The latest copy of the Anglican Journal reported some statistics which suggested that the decline in numbers in the Anglican Church points towards its demise in 20 years.
The latest copy of the Anglican Journal reported some statistics which suggested that the decline in numbers in the Anglican Church points towards its demise in 20 years. Our new Primate, Linda Nicholls, took this in the right spirit. She said that there was nothing in this that we didn’t know already, and that it should be a wake-up call to us. We should consider whether we are presenting the gospel as well as we can.
Well, we are already doing that. But there are two other things we should think about, when we consider reports like this. The first is that we should not let that kind of news affect our trust in God’s faithfulness. God’s faithfulness, his on-going trustworthiness, is one of the most basic truths of the Bible and of our faith. And it was proved to the people of God through the most difficult challenges and set-backs. Slavery in Egypt, exile in Babylon – the people of God have often faced serious threats to their future. And what these threats led to was God’s deliverance and…a renewed trust in God’s faithfulness. On the one hand there is a line on a statistical graph; on the other hand there is the faith in God that has come down to us from Scripture and the experience of faithful people through the ages. We can trust that when we act faithfully, God will be faithful.
That leads to a second point. Where is God’s faithfulness when we are facing depleted numbers? There is an illustration about this that comes, strangely enough, from the animated Disney movie of Aladdin. In the movie, the Genie, with the voice of Robin Williams, sings, “You ain’t never had a friend like me.” The Genie’s power is practically unlimited. But there is a limit to his power – he cannot make anyone fall in love. That would be interfering with a choice that people must make freely. We might wish for some magic that can replenish our numbers. But the call of the gospel is ultimately a call to fall in love with God. And God will not force anyone to love him. God goes on being faithful, but he will not force anyone to be faithful to him.
We can work and pray for our outreach to be more effective. But we cannot take on ourselves the responsibility for people that don’t respond. What we can do is to love God ourselves, and if we do that, in God’s own way we will surely see his faithfulness at work.
Rev. Dr. David Smith.