Fairways to Heaven, Sliding to Hell

Norwich Cathedral has just installed a large helter-skelter slide in its nave. Reverend Canon Andy Bryant, one of the clergy responsible for the giant slide, said it was to assist people’s appreciation of the medieval roof bosses. Meanwhile Rochester Cathedral’s ‘Canon for Mission and Growth’, the Reverend Rachel Phillip, is photographed playing mini-golf in her nave, telling the press 

"People are coming in, discovering that they're welcome and... everything that the cathedral has to offer them and it's really positive.”

Locally in Lancashire, Manchester’s Cathedral hosted ‘The UK's largest Gin & Rum Festival’ back in June.

These cathedral authorities seem very keen to ‘get people in’. Is it because visitors bring in the cash? Do they feel that their job is somehow to increase footfall? But how many of these visitors and admiring tourists encountered Christ, for whose glory these cathedrals were supposedly built? Gavin Ashenden, former chaplain to the Queen, responded by saying:

In every generation the Church faces a live or die challenge. Convert or be converted. Either act as an agency for people to encounter the Living God and be forgiven, turned and transformed; or fit into the unforgiving contours of a society that is driven by other forces, other appetites, and smear over their agenda a patina of spirituality that confers a thin covering of political and cultural legitimacy.

He told the Daily Telegraph “Instead of allowing a Cathedral to act as a bridge between people and God’s presence, instead it obscures it by offering to entertain and divert people”.

We conservative nonconformists may enjoy tut-tutting and eyebrow-raising at yet another example of the state church’s foolishness and willingness to compromise; it has watered down the gospel so much, there’s barely anything left to neglect. Yet does not this spirit of entertainment pervade our own churches also? Someone once objected to my preaching at Salem because I don’t make people chuckle at jokes. At some places I visit, they expect a children’s talk that will raise the roof with laughter. Others perform light shows and musical extravaganzas, or well-rehearsed dramas with in-jokes, all satisfying our lust for amusement and delight.

Of course, I’d like more people to attend Salem each week. I’d like our chapel full. I know how to do it. We may not have the space for a giant fairground ride nor a sufficiently level floor for a golf course. But I have other tricks at my disposal. I can tell people how wealthy and healthy God wants them to be; spin yarns and anecdotes; offer advice on good living. But on that great day, when Christ sorts wheat from chaff, believers from church-goers, the regenerate from the dead, for what good will it all have been? Filling churches is a fine thing, but sinners finding Christ is priceless. Charles Spurgeon remarked:

“The preaching of Christ usually ceases when these frivolities come in. These things are so opposed in spirit, that one or the other will have to be dropped; and we know which it will be.”

The other sad fact is that the world is far better at entertaining than the church can ever be. A proper fairground will soon outdo Norwich Cathedral once the novelty wears off; a proper golf course will offer greater satisfaction than anything at Rochester. Again, Spurgeon hits the nail on the head:

“Within suitable bounds, recreation is necessary and profitable; but it never was the business of the Christian Church to supply the world with amusements. 

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.

2 Timothy 4:3

At least false teachers offer false doctrine. Rochester and Norwich are currently offering nothing at all.