Tag Archive for Christianity

Church: Counter-Cultural, Revolutionary and Subversive

[This is the first article in a series of two in which I explore the position of the Church in the world. In this first article I cover how the Church is called to be counter-cultural, revolutionary and subversive in its relationship with the world. In the second part I will make clear the Church’s responsibility to remain submissive to the governing authorities.]

God’s Kingdom, Not Man’s

The Church, and those who are members of the Church, live in the world. Whilst being present in the world, Jesus Christ is clear that His people are not of the world. This means that although the Church is found to be a part of the world around us it is not part of the same kingdom. The authorities and powers of this world are not the powers to which the Church appeals or is bound to.

Christians, and the Church of which they are members, have been transferred out of the kingdom of this world and into the Kingdom of God. If there be any contrariness or conflict between that which the world (and the rulers, authorities and powers of the world) insist upon and the laws of obedience to God, then it must be the Christian’s duty and the Church’s duty to be obedient to God, not man.

Jesus, though He is Lord and Saviour and is both the highest authority and the only way of salvation, has nevertheless allowed the forces of rebellion against God to prosper in this present world. Those who belong to the world do not know God nor His people. Yet whilst the world is under the sway of darkness, those called out of the world by Jesus are now children of Light, even though walking in this dark world.

The Counter-Cultural Church

The Church has always had a tension with the cultures in which it is found. The Jewish nation and the Roman Empire in which the early church existed tried to suppress and subvert the Christian world-view. Yet the Church, for its part, sought to live by standards which were alien to those authorities. The religions, customs and etiquette of the non-Christian cultures did and does impact upon the Church, yet equally the Church is a force and lifestyle that runs counter to the prevailing winds of fashion and culture.

The standards of behaviour demanded by cultural sensibilities, or the lack of morality by which they so often express themselves, are to be resisted by Christians and the Church as we seek to live according to God’s standards and not those of the world around us. These are so often in conflict, and for a peace-loving and peacemaking Church it can be a profound challenge to stand up to the debauch culture and determine to live in such a way that will mark us out as “misfits in the world”. The Bible calls Christians “strangers in the world” and expresses our position in this world as temporary residence, not a lasting citizenship.

The Subversive Church

The Church is profoundly subversive. The whole point of the Church’s existence in the world is to convert sinners into saints. Neil T Anderson, in his book “Victory over the Darkness”, said that the Church is “a military outpost under orders to storm the gates of hell. Every believer is on active duty, called to take part in fulfilling the Great Commission.” The role of the Church is not to placate and appease, but to actively seek to undermine the values, institutions and norms of a world fallen under the sway of evil.

An important point here is concerning the theology of Dominionism, which teaches that the Church should seek power and influence through laws and power structures. I do not believe that this “lording it” is what Jesus calls His Church to do. What I do believe is that the Church should use what we might term “soft power” in contrast to the “hard power” of theocratic authority. This soft power takes the form of example, persuasion and, above all, prayer.

The Revolutionary Church

The Christian Church has always been called to be revolutionary. It is not sufficient to accept the status quo and it is not sufficient to appeal to cultural, legal, or traditional norms as a defence for actions or inaction.

The Church is engaged in a deep and profound war against the forces of evil and corruption and should never engage in actions or inaction that compromises its basic calling as a Christian witness in the world and to the world. (Of course, as I will discuss in the second part of this series the Christian and the Church as a whole is called to obey the authorities, whether religious or secular – yet if there is a conflict or contrariness between what the authorities demand and the laws and principles of God then the Christian and the Church must choose obedience to God over and above any duty to the religious or secular authorities.)

The Church which was founded by Jesus Christ and built upon the rock of the testimony of Peter is expressly called to advance a kingdom that is contrary to the kingdoms of the world. It is, therefore, a revolutionary movement seeking to call people out of every nation and into God’s own holy nation. It is counter-cultural and subversive and seeks to revolutionise human interaction, values and principles.

The methods by which the Church does this are not the hard power of force and compulsion. No, the method of God’s Kingdom is love. Christ calls the Church to love as He loves – a self-sacrificial, God-centred, and other-focussed love. Sharing the Gospel is part of this, but there is also that aspect whereby Christians are called to make a positive impact upon the world. As the Church should not have worldly power, the way in which this revolution is carried out is by bearing witness, through words and actions, of the love of God.

The world may not understand that the Church and individual Christians have love as the primary purpose (and, to be fair, many Christians do not appear to demonstrate this particularly well), for the love of God is alien to those who do not know Him. But for the Christian such love should compel us to make a positive impact upon the world, not only through the sharing of the Gospel but also through social and political action with love and not power as the motive and aim.

[Part 2, on being submissive to authority, can be found here.]

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He Pitched His Tent Among Us

(Note: I intended on writing and posting this before Christmas Day, due to the topical nature of this post. However I decided that family time was more important, and so it is being posted today.)

This time last year St. Paul’s Cathedral were very busy, at least they were in front of the cathedral where Occupy LSX had set up their camp after being pre-emptively blocked from entering Paternoster Square, the Square upon which the London Stock Exchange is situated.

