Yesterday I came across this disturbing piece from the Toronto Globe and Mail. Rev. Gretta Vosper, a minister of Canada's United Church, has decided to remove all mention of Jesus Christ, God and so on from the services; no one prays; and apparently no one is saved (at least not through Jesus' death and resurrection). For Rev. Vosper it's important to shed "no-longer credible myths, doctrines and dogmas". These are replaced with cosy things such as the "renewal of optimism and the human spirit". The 18th-century hymn Jesus Christ Has Risen Today is "vosperised" so that the congregation sings "Glorious hope has risen today". She has written a book, With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is more Important than What We Believe. And no I haven't read it, but the title is alarming enough. First there's the suggestion that God is somehow optional [in the Christian church]. Then there's this idea that the "way we live", which going by the news article seems to translate as participating in community love and giving people fresh starts and new chances and working out for yourself what is holy and sacred (all couched in very human-centred terms), is more important that "what we believe", i.e. faith.
One commenter (a self-professed non-church-goer) says "Put good living back into faith? What a terrific idea. It's not for the meek of heart. It's for those courageous enough to live by the rules and to make the world a better place NOW!!! not wait around for heaven and the judges score."
Two problems with that: Rev. Vosper isn't so much suggesting putting good living back into faith (which might otherwise be a commendable thing) as replacing faith altogether (she wants to get rid of all that messy and unpalatable "theological detritus" — stuff like the resurrection and salvation). The other problem is that mankind, being fallen and all that, has proven consistently and reliably unsuccessful at being "courageous enough to live by the rules and to make the world a better place", which may just be why God had to send his Son. (A third problem is this misbegotten idea of the heavenly "score card". A fourth problem is the tricky matter of the rules themselves.) C.S. Lewis says all this more eloquently and persuasively in Mere Christianity and more entertainingly in The Screwtape Letters.
Another commenter declares that he would love to go to a church with "wholesome fellowship and all the singing and uplifting (genuine) morale boosting" without the "divisive, anachronistic teachings". Oh, and he also loves the "ambience of churches", just not the "fairy tales" designed to frighten and manipulate. I guess a nice club with lots of music and some beautiful architecture would suit him well. Some kind of concert subscription, perhaps?
As for me, well I'm a sucker for great music and fantastic ambience too (my Easter was spent at the vigil at Christ Church St Laurence: bells and smells and more frocks than David Jones, as they say, not to mention one of the best choirs in the country). But without faith the whole thing would be empty and meaningless and completely without power.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. Alleluia.