I have been in the camp of the church as the alternative society. A people who were not nationalistic, and certainly not patriotic as they saw themselves as trans-national and bonded together in the Spirit. How alternative should they be? When I was 21 onwards I was part of a wonderful community where we shared much together, extended households, sharing of goods to some extent etc. Probably viewed by some within the wider community as weird, yet nevertheless a valuable and very shaping history. The hope was that the church – as people not as institution – would model something and the obvious attractiveness would draw people in. And there was certainly an ‘in’ and an ‘out’.
Western society has been, for many, a good place to grow up. We are not exposed to the wars, such as in Syria; there are opportunities for education; most of us are not starving. There are of course many stories also of oppression and injustice, of institutional violence, racism and sexism. From a global perspective there are privileges in the West, and within that there are those who have been highly privileged. The wealth and power gap is enormous, which does not make those at the top evil, but does indicate something about the system that is at fault. That certainly would seem to be the case if we allowed the 8th Century prophets to critique us. And it is always a challenge as to to who to target: the top 1%, or do we draw the line at the top 10% – then that gets very uncomfortable indeed.
Cracks to a collapse?
If, as many of us suspect, the cracks that are all over Western society are indicative of a level of potential collapse how do we respond? Prophetic critiques of collapse have always been there. A cursory reading of Revelation gives us the collapse of Babylon in a day! Yet Babylon (as symbolised by Rome at the time) did not collapse in a day. In the big scheme of things the days of the glory of Rome certainly suffered immensely, and the ‘merchants’ and ‘sea captains’ would have mourned as many were affected. Yet ‘Babylon’ continued and continues. We SOOOO live in a tension. Scripture continues to declare collapse on all Babylonish systems and yet we continue to live within them. My take is that every small collapse is part of THE collapse that is to eventually manifest. Every step forward is a small picture of the millennium. In one sense they never fully come, neither the collapse of Babylon nor the millennium. One day they will fully and finally come at the parousia. Anyway that is my take!
In the ‘before that time’ we will have partial collapses, manifesting in greater measure at times, and partial manifestations of the peace and health of the age to come. And maybe there are times that see them both happening together. I am so hesitant to make comment on aspects I do not understand, and refer to the angst over health-care in the USA, but living in the UK as I did for the majority of my life, the health provision was phenomenal. As a wage earner to pay into a nationalised system and to get whatever we needed out of it was incredible. Not to face insurance issues when, for example, Sue was diagnosed with cancer, was a blessing with a capital ‘B’. Now there seems to be a challenge on the future of the NHS, and perhaps a move to make health care eventually subject to market forces. For those, like Andy Knox, who is a great voice within that sphere, I am sure there are many challenges, and not simply practical but theological.
Do we have faith, should we have faith to work within, or is our faith for all Babylonish systems to collapse?
So after a few paragraphs I am getting to the point of this post! Here are some bullet points that would need a lot of expansion:
- There are collapses of dominating systems that take place at key times of history. Those collapses are not total, they give way to space for something new to rise (or maybe to come down from heaven) but at the same time there is a re-grouping and fresh systems seem to develop. Some people who benefitted from the former centralised control seem to transform themselves and appear at the centre of the new structures also.
- As believers we ultimately look for something to come down from heaven at that time, and have to be clear of any investment in the dominating system that gave us security.
- That we are of a different spirit… part of an alternative society value-wise.
- That we understand that the call of the church is not to pull everyone into an alternative society but to be the salt so that society becomes an alternative society. This has been the theme that I have sought to pursue of the ‘church as royal priesthood’.
- We take responsibility for the future. I think we could see greater collapses, and more of heaven come down if we did so in reality. Our task is to take responsibility for the shape, so that there is an opportunity for something to rise (come down?) that helps society. Gayle and I, carry at some level, a sense of responsibility for the political well-being of Spain. This does not mean we support a party, or look for perfection, but want to hold space where a new future can arise.
- And a new future is what we are looking for in the West and beyond. Too many want something from the past. The language of independence, and of nationalism, of ‘making our nation great’ etc., (and I am not referring to the USA here, but to the strong winds blowing across Europe that have not blown for some 50 or more years) that seems to be backed by believers does not bode well. By eschatological definition change comes from the future, from heaven, from the throne, and comes down. All alternative societies have to draw from that.
- I consider that believers are the key to the world. The same as Israel was to be a prayer house for the nations, but had become a den of robbers – which raises the question who were they robbing? Selling ourselves into a nationalism is dangerous. Leaving a Scottish identity, and leaving a UK identity has been invaluable, but only in that they are part of the bigger picture of entering into a ‘royal priesthood’ identity for the world. It can only lead to a prayer that whatever society I am part of becomes a greater giver of life than ever before for the marginalised.
- This is a time of incredible shift. Keeping buoyant faith alive is a challenge. Not faith at a personal ‘bless me’ level, but faith at a transformation of society level. That faith is essential as we see only partial collapses, and only partial shifts of society truly becoming an alternative to the consumerist, power-driven one that feeds from and feeds Babylon.
- And growing faith – through losing self-preservation – that we can see greater collapses than before and more transformation than before will be necessary. Otherwise we will also be guilty of becoming a den of robbers. Personally prospering, becoming ‘great’ again, but robbing others.
This post set out to be a follow on from the last one. I have rambled in the process but end with these thoughts. Every investment today is a contribution to the final New Jerusalem. We invest into the Babylon of today to make sure it is an unfinished project and that there is a coming down of heaven to a greater measure than ever into our world. The fruit of which will be the marginalised will prosper and the knowledge of God will spread. That we take responsibility for the shape where God places us. We cannot take responsibility for the choices that are made, but we become responsible so that good choices can be made.