Talk of the Town

Here you will find opinions on local matters or stories, personal views etc.

 

“In God’ hands or ours?”

So: was the result of the EU Referendum down to the collective intelligence or stupidity of the British population (according to your point of view)? Or was it in fact God’s will for our nation? That’s a tricky question to answer, and it throws up the classic theological issues of divine determination and human freedom.
 

On the one hand, God quite clearly gives us humans the freedom to do exactly as we please, for good or for ill. We have been created with brains which God expects us to use. Of course, our wisdom is limited and our ability to predict the future is uncertain; but ultimately we have to make our choices in life and then live with them. Sometimes the decisions which seemed to be unimportant later turn out to be highly significant; equally, some options which promised a golden future lead to disaster. We reap the consequences of our own choices and we can rarely turn back the clock.

One can see examples of this throughout history. Many Russians saw the Bolshevik Revolution as a route to equality and freedom and must have been appalled at the tyrannical Soviet state which ensued. To take another example, many people voted for Hitler as he seemed to offer a glorious new start to the bruised and battered Germany which the Versailles Treaty had left in its wake; even if they knew about his anti-Semitic rants, they must have brushed them aside as meaningless vituperation, . More recently, the whole sorry saga of Iraq, Libya and Syria demonstrates what happens when politicians make decisions which they honestly think are for the best, in situations which they do not fully understand.

So we have to live with our decisions, imperfect though they may be. But Christians also celebrate and worship a God who, they believe, is bigger than any of the nations of the world and has a master-plan for the entire universe.

Certainly the Bible’s Old Testament traces the history of a people who were led, taught, blessed and often chastised by God. And this saga continues with the Church in the New Testament, reaching its climax in the book of Revelation where angels triumphantly proclaim that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, who will reign for ever in a renewed creation. This is the very essence of the Christian hope.

But it is here that we run into our difficulties. For the Old Testament repeatedly talks about God fighting on behalf of his people, or of him raising up rulers – some of them pagan! – to carry out his inscrutable purposes. There is a sense in which the most powerful kings and nations of the ancient world are puppets in his hands; a particularly striking passage in Ezekiel’s prophecy says that Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, considers himself to be “a lion among the nations” but is in fact no more than a “dragon” thrashing in the sea and ensnared in the net which God has thrown over him. As the book of Proverbs states, “The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established”. So is our freedom in fact no more than an illusion? Are we nothing more than pawns on the divine chessboard?

I must be honest: I strongly hoped that Britain would remain in the European Union and I was shocked at the strength of the “Leave” vote. At the very least our choice has triggered a period of national uncertainty with the Prime Minister’s resignation, volatile financial markets and the promise of complex negotiations all taking centre stage. We have been told that our decision could lead to a disastrous recession, and there is also the real possibility of Britain becoming an even more divided country than it is at present, with a further referendum leading to Scottish independence. The crosses we marked on our ballot papers have unleashed forces which are, to a degree, beyond our control; we shall have to wait and see what happens, and that will not be easy.

And it is here, perhaps, that our belief in God’s overarching sovereignty can encourage us. I am not in any sense suggesting that Britain is a nation specially favoured by God; that would be ridiculous. Nor am I saying that we are any more or less Christian than the other countries which make up Europe. But I do want to declare that we are part of God’s wider world; I also want to affirm that God fundamentally wants the human race to thrive and flourish. Yes, we have made our decision, and some of us think that it was the wrong one. Now is the time for all of us, whatever our political views may be, to put our trust in God, the Almighty and Eternal Lord.



Andrew-KleissnerAndrew Kleissner has been the Minister of Christ Church (United Reformed & Baptist), Tacket Street, Ipswich since 2005. Prior to that he was a missionary in West Africa and then the Minister of two churches in London. He served for some years as the Baptist representative on “Churches Together in England’s” Theology Group and has recently become the Eastern Baptist Association’s Ecumenical Officer for Suffolk. Andrew is married to Moira, a retired teacher who – among other things! – volunteers for Christian Aid, Dance East and “Emmaus”.

To view Andrews other Blogs click here


(The views expressed here are those of the author, not of Heart 4 Ipswich, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate. We welcome your thoughts upon the ideas expressed here, posted as comments below)


Andrew Kleissner, 29/06/2016


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“Consumer Christianity”

consumerism grand-central-statI wonder why you attend the church you do? There are all sorts of possible reasons.


Perhaps it’s the church which your family has always gone to, or the church closest to your home. Perhaps you were taken there by a friend and liked what you found. Perhaps you value its glorious choral and organ music, or love the energy of its worship band. Perhaps you are lifted to heaven by its liturgy, or feel comfortable with its laid-back informality. Perhaps you enjoy the intimacy of a small fellowship or you like being “one of the crowd” in a large gathering.

