Shock waves from the scandal surrounding the Nine O'Clock Service will be felt within the Church for some time. I join the Archbishop of Canterbury in praying for the victims of a tragedy that should never have been allowed to happen. But it would be a mistake to dismiss as worthless all "alternative youth services" with their drama, video and modern music. They illustrate a centuries-old tradition in the Church of representing to each generation the unchanging message of salvation through Jesus Christ - without distorting its content.
In fact, Christianity would never have survived had it not engaged with different cultures in a way that made its message easily understood by those outside its own sub-cultural ghetto. William Booth and the Salvation Army utilised military uniforms and brass bands, John Wesley took gospel preaching into the open air, Robert Raikes and Hannah More founded the Sunday School movement. Their names are now venerated but their innovations were all fiercely attacked at the time. And let's not forget that the sound of a piano in a church service was once considered to be irreverent; an organ was positively carnal.
The evangelical movement is the fastest growing section of the Church. This is precisely because of its acknowledged ability to present the message of Christ in a way that people can clearly understand. Family services, contemporary worship and modern translations of the Bible are among developments that help support the presentation of the age-old gospel message. Of course there are dangers. Youth services and other forms of evangelism, in their attempts to be culturally appropriate, must never fall into the trap of distorting Christian teaching or of being compromised into justifying double standards.
It appears that Sheffield's Nine O'Clock Service lacked accountability. It became locked into its own ghetto, with little interface with the wider Church, while absorbing ingredients from New Age culture and the controversial Creation Spirituality that could be regarded as incompatible with the New Testament.
The problem is not one of style but content. We should employ contemporary methods to proclaim age-old truths. But we need to avoid the temptation of baptising our culture. For Christian truth has not changed. If the Church were to sacrifice its integrity and the consistency of its message, the shockwaves generated would eclipse the collapse of a thousand Barings Banks.
The writer is director general of the Evangelical Alliance UK.Reuse content