The Joy and the Challenge of Epiphany    (by Jon Shuler​​)

The celebration of the feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, is one of the high points of the Christian Year. The Light of Christ has come into the world, and we are followers of the Lord because of it. He came not only to Israel, he came to us. This knowledge brings to the faithful almost unspeakable joy. Alleluia! But Christ Jesus came for all people, all nations, and this challenges us. it calls us to face the pitiable state of the contemporary Western church and her confusion about mission. We have a mission to the nations, and we have largely forsaken it.

What do I mean? First and foremost I mean the continuing decline in the number of believing Christians in the USA, Canada, Wales, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Especially (I write as an Anglican) the decline in the community of the Anglican Churches of those lands. Most staggering of all is the terrible state of the church in England. Pretending that all is well among us is not only foolish, it is sinful. There has been a massive departure from the central faith and work of the church of Jesus Christ for generations. We have been called to live the truth of Christ, and share the Light of Christ, but we have forsaken that truth and hidden that light under a bushel.

But I do not despair. One of my mentors, Peter Drucker, taught me that “to despair is a sin for a Christian.” I  have often commented that there is great sanctity still to be found within the family to which I belong. Over a lifetime as a priest I have known deeply devoted servants of God in every parish, and in every nation, where I have served. The goodness of many, the generosity of some, the holiness of a few has always sustained me. There is undoubtedly a faithful remnant. But my soul is troubled.

It is the scriptures that undo me. Take the events of the day after Pentecost, as Luke records them, as an example. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) How was this so? Does it not bring an honest priest to his knees when in the typical American parish there has almost certainly not been a half dozen converts in the last year? A year of worship, of effort, of programs, of extraordinary expense, and less than six new men following Jesus? Three? None?

When so much effort, so much money, so much time, is given to an enterprise in continuing decline, what is to be understood from those facts? Clearly there is something amiss in the whole way the work of the church is being understood and carried out. Does the community of Christ Jesus exist just so a small and declining number, and especially an ordained minority, can enjoy the inheritance of the centuries of faith? Have the doctrines, sacraments, and discipline of Christ been received for only a few? Are only a handful of faithful laity to rejoice in the liturgical and theological heritage of our patrimony, while the vast majority of our own children drift away from the church entirely, and the world grows darker day by day?

These questions must be faced. The Lord calls us to repent.

Next Week: Home By A Different Way

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