On Giving One’s Life

28 10 2006

A homily for Remembrance Sunday

In contemporary society, the notion of sacrifice is unpopular to have a cause to live and die for brings to mind fundamentalists, extremists, and terrorists. Our understanding of sacrifice is tainted by these dangerous individuals who seem to have such reckless disregard for life, even their own lives.

So instead of offering up our lives, we seek to preserve them, pickling ourselves with beauty products, visiting the altar-less temples of health spas, and when that fails to save us many undergo the surgeon’s knife. In this world of immortal youth, death is chased from view; confined to high walled cemeteries where the bereaved, those for whom death is no longer an anathema, go to remember. Still for the world outside those places of remembrance, death is the elephant in the room, the final taboo.

Then we have a day like today, a moment in which the rules are suspended; where the sacrifice and death are bought out from behind high walls and paraded through the streets. It is today that we remember the courage of those who gave their lives for our future, and paid the ultimate price for our freedom. And for some of us we look back on a time we cannot remember, a time when people believed in a cause, in black and white, in right and wrong.

Still for us outside these moments of remembrance, causes, and the sacrifices made on behalf of them, are dangerous shadowy rumours whispered in private meetings at the dead of night. Instead, we safe people seek comfort and convenience, far be it from us to sacrifice our security for the cause of another, let alone our lives.

However, it is ironic given our distaste of sacrifice that we end up making the greatest sacrifice of all marginalising the foreigner, oppressing the poor, denying the dispossessed their rights. So, today we remember those who sacrificed their lives for us and we receive God’s challenge to us, inviting us to stake our lives on His altar.


To the United Reformed Church

17 10 2006

I think we are at a stage nationally where we will have to close church buildings, move congregations and focus resources. I know to some that sounds callous but we are getting to the point where our current model of ministry won’t work- we simply don’t have the money or ministers and to carry on as we are will be impossible within the next ten years. It is no good to have a mentality of maintenance for decline; it is time we took the bull by the horns cut the ministers, projects, or church buildings that are a dead weight around our necks and resourced innovative new initiatives, church plants, and flagship congregations.

It is time we sought visionary leaders rather than the church management- our ministers are not called to serve churches they are called to serve God and ordination recognises this call. It is this fact that makes ministry a vocation rather than a job! It is time we learnt to release and support ministers for mission rather than insisting they do ministry- ‘the way it has always been done’. We should recognise that missiology drives ecclesiology not the other way around i.e. the church is the motor for mission not the destination of mission.

I am a believer in ecumenism, but not ecumenical partnership driven by falling numbers and closing congregations. It has to be a mission orientated ecumenism; it is my belief that this is far more about organic, grass roots projects than organisational union. The most successful ecumenical initiatives have not been formed institutionally, but they have developed through cooperation for mission. In every case, they involve people giving up the desire to insist people come to our church and start thinking about our church (Catholics, Protestants, and Pentecostals) going to them.

The west, in the twenty-first century, has to be one of the most challenging times in which to be in Christian ministry. I know it has been said before that the church is in decline and young man there is no guarantee that you will be in ministry in twenty years time etc. etc. It is my belief that this is now true unless ministers are released to mission led ministry and unless ministers have the ability to meet the demands of mission led ministry then they may not be in ministry in twenty years time. I know there will be those who accuse me of negativity, of despair, of pedalling self-fulfilling prophecies but believe me that is not my intention. I am just convinced that the church will live on and the fact that God is still calling people in the ministry of the URC is proof that the church will live on but whether it will be called the United Reformed Church or have the same structures of the URC is in doubt.

I want to finish this with a final plea to ministers and to churches please be mission minded, serve without expecting reward, love those who seem unlovely, and seek the Kingdom above all.

A Christian’s Job

11 10 2006

I was recently asked what my role as Christian was and here is my reply-

I think the best place to start is to explain a bit about myself and my perspectives on life. I am an evangelical Christian but I live in the United Kingdom and like most British people I am bemused by much that passes for evangelical American Christianity.

1. because it presumes that the proper subject of Christian ethics is America rather than the Church.

