I recently came across an article in ‘Quadrant’ magazine that in part described a bygone world- a nowadays strange world even quaint to many. It was a description of the decline of the suburban church post WW2, specifically in the major city of Melbourne, however the description could have been of any city in the western world. The chief characteristic that the article reminded me of was the sharp contrast with todays society – for ‘ there was a kindness there’ that is not present in today’s western societies. A few lines give an indication.
“ By 2012 few survive of those decent people who raised the money to build All Saints’ and went to it for as long as they could. Those “returned” men who put on suits to take up the collection on Sundays and joined enthusiastically in working bees. Those capable and friendly women, untouched by any breath of feminist envy, . . . who always had time to bake a sponge and cut sandwiches for parish events. People who, if the marital road got rocky, tried to stay together for the sake of the children rather than rush to the divorce court. People who sought to carry their Christian beliefs into their weekday lives ” and . . . . . . “ were not seriously out of charity with any fellow citizen. People who had seen life’s ups and downs and realised that human nature was sometimes odd but tried to not to bear resentments . . . . . Good, honest, hardworking, kind people, more concerned to lend a hand to someone else — to cut a widow’s grass or coach the kids in cricket — than to demand “rights” and entitlements for themselves. Old – fashioned people, by the criteria of today’s “me first” culture. ”
That society is ‘quaint’ and ‘old fashioned’ to many, but ‘ there was a kindness there’ that has gone the way of that society. A kinder, gentler, warmer, more caring about others, less self-centred, less greedy, less rights-grasping and responsibility-denying society. In contrast to today’s cruder, more uncouth (language alone indicates that), more violent, harsh, cold, ‘it’s all about me’-ish, selfish, and rude society.
It is a world I grew up in (albeit in an English version), although not a Christian, nor from a Christian family, it was still a ‘ Christianized’ society. This meant that the controlling ethos was still a biblical one, where the nature of Christ was still reflected in the community, and so ‘ there was a kindness there’.
Most certainly it was not perfect, for people are not perfect, and neither are Christians, for we too often fail to reflect Jesus in our own behaviour, but his nature still to a large extent permeated how people behaved.
Yes, we have in many ways moved on. Few now die of Tuberculosis as a ‘not yet out of primary school’ friend of mine did, nor will many today have seen a child in Polio-callipers or seen the ravages of Scarlet fever, and yes, women have much more ability to be fully involved in work and society. But what has been lost and why?
The article I referred to is entitled “ The Decline of the Suburban Church ”
by Christopher Akehurst. It can be argued that this decline is actually a measure of the retreat of the gospel in contemporary society, the loss of the gospel influence. It is the loss of that influence, the ‘Salt’ that Jesus referred to (Matthew 5;13) that has brought about that degradation of human behaviour, that loss of the ‘Kindness’ that was there.
This underlines the urgency of our mission, to turn around the chronic and entrenched missional failure of the contemporary church to our own culture. This can only be by understanding the need to stop relying on strategies that attempt to bring non-Christians into existing church services, a now long-failed strategy, and to develop strategies that will take and embed the ‘Salt’ of the Gospel into the mosaic of micro-communities comprising Australian society. This of course is primarily for the salvation of the lost, but it is also the only way that the ongoing coarsening and degradation of society can be reversed.
“The loss of the Gospel influence, the reversal of which by a ‘Church Reimagined’ is the only way that the good Jesus-reflecting things of that former time can be retrieved“
We have certainly made great gains, particularly in the realms of technology and medicine and the attitude towards women, and there is no going back in those areas, However, there have been significant losses also, particularly in human and community behaviour. Losses that reflect the loss of the Gospel influence, the reversal of which by a ‘Church Reimagined’ is the only way that the good Jesus-reflecting things of that former time can be retrieved- indeed ‘ there was a kindness there’.