DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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SECOND SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT
The Scandal of Worship

Luke 21.6  The time will come when not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one will be thrown down.

It has been fashionable amongst Christians for some decades now to reflect somewhat bitterly that Christmas has been hijacked by business. 

Those who should be celebrating in church have been corrupted, they say. Spending and drunken partying have replaced sober but joyful worship. Nothing is more important than this worship - which is why Christians pour so much of their resources into it.

There is some point to this ongoing complaint. Worship has now virtually disappeared off the public map after many centuries of being a primary reference point for everyone. 

The special season of Advent and Christmas derives from a time when worship was so much part of society that people hardly noticed it, if at all. So if you or I had remarked to Jesus in the first century how "religious" the Hebrew people were, neither he nor his close associates would have known what we were getting at. What we call "religion" today they would have called "society". 

For example, Jesus would certainly have learned the Hebrew scriptures at a local school. But this would not have been thought of as "religious education". He would simply have gone to school and there learned what his elders thought he should know. Similarly, the Temple tax paid by every male adult was not a "religious tax". It was merely one of several different taxes which men had to pay as part of ordinary, everyday living.

This unified sense of Christian life has long been lost. Now worship is separate from the rest of life. It is no longer a community activity. It is, as one scholar puts it, the expression "of adoration, praise and thanksgiving to God through Christ" in a church building. 

The truth is that Jesus again and again stressed that what God requires of us is the loving service of others. Worship for him was precisely that. It was part of ordinary life, never separated out, always seamlessly integrated into every day. Worship as going to church for "adoration, praise and thanksgiving " would not have occurred to him.

Why should this separation of worship from life bother anyone?

Step back now and imagine the number of churches which fill and empty each Sunday as the light of the sun sweeps around our planet. Ask yourself how many buildings involved in this sort of worship are empty 90 percent of each week? Now try to compute the amount of money which the Church at large might be spending on this brief activity, year in and year out.

Then wonder how many of the poor, the suffering and the dying that money might deliver. For each hymn that's sung, a child dies. For each fervent prayer that's said a shaft of pain or hunger strikes a person somewhere. For each priestly salary that's paid a hundred families go hungry. It may not be mere hyperbole to suggest that every church building today is built upon and maintained by the blood and bones of suffering humanity.

In thinking along these distinctly unsettling lines, you have begun to uncover the scandal of worship in the Church today. It is no wonder that so many reject the pious platitudes of worshipping Christians.

Of course, it's impossible to wave a magic wand and make it all immediately better. At any rate, it's humanly impossible. No person has the power and influence to rapidly dismantle of the cause of this cancerous scandal.

However, recall the ancient traditional wisdom of Jeremiah as he prophesied in the Temple to the priests and people: "If you will not listen to me ... I will do to this Temple what I did to Shiloh ..." (26.6).

Jeremiah was referring to the time when the tribes of Israel had no more than a "tent of meeting" and how even that was destroyed. His words are echoed by Luke's portrayal of Jesus: "The time will come when not a single stone will be left in this place" (21.6).

If we take this tradition seriously, the smaller the chance of removing the occasion of this scandal, the greater the chance of eventual collapse. 

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