There might be other reasons, too. You appreciate the way that the Minister opens up the Bible in the sermons, or you are happy with the church’s undogmatic and enquiring approach to faith. You have children and are really grateful that the church arranges so many activities for them. Or – dare I say? – you first went because you wanted to get those children into the school next door, and liked it so much that you stayed; not the worthiest of reasons for choosing a church but it happens!

I suspect that many of us are not quite sure why we ended up in the church we now attend; indeed, we may well put it down to God’s providence. But let’s remember that many folk in the past, especially in rural areas, didn’t have so much choice. Oh, there may have been plenty of churches and chapels around (although presumably limited to the traditional Anglican, Catholic and Nonconformist denominations), but few people had cars. To get to church meant walking, cycling or catching an infrequent Sunday bus.

Let me take you, for a moment, away from churches and into the realm of commerce; more specifically, into the way we do our shopping. We know that stores invest a lot of time and money into providing an attractive retail environment, hoping to lure in the customers. Companies work hard to build up brand loyalty, carefully positioning their products in the crowded market-place. Supermarkets offer a “one-stop” shopping experience with a bewildering range of items. And looming up behind them all is the rise of on-line shopping, with its unlimited choice and unrivalled convenience.

consumerism shopping-cart-1-15We may welcome this brave new world where the consumer is king; but it has unwelcome consequences. For the old-fashioned drapers’ or butchers’ where the assistants knew all their customers by name, the convenient corner shop with its limited offering of daily necessities, the village store which once sold everything from milk to mousetraps, all struggle to survive. Indeed, many have closed. For a lot of people that doesn’t really matter: they can drop in at Tesco’s on the way home from work, or book a delivery to their front door. But it can leave elderly (or simply carless) people with real difficulties, it can tear the heart out of communities, it can have repercussions on the local economy. 

Do you see a parallel here with the churches? I do. For if every Christian makes a consumer choice and flocks to the church they ‘like’, what will be the effect on the churches they pass to get there? If all Christian parents decide to attend the church with the flourishing youth programme, how will that leave other churches who desperately want to reach out to families? If most Christian wage-earners put their offerings into churches which already seem to be well-off, where will the money come from to sustain other congregations? These are a few of the questions we should be asking.

You see, I am very worried, and for two reasons. One is that this consumer mentality, of choosing something principally because it gratifies our desires, just doesn’t seem to fit well with our Christian faith which talks about “dying to self” and “taking up Christ’s cross daily”. Indeed, I get worried when Christians say that they’ve been “led” to join big, thriving churches: wouldn’t God be more likely to send them to small ones in which they could make a real difference? Equally, if they say that they go to their current church because they find the worship so uplifting, mustn’t one ask if the primary aim of worship isn’t to give us a good time with God but offer him the honour which he deserves. Any blessing we may receive is, in a sense, coincidental. 

And there is an even more significant reason to be concerned. For many churches and chapels, especially in villages or less-salubrious urban areas, are having a real fight to keep going. Some of those congregations may be inward-looking and set in their ways; but others have a real desire to reach out with the Gospel. What they desperately need is energetic and committed folk who will help them in their task – but those folk often choose to go elsewhere. The long-term effect will be that many churches will close, leaving communities without any Christian witness. 

Do we really want that to happen? I don’t. But to avoid it Christians must be prepared to leave their vibrant churches and get stuck into the tiring and possibly dispiriting work of being disciples in a less hospitable environment. They will have to forego the buzz of being part of a lively fellowship and engage with a much smaller community. They may need to abandon professional standards of music and put up with something that sets their teeth on edge.

Yet, as they do these things, they will have the satisfaction being involved in real, cutting-edge mission. They will play a crucial role in a congregation that is trying to live authentically for Jesus in an uninspiring place. Above all, they will know that they are serving Christ in the place to which he has called them. 



Andrew-KleissnerAndrew Kleissner has been the Minister of Christ Church (United Reformed & Baptist), Tacket Street, Ipswich since 2005. Prior to that he was a missionary in West Africa and then the Minister of two churches in London. He served for some years as the Baptist representative on “Churches Together in England’s” Theology Group and has recently become the Eastern Baptist Association’s Ecumenical Officer for Suffolk. Andrew is married to Moira, a retired teacher who – among other things! – volunteers for Christian Aid, Dance East and “Emmaus”.

To view Andrews other Blogs click here


(The views expressed here are those of the author, not of Heart 4 Ipswich, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate. We welcome your thoughts upon the ideas expressed here, posted as comments below)


Andrew Kleissner, 07/06/2016


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“Pray, think, vote".

“On May 5th we went to the polls to vote for our local Councillors and the new Police Commissioner. And, in just a few weeks we’ll be going again, this time to vote in the EU Referendum”.
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Or will we? The percentage of people voting has generally been decreasing over the last few decades, especially in local elections. I think there are a number of reasons for this: some people no longer have confidence in politicians, thinking that they live in a “bubble” insulated from the real world; or they have lost the sense of being part of a community.

