Friday, December 22, 2006

CUs and the Ekklesia Report

In a response to the current dispute between some Christian Unions (CUs) and University authorities the 'independent think-tank' Ekklesia has produced a report outlining what it sees as the causes of the problems and possible solutions to these disputes. Having briefly looked through the report which is on-line ( here are some initial observations...

Thought Ekklesia's strenuous effort to point out its impartiality smelt a bit like 'protesting too much'. Overall the report was reasonable and even handed only on the basis that you believe:
(a) Unity is inevitably better than division;
(b) Majority = moral authority;
(c) Inclusiveness is to be preferred over principle.

The report opens by talking about the pejorative language used in the dispute and cites 'banning' and 'political correctness' as examples. It's noteworthy that language such as 'gay cure course' & ‘homophobic’ is not cited - thus perhaps giving the impression that the hyperbole and misrepresentation is only on the part of CU's.

It stresses at various points that CUs represent only one part of the Christian spectrum and their views are not shared by other sections of the church. I daresay CU views are not shared by the 'Gay & Lesbian Christian Society' for example, and many in the professing church deny the Virgin Birth, the literal Resurrection, Penal Substitution, the 2nd Coming etc - but since when was theological truth contingent on a popular vote. The effect is to present CUs (i.e. Conservative Evangelical Christians) as a narrow, unrepresentative and extremist sub sect - in this way they can be marginalised and picked on while declaring tolerance of those other parts of Christendom whose views are more in line with a secular and liberal culture.

There is no greater slur today than to be an extremist. Extremists are fair game, they are a threat not deserving of tolerance or respect. It is a highly effective tool to push shaky Christians away from standing up for contentious beliefs and issues. Make no mistake - Jesus was not crucified and the apostles were not persecuted because of their moderate views.

This marginalisation tactic is used when comparing the size of NUS membership to that of CUs - the implication that the NUS/SU's sheer size gives it a moral authority over these piddling CU's - might is right!

CU's are also implied to be manipulative and calculating - they prey on the weak, simple-minded and vulnerable. The advice given by CUs about ways supporters might write to MPs etc is outlined almost as proof of such sinister manipulation. That such advice is produced by '101' lobby groups such as Greenpeace is not acknowledged.

Throughout the report no questions are asked of the motives or practises of those involved in the NUS or SU’s. A silence that implicitly assumes that those running those bodies are impartial, above prejudice, untainted by the corrupting influence of external belief systems. SU’s are run a reasonable person would conclude by clear-headed, fair-minded, well-intentioned people. This is a big assumption!

It says that 'many' will argue that CU beliefs are not those held by the majority of Christians historically. Well 'some' might argue but they would be wrong - this is arrogance of C21 Liberals who see Church History in terms of C20 Liberal Western Theology and turn a blind-eye to the preceding 19 Centuries and Worldwide Church whose majorities would undoubtedly concur with Statement of Faith on p4. The report is apt at selecting quotes presenting evangelical faith in a negative light.

If you are in a church that holds evangelical/Biblical views on Sexuality, Gender, the Exclusiveness of Jesus as Saviour, bringing up Children in the Nurture & Admonition of the Gospel then you should be concerned. Our conditions for church membership, election of elders, use of premises, techniques in evangelism and Sunday School syllabuses will all be up for scrutiny, challenge and even prohibition on this basis. And outside the 'inter-faith, lowest common denominator, acceptable to the majority melting pot of post-modern religion’ you will get no support from Ekklesia.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Non-religious objectivity?

I was asked to comment on an email forwarded by a church member who was having an on-line discussion with others about Christianity. The email was challenging the person about their Christian beliefs and at one point said: '... you say you've questioned and tested your faith. Fair enough. But I think you've done it in context. I'm sure your family and the people around you have always encouraged you (implicitly if not explicitly) to share their belief'.

