Reconciliation

Three days after the national armistice (the close of polls on 18th Sept. 2014) there’s to be a service of reconciliation at St. Giles – High Kirk of Edinburgh, curiously referred to as a Cathedral, although the last time someone approaching a bishop sat there, it sparked a stool throwing…

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This is all, of course, patently absurd.   If there is war, you don’t seek to reconcile the parties once the war is over and the victor is seen – if you wait for that, you are too late, victor’s justice prevails – reconciliation must always be now!   Scottish politics is riven by sectarianism – SNP and Labour activists really loath each other, and the two left-of-centre parties rarely reach consensus.   A one-off service of reconciliation is naught by tokenism – Alex Salmond sitting in the pew alongside Alistair Darling Douglas Alexander will do nothing to take the sting out of Scottish Politics.   Regardless of the outcome, Labour and the SNP will still be at each other’s throats at FMQs the following Thursday.   The “blogosphere” will still be full of sectarian blogs.   Twitter-storms will continue for the foreseeable future.

But nobody will have died as a result (discounting the victims of: fuel poverty; Glasgow’s chronic health problems; Scotland’s affair with booze; adventurist wars in central Asia; etc.).   Scotland doesn’t need token reconciliation.   We need a measure of respect returned to political dialogue.   We need consensus on more than just liberal shibboleths, like SSM.

While the need for a service of reconciliation is questionable, this story does tell us a lot more about where the “church” is headed in Scotland.   The Church has a role – look it up, start at Matthew 28.   But it looks like someone in the heart of the Kirk’s structures isn’t satisfied with that counter-cultural mission.   There’s a growing list of issues where the Kirk is being aligned to the liberal, secularist, cultural consensus in Edinburgh.   The Anti-Semitic bias in last year’s report on Palestine is one example.   So too the botched deal with the Secularists to abolish Worship Assemblies, and replace them with the blander “Time for Reflection”.   There’s the trajectory to embrace SSM.   Not one of these strands has anything in common with the Biblical Christianity of Jesus.

There are of course many “private” Christianity things the Church does well: alms-giving, mercy ministry stuff – but alms-giving is no basis for a publicly recognised national Church.   Public recognition for the church should permit counter-cultural engagement.   This is why many of my colleagues in the Free Church suspect Scotland’s, and indeed the UK’s, future will have no space for public Christianity – counter-cultural Christianity is dissonant, it doesn’t chime with the gong of progressive liberalism.

But I see a different future.   The politicians seem happy to embrace the service of reconciliation.   Of course nothing counter-cultural will be said there.   There will be the somewhat bland Jesus of the “turn the other cheek” variety, but that is a Jesus without offence.   It seems the acceptable face of public Christianity is in danger of forgetting that Jesus didn’t encapsulate his message with just “love thy neighbour as thyself.”   He called for a total, heart, body and soul love for God, who in turn defines what true love for one’s neighbour really is.   In the absence of our evident ability or desire to do so, God sent his Son to reconcile us to him, through his death at the cross.   He didn’t wait for the end to bring reconciliation – he sends it today!   But I have my doubts that this radical counter-cultural call to faith and repentance will be heard at St. Giles, four months from now, and three days after the armistice.

There are now two versions of the “church” in Scotland.   By “church” I don’t mean institution, but “gathering” of people.    One is aligned with the counter-cultural message of Christ, the other is aligned with the liberal agenda of the age.   I suspect that in the not-too-distant future one of these will be suppressed, and the other will be embraced as the accepted face of public Christianity in Scotland.

Does it matter?

