The Chilcot Report and the separation of church and state

Tony-BlairHere I go finding links again! What has Chilcot got to do with disestablishmentarianism, I hear you ask? You weren’t asking that specifically? Well, here goes…

Amidst all the conclusions, recriminations and finger-pointing going on right now, what stood out to me was a comment by Claire Short, who was a member of Blair’s cabinet and was opposed to the Iraq invasion. She said that Tony Blair was determined to stand with George W. Bush on the matter and was convinced that going to Iraq was the right thing to do, thus leading to a preference for the intelligence reports that favoured that decision and a dismissal of other voices.

Something I bang on about quite a bit is ‘confirmation bias’ since it affects a lot of things we say, do and believe. We have certain convictions within ourselves that we hold to firmly. These are the sort of things we hold ‘sacred’ and would need to undergo a huge change in ourselves to abandon, or even question. When these things are challenged, we immediately become defensive, and try our best to seek validation for our beliefs, to the point that we choose to ignore glaring truths that we are faced with, just because they undermine these sacred things we treasure. While I describe myself as a definite ‘questioning Thomas’ who is always posing the questions others dislike or avoid (the childlike ‘WHY?’), I too have a degree of confirmation bias. It exists in us all. Acquiescing to such unpalatable truths is never comfortable.

So I can see how Blair fell into his own bias trap by making a gut decision before all the information was in and digested. Maybe he had Thatcher’s advice still ringing in his ears: “Great leaders lead by conviction, not consent!” That’s only true if you consider dictators and tyrants to be ‘great’! True democratic leaders recognise that they are not perfect, and are capable of making fallible decisions, so submit themselves to the rigours of democratic consent, and the voices of the dissenters. Only the bad ones surround themselves with ‘yes men’ (like George W. Bush). Admission of our fallibility is the starting point of the Christian journey, is it not? Blair counts himself as a religious man, so why did he ignore that basic belief at that crucial time of decision?

I see the results of this bias almost every day. My fellow evangelicals have a set of beliefs that spring from their faith, which they count as vital core parts of their faith. They believe a, b, and c, so then it follows that d, e, f,… right up to x, y and z must be true too. They post on social media about all these various things. I reply that they’ve latched onto a hoax or an exaggeration. 9 times out of 10, they react badly, and reject my claim, no matter how factual it is. Saddens me, since we all follow Jesus, who is The Truth. I cannot comprehend how holding on to something false has any positive effect for the holder, the hearer/ reader, or our faith (or society in general!)

And so this is why I maintain my core belief in the separation of church and state, as has been maintained in manywestminster-abbey branches of Christianity, not least the Baptist school of thought. If we allow any ‘church’ or any part of the Christian church in the world, to have political power, then certain convictions they hold will be subject to become state policy, and who is to say which convictions are right, and which are wrong? In a plural society, under the overarching belief… no! strike that… the overarching fact that not one of us is infallible (except The One), we all need to find common agreement on things.

My convictions of faith are mine, and I do seek to convince others that my faith is true, and convert them to following Jesus, but any decision I make in regards to politics or the society I share must recognise that many things I hold true are not so for others, and may even be unfounded! I know which things are certain in my heart, but even those are simply personal and not universal. Just surrounding myself with ‘yes men’ who concur with all my convictions will not change that fact.

Tony Blair failed as our PM right at the most important time we needed him to make a decision, simply because he had convinced himself of his motives. What does our scripture say about that?

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
    but delight in airing their own opinions. (Prov. 18:2)

Do not get me wrong; my values will always shape what I say, do, act, vote, lobby, campaign or petition for. However, I exist as one individual in a society of voices, and we will never agree on everything, so listening to those voices, and understanding them, is vital for righteous living, in my humble opinion.

Grace be with you.

Why I am voting to REMAIN in the EU.

I was undecided. Genuinely. There are pro- and anti-EU pundits on both sides of the right/left divide, so it was not straightforward, I knew. I wished to analyse all the arguments and make a decision based on what would be best for the majority of the British people. I knew this would be especially difficult for me, since the main protagonists are all from the Conservative party; it is an internal spat, after all! (And I had already dealt with Farage and UKIP a couple of years ago, here). While I find it very hard to trust any Tory, I have always had more respect for Boris Johnson than for David Cameron or George Osborne, so at first I thought I might be swayed by the ‘leave’ campaign.

