[Due to my being out of email range from this Friday, the 6th, through the 12th I am taking a break from the current discussion. I will not be able to add your comments during that time, either. I am sure you will live well, dance, and enjoy your life even without frequent updates!]
I took the ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull, drove across that island on single lane roads that hugged the edge of mountains, dodging tourist buses as they roared past, and made it to the extreme western edge of Mull, the tiny village of Fionnphort. From there I took the short ferry ride to the Island of Iona, a small, featureless, yet beautiful island a long, long way from the population centers of Scotland.
A long time ago — in 563 to be exact — a Celtic prince named Columba came to this island. He was fleeing his past which was often violent and full of nightmarish battles and internecine warfare. A cadre of friends came with him. He was determined to live his life as an evangelist in the dark, hidden places of the world from then until he died; a penance for his earlier misdeeds. When he landed on Iona he could no longer look back and see Ireland. He turned his eyes on the kingdoms of Alba, Dalriada, and the wildlands of the painted people, the Picts.
Using Iona as a base he and his disciples took a primitive, yet rich, version of Christianity all throughout Scotland and left a living, vibrant faith in his wake. From time to time they would return to Iona and regroup. Iona became such a holy place in the imagination of the people of (what would later become) Scotland that its earliest kings were buried there.
Eventually, Iona ceased being a base for bold and brave evangelism and became a place of hushed pilgrimage. And so it remains today. I walked from the ferry past a few homes and two shops, past ancient graveyards and into the sanctuary of Iona. Tall Celtic crosses, old beyond imagination, stand guard around it. People from all over the world come to pray, to make donations to the upkeep of the building and its cloisters, take pictures by the sea, and then they leave. But not to evangelize.
Iona is a relic. It is a place you visit, commune with yourself and God, and move along. Only three quarters of a mile removed from the Isle of Mull, it sends no ministers there. It is a holy foxhole, a Christian retreat center, and nothing more.
Unless we take seriously the need to revitalize our faith and re-study it in every generation, unless we are fearless in our evangelism and in the propagation of our faith, every church is in danger of becoming an Iona. Columba made do with simple beehive shaped cells in which to live and pray. Iona’s building is now beautiful, impressive, and incredibly expensive to maintain. Now, resources must flow in even though they never flow out.
Sound familiar? Sound frightening? So what shall we do about it?
Peace, comfort, and joy to all who call on His Name.