The week of Christian unity can undo any progress made toward its main aim by one meeting – or so I find, and have found again last week. It was the turn of our local Catholic church this year to host a ‘service’ and a discussion. The service was the usual pap, which is about all one can expect on such occasions, but the ‘discussion’ was quite something else. As we’d all been looking at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, the local priest begun by examining what ‘we mean when we say the Kingdom of God?’ Up piped one of his flock (who I was later told was something called an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister – that was hardly the most extraordinary thing about her as it happened) to tell is in the tone of voice such women reserve for men, children and other idiots with whom a harsh fate forces them to consort, that ‘of course we should realise it is not a real kingdom, in those days they knew no better.’ As far as I could follow, she seemed to thing that the Kingdom of Heaven would be a participatory democracy. The priest asked if anyone had anything to say. What follows is what I had to say.
In the first place, it takes a degree of Biblical illiteracy of epic proportions to imagine that the Hebrews ‘knew no better’. God had not given them a king, and did not want them to have one, he yielded only when they insisted; the experiment did not end well. So the idea that a people who were ruled by Judges knew ‘no better than that’ holds no water. There is not much sign that the Jews of the Second Temple era thought a great deal of kingship – they had only to look at the people to whom God had given that office to know what He thought of it.
In the second place, there is not the slightest trace in the New Testament that God thinks that anything like participatory democracy is a good idea, of that it is modelled on the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’; it would take a modern liberal Christian to find in that the idea that some kind of majority will should rule. Paul tells us the body is made up of many parts – but it needs a head. The early Church had elders who governed on behalf of all. They were not monarchs, God alone was King, but they were the servants of the King. Jesus will come again in glory – and he will judge the living and the dead; we are not told that there will be jury of our peers and an appeal system.
In the third place, the habit of assuming that we, in our time, know better than those who lived before us hardly stands up to examination. If the climate change alarmists are right, industrialisation has wrecked the planet; if they are not, most of our rulers are fools who have fallen for the biggest fraud in history: either way, our civilization’s superior wisdom seems suspect. Any ‘civilization’ that allows and encourages the slaughter of million of infants in the womb is really a form of barbarism.
In conclusion, Jesus meant what he said – heaven is a Kingdom with God as King and Judge. If we wish to argue the toss with him, there is a nice lake of fire which we will be welcome to share with all those who still think that having eaten of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we really are as wise as God.
How did it go down? If I tell you that most of those present were liberal Anglicans and Tablet reading Catholics, you can imagine.