In many ways, when we look for a church, that’s what we are looking for, isn’t it? A place that will try to understand “where we are coming from”. And not this: if we are coming from, it’s likely that we are not satisfied with where we are, so we’re unlikely to be looking simply for validation that we’ve been perfect, are we?
So we’re not merely looking for validation that we’re doing everything right, we’re most likely looking for something better. Perhaps an example, perhaps someone to follow.
People are unchurched for many reasons, some have never been told anything about Christianity, some have come away from a lukewarm experience that left them unsatisfied, there are as many reasons as there are the unchurched.
It is our mission to listen to them, to help them to understand the Good News and help them make the journey to Christ. Note that i am not saying (nor have I ever) that we should compromise our beliefs (or our churches’) but we should, nay we must, listen to them carefully to understand what is troubling them.
No doubt if we are active in this, we will hear all manner of folly, and things that we know are nonsense. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that they learn that we care about them and will listen to them. If we don’t have that relationship, and that trust, we will be ineffective, not least because we will never understand why they are looking for something,.
But once they have learned that we can be trusted, and trusted not to denigrate them for what they say, we can begin to lead them to the Cross. Without that, we will simply drive them away, at least in my experience, from both sides.
Earlier, I said I think we sometimes conflate words. The phrase I had in mind is moral relativism. The Basics of Philosophy tells us:
Moral Relativism (or Ethical Relativism) is the position that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective and/oruniversal moral truths, but instead make claims relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances. It does notdeny outright the truth-value or justification of moral statements (as some forms of Moral Anti-Realism do), but affirms relative forms of them. It may be described by the common aphorism: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.
Moral Relativists point out that humans are not omniscient, and history is replete with examples of individuals and societies acting in the name of an infallible truth later demonstrated to be more than fallible, so we should be very wary of basing important ethical decisions on a supposed absolute claim. Absolutes also tend to inhibit experimentation and foreclose possible fields of inquiry which might lead to progress in many fields, as well as stifling the human spirit and quest for meaning. In addition, the short term proves itself vastly superior in the ethical decision-making process than the relatively unknown long-term.
Relativistic positions may specifically see moral values as applicable only within certain cultural boundaries (Cultural Relativism) or in the context of individual preferences (Ethical Subjectivism). A related but slightly different concept is that ofMoral Pluralism (or Value Pluralism), the idea that there are several values which may be equally correct and fundamental, and yet in conflict with each other (e.g. the moral life of a nun is incompatible with that of a mother, yet there is no purely rationalmeasure of which is preferable).
An extreme relativist position might suggest that judging the moral or ethical judgments or acts of another person or group has no meaning at all, though most relativists propound a more limited version of the theory. Some philosophers maintain that Moral Relativism dissolves into Emotivism (the non-cognitivist theory espoused by many Logical Positivists, which holds that ethical sentences serve merely to express emotions and personal attitudes) or Moral Nihilism (the theory that, although ethical sentences do represent objective values, they are in fact false).
Moral Relativism generally stands in contrast to Moral Absolutism, Moral Universalism and to all types of Moral Realism, which maintain the existence of invariant moral facts that can be known and judged, whether through some process of verification or through intuition.
There’s quite a lot more, as I’m sure you are aware, and it’s interesting, especially the history. But since we are Christians, we can’t really go there, in my opinion, without abrogating our faith. Christ taught us that there is objectively right, and wrong, in all times and all places.
Yes, things change. Christ was not pressing for the abolition of human slavery, but Christianity was the driving force in its abolition in the west. Nor did He agitate for the equality of women but we have come to see that as a Christian value.
In other words he taught us the basics, and we have taken the ball and advanced it, with due regard for tradition, we have come to see that the dignity of the individual human being is paramount, and that human rights (as we perceive them) are an objectively good (and ethical) thing.
But to come back to where we began, it is not our role to judge others, God will take care of that in His own good time. And in truth, as I get older, I have less and less desire to judge others. More and more I realize that everybody’s experience is different and I’m simply not qualified.
What our mission is once we have a person’s trust is to teach him what God says and does, and give him the tools to judge himself. This is the role of confession. And then God will participate with forgiveness and mercy.
A reminder for all of us though, although our churches don’t seem to stress it as much as they used to, Christ ended almost all of his lessons with this, in one form or another:
Go and sin no more
And since today is 23 April, I thought I would add a reminder that it is the Feast Day of St. George. He’s a busy guy, he’s the patron saint of Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Portugal and Russia, but above all in our minds: England.
Sir Winston Churchill said:
There is a forgotten -nay almost forbidden word,
. . . . a word which means more to me than any other. . . .
That word is
Seems to me he’s wasn’t far wrong. We hear much of Great Britain, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and even of the former Empires: America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, and even India, but we hear little of the source of the glory: England. For without the driving force of English ideas, our world would simply not exist.
The Late Rt Hon Enoch Powell MBE, once said at a St. George’s Day speech.
There was a saying, not heard today so often as formerly . .
“What do they know of England who only England know?”
It is a saying which dates. It has a period aroma, like Kipling’s “Recessional” or the state rooms at Osborne. That phase is ended, so plainly ended, that even the generation born at its zenith, for whom the realisation is the hardest, no longer deceive themselves as to the fact. That power and that glory have vanished, as surely, if not as tracelessly, as the imperial fleet from the waters of Spithead.
And yet England is not as Nineveh and Tyre, nor as Rome, nor as Spain. Herodotus relates how the Athenians, returning to their city after it had been sacked and burnt by Xerxes and the Persian army, were astonished to find, alive and flourishing in the blackened ruins, the sacred olive tree, the native symbol of their country.
So we today, at the heart of a vanished empire, amid the fragments of demolished glory, seem to find, like one of her own oak trees, standing and growing, the sap still rising from her ancient roots to meet the spring, England herself.
Happy St. George’s Day to the cousins!