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I Might Be a Socialist

This post is slightly different to my normal offerings: this is an answer to a podcast I was invited to listen to as the result of a discussion on Twitter (of course!) about socialism and Christianity. The podcast can be found here:

https://thebarpodcast.com/JT/index.php/2019/03/11/a-biblical-theology-of-socialism/

As you’ll quickly gather from my response below, I disagree with most of what the podcasters are saying; but as one reason I’m on Twitter is to engage with people I disagree with, I listened and analysed – but it didn’t change my mind one iota.

And in order to explain why it didn’t, I collated the following comments:

  1. The whole podcast assumes that “individualism” is better than “collectivism”, without justifying that position. Since I don’t agree with that premise, a lot of the argumentation simply fails to convince me.
  2. Socialism is a “doctrine” – sure, but so is capitalism, and democracy, and any way of explaining or ordering the world. I don’t see why you get so agitated by this term.
  3. Christian socialism (at least not the version I adhere to) is not the same as the Social Gospel. The Social Gospel is literally another gospel: no miracles, no sin and thus no repentance, no absolute truth – Jesus just wants us to be nice people who don’t judge anybody for their life choices. I agree that the Social gospel played a large part in making the Gospel irrelevant to people – but that wasn’t because of its political position but because it got rid of sin, forgiveness and the power of God. I reject this theology as firmly as the podcasters: theologically I am a Bible-believing evangelical, ethically I’m fairly conservative, but economically I’m on the left – so whether I’m a socialist or not probably defends on which definition you use…
  4. I don’t think you can legitimately squeeze that much “economics” out of 2 Thess 3:7-10; but if you must, I guess we can at least agree that investing in stocks and shares is a no-no, since that simply involves benefitting from other people’s labour, not working with your own hands?
  5. The NT doesn’t say anything about what government should or shouldn’t do, since it was written when there was no way Christians could influence how their country was run. Thus, I don’t think you can use that silence to say how to run a democratic government today.
  6. Apart from those last two points, there was no real engagement with the Bible, and certainly no refutation of the many passages that we “socialists” apparently misinterpret.
  7. If people become socialists because they’re lazy and just want to take other people’s money, they’ve misunderstood the whole thing. No socialist has ever endorsed laziness – on the contrary, countries that have tried socialism have usually been highly disciplined (!) and made sure everybody pulled their load…
  8. This also highlights the unrealistic dualism of the argument: you either work “volitionally” or you’re lazy. Thing is, not everyone can find work, even work they don’t like, never mind employment “freely chosen”. A lot of people simply have to take what they can get, even if it isn’t enough for them to live on. (BTW I seriously doubt that the disciples “volitionally chose” their occupations – most of them would have continued with the family business, with no say in the matter. That kind of eisegesis doesn’t help your cause!)
  9. Others are physically unable to work. I have a friend whose back has given in so he is in constant pain and can’t work; without benefits he would die (because none of his friends would have enough money to support him as well as themselves – that’s not the way the world works for most of us). Is that biblical? I’d rather pay taxes so that people like him can get the help they need. (And yes, I’m sure this will let a few lazy folk off the hook – I think that’s a price worth paying.)
  10. BTW, I imagine that the vast majority of those single mums you accuse of having many babies for the sake of the benefit cheques would happily exchange that situation for a nuclear family supporting itself somewhere in the suburbs. Not everybody has the start in life that allows for that to happen – as a Christian, why shouldn’t I want to make it easier for that to be possible for everyone?
  11. That’s why calling taxation “theft” is just silly. I want there to be working hospitals and schools and benefit cheques for me and my family and anyone who needs them – and there’s no way the church can provide those needs for the entire country, never mind the world. Fair taxation is the easiest way to ensure everyone have access to the help they need – why should I as a Christian commanded to love my neighbour not approve of that?
  12. Having said that, I’ve always said that socialism only works properly if everyone is a Christian – because both socialism and Jesus want us to look away from ourselves and consider the needs of other people, but only the Holy Spirit can make us that unselfish. On the other hand, I can’t make sense of Christians defending the selfishness that is inherent in capitalism – the podcasters even stated that there is no gospel imperative to give to those in need, which makes me wonder what Bible you’ve been reading?!

So, thanks for challenging me; I’m always prepared to be show that I’m wrong, but I’m afraid this podcast utterly failed to do that.

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Don’t Get This Wrong!

You sometimes get things wrong.

I sometimes get things wrong.

Verily verily I say unto you: we all get things wrong from time to time. It’s part of being (fallen) human beings: we forget, we misjudge, we misinterpret, we sin.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter that much; sometimes it makes a massive difference (just think of the poor pilot who recently flew to Edinburgh with a load of passengers expecting to go to Dusseldorf) – and sometimes we don’t even know whether it matters or not.

That’s especially the case with sin. It’s so easy to think it won’t matter, it won’t hurt anyone, it won’t have consequences. This is normally not true, even in the short term; but even in cases where you genuinely can’t see what could go wrong, sin always has one important side-effect: it creates a barrier between you and God.

If at this point you’re not sure what I mean by sin (or, alternatively, if you’re far too sure what I mean), let me offer a definition: anything that violates the command to love our neighbour as ourselves and God above everything is a sin. Anything motivated by selfishness, greed, fear of the opinion of others, apathy, lust, hatred – and anything else that gives your own interests higher priority than those of others – is a sin.

Now, you’ve probably already spotted the problem: it’s impossible to live a normal life and not violate the love command. Congratulations: you’ve discovered why Jesus had to die!

Or rather, you’ve discovered why God had to come up with a plan of salvation to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to us sinful humans.

The Bible makes it clear that God’s intention has always been to restore the universe to its original blueprint, complete with sinless humans who can love him and each other without impediment. And he wants us there!

So Jesus came to die on the cross as a sacrifice that provides forgiveness, cleansing and citizenship in the Kingdom of God for all who want it. Your sin blocks the way; Jesus’ blood removes the barrier – all you need to do is accept your fault and ask for forgiveness.

OK, you also have to accept the T&Cs: the Holy Spirit will set about weeding out the sinful roots in you, to get you ready for eternity. This will take time and will almost certainly involve sacrifices – but as long as you want it more than you want your sin, Jesus will make sure you get there in the end.

 

Gardening with Jesus

Thanks to the wonderful Easter weather we had this year, I managed to do quite a bit of gardening in between the Easter services – anyone witness to this?

I like gardening – but I don’t know the first thing about it. We’ve tried planting things which promptly withered and died, whereas stuff we have no idea what it is or whether we should welcome it into our garden, seems to thrive and spread uncontrollably. The results of my efforts are, shall we say somewhat haphazard, and there’s no way anybody is going to come up Barnes Lane just to visit the Manse garden…

Sometimes our Christian walk is quite similar to that. We know we should be holy, so we try and cultivate good habits – which then wither and die as soon as we get a bit stressed or tired, or simply run out of motivation.

And at the same time, habits and attitudes things we don’t want and which shouldn’t be welcomed seem to proliferate and take control far too often. We simply can’t keep our lives holy, any more than I can keep our garden weed-free and organised!

Time to call in the master gardener – you know, the one Mary met on Easter morning. He knows we can’t sort out our lives on our own, he can see all the weeds growing in our hearts, he’s heard all our resolutions to “do better next time” – and like those people who sometimes come calling telling you your garden needs professional help, Jesus offers a better solution.

He doesn’t care how messed up your life is, or what kind of weed has taken over your heart. He can deal with it: that’s why he came. His death breaks the power of sin, his resurrection breaks the power of death – and his love makes him ready and willing to start implementing that victory in your life and mine.

It may take a while: but Jesus will complete it. And when our church is a greenhouse of lives showcasing the work of the master gardener, maybe people will come travelling up Barnes Lane to find out what Jesus can do in their lives as well!

Silencing the (Pagan) Easter Rabbit?

(Yes, I know Easter was last Sunday – except the Orthodox Churches are celebrating Easter this weekend, so I don’t feel too bad about publishing this now…)

What does “Easter” actually stand for? Evangelical Anglicans Silence The Easter Rabbit?

Well, not quite (even though some might like to try…). Interestingly, the English word goes back to heathen days, and is possibly derived from an old Anglo-Saxon goddess after whom the month of April was named. If that is indeed the case, it’s interesting that the word was so ingrained in the language that the Christian festival of Easter inherited the name!

This does not, however, mean that “Easter was originally a pagan festival”, even though you sometimes hear this advanced as an argument against Christianity. It just means that there were already pagan spring-time celebrations on these islands when Christianity arrived (which shouldn’t really surprise anyone) and that when the Anglo-Saxons became Christians, they continued to use the old term about the new festival (maybe more surprising, but not really shocking).

As a matter of fact, Easter is probably the annual festival most firmly rooted in the Bible. We know Jesus wasn’t actually born “in the bleak midwinter”, but we know he was crucified as the Passover lamb was being sacrificed, and we know that the Jewish Passover falls around this time of year. Based on that, we can even work out the probable date of Good Friday: if Jesus was crucified in AD33, which seems the most likely, Good Friday was on the 3rd April, and he rose again on Sunday the 5th.

Not that the actual date matters that much, except as a reminder that we’re talking about historical realities. We’re not playing pious mind games here: if Jesus didn’t die and rise again, church and faith and the Parish Magazine [where this was first published] are all a waste of time! Everything hinges on whether that tomb was really empty.

You could justifiably say that the dilemma of the human race can be biblically summarised in three questions: Will God deal conclusively with our sin? Will death ever be permanently defeated? Will the Kingdom of God triumph decisively over the forces of darkness?

All these question receive a resounding YES at Easter: Jesus died for our sins and rose again in triumph; death is now powerless, and the Kingdom is advancing all over the world. In Jesus, God dealt once and for all with sin, death and evil, and everyone who wants to is invited to share in that victory – that is the Good News of Easter, which we will keep proclaiming as long as there’s breath in our lungs, and then forevermore.

Jesus Knew All About It

Life is full of surprises: an unexpected pregnancy, a life-changing encounter with an itinerant preacher, a premature appointment with the grim reaper ending with a second chance…

Yes, you’re right: these are all things that happened to people in the New Testament. Just goes to show that even the godly people of the Bible didn’t know in advance how their lives would turn out.

With one notable exception…

Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection were all foretold by the prophets centuries in advance, to make sure there could be no doubt that he was indeed the promised Deliverer. Jesus himself knew exactly what was afoot, and told his disciples several times what was going to happen in Jerusalem at Passover. Not that it helped; they didn’t [want to] understand what he was talking about!

So when it all happened, they were as unprepared as everybody else: they promised loyalty and then went into hiding; they had no idea the cross was the pinnacle of God’s salvation plan; and when the risen Lord appeared, they thought he was a ghost…

Thankfully they soon realised the truth: the Messiah has died and risen again, sin has been defeated, and death has lost its sting!

Sadly there are still people in the world who haven’t yet realised that this is what it’s all about. They think it’s all about religion, rules and rich churches exploiting the gullible – the very things Jesus seems to be the most opposed to…

So let’s do our best to clear up the misunderstanding, pointing people to Jesus who has conquered death and atoned for our sin. He is alive, and his Kingdom will know no end!

Worth Disagreeing About?

It’s amazing how many things Christians – followers of Jesus the Prince of Peace! – have found to argue, disagree and condemn each other about. A few weeks ago I heard about a man who couldn’t accept the translation “one and only Son” in John 3:16, insisting it had to be “only begotten” – apparently he left his church because of this!

Christians disagree over musical instruments, Sunday dress code, Bible translations and multimedia use. We argue over EastEnders, disestablishmentarianism and Brexit. We condemn each other over baptism, clerical collars, tithing and frequency of communion – not to mention the heavier theological issues like predestination, tongues and female ministers…

This isn’t to say that it doesn’t matter what you believe. On the contrary: it’s because there are things that really matter that it’s so sad to see the body of Christ spend so much time and energy arguing about things that don’t.

The identity of Jesus matters greatly: is he really the eternal Son of God, or just a good moral teacher?

The mission of Jesus matters greatly: did he really come to die for our sins, or was the cross just a big miscalculation?

The end of Jesus matters greatly: did he really rise from the dead, or did he simply share the fate of John Brown and his a-mouldering body?

The return of Jesus matters greatly: is he really coming back to usher in his kingdom, or is this broken world all there ever was and ever will be?

We have a unique message to preach to the world: Jesus is King, and is inviting all and sundry to join his kingdom – to serve Jesus as our Master here and now and to celebrate his victory in eternity. It’s an important message, because those who reject Jesus will find themselves outside the Kingdom; not a good place to spend eternity!

Satan wants to distort the truth, cripple the church and silence our preaching.  Therefore we have to keep contending for those important biblical truths; but if we squander our energy on arguing about insignificant issues, nobody will hear the message that really matters.

Strange Christians?

If you asked random non-believers what they consider the strangest thing about Christianity, what do you think they’d answer? Maybe that we believe truth is found in a book written thousands of years ago, or that we refuse to accept that science has the last word on what is possible, or that we still sing songs written centuries ago (or possibly that new songs are still being written)?

What would you say? (It’s a serious question – I’d love to hear some of your answers!)

What would I say? There are so many things, but I think the discrepancy between our beliefs and our lives would feature near the top. Why is it so hard for us to take Jesus’ teachings seriously and live lives that truly reflect his love and his holiness? Why do we disagree about God’s opinion on contemporary issues? Why do we so easily say and do things we know Jesus would disapprove of?

Then again, maybe this isn’t so strange after all. We know that God has an enemy who tempted our original parents into turning their backs on God and becoming “independent” – which means mortal and sinful, since both life and holiness come from God. And we know that ever since, we don’t naturally want to do what God wants us to do!

This means holiness remains a choice we have to make over and over, as long as we live in this world. Satan will constantly try and encourage our selfish inclinations by playing on our fears, our comforts and our sense of entitlements and rights – things that come far too easily to us!

So what should we do? Paul tells us to “take a stand”, and that really sums it up: determine to always seek God’s will; choose to reject temptation when it comes; ask the Spirit to help you love God above all else and love your neighbour as yourself. Repent when you fail; rejoice when you don’t. And one day we will be fully transformed into beings that obey God fully and freely – what a glorious day that will be!