Abortion, gay marriage, Sunday trading (sorry, strike that one off, as we like that now)… All evidence that we are losing it. The ‘look, once we could see Cathedrals and church spires on the landscape, now Mosques are where churches once stood’ type of statement are all laments about what is disappearing.
Now I do believe many things we see in society are huge sign-posts that there is a rampant sickness, so don’t get me wrong. Loss of values, an advance in Islamic presence – both certainly illustrate that not all is well. However, in this article I want to explore some other perspectives alongside that one.
A little aside… but with a point
Sunday-trading is amusing though. I remember when it was brought in. We were strongly encouraged to write to the MP… don’t use too overt Christian language such as ‘it will spoil my Sunday meeting’ but appeal to the need for a break in consumerism, family wholeness etc. All good reasons. But my question was, are we being asked to write from conviction and to use wise language, or are we being told to write because the real reason was the desire not to have the Sunday service disturbed? So was wisdom or deceit being appealed to? And now – those who were opposed to it I think in the main really enjoy a bit of Sunday trading themselves. At the same as there was a ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign, someone suggested if the reason for the desire to have a day of non-trading was genuine why not as Christians go for a ‘Keep Wednesday Special’. No takers on that one.
In Spain, it is great not to have shops open on Sunday. A good reminder that life consists of much more than buy what you want. So maybe (in the UK) it was sad to see the shift.
You have heard it said, but I say to you…
I am so grateful that I do not sit making decisions about laws for society. Personal beliefs and public policy do not have to coincide. I might have a personal belief in a seven-day creation but would that mean I would want to legislate against evolution being taught? I might have a view on same-sex relations, but what would I work to put on the statute book? Legislating about morality is so difficult, and when Jesus (for the disciple) put lust and adultery on the same level our legislative process becomes even harder.
So where do I want to go with this?
- A ‘Christian nation’ – a myth, and not a biblical concept. Geneva, Munster – no thank you. Wars in the name of Jesus against infidels – no thank you. I do not want to put all ideologies and underlying values in respective nations on an equal footing, but in the same way as we cannot demonise a people, so we cannot deify another. The right/wrong line is never between ‘us’ and ‘them’ but through ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘Christian’ is not an adjective that can be tagged on to something, and certainly not on to one of our constructed atates.
- All nations are fallen. There is always a battle with regard to the Babylon that rises up and the New Jerusalem that comes down.
- The advance of the kingdom does not depend on a particular nation having success.
- We are to shape society, the salt of the earth is to be in the soil. (The salt from the Dead Sea being high in phosphates could be used as a fertiliser on the land and as a purifier on the dung heap). The salt is to encourage good growth and inhibit bad growth.
So picking up the latter point, and adding one other aspect to it, the aspect that in NT / kingdom terms are defined positively. (Sexual) faithfulness is not defined by a zipper that stays up; truthfulness is not defined by ‘I did not tell a lie’.
If the body of Christ has an authority this is not first of all through what it says but through how it lives. I do believe public proclamation and declarations also into the heavens above are vital, but it is the life of the Christian body that carries the authority.
So first, a preamble that is vital. The body of Christ is not perfect, nor do I believe God is looking for it to be perfect. He knows us well!! The body of Christ has within it enough failures and wounded soldiers. Grace is to be valued. We must have a theology of a second-start, and a third- and a fourth-, etc. In a short while I will touch on issues of divorce. I fully understand that divorce is a reality, that it happens for many reasons, and that unless I am truly able to sit where the other person has sat it is very hard for me to make a judgement. So in what follows I am not, NOT, judging any individual, anyone I know personally, nor anyone I ‘know’ through magazine or other reports. However, this does not mean we cannot make comments about the body of Christ as a whole.
Or to put it into another sphere, I believe Jesus taught the way of non-violent resistance, yet I respect those Christians who believed that the war in Iraq was necessary. Respect does not mean that when there is no sorrow about the loss of Iraqi life that I cannot raise a voice.
Help: ‘they want to redefine marriage’
What issues we face today. Maybe in years to come it will be seen to be no bigger than that of slavery. After all many ardent evangelicals were the supporters of slavery. At this stage I do not see the two the same way. I consider there is something unique about heterosexual marriage (rooted in the duality seen in creation: heaven/earth; land/sea; male/female). I know that there are some (evangelical) voices that will argue with that… and even if I am wrong the bigger point I am making I think still stands.
Society will inevitably re-define marriage because the church has already redefined marriage. ‘Till death us do part’ has become (and of course there is grace…) ’till it is not as convenient as before’.
And I live with the tension of not judging, but also feeling that it needs to be said when the divorce rate inside the church is as high as outside in some
Christian nations we have a problem. In other words the church has already re-defined marriage.
The battle we face is not first and foremost a battle to Christianise society but to see followers of Jesus take seriously the call to discipleship. If we wish to see society define aspects in a healthy way then we are the ones who have to begin the process.
So it is time to define faithfulness, as making a positive contribution to the other regardless of circumstances.
They devalue human life
The widespread practice of abortion on demand is a sad statement about the value of life. Yet there has to be, in some measure, a correlation to how we treat others. If we dehumanise life we should not be surprised to live in a society that dehumanises life in the womb. It is too easy to dehumanise those of other faiths, to see them as the enemy, and therefore expendable. We cannot afford to do this as believers.
Jesus confronted Simon the pharisee with a question when a prostitute came in and wept over Jesus’ feet. Jesus asked, ‘Simon, do you see this woman?’ Simon saw a prostitute, not a woman. She was dehumanised. Jesus saw through the woman’s lifestyle to her heart, he saw a woman who loved much.
We might hate a system or a set of beliefs. Those beliefs might be anti-Christ or they might destroy the image of God in a people through control and domination. But it is so important that we do not then take it a step further to hating the people who are in that system. The image of God in humanity does not stop once I go outside my cultural boundary, or I go beyond my faith boundary.
Do good to all, especially those of the household of faith is a pertinent command that remains.
We certainly will only overcome evil with good. And if, as a follower of Christ, I can so dehumanise people, that I rejoice in their downfall and death, I must not be too surprised that those who do not claim the to have the same high view of humanity as I profess, terminate life in the womb.
Legislation is important. There is a ‘righteousness that exalts a nation’, but the controlling of society through making certain practices illegal will not take us too far; and the abandonment of the way of the cross by those who follow Christ will sow seed that produces a sad harvest in society.
We do not want to sit back and bemoan the loss. We want to live, love, cross boundaries, lay down our lives in such a way that we shape the world we live in.
Legislation is needed. But a dream would be even less legislation but a greater shift of norms leading to society being a healthy place to live.