Before I return to the weekly routine of chewing over news stories, it feels appropriate to do the usual thing that happens as December passes into January by casting a reflective eye on the previous year and provide some philosophical ruminations to take forward into the next.
It’s hard to identify trends accurately having only really got into blogging a year or so ago, but it’s certainly a challenge to argue that Christianity had a good year in 2012 from a public point of view. We continued to see it struggling to hold its ground in the law courts and in political spheres. Gay marriage was clearly the biggest talking point and for those who look to see marriage remain defined as a union between one man and one woman, the government’s handling of its own proposals has been a bitter pill to swallow. We’ve also seen Christian belief come off worse in equalities cases with B&B owners unable to choose to only allow married couples to share a bed and Catholic adoption agencies failing in their appeals to place children solely with heterosexual couples. Councils were told that they were not allowed to hold prayers at the start of meetings. This was quickly addressed by the Localism Act, but still some councils lost their nerve and took prayers off the agenda. In the last week Celestina Mba lost her appeal at the High Court to stop her employer forcing her to work on a Sunday, with the judge somehow ruling that Christians have no right to decline working on Sunday because it is not a “core component” of their beliefs. We can only expect to see more of this in the year to come.
If you follow these stories closely as I inevitably do, it’s very easy to believe that this country is becoming more secular at an alarming rate. Secularists and humanists continue to do their best to push religion to the margins of society and when the Church is told by the Prime Minister to ‘get with the programme‘ of following society’s trends it’s easy to feel the knives are out for observance of Christian belief in public. To admit to having the Bible as your source of moral guidance is to ask to be ridiculed and ignored as being out of touch with the modern world.
On his US chat show a few days ago Piers Morgan was talking to Rick Warren, the highly respected and well-known pastor of Saddleback Church. Whilst discussing gay rights, Morgan said, “Both the Bible and the [US] Constitution were well-intentioned but they are basically, inherently flawed. Hence, the need to amend it… It’s time for an amendment to the Bible.”
Most Christians would describe Morgan’s words as heresy, but I’m sure there are a huge number of people outside the church who would either completely agree with him or say that the best thing to do with the Bible is to consign it to the dustbin of history.
Warren of course didn’t let Piers Morgan get away with this jibe without a robust response. He came back by saying: “Not a chance. What I believe is flawed is human opinion, because it constantly changes. I willingly admit that I base my worldview on the Bible, which I believe is true and my definition of truth is that if it’s new it’s not true. If it was here 1,000 years ago, it will be true 1,000 years from today. Opinion changes, truth doesn’t.”
As a Christian, it’s easy to become disillusioned with the state of the world when we see society turning its back on God and we also have to be careful of paying too much attention to the media who are always after a sensational story. The worst thing to do when it feels as if your back is against the wall is to retreat into a holy huddle behind closed doors, which is actually what secularists are quite keen to see happen. Alternatively watering down your beliefs to keep others happy as Piers Morgan suggests paradoxically makes you less relevant as the truth gets lost in the mixed messages.
Warren is right that truth is eternal. Jesus said:
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19)
Of course there’s no point in trying to get someone who’s not a Christian to take the Bible at face value and accept its teachings. Only God can convict them of this, but that’s not an excuse to keep quiet and do nothing. The challenge is to prove that Christianity and its principles is relevant by demonstrating that it has far more to offer than alternative philosophies and ideologies. That requires a strength of conviction and demonstration of love that only can come from a close relationship with God. Rowan Williams in his final message as Archbishop of Canterbury said this:
“Here at the Robes project [a night shelter in London], over twenty local churches are combining to offer food and shelter to homeless people in London. Religion here isn’t a social problem or an old-fashioned embarrassment, it’s a wellspring of energy and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated. So let’s recognise this steady current of generosity that underlies so much of our life together in this country and indeed worldwide.
