How can we ensure the Irish Church becomes a relevant influence across the island in a post-Brexit society? Answer - we Christians must become a force of spiritual believers rather than habitual clock-watchers.
Many churches across the island have placed too much emphasis on social activities to the point where churches resemble social clubs and community halls rather than centres to spread the Gospel.
Those who favour an habitual approach to Christian outreach will point to the need to be part of the community to have a relevance in that community.
Many churches do play a vital part in the life of the community, hosting sporting activities, youth clubs, and Christian youth organisations, such as the Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Brigade. These are important cogs to build the concept of the ‘Christian community’. But they should not become the sole reason for getting involved with a church.
Thinking back to my late father’s time in full-time ministry, there were activities in the church every night of the week during the academic school year - but that was in the Seventies.
Here’s that schedule beginning with Sunday, the first day of the week: Bible class and Sunday school in the morning, followed by the morning service. In the afternoon, some young folk would attend independent Sunday schools based in Faith Mission halls or Orange halls; then there was the Sunday evening service, followed by a youth fellowship for young people, with older people attending an after-church Gospel service in one of the network of Faith Mission halls. Sundays were clearly full.
Mondays - Junior Boys’ Brigade; Tuesday - church indoor bowling club; Wednesday - mid week Bible study and prayer meeting; Thursday - Girls’ Brigade; Friday - senior Boys’ Brigade; Saturday - church youth club. Apart from the bowling club, there was an underlying theme of Christian outreach in all the other activities.
However, with churches in 2019 now facing so much competition from television, the internet and the secular society, many fellowships and congregations have placed an increasing emphasis on non-spiritual activities, such as table quizzes, car boot sales, social evenings and concerts.
These are all worthwhile activities to put the church at the core of community life, but where does the preaching of the Gospel fit into this schedule? Quite often, the preaching of the Gospel, especially if it is Salvationist in ethos, becomes an unwanted irritation. Churches are in danger of becoming habitual rather than spiritual, forgetting their one and only true commitment - to win souls for heaven.
This is probably because it is not socially fashionable to talk about Hell, eternal damnation, and even the lake of fire - all key elements of the Gospel message. Yes, I fully understand the need to stress the benefits of being a Christian, and there is a lot of emphasis on the love of God.
But there is an imperative to to warn society about the eternal consequences of rejecting God’s offer of salvation. Habitual liberals in the church do not want a situation where guests to church events are told they will burn in Hell if they do not repent. Practically, they want the Gospel message ‘toned down’ to accommodate the so-called ‘snowflake society’.
So how can Christians get the church back on track? The spiritual direction can be found by evangelicals and fundamentalists practically implementing the sterling New Testament advice found in Ephesians Chapter 6, commonly called the whole armour of God. The essential eight verses read from 11 to 18:
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.
“And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.
“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.”
Try selling this message to the unchurched in the community and see how popular you become! Perhaps it is a case that we Christians need to heal ourselves first before we attempt to spread the Gospel to others?
In spiritual terms, the devil will leave inactive Christians alone because he knows they are not harming his opposition to Christianity. Many modern day Christians do not want to end up like the Old Testament character of Job who lost everything because of his faith.
A glance through that great spiritual work, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, will leave the reader in no doubt that the Christian journey is no easy one, with us Christians facing many trials, challenges, hurdles, tragedies and other dilemmas on our spiritual path.
Many Christians opt to keep their heads down, especially if they have comfortable homes, good jobs, enjoyable holidays and a healthy bank balance and well-behaved and healthy children. Why rock the boat is that attitude?
Equally clearly, there can be no doubting that Christophobia is on the increase and numerous Christians don’t even want it known they support the Biblical principles of Salvation for fear of getting a verbal bashing from the church’s many opponents - even from those liberals within the church who regard those of us who believe firmly in salvation as the ‘crazy bible bashers’ or ‘bat crap crazy tub thumpers’.
But the bitter reality which Christians must face is that like it or not, they will be forced to take a stand for the faith. And we may have to pay a heavy price for that stand - spiritually from attacks from the devil; socially from attacks from anti-Christian opponents such as humanists, atheists, Marxists, secularists, liberals, pluralists … and so the list seems never ending.
The alternative is for churches to ‘tootle along’ as habitual Christians in the hope society will avoid them or leave them alone. To take this attitude will be to hand the ‘snowflake society’ victory on a silver plate in the same manner as the Biblical John the Baptist was beheaded.
The main challenge is bluntly simple - spiritual Christians will have to stand up and be counted if the Church is to be taken seriously in post-Brexit Ireland.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s slot, Call Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM, as part of the ‘At The Table’ show. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com