Ian Paisley – end of an era…

Ian Paisley had a considerable effect on my life and thought. In the late 1960s when I went to Uni, I was still pretty vague about Church-and-State issues, and most of what I did think was liberal secular rather than biblical in nature. Then I encountered the resurgent Ulster Troubles with in effect ‘Evangelicals like me’, people with whom I clearly shared a great deal of common beliefs, behaving in ways which appalled me but which they claimed were very much biblical. I had to ask myself if they were right – in which case, to be honest, I might have concluded that if that was authentic Christianity, I didn’t want anything to do with it…!

As I’ve recounted elsewhere on the blog, I came up with the (still unusual) analysis that the problem was not in the disagreements between Catholic and Protestant, but in their agreement that you were supposed to run a ‘Christian state’. Take out that factor and you simply had disagreements which could be conducted without bombs and guns and so on. But with that ‘Christian state’ idea, it wasn’t really possible to have peace – both sides wanted their version to be the favoured version in the state, both wanted the other side to be discriminated against, and both naturally wanted not to be discriminated against themselves; and this had everyday practical results which led to the fighting we saw in the ‘Troubles’. (History had meant that in Ulster/Eire things had always remained stressed so that the less fraught situation of mainland UK was unable to develop).

Following from that analysis, I discovered that the New Testament doesn’t in fact teach that ‘Christian country’ idea, which in fact goes back to 3-4 centuries after Jesus, but teaches a somewhat different relationship between the Church and the surrounding world. This in turn led me to the major Christian group which practises the NT teaching, the Anabaptists of the Reformation era and their modern descendants – for more detail see elsewhere on the blog.

Ian Paisley I feel ambivalent about. I have little doubt that he was a genuine Christian of good intentions; but his upbringing in Northern Ireland meant he was in a way ‘trapped’ by the prevalent ‘Christian state’ thinking, and couldn’t get outside it – and so sadly much of his life and effort was wasted on pursuing the goal of a ‘Protestant country’ and leading people there into what were unfortunately unChristian activities rather than the really devoted defence of the faith that they believed it to be.

I’ll probably write more about this in the near future – I wanted to respond to the news of Ian Paisley’s death, but I didn’t want to do a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction without some deeper thought about it….

Republicans also marching….

 

We hear so much of the Orange Order’s marches and parades we tend to forget that Northern Ireland’s Republicans also do it; currently a controversial parade, backed by Sinn Fein, is proposed in Castlederg, County Tyrone.  What makes it controversial is that it will honour “Tyrone’s republican dead, including two IRA members killed by their own bomb in 1973” (BBC Teletext).  Already the proposed parade has been re-routed by the organisers to avoid “the town’s war memorial and Methodist church”.  Despite that Unionists are still describing the parade as ‘grossly insensitive’ and wanted it prevented by the Parades Commission.  In fact the Commission gave a ‘restricted go-ahead’.

Also, flashing onto teletext literally while I was writing that first paragraph, a DUP councillor was having to apologise over Facebook comments about the parade.  Apparently someone else posted about an ‘imaginary attack’ on the parade in which Sinn Fein figures would be killed, and the councillor appeared to approve. 

As you may have gathered I actually regard both sides as equally problematic.  In recent history, as the group opposing the government the IRA have been ‘terrorists’ – but there has clearly also been terrorism from Unionists as well as their nominally lawful responses.  This is pretty much a case of “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.  Going back in history things get horrendously tangled and I really don’t want to go too deeply into it.  Ultimately one can just about argue that the fault lies with Anglo-Norman freebooters in the medieval period, conquering bits of Ireland at a time when ‘Catholic and Protestant’ didn’t exist as such; indeed at that time, if anything the Anglo-Normans were fighting for the papal version of Christianity against the on-going remnants of a native dissenting ‘Celtic’ Christianity.  This may have some relevance to rights and wrongs in terms of English ‘colonialism’, but for Christians the ‘Christian country’ aspect is wrong anyway, as explained elsewhere in my blog.

Of course the republican parade is ‘insensitive’ – you’d need to be naïve to think it’s intended otherwise!  Loyalist parades are also insensitive and intended to be so; they’re clearly not intending just to entertain their Republican/Catholic neighbours.  A marching band in such divided circumstances is pretty much a weapon.  An Irish blogger tells me that the area in question sees some twenty Loyalist parades in a year; this will be the only parade by the republican faction.