2. because it strikes me that a truly evangelical Christian faith has more to say about the poor and the oppressed than human sexuality.

I suspect that much of the conservative wing of the church is captive to a politically partisan and non-Christian ideology. I could be described as ‘postmodern’ in some circles as I do not place much stock in universal foundations for knowledge- for example during the Tsunami villages who saw the sea retract in Indonesia fled to the mountains because ancient stories suggested this was a sign of impending disaster- in many contexts we would laugh at their superstitions but how true do we know those myths to be now.

In terms of ethical decisions I am not convinced that what is possible and permissable (scientifically or democratically) is necessarily what is best theologically. However, I do not believe that forcing others to live by theological convictions that they do not share with Christians is helpful or justifiable.

So what do I think the way ahead must be- well it involves freedom of religious conviction (not pluralism nor deism or atheistic civil religion, rather plurality). In the education system this may either involve more independent religious schools (Muslim, Hindu, Christian etc.) or freedom of religion within institutional schools.

I think that banning expressions of worship for fear that it offends others represents an infringement upon civil liberties. I am not saying that such people should be forced to pray or join in but nor do I think people should be stopped from expressing their faith. I am convinced that not having faith in the spiritual or in a personal creator God is not a default or neutral position and the continuing growth of Christianity worldwide seems to testify to this fact.

In a sense I am saying that it is not my job to submit my faith to your measurement of truthfulness. Instead, it is my job to live by my faith in such a way that people commend me for integrity of character and sincerity of conviction. My job far from being to justify my own lifestyle choices is to resist justifying them to accept that they are different from others around me and to resist conforming to a monocultural (atheistic or pluralistic) understanding of life.

In this way I hope to commend my faith to others. The Amish community’s recent reaction to the Carl Robert’s murders is a good example of this faith in action. It is my belief that there exists a most excellent way and I am attempting to walk it.

The Emerging Church Manifesto

7 10 2006

Well I’ve always been scared of being considered moderate so heres to saying good bye to the chances of that happening!

It is time to cut the froth, the coffee and candles, turn off the Apple Macs, and grasp the serious theological vision of thinkers such as Lesslie Newbigin and Stanley Hauerwas. We are living in an alien culture and social order, and we have given in to worshipping the false god of technological, capitalist, democratic government. It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the lie that to be ‘in the world’ means we must participate fully in a western democratic society, in its technological developments, in its financial structures (and the often dubious benefits of those structures), and in its politics.

In Christendom, we entered into a pact with secular society (a kin to buying horses from Egypt or yoking oneself with the unbeliever) and we are living with that legacy. It was a bit like a suzerainty treaty and the state was our suzerain, meaning the state always had the upper hand (and led us around by the nose). For a long time this compromise worked for the church, we established schools, built hospitals, we were highly thought of in society, our bishops represented us in the House of Lords and the common man was expected to attend ‘worship’. The problem is that after 1500 years, the Local Education Authority no longer feels the need for our input education, the Local Health Authority manages our hospitals, and people don’t want or have to attend church. It is clear now that our social order is governed by principles opposed to those of Jesus Christ.

It is so distressing to see that the church has lost so much influence in society and yet I am glad that the compromises we made are out in the open. I am pleased because we now have the opportunity to build a church that is more faithful to its Lord. However, we may have to start from scratch because the established ‘church’ or ‘churches’ remain fatally compromised both financially, legally, and politically. I also think that this time is going to be far more difficult than it was the last time because we have to compete against the schools and hospitals the secular state annexed and corrupted. However, we were part of the glue that held society together and without the religious sponsorship social order will continue to decline and the government will get increasingly prescriptive.

In contrast to this approach, the Christian community will not be ruled by force but by commitment to participation within a common life together. It is from this closer communion that we will establish hospitals and schools that will compete with secular institutions. In a Christian hospital, you will not be offered an abortion but alternative support and care, not that people have to accept this they are welcome to go elsewhere. In a Christian hospital, you will not be offered the right to assisted euthanasia but better palliative care to enable you to die with dignity (nor will it be necessary to prolong your life using technology when you feel it is your time to go home). In Christian schools, we will not give spiritual development apart from practical disciplines and education, instead we will teach that although science suggests that the world is evolving due to the ‘survival of the fittest’ our faith teaches us to care for the poor and the weak.

