Why church reform is so hard
I've been reading an old book called, The English Reformation,
by A.G. Dickens, published in 1964. I picked it up at a library sale years ago for ten cents. Finding it too dense for my taste, I put it back on my shelves. After many years, I now have the patience and the background to plow my way through a lot of really good stuff on the survival of Lollardy, the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII, and so on.
Today, I was struck by this passage, describing why Queen Mary failed to ignite much passion for a renewal of Catholicism even in the conservative North.
As the mediocrity of the parish clergy had hampered Cranmer, so now it hampered Mary, for they were the same clergy; they were in essence late-medieval clergy, little touched by the new spirit of reform, Catholic or Protestant.
And I thought, does this not sound like The United Methodist Church of today? Reformers of both liberal and conservative backgrounds push programs and proclaim standards of faith and practice, but both ends make little headway against the muddling middle. Sometimes that's a good thing, I confess, since that kind of inertia means it's hard to stampede the church. But then, sometimes it makes me want to bang my head against the wall, when I see people in denial over some of the issues that threaten the church. I'm sure it frustrates our bishop and all who are working to revive the institutional church as much as it frustrates the fire-eaters of every persuasion.
In any case, anybody who wants to move the church needs to remember that the great mass of the church, lay and clergy, are simply not paying attention to what you think is so important. They remain untouched by most of the fads of all sorts that sweep through the church. If you want to reach them, you're going to have to organize for the long haul, teaching and modeling what you think we should teach and do. And you're going to have to concentrate on reaching those in the middle, not just preaching to your particular choir.