THE RESPONSE of a Christian to “a society that increasingly doesn’t ‘do’ God” should “not be one of panic”, the new moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Roy Patton, said last Monday night.
“We know that God is still on his throne – that the Gospel still remains God’s answer to human need, that despite the church’s many failings, God is still building his church, that God is working within and outside the church to fulfil his purposes,” he said.
At the opening of the church’s annual general assembly in Belfast, he acknowledged, however, that “the old order of things is passing away”.
He continued: “We can’t deny the fact that significant shifts have taken place in our society in the last number of decades which have pushed the Christian faith more and more to the margins.”
The church was no longer “central to the community in the way it used to be” and “instead of being at home in a society shaped by Christian thought, we sense that we no longer quite belong. Where once the Christian voice held sway, it is now only one among many voices.”
He went on: “We may well long for it to be different, sentimentalise about the days when our churches were packed to the rafters, when hundreds of children went on Sunday school outings etc, but that really doesn’t get us very far, does it? Whatever we do, we certainly cannot turn the clock back to the good old days.”
He said that “if we are to speak with confidence, we need to renew our vision of God, of his greatness, of his majesty, of his holiness”.
Too often “we give the impression that we are better than others, more moral, superior kind of people. And, sadly, the greatest stumbling blocks to people finding faith in Christ are the lives of those who claim to follow him . . . we need to name those areas of life in which we have failed,” he said.
“If anybody is going to take time to listen to us, really it will happen only if we have faced the truth about ourselves; when they see that the words we say are rooted in the honesty and integrity of our lives; when we acknowledge the truth about ourselves then, we encourage others to do the same . . . If indeed we are to be fit for purpose, a prophetic voice in the society around us, then we desperately need to recapture the biblical view of God,” he said.
Outgoing moderator the Rev Dr Ivan Patterson said that over the past year, he had “discovered that there is still a place in society for the Christian voice and many are interested to hear the church’s take on various issues. They listen but whether they take heed or not is another question particularly when it comes to moral issues. Nevertheless we should be encouraged that we still have a voice that some influential people want to hear.”
He added: “Living when life is becoming ever more secular, yet ever more spiritual [not necessarily Christian], we have such opportunities to be salt and light and bring some flavour to a tasteless world.”