In short, we will provide hospitals that minister holistically to whole people rather than distinguishing falsely between the body and the spirit. The emerging church will provide schools that teach children about the material and spiritual world in which we live (the future church will not be deceived by dualistic notions). It will no longer be said that the ‘emperor rules in time and Christ in eternity’ because the Christ’s kingdom will be now and not yet.

One last comment, as I sit back and reflect upon this manifesto for the emerging church it occurs to me that the state will not like the church of the future, we should expect persecution but worse than persecution we should expect to meet our Constantine… we must be clear we have learnt our lesson- the only suzerain we need is our Lord Jesus Christ. So let us renew our covenant with God and never make the same mistake again.

Against the Post-Constantinian Agenda

4 10 2006

I find myself growing increasingly bored of the post-Constantian agenda not because I believe it is inherently wrong it’s just poorly advocated. I agree that the church must be prepared to forgo some of the privileges it received as a sponsor of the state but that isn’t the churches job to tell the state to disinvest in the church. It is the churches role to be critical of the areas in which the state has distorted its ministry and forced it to act in the interests of earthly citizenship.

In the future we may lose funding for Christian schools but the church should work to create communities that can sponsor Christian education of the highest standard that is not dependent on state funding. It seems to me that the state may design chapels in hospitals as inter-faith environments or even remove places of worship from state hospitals altogether but the church must subvert these decisions by creating Christian hospitals that provide a different quality of care for ill, elderly, and dying. This must involve investing in prayer and healing centres, with a focus on palliative care rather than sanctioning assisted dying (as pressure is put on the state to legalise euthanasia).

Indeed let the church arise with a positive post-Constantian agenda rather than a pathetic capitulation to the secular status quo. It is for us to teach the world how to live as God intended, not for us to sacrifice our influence on the altar of secular politics. Although, we may only recover the identity and shape of a viable Christian community for the twenty-first century when the nations we are find ourselves dispersed amongst are so decadent and corrupt that the Christian legacy is no longer remembered.

spiritual and political- a moral quandary

4 10 2006

I have a moral quandary- I know these problems don’t get us anywhere but this one is being played out before our eyes. America and Britain invade Iraq, Christians oppose this action, not because we don’t believe that invading Iraq as part of war on terrorism could reduce the threat of terrorism (although it seems clear now that it hasn’t) but because we believe we are called to suffer (and even die) for divine purposes. I can see how the decision not to go to war was obvious but what happens when you have gone to war, do you pull out when your casualties start mounting leaving a vacuum that results in a bloody civil war or do you stay knowing you made the wrong decision in the first place and suffering and dying because of that decision?I am struck by something Hauerwas wrote in Resident Aliens, referring to the issue of abortion he pointed out that the good news of the gospel was not ‘you’re not allowed an abortion so deal with it’ the good news of the gospel is ‘you don’t have to live that way we can show you a different way to live’. Our nations have made a terrible mistake by going into Iraq (in a bid to avoid the suffering of another 11th September) they have unleashed terrible blood shed on that land, but if they pull out (in an attempt to avoid more soldiers dying) there will be a bloody civil war. Our countries made a decision and this choice has changed the lives of millions of Iraqi civilians (for better or for worse) now our countries must take responsibility for their actions.
I hear conservatives talking about closing and banning abortion clinics, but if we are going to force pregnant women to carry through with their child birth then we must take responsibility for caring for them (for bearing them up in the hard times). I think in Iraq if we take the decision to pull our troops out in an effort to reduce our national and personal suffering then we must have a plan for bearing with those who suffer the consequences of our actions. Once again I want to state my support for Christian Peace Teams who are surely leading the way in the effort to solve this quandary.

Perhaps, we may legitimately say that after the decision to go to war was made we have no more to say about this matter? (but is that right- we have be able to live in a fallen world).