allbelievers

Supporting laos ministry ...

the Christian ministry of the whole people of God.

The church, the press, the public and us ...

In a letter to The Times (24.6.03), Mr Andrew Dyke observes "The spectacle of Christians squabbling over the appointment of Dr Jeffrey John illustrates once more the complete irrelevance of organized religion to ethics and morality." Meanwhile all of us who have friends, colleagues or family outside the church must be wondering what to say. What follows is one 24-7 minister's attempt to see the wood for the trees.

First, whose agenda is this? Do those who probe what the church thinks want serious advice that they are prepared to follow? Unlikely. The interest is fuelled by the continual desire to make the church, and its Lord, less believable; to judge the Christian faith by the world's standards lest the world be judged by God's. In such circumstances, Jesus refused his interrogators the satisfaction of having him give an answer for them to ignore. Instead, he took the opportunity to challenge them with question or proposition that laid their hearts bare (eg Matt 22:16ff, John 8:3ff). How can we do the same?

Secondly, the world in which we live now runs largely on consensual values - absolutes are out. That's why those who march to the beat of a different drum are seen to be out of step. But for Christians, God's view of what is best for humankind is what matters.

Next, we need to practise and to communicate that Christian morality has no hierarchy. Lists from Jesus (Mk 7:21-2) and Paul (Gal 5:19-21) include inappropriate sexual activity but do not prioritise it; it is right to explore how God regards homosexual practice but not to "the neglect of the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith." Rowan Williams' statement of 23.6.03 echoes Jesus (Matt 23:23).

How can we also help people to understand that what believers seek to follow is the creator's best advice for living? That we seek God's way not to keep ourselves out of the bad books of a capricious god, but in response to his love and with a hefty measure of enlightened self-interest? And that any corporate body expects its leaders to model what it promotes.

Finally, there is a serious theological debate to be had. Neither arguing from scripture alone nor the broader discipline of Christian ethics is simple, never mind simplistic. The most 'conservative' should acknowledge the force of some of the 'liberal' arguments, and vice versa. That the church is wrestling with new scholarship, from history and linguistics to anthropology and genetic science is to its credit. If it adopts a cautious position in the meantime, this is hardly different to those who argue for restraint in GM farming. Once out of the bottle, it is impossible to put genies (sorry) back.

The Church of England is acting in accordance with its own belief system - to do otherwise would be nonsense - and it therefore deserves some credit for integrity of process even if some don't agree with present outcomes. The church's detractors could also be reminded that the only thing that post-modernism does not tolerate is intolerance.

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls

...  interest is fuelled by the continual desire to make the church, and its Lord, less believable; to judge the Christian faith by the world's standards lest the world be judged by God's.

In such circumstances, Jesus refused his interrogators the satisfaction of having him give an answer for them to ignore. 

<<< return to the archive of email reflections

Visit the discussion on this week's email reflection - go to www.e-quip.org.uk and self-enrol, or use your existing ID if you've visited before.