It is a peculiarity of our Western society’s development that so much emphasis is now placed on the individual; this is something relatively new. For most of history, and for many societies still, it is the family unit, or someother social unit such as the tribe, which has mattered, and where the individual had found his or her place. That is not to say that the individual has not mattered, he or she always has, but it is to say that the individual has usually been seen as part of a wider whole. What does this have to do with religion? Quite a lot, I think.
We did not get the Bible – the subject of our postings this week – from any one individual, nor do we, in our age, get to decide what is scripture. It may be significant in this respect that nowadays, as well as trying to interpret Scripture by the light of our individual reasoning, there is also a tendency afoot to ‘add’ to Scripture in the form of ‘gospels’ rejected by the Church more than 1500 years ago. The called-out community – the Church – received books from their ancestors – who were part of the group. These books were not designed to be studied by individuals, they were designed to be read in Church, as part of a cllective act of worship. So, we owe the BIble to the community of the Church. That modern man can say otherwise, simply reflects the process of egotism so common in our world; no one knows the Bible except through the tradition of the Church. There are no verses in the Bible which tell us the books of the Bible.
Similarly, where the family or the tribal unit is concerned, worship is a collective act; one might indeed, as the Lord suggested, withdraw to a quiet place to pray by oneself, but it was the public acts of worship around which the Church was constructed; the Eucharist is a shared act in which we gather to offer worship to God and to receive the body and blood of the Lord. The priest is no more than the leader of the gathered community who makes the sacrifice for us – he stands in Christ’s place, not in any right of his own; he is the servant of the servants of God. In such a world there is no place for the ‘rock star’ priest. It is the collective – the Church – which serves and is fed.
Again, in such units, there is no question about the value of children. One of the things which singled out the early Christians from their fellows in the Roman Empire was that they did not resort to abortion, exposing new-born children to the elements to kill them, or other means of contraception. Every child was a gift from God, every child was ‘meant to be’. The notion of putting one’s selfish interests first was clearly abroad – as shown by the use of abortificents – but Christians formed a commuity where the interests of God’s will predominated.
The use, by the Church, of the language of family is not accidental. It comes from jesus himself. If our society loses sight of the unique role played by fathers, it will be badly placed to understand why Jesus refers to ‘the Father’ and not just ‘the parent’. Attempts, in the cause of the western ideology of ‘gender equality’ to pretend that men and women have interchangeable functions in all things, a re all directed to the role of the individual, perhaps because the ideologues do not see the value of families – or see in them an obstacle to their own objectives.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Our ancestors get a vote. We are not the first Christians, and gloom-mongers and ‘the end is nigh’ merchants apart – we shall not be the last. We need to situate ourselves as part of this larger and wider family. The voices of others remind us that we are not alone.