DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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ADVENT 4

Blowing Up Bridges


John 1.23
   I am the voice of someone shouting in the desert, "Make a straight path for the Lord to travel!"

No map of the Roman Empire makes much sense unless it shows its many thousands of miles of roads. The Empire survived and prospered because of its system of highways. 

Roman engineers built military roads straight and true through the countryside. The general rule seems to have been that if an obstacle could be cut through, moved away or bridged, that would be done. 

One historian remarks that nothing in those times promoted the Empire more than the good communication these roads gave. The author of John's Gospel makes just this point when he has John the Baptist echo the Hebrew Scriptures in relation to Jesus of Nazareth:

Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord! Clear the way in the desert for our God! Fill every valley, level every mountain. (Isaiah 40.3-4)

If the image doesn't have quite the same impact today, it's because most nations no longer give such pride of place to their rulers. But the basic principle nevertheless survives, just as the image remains effective. The progress of a king is to be made as easy as possible.

It no longer makes much sense to talk of Jesus as king or emperor. That image has long since lost is punch. But few Christians, at whatever level and of whatever persuasion, are likely to entirely reject the principle that they are called to bring Jesus to others. 

Exactly how that is to be done is a matter of fierce debate at present. It is becoming increasingly difficult, for example, to claim that Christians are right and everyone else wrong. Many think that living a Christian way of life is more important than preaching at other people.

Having said that, it doesn't follow that it should be made as hard as possible to take the Christian road . No, the principle is clear: "Make it easy for Jesus to come to others."

However, from the earliest times the Church has deliberately fenced itself off from "the rest". Baptism began as a sign that a person had accepted Jesus. Within a relatively short time it had become a barrier between Christians and "the rest". A person was not acceptable without it. Once the Church became powerful, many other barriers were erected to keep out unrepentant sinners.

Today the power of the Church has diminished to almost nothing - especially in the West. In Europe, nearly empty churches are the rule rather than the exception. With a few exceptions this seems to be a worldwide trend. One might assume that as a result the entire fabric of the Church would now be geared towards making the road to new life as straight and as level as possible.

More or less the opposite seems to be the case.

A book could be written about the many ways in which the Church today blocks the path of Jesus. Foremost is an insistence that deep emotional and intellectual belief in certain primordial teachings is necessary. It is as though Jesus has been mummified. He has become like an insect preserved in a beautiful block of amber - petrified and lifeless.

Following close behind is a view which cuts senselessly across contemporary human understanding of how the universe works. This ranges from preaching that we are all corrupt from birth, to gross tardiness in demanding that ruthless exploitation of our fragile world stop now.

Cutting through the chain of human knowledge like acid is an absurd claim. It is that the Church has a hotline to God, has received direct from God some absolute truths which rise above debate and reason. From this is in turn derived the notion of unswerving obedience to Church leaders.

It is as though Christians now spend much of their energy blowing up bridges across the roads of life. Jesus is denied easy access to his beloved brothers and sisters. The valleys are not filled in, and the hills not levelled.

It is consoling to trust that Jesus will nevertheless come to all who need him, however tortuous and difficult we Christians make his path.

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