The allegation being that your Christian belief is essentially the product of peer pressure and subtle indoctrination by those around you. The thing that struck me about this was the emailer's incredible lack of self-awareness. Firstly, there lies behind such words the unspoken presupposition that non-religious viewpoints are more objective than religious ones. You see this on the media all the time (e.g. any Radio 5-Live discussion on religion), so those who don't profess religious faith are assumed to have a position of objectivity that allows them to 'stand over' religions and make judgements about them. But of course there is nothing objective about a non-religious standpoint - it's just another standpoint. To say there is no God is just as much a truth claim as to say there is a God. To embrace no religion is still to embrace a set of values - the values and beliefs of people who are not (person for person) academically or morally superior to anyone else.

The emailer implies that self-examination by Christians of their faith is flawed due to their 'context'. Again, making the assumption that non-religious people make their judgements in some 'context free' zone - as if there is anyone who can look at life/faith etc outside 'a context'. Yes, you may believe Christianity in the first place because you were brought up to believe it. But you are just as able to evaluate Christianity now as those brought up not to believe - the bias goes ways. The problem is with those who point to the 'context' of others but seem oblivious to their own.

Now some will say, “but I was brought up to make up my own mind on these matters, no-one 'indoctrinated’ me to believe anything”. Well actually they did! If you are brought up to believe that it's ok to believe what you want to about God (even whether He even exists) then you are essentially being brought up to believe that God isn't that important. God, you are being ‘indoctrinated’, is not actually a matter of any great significance. After all it can have no great consequences what your views of Him is. If you are brought up getting the message that God is optional then 'surprise surprise’ you will probably grow up to have a blasé approach to religious matters. Yours is the 'context' (the indoctrination) of religious indifference. Do you see the blindness people have to their own context and influences.

But if God exists then He is massively important to our understanding of life and the future. It would be unthinkable that an issue of such magnitude could be a matter of indifference. No wonder Christian parents are concerned to educate their children about it. Imagine, for example, saying that we should leave children to make up their own minds about racism - that children should be left to decide for themselves whether some races are inferior or not. Our emailer would be horrified by the suggestion (I hope) because he recognises that what we think about other people has consequences so serious that it would be negligent not to give direction to our children in this area. So it is with God because what we think about Him has huge consequences.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wheels within wheels

(The battle between pride, belief and despair)

Was reflecting on a pastoral situation sometime ago and it occurred to me that what was needed was some bold action. ‘What you need to do’, I thought to myself, ‘is to stop pussy-footing about with your usual over-qualified prayers and tentative assessments. You need to say what you think and pray openly, boldly and directly for resolution’. This of course would mean putting myself on the line before others – unambiguously asking for a specific answer and waiting with the others party to my prayer for that answer (or not!). However, a sense of conviction built up inside me that this is what I should do. Ah, but then, another part of my mind kicked-in thinking how impressive it would be to get an answer to prayer in such circumstances, and how such a resolution following hard on the heels of my intervention would raise my ‘spiritual stock’. I even started rehearsing the subsequent anecdote – all dressed up in mock-piety as I recounted my experience to imaginary listeners.

Then my better self took the upper hand and firmly rebuked me for such self-seeking and ungodly motivations. Then despair – how could I even imagine that God would use someone like me – what a joke that someone so riven with self would have such prayers answered. So I concluded there would be no point in being bold and praying like that because people who had such experiences were obviously free from such sinful thoughts.

Then I remembered the devil and I remembered grace. My despair was a victory for the devil – what great tactic to pre-empt me even attempting boldness in prayer and taking a risky step of faith. All the devil has to do is remind me of my flaws and he’s won – I’m depressed, no bold prayer is made, the pastoral problem remains. And what about grace? Since when was my worthiness the basis for believing in the effectiveness of prayer? Such is our old fleshly nature that all prayer will be a battle – the key is recognizing and repenting of ungodly motives and then persevering in prayer for the right reasons. If we wait for the day when we are free of such feelings before we pray then we are waiting for nothing less than heaven. God calls us to pray confidently because we can have confidence in Jesus not because our prayers are untainted. So maybe it’s time to pray boldly (and openly) – knowing our hearts but also knowing that here as everywhere we simply depend upon the grace that gives unworthy people what they don’t deserve.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Standing with the brothers (1 Peter 5:9)

Copy of letter sent to local MP - 23/11/06.
(Details of how you can support CU's are on the Greenview Noticeboard and can be found at the UCCF website)

Dear Mr Harris MP

Christian Unions and Freedom of Speech / Religious Belief

I am writing to you as my local MP on the above issue to express my concern about recent decisions made by certain university authorities to curtail and in some cases ban Christian Unions on account of their religious beliefs.

