Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Being a Christian in Today's World

The other day I attended a church meeting in which the participants lamented the fact that Britain was still officially a Christian nation. Although “post-Christian” would be a better description of England today, the contention was that our state still financially supported the church. “It must be so difficult for all the poor Muslims who come over here. They must feel so out of place in our system.”

This is, of course, exactly what the media has trained us to think. The press has tried very hard to cultivate the impression that British Muslims are victims of a society so alien to their way of life. To perpetuate this impression, our newspapers love to report every act of violence incurred against Muslims while consistently ignoring or marginalize the attacks directed against Christians. Yet the truth remains that it is much harder to be a Christian in Britain than to be a Muslim. A survey conducted by researchers at the Royal Holloway College of London University, discovered that 12 percent of our clergy had suffered attack. The violence directed at pastors ranged everywhere from swearing to being shot at. Significant as this was, the survey didn’t touch upon the more organized attacks against the Christian religion through things like Jerry Spring The Opera, the militant homosexual lobby, the anti-Christian police force
and media. In these and dozens of other areas, Christians are made to feel like second-class citizens, selected to be the objects of scorn, mockery and ridicule exactly as our Saviour was.

Regrettable as these developments are, however, the greatest threat to our faith is far more subtle. The most dangerous assault on Christianity is the pressure to keep our beliefs safely locked up within ourselves. It is the temptation to practice a private, devotional type of Christianity that lets other people well alone and never speaks into the public scene.

In first century Rome, the temptation was for Christians to deny their faith by saying “Caesar is Lord.” In twenty-first century England, the temptation is for Christians to deny their faith through saying, “It’s just a personal affair, something between me and the Lord.” So embedded have these sinful attitudes become that even the word ‘faith’ has come to denote something highly subjective. The consequence of Christianity becoming privatised, is the pervasive assumption that no one has any right to tell another person what they should or should not believe, nor can the Bible be used to create expectations, demands or pressures. (See my three articles, 'A Wake up Call to the Church') What results is the ineffective type of faith that asks nothing from others except that it be left alone to walk its own path, in its own way, in its own time. This is the world’s ideal of a Christian, because that type of believer is impotent in undermining the world’s cherished idolatries.

Jesus taught that we should not be like that. Jesus claimed to have authority over everything (Mt. 28:18) and used this as the basis for commanding his disciples to convert, not just individuals, but entire nations (Mt. 28:19). (See my posts The Gospel of Judas and The Power of the Gospel Part I.) Thus, the all-encompassing Lordship of Christ gives us a vision that includes, but then extends beyond, the private sphere of our own lives. It gives us a vision for the institutions and policies of our land. In being authorized to announce the gospel, the church cannot rest content with anything less than this complete vision. That is why protesting against sin is so important. When we write letters to MPs or council members opposing ungodly legislation, or when we stand outside in the rain to rally against blasphemous stage productions, we are accomplishing more than merely protesting specific abominations. We are testifying to the fact that Jesus is Lord over every area of life; that Christianity is as much about what happens in the theatre as it is what happens in our hearts; as much about what happens in the houses of Parliament as what happens in church. Jesus is Lord over all, and consequently there is not one area of life where the claims of Christ do not apply.

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