I must admit that even though my friend was a man of good character and unimpeachable integrity, I did have to question a statement he made over lunch.
I asked him why he thought the Church of Scotland had gone into decline. (Just for the record, the decline of the decline of the Church of Scotland is not hearsay. See here and here).
I was totally unprepared for his response: The Forsyte Saga.
This classy drama from the golden age of the BBC drew the faithful away from the kirk on a Sunday evening and seriously weakened the church of Knox and the reformation. If you think I'm kidding: "Many people preferred to watch the Forsyte Saga on television to attending evening services at their local kirk." Read the whole thing here.
Now it would be comforting for those outside the C.o.S. to think it was a specifically Scottish and Presbyterian problem. However - behold - the Methodists way down in the deep south of England were under attack from the same Beeb drama!
Read the history of Teignmouth Methodist. Teignmouth is in South Devon! Auntie has obviously no ethnic prejudice when it comes to distracting the faithful! Here's the killer line:
"By 1961 there were only 23 left in the Sunday School and Evening Services were very poorly attended. The BBC's production of the Forsyth (sic) Saga caused Leaders' Meetings to discuss the timing of their evening services. This affected all the churches and in 1967 the galleries were removed from our church."
This is a church with a history: General Booth had even preached here.
Of course, it would be inaccurate and superficial to blame Sunday night tv for the decline of the historic churches in Britain. There were many other factors that ranged from theology to urban planning and development.
And we'd be foolish to think that because we are free in the Spirit and not dead and traditional like some established churches that we are somehow immune to the cultural forces of our day. In fact, describing historic churches as dead and boring might reveal more about our own perceived self-importance than the reality of what is happening in at least some historic churches.
The question is not just "What can we learn from the challenges Christians faced in the past?" Though that is a very good question. The question is "What has got hold of our hearts?"
It might be tempting to think that the C.o.S. and the Methodists were unfortunate to face their great challenges in an era before recording tv programmes was possible. Or that if some prophet had stood up and urged "Keep coming to the Sunday evening sevrice, saith the Lord, for the day will come when you shall be able to see it all again on UKGold, and the glory of the latter remake of The Forsyte Saga with Damian Lewis will far exceed the glory of what you now see," all would have been well.
For all it's benefits, Sky+ is unlikely to help us squarely face the challenges to the church the enemy will pose in our day - and by "enemy", I mean the enemy, not the BBC.