What is obvious to everyone with even a few brain cells is that there has been lies and exaggerations on both sides. This has exasperated all of us who simply seek the truth, of course. When I sat down to read the leaflets, with access to sources that sought to impartially verify or debunk the various claims of both sides, I was stunned as soon as I read the ‘leave’ leaflet; I didn’t even need any help, since from my own knowledge, I could see the glaring lies peddled on those pages! While much of the ‘remain’ campaign’s lies were basically conjecture based on nothing, or sheer exaggerations, the lies of the ‘leave’ campaign were bare-faced deception! However, that was not the reason I decided, even though it was a blatant insult to the intelligence and integrity of its audience! Politicians are a peculiar breed, and they will do almost anything just to get you or me to vote in a particular way, so I had to dismiss these lies as nothing more than overeagerness to persuade us to vote ‘leave’. Though I wondered if there was actually some hidden agenda.

Then Jacob Rees-Mogg (a posh Tory who comes across as a really old school MP but is actually younger than me!) said “We need to leave the protectionist fortress of Europe!”

I am a protectionist! Basically, this is the belief that our own industries and businesses need to be protected from unfair competition. For instance, Chinese steel has been flooding into our market, which has been heavily subsidised by the Chinese government, and our own industry cannot compete with these artificial prices. If action is not taken, China could corner the entire market, and then start charging whatever they like. There’s a bit more information on protectionism here.

The opposite opinion to protectionism is ‘free trade’ or the ‘free market’, and as I was listening to debates on the television, I noticed how often these terms were used by proponents of the ‘leave’ campaign. This is the hidden agenda! They do not like the policies that are prevalent within the EU to protect European industry and support it, but seek a ‘free market’ across the world. Alarm bells rung in my head! I have already exposed how this belief springs from an early Christian church heresy, three years ago, here. The real problem with this belief, even if it is worthy and true, is that all nations need to subscribe to it. The Chinese government, by subsidising their steel, are not competing within a ‘free market’ but are interfering with the prices. Free marketeers would complain that they’re ‘not playing fair’ but the Chinese government are perfectly entitled to behave with regard to their own industries as they see fit! They are protectionists, so we need to be too!

I was watching a documentary on BBC4, by the inimitable Bettany Hughes, on Karl Marx. I was surprised to find that in his Communist Manifesto, he actually praised the bourgeoisie and their capitalism! He saw the value of it for producing profits and gain from industrialisation, but his gripe was that they kept all the profits for themselves when the actual labour that produced the profits was not given its proper value. He developed some philosophy on a phrase ‘surplus profit’ (or surplus value) – more information here. His argument was not against capitalism, but unfettered capitalism, where there is no means for the labourer(s) to bargain for their worth, and receive a fair share of the profits of the industry. His revolution was a ‘bottom-up’ one, where the working class majority fight for their rights to decent wages and working conditions, with little recourse to governments to instigate change, but rather to legislate as the people demand. It was designed for industrialised capitalist economies, but unfortunately the resulting communist revolutions that occurred were in Russia and China, both very undeveloped agrarian societies, and both ended up becoming a ‘top-down’ revolution, with the likes of Stalin and Mao, who imposed an ideology upon the people. What has been achieved over decades, by working people in the UK and across Europe, demanding more rights and higher wages, largely by unionisation, is actually what Marx dreamt of, not Stalinism.

One of the things that Marx pointed out was that capitalists will find themselves slaves to an abstract concept of ‘the market’ with the example of trading hours: with no restriction on the hours businesses can trade, one factory owner will be totally unwilling to reduce his workers’ hours since his competitors will most likely not reduce their hours and so he would end up becoming uncompetitive. Over 150years later, this has been seen recently in the UK with the debate over Sunday trading hours. A concession years ago to allow stores to open from 1pm to 6pm was, in the eyes of the ‘free market’ lobby, simply a stepping stone to allowing full 24/7 trading, with no respect to any day as special, sacred or set aside. The argument against this is that small family-run businesses cannot remain open all these hours, whereas the big companies like Tesco can. I heard one of these MPs state boldly: “If uncompetitive small businesses fall by the wayside, so be it!” They literally do not care for the small guy!

