Many people believe their faith is divorced from life of the Church
CS Lewis, the Belfast-born author and theologian, was once quoted as saying, "The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ… If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose."
These are strong words from a man of clear conviction when it came to the church's task of reaching out and making known the Gospel of Christ. Yet, if truth be told, the Irish church in our generation has not always shared in the missionary zeal of Patrick, Columba and our other ancient heroes of the faith.
Some might well ask if the church has any right to engage in evangelism in the 21st century. Belief has become pluralistic, and spiritual truths are counted as relativistic. Any attempt to explain the Christian message could be interpreted as a desire to impose my views on them, which I have no right to do.
Many people now believe that their faith is divorced from the life of the church, and that they are content to have the former with little or no input from the latter. Still others would say that the church has lost so much of its moral authority that it no longer has a right to engage in evangelisation. These factors and others have created a perfect storm for the church in its mission to draw people to Christ.
Yet the church gives up on this calling at its peril. From its foundations, Christianity has always been a missionary movement. In Matthew's Gospel, some of the last recorded words of Jesus before he ascended to heaven are, "Go and make disciples of all nations." The church needs to be as concerned for its non-members at least as much as for the current members!
In recent years, many people of all shades of life have found The Alpha Course to be an excellent way of exploring the claims of Jesus and thinking through what life is all about.
Alpha was founded in England in the 1970s, but has now become a worldwide phenomenon, embraced and endorsed across a wide spectrum of Christian denominations. Alpha sets out to explain the basics of the Christian faith in an informal, small-group setting, meeting once a week over 10 weeks. The venue can be just about anywhere: someone's home, a church hall, a pub or café, a workplace or college, or anywhere else where people can come together.
Usually participants will begin by enjoying a meal or some light refreshments together, which allows time to get to know one another and grow friendships. This is followed by a presentation (often on DVD) on some aspect of the Christian life.
After the presentation there is opportunity to discuss the content and bring our own thoughts and life experiences to the table. Participants are expected to respect everyone else in the group, even when there are differences of opinion.
Alpha is not about imposing beliefs on others, but rather presenting the claims of Christianity and allowing people to digest them, talk about them, wrestle with them and in the end decide how they will respond to them.
This (Tuesday) evening an Alpha course is beginning in Sligo at 7.30 p.m. in Kilgallen's Bar, The Mall. It is organised by members of Calry Parish Church. It is open to everyone, there is no charge, and coming to the first evening does not commit you to the whole course.