Year by year, when our Church membership
numbers are published, there is one particularly distressing column. We do not
mourn those who have died, they have been promoted to the Church Triumphant. We
are not unduly concerned about the trickle which is described as having gone to other
Churches. We regret their folly, but we cannot think them really lost. The real grieving
figure is that of the thousands who have simply “ceased to be members.” Some people
say they are small loss; they can never have been really whole-hearted members. I do
not believe it. Of course they were not perfect, but neither were they hypocrites. They
have lost a faith which once they had, and, for this is the main point, that is something
that in the future might happen to any of us. You cannot ever become so good a
Christian as to be secure, beyond all fear of falling.
Ah Lord, with trembling I confess,
A gracious soul may fall from grace;
The salt may lose its seasoning power,
And never, never, find it more (Charles Wesley).
This means you must watch your step when you talk about Christian certainty.
Karl Barth once wrote, “God lends people certitude, but he denies them security.”
That hits it off precisely. God be thanked for the precious loan of certitude, the joyful
assurance in which we rejoice, confident that when Christ took away the sins of the
world, he took away mine, and there is therefore no condemnation for those that are
in Christ Jesus. But beware. The moment you see any Christian, and especially yourself
turning this kind of living assurance into security, you may know that there and
then he has lost the truth. There is no security but Christ, none in our learning (even
in our theological learning), none in our Church and ministry, none in our virtue
or religious experience. We have at once the assurance and the insecurity of faith.
Idolatry then is possible, but what does it mean? C.K. Barrett