Communism has been described as a ‘religion’ or a ‘cult’ since it demands allegiance to ‘the state’ and will not allow any dissent to that worship. I agree! What we saw in the USSR and China, and other nations, is so akin to religion that it fits the definition. North Korea has a clear cult of worship of the Kims! Likewise, what Marx warned about is true of the worship of ‘the market’. Unfettered capitalism pays homage to the omniscient and omnipotent power of allowing this ‘market’ to decide our lives and our means, and we must devote ourselves to it without question. Any protectionist policies go against the received wisdom of the high priests of the market. We have seen many of our industries and state services sold off to foreign investors, and this has been the result of the pursuit of this religion by our British governments (both Tory and New Labour), not by any policy coming from the EU.

This is why I am deciding to vote ‘remain’! I do not wish to allow this false religion to take any further hold of our nation and our economy, since it has already eroded many rights of the hard-working majority, and it will do more harm, if unchecked. If the Brexit does produce more profit for British industry, it will continue to rise upwards to the rich, since we the people will not have any power to take our fair share of it! All the talk about the ‘ridiculous regulations’ of the EU include such terrible things like how employers have to ensure their workers’ safety and cannot treat them like possessions! So if you wish to allow our own politicians to ‘take back control’ of our economy from the EU (even though most decisions are made locally!), go ahead, but I look at their track record and conclude that they do not speak for the common man. We need something to curb them before they make the ultra-rich the hyper-rich!

And just in case you’re a fellow Christian who still thinks of the EU as ‘Babylon’ or some other terrible apocalyptic demon, see my recent blog on that, here.

It’s an offence!

not-religiousOne of the most influential books I read as a young Christian trying to find the path that Jesus asked us to follow was “How to be a Christian without being Religious” by Fritz Ridenour. It was a fairly simple book that expounded Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Well, it was as simple as any exposition of that letter can be! Needless to say, the main point the author was trying to get across was that religion is not what following Jesus is about, and that, in essence, is one of the main themes Paul stresses in his epistles, which was exactly why the book had that title. So it has shaped me ever since, to be someone who wishes to express my love for Jesus and my desire to follow him without falling into the same trap that all other religion (including ‘Christian religion’) falls into. That is the trap of sameness, ritual and blind devotion to a code and to a way that others have followed without much thought.

One of the ways we see this expressed is when an offence is caused against a religion. The murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris is an extreme example; that magazine made the offence of religions across the world its mission, and they did create a long string of articles and cartoons that enraged religious adherents of many faiths. However, they did not deserve to die for such transgressions. When I do see and hear fellow believers become almost1489207_10205194809768149_7591136757420390852_n as ‘offended’ at such publications as those Muslim extremists, I fear that it might be possible they could descend into the same madness (some Christians have been so offended by abortions being performed that they have resorted to murder!). On a more standard level, though, short of taking someone’s life, I do wonder if we are only having the same attitude as those jihadists, and becoming ‘religious’ about it. Should we be any different in our demeanour? Can we?

When questions like this arise in my head, I turn to other things I know I can apply. Linguistically, an ‘offence’ (in English at least) can be taken, but never given! I cannot give you offence, but I can cause you offence. ‘Cause’ is one of those words that carries specific semantic properties – in layman’s terms, it means it is fairly easy to grasp what it means. Were you to hit someone with your car while driving and they died, you would have caused their death. You would not be performing the active verb ‘to kill’, unless you drove at them with the intention of killing them. So ’cause’ has a limited usage: it is indicative of an action that created a situation not intended or beyond the control of the performer. Note that you can use the active verb form: “You offended me!”, whether the person who offended you intended to or not; it can be used in both cases.

So if you have a case where someone says or does something with the intent to offend you, that is very deliberate. However, for someone to cause you offence, you have to take it. If I were to attempt to give you a gift, but you did not take it, then I did not give it, I only intended to. The transaction did not take place. Similarly, in order for an offence to occur, it has to be taken by the intended recipient. Otherwise, no offence passed from intender to intendee! Put it another way; if the offender has the intention, and wishes to offend you, they will be thwarted if you don’t take it. Yes? Their fiery dart will have missed its intended target. If, however, they had no intention of causing offence, and did so in ignorance or innocence, then why should you take the offence anyway? In both cases, choosing not to take offence is the best option! No?

So while this might all sound fine and dandy as my own philosophising, does it ‘square up with scripture’?

But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Matt. 5:39

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’[Deut. 32:35] says the Lord. On the contrary:

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’[Prov. 25:21,22]

Rom. 12: 18-20

In other words, the person who intends to cause offence against us as believers must be offered ‘the other cheek’ i.e. we show that they did not smite us or knock us down, but we are willing to let them continue to try to insult us. The person who intends to offend God is in God’s hands, and it is not for us to jump to his defence. As I have quoted the lyrics of Bono before: “Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady!” We are to stand up for the little guy who needs defending, but not the creator of the universe! We not only insult him in his majesty, we also disobey his direct commands!

