As someone who is neither a Catholic nor an Anglican, and whose local chapel consists of about sixty of us on a normal Sunday morning and about forty in the evening, it may be I ought to concentrate on my own communion and stay out of other folk’s business, but since that would make my contributions to this place even more boring than they otherwise are, I tend to comment more widely – and not least because all Christians live in the same context in the West – that of a society in which religion seems to matter less and less to those in power, except in so far as it might involve folk killing others on the streets of London or elsewhere. It is that same society which provides the atmosphere in which we live, move and have our being. Once it was amenable to Christianity, now it is less so. Christianity has always been very good at adapting, which is one of the reasons it has lasted so long and spread globally, but reading Jessica’s excellently argued accounts of recent proceedings in her own Church, and reflecting on the concerns of my Catholic colleagues here, it strikes me that there are some dangers here.
At the heart of the Christian message is a call to repent. That means facing up to the inescapable fact we are sinners. No one likes being called a sinner, and so when I read that the Episcopalians who recognise same-sex marriage are saying they can’t repent because they don’t consider it a sin, I hear not just the clamant message of a single-issue pressure group, I think I hear a wider societal response. Several times here folk have asked about ‘love’ and why some of us seem to react to the word in a way that is less than the warm, pink, fuzzy feeling that seems to be mandatory? There is sometimes, in that questioning, an implication that we are reacting thus because in some way we lack love, and I’m not sure that, certainly in my own case, there isn’t something there. I grew up at a time and in a place when men were expected to keep stiff upper lips and where overt displays of emotion were frowned upon, so I daresay I am not overly inclined to talk about love. That said, there’s something else here, and it is summed up in the words ‘cheap grace’.
Jesus did not die upon the Cross for anything else except to save us from our sins; he, who was without sin, became sin so that in him it could be destroyed so that we, by embracing him, should have life and have it in abundance. It is not a lack of ‘love’ which makes me suspicious when I hear this sin and that sin and the other sin dismissed as culturally condition, it is the feeling that what is really going on here is an attempt to downplay sin until it hardly exists. I don’t now what religion this is, but it isn’t the ‘faith once received’.
That’s not saying that Christianity is a miserable religion which tells everyone is a sinner and we’re all worms, it is saying that Christianity is a joyful religion which tells everyone that they are a sinner and they are redeemed and forgiven by Christ’s blood. If you don’t believe in sin, if you don’t believe you are fallen, then why would you need a redeemer? If you don’t need redeeming, you don’t need Jesus, so you can get an extra few hours in bed on a Sunday morning, have your Sunday evening for watching TV, and all will be well in the afterlife because God loves you. That is false teaching, it is dangerous teaching, and it will lead souls to hell.
What’s false about it? Isn’t God love? Yes he is. He is so much love that it was out of love for us he hung and suffered on the Cross at Calvary. That was not so we could go through our lives doing as we please without regard for the consequences. We are redeemed from the consequences, but there is a price for us too. It is not a big one, but for us all it can be expensive – we are to turn from sin and embrace God. Not because we are scared of him, but because, having received his love, we return it in repentance and obedience. That is love.