Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever
(Hebrews 13:8 NIVUK)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIVUK)
Christianity is a curious faith, in that it affirms both constancy and change simultaneously. Take the above verses as examples.
On the one hand, we affirm things which do not, and cannot, change: God does not change, His love and forgiveness do not change; the Gospel does not change, the results of the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, do not change; our adoption into God’s family does not change, our place in His future New Creation does not change.
On the other hand, we affirm that change is fundamentally important as we journey as Christians: we leave behind old, sinful habits and change to adopt new, Christ-like habits; we no longer seek fulfilment in the things of the world, but change to find complete fulfilment in God through Christ; we change our focus from selfishness to selflessness, with God’s help.
This is a mark of the Christian faith: being able to, on the one hand affirm that which is constant, and on the other, embrace the necessity of change. Since the Church is the gathering of Christians, I don’t think it is unfair to expect the Church to bear this same mark. If we, therefore, take a critical look at the Church: what do we find?
The membership of the Church of Scotland peaked in 1956, at 1,320,091. From the 1950’s onward (perhaps even before then?!) the Church’s broad approach to worship, mission, evangelism, discipleship etc. was “business as usual”. As a result, in 2018, the membership of the Church of Scotland was 325,695. That’s a loss of 994,396 members over 62 years. That a rough loss of 16,000 members per year. Clearly “business as usual” has not worked.
At this year’s General Assembly, the National Church finally faced this reality as it agreed a Radical Action Plan. This plan hopes to achieve many things, but the primary goal is to halt the decline, re-energise the Church, reconnect with the world, and begin the process of making new disciples again.
We have a part to play too. We cannot hold on to the expectations of the past, and assume that members, elders, even ministers, can do things as they have always been done. To do so will only invite frustration and failure.
Change is, therefore, to come. I am grateful to Roger, our Session Clerk, for writing in this month’s Informer to explain part of how we are seeking to implement some changes in the coming months. I expect that there will be more to come.