Everything must change

13 June 2008

I have just been reading a really challenging book by Brian McLaren called ‘Everything must Change’. In the book McLaren looks at the values which are around in contemporary life and sets them against the life of Jesus. He argues that the core message of the gospel actually addresses the economic, political, environmental and social problems of our age, but for it to speak into our age, the church has to move away from talking about the externals of faith and concentrate on what Jesus was actually trying to say.

In many ways he is stating the obvious, but I have sat through so many sermons (and preached a few of them myself I fear!) which are brilliant about the finer points of doctrine, or biblical criticism, or church life, but which don’t actually address the gospel themes of justice, peace, forgiveness or hope. Too often we assume these things are known and understood, forgetting that we are in a culture which doesn’t really understand that this is the stuff we are about. What McLaren reminded me was that this lack of understanding is to be found amongst those who are part of the church, as well as amongst those yet to include themselves in our number.

If you really want to be challenged about the Christian faith – what it means and how we have allowed the practice of faith to divert us from the core message of Jesus, then this is the book for you.

Come off it Bishop!

3 June 2008

I feel quite proud of the headline “Come off it Bishop!” which I received in a local paper following an open meeting in a parish about possibilities for re-ordering the interior of the parish church- possibilities which might (or might not) have resulted in the removal of some of the pews. Passions ran high and have continued so to do, with much correspondence (copied to the local press) relating various fallings out between parishioners and anger at the church leadership for not being decisive in the face of the challenge of change.

It has always surprised me how otherwise calm, dignified Christian people can become quite hostile and antagonistic in the face of change. Letters are quickly sent to the press (and to anyone who will listen), calling for action and lamenting the fecklessness of those in leadership who allow such things to happen. It really doesn’t make for a very attractive church, for it suggests that our priorities are heritage and preservation – for when do we capture the headlines by being passionate for peace, justice or forgiveness? But more to the point, it shows how far we have allowed the priorities of the Gospel to slip from our agenda and how much we have allowed the ephemera of being church to become the object for our passion.

As UN representatives meet today in Rome for talks about the world food crisis, we have to reflect that in Gospel terms the plight of the world’s poor should be the focus for our anger and passion. It sometimes appears that we have allowed the institutions of the church to have become the message itself, rather than the structures which deliver the message.

The Micah Challenge, reminds Christians of what the Lord requires “to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God”. (Micah 6:8) It is a call to the church to grab the headlines for Kingdom values, to speak with one voice for the impoverished and the marginalised, calling on the world leaders to fulfil the Millennium Goals which we committed ourselves to achieving by 2015. If you haven’t heard of the Millennium Goals, then you might find watching this video helpful.

There is nothing wrong with being passionate or, at times, being angry at injustice – but it will be in the cause of the Gospel that such human emotions are going to be used to best effect.