On either side, these parades are not about ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ in the way Jesus taught, but very much the contrary.  Nor are they fulfilling Paul’s wish in Romans 12 that ‘So far as it’s up to us, we’ll live in peace with you’.  No, these parades are very much ‘so far as it’s up to us we will antagonise, provoke, annoy, and as near declare war as we dare’.  And if anything they probably hope for a violent response, to confirm to themselves and the world the villainy and hatred of whichever is the other side in each case. 

For this reason, churches and individual Christians on either side should avoid taking part in these parades, and should condemn them.  The Orange Order should decide whether it is a Bible-believing Christian organisation – in which case it should give up the clearly provocative parades and pursue its goals by less antagonistic means – or whether it is merely a political body about union with the UK, perhaps including a secular anti-Catholic agenda.  The Orange Order should also look deeper at its goals anyway, and reconsider whether a ‘Protestant country’ is a truly biblical idea, or whether it is actually a ‘Romanist’ heresy from the 4th Century which Bible-believing Protestants should reject.  The Catholic Church perhaps has a bigger problem here; they are the descendants of the original imperial Roman state church and even after last century’s ‘Vatican II’ Council still look for a special place in a state.

For us on the mainland – what goes on in Ireland has in my lifetime been one of the major things putting people off the Christian faith this side of the Irish Sea, and it’s time we stop just watching from the sidelines and make some effort to put things right.  Some of those involved are genuine but misguided Christians who we need to engage with and help them to free themselves from a terrible and all too often lethal mistake.  Others are only nominal Christians who in a situation of conflict simply support in a worldly way the ‘tribe’ they happen to have been born in; they perhaps need our help and prayers even more.  Whether genuine or nominal, the simple fact that they claim to follow Jesus makes them our business.

And here on the mainland some Christians actually support the violence in Ulster (often without realising they are doing so) by supporting here the same kind of ‘Christian country’ idea which is the root of the problem over there; such churches need to change.  The Anglicans are an obvious example; but other denominations and many independent churches have similar ideas and need to rethink their position.  UK Christians attending to these issues and becoming more biblical about them could be a major factor in preventing Ulster sliding back into a repeat of its bloody past.  Evil may triumph if we don’t make the effort….

A Passionate God??

 

I was recently in an online forum and another participant mentioned how many early creeds etc. said that God was ‘without passions’ and so presumably had no emotions.  I’ve come across similar interpretations in other recent books and discussions, seeing this as an abstract philosophical depiction of God as what we’d call a ‘cold fish’ – remote, distant, uninvolved, unmoved, with nothing much corresponding to our feelings and emotions.  And rightly, this is rejected – God is not like that.  But then, in an attempt to attribute passion and feeling to God, modern writers and speakers somehow slip into the idea of a rather weak and vulnerable God.

This couldn’t be more wrong; just read some of Augustine’s words where he prays to God and celebrates God’s love for him.  Now I agree that in modern English usage it is broadly right to talk about a God who has ‘passions’ and who ‘passionately’ cares about things.  The trouble is, the older theologians whose ideas are being questioned were Latin (or Greek) speakers, or later theologians trained in ‘classics’, for whom the connotations of ‘passion’ and its related words were very different.  Like ‘gay’ in modern times, ‘passion’ has somewhat changed its meaning over the years ….

 

In the ‘classic’ languages, ‘passion’ is associated with ‘passive’ and with a whole notion of ‘suffering’.  In this context a ‘passion’ is something that happens to you; something overpowering from outside that takes you over, that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you along to do something.  Now the limited gods of paganism could have passions in that sense – look at Zeus, only has to see a pretty girl (or boy) and he is smitten and out of control, and cannot be satisfied till he’s had that pretty young thing in bed (often he’s too impatient to actually make it to a proper bed!). He cheerfully betrays his own goddess wife, Hera, and often not merely seduces but kidnaps and rapes, or deceives, the object of his ‘passion’.  In other contexts also the pagan gods are portrayed as indeed moved by ‘passions’ – losing control and acting pettily, meanly, and with fickle inconstancy from one day to another. 

 

However, when you think of the one true God, the Creator, the fount and origin of all things, the perfect being, can you really think of him having that kind of passion?  If God could have that sort of passion – or rather, that sort of passion could have God – then there would be something(s), and likely not very desirable something(s), more powerful than God, able to frustrate his intentions and drag him into things against his better judgement.  If God is truly God, there cannot be other things outside him that can so affect him.  God is not a passive victim of wildly inconsistent passions.  That was the real point being made by these ancient theologians.