As some pointed out at the time, Occupy was demonstrating in a very real and actual sense a strong part of the Gospel message, even if the full Gospel was not in the forefront of people’s minds. The impressive part of the Gospel message that was powerfully voiced was this: to change the world one must make personal sacrifice, and the focus of our changing the world must be for the benefit primarily of the poor.

There was another aspect, missed by the great Glory of the Cathedral (though the Cathedral does show the glory of God, and Giles Fraser had preached on the needs of the poor the day after Occupy LSX set up), which is that on that first Noel Jesus, God the Son, gave up His eternal glory and dwelt in a sinful and fallen world amongst sinful and fallen people. A literal translation of John 1 verse 14 would have it that Jesus “pitched His tent among us”.

It is not my desire to any longer continue the battle over the rights and wrongs of the Cathedral’s stance during those days, but perhaps this Christmas season we can look at what the Church can learn from the protest movements, and what the protest movements can learn from Jesus.

Occupy and a large number of other protest organisations from Greenpeace to UK Uncut and even to the Anarchists (by and large a peaceful political philosophy despite government and media portrayals to the contrary) would state that their main and primary purpose is to further justice. Here they meet with God – God, in the Christian worldview, is a God who loves justice and wants His followers to practice justice in the same way that He does, through self-sacrifice. (God is also a God of mercy, and so we must always remember mercy even whilst pursuing justice.)

The Church can learn much from those who climb power station cooling towers in order that those in the poorest nations are not starving due to crop failures, or those who give up the warmth and comfort of a centrally-heated house, duvets and fluffy cushions to live for a few weeks, potentially many months, in a tent during the coldest part of the year. Such self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is highly commendable and one which many Christians (including, alas, this one as yet) fail to perform. The Occupiers and other protesters have learnt to “deny themselves, take up their crosses” (Matthew 16:24).

Yet even so, there remains within a majority of these protest movements a self-seeking and a selfishness that is not good, and here the protesters can learn from Jesus. They have learnt “to deny themselves”, and to “take up their crosses”, yet by refusing to “follow after [Jesus]” they deny the justice and mercy of God, claiming that they themselves are the arbiters of such concepts. (I am aware that this is a rather sweeping generalisation, yet to deal with every protester individually on a blog such as this is not possible.)

There is, in addition to this lack of humility, an aspect of self-seeking – a motivation often of envy rather than true love of mercy. My friend and Christian brother Glen Scrivener visited Occupy LSX with a group of people and he told me he was struck by a conversation he had with one protester. I cannot give an exact quote, but the protester said (after a short conversation) that he was protesting out of the motivation that “he wouldn’t have to be envious of the bankers any more.”

In these aspects the protesters need to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn the love of God, which is equally given to protesters and bankers alike, to come to learn from God, to value His principles above their own, and to love mercy as well as justice.

The Church needs to engage with these movements of protest, for the Church is not a domineering institution of hierarchy (or at least, it should not be) but is a subversive force that “turns the world upside down” and has conquered more hearts with the weapon of love than any amount of militaristic imperialist dominance could ever do.

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Does the Church Understand Protest?

This weekend past there were demonstrations organised by the unions against the austerity programme that has been implemented by the Government. Christians took part in these and peaceably showed their support for a grass-roots movement against swingeing cutbacks and the victimisation of the poor.

Yet a week before, on the anniversary of Occupy LSX – the camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral that became the focus of the Occupy movement in the UK – Christianity Uncut and Occupy London staged an ill-received protest at the cathedral.

Protest at St. Paul's Cathedral

Christianity Uncut members unfurl a banner outside St. Paul’s Cathedral – (Photo Credit: Christianity Uncut)

The protests involved a member of Occupy Faith standing reading a prayer; a group of four women chaining themselves to the pulpit; and a further group outside unfurling a banner. Except for the prayer reading, which was formally invited, the protests were not sanctioned by the cathedral and the cathedral made a strong rebuke to those who took part in the action.

Yet is not protest at the heart of the Gospel message? Jesus did not come to make peace, but came with a sword to divide the sheep from the goats. He Himself drove out the money-changers from the Temple; rebuked the religiously hypocritical; called the puppet king Herod names.

Yet so many in the Church (and in my usual manner I use the capital “C” to indicate the universal Church comprising of all believers without denominational bias) seem to regard protest as something inherently evil.

Sometimes a form of protest is allowed, such as in the prayer reading by Occupy Faith at St. Paul’s, or an orderly march through a police-ordained route with a set start and stop time and a clear chain of command that the police can use to control the procession.

Yet the form of protest that has written the British democratic history has not always been the kind of clean-shaven, well-to-do garden party. And we shouldn’t expect it to be.  (It is sad that if the triumphal entry into Jerusalem which we commemorate on Palm Sunday were held in Britain today it would require prior police approval.)

