Sunday, June 02, 2013

Persecution Would Be Easier

60 years from the coronation and anointing of the Queen, head of the Church of England, in a national church, our Christian head of state no longer 'rules' over a Christian country. The long withdrawing roar of the sea of faith - or is it the voice of George Carey? - finds itself fighting, and losing, a series of battles over lost moral beachheads.

Persecution would be easier. In those countries where the state has set itself against the church and the gospel, it's easier to know who your enemies are, and in some ways it's an easier task to identify a Christian worldview within that setting, because it's so clearly not the worldview of the state and prevailing culture. In post-Christian Britain, with bishops in Parliament and vicars acting as state registrars in weddings, things aren't so cut and dried. As society drifts into uncharted waters, it's harder to discern what cultural changes are a drift away from Christian moorings, and what changes merely expose of idolatry, the conflation of class or cultural norms with Christian faith. Sea of Faith is a case in point, a 'Christian' movement that married the modernist spirit of the 20th century just as everyone else left it behind for something less reductionist. 

Gillan Scott puts it well:
whether we are willing to admit it or not we are in the last throes of Christendom in our country.  The religious foundations of our society are in places being replaced by a notional belief in equality for all where religion is put on an equal footing with a whole range of other elements of our society’s make-up.  Christian belief no longer defines the law, but instead is increasingly subject to it.  The problem inevitably now comes in how ‘equality’ is interpreted and who makes the final decision on it.

The hardest work is ahead of us. Moral positions we used to take for granted have to be argued for, and there are some that will simply not make sense to folk outside the church. Jesus says of the Holy Spirit 'the world can neither see him nor know him' (John 14) - some of God's wisdom is simply not available on human channels. So, for example, if marriage is a divine 'given', a calling and structure built into creation by God, which (despite its evolutions) remains at heart the lifelong commitment of a man and a woman and the best context for raising children, there will be a point at which non-Christians simply don't get what we're saying. If marriage it's God's design for sexuality and family life, the fact that it is God's design will cut no ice with people who don't believe in God. It will not make sense.

There are two sorts of intellectual laziness which we're in danger of. The first is the uncritical absorption of cultural values into the Christian faith, which comes from a failure to think through our faith properly and be clear about our theology and foundations. The second is the uncritical rejection of cultural values, excused by biblical proof texts about 'the world', and failure to think clearly, critically and well about life in all its dimensions. The world desperately needs a robust Christian critique and worldview of wealth, economics, war, politics, leadership, poverty, disability, human rights, luxury, justice, power, sexuality and creation. The danger is that people only hear us talking about sex. Here's an exercise: visit Thinking Anglicans. Despite a wide range of topics covered by  Simon and the blogging, team, commenters only seem to want to discuss one thing. Discuss.

British culture is ever more rapidly peeling away from Christian foundations, values and institutions, often leaving the institutions (the most visible signs) long after their foundations have been eroded. As a child I used to dig trenches and holes all the way down the beach as the tide withdrew, to try to keep the water as far up the beach as I could, even though the water source had receded. I think we're right to still do a bit of that, even as the tide goes out. It simply makes sense: if God has made us, loves us, and knows what's best for us, then it's best for us whether we believe in him or not. 

If we can do that without sounding like whining reactionaries, then that would be great, but I'm sure the media and blogosphere can make even the most moderate voice sound like a phobic bigot by taking things out of context. Maybe we will get both the tone and content of our apologetics right, and still it won't get a fair hearing. That's the reality of living in a fallen world.


  1. I agree completely. I'm a civil servant and I know what it is like to joined to the hip with the state. I think in terms of the adage "owned by everyone and also no-one" and this applies to state churches in general. Often the false security offered by establishment inhibits genuine discussion & risk taking evangelism.

  2. And what proportion of our present labours qualifies as 'a bit of that'?

  3. Most of our apologetics at the moment comes across as a vain attempt to shore up Christian influence, rather than an attempt to articulate a Christian worldview. That's the problem of being in the transition phase to a post-Christian society. Does that mean we give up (e.g at what point does the CofE move from opposing the move to state sanctioned gay marriage, to finding a way to live with it and still be the Church of England?), or is part of being the established church (however long that lasts) that we're forced to do 'a bit of that'. Disestablished, we could simply move to another bit of beach and happily play on our own.