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What’s the point of …?

“What’s the point of …?” – a radio series looking at some of England’s institutions that are facing huge challenges in today’s world, included an episode a few weeks ago called, “What’s the point of the Methodists?” – the once large Church that is in steep decline.

What's the Point ...?Probably there are no plans for a “What’s the point of_Baptists?” programme, but then Baptists have often been “below the radar” in national life.

One Anglican clergyman in the 17th century, sending a return to his bishop surveying the religious life of the parish, said that there were “some Baptists of the meaner sort” – as would have been true all over; congregations whose ministers had refused to agree to using the Book of Common Prayer were forced to meet in secret, often in out-of-the-way rooms, sometimes far from villages and towns – the Five Mile Act of 1665 forbade non-conformist clergy to live within five miles of a parish from which they had been expelled.

And right up until the 19th century Baptists and others were refused access to the great institutions of the country. In fact you could say that whereas the Wesleys felt called to go and take the gospel to the poor, Baptists – many of them anyway – were poor.

Actually, given that the whole Church in this country struggles and that Christianity is one of many world religions, it could be asked, “What’s the point of the Church?”

Leslie Griffiths, a leading Methodist, explained in the programme that the Wesleys went out preaching the gospel of salvation. In today’s terms, he said, that could be understood as a message that says “everyone’s included” in the circle of God’s love. Whatever you think of them, such comments show how far Methodism has moved from its roots as an evangelical, revivalist, movement.

The awkward fact is that evangelical, revivalist movements that still exist struggle to make the old, old story speak to modern ears.

“Everyone’s included” might be too vague as a substitute but the Christian church today, Baptist, Methodist or otherwise will have to find new ways of speaking to the many marginal people in our society – actually poor, or “on the edge” for other reasons such as disability, race, sexual orientation. Or else it will just become a self-serving club for the like-minded – and no one will bother to ask, “What’s the point?”

It comes down to what this all means at a place such as Tyndale; in an affluent part of a wealthy city. It is a church that has always sought to reach out to those who don’t find much of a welcome elsewhere – for reasons of homelessness, addiction, or whatever else.

The Community Ministry brings us into contact with more and more such folk – and is trying both to help them in practical ways and to speak about faith – so that the love of God might be both seen and heard amongst us.

There is, they say, no such thing as bad publicity, so it may be that the radio programme will be a good thing for the Methodists – there’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about! So here’s an idea: to be so effective at showing the love of God and talking about it that someone will always be asking, “What’s the point of Tyndale?”

Michael Docker