Also, imagine having burning coals heaped on your head! Would you not be dancing in pain, howling and swiping your head to get the coals off? Pretty funny for others to watch who had that sort of sense of humour, but almost certainly you’d be looking like a fool. So in order to disarm these intentional offenders, our reaction should be not to react! If we take no offence, they will be seen as base, boorish or just plain annoying. The unintentional offenders who might do so just for the sake of comedy would not fulfil this maxim if they had no intent i.e. they are not our enemy. We might just be able to laugh along with them, if they were really being funny.

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for whoever is not against us is for us.

Mark 9:40

Yeah, maybe I’ve taken that verse well out of context, but let us not make more enemies for ourselves! Just because Jesus told us “Everyone will hate you because of me” (Mark 13:13 – which could also be said to be out of context since Jesus was talking about the persecution by the first-century Jews) does not mean we must go around giving people reason to hate us! Such attitude and/or behaviour flies in the face of all the commands to love and do good to others!

Grace be with you.

The end, surely? (but NOT for the EU!)

tower-of-babel-600I have blogged a few times on ‘End Times Prophecies’ and thought I might have posted my last. Recently, with the EU debate looming, old interpretations about Rome/ Babylon/ Europe/ whatever have surfaced again. Yes! Old ones, since I’d heard it all before many years ago! A very good short blog was shared on social media, from premierchristianity.com., entitled ‘I believe in prophecy. But the EU is not Babylon the Great.’ (here)

The author of the blog, Martyn Whittock, is qualified in theology and history, and specialised in the interpretation of prophecy in the 17th century. I have always wondered what previous generations (pre-dispensationalism) made of these difficult parts of scripture. He responded to a comment of mine on the blog, about how I heard about the ten-horned beast when the EU (then the EEC) became 10 members. I’ve included his reply here in full:

I remember that coin. I also remember how, in 1976, I took an assembly at school and said that the EEC was the ten-horned beast of Daniel 7. Some friends of mine thought that Henry Kissinger (US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State) might be the antichrist. I never could quite see what poor Henry had done to deserve this suspicion.

Then I went to university and studied the history of End Time prophecies over 2000 years, on my way to becoming a Medieval and Early Modern historian. It was then that I realised that we had been here before…again and again…and always got it wrong. I read ‘The Little Horn’s Doom and Downfall’ (1651) by Mary Cary, who was convinced it was Charles I, then Oliver Cromwell. That made me think. Then the EEC grew way beyond 10 nations and I knew we were the latest in the terrible track record of wrong predictions.

What is disturbing is that, in 2016, I see the same erroneous claims being recycled that I knew in 1976; only with the latest twists (eg the claim that seat 666 is left vacant in the EU Parliament). How to explain this? I think one of two explanations: 
(a) People of the 1970s generation who have never admitted their mistakes. There is a track record of failed-End-Time-predictors refusing to admit their error and, instead, recycling it in a revised form: after Jan Mathias’ failure in 1534 his successor claimed that he was the returned messiah, until the revolt was crushed in 1535; the Fifth Monarchy Men, having failed in the 1650s, then seized on the year 1666 (and failed again); the Millerites (later Seventh Day Adventists) after the ‘Great Disappointment’ of 1844 claimed that a ‘change’ had occurred in heaven (others claimed Christ had returned invisibly); Jehovah’s Witnesses reverted to similar beliefs about the failed prediction of 1914, although some seized on the events of that year to reinvent it as signalling ‘the end of the time of the Gentiles’; Hal Lindsey’s implicit assumption that the Second Coming would occur within a generation (ie 40 years) of 1948 (ie 1988) being revised to ‘encoded symbols’ that would only be understood in the 21st century by Christians with correct ‘insight’; Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson’s identification of the USSR as Gog, Magog, and Rosh being revised by Robertson (after the fall of communism in 1989) to a focus on the ‘Illuminati’; the 10-nation-EEC (now it is 28) being revised to some inexplicable future political transformation that will reduce it to 10 again.
(b) People with an antagonism to the EU (and it’s a free country so that’s ok) spiritualising their prejudices (that’s not ok) so they don’t have to worry about difficult matters such as economics, politics, etc, since if it’s antichrist you don’t need to worry about these complications, as obviously it is just wrong. So, that website which said that the 28 states will get reduced to 10(!) added that it will have a political centre in Germany and a religious centre in Rome (so, anti-EU prejudice combined with two other English historic prejudices!). Clearly a desperate attempt to force reality into a preconceived framework. Worrying, to put it mildly.
Since I believe in prophecy I think it is crucial to admit when our interpretation of it is wrong.

