google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html The Normal Christian Journey of Faith - Part 09


The normal (Christian) journey of faith

Chapter 9: In A Time Of Great Changes - Part 1

It so happens that we live in a time of great cultural change all round the world, which doesn’t make Christian life any easier for us! I think we should think a bit about what those changes are and some of the implications for the Christian. This is going to take 2 studies to do; there are 2 main changes occurring which, to a greater or lesser extent, are affecting people all over the world. One of them is philosophical; the other is technological.

This study looks at the philosophical changes and some of their implications. The next study will look at the technological changes and try to say some useful things about the effects of the double whammy of the 2 of them together.

First then the philosophical changes. They have their roots in the Europe of the 17th century, some 300+ years ago. They were in part at least an inevitable result of the Reformation of 150 years earlier than that when the complete control of Christian thinking exercised by the Catholic church was partly broken into many pieces in the Protestant churches.

These changes are still a well-hidden but very strong influence on Europe and America, and through them on all the rest of the world. What happened, in very broad outline, was something like this: in those far off days the people of Europe started to query the idea that had pervaded the thinking world up to that time that God had the primary role in everything that happened and humans had little or no part to play in such things. They thought everything that happened was a matter of what God decided should happen. Then they started to think that we, men and women, could determine what happens by applying our brains to our observations of what goes on in the world we live in. If a great wave comes out of the sea and destroys seashore towns, killing many people, this is not because God decreed that this should happen in any immediate sort of way but because a great segment of the earth’s crust underneath the sea shifted, causing an earthquake, which, in turn, caused a tsunami. We know things like that because many people over many years have observed the things that happen in the world around us, thought about what they have seen, and drawn certain conclusions, most of them, but not all of them, correct as far as we can see. Of course, this raised the problem of evil – how could such things happen in a world of a good God.

The next step was to think that if we can understand so much of what goes on round about us then surely we can understand new things and start to organize the world better. All sorts of things happened as a result of that line of thinking. On the technological front much good was achieved. For instance, in the world of travel and transport across land first there were canals, then railways, then road vehicles, finally airplanes. In every other area of life there have been similar advances and we all enjoy the results of the inventions of these last few centuries.

Then in the 19th and 20th centuries some thought that we ought to be able to organize ourselves better, just as we can organize the machinery better (particularly if the people so thinking were in charge!). Nazi and Communist thinking were the right wing and left wing results of that line of thinking. Surely they thought, after a little initial trouble we, or some of us anyway, ought to be able to settle down to a better way of living. But they had forgotten that there is such a thing as sin, which affects all that we, individually and collectively, set out to do. Those experiments failed dismally at the cost of millions of lives. That basic reason why they failed, ‘sin’, was not understood then and is still not understood and taken into account by those who control nations. Now we have religious zealots thinking they can reorganize things into a much better shape by following their versions of a religion. They will fail for exactly the same reason.

Nowadays the thinkers of the West reckon that all those highly structured ways of thinking have failed so the only other thing that can be tried is to let everyone just be themselves, without rules and regulations. They think we are now good enough at things so we ought to be able to organize ourselves individually even if we make a mess of it collectively. So we have what is known as post-modernism, a curious title, which only says that this has come after modernism, the era of so much practical progress. In this, they thought, the individual, man or woman, ought to be, and is, quite capable of making their own decisions without any need of God or gods. The result of this line of thinking in the West is seen most clearly in the way man/woman relationships are now run. A lot of people do not now get married, preferring a loose ‘relationship’ instead. The obvious idea behind this development is the desire of each individual to keep complete control of his or her own life with no need to consult a husband or a wife or one’s children before taking the next, personally desirable, step. As yet the parts of the world where family life has long been stronger and there is a much less individualistic way of thinking have survived this particular change better than the West, but because of the current dominance of Western thinking over all the world they are moving in the same direction. This move from a collective way of thinking to a highly individualistic one in which only the personal “I” matters to the individual is the first great change we are now living through. Since it is about how people think the world should be organized I have labeled this a “philosophic” change.

So what?

Without doubt we are living, and have to live out our faith, in a time of enormous cultural change occurring with a rapidity seldom if ever matched in all recorded history. How should we react?

We must resist the tendency to an extreme individuality. Let me explain. This cultural change in our societies is addressed in scripture. The biblical record is neither completely for a corporatist culture (corporate means we all live in a tightly structured community) in which we lose our own identity in that of the group, nor is it completely for the sort of extreme individualism that is creeping through so many societies today. Right back as early as Genesis 2 we read that a man is to leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they become one flesh. They are to form what we call a nuclear family, not a vast extended family with grandmother ruling over daughter-in-law. This is an individualistic teaching. Many cultures break this rule.

On the other hand the 5th commandment says, ““Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you”. That is a corporatist and anti-individualistic teaching. There is a subtle balance required there.

The New Testament is similarly balanced. On the one hand we read that Jesus “saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John working in a boat. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” Zebedee was very probably not best pleased if his 2 sons took this decision without consulting him as they appear to have done. But as Jesus hung on the Cross when he “saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” This is again a careful balance between when the demands of the Kingdom of God are more important than family concerns and when family must come first. Throughout the New Testament letters it is very clear that the new Christians were strongly encouraged to think about each other, support each other, pray for each other and care for each other. We are clearly to be individuals in community.

We are not to be covenant breakers. The idea of God as a covenant-keeping God goes right back to the early chapters of Genesis. God made a covenant with Noah that he would never again cause a great flood “to destroy all life”. He also made a covenant with Abraham, renewed it with is descendants, and later through Moses with the people of Israel. Each of these covenants was an unbreakable promise – unbroken by God although sometimes disastrously broken by the humans involved. Hosea says, “An eagle is over the house of the Lord because the people have broken my covenant and rebelled against my law.” The eagle was a carrion eating bird looking for dead meat! That refers to the Old Testament situation but it applies to us. If we seek to follow a covenant-keeping God we too have to be covenant keepers. That particularly applies in the matter of marriage.

Whatever our culture says about our rights as individuals to do more or less what we want, provided we do not hurt other people, we need to hold to the Biblical principle of the importance of every person, that we should only speak the truth to them and that we are to care very specially for the household of faith.

That is what the New Testament means when it talks about love.

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