One of the unique features of this place is that it has attracted a variety of Christians from most of the main traditions, and done so in a way that, the occasional bit of acerbity aside, allows us to exchange views and so get beyond what divides us to what unites us. Neither is this an example of the modern syncretism which downplays dogma and doctrine and seeks refuge in a fuzzy warm feeling of ‘lurve’. Our discussions here take another direction which ends up in a place where, despite our different traditions, we recognise a common experience of trying to live the Christian life.
Here it’s been helpful to have Jock McSporran back. Jock hails from a type of Scottish Protestantism I recognise as part of the Belfast tradition which I knew well as a child. To outsiders it can look dour and joyless, but then it is not really very concerned about the disapproval of outsiders – it takes it for granted that the world and the devil will be against them. It is, in fact, a deeply sincere community of Christians who help each other in trying to live the Christian life in this fallen world. Those who have lived in this ethos are, and this might seem odd to others, far less intolerant than they are given credit for. They can recognise those in other Christian traditions who are also engaged in the same enterprise, and whether Catholic, Anglican, Protestant or whatever, respect will be given those who are engaged on the same enterprise. Here, Church boundaries assume less importance. These are just the communities in which find ourselves, and we’re none of us responsible for that; what matters is that walk with Jesus.
My friend and fellow commentator, Dave Smith, wrote something after exchanges with Jock and myself which showed that the same Spirit operates across the boundaries humans set themselves, when he commented:
Indeed we can’t discount a fellow who claims that Jesus came to him. What we can do is evaluate as did the Drs. of mystical theology would. According to them such extraordinary graces are of the lowest rank among the extraordinary graces. They are meant to draw a soul closer and to call them to Himself. It is a call to His Church and away from whatever sins the soul is attached to. They are never an end in themselves and others have no reason to accept what they themselves claim it to be
It is that closeness, it is that repentance, it is that amendment of life which are the marks of the Christian – and they are not, praise be to God – to be found only in one Church, any more than they are to be found in abundance in any one Church, either. Here, something Jock wrote seems to me to round off this week’s comments on Christianity and the world. He pointed out that throughout the ages Christian writers have lamented the state of the Church in the world, and that men, such as the great CH Spurgeon, whom Jock and I admire, was, in his own time, rejected by many. He added:
The specific issues may change, but the general principle remains the same. On the one hand, the various churches seem to be degenerating – on the other hand, Her Majesty gave an address to the Commonwealth which was much more explicitly Christian than anything you may have expected from her during the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.
The specific issues you mention – gay marriage, short-and-content-free sermons, etc … they do all fall under the umbrella of what James Philip was on about at some point during the sermon I posted; when Satan comes to tempt us, he does not say ‘hello, I’m Satan and I want you to do such and such’ – it’s quite the opposite. He presents himself as the good, rational, reasonable, humane fellow, suggesting something very reasonable – and presents God as being unreasonable for suggesting the opposite.
So some things never change. It isn’t clear to me that things are worse and more degenerate than before, since what you write (change the specific issues) could have been written at any time within the last 200 years.
There is, in that, much wisdom, and I’d push the time-frame back to the beginning. Christianity is in a struggle with worldliness, which finds it a threat. It insists that eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a jolly good thing, and that man is naturally good and enchained only by religion and superstition. The world offers so much evidence that man is really enslaved by his own propensity to sin, which he can explain away by sophistry, but which, unredeemed by liberation in Christ, will destroy his soul.