Surely, once you have read this, you cannot simply cling to this ongoing error! For 2000 yeblood-moonars, various individuals and groups within the church have made attempt after attempt to decipher the apocalyptic texts, and each one to no avail! I have already found out for myself that my prediction that Wormwood is a meteorite was wrong, debunked the restoration of Israel and the secret rapture as completely unbiblical, demolished the whole premise of the ‘Blood Moons’, as well as already showing the dangers of making predictions. Add to that the fact that when the last Lord Mayor of London procession was televised, they had statues of Gog and Magog… clearly ancient Roman soldiers, not Russia as I had been told was unarguably factual so many times! Having read the above comments about how this continual guessing and suggesting has happened numerous times over centuries, is it not clear that the whole ‘end times’ preaching we hear in so many churches is utter nonsense? And dangerous nonsense at that! As I have consistently pointed out, much of what we believe as evangelicals is political, not religious, and this apocalyptic preaching is clearly in that camp since it is attempting to explain world events and history; preconceptions and prejudices are bound to surface in all the postulating! All that is expressed above in that comment confirms this.1415471839210_wps_13_Gog_and_Magog_are_paraded

So am I saying that all the pastors who spout this tripe have been lying to us? Not at all, I think they’ve just followed along in an error from previous mentors, and become indoctrinated into the whole debacle (and just repeated and recycled what are obvious lies, like the seat no. 666 described – because it fits into their worldview). Though there are maybe some who have made good money from the books they write who should know, if they have researched properly, that their ideas are pure conjecture. I’d hazard a guess that they are simply self-deluded.

do know how difficult it is to let go of things we have always held onto, especially as we have thought of them as biblical truths linked to our faith, but as I have said before, the release from this worldview changes so much in you, and for me it’s all for the better. Let me assure you: It has not shaken my belief in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, not one bit! I just choose to leave the timescale in the Father’s hands, and not sweat about it. I shall see signs after they unfold, like Wormwood, but predicting is modern-day divination!!

Do not practice divination or seek omens. (Lev. 19:26)

Maybe I could make one prediction for 2016? It is the end… for ‘End Times’ predictions! Let go of it all now; it’s 2000 years overdue! And then live your life for Jesus.

Grace be with you.

Money to burn? (very brief thought!)

_77539301_86531200Some countries (like the USA) have a law banning the burning of money. One wonders why this might be an offence, which might lead to a fine or jail, especially if you subscribe to the philosophy that ‘my money is my own, to do with as I wish’ and so burning it would be entirely within your rights.

Might it be that a government does not wish for money to go ‘out of circulation’? In order for any economy to work and thrive, money must be exchanged between buyers and sellers, from employer to employee, between consumers and the providers of goods and services. Yes? It needs to flow through the pockets of society like a river flows through a city, giving life and power to everything. That makes sense to me.

So… why then would it not be an offence to take money and place it ‘offshore’? Is that not placing it ‘out of circulation’ from the society in which it was created? May as well just burn it, if you ask me!

Grace be with you.

Where fear belongs

mountain_valley_by_nielshoyle_dodson-d3lilep

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4 KJV)

The 23rd Psalm is one of the pieces of scripture I actually like in the KJV. Maybe it’s just because it has that poetic charm of familiarity, and the archaisms add to the poetry. This verse, though, came alive to me (forgive the pun) after I faced death myself. Modern translations render it ‘the darkest valley’, which is maybe more accurate, but what darker valley could there be but ‘the shadow of death’?

I blogged on my experience, My Journey From Death, very briefly, since recalling the memories of the time was too upsetting for me. This itself is ironic considering that I faced death square on and accepted it, with peace and a resolve, yet recollections of the time still induce strong emotions, very akin to fear. I knew at the time that I felt fear, but almost immediately, the fear was calmed by the hand of God beside me, and his reassuring voice, though I only heard five words! It was then that I realised that King David penned that Psalm from the experience of facing death, and not just as a poetic exercise. It’s not a prediction, it’s a testimony!