 

But they did not depict God as cold and remote and unfeeling – far from it.  They depict a God of warmth of feeling, of white-hot caring, way beyond human ‘passions’ in their sense of ‘passion’.  But they didn’t see God as ‘passive’ in his feelings; God’s caring is all active, he takes the initiative and actively throws his whole magnificent wonderful self into his caring.  Not that some external force grabs him and controls him, but that he himself is the very embodiment of that caring, that it flows out of him in majestic generosity.  God is active love, not the passive victim of forces beyond his control.  I’m tempted to coin a new word to get across the difference between our usage and the usage of those wise Latin-speakers.  They would not, with their usage of words, describe God as ‘passionate’ – what they wanted to say about God might rather be conveyed by the word ‘actionate’.

 

Our God is Love!!

‘Pay it Forward’

Some years ago there was a book, and then a film starring that superb young actor Haley Joel Osment – better known for Sixth Sense and AI.  The film sadly wasn’t very good, somehow many of the situations in it didn’t quite ring true, and that may well mean the book isn’t all that good; but it contained one brilliant idea.

Young Haley Joel and his class are asked to think of an idea that will make a difference, make the world better; and he comes up with the idea to ‘pay it forward’.  That is, when you do good to somebody, don’t expect them to ‘pay it back’ to you – instead, tell them to ‘pay it forward’ by themselves doing good to somebody else, and then follow the same idea for their own good act so that instead of a closed circle of ‘do something for someone – get paid back’, there will hopefully be an ongoing chain of more and more generous acts springing from the first one.

Clearly a good idea, and I think also a Christian idea; God’s grace to us is a classic example, God giving generously and then effectively telling us to ‘pay it forward’ both by doing good to others and by letting others know of God’s generosity so they too can benefit.  As I said, the film isn’t too good, but give serious thought to that idea….,

“Crumbling Cathedral’s Lottery Bid….”

The Cathedral in question is Canterbury, seat of the Archbishop himself.  Apparently a total of £17.8 million is needed for various repairs to crumbling stonework, without which the building may have to close to the public, and they had been hoping that some £10.8m of this sum would be supplied by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which deals out a share of National Lottery money.  The articles I’ve seen are not clear whether this is a general closure or only a closure to tourists, but either would be a significant problem. 

First question; the Lottery is gambling and there are considerable Christian objections to gambling; not killjoy objections but serious philosophical objections based on the belief that God’s world is a matter of God’s providence, not of chance.  On those grounds alone the application for Lottery funding for England’s ‘mother church’ would seem very inconsistent and poor witness to Christian principles.  In addition gambling generally appears to be an increasing problem to society at large and again one would have thought that the Anglican Church should be speaking out against all kinds of gambling rather than seeking effectively to enjoy the benefits of other people’s gambling losses through the HLF.  This does not show our national Church in a good light….

Second question; how should the Church be funded?  Well basically by the gifts and efforts of Christians, surely.  We shouldn’t be imposing on anybody else to fund what we do; and certainly not trying to revive tithes or some other kind of state tax to fund God’s work.  OK, fair enough for the building to pay for itself by hiring out for various uses; and if historical circumstances have made a particular church a kind of tourist attraction I don’t see why we shouldn’t exploit that, though not so it gets in the way of or conflicts with the basic purpose and use of the building.

Canterbury and many other Anglican churches pose some wider problems.  Essentially these grand elaborate stone-piles belong to the ‘Christendom’ concept of what a church is; do they really fit with the New Testament vision of a Church as the community of God’s people in the world, or are they indeed mainly about national heritage, about a church saddled now with inappropriate buildings from days when church and state became improperly entangled and the nation glorified itself rather than God by producing such structures?  The nation may be able to justify the huge expenditure of maintaining these historic structures, and may be able to find all kinds of worldly uses for them – but can God’s people justify this as an appropriate way to do the work of Jesus in the modern world?  Do they even give out an appropriate message – indeed may they actually obscure the real message?

For cathedrals there’s a further question.  The raison d’etre of a cathedral is to be a bishop’s or Archbishop’s see or seat –  literally the place of his ‘cathedra’ or throne – in a system in which a bishop is a ‘prince of the Church’ and a quasi-nobleman in the state as well (with often a place in the House of Lords).  In the biblical system of ministry outlined in the NT there is no need of such a building; ‘episkopoi/ bishops’ are not princes of the church, they are the same thing as ‘elders’, just the local (and in our terms ‘lay’) leaders of the church.  ‘Episkopos’ just means an overseer; and overseers don’t need cathedrals … at least they don’t if they are in the spirit of Jesus who led by serving, who washed his disciples’ feet as a real act of humility rather than a grand gesture. 