Many in the Church find the idea of protest unappealing – that is for their own consciences – yet equally they should not seek to prevent those who wish to make a demonstrable impact on political discourse.

A democratic society is a fragile one in many ways. We lack the clear autocratic mandate to wage war against enemies or impose necessary but unpopular polices. Yet we are also at constant threat from our own leaders, albeit if those leaders are oftentimes unaware of the danger. The threat of straying too far from the public will is a real one, and public protest is the important mechanism by which the masses make known their dissatisfaction to the privileged (and every member of a government is privileged in that degree) before such gruesome aspects of people-based rule as riot and uprising are manifest.

The response from St. Paul’s to the peaceable and respectful protests two weekends ago show that the Cathedral has not learned from its general rejection of Occupy LSX. And the general distaste which many in the Church have for peaceful direct protest reflects more on their own middle-class comfortability  than the Gospel message of the Man who died on a murderer’s cross to set the captives free.

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Occupy Faith

A new phase in the continuing Occupy movement in the UK has begun with the formation of a new charity, Occupy Faith.

This is a very important development as far as Church Peace is concerned, being as it is a melding of the Occupy protest movement and the faith community.

In part inspired by the Occupy Faith movement in the US (much as Occupy UK was inspired by Occupy Wall Street) the Occupy Faith UK movement has planned a 12 day pilgrimage from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Canterbury Cathedral to highlight economic injustice and solidarity with the Occupy movement.

As a new link to build bridges between the protest and faith communities it is encouraging and inspiring to hear of this new initiative.

I do, however, have concerns.  I know other Christians and Christian groups view these things differently, yet the concept of seeking a form of economic salvation by allying too closely to non-Christian groups is not something I feel entirely comfortable about.

The rationale for Church Peace, as it stands, is to connect with the dissenting community, and though I would like this to include support for moral and ethical protests, an important part of Church Peace is the Christian input it seeks to provide.  The Occupy Faith UK statement of intent prohibits the sharing of the Christian faith and makes clear that there is no purpose to proselytise.  Whilst this is understandable considering their stated purpose of seeking economic justice, to me it seems as though the Gospel is being relegated to second place after carnal considerations of finance.

I am reminded of the situation where Israel was being attacked by the Assyrians and they then made an alliance with Egypt to fight the invaders back, which was robustly condemned by God through the prophet Isaiah.  Is it right that Christians should seek salvation from economic woes (even for the benefit of others) by allying with non-Christian faiths and movements?  Should we not, rather, seek to be witnesses of a better way than that which both Occupy and other faiths purport to be?

Of course, it is a Biblical imperative to speak up for the oppressed and the poor, and in this respect it is highly commendable that Christians should seek to do this.  But is such a close identification with Occupy and those of non-Christian faiths desirable, especially when the movement has banned evangelistic efforts by those Christians involved?

I appreciate that there are other views, and would welcome your comments below.

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Can the Offender Tell the Offended to Forgive?

As I wrote on this website a while back, I felt that the Christian response to the seeming collusion of the authorities at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the forced eviction of the Occupy camp on their doorstep would be to forgive and move on.  I felt that this would have been the correct response, even though praying Christians were dragged from the steps of a church – a sight that should be abhorrent to every person of faith.

Yet those who were so offended chose instead to seek understanding of how fellow believers could treat them in such a way.  This is most understandable, and the letter that those of the Ring of Prayer sent to the Chapter of St. Paul’s was polite and stressed that any meeting would be “in a spirit of love and respect”.

Yet such a move was roundly rejected by the Chapter, and instead the Rt. Rev. Michael Colclough wrote back saying that the matter should be “put behind us so that we can all continue our work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.

Then perhaps we can read the open letter, bravely and courageously put, by Tammy Semede, and perhaps understand the great distress and pain that those at the cathedral caused their brothers and sisters.

Tammy’s letter is both heartfelt and shows a serious flaw in the thinking of the Chapter of St. Paul’s.  Can he who has offended his brother then say “let us put this matter behind us”?  If I stole from you and you asked to meet me in a manner of love and respect to discuss the item I have stolen, should I then say “no, I will not meet but you should forgive”?

Yes, we must move on.  But in my view the authorities at the cathedral need to be taking some very serious assessments of their policies and attitudes.

And perhaps it is a question for the wider Church: are we so enamoured with the grandeur and pomp, the wealth and riches, the rotten carcass of Western consumerism and the sell-out to big money, that we can no longer discern that it is we, the Church, that have been acting not as the oppressed and the persecuted, but as the conniver in the oppression of the poor.

Many in the Church are good men and women, working hard to provide for those who are without, both spiritually and practically.  Yet we also have those whose links to the Establishment outweigh any imperative to help the underclass and any scrap of decency is merely a whitewashed tomb.

As the events at St. Paul’s fade to memory, let us now learn the bitter lesson that we are more comfortable with those who have reputation and wealth than with those who are the modern-day lepers and outcasts.  Let us learn the lesson, let us repent most earnestly, and let us be the hands and feet of Jesus, not the treasurers of the Sadducees.

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