The imperfect church

How people can become a community by overcoming their differences and worshipping together

No matter how much Christians might wish it were otherwise, all Christian communities are imperfect. All over the world, hundreds of denominations carry out their collective faith in Jesus Christ in good conscience, but in ways which draw varying degrees of scorn from the outside world, from rest of the worldwide church and even from their own members.

Some churches are highly ritualised and steeped in tradition, offering a reliable format for worshippers to follow whenever and wherever. Some prefer to exist on the other end of the spectrum where meetings are highly informal and unstructured. Some focus heavily on the incredible love of the Father, some more on Scripture and Christ and the sinfulness of man and some emphasise the power of the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, networks or denominations of churches occasionally fracture, divisions occur within single congregations or individuals become dissatisfied with a particular aspect of one congregation, and leave in search of another church that does things differently.

The question of how to “do” church has been around since the resurrected Jesus told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations” [Mat 28:19; NIV]. This command stood out for me as a teenager attending Mass. It was one I found hard to dismiss as anything other than a straight-up call for the whole congregation to become missionaries. Perhaps as a toned down answer to this call, I eventually joined a group of people within City Gates Church, Soho, who had a vision to plant a church on an estate in Islington and to serve and to share the Gospel with the community there.

Not a splinter from CGC, New River Church is more like a cutting from her. After four years, we resemble her and remain united with her, accountable and receiving her full support and encouragement. A small, non-denominational cell church, we are a body of believers who meet together in a hall on Sunday mornings. Smaller groups, cells, meet up in homes during the week to encourage one another as we live out our faith. I like to call cell groups mini-church where you can ask questions.

Each of us has come from a different background, either within the worldwide church or outside of it. As individuals, we have each repented, put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and committed ourselves to living our lives according to his will rather than our own. We also share a desire to see new people find out about Jesus and begin to follow him. We are not perfect.

At the heart of the Christian message is the response Jesus gave to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council, who visited him one night to question him about his teaching and healing ministry. Talking about himself, Jesus answered: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” [John 3:16; NIV] He answered that God hadn’t sent his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save it through him.

Christianity is a response to this offer of salvation – it revolves around Jesus. It hinges on what we think about him, on whether or not we believe in him, know him, obey him, love him. And so, I will not claim any high ground on the basis of the particular flavour of church that I go to. But while I continue to pray for greater unity between all churches, and for us all to “do” church better and better, I am comforted that those who believe in Jesus shall not perish.

Adam is a worship leader at New River Church, Islington, a non-denominational, charismatic Christian church of about 40 people. He has a degree in physics, a PhD in neuroimaging and is a member of the electro-indie rock band Personal Space Invaders.
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The trouble with a second Brexit referendum

A new vote risks coming too soon for Remainers. But there is an alternative. 

In any given week, a senior political figure will call for a second Brexit referendum (the most recent being David Miliband). It's not hard to see why. EU withdrawal risks proving an act of political and economic self-harm and Leave's victory was narrow (52-48). Had Remain won by a similar margin, the Brexiteers would have immediately demanded a re-run. 

But the obstacles to another vote are significant. Though only 52 per cent backed Brexit, a far larger number (c. 65 per cent) believe the result should be respected. No major party currently supports a second referendum and time is short.

Even if Remainers succeed in securing a vote, it risks being lost. As Theresa May learned to her cost, electorates have a habit of punishing those who force them to polls. "It would simply be too risky," a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Were a second referendum lost, any hope of blocking Brexit, or even softening it, would be ended. 

The vote, as some Remainers note, would also come at the wrong moment. By 2018/19, the UK will, at best, have finalised its divorce terms. A new trade agreement with the EU will take far longer to conclude. Thus, the Brexiteers would be free to paint a false picture of the UK's future relationship. "It would be another half-baked, ill-informed campaign," a Labour MP told me. 

For this reason, as I write in my column this week, an increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). 

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.