars discussing theories on the characteristics of the construction of his symphonies, his orchestration or his use of modes, without mentioning the man himself except as a reference point, or showing some real appreciation of his genius, and the effect his music has on their own souls. I can’t resist a diversion…
I’d hate to think of somebody dropping into The Hump of the Camel, reading a few articles from the “random posts” space here, and thinking, “It says it’s about ‘small windows to God’s big universe,’ but the windows seem too small for him actually to see God at all.”
Let’s keep reminding ourselves that the Westminster Catechism’s words apply especially here when they say: Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. Without that, everything is just hot air.