Re: What is God’s perfect dream where you live?
Had I not been deeply moved after finishing George Eliot’s Adam Bede earlier in the week I might have been more receptive to Shane Claiborne’s passionately delivered sermon to the Baptist Union Assembly on 16 May.
This novel is based on the true story, told in Appendix 2 of the Penguin Classics Edition which was printed in 1980, of a young woman who was executed for the murder of her own child in Nottingham in 1801 (having abandoned a newborn after concealing an out-of-wedlock pregnancy). The condemned woman was visited in prison by local Methodists who were motivated by the urgency of her situation, and who led to a repentance that I have never either experienced or witnessed. Such was her transformation following confession of sin and receiving forgiveness, that this young woman rather welcomed death the sooner that she might enter the glory of her Saviour. She declared that hanging was too good for her, and that she deserved to go to hell. She went to the gallows radiantly fearless, forgave her executioner, and solemnly told all that were gathered of Christ’s love and grace. That same evening a sermon was preached in the local chapel, to what is recorded as a very crowded audience “Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” She is otherwise unremembered.
It struck me how today believers would respond very differently. We would want to save her both from punishment, and from further hardship. Our society has changed, and many would say it has been improved. But the church has changed too. We have developed and inherited a mindset which is fundamentally resistant to suffering, regardless of its causes. Mr Claiborne is undeniably charismatic but his message, which, coincidentally, included his declared opposition to the death penalty in America, paled beside the picture in my mind of that sermon preached in Halifax Lane, Nottingham in 1801. Whilst it is indeed not right for Christians to be well adjusted to discriminatory social and economic circumstances, neither is it right for us to be focused on the world’s solutions to the problems they create. Whilst making reference to “Extinction Rebellion” and “Holy troublemakers” in Philadelphia, and quoting the passage which tells of the woman caught in adultery, there was no reference to sin and repentance at all in his message. Further, he made no reference to the Jewish people in his mention of the parable of the sheep and goats. His message was rather a defence of the social justice gospel. In sum, he said that Christians should have a great desire (which is valid) to have a vastly improved world and with God’s help we can build it. He said that, above all, Christians need to be honest.
His passion intensified as he spoke of society needing to be realigned with “the dream of God”. This is not a biblical concept. God is not dreaming. He has promised to re-enter his creation at His appointed time and He will deliver His people, and (let’s be honest) judge the rest. He will then renew the earth.
Surely we deceive ourselves if we think we can alter the demonstrably insoluble problems in our world? It occurred to me that an Extinction Rebellion leader would have been exultant to hear Mr Claiborne’s message, in that we (the church) show ourselves uncritically conformed to its agenda (although I expect many supporters have no idea what its ultimate agenda is).
Likewise, the reference to God’s dream put me very much in mind of New Age thinking. The church as represented by him has been captured to the prevailing worldly winds and currents. This is not to deny our duty to act justly, and to love mercy. But our priority should be a humble walk with God, and a desire to spread the gospel. I think the evangelicals of 1801 would have considered themselves as completley failing in their christian duty had they abandoned helpless individuals to the limitations of “social justice”.
Fellow Baptists, where’s the “honesty” in any of our endeavours if we are unwilling to recognise and confront sin, to even believe that we might experience sufficient grace whereby we would gladly embrace death? I am no condition to exclude myself from this question, this is not just about everyone else. I write this out of love for the Baptist church, for my local church in which I was baptised in 1995 and have been in membership ever since, and for the Union of which it is a part.
Mr Claiborne presented himself very similarly to a secular motivational speaker, but his words ring hollow without the central place of God’s plan of salvation. Moreover, they promote false hope. The chronic problems of this world are only going to get worse. Christ’s people in every denomination need to be alert to the deceptive purposes of those who purrport to promote social justice without acknowledging God. We need leaders to wake us up, and expose to us the our diminished spiritual condition, and help us to strengthen what remains. Of course I’m glad no one is hanged any more in this land, but I also wonder if there would be any burdened enough to urgently lead them into eternal forgiveness either.
Jesus said (red letter words) “when the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith on the earth?”
Yours in Christ
Re: Facing change - stepping into the new normal
Sent one of these packs to every church in our region. I'd love to hear how people are using them (whatever region!)
Lindsay Caplen (via Facebook)
Just bought a pack to use with my Leadership Team...
Martin Ceasar (via Facebook)
Re: Can I grieve too?
Beautiful. So well written, it expresses just how a lot of us Oldies are feeling.
Thank you, Daph. I have never considered this aspect before.
Shirley Hobbs (via Facebook)
Wow. That's really thought provoking.
Faith Aldridge (via Facebook)
Re: Calling all worship-leaders
Thank you Colin for your comments on what we sing in church.
There are some older hymns that are brilliant and singable - and some that are not. There are lots of modern songs that musically wouldn't pass a GCSE music; dull, with no proper tune. There are some that are brilliant, singable by ordinary folks with well crafted lyrics. There are also modern songs that just seem to be a load of Biblical phrases strung together, or all say the same thing one after another. And it's boring for us to sing if we are seriously thinking about the lyrics. God isn't deaf either.
I get concerned that much of what is sung in many churches is always upbeat. We do need to be able to express our sadness, worry, prayer and concern to God in songs and music - just look at the Psalms!
We have so many good modern song/hymn writers such as Kendrick and Townsend. But we have a lot of dross too. I wonder if people think about the truth of the words that they are singing? At Bible College we had to sing about being "deep in sin" and "giving it up instantly" as soon as we "met Jesus" and now being as "happy as a bird and just as free" - I jest not!!! What tosh.
And while I'm at it; why do we have to stand for half an hour singing? Song leaders seem to forget that not all disabilities are obvious, and it's not is it just OAPs who can't stand for long. If you sit down, all you get are people's backs in front of you and not the words on the screen. Often they are unreadable anyway because of the colours and contrast used - blue and yellow for most dyslexics is a no-no. For some people word sheets or books are easier to read. Remember we are supposed to be inclusive as Christians. Pay attention worship leaders - inclusivity please.
So let's have some thought, less selfishness on the part of music groups' choices. Old and new, praise and supplication in our songs, please. Not everything needs bashing out with drums either. And remember those who can't stand for half an hour! Let's do away with the tyranny of the music group and "worship song" and think abut what we are singing and why.
Moira Kleissner, Christchurch United Church, Llanederyn, Cardiff