Thursday, 30 April 2015

Election Special: How I am going to vote

I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not going to tell you where I'm going to put that cross.  I haven't even 100% decided myself.  But in case it helps anyone else, this is how I am coming to a decision.

1.  Attempt to meet all of the main candidates.  There are six standing where I live.  There is an independent but I have failed to find any of his details, not even an email address.  And I can't really take the Greens seriously, with copious apologies and all due respect, I couldn't vote for anyone who will legalise hard drugs, membership of terrorist groups, abortion, brothels and all forms of pornography.  So I emailed the other four as soon as I could, asking to meet each of them personally and ask them a few questions.

2.  Work out beforehand what are the 'red lines'.  For me, the biggest issue is abortion.  Personally, I believe it is just about the most grave, serious wrong we do as a society.  So if any of the candidates are prepared to say they oppose abortion, I will probably vote for them, regardless of their party allegiance.  Freedom of speech is another 'biggy' for me.  Even though some people can be very annoying (yes, even some street preachers!), any outlawing of public discourse short of incitement to violence is a serious problem for me.

3.  Draw up a list of questions to ask each candidate.  Each candidate should be asked the same questions in a neutral way without, if possible, giving away my views.  I had six questions including the two issues mentioned above.

4.  Look them in the eye and ask them the questions.  I received two replies to my emails.  The incumbent MP did not reply, but I have her voting record in the House of Commons to guide me in what her answers would be.  Another candidate I wrote to twice but never received any response.  So I was at least able to interview two of them.  Better than nothing!  And it was helpful to meet them personally, too.  The one I agreed with the most admitted to being an atheist.  The other has something of a Christian background even though I was less happy with some of their answers.  Meeting them personally was helpful, though.

5.  Be prepared for the next five years.  I am neither a betting man nor a prophet.  But I suspect we are in for a rough ride over the next five years, both the UK as a whole and the Christian church in particular.  I think it will be some kind of alliance, formal or informal, between Labour and the SNP.  And I think some sincere Christians will end up in prison for their faith.  In a way, that doesn't worry me.  Brave Christians who are prepared to suffer for the Gospel will be instrumental in turning people to Christ.  People are only going to get more disillusioned with politics and more open to the Gospel, so lets pray for boldness and seek a harvest, greater than we have seen for some time.

6.  Remember that politics is not the answer.  The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is!  Nobody is going to legislate for revival.  And Christianity is designed to thrive in hostile environments.  Christ's rule is for the future, not now.  Politics is about what other people should do, mostly.  We should be seeking God for what we should do.

Two scriptures to finish:

 If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 

2Chronicles 7:14

 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
  The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
he plans of his heart to all generations.
  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Psalm 33:10-12

Sunday, 19 April 2015

On Labels: Pre-Augustinian

I am now going to invent a term.


I want to suggest to you that Augustine of Hippo, St Augustine the Bishop of Hippo, has caused more damage to the Christian cause than almost anyone else in history.

Why single out this man?

Here are my reasons:

  1. He is very influential on the teaching of the church – both Catholic and Protestant.  To the Catholics, he is their most important theologian.  And he is hugely important to Protestants too!  Calvin’s system of theology is largely drawn from Augustine’s teaching.  In his ‘Institutes’ he is quoted over 400 times.  Martin Luther (originally an Augustinian monk) studied and quoted Augustine more extensively than any other non-Biblical figure in his lifetime.
  2. Augustine taught that Christian heretics should be physically attacked and persecuted.  Because of the churches privileged position, it was able to use secular political powers to use drowning, burning and a host of tortures on those whom the church regarded as heretics over many centuries.  Augustine was frequently cited as an authority for doing this.  In addition, he advocated the use of force to make people attend church.  And Reformed brethren cannot point the finger here.  Protestant leaders presided over these activities as well as Catholic.  Lord, please forgive us!
  3. Much of Augustine’s teaching was thoroughly what we would regard as Roman Catholic.  Examples would be:
  • Prayers for the dead
  • Exaltation of Mary
  • Baptismal regeneration
  • Infant baptism.  Hence it was taught that a baptised baby goes to heaven and an un-baptised baby who dies goes to hell
  • The superiority of singleness.  All sex, including within marriage, is sinful.
  1. Finally, Augustine followed some of his predecessors in merging Greek philosophy (particularly that of Plato in his case) with Christian theology.  The effect of this, among other things, is to separate the physical from the spiritual.  I will list some of the effects of this in the next section, but in essence, the mindset of the average Western Christian is heavily influenced by Greek philosophy.
I believe that the Reformation served to correct some serious errors in the church.  And yet, it did not go far enough.  Many groups of true believers over the years, who have sought to return to a simpler, more biblical model of Christianity, dating from long before Augustine was on the scene, have been heavily persecuted by the state church, including the Reformed part of it.

By the time Augustine was on the scene, the church had detached itself from much of the simple Christianity that thrived in its early years and had picked up a great deal of 'baggage' in its teaching and practice.

It is significant that following Augustine's time we had the 'dark ages' in which little history is recorded, but it is a time of cultural and economic backwardness.  Most people in Christendom were poorly educated.  Groups of Christians that tried to exist outside of church structures were heavily persecuted.  Yet Jewish communities thrived culturally, economically and educationally.  The biblical principal of maintaining home worship and the tradition of passing on literacy and spiritual knowledge from parents to children was a key here - something that the church had long abandoned.  So the Jews suffered their own dose of persecution from a jealous church.

What would Jesus say?

'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.'
Matthew 23:13

In order to find a form of Christianity that is more Christlike, we must of course study scripture - that goes without saying.  It helps also to be aware of the false teaching and practise that has developed when the church became a rich and powerful institution.

So the church in its thinking, actions and methods needs to be pre-Augustinian.