Is not the irrational and bigoted rantings of the high profile 'modern atheists' nor is it the secularists; nor is it to be found outside its doors in the shape of modern 'post-Christian' society.
The greatest threat and most effective means of attack come from, and through the 'enemy within', from the very people who we might otherwise think of as part of the family and they are to be found in all places (ordained and lay) at all levels!
Over the years I've been in churches of varying flavours where the biggest block to the church (meaning the local expression) growing or becoming more effective has been provided by members who resorted to the following tactics:
We've never done that - We've always done ..,
Ironically this was perhaps more prevalent in churches that were not CofE! But there are always those who are happy to oppose any attempt to do stuff differently on the grounds that it destroys church as they know it! Many people assume that this is the province of the five stalewart members who doggedly force the BCP evensong service upon churches but this is merely the visible minority (and why have we let the BCP slip into the 'old people's service' category?). The danger is in those who fight to keep church as they want it to be - perhaps better relabelled as 'My Way'.
We've tried that before . . .
And I/we managed to scupper it that time too!
We need to be popular - Let's look like the world!
And before anyone thinks I'm canvassing here for a 'non-inclusive' church, I have to offer a rebuttal of that from the start because I am convinced that the Church is a place of welcome and acceptance. The problem comes from the fact that there are many attitudes outside our doors and inside them are some who want to attract them. Their thinking goes like this:
'If we make the Church a place where people think we approve of them, their life choices and attitudes then they will no longer see us as a threat or source or as a disapproving body. The more we approve and are seen to be like them, the more they will approve of us and will come!'
But they don't come - they merely ignore what was a source of conflict because the itch has gone away; whilst the Church, having laid down its integrity and Bible position remains weaker and broken. Inclusive does not, and should not, mean lowering our standards or putting off the things that have formed, and underpinned, the Christian faith for some time now (and 'yes' I know about slavery and other stuff in the history books).
Sadly these folk work harder at protecting their 'ministry' (what a cleric on R4 this morning spoke of as 'their career in the CofE) or their authority. The people who are obstructive and negative about everything that doesn't give them what they want. This week I've encountered people across all the strata of Church who have undermined things because it compromised them and their role, position, status, department and viewpoint. The protectionist is the opera-singer of the Church, singing 'Me, me, me!' rather than, 'Him, Him, Him!'
Possibly the most wounding of all the life forms to be found in Church! This is the person who undermines the efforts of others, knowing where change needs to be made and understanding the need for people to listen to them. They are the voice that is always discordant amidst the notes sung in unison - knowing best and yet unwilling (should that be unable?) to deliver what they fail to see in others. My view is that those who act thus are given every opportunity to exhibit the potential they (for we all have potential) feel they have and this had seen great success and terrible failures come from it, but there is no way anyone can say they've not been supported, can they?
So here we are, four areas of activity that can damage the Church and yet if understood and managed can also be of great value. The problem is that whilst we all exhibit one or more of the above traits at some stage they, unless they (and us) are managed, given the blessing of honest dialogue and understood, are the means by which the Church is weakened and eventually destroyed.
Leaders - listen. dialogue and gleaning take that which is good and embrace it. Support those who otherwise could become the cancer that destroys. Help those under your cure to grow and fulfil their baptismal calling and those calls that take them beyond that into the blessing of being family.
Church members - examine yourselves to be sure that you are seeking what honours God, blesses people and makes for family. Do not let the sun go down on your anger - if you have a niggle then sort it by prayer, dialogue and more prayer (using the Bible rather than personal desire as the foundation upon which all is built).
We listen to all - welcome all - embrace all as brothers and sisters - tolerate all
We rejoice in the act of reconciling all people to God through the one atoning act of Jesus on the cross
Simple really isn't it?