Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ballot Box Morality

May 3rd is election day for the Holyrood Parliament. This year Christians (indeed all) voters have the added option of voting for an explicitly Christian political party. This has added significance because our proportional representation system means that there is a good chance of Christian parties actually picking up a few seats if church-going folks do cross their box. Further the potential impact of a Christian Party is increased by the likelihood that in a Parliament where no party has an overall majority even having two or three seats can give substantial power and influence.

So, why on earth, in such circumstances would Christians have any reservations about voting for a Christian party? Well here is one reason to at least think carefully:

Christian Parties tend not surprisingly to centre around a number of moral issues. So the leaflets I’ve seen for the ‘Scottish Christian Party’ highlight their policies on Abortion, Section 28, Capital Punishment, promoting Chastity before marriage, opposing Casinos etc. Along with these are the usual all-party policies on helping small business, being energy efficient, promoting public transport etc.

So what is the problem? For myself it is the concern that a small minority Christian party uses the political expediency of large non-Christian parties to enforce a morality on a society that has no desire for it. For example, the Christians use their three votes to make Alex Salmond First minister in return for concessions on Sex Education. Such a scenario while potentially opening up Christians to charges of manipulation also starts to project Christianity as essentially concerned with legalistic moralism. You see when a society rejects God and moves away from the Gospel it will inevitably want bad laws – laws that are self-serving and give license to sinfulness. That is part of the inbuilt judgement that comes on a godless people. The job of the church is not to impose a morality (from the top downwards) upon people who don’t want it - but to preach the gospel so that as individuals are changed by God’s power they will naturally live better lives and want better laws. Israel had a perfect legal code (one that literally came from heaven itself) but it ended-up morally bankrupt because internally they were a people incapable of meeting external righteous demands.

Imposing an external morality on a nation that has by and large rejected God will not transform that nation and is likely to cause great resentment against those imposing it. The Church’s call is to preach the gospel and live good lives among unbelievers. That is not to say that individual Christians can’t be good politicians or represent godly values in the political world - but we should be very cautious about banding the church under a political banner that feels qualified to both impose morality and run our bus services.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Spiritual Tourists

From Eugene Peterson's
'A Long Obedience in the Same Direction'

'It is not difficult... to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain that interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate...

There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient aquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.

Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure...

I don't know what it has been like for pastors in other cultures and previous centuries, but I am quite sure that for a pastor in Western culture... the aspect of the world that makes the work most difficult is what Gore Vidal has analysed as 'today's passion for the immediate and casual'. Everyone is in a hurry. The persons whom I lead in worship, among whom I counsel, pray, preach, and teach, want short cuts... They are impatient for results. They have adopted the lifestyle of a tourist and only want the high points. But a pastor is not a tour guide... The Christian life cannot mature under such conditions and in such ways.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Permission to say 'No'

('culture'/'society' = prevailing media & popular values.)

We live in a culture that exalts ‘tolerance’ as a supreme virtue. This has increasingly worked itself out in the creation of an ‘anything goes’ society. The rights of individuals to express their preferences and to have those preferences acquiesced has become a foundational principle of our 21st century Western culture. This is given weight by the view that a person's preferences and the person themself are almost synonymous - thus to deny me my preferences is to forbid me to 'be myself'. Consequently if anyone fails to give me permission or to acquiesce with my preferences they are quickly branded as oppressive, narrow-minded and intolerant.

Now, of course, our society is not quite ‘anything goes’. It has its boundaries beyond which it does become intolerant. However, these boundary lines are essentially pragmatic rather than absolute (even if people like to think in terms of the latter). For example, our society thankfully does not (yet) accept Paedophilia – although Paedophiles could (and do) argue that their preferences are just part of who they are and all such boundaries are just cultural conventions. Indeed, such have been the huge shifts in ‘public morality’ over recent decades and the lack of any absolute moral foundations for deciding right and wrong – it will be no surprise if our society’s current antipathy to these preferences softens as well in due course.

This pragmatic approach to morality is based in part on a moral collusion – you accept my preferences and I’ll accept yours. No questions asked! But what about those who do ‘ask questions’ and who fear the precedents being created in our society. Who see that a pathway whereby people ‘self-define’ what is intrinsic to them, and then demand the acquiescence of others in those things (which are now classified as their ‘human rights’) must ultimately lead to moral and societal chaos. Chaos in which the clash of rights created will inevitably be resolved by those with power suppressing the consciences and rights of those who think differently.

Our society is offended by those who do not acquiesce with its collective preferences and as a result increasingly seeks to remove the right of individuals to say ‘No’. For our society ‘tolerance’ is to say ‘yes’ to everything (that it likes) – but it is a narrow self-serving ‘tolerance’ because the right to say ‘yes’ can only be meaningful if I also have the right to say ‘no’.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Mother's Prayer

With the passing away of my mother last week there is always the temptation to use the Blog for an outpouring of mawkish grief . However, I hope the account below of how my Mum came to faith (written in April 2005) will be both be an encouragement to readers and honouring to her memory.

Mum started attending Greenview Family Services in August 2004 and then attended the Alpha course in Autumn that year. She admitted being quite defensive about being on the course at the beginning but warmed to it and found it challenging to her. She spoke of how she had felt a great peace since coming to Greenview and that her previous anxieties about life (so afflicted with ill-health) had receded.

On one occasion the Alpha talk used the illustration of Christ knocking at the door – and how the handle was on the inside, i.e. it was up to us to open the door to Him. She said at the following discussion that she ‘felt that she didn’t have a handle’ and didn’t know how to receive all the things other Christians spoke of. It was suggested that she should pray about this and ask that God would show her ‘the handle’ – to which she replied she couldn’t pray, she didn’t know how to. The course ended but it was clear that her attitude to Christianity has softened and she was much more open to the gospel.

In January 2005 she attended the Alpha course again, saying she hoped to get much more out of it this time. On the previous course she had bought a Bible and on this course bought some daily reading notes to use. I asked her, about half way through the course, if she had been using the Bible notes – she replied ‘not really, I don’t read much at all these days’. I then asked about prayer, if she had managed to pray especially as it had been something she felt she couldn’t do previously. She replied, ‘Yes, I pray all the time, thanking God for all the good things He’s given me’. I then asked how she would feel about praying for something such as forgiveness. She replied, ‘Oh I have, I asked God to forgive me for being so hostile to Him all my life’. I said that was great and it sounded like she was ‘almost there’. She said she was still ‘a bit hesitant’.

In the Alpha Away Day discussion group someone asked how you become a member of Greenview. I said that the basic requirement was that you needed to be a Christian. Mum then asked ‘How do you become a Christian?’. Taking a deep breath I explained (again!) that it was simply to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and to trust that through His death on the Cross your sins can be forgiven and that you are accepted into God’s family. I added, it’s a prayer like the one in the booklet I used at the Family Service recently. On the way home I asked her if she thought she could become ‘a church member’ on the basis of what was said. She said she did believe in God and that it had given her a real sense of peace. I asked where Jesus fitted into all this as He had to be at the centre of what she believed to be real Christian. She said she would think more about it.

The following week (in April 2005), after Alpha she asked me for a copy of the booklet with ‘the prayer’ in it, which I got and she took home. The week after that, I asked if she had looked at the booklet and if she been able to pray the prayer. ‘Oh, I’ve prayed it every day, it sits beside my chair’, she answered. ‘You know that makes you a Christian’, I said. ‘Yes, I suppose so’, she replied.