I know some of you will find this hard to believe but I once had an interview to become an officer in the Intelligence Corps. Part of the interview process was having a lecture on “subversives,” groups who were trying to undermine the values of the United Kingdom. Some thirty years later I am now wondering if one my ambitions should be to get Mosaic Edinburgh, our fledgling missional community, on that list? Now before anyone contacts MI5 about me and I end up in Belmarsh Prison with Abu Hamza here is what I mean.
Christendom dominated European society from around the eleventh century until the end of the twentieth and now in the UK it’s in its death throes. In Christendom the Church had a privileged position in society and provided the basic beliefs and values of the culture. In Christendom to be a good a “citizen” was seen as virtually synonymous with being a good “Christian.” There was really no dispute about the validity of Christian morality, it was just universally assumed, though not practiced, that the best context for sex was a committed heterosexual marriage. How things have changed! On a whole range of issues in political correct Britain today Christianity is on a collusion course with the values and attitudes of the culture that surrounds it. Christian unions have been thrown of campuses for refusing to allow practicing homosexuals to be part of their leadership group. Christian staff working along side turban headed Sikhs and Hijab wearing Muslims have been disciplined for wearing a small cross. The laws that enshrined Christian values are continually being rolled back,the final legal barriers to euthanasia in our country have been dismantled, gay marriage will soon be legal.
The response to this undermining of Christian morality by some Christians and churches has been to protest and fight any changes in the law. While I understand why they are doing it, yet I think these Christ followers are misguided and maybe even being counter productive to the Kingdom of God. Christendom is just about gone, we need to get over it. Christianity is no longer uniformaly accepted by the majority of our population, we are not central in British culture we are marginal.
This isn’t all bad news; in fact as I am decidedly agnostic at best about Christendom, I think it may be the best thing that has happened to the church since Constantine embraced Christianity for political expediency. Now that the Church no longer wields power and control in our society maybe there is an opportunity for us to rediscover a more authentic form of Christianity. Stuart Murray in The Church After Christendom says, “Becoming again a marginal mission movement involves rejecting many of the attitudes and assumptions inherited from Christendom. The invitation is to return to our roots and recapture the subversive pre-Christendom dynamism that turned the world upside down from the margins” p155 The passing of Christendom gives us the opportunity to rediscover what it means to be the kind of subversive, counter culture, community the early church was.
The early church couldn’t impose its values on others all it could do was live those values in front of others. The first generations of Christ followers couldn’t legislate the Kingdom of God but all they could do was to embody it as a community. By making the Kingdom comprehensible and tangible in their lives and communities they turned the ancient world upside down. The people of the Roman Empire saw and felt the Kingdom of God in the lives and community of believers who lived amongst them. They encountered a subversive message through a subversive community. In a culture in which life was cheap, these early Christians looked after abandoned babies and the terminally ill. In a culture divided by class and status, slaves and free, high class and low class, men and women mixed freely. In a culture of violence they turned the other cheek. In a culture that treated woman as property and the means of male sexual gratification Christians offered dignity and love. This is the basic thesis of Rodney Starks great book, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal, Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Roman Empire. These early Christianity communities didn’t impact their culture by enacting laws but by being salt and light, bringing transformation from the inside out. The quality of their lives exerted a magnetic and transformative influence on the surrounding culture.
As I dream about the future for our, at present little, group of Christ followers in Edinburgh that’s my dream and prayer. I long for us to become a dangerous subversive community. A community which is utterly committed to the task of undermining the greed and shallow hedonism of Western culture by living out the values of the Kingdom of God. A community where that Kingdom becomes tangible to those we encounter. A community where, just as in the earliest days of the church, the least, the lonely and left out of today’s society find community, love, hope, dignity and humanity. I want to be part of a dangerous community, which is committed to changing my culture not through random acts of extreme violence but through planned acts of extreme compassion. Funny the things you dream of on a Monday morning.