30 August 2013
For King and Kingdom
As I write this article we are coming to the end of the parliamentary process that could fundamentally change the way marriage is defined for generations to come.
While challenging the coalition government, our motivation has been a conviction that the historic orthodox view of marriage as outlined in scripture was not simply about God's plans for His people but is in the best interests of society as a whole. It's how we were designed to live.
Reflecting on the last few months (it really has been unhelpfully rushed), it has been sad and deeply frustrating how difficult it has been to engage in this conversation in a reasonable, considered and non-confrontational way. The secular humanist, individualistic, worldview which has come to dominate so much of Western European thinking, particularly in key places of influence such as the media and government, has proved unwilling or unable to consider that there could be any other 'reality' that could shape how we build society. As Roger Bolton, the presenter of Radio 4 Feedback commented, if a Christian is interviewed by the BBC about their objection to abortion on religious grounds, they are treated as though they are a bit 'barmy'.
The Ridley Scott film 1492: Conquest of Paradise opens with Christopher Columbus (played by Gérard Depardieu) on the beach with his son watching a sailing boat disappear over the horizon. Columbus, who is about to embark upon a great voyage, turns to his son and with passion declares "it is round…..the earth is round!" For most people alive at that time, Columbus's conviction was "barmy" as everyone knew the world was flat. But they were wrong and his subsequent bold journey across the ocean would eventually prove him right. While Columbus's declaration to his son (assuming it really did happen as the film suggests) has profound significance, the declaration of Jesus as recorded in Mark's gospel carries even greater importance.
Mark records Jesus's very first sermon in this way: "Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!'" (Mark1: 14-15). This was a powerful, provocative and dangerous statement, challenging the established political, social and religious worldview of his day. 'There's a new King in town,' declares Jesus and all other authorities' mindsets need to adjust to this Kingdom of God. The political authority of Caesar, the philosophical influence of Athens, the religious leaders in Jerusalem,would all at some stage bow to King Jesus.
As we consider the landscape of the United Kingdom at this time, where you are positioned will dramatically affect your view of the world in which we live, your 'reality'. The world looks so different standing at the bottom of a three-metre hole. Looking from side to side, the walls are dark and damp with an occasional worm. Looking up, there's sky, clouds, perhaps a passer-by looking down, but little else. How easy it is for our worldview to be shaped in this hole. As I talk with colleagues or friends, watch or listen to the BBC or surf the net, the overwhelming message from the hole is 'if God's not dead He's certainly in intensive care and unlikely to survive'. And, of course, the Church is boring, irrelevant, homophobic and has no significant contribution to make into 21st century life.
Let me tell you, there are other places to observe the landscape of the United Kingdom. Standing at the top of Snowdon or the London Eye, the world looks very different than from within the hole. One of the great challenges facing Christians, particularly in the West, is seeing things as God sees them and agreeing with His outlook on reality. This is the challenge of faith as Wayne Cordeiro puts it in his helpful book Leading on Empty. "Faith is living in advance what we will only understand in reverse." It is through faith that we see God at work, not only across the nations of the world with the Church growing in places and with numbers unprecedented in the 2,000 years of church history, but also in our own nations.Yes, there are challenges to be faced, but people are coming to Christ, churches are growing and are being planted – the good news is being expressed both in words and in actions (food banks, debt counselling, Street Pastors, schools, youth clubs, care for the elderly – you name it, the Church is there getting its hands dirty); and churches are working together in an unprecedented way. It is almost as if the great John 17 prayer of Jesus is being answered.
God hasn't given up on the United Kingdom. The words of Jesus still ring true today – "the Kingdom of God has come near". There is a King who is not to be found in Downing Street or Google HQ or the BBC. This King and His Kingdom define reality for His people. So we are called to live our lives humbly, challenged and shaped by this King and called to fulfil His purposes in His world.
Steve Clifford, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance