‘All Christians are political, whether they realise it or not. But especially when they don’t realise it’ Kenneth Leech
In football terminology, putting the ball ‘in the mixer’ means getting it into the penalty area right in front of the goal. It’s where there is often some jostling and controversy and where the most contentious things happen. But this is often where the action is, where key things happen and where there is the greatest chance of changing the course of the match.
This is a bit like debates about how faith relates to issues in the public square. It’s messy and complex. Arguments can get heated, people get hurt and easily upset. But this is where authentic faith has always lived. The modern tendency for privatised, cosy beliefs expressed among everyone who agrees is a decaffinated version of authentic faith. It presents the Christian faith as not so much a Holy Fire but more like a nice scented candle.
The roots of a public faith
The thing is that truly following Jesus cannot be done in private – it is a public commitment which needs to be lived out in the real world. Right at the start of the Church’s life under the shadow of the Roman Empire there were many religious sects, cultus privatus, which offered their adherents a route to personal salvation. These were not persecuted by the authorities because they posed no threat to the status quo.
But the Church never described itself as one of these – it almost uniformly used the phrase Ecclesia which means the public assembly or gathering. Like Jesus’ himself, the public statements and actions of the Church were in conflict with both the Jewish and Roman authorities because they proclaimed what they believed was a public truth – not a privatised belief. This threatened the control of the Jewish establishment and clashed with the cult of the Emperor. (For more see Proper Confidence in the Gospel: the theology of Lesslie Newbigin.)
Political not ‘spiritual’
Many of the phrases which we hear as purely spiritual, would have been heard in the first century as deeply political. When Christians said ‘Jesus is Lord’ this was not a airy-fairy statement about Jesus ‘reigning in my heart’ or up in clouds somewhere.
No, if Jesus was Lord then Caesar wasn’t.
What was being said was Caesar, his armies and military might was not the ultimate authority – for God had displayed himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth who lived, died and was resurrected.
Resisting the seduction of a privatised faith
Christians can easily be seduced by the idea of a privatised faith – the heresy that says what we believe is simply an issue between us and God. These routes might be cosy and safe but they are not authentic Christianity.
Rather than putting their faith into the mixer, sometimes Christians are not even taking their faith onto the pitch. Too often we are watching silently from the stands or nervously sitting on the bench waiting for someone else to call on us.
The 2015 election is going to be one of the most fascinating in memory. The voices of those who advocate the politics of fear and selfishness could be stronger than ever. We need to speak up for justice and hope.
Today, sees the launch of Show Up campaign which challenges Christians to be more engaged in political issues. Will you put your faith in the mixer?
Check out this short video below and see the Show Up website: