Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Inner Policeman

My Bishop was on Newsnight (from 8mins) and he quoted the Chief Rabbi and his suggestion that what we need is 'the inner policeman' as he commented on the riots. I have been reflecting on what this might be as he was not given the opportunity by Kirsty Wark to expand on what this actually is which I think he would have liked but sadly wasn't given by the BBC. Perhaps I might suggest a four-point plan on how this grace-inducing law enforcement mechanism may be attained. What, we might ask in these days of moral questioning, is the place of the Church and does it have any contribution to make that politicians (as Willet's declared), socialism (as Benn advocates) and the Chief Rabbi and many other able thinkers and leaders are clearly able to do. Rowan has got the ball rolling. This is the challenge for each one of us and here are a few thoughts.

1. The Declaration of the Gospel: The Christian gospel is not an option, one among many, for societies ills and the problem of the human heart. The gospel is the idea and is revealed in the person of Jesus who lived, died upon the Cross and is risen and who will return to judge the living and the dead. This is laid out  in the New Testament and I refer you again to the article I have already posted only because Keller says it better than me. It's called 'The Centrality of the Gospel'.

2. The Call to Repentance: If the church has a role, it is surely in calling both itself and the nation to repentance of sin and belief in Christ. What we saw on our televisions was not 'their' sin, it was all our sin and the sooner we and every echelon of society (rioters, bankers, students, MP's, young, old, you and me) wake up to this fact the better. We would all do well to commit 2 Chronicles 17 v 4 to memory and act upon it. Sin is of course personal but it can also be collective and there are times when everyone has to fess up (Jonah 3). Those ordained are commissioned to call people from their sin, self-love and self-preoccupation into belief and relationship with Jesus and into an encounter with the Holy Spirit. The challenge for all of us tasked with this is that any cursory reading of the Scriptures tells you that calling people to repentance never goes down terribly well. It's much easier not to and opt for a quiet life instead. In some ways, that is what David Cameron is doing in his judgement on morality, he just doesn't have the spiritual tools in his armoury to bring about the change he and all of us long for. What he needs to do is declare Jesus and the Cross and it's resurrection power but that's actually not his job- it's the Churches job. The trouble is, and we are all culpable here- the Church has not been doing it (as Andy Hawthorne so ably described at the National Prayer Breakfast). In so many ways, the church has been colluding theologically with secular culture for decades and in doing so it has become utterly irrelevant to many. In so many places, we offer nothing more than an incomprehensible (and largely unexplained to the non-adherant) religious ritual, a brief moral platitude given by someone wearing a dress and a badly played tuneless hymn. No surprise really the young men of this nation are not bashing our churches doors down. What it should have been doing and is happening in some places is calling people to repentance and faith and telling them about Jesus in a life-transforming way for this generation. Our inward-looking debates on woman bishops and human sexuality currently look pretty powerless and parochial in the face of wholesale societal meltdown. Let's all read afresh the ordinal in the BCP and perhaps ask ourselves if we have been faithful to the missional task it calls us to. Watching the footage it is clear that in so many ways I for one have failed.

3. The Telling of the Story of the Scriptures to our Children: The word of God is transformational but, as Amos warned (8:11-12), there are times when famines come over lands and nations. These are not famines of food but of a knowledge of the word of God and his statutes and decrees. Interestingly, what the people of God had done was forget the Scriptures and the law of the Lord in favour of material comfort and overt consumerism. Sound at all familiar? I have spent this year reading the whole of the Bible to our local primary. Week by week they have heard the story of Genesis to Revelation. At the end of the summer term, I was walking past a class and the kids literally shouted out and begged me to tell them a story from the Bible. Are all the kids Christians? By no means. But is there something that happens to every human heart when it is exposed to God's words that lays a foundation stone on which fruitful things can then be built?  Just ask the kids and the Head Teacher. At some point that no one quite remembers when it was, we stopped telling the story of the God of grace to our children (Duet 6:4-9) and it is just shame that nobody noticed. We are now reaping the horrors of this neglect.

4. The Need to Pray for Cultural Renewal: Abraham Kuyper discovered that ‘there is not a thumb’s-width in life about which Christ does not say: ”Mine!”’ I have, like you, been reading the commentators and to sum up their thoughts in case you haven't had time, "It's a complex issue". The mess we witness is down to a combination of education, family breakdown, fatherlessness, poverty, ill-discipline and hoplessness, drugs and alcohol, poor urban planning and a lack of welfare and social policy reform. Am I dim but isn't that what political parties write in those manifesto things that they promise to enact when we vote for them? To expect a quick fix is wholly unrealistic and Miliband is right to caution against knee jerk solutions. As the riots were happening, I spent last week with a lady from our church and two of her seven children and she is testimony to the fact that transformation happens one person at a time and rather slowly. Her life, if you asked her to tell you about it, has not been without many setbacks and traumas but it is also an incredible witness to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (the inner policeman does indeed have a name) that birthed new life and hope where formerly only desolation resided. Hybel's wrote in Courageous Leadership that the local church is the hope of the world and "It's the local church or it's light out." He's right. The Big Society it seems to me is essentially hoping to create local churches but without Jesus, the proclamation of the gospel and without the Holy Spirit's power. A laudable aspiration but one that is fundamentally flawed. The Big Society will in fact take place when Christian's take responsibility for whatever sphere of influence in our cultural life God has planted them in. This is the vision that Kuyper gave us. Transformation will occur as Christian's regain this vision for their work and lives being not just about there own personal fulfilment but about a much bigger goal of transforming society itself through sacrificial living and service of others. This will only come about through prayer.

Some next steps

Can I recommend a few things that you may find helpful as you reflect on the causes and implications our recently rioting land. Firstly, a must-read is Nick Davies's incredible Dark Heart: The shocking truth about hidden Britain . It is a few years old now but it will tell you about the realities for many of the poor and marginalised in our society and we can only assume, given recent events, that things have got worse not better. Secondly, reading The Spirit Level will help you see the problems caused when there is a large gap between the rich and the poor which is surely now firmly Britain's story. Next, reading Francis Schaeffer's The God who is there tells of what happens when truth becomes a relative thing. For a read about cultural transformation, Cultural Making will tell you much of the stuff Kuyper spoke of but in a contemporary and more accessible context. Finally, you should read Generous Justice to be left in the place of hope that all is not lost and that God does indeed have a plan and the offer of hope for all.

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