There is a great responsibility here on those of us who are church leaders. We are not called to be involved in party politics but we are called, as under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd, to protect, warn and care for the flock of God. But we seem more concerned about preserving and protecting our position. We are so weak and spineless. And we lack courage. We feed ourselves like the hired shepherds who run away whenever the wolf attacks the sheep. Or we proclaim loudly about issues that are long past and have little relevance to the culture today.
With the rapid retreat from any form of Christian values in today’s ‘progressive’ Scotland, the question arises as to what the Church can or should do about it. Sadly, the confusion in the culture is mirrored by confusion in the Church – including the Free Church. ‘Liberals’ tend to go along with the culture rather than challenge it. That is why the Church of Scotland Establishment is unlikely to challenge anything that the political establishment advances. They are either the ‘spiritual’ wing of the new progressives or playing catch-up. Broad evangelicals are happy to speak out about issues that the culture agrees with, but tend to keep silent in public about more contentious issues. It’s much more culturally acceptable to speak out against sex slavery than it is to speak out against same-sex marriage. Whilst in general they may not agree with the current trends within society, they tend to think it is unproductive to speak out and only causes unnecessary hassle.
Separatist evangelicals who adopt a more biblical and conservative theology often want to circle the wagons and retreat into their churches. After all, the world will behave as the world, so is it not better to ensure that we remain pure until the Lord returns or the Spirit brings revival? We can complain within our own settings and grumble about the state of the world, but we figure there is no point in casting our ‘pearls before swine’. In recent years a version of this, known as ‘The Benedict Option’, after a book of the same name by Rod Dreher, has become the ‘in thing’. Dreher argues for a return to a kind of monastic Christianity in which Christian communities shine like light in the midst of an increasingly barbaric culture.
Puritan evangelicals take another point of view. We believe that Christians are called to be salt and light and to seek the prosperity of the nation/city/culture that God has called us to. We are not just in this world for our own benefit, but also to be the prophetic voice of God for the nations. We call communities and nations as well as individuals to repentance and faith in Christ.
At a time of great trouble in the history of the United Kingdom, John Owen gave several sermons over the years to the English Parliament. These are found in volume 8 of his works, Sermons to the Nation, and they make fascinating reading – especially if you know the context. In February 1659, with Parliament about to recall the King and the Puritan revolution apparently over, he preached a wonderful sermon on Isaiah 4:5, ‘The Glory and Interest of Nations Professing the Gospel’. Owen argued that we should be encouraged by Gospel promises in the midst of perplexing and difficult outward circumstances and by the presence of Christ with his people in those same circumstances. Owen specifically disavowed the notion that Christ was with people because of their nationality, but he also disavowed the idea that it doesn’t matter what our rulers believe.
Owen gives us a pattern for acting and speaking out in our nation today (remember he was speaking to Parliament):
1) If you desire the glory of these nations, labour to promote the interest of Christ in these nations.
2) Labour personally, every one of you, to get Christ in your own hearts.
3) Set yourselves to oppose that overflowing flood of profaneness, and opposition to the power of godliness, that is spreading over this nation.
4) Value, encourage, and close with them who have this presence of Christ.
Would that such a sermon were preached and appreciated in both the UK and Scottish parliaments! But that is unlikely, given our current insipid national civic Christianity. You are more likely to hear a sermon on climate change and Brexit than anything specifically to do with Christ. I realise that this is a different age. But the same principles can be applied to our culture today.