I was sorting through old papers the other day when I came across a note of a sermon I heard from a beloved pastor years ago in which he declaimed: "Instead of the Church making the world more churchy, the world has made the Church more worldly."
And it occurred to me that it is a simple but serious mistake to equate Christianity with the churches, or with what is called the "Christian religion".
There is no doubt that traditional religion is in a parlous state, and some will even tell you that God is dead.
They're wrong. Rather, the decline of traditional religion may indicate the beginning of the end of the churches and religion as we know them.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />
That is no bad thing, for religion (churchianity, if you like) has held back Christianity for centuries and rarely more so than today.
So it is not surprising that as churchianity has declined, Christianity has begun to flourish in many parts of the world, and not just the West.
The New Testament talks about the church as the whole body of disciples and followers of Jesus Christ, irrespective of race, creed or colour and certainly of religious denomination.
That church still exists and its members are more numerous than at any time in history.
You find them in every strata of society, every community, in almost every church (and some pulpits), in every workplace, social group, school and sports team.
They are men, women, young people and children who have had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and have watched, sometimes with awe, while his Holy Spirit has transformed their lives.
For them the most important thing in life is their belief in, love for and obedience to their Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Their first aim in life is to try to be like him so that they might serve him and carry out his commandments, in particular: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself".
The love they seek to shed abroad is that which is so wonderfully described by St Paul in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, a love that is patient, kind, generous, humble, courteous, unselfish, good tempered, guileless and sincere - the sum of which describes the nature of their Master.
They study the Bible diligently, not as a chore or a penance, but with joy because it teaches them more about, and brings them closer to, God, in whom their whole lives are centred.
And because they study the scriptures they are pretty much immune to the dogmas of religion and the blandishments of theology, which they recognise as man-made constructs which are not necessarily in accordance with the teachings of Christ.
They will talk about God and Jesus and the Bible for hours among themselves, but with others only if asked.
They would not dream of trying to impose their beliefs on others.
They recognise that Jesus never imposed himself on anyone; folk flocked to him.
But because the Bible tells them not to forsake the gathering together of believers, most attend a church regularly and many are active in it.
They acknowledge that the great commission of the churches is to preach the gospel, and pray and strive towards the day when they will get back to doing just that.
They have their feet firmly planted on the ground, are fully aware of the world around them, and live life to the full in all its infinite variety and excitement.
They are the Church.
They are the salt of the Earth. And I wonder how much more rotten life around us would be if they stopped spreading that divine preservative.