I’m looking to live out a faith that’s authentic, real, relevant and balanced.
In John 17 Jesus tells his followers to be “in the world but not of it” – that is a part of the world around them but not the same as it, rather a transforming presence. Specifically he prays to the Father : “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
It seems to me we all tend to swing to extremes. And the Church is no different. One extreme is for parts of the Church to compromise and become indistinguishable from the society we’re in. The other extreme is to see this compromise of being ‘of the world’ and go to the other extreme where the Church separates itself from the world around it. We create a parallel culture with our own music, books, holidays etc from which we can safely avoid the perils of our sinful society. In doing so we take away our ability to change things the way Jesus intended.
Let’s imagine a group the Church looks at from a biblical perspective and feels is in a place of sin. How could we respond? Let’s look to one of my flawed heroes Father Ted Crilly to see what we could do. We could follow the path of compromise and say awkwardly ‘ah, there’s nothing wrong with that really is there?’ Alternatively we could follow the path of separation and stand with placards saying ‘Down with this sort of thing’. Neither feel great options do they?
Jesus got stick from the Pharisees because he associated with sinners. When challenged, his response was – it’s not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. Of course the Pharisees were making a false distinction between themselves and ‘the sinners’. They were all sinners just as everyone in the Church is a sinner in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. When the Church tries to stay pure by separating itself we kid ourselves. We are still sinners and putting our trust in our Christian surroundings rather than Christ is an example of that.
So how do we communicate with our group of sinners? Historically we are big on making pronouncements and on hit and run evangelism where we try and grab a few converts and drag them inside the fortress. Alternatively we could do what Jesus did and spend some proper time with people. Jesus did plenty of preaching but his ministry clearly wasn’t a three- year stadium tour. He took time to be with people he wasn’t supposed to associate with and as we read in the gospels some followed and some didn’t.
I’ve recently started a new job in mental health commissioning. Mental health is a huge issue with one in four suffering at some time – that means you or someone you know, probably a number of people. One of the causes and symptoms is social isolation. People need people, people need us to be church among them and as we live alongside people rather than at a distance we can share the hope we have.
That’s much harder than just setting forth a biblical position statement or psyching ourselves up for one-off bits of evangelism. It means giving ourselves and giving up control. I guess that means we have to trust God more and believe that as we do this He will be with us and protect us. Just like He said He would.