My own denomination, the Christadelphians, is declining at least in the UK: fairly sharply, with losses exceeding gains by a factor not far short of two to one. Something – in fact quite a number of things – will have to change.
For many years the more conservative element in the community has been in the ascendant, running the main publications and calling the tune in most congregations while the less conservative keep quiet for the sake of peace. Unfortunately they - we - have been too quiet for too long. Some congregations appear beyond the point of no return, spiralling downwards and losing the next generation. Others are reasonably stable and a few are recognising the imperative to do things differently while keeping some basic features intact.
What are the basics? It’s a Biblical Unitarian community – one that doesn’t subscribe to the concept of God as Trinity, a mainstream Christian belief albeit one that isn’t in (some might say ‘isn’t explicitly in’) the Bible, and one that most ordinary Christians would have a bit of difficulty explaining in detail. I wouldn’t want to lose that distinctive feature. But many practical characteristics could change. What might a renewed and refreshed community look like? Without attempting a comprehensive list, It might be one:
- That maintains such a ‘biblical unitarian’ position, while recognising that any description of God or of Christ in relation to God has to be a metaphor and that all such metaphors will be inadequate, whether Biblical ones like ‘son of God’ or non biblical ideas like the trinity.
- That doesn’t claim a monopoly on truth, but gives other Christian denominations the benefit of the doubt and is happy to work with them where there’s common ground
- That welcomes and embraces science, including evolution as a mechanism of creation, and doesn’t retreat into a fundamentalist corner
- Where honest disagreements on what the Bible teaches are the subject of robust debate, but don’t destroy a sense of community or lead to attempts to exclude
- That’s dropped weird jargon – ‘brethren/sisters’, ‘ecclesia’, and so on (it would be good to drop the name ‘christadelphian’, though anglicising it is tough: ‘Christian brothers’ has unfortunate connotations, and ‘brothers’ of any sort is a bit gender-exclusive even by my standards)
- That leaves the King James Bible and its language on the bookshelf, and perhaps apart from some traditional hymns mingled with a majority of more contemporary material, conducts its worship and its study in simple contemporary English
- Where worship is upbeat and varied, such as to give the impression people are actually happy to be there
- Which engages in social and community activity, especially for the disadvantaged
- That retains an engaging degree of cussedness as people insist on wrestling with Bible passages for themselves and not just letting other people tell them what to believe
- Where hats and suits and formality are the rare exception not the rule
- Where loving and caring for, and about, each other matters most of all