Four Free Church guys writing about the future of the Church in Scotland after the independence referendum.   Hmmm, bored much?   Except this really matters… and here’s why:

Christianity is inherently public.   Christians are called to make a public declaration of their faith, and to live their faith in daily life.   You can’t do that if you buy into the myth that Christianity is a religious liberty to be kept for Sundays at church.   Think about Paul’s life, as it’s recorded in Acts.   When he preached, there were crowds.   When he was put on trial, there were crowds.   When he was beaten, there were crowds.   Christianity makes the public news.   It did over the last month as people debated whether or not Britain is a “Christian” country.   But this creates a tension between the private right to worship, and the inherently public right to practice your religion.   The future liberty of the Church in Scotland (in our papers we call this “spiritual independence”) will matter not so much at an institutional level, but more so at a personal level – will you as a Christian be free to live out your faith at work, in your child’s education, in how your life is valued in old age?   Most of us feel far more connected to Holyrood (who have the say in all these matters) than we do to Westminster, and I believe it will be easier for Christians to have a say in society in an independent Scotland.

Religious liberty needs public Christianity (and vice versa.)   The alternative to having some sort of healthy relationship between Church and State is to suppress Christianity.   There is no easy middle ground, and secularism is certainly not neutral on questions of religion and religious liberty.   The choice for politicians is to give liberty to public Christianity, or to suppress it.   Historically, the Scottish solution has been a very formal Establishment – the Church of Scotland enjoys a few privileges, and has a few duties to carry out in return.   She is otherwise free to get on with her mission – along with other churches – as she sees fit.   Again, it’s spiritual independence in action.   But, as my good buddy Neil DM Macleod points out, spiritual independence is not guaranteed by anything – it can go on slipping away at Westminster, just as it is at Holyrood.   Whilst it could be argued that a ‘yes’ vote would lead to a secular Scotland, similarly a ‘no’ vote will leave us with a secular Britain.   We can only call for spiritual independence if we have an organised public voice – and I’m not sure we’ll be heard above the cacophony of the money traders in Westminster.

Scotland needs a free public Christianity.   A free public Christianity has a couple of jobs.   Firstly, we preach that God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.   But the Bible has a lot to offer on matters of public policy.   Scotland has problems, but we have a lot going for us.   We may well be the 14th richest nation on earth, but we still have significant social and moral problems.   I’m not saying our politicians can’t find answers, they are smart people, they will.  The Evangelical Alliance, Solas, and others are going a good job of speaking publically.   But we are only able to do so as part of the Church in Scotland enjoying its spiritual independence.   If Scotland becomes independent, the Free Church and others should be there from the beginning seeking to be salt and light.   That’s why these papers matter – because Scotland may be independent in a few months time, and our response must be more than “No, we don’t want that.”   We have to shape how that will work out, and we can only really do that through positive engagement.

What Kind of Nation?

Blogging hiatus over.

The last few months have been busy with physiotherapy, so bloging’s been on the back-burner.   I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about Christian engagement in the debate about Scotland’s Future.   Whether or not we see an Independent Scotland, it remains true that the Church in Scotland really needs to articulate, in a positive and engaging way, what the Bible says on a range of public policy areas.

I’ve found a lot of David Robertson’s stuff over at Solas very helpful, especially on the shibboleth issues – abortion, sexuality, euthanasia, etc.   Worth a look.

Last night I was directed to this manifesto from the Evangelical Alliance.   It’s worth a read.   They’ve identified four principles (Biblical, God-honouring) that they apply to a very wide range of public policy:

  • Wisdom: “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception” (Proverbs 14:8)
  • Justice: “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream” (Amos 5:24)
  • Compassion: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor” (Zechariah 7:8)
  • Integrity: “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out” (Proverbs 10:9)

When I think about Church and State, this is what we need more of: the Church articulating Biblical values into a broken society.   Yes, of course we need to articulate the Gospel, but we also have to teach our nation to observe all that Jesus has commanded us.   This is a good start.

[[Note: What is the Church in Scotland?   We need to start seeing past the institutionalised role for “The Church” – that view grows out of a hierarchical view of the Church, as if the Church were a political party, where the members follow the lead of appointed figureheads.   We have one head, Christ – and he takes the lowest place in serving (dying, tasting the hellishness of God’s wrath, for us) and invites his under-shepherd to serve also.   The articulation may fall, from time to time, on ministers, but our chief task is to articulate the truth to our fellowships, so that they will be equipped to articulate the same in their lives.]]