If you were to read through the comments on last week’s post, ‘A warning to Christian followers of @RickyGervais’, you’d see they fall into three main areas of discussion. It’s not surprising these three areas relate to the three challenges I made to Christians seeking to engage with non-Christians, particularly followers of Ricky Gervais on Twitter.
The second and third are to do with whether Christianity has anything else to offer than a ‘You’re going to Hell’ gospel, and the issue of why I believe things I know sound ridiculous. I plan to discuss both of those shortly.
But the first challenge I made was not to whinge and moan when people challenge Christianity, nor to cling so strongly to our right to faith that we deny others their right to express their convictions.
Afraid of challenge?
I said this:
Have we let Christianity get to the point that we desire not only to be allowed to express faith freely, but also never to have anyone challenge any part of that faith? If so, we’ve come a long way from the early church who had neither, and even further from our crucified messiah.
I see this kind of thing reasonably often. Whether it’s telling Ricky Gervais, ‘keep your atheism to yourself’ or whether it is expecting ‘Christian ideology’ to carry more weight than other ideologies in the making of public policy, there is at times almost a paranoia about Christians being maligned, sidelined or ignored.
The church has become afraid of being challenged. But not just challenged. Christians (myself included, sometimes) are often afraid merely to have someone disagree with us. How dare they challenge Christianity?
How did we get here?
One of my favourite comments on my post said this (I’ve omitted the name, because I haven’t asked permission):
Christianity has ‘been there, done that” Between the early persectued church and today there has been a Christian dominant culture which was accustomed to being the voice of God and did feel entitled to silence voices which were deemed heretical. I wonder if the problem is that Christianity is just not used to being in a conversation, let alone a dialogue. It is accustomed to having a monologue.
I believe this is very astute. The early church was persecuted. It’s clear from letters circulated among early believers and from general history that early Christians were persecuted for their faith. At various points it was illegal and punishable by death to be a Christian, as it is in various parts of the world today.
That changed when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, and made it the official religion of the Roman Empire. Gone were the days when one could safely challenge Christianity. I cannot deny the importance in that one event for the spread of the worldwide church. Suddenly preaching the message of Jesus was allowed (if not encouraged or enforced) all over the world. The church exploded!
Nor will I deny, though, the horror of some of the things done in the name of Jesus. In one of the most grotesque and contradictory events of history, the Roman armies marched to war under the banner of the cross. That symbol of self-dying, servanthood and sacrifice was now being used to oppress, defeat and beat down the enemy. It makes me sick to think of it.
Of course from there it carried on, and from that point on (in the part of the world I live), the church has been part of the establishment, the power structures. When we drape our nation’s flag over a cross, are we really that different?
We don’t belong in power!
Over the last few decades, though, this has started to shift.I, for one, am glad. I don’t believe in imposing the idea of a ‘Christian nation’ or ‘Christian values’ on society. I won’t hide that I want people to become Christians. But I do not want people to be forced to act like they are if they’re not.
The church serves its mission (and its Lord) the best when it is on the edges of society, speaking into society. This is the position that we Christians need to get used to. It’s where we’re going to be, but it’s also where we belong.
I believe the church has a message and a voice. I consider it an important voice, one that can be very good for our nation because I believe God wants what’s best for people. But we never have the right to demand people listen to what we say or do what we want just because we’re Christians. People should be permitted to challenge Christianity.
Jesus never told anyone how to behave unless they were His follower already. Nor will I.
Sadly, being in power has been so much a part of our DNA for so long, we aren’t adjusting very well, and sometimes it makes us sound not very nice. For that I am deeply sorry.
Over to you? What have your experiences been of the church relating to others? Do you sense a change?