Wednesday, July 25, 2007

They hated me without reason

Winston Churchill said “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” And it's what we have in Great Britian today. Democracy. And when you're in a democracy many things are good but the downside is if you're a minority. Majority rules. Often the majority feels a bit bad about this and so offers freedoms and rights to the minorities to avoid the sense that it's oppressing them. Nonetheless, majority rules.

What do you do when you used to be a majority but no longer are? I think that is an issue the church has to face up to in the years ahead. There is no such (biblical) thing as a Christian nation in these last days, but Britain certainly used to be shaped by some sort of Christian principles. Britain was not a theocracy where the law says you must worship God alone. But, it was a nation in which the government's divinely appointed role of punishing evil and praising good was more accurately focussed it is today.

A society that favoured freedom for the church is a nice one to live in when you're a Christian, though that's been a rare priviledge in history. I can't help wondering whether it really does the church any favours to be the majority vote. The church often looks strongest when its weakest in the worlds terms.

What is sure is that Christian are to submit to authorities as they imperfectly punish and praise. That was the case when the law was 'christianised' and it is today. Christians should live blameless lives, be the 'best' people in society, the ones who fight for the cause of the oppressed, who help the needy, who serve without recognition. That should always have been the case. I don't know whether it is today, or ever was.

What is the case are increasing numbers of headlines claiming Christians are persecuted. All who live a godly life are persecuted so its something a Christian almost welcomes as a verification of their faith. However, Titus 2 tells us that it remains possible for Christians to be maligned for being ungodly in marriage, lacking self-control and being bad employees. Such opposition isn't actually persecution - it's deserved. We follow the Jesus who appeared as grace incarnate to make us pure, where is our purity? If we make mistakes we facing the punishment or consequences not persecution.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been studying John 13-17. Jesus speaks there of how the world has hated him without cause. And he says the same will happen to Christians. A sinful world doesn't need reason to hate Jesus and his people. Our presence is enough to incite opposition. Our purity is meant to make the gospel attractive to those who will believe, and yet is the stench of an abattoir to those who refuse to believe.

What do we do when we're persecuted for godliness or hated without cause? We remember not to take it personally - hatred for genuinely godly Christians if really hatred for Jesus himself. He is opposed. His word maligned. And so we continue to obey Jesus. To stand by his word.

And surely we're to continue to fight for those who are oppressed - not necessarily fighting our own cause - with great self-interest but longing for a society in which it is evil that in punished and good that is praised, and not vice-versa. We're to continue to love boundlessly and serve thanklessly. If nothing else such inhuman endurance is bewildering to the watching world.

Who doesn't fight for their rights when opposed? Who loves when they're hated? The church has flourished under such pressure for 2000 years. We're to pray for our opponents, not so much for relief as for mercy for them. And we're to go on living, with Jesus as our example. As Peter wrote "If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly."

How should I live? I should fight for justice for others, but I don't need it for myself because I can entrust myself to the judge of all. However much I might suffer he has already suffered - not just as an example but bearing my sins on a cursed tree so I wouldn't go on sinning, but by his power live an extraordinary righteous life under the rule of my Shepherd and Overseer, Jesus. I struggle and labour with all his energy.

9 comments:

  1. Great post, we've got to think through much more what it means to be a minority. We also must not, in God's sovereignty, bemoan these changes - ultimately they purify the church as nothing else can. It's amazing how much of NT is written in this context - even the often quoted 1 Peter 3.15 is a response to how we bear up under unjust suffering (see verse 14).

    ....is that William Churchill (the well known Pacific Islands Courtier and obscure author) you are quoting or Winston Churchill (apparently one of our lesser-known Prime Ministers)? I think we should be told.

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  2. 'There is no such (biblical) thing as a Christian nation in these last days...'

    Dave, sorry to say, but I think I disagree, if by the above statement you mean to say that a Christian nation is neither possible nor biblical (if all you meant is that the UK isn't one then I agree with you).