You will be aware of the decision by Edinburgh University to ban the Christian Union there from holding a course which teaches traditional Biblical views about sex. The course (entitled ‘The Pure Course’) simply reflects mainstream Christian belief that sex is something that God intended to be celebrated only within the context of heterosexual marriage. While I appreciate that others will disagree with this view, it is hardly a radical new doctrine and indeed is a belief also shared by orthodox Judaism and Islam.

The latest proposal by Edinburgh University is to allow the course but that materials outlining alternative viewpoints must be made available (i.e. materials provided by the University) and that posters must be displayed making the availability of these materials known. The Christian Union is likely (and rightly in my opinion) to reject this as an imposition upon a Christian organisation that would not be countenanced regarding other groups. For example, would it be suggested that at the next Labour Party conference there should be a requirement to make available the views of the Conservative Party with posters displayed making this known?

Orthodox Judaic/Christian views on sex may not be popular today and indeed may not be comfortable for some people (of whatever sexuality). However, this disagreement and discomfort is also felt the other way round by Christians in the face of an increasingly secular society. It seems to many Christians that the ‘Human Rights’ agenda is starting to become a power tool through which the views of certain groups are imposed on others. It seems particularly ironic that this attempt to ‘outlaw’ traditional Christian belief has arisen in a University – the very place where the exchange of ideas should be encouraged rather than suppressed.

I would be very grateful that if you are in sympathy with any of these concerns that you would use your influence to preserve the same freedoms for Christian Unions that is enjoyed by other groups on University campuses.

Thank you for your time in this matter and thank you for all the work you do on behalf of the community in Pollokshaws.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Hunter
(Full-time elder, Greenview Evangelical Church).

Monday, December 04, 2006

Jesus & President Bartlet

Psalm 145… a bit more

Last night at the Bible Hour we thought on the call to look above and beyond this world’s power and grandeur to the far greater majesty of God’s Kingdom and God the King. We mentioned the need to imagine these things and how imagination was a crucial part of faith – not imagination in a fictional or airy-fairy sense but imagining a reality that we have yet to see with our own eyes. This is what David does in Ps 145 – had David seen the Kingdom of God that he describes as glorious and splendid. No, there is no mention in the Bible of him being caught up into heaven or even having the sort of visions experienced by Ezekiel, but he imagines it.

So we challenged ourselves to imagine with the ‘eye of faith’ our King and His Kingdom which leaves all this world’s pomp and achievement looking very second rate. But here’s a thought on the back of all that - I’m currently feeling a little bereft as the one programme I made a point of watching most weeks has now had its last ever episode – ‘The West Wing’. ‘The West Wing’ bristled with an atmosphere of power and importance. It was peppered with high powered discussions, motorcades, crisps shirts and immaculately pressed ties. President Bartlett oozed authority as he strode the epicentre of global military and political might. All that was part of The West Wing’s allure, it gave the programme an intoxicating quality, it’s message – ‘it doesn’t get any more important that this!’

But last night we were challenged to imagine a greater ruler and a more impressive setting – and perhaps we struggle to imagine in our minds a Jesus who looks quite as impressive. The problem is that the image of Jesus so often imbedded in our minds is, let’s be honest, the long-haired hippy character of musicals and children’s books. Not surprisingly putting that type of kaftan-wearing doe-eyed figure alongside the alpha-males of world power never quite excites us in the same way. Now don’t misunderstand my point – I’m not suggesting we need to imagine Jesus in a suit or in a motorcade to grasp His greatness. Nor am I suggesting we think less on his qualities of compassion and gentleness. However we need to recapture, I think, just how impressive a man Jesus must have been. A man who exuded authority, charisma, wisdom, fearlessness and leadership. The apostle Peter was clearly a ‘man’s man’, a bloke, someone who did physical work and wasn’t shy of a fight. I don’t think Peter would have been bowled over and captivated, as he clearly was, by some reedy, flower waving beatnik. The Jesus of the New Testament impressed people, was charismatic, bold, in control, someone admired but also feared. In short He was formidable. I reckon that if you were going to meet Jesus for the first time you would have butterflies in your stomach and when you shook His hand your heart would skip a beat. Our King commands the room, sets the agenda and has the last word. Now imagine being part of His plans.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Ministry Checklist

(A quick review for all those involved in church ministry.)

  1. Am I starting to shortcut on prayer and Bible study (because these are the things no-one sees me doing)?

    2. Am I giving time to people from every section of the church – or starting to spend it predominately with those I’m most comfortable with?

    3. Am I giving time to the very important but not urgent parts of ministry (e.g. expansive reading & personal evangelism)?

    4. Am I in danger of equating my ‘success’ in ministry and ‘value’ in the church with being affirmed and popular?

    5. Am I keeping evangelism as a priority in my ministry and church-life (The evangelistic temperature of a church will never rise above that of its leaders)?

    6. Am I loving everyone in the church (seeing Christ in them and responding on that basis)?

    7. Am I in danger of letting primary spiritual care of my wife and children be neglected or pass to others?

    8. Am I staying focused on my ministry priorities or just doing whatever comes up (your no’s give value to your yes’s)?

    9. Am I being ‘an unhurried pastor’ or am I starting to ‘run around’ without thoughtful reflection?

    10. Am I always willing ‘to make the effort’ (and with a smile)?

    11. Am I being gracious and sensitive to the needs and feeling of others while not just becoming a people-pleaser?

    12. Am I remembering that ‘what I am on my knees before God is what I am and nothing more’?

    13. Am I listening to people, remembering and praying about what they say (5 mins of undistracted attention is worth more than half an hour of banal small talk)?

    14. Am I keeping my ministry fresh and developing or is it becoming stale and repetitive? (e.g. sermons / goals / activities).

    15. Am I in danger of this list making me feel guilty – and forgetting its purpose is simply to prompt and encourage.

A call for unreasonable Christians

‘The reasonable man is one who seeks to change himself in order to accommodate the world around him. The unreasonable man is one who seeks to change the world in order to accommodate himself’. THEREFORE ALL PROGRESS DEPENDS ON THE UNREASONABLE MAN’

(From, Man and Superman, George Bernard-Shaw)

Filling up

(A thought for the end of the day).

I have a bad habit (among many!). I’m bad for not going to the garage for petrol until the fuel light goes on and frequently it’s not until the fuel light starts flashing that I reluctantly make the detour to fill-up again. Anyone who knows about these things will be shaking their head at this poor practice. The experts tell us that we should never really let our tanks go below quarter full, otherwise we are in danger of ‘sucking through’ our engines the mucky dregs that lie at the bottom of the tank. Having already had to replace one fuel value I really should know better.

Spiritually I often see a similar pattern in my life. We all know there is nothing quite as refreshing as when we have a good ‘quiet time’. A time of undistracted and focused communion with God in prayer and reading His Word. We arise from such times feeling so much better, with a confidence about the challenges ahead, feeling up for life and renewed in our sense of spiritual wellbeing. But the problem is that as we move on we are using up that ‘fill-up’ of spiritual fuel – which is what it’s for! But it’s all too easy to forget to ‘fill-up’ the next day or even the day after and quickly the resources we’re running on can become the old dregs of self being ‘sucked through’ – inefficient and wearing. Perhaps its not until a warning light starts flashing that we take the time to go back to ‘the garage’. So this is really just an encouragement for myself and you to ‘stop in at the garage and get that spiritual tank topped up’ rather than waiting until we feel forced to. (Php 1:9-11)