Others say, “It doesn’t matter what I vote, they’re all the same anyway”; or they may live in a “safe” constituency or ward and feel that casting their vote is pointless. “So, while I predict that the turnout in the EU Referendum will be high, I was not surprised that only 1 in 3 of us voted in the local and Police Commissioner elections”.

So what might Christians have to say about the democratic process?  Some believe that faith is intensely personal and has nothing to do with the secular world; they regard the realm of politics as so tainted and corrupt that Christians can do nothing but steer away from it. Equally, there are many politicians who make a sharp division between religion and politics: we remember, for instance, Tony Blair’s statement, “We don’t do God” and we in Britain may well be concerned at the way in which religious matters seem to unduly shape politics in the allegedly secular USA.

The Bible says nothing about politics in the modern sense. That’s hardly surprising, because most countries were ruled by kings or clan leaders who exercised absolute power through people they had appointed. Even democracies such as Greece and Rome didn’t have formal political parties as we know them today, although groups of citizens did gather around common causes. In any case less than a fifth of the people in those countries, all of them male, rich and well-connected, had any right to vote or take part in government: slaves, foreigners and women were excluded. So the politics which did exist in the Bible’s world were very different to those we know today.

Nevertheless, we mustn’t forget that the entire Bible is set in a variety of political contexts. For instance, the Hebrews leaving Egypt and settling in Canaan altered the balance of power in the entire region. Kings such as David and Solomon were constantly making alliances and treaties to ensure national security and economic growth: the Queen of Sheba’s famous visit certainly had a political agenda. The prophets’ denunciations of corruption in both trade and government were highly political – indeed, some of them were as outspoken as any present-day activist. And, of course, Jesus lived out his own life in the midst of a swirling political tension, with notions of revolution simmering just beneath
the surface. Jews and Romans alike would have scrutinised his every word, looking for political meanings.

There is perhaps only one Bible passage that deals specifically with politics. It comes in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome – the very centre of the Empire. This was a place where the political establishment must have been highly suspicious of the Church, which seemed to be promoting revolutionary ideas. For Christians worshipped the Jewish God rather than the traditional Roman deities, they called Jesus “Lord” , and placed their citizenship of heaven above their loyalty to the State (which seemed to cock a snook at the Emperor’s authority), they treated slaves and upper-class people alike, and they espoused a morality which implicitly criticised the behaviour of the Roman elite.

Paul’s guidance to the Roman Christians is rather strange, for he tells them to passively accept the civil authorities and even regard them as divinely appointed. This advice has caused great difficulties for Christians living under totalitarian regimes rather than in countries whose governments serve the people. But perhaps the Apostle was worried that the contents of his letter would become known to those in power and so was seeking to tell them, “Look; we have no intention of rocking the political boat”. Paul does sound remarkably uncritical of the Empire’s leaders – but, of course, he was a privileged Roman citizen himself.

So then: should Christians engage in the political process? I think that they must, even though I can’t cite a particular chapter and verse to prove it. For we Christians live amongst people made by God; that gives us a responsibility to play our part in society.

And I would go further: I think that, beyond a doubt, our beliefs should influence our political choices. No, we don’t impose our faith on everyone else, nor do we insist that the “Christian voice” is the only one to be heard. But our values, our attitudes, our hopes for the world we wish to create must be shaped by our beliefs. Our faith must affect the way we vote, although the issues involved are often complex.

“So we come back to the forthcoming referendum. We may find it difficult to evaluate the many issues that are involved, some of them impossible to resolve by one simple vote. Nevertheless we must assess them carefully and then do our civic duty. We can never be sure that we have made the best choice; that will only be confirmed over time. But, at the very least, we can ask God to direct us before we take that pencil and mark our cross in the appropriate box. I believe that he is a God who made the world and loves humanity; I am sure that he cares about the outcome”.

But, at the very least, we can ask God to direct us before we take that pencil and mark our cross in the appropriate box. I believe that he is a God who made the world and loves humanity; I am sure that he cares about the outcome.

A prayer for the forthcoming European Referendum, from the Church of England:
God of truth, give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum with honesty and openness. Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion and discernment to those who vote, that our nation may prosper and that with all the peoples of Europe we may work for peace and the common good; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 


Andrew-KleissnerAndrew Kleissner has been the Minister of Christ Church (United Reformed & Baptist), Tacket Street, Ipswich since 2005. Prior to that he was a missionary in West Africa and then the Minister of two churches in London. He served for some years as the Baptist representative on “Churches Together in England’s” Theology Group and has recently become the Eastern Baptist Association’s Ecumenical Officer for Suffolk. Andrew is married to Moira, a retired teacher who – among other things! – volunteers for Christian Aid, Dance East and “Emmaus”.


(The views expressed here are those of the author, not of Heart 4 Ipswich, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate. We welcome your thoughts upon the ideas expressed here, posted as comments below)


Andrew Kleissner, 07/05/2016


Permalink

 

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