I’ve blogged on this before, where I maintained that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear. For me, there are always two paths open for me when I face a decision: the path of faith or the path of fear. I do not believe they can ever reach the same destination. I have also cited it as a primary reason for my rejection of all the ‘end times’ nonsense around these days; I just do not like fellow believers living in abject terror of the world falling apart, and they really do this (despite their denials) every morning they wake up and switch on the news! Only once you step outside that mindset and leave it behind do you begin to see the prison cell that it is!

After_Earth_PosterI had a film recorded to watch by myself, since it was a sci-fi thriller, and Karen would not be keen on it. It was released in 2013, but since I hadn’t heard of it until it appeared on ITV2, I realised it might not be such a great film. Nonetheless, I’ll watch practically any sci-fi! ‘After Earth’ was not among M. Night Shyamalan’s greatest works, nor was it one of Will Smith’s greatest performances, but I’ll forego a film review here. The main theme of the film was actually fear, and how Smith’s character, Cypher, had learnt to be a ‘ghost’ to evade aliens who ‘smelt fear’ (yeah it was a bit daft!). He made a great statement, though, one which I had to rewind to listen to again, to analyse if it really was that profound:

“Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present, and may not ever, exist. That is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me: danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”

While there is a natural fear of things as we face them, like fire or standing at the edge of a tall cliff, this is simply a defence mechanism, and we need to have it to survive and avoid injury. What we are talking about here is that fear that thinks of what might happen and worries about it. Was Cypher correct in his evaluation? For me it’s most definitely yes. To live a life of faith, I must be of a persuasion that my Father God has all things in control for me and is working for my benefit in everything. I must not allow anything to cloud that surety (I’ll not say doubts since I already explained in that previous blog how they play a vital rôle in my growing faith).

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

Therefore, my reality must be a world in which my interests are paramount to my heavenly Father, and any fear that this is not the case, is purely in my own mind, and the product of my own worries, not of God. This is exactly a direct command and reassurance that Jesus gave us:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? (Matt. 6:25)

In giving ourselves over to fears that are borne from worry about our future, we have slipped into that easy place of disobedience to the command: ‘do not worry’.

Grace be with you.

Gift or Reward?

ParentingSupport-1600x600So often I see links across things that seem to others to be totally unrelated. Maybe it’s the sort-of-skewed way my (unofficially autistic) brain works, like an internal synesthesia. The main way this occurs is in lessons I find myself applying from theology to politics, (or sometimes vice versa), or in seeing patterns in scientific phenomena that reflect the mind of God; the problems within quantum mechanics portray the paradoxes in scripture. Stuff like that.

What I do not see so easily is how certain politicians try to apply a verse or two of scripture to justify a political position that is at direct odds with biblical teaching. So many of the things that are held up as ‘Christian values’ are at best only selective to the detriment of ignored ones, or just plain false! Knowing full well the difficulty of trying to apply theological concepts into the complex society we occupy, not least being that the majority around us are not followers of Jesus, let me suspend that skepticism for once and offer what surely must be the most basic and fundamental principle of our Christian gospel: grace!

The gift

Pocket_Money1I was sitting watching a daytime phone-in show with my mother, who has to stay with us for a period to recover from her latest stroke. The question being asked was “should your children work for their pocket money?” The usual reasons given were that children must learn not to expect ‘something for nothing’ and be taught that work brings reward. Fine. Fair point. Then I remarked to my mother; “we didn’t have to work for our pocket money, Mum! You and Dad just gave it to us without a condition, but I remember doing a reasonable share of the chores around the house. I recall Dad throwing me a duster and saying that we should tidy the house for you coming home. I was to dust and he hoovered. I didn’t object.”

So in my childhood, I wasn’t made to work for my pocket money, but that never made me lazy or caused me to grumble about chores (well, I was a child, so I’m sure I grumbled a bit, but I never refused to do work around the house). Why was that? Did my parents not spoil me by giving me unconditional pocket money? Some friends thought I was spoilt, since I got gifts from my parents even right between my birthday and Christmas! However, they did not just give me anything I demanded; they had limits and boundaries. They were great parents, very giving and generous, but not spoiling. I learnt the value of money and of my good parents. I strive to reassure Mum now that looking after her in her old age is just repaying all the faithful years she gave me.

