A year or so ago I visited my great grandmother’s church. A very old stone building set in a stonewalled, grave-filled enclosure in an English hayfield. Weather-faded headstones spoke of centuries of ‘saints’ that had walked this place. But it was on the inside, in the cold, small space of worship that the ‘overwhelming’ happened. On the stone rear wall was a tablet with a list. It was a list of the ministers who had served their congregations there, and the list spanned over a thousand years. As I stood there in the absolute silence, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the realisation that Christians had been worshipping God and His Christ in that place for all that time.
In this experience I was reminded that Christianity is not just a ‘religion’ but an active dynamic ‘Faith’ that shaped, nurtured and sustained the British nation, now for nearly two millennia, a faith that applied the biblical world view to society and every facet of that society. It provided a commonly accepted understanding as to what was right and wrong, what was acceptable behaviour and what was not. It did not proclaim rights but insisted on responsibilities, particularly in the treatment of others. It emphasised the Golden Rule, a ‘do as you would be done by’ attitude to others (Matthew 7:12). It required the loving of the neighbour, even those who make life difficult for us. This was the behaviour acceptable to God, and the model was Jesus who laid down His life for His enemies.
Of course, this did, and does, not mean that Christians always behave perfectly or that a biblically shaped society was always perfect. It did however provide an agreed moral track to run on, like the BIOS (Built In Operating System) of a computer it functioned as a commonly, even subconsciously accepted community-shaping ethos that worked for the benefit of all members.
That same community-shaping moral guidance system, that spiritual BIOS, that innate sense of right and wrong behaviour came to Australia with the gospel. It became the basis for our law, and governed parliamentary behaviour, even political motivation. It infused a common understanding of what was right and what was wrong throughout society, without the contemporary tsunami of new laws that are attempting to take its place.
But no more that set of common values, for that society-shaping metanarrative is now trashed, fragmented into a mosaic of ‘what’s right for me’, ‘do as I want’, ‘believe what I want’ self-centred pieces. The common value system has given way to shrill hectoring demands for rights and entitlement, and the rejection of responsibilities, where the ‘Golden Rule’ has been replaced by ‘do as what suits you’ and hang everybody else.
The governing story and driving force is now that of ‘My rights’ which has ejected ‘My responsibilities’ from the community ethos and the public square. It is now all about me, where there is no common value system or agreed moral track, where my values are what I want them to be, and where Jesus, the supreme example of loving your neighbour, name has become a content-less expletive.
So why are we surprised at the descent into a fragmenting, selfish, greedy, self-serving and now self-destroying mess of a society? A society in which even the politicians, those who are supposed to work for the benefit of the people who elected them act according to ‘what they can get away with’, that is what is “within the rules’”, not by any ethical standard or moral code. A society where there is an epidemic of abuse, frequently physical, of those members of society who work, professionally or as volunteers, to benefit society-school principals, paramedics, emergency ward nurses, youth sport referees, umpires etc. A society marked, as Yuval Noah Harari puts it,
by the “biochemical pursuit of happiness . . . . . . where people drink alcohol to forget, they smoke pot to feel peaceful, they take cocaine and methamphetamines to be sharp and confident
There is no longer any doubt that this society is experiencing its own ‘overwhelming’, by a chilling darkness, that is an existential threat. So what will save it. We might like to answer ‘the Church’? It will not however be the church as it is, to a large extent infected with the same gods of consumerism and comfort as general society, its members largely consumed with maintaining the status quo, a church of frozen imaginations and in bondage to the forms, structures and missional strategies of yesteryear. It will not be the church which has mostly lost its vision of God’s vision for it to be a Spirit powered vehicle of anti-corruptive spiritual salt, for it has lost its saltiness, and darkness destroying spiritual light, for its lamp is dimmed, often hidden inside our church buildings, invisible to the lost.
For the church to ‘save’ society from its headlong fall into the Abyss, it must be reimagined, reinvented as a 21st rather than 20th (worse even 19th) century vehicle of the Kingdom, an agent for the reinstalling of the divine BIOS(Kingdom 1.2), i.e. God’s rule in human hearts. Such a vehicle must be specifically designed for the journey into the multitude of ‘live, work and play’ universes of the pagan lost, those that the contemporary church has failed to reach, and to shine the darkness-defeating light of Jesus and apply the healing balm of the gospel to a deeply wounded world, and to reinstall the divine BIOS.
However, this requires that the church be set free (Unbound) from the chains that bind it to the past, from its change-averse paralysis, from its frozen imaginations, and it must repent of its bondage to “what we like, what is comfortable, and the way we’ve always done it”. Perhaps then it can once again become the vehicle of the ‘Kingdom’, the awe inspiring, Spirit-enflamed, glorious, Satan-defeating army of God, the one that conquered governments and Kingdoms, whose members, stoned, imprisoned, abused, robbed and even crucified as they were, took the gospel of Christ to the far-flung corners of the earth. All for the sake of the Kingdom and the glory of