Saturday, 14 November 2009

Disunity - Unity

Article 3 ~ November 2009

"Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." Jude 3:3 (AV)

"I . . . earnestly appeal to you to put up a real fight for the faith which has been once and for all committed to those who belong to Christ" (JBP)

The General Epistle of Jude with its condemnation of false teachers and plea for loyalty to the truth of the Gospel has the practical purpose to warn against all such and to encourage, persuade Christians to value those who stand firm for the faith and to share with them in the fight against whoever and whatever would threaten its continuance and growth.

It is a singularly appropriate appeal to believers in these contentious times for the faith and the churches, under continuous attacks from materialists, humanists and most militant atheists.

The reality is that within the churches there is unity and disunity and we are constantly made aware that Protestantism is so diversified in theology, ecclesiology and attitudes to evangelism and ecumenism that it cannot be a definitive summation in Christian faith and practice. It is, though, what is taught and believed in Protestant churches to give them a unity in diversity.

The tenets of the faith recited in creeds by those with set liturgies, are the beliefs to which others give assent for the differences are less theological than practical and historical. Any research on denominational origins will find their beginnings, while dissimilar in each case have more to do with personal preference, the dictation of conscience and the choice of church order and discipline.

These aspirations were the causes of separation and alienation.

Time and circumstance has encouraged some to develop good relationship, and to present a better picture of Christianity to the world. Each of the churches would insist however that the primary task is to worship God and to show by word and deed to commitment to Christ. And to claim that the Christian philosophy for life is based on the conviction that people need God, for without Him life is lived in a lesser dimension, that the faith works when people turn to Christ and their lives are changed and enhanced by that decision.

It is the recognised duty of the churches to bring people to that experience and to have and enjoy the benefits.

The faith is always more than a corpus of belief. It is the motivating force in the lives of Christians, true to their commitment to Christ. The contention is that the answers to the ills of the world and the needs of people are to be proud in the Christian faith, that if the country is to be freed of the distresses, the attitudes and lives of people must be changed and centred on character and conduct best exemplified in the Christian way of life with its Christ. Like selflessness and determination to care more for others than oneself to practice that Christian brotherliness that seeks the good of people spiritually, intellectually and physically; to help bring about just legislation and to condemn all that grievously disaffects us - sectarianism, racism and classism among them.

On issues of such consequence there should be unity in the churches for disunity is defeatist and disastrous for the faith.

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Christian And His Fellowman

Article 3 ~ October 2009

Nowhere in the writings of St Paul is there more rational, sensible and sensitive thinking on Christian, and other, attitudes on human relations than in Romans 12: 10-21. With its sentiments expressed in words and phrases with charity and precision, memorable and still applicable, beginning with "Be kindly affectioned one to another: in honour preferring one another not slothful in business . . . serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation . . . given to hospitality", and ending "If thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him to drink . . . Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good."

Principles to be Applied
It was said of a preacher that in his sermons he stated the obvious and then spent time explaining it. One could be excused for feeling that anything added to this passage, by way of interpretation or explanation, would be superfluous, for it speaks so clearly, for itself. There is value, though, in meditating on sentiments so clearly stated by Paul, at his most inspired, putting words to thoughts.

The practical application of these Pauline posed Christian principles would have far-reaching consequences. Paul makes a strong plea for that quality of forgiveness which Jesus exemplified in His speech and conduct; that humility which the early Christians, and the first Christian Martyrs, literalised in their reaction to misunderstanding, violence and persecution.

The evangelising quality and value of this kind of conduct has its illustration in the effect of Stephen's martyrdom on the once grossly intolerant Saul of Tarsus. St. Augustine explained it, "The Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen."

To be happy with the happy, and sad with the sad, is to share in the common crises experiences of our fellows. Happiness and grief, gain and loss, are of the warp and woof of life. It comes easier to share joy than sorrow. Many a man in trouble has found that his convivial friends are only dependable when the going is good. Friendship is proved in adversity. Shared tears bind people together as shared laughs never can. And yet, apparent contradiction, it is often easier to say sympathetic words to someone in the dumps than to congratulate the fellow who is scaling the heights.

Envy is a sin which prevents us from being big enough to appreciate the quality and ability of another person. "He is a poor man who can't appreciate another man's brains, or brawn." Envy is the attendant of the empty mind. "There is not a passion so firmly rooted in the human heart than envy." (Sheridan) Here is a proverb, "He that would live clear of envy must lay his finger on his mouth, and keep his hand out of the ink-pot."

We are to live in harmony with one another. Good relations among Christians can be elusive.

Church Tensions
Church tensions are the cause of division and separation. "See how those Christians hate one another" was someone's indictment of some who claimed loyalty to Christ but showed little of his spirit. Nothing is more destructful of Christianity than the antagonisms of Christians.

The most unChrist-like attitudes and actions are sometimes found where lip loyalty to Him is given with noisy enthusiasm or belligerency of the tongue, without depth of spiritual sensitivity and sympathy. The faith which shows in high quality Christian living is not always where it is to be expected.

Pride is the vice of the foot. Nothing is more persistent and pernicious than the sin of pride. The early Church was where master and slave sat down together.

Any form of egotism is to be excluded, whether of an estimate of oneself, that would lead to lack of respect from one's fellows, or any kind of self-seeking that leads to the anti-social vices like contempt for them. "If a proud man could only see how small a vacancy his death would leave, he would think less of the place he occupies in his lifetime."

Our Christianity should be winsome, forgiving, winning; never hard, unbending, repelling.

Revenge not for Men
We are to live in peace with all men, conditionally, "if possible; and so far as you can." Principle must never give way to courtesy. Tolerance can be weakness. Peace is the masterpiece of reason.

Revenge is not to be considered. It is not for us. It is the prerogative of God. Vengeance can break people, kindness can make them.

We are being reminded continually that violence begets violence. There is no solution to our "Northern Ireland Problem" in violent reciprocation. The lawkeeper must not degrade himself to the level of the lawbreaker. Booker Washington, the great black scholar and statesman, who knew about degradation said, "I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him." The way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.

We are saying no more here than that we must do one thing, help our people to see the sense of the Christian attitude to life, and to help them to take God seriously and to meet His demands on them courageously. We need real Christianity to be like Christ!