It’s all based on one vision – to make our society, our whole world, work for everyone, not just the comfortable and well off. And it’s a vision that sometimes seems to need Olympic levels of patient hard work and dedication. If you have the good fortune to live in a community where things seem to be working well the chances are that if you slip backstage you’ll find an army of cheerful people making the wheels go round – and don’t forget just what a huge percentage of them come from the churches and other faith groups.”
When you dig beneath the surface and see the way Christianity permeates our nation, how Christians make it a better place at every level, how God is on the move behind the scenes, the fear of the Christian faith being downtrodden and dying just falls away.
There are plenty of challenges for the Church in this country that are all too real and the levels of religious illiteracy in the corridors of power will continue to pit Christians against the state at times, but when you see the bigger picture through God’s eyes, there comes with it a confidence that no problem or issue is insurmountable. Faith for those who have none is a bizarre nonsense, but for those who live by it, it is an unending source of hope.
Whatever happens over the next twelve months, 2013 will just be another year. We’ll get angry and frustrated. There will be moments of tears and rejoicing. Christianity might get a kicking at times, but the Church has coped with whatever has been thrown at it in the past two thousand years and has instead exchanged curses for blessings. I don’t see why this year should be any different. I’m not worried and I certainly won’t be ashamed to stick to my beliefs irrespective of what comes along.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)
Categories: Archbishop of Canterbury, Church, Faith in society
I don’t think we should be surprised that we face opposition. Jesus was a radical and his ideas are disliked by those who would like power and prestige etc. I guess we’ve just got to be sure that when we’re challenging something in the public sphere, that it is motivated by Jesus’ teachings and love.
Yes I agree. Coming across as grumpy Christians who can’t have things our own way doesn’t help anyone as well as missing the point. Opposition comes with the job, so to speak. What’s important is how we react to it.
Who (which comment) were you responding to??
Sorry John, who are you asking?
You Gillan! … but may be that is clear now!
Happy New Year to all.
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19) Hmm.
All of the 613 Commandments? The 10 Commandments? The Two Commandments? The 38 Commandments from The Gospels [http://www.trusting-in-jesus.com/Commandments-of-Jesus.html]?
For Christians like myself I stick to treating others as I would wish to be treated. Of course as a believer I also try to love God with all my heart, body and mind.
It’s a tricky passage that I still haven’t got my head around completely. It speaks to me of God’s eternal Law that Hebrews 8 talks about. God’s laws are not transient. Of course as you say, Jesus sums up the commandments by telling us to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
This is the first place to start when we talk about following God’s commands. Love always trumps legalism.
Agreed. Very tough passage. I used to be much more literal … this passage is a full challenge to my hermeneutics.
As always, I agree with 99% of what you say. What upsets me more, is the lack of real love inside the church … I am not talking about something theoretical or theological here … but the sad reality. Until we get this right, what do we have to offer the rest of the world??
Thank you John! I think I’d be worried if you agreed with 100% of everything I write. You’re right about love within the church. I’ve seen people being treated terribly in what should be a safe Christian environment and often Christians can be more hostile to other Christians they disagree with than those outside of the church. It’s not a good witness. However despite our failings there is still plenty the church has to offer the world. If we wait until we get everything right we’ll never start, but we do need to be honest when we get things wrong.
I agree with you. I am hurting very much right now, there is much hurt within my very lively (Anglican) church …
Happy new year to you all. Thanks for the 38 commands efgd i now have them copied and in my diary. Jesus came to fulfil or satisfy the old testament law by giving it a spiritual rather than legal meaning. The Greek word pleroo suggests a ”topping up” Central is the command in 1 John 23.”And this is his commandment. We must BELIEVE in the name of his son Jesus Christ and love one another just as he commanded us” The Church has loads to offer and we are often really critical of ourselves, i see great work going on so we need to expand on that action. In this we need to be more outward looking not afraid to be in the public space and less like a private club( yes the last thing we need is a holy huddle ) Our society is in desperate need of Jesus and the gospel, our challenge is to find the right way of communicating that fact. Truth delivered with Grace.
You are welcome Graham. I think it is important that Christians understand and explain clearly what the relationship between Christ Jesus and the Law.