One of the things I love about living in Edinburgh is being able to go to Murrayfield, Scotland’s international rugby ground. Along with about 67,000 other Scots I cheer Scotland on until I am hoarse. (I have groaned quite a bit over the last few years too!) Now I know we are hardly amongst rugby’s greats but the Scottish team’s record is much better at Murrayfield than when they play away at Twickenham or the Millennium Stadium. Home field advantage really seems to count for something. Playing in front of a supportive crowd brings out the best in the players; it must be easier to play when people are behind rather than hostile to you.
Scotland as a culture used to be to the church what Murrayfield is to the Scottish rugby team. Scottish culture probably up until the mid-20th century was a “home ground” for Christianity. Most Scottish people either went to church or were at least sympathetic to its values and ideals. Doing Church in was relatively easy with this home advantage. People understood the church’s message, the church was given a privileged place in society and most of the population either attended or at least went to the church for “hatches, matches and despatches.” The accepted morals and values of society broadly reflected the morals and values of Christianity in theory if not always in practice. Other religions were few and far between and atheists and agnostics were largely regarded as the intellectual awkward squad.
I am glad that this year we will be playing the Auld Enemy in the 6 Nations at Murrayfield as Scotland have won at Twickenham about as often as I have hit the right note in a song. (in case you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing me sing, that’s rarely) At Twickenham our boys face a largely antagonistic audience. The relatively few kilted diehards are easily drowned out with choruses of Land of Hope & Glory. Doing Church in Scotland in these opening decades of the 21st century it seems to me has a lot in common with Scotland playing rugby at Twickenham.
Few people now are sympathetic to Christianity or share its values and morals. The “home ground” advantage is rapidly disappearing, laws that enshrined Christianity morality are being repealed and the church’s privileged position in society is being rolled back. Christianity has become just one of a number of religions and belief systems vying for people’s attention and is certainly not regarded by very many Scots as being the only way to God. The church now faces increasing apathy and antagonism in Scotland where once it face support and sympathy.
Writing about the Church in Scotland Callum Brown comments . “As historical changes go, this has been no lingering and drawn out affair. It took several centuries … to convert Britain to Christianity, but it has taken less than forty years for the country to forsake it. For a thousand years, Christianity penetrated deeply into the lives of the people, enduring Reformation, Enlightenment and industrial revolution by adapting to each new social and cultural context that arose. Then, really suddenly, in 1963, something very profound ruptured the character of the nation and its people, sending organized Christianity on a downward spiral to the margins of social significance. … The cycle of inter-generational renewal of Christian affiliation, a cycle which had for so many centuries tied the people however closely or loosely, to the churches and to Christian moral benchmarks, was permanently disrupted in the ‘swinging’ sixties. Since then, a formerly religious people have entirely forsaken organized Christianity in a sudden plunge into a truly secular condition.”
The biggest problem I can see in the church in Scotland is that it still acts as if its playing at Murrayfield and not Twickenham. Its still believes it has some “home field” advantage and that people are open to its message in the way they always were. The church seems to believe that its basic problem is methodological, if it just gets the right method, the right programme people will come back to Christ and the church. This is what someone has called “Little Bo Peep” theology, you remember “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep And can’t tell where to find them. Leave them alone, And they’ll come home, Wagging their tails behind them” The assumption is that eventually we’ll get a proportion of the Scottish population to come home to the church. Well I mix a lot with people outside the church and none of them seem to want to come home to church because from their perspective church has never been their home! People look incredulous at those posters outside churches that say “WHAT’S MISSING FROM CH CH?” They think I am not missing from church I have never had anything to do with place, why would I?
We need to face up to the fact that the only way most of the Scottish population are going to come into contact with the Jesus revolution that the church should be is if we go to them and stop waiting for them to come to us. The church needs to stop scolding people about not attending church and telling them to come home and listen to the sermon. Instead we need to be the sermon to learn to follow Jesus and go out, meet, get to know and serve those around us in order to earn the credibility and right to share the message of Jesus with them through our words and deeds. A few years ago I was at a conference where those of us trying to do just that, to develop a missional and incarnational form of church shaped and inspired by Jesus were accused of being into “fads.” Well my message to those people is “You stay with Little Bo Peep and we will go with God and look for the sheep!”