Yesterday night, I was reading an article re-posted by a friend. The article was by an American giving his perspective on what had gone on in the church of England over the previous weeks. The article can be read in full here. There were a lot of good things said in the article but the paragraph that jumped out to me most was this one:
“But I was astonished when, the day after the vote, the Archbishop of Canterbury not only bemoaned the failure in his farewell speech to the General Synod, but also insisted that the Church had betrayed its responsibility to reflect the sensibilities and values of the general culture: “Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday,” Williams sternly lectured his flock, “whatever the theological principle on which people acted or spoke,” dissenters had to understand that their objection to woman bishops “is not intelligible to wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are willfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of wider society.”
For me, this quote from Rowan Williams shows us exactly why the church is in such disarray, namely because the leadership of the church seem to think that the church has to fall in line with the trends and priorities of wider society. Our government seems to agree, with David Cameron even saying that the church needed to “get with the program.” And what did I say when I read these things?
“What horrifically misplaced and unbiblical ideas!”
Let’s leave out the issue of women bishops for now, as that will only muddy the waters, but let’s try and apply that principle in a consistent way across our faith. For example, should the early Christians have “got with the program” and endorsed the bloody and violent gladiatorial games of their age in order to reflect the trends and priorities of wider society? Should the early Christians have “got with the program” and worshipped the Emperor as a god in order to reflect the the trends and priorities of wider society? I mean, claiming Jesus as Lord and Saviour and the only way to the Father really isn’t intelligible to wider society. It’s pretty narrow minded and exclusive too. Should Wilberforce have “got with the program” and not stood against slavery in order to reflect the trends and priorities of wider society? Rubbish!
And what should we tell our teenagers today?
“Listen guys, this whole ‘saving sex for marriage thing’ doesn’t really line up with what societies saying is OK. It’s going to be quite hard for you to stick to your guns and be taken seriously if you do that so why not just ‘get with the program.’ And I get that you want to keep a clear head on a night out and not get drunk but that’s not really in line with the trends and priorities of wider society. Why not ‘get with the program.’ Life will certainly be easier for you.”
Can you see the ridiculousness of this? The church is to be led by what God has said, not by what society thinks. I can’t really see Jesus saying “live for yourself, do anything you like as long as it’s not hurting others.” What a warped Jesus that is but if we were to follow society, that’s what we should do. Live for self, put yourself first, more money, more possessions, more sexual partners etc etc. Do we really want the church “to reflect the sensibilities and values of the general culture.”
This might rile a few people but I’m not saying this off my own back. Just look at what God has to say on this issue:
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 John 2:15
2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:2
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. – Matthew 5:13
“Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:12-17. (If we live the way God wants us to, we will be persecuted. It will be tough as we’ll clash up against society, but we should stick to the word of God).
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9 (We’ve been called ‘out of darkness,’ and are to be a holy nation. We’re set apart i.e. separate and distinct from the world).
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. 20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self,created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:17-23 (We’re not to live as those outside God’s people do. They have no understanding or grasp of God. Why then are we to reflect the trends and priorities of our society?)
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light – Ephesians 5:8
14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify[a] them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. – John 17:14-21
14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe. – Philippians 2:14-15 (we still live in a crooked and depraved generation).
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. – Philippians 3:20
That’s just a handful of passages that say exactly the opposite of what the Archbishop was saying. This isn’t about women bishops, it’s about the dangerous ideas we’re letting creep into our church almost without even noticing.
So I plead with any of you out there who are in youth ministry, don’t tell your teenagers to try and fit in with the world. They are to be salt and light, set apart, distinctive and no longer conforming to the pattern of this world! If they do this, it will be hard and society will mock and vilify them (John 17:14-21, 2 Timothy 3:12-17) but we need to encourage them to have the same attitude as the apostles in Acts 5. The Apostles had been commanded not to speak about Jesus by the Jewish authorities. Their message probably wasn’t intelligible to or didn’t fit in with the trends and priorities of wider society! But what does Peter say?:
“We must obey God rather than men!”