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Hallo again to all.

In reading the articles in our 'Worth Noting' section this week, we saw an interesting confluence, made all the more apropos because of the current madness in California with a referendum election to recall that state's governor.

Andrew Brown, writing about the upcoming Primates meeting, remarked: 'It is a natural temptation for Christians to believe that if they only got their doctrines right, God would fill up their churches. There is quite a lot of sociological evidence to suggest that strict churches are more successful in a hostile climate than liberal ones. But it is always easier to be strict about other people's failings; in practice, evangelicals believe that if only their enemies got their doctrines right, God would fill up the churches once again'.

Chris Armstrong, writing about the history of the US Episcopal Church, said 'The Episcopalians were swamped in number—and soon after, in influence—by a tidal wave of livelier, less educated, more evangelistic Methodists and Baptists'.

Often we intrinsically assume that the definition of success in the ecclesiastical world is the number of bums in the pews*. This gives us pause. Having more members makes a church more viable as a social institution, but cannot possibly make it nearer to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty or necessarily more capable of advancing the kingdom of heaven. The balance between consensus and truth is a tricky one, since ordinary mortals can never be certain of Truth. Consensus is a tool to help people determine if they are more or less likely to be headed in the general direction of Truth. There is a disturbingly fine line between democracy and mob rule; an angry mob comprising three quarters of the population of a village has no more right or truth on its side than a thug with a gun, but the latter historically has been easier to police.

Why this is all so worrisome is rooted in Andrew Brown's observation that inclusive and tolerant churches are less successful than exclusive and rigid churches. In other words, in order for a church to 'succeed', it must find someone to exclude, someone to call sinful, someone to rail against. It's almost as though it's been said in the context of a Powerpoint presentation: 'Modern marketing studies have determined that for your church to be successful, you must find something or someone to condemn, because inclusive churches don't attract big numbers'. It's a formula for Hollywood movies, dividing the world into 'good guys' and 'bad guys', but is it a formula for a faithful Christian life? Surely not. Alas, the inability to tell real life from the movies seems to be a growing social problem in western culture**.

We've always paid special attention to 1 Corinthians 10:17 and its message of unity. But there is an enormous difference between unity and homogeneity. We can be one with you while not being identical to you. We adhere to the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed, and that makes us one body. But large numbers in any part of that body do not make it more or less Christ-like. The Truth was found in one person and carried out to the world by a few bedraggled followers. 'The logical end of cross-carrying is crucifixion', Dorothy Sayers once wrote. That will never bring in the numbers.

See you next week.

Brian Reidís signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 5 October 2003

*The phrase 'bums in the pews' is British vernacular for, approximately, 'people sitting in pews'. The word 'bum' here does not have negative connotations in Britain as do its synonyms in North America.

**Speaking of the cinema, we recall having once seen a futuristic science-fiction film in which all restaurants remaining on earth were Taco Bell. The nonchalant acceptance of this mind-numbing blandness was part of that film's means of horrifying its audience. Not only did criminals run rampant and not only was the government of the future corrupt, but all restaurants were Taco Bell. How much worse could it get?

A thin blue line
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