    Here's some thoughts (not my own) on why;

    1. Jesus is Lord of all

    2. The kings of the earth are called to recognise 1.

    3. They should do so in their capacity as kings (otherwise, 1. is effectively denied, Jesus is Lord of all spheres of life but the political)

    Thus, if we were ever to, say, have a majority Christian government and head of state (like, if the majority of a nation where converted and voted one in, for e,g.), they should govern according to Christ's teaching, commandments etc. (anything else would of course be a denial of 1. and idolatry).

    If Jesus is Lord of all, then such a situation is biblically desirable.

    The only way we can therefore rule it out is if we say 'yeah, a Christian nation would be a great Christ-honouring thing (being the extension of his Lordship over an area of life which rightfully belongs to him), but we just don't think such a thing is gonna happen this side of the renewed heavens and earth - it's part of the not yet of the kingdom'

    Which is fine, except, I'd still add that

    a. That's a bit of a pessimistic eschatology isn't it? Jesus is never, in any circumstances, in any country, ever gonna have extended his Lordship that far until he comes in judgment? Sounds like you're destining the church to perpetual failure in the great commission.

    b. Even if you don't have an optimistic eschatology, a Christian nation would still be a desirable goal to perpetually work towards - just like full personal holiness is (even though I'll never attain to that kind off perfection before Christ returns).

    c. How you 'work towards' that is by being servants, getting on with the great commission, being godly, fighting for the rights of others, obeying the pagan authorities even if we're a minority and Caesar thinks he's Lord.

    Now, I think c. is where we'd all agree. It's just that I'd add that, within the sovereignty of God, living c. is, within the sovereign plan of God, gonna succeed - nations will be conquered by Christ through the loving-serving-giving-dying-preaching of his people.

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  3. All of which is not intended to sound like a rant, but a 'hmm, here's some stuff to think about' type thing. (so hard to get tone right on t'internet)

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  4. The Proclaimers sang the question a good 20 years ago: "What do you do when minority means you?" I think they were thinking of Scottish nationalism though. Ahem. Interesting post Dave, I'm still pondering these things.

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  5. Pete, thank you. I'm still very much thinking things through. Hence the series of roughly connected posts on it recently... And I'm not done yet!

    I agree with points 1 & 2 & 3, and do have a fairly optimistic eschatology... What's the difference between that happening and the effects of evangelism?

    It seems to me that the way you move from being a Christian minority to a Christian majority (I do think it's possible) is by evangelism... and then the rulers and others will recognise Jesus is Lord...

    How would such a majority would rule? To what extent could/would we make it law to acknowledge Jesus is Lord? How would that happen in practice? If you can't legislate that then what do you legislate?

    I am optimistic about your (c), I wonder whether I/we are doing it! Nations will be conquered by Christ through the loving-serving-giving-dying-preaching of his people... Amen!

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  6. There's a paper on David Field's website (not his blog) about this -the lecture he did for the Oak Hill School of Theology day this year. He argues that u can have a Christian Nation (one whose constitution, laws etc. are predicated on stuff like 'the bible is true' and 'there is one God' and 'Jesus is Lord') without it having to criminalise unbelief. This was what Samuel Rutherford and others argued for in the C17th. The paper is well worth a read.

    Most reformed thinkers hoping for future Christian nations would agree entirely with u - the way we get there is by evangelism (and discipleship in general, godly living, out-thinking/loving/serving/living the rest of the world etc.).

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  7. So the question is, what do we do in the meantime? The nation isn't "christianised", we are a minority...

    How do we live without the "rights" / "benefits" we'd like? Do we try to find some legal shortcuts? Do we just put up with how things are and keep living?

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  8. Here we need to learn a lot, surely, from our brothers and sisters in the past, especially maybe

    - The faithful Israelites in exile (Daniel, Jeremiah)

    - The early Christians under persecution from Judaism

    - Christians in the first few centuries under persecution from Rome

    And of course, our brothers and sisters around the world who have been living as minority groups in paganised cultures for decades.

    Sorry, that's not much of answer, but some thoughts on where we should be looking for help.

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  9. ok, that's a start... anyone want to help flesh out some detail on that. Here on pick it up on your own blog and link back this....

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