In absence of Lottery funds, the Church proposes to “lobby US philanthropists” for the money.  But seriously – is this a properly Christian use of those resources, to keep up a building of dubiously Christian purpose??  If the Cathedral really can’t pay for itself in Church hands, is it perhaps time for the Church to ‘get rid’; to recognise that the buildings are indeed ‘national heritage’ rather than Christian heritage, and hand them over to the State in some form or other to be quite frankly run as tourist attractions, museums or whatever?  Any remaining Christian presence should represent New Testament Christianity by way of deliberate contrast with the worldly national heritage aspect.  Meanwhile the Church could more usefully employ its funds to actually preach the gospel….

Thoughts for Teenagers

This is sort of part of my reaction to the problems I mentioned recently when a group of kids decided that our flats would be an appropriate place to engage in the mystical quest of the ASBO.  I found it on another blog and have borrowed it with their permission.  It’s not a particularly Christian position, but it’s still pretty good….

“Always we hear the cry from teenagers, “What can we do, where can we go?” My answer is, “Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, visit the sick, join in with the community, be a volunteer in your community, do something to help others, study your lessons and after you have finished, read a book.

“Your town does not owe you recreational facilities, and your parents do not owe you fun.  The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something.  You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in poverty or sick and lonely again”.

“In other words grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone , not a wishbone.  Start behaving like a responsible person.  You are important and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday, Someday is now and that somebody is you…” taking from text by John Tapene from New Zealand.

Easter Reflections

Time for a bit of a look back at what I’ve been doing.  And yes, I have rather been banging on about one topic haven’t I?!!  Now honestly, I will be trying to get a bit more variety into things, and occasionally expound a text and not explicitly draw out its connections to my ‘anti-Christendom’ theme.  However, I don’t feel apologetic about concentrating on that theme because – not so much it’s important, more that it has important and often negative and destructive consequences and not enough people are talking about it or even thinking about it.

I really do have a sense of proportion about this and I know that the vast expanse of ‘Mere Christianity’[i] which I share with Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Orthodox, etc. ad infinitum, is far more important than this one issue.  The trouble is that when any of the various versions of the ‘Christian country’ idea get added to that ‘Mere Christianity’, problems arise which seriously handicap the message.  Christians are divided, and often to the point of persecuting each other or even actual warfare because ‘Christendom’ is not pacifist; and other religions also can face not only our legitimate preaching but also persecution, inquisition, oppression and warfare in the name of Jesus. Even in our mostly more tolerant times the attitudes that go with ‘Christendom’ can be off-putting, and even more so actual violence as in Ulster.  Look at that Dawkins guy; a massive proportion of his atheist rants is taken up with criticising NOT anything I regard as important Christian beliefs, but the aberrations of established churches (and of other established religions like Islam).  Lots of people out there are simply not giving the gospel a hearing because they are so put off by such issues; while many – extreme right-wingers, for example – can be attracted for the wrong reasons and if anything add to the problems.

Let me give an example.  A few years ago one of my friends heard a radio talk on ‘The Good Samaritan’; he thought it was really good.  He’d missed the beginning, so when at the end it was announced that the speaker had been Ian Paisley, he was gobsmacked – and then some!  How could the Ulster ogre deliver teaching of such love and care?  For various reasons I’ve long believed that Ian Paisley is basically a sincere and genuine Christian – but his witness is distorted and compromised by his belief that he must assert and defend Ulster as a ‘Protestant country’.  People are put off by the resultant politics who need his sound message of basic Christianity.  My friend would have positively avoided that talk if he’d known in advance who the speaker was.  Preaching the gospel from a ‘Christendom’ standpoint can all too often be preaching with one hand tied behind your back – needlessly!  And despite the good intentions, this dishonours Jesus.

Oh yes; people are often so put off that they also won’t listen to those of us who don’t share the Christendom ideas.  We also face needless struggles to even get a hearing because of the distortions produced by ‘Christendom’.  So yes, I’ll be trying to vary my output more in future; but I don’t apologise for putting the biblical case against those unbiblical ideas….

New posts with this are comment on something Marcus Brigstocke was seen saying on Ann Widdecombe’s recent ‘Christianity and Comedy’ programme – with a post about the programme itself  to follow soon; and the latest instalment of the ‘But seriously’ strand.  Easter has been a bit busy….


[i] Yes, I’m a CS Lewis fan!