A church in the heart without a heart

The local news again reported today about the successful funding obtained for the renovation of the Cushendun Old Church in County Antrim. It’s great to hear about old buildings being turned around and re-used, reclaiming something of the historic local heritage.

According to the Cushendun Building Preservation Trust, the renovated building shall become a ‘versatile and sustainable arts and community space.’ This will no doubt be of great benefit to the local town and the wider cultural landscape of Northern Ireland in general.

So far so good. I’m all for community spaces and making art accessible, and I see no reason why churches should not be in the mix where cultural enrichment is the focus. In fact, I think that the church has a mandate to converse with the culture and society it exists alongside, rather than passive withdrawal to some form of ghetto church experience. I’ve even preached a sermon on the biblical imperative for Christians to engage.

But the difference with the Cushendun church is that it isn’t a church. In fact, the church that met there clearly died off many years ago. It was precisely because it failed to demonstrate the relevance of the central message of Christianity to all areas of life and society (including the arts) that it dwindled to nil and became one of hundreds of buildings that are no longer needed for Christian worship, a sad relic of a bygone era when people thought about religion in a positive sense.

Jesus told his early followers that they are salt and light, seasoning and enlightening the world in which they lived, having a discernible effect as they follow him. When a church ceases to be salt and light it can start the count down to becoming another Cushendun – a lovely building that needs to be used for something else, just not what it was built for.

What the world ultimately needs is more faithful churches (if what Jesus taught in the bible is correct) not less.