12th June 2023

  WORDLive is a Scripture Union resource


that under the heading 'Unstoppable,'
invites us to consider the Bible passage
Acts 5:27-42

27  The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin
    to be questioned by the high priest.
28  'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,' he said.

.....from Acts 5:27-42

This is a passage of contrasts.
Everywhere the story of Jesus is told some will accept it as
good news while others will attempt to silence the witnesses.
The courage and determination of the apostles are impressive.
They believe their message desperately needs to be heard.

What can we learn from the courage of the apostles?
What difference will it make to our witness today?

The ultimate challenge to us is the reaction of the
apostles who, having been unjustly flogged, rejoiced at being worthy
'of suffering disgrace for the Name'.

Can we even imagine a Christianity which involves 'disgrace' and
official hostility?

Seven years ago, 'The Guardian', in an editorial, posed a view on
disappearing Christianity, and asked - suppose it's gone for ever?
Christianity is moving to the margins of English public life.
This could change the country profoundly

The most recent British Social Attitudes data shows that "No religion"
is now by far the largest single identification in England and Wales.
The study also shows that Christianity is extremely bad at either
making converts or retaining cradle believers.

The two big denominations, the Roman Catholics and
the Church of England, lose at least ten members for
every one they convert.

The people in the pews have always had only the vaguest notion
of what official doctrines are, and still less of an allegiance to them.
The difference is now that people are outside the pews, even if they
still hold the same vague convictions about a life spirit or
a benevolent purpose to the universe.

Contemporary humanists, just like the Christians of previous generations,
believe in reason, fairness, freedom and decency, but they no longer
have a set of religious stories and rituals with which to justify
these beliefs, and charge them with emotion.

Over the last 50 years "religion" has come to stand for the opposite of
freedom and fairness. This is partly an outcome of the sexual revolution
and of the long, and ultimately futile, resistance to it,
mounted by mainstream denominations.

"The religious" now appear to young people as bigots, whose main
purpose is to police sexuality, especially female sexuality,
in the service of incomprehensible doctrines.

It's hard to see a route back for normative Christianity.

One of the most striking features of the British Social Attitudes data
is that the few conversions that there are, tend to be from one
Christian denomination to another, rather than from unbelief or
even from other religions.

"Evangelism" turns out to be a game that Christians play with each other,
and not with the outside world.

Although much popular hostility to religion focuses on Islam,
there are still eight times as many self-identifying Christians as
Muslims in this country.

Christianity, which used to be a straightforward route into the transcendent,
has become very much alien and more apparently irrational.
Nor are any other religions seriously competing with it.

Such an enormous change is bound to have implications for the rest of us.
A post-Christian Europe will of course have a morality,
but it won't be Christian morality.

Tennyson produced his famous line about
"Nature red in tooth and claw" as a contrast, not to human nature,
but to human optimism, which "trusted God was love indeed
and love Creation's final law".

Some such trust in love and goodness underpins all belief in progress,
and all faith in the future.
But, as Tennyson clearly also saw, Nature "shrieks against it".

This century will be one in which humanity faces gigantic challenges,
brought about by our own success in colonising the planet.
Global warming, and the still present threat of nuclear destruction,
both need a sense of global solidarity to overcome those threats,
and a vision of humanity that transcends narrow self-interest.

If Christianity no longer can supply that, what will?

Reflect on that closing question,
and seek the Spirit who gives the joy amid suffering.

The courage and determination of the apostles are impressive.
They believe their message desperately needs to be heard.

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