Heavenly parenting

That is how it is also with my heavenly Father. Mum and Dad did not raise me ‘in a faith’ in God; I discovered Jesus for myself. I knew very quickly, I recognised this ‘Good Good Father’ since he was my good parents times a million! How generous is he? The gift of eternal life, freely given, with no preconditions, for someone undeserving as me. Those of us who have experienced grace must surely grasp it! Our Father is not a pushover, he does not spoil us, he has his limits (it’s called sin!), so I know I cannot just do as I like and not displease him. Just as I felt shame when I displeased my earthly parents, so I also feel shame at sinning. No shame, no relationship, I say. But on top of that, there is the most incredible, all-encompassing, belief-busting, incredible truth of grace that all sins in my life are forgiven, without condition! My salvation is secure. What is insecure is my closeness to God: that is down to me completely since there is only one flawed member of this relationship. He desires nothing else but my fellowship with him and his presence in my life: obedience to his commands is the best way for me to maintain that.

Not by works

The single most repeated phrase within evangelicalism regarding the preaching of the gospel of Christ is that salvation is not by works:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast….

Ephesians 2:8,9…

I realised that my willingness to help out around the house (not gleefully, I’ll admit, and seldom without direction from Mum or Dad) came from a sense of responsibility, not a desire for reward. It was because I belonged to this family, where I was loved and nurtured, and provided for. It was simply borne from gratitude. My works were not to gain something as low as money, nor even my parents’ approval or love. I already had that in bucketloads! They were a response to the love…

… For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

… Ephesians 2:10

The works I do as a Christian must come from a sincere heart that simply wants to please my Father, and not even to ‘repay’ God for the gift of the Son crucified for me, since we know we can never repay that. Just as my mother does not expect any sort of ‘repayment’ for her parenting, so our Father God knows in his infinite wisdom that we mere mortals can never repay Calvary!  That is the Debtor’s Dilemma i.e. why should I think I must repay it? [which John Piper covers very well in his book Future Grace].

‘Remuneration theology’

As I pondered the debate on the TV, I realised that if I had been taught to earn my pocket money, then when Dad threw that duster my way, I would have replied “what are you paying me?” In other words; “what’s in it for me?”, and right away I saw the flaw in this ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ mentality. A society built on the sole principle of reward is not one of love, giving, volunteering, sacrifice, common cause, or altruism, but a collection of individuals all grasping for their share, asking one another “what’s in it for me?”Milton-Friedman

Seeing an old interview of Milton Friedman, one of the chief architects of the recent outing of the old heresy masquerading as ‘free enterprise’ and a ‘pure’ form of capitalism, I clearly heard this attitude in his words, as he vaunted self-interest and the desire for personal gain as the paragon of human endeavour and mocked ‘virtue’ as never having achieved anything! I truly could not think of anything less Christian than that! Not in the light of the gift of grace!

People often talk of sin being disobedience towards God. That is it in a nutshell, so when I realise that I am not forgiving and loving everyone I meet, even my enemies, I am disobeying Jesus’ direct commands. That is sin! Imperfect me fails this test over and over,… but I’m getting there. In all my dealings with those around me, whom I encounter every day in my life (and on t’internet), I have to be a living example of obedience to those amazing and compelling, yet devastatingly difficult, words Jesus spoke on that mountainside in Judaea almost 2000 years ago. If  we are to apply ‘Christian values’ to our nation, our society, to the world around us, is this not the archetype? We are to love unconditionally, as we have been. We are to forgive any wrong done to us, unlike the unforgiving servant, who was cleared of an almighty debt, yet failed the test. Believe me, I don’t want to write these words! Life would be actually easier were I to just follow the herd and agree that there are people I am perfectly entitled to hate, and join in the chorus of disapproval, and reject and dispossess them of what they have to claim for myself. But that is a false gospel; it is a direct contradiction of those awkward commands in favour of an agreed accommodation with the world that we can behave just like those who have never known the grace of God.

We cannot!

quote-there-s-nothing-in-this-world-so-sweet-as-love-and-next-to-love-the-sweetest-thing-is-henry-wadsworth-longfellow-55-68-87

In accepting that Jesus has my best interests at the forefront of his thoughts and intentions as he gives me these commands, then giving up those ingrained cultural principles, and maybe some cherished feelings of animosity towards others means that I can exchange my tiny box for his huge one, and trust it is worth it when he asks me ‘deal or no deal’!

The Christian message is not one of rewarding good behaviour, it is one of creating right behaviour in response to the gift of love.

Grace be with you.