CiS at 80 – Our Pentecost Moment?

CiS at 80 – Our Pentecost Moment?

Writing this just after Easter and with Pentecost fast approaching my thoughts have turned more and more towards the Disciples during that first Easter time. They had a few amazing years, following this incredible carpenter from the North, getting to know him, seeing the miracles and experiencing lives transformed. They are beginning to grasp just who Jesus really is, even if they are still, comically at times, tragically at others, far from fully realising that.

Then… crucifixion. It seems an end to the whole adventure. Literally a dead stop. And yet… there is still something about this Jesus. Something about what he did and said and the community of friends that he bought together that still intrigues his Disciples enough to not immediately disperse and just forget it all.

And then… Resurrection! Not with fireworks, not with a grand display but… subtle. Subtle enough that there is no recorded witness to the actual event itself. We only learn of its aftereffects through later testimony. Change is coming upon the Disciples now though, not in a rush, but beginning with a few voices, that gradually rise to a crescendo within the Disciples as Jesus himself walks among them again. They now live with renewed rejoicing and gladness, but beyond them was there any impact..? What was next for this group of random people huddled (hiding!) in a room somewhere in Jerusalem’s suburbs, hoping that they wouldn’t be noticed?

But then – Pentecost! The disciples now know they have something to share, they feel the fire once again, more urgent than they could have imagined! They cannot resist telling others of Jesus and it spreads like wildfire, challenging and changing those it touches, even amongst those who remain sceptics. Nobody can avoid talking about it or wondering. A new movement, a new way of living, has begun.

This year (2024) is our 80th anniversary year – praise God! Eighty years, wow! As part of this I have been looking into our history, gathering stories and reflecting on where we have come from in order to think about where we may go next. From this, for me, the Disciple’s story feels much like where we have come from, where we are now and where we must also go next.

Right now, I think we are in that room. Huddled. Waiting. Uncertain as to our role and future.

CiS began as the Research Scientists Christian Fellowship with a clear goal to proclaim a better relationship between science and Christianity. Being honest, we have taken a battering on that in the last couple of decades. We are struggling to find our place in the Church and wider society. Seemingly endless debates around things like Intelligent Design and New Atheism have drained our energy and deepened problematic viewpoints around science in the Church. The Church’s approach to science has oscillated between a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t tell’ general apathy to attempts to badly misuse it as a bludgeoning tool in apologetics. The approach that we offer, of science fully integrated into, enjoyed and rejoiced in as part of a Christian worldview feels squeezed and in danger of vanishing from public view again.

Public discussion around religion and faith have also radically changed in those 80 years. The discussion around science and faith also. In many ways it has come of age (it is now an academic discipline in its own right for example), but we still seem to rehash the arguments of the past, doing much necessary remedial work, rather than looking forwards.

But I sense that there is renewed opportunity coming out of this. People are tired of the old battles; they want a better way forward. The forced choice of choosing between living faith or loving science is losing its attraction for many. Society is facing fresh questions that deeply involve new science but is recognising the value of ancient wisdom and helpful perspectives from beyond science.

Friends, these are the things that we need to encourage and enable. We have 80 years of history, thinking and pondering on these matters. Between us we have a huge diversity of backgrounds, disciplines, practices… If together we try, then those we reach really will be able to hear from us in their own ‘language’! But right now, we have retreated to that room and locked the doors. I believe that Jesus has been walking among us, blessing us and much good has happened but the time is now upon us to throw open those doors once again and stride forth in the Spirit. Eighty years of history is something we can justifiably rejoice in and thank God for. But our Pentecost moment is now upon us and I believe that those 80 years can be just our beginning!

by Dr Gavin Merrifield, CiS General Secretary