The Challenge of 2021

It is the beginning of 2021 a number that sounds futuristic! Well it does to me, as someone who can remember the news flash on the TV of President Kennedy being assassinated in 1963! Before writing this I re-read my blog post from the beginning of last year entitled “The Drama of 2020.” Little did I realise that a Global Pandemic was only two months away; an event which has changed so much in the political and social landscape and presented us with considerable challenges. Nonetheless, I stand by much of what I wrote then and would urge readers to consult that article as a good background to this one. My main emphasis then was on the need to understand, appreciate and promulgate the Christian Story. The battle in the modern world is about which worldview or grand narrative has dominance and influence.

Over this past year I have reflected long and hard on my life: my first awakening to faith in what was a very different age; my subsequent call to Ministry; the heady days of University; the passion, enthusiasm and chutzpah of my contemporaries and myself; the strong conviction that we were a generation that was going to lead the Church gloriously into the 21st century. What happened!!??

None of us predicted, nor I suppose could we have, the direction our culture would take and the incredible societal changes that have occurred these last 40yrs. Nor could we have imagined that the Church would become a shadow of its former self, become increasingly marginalised, and then go into melt-down demographically. But here we are. The jury is out on whether the Church as we know it will survive this pandemic. Of course the Future will have a Church because the Future belongs to God. However, what form that will take in the 21st Century remains to be seen.

In my very first blog post entitled “The Making of the Christian Mind in the 21st Century” I began with the following quotation:

The Christian Religion is inescapably ritualistic…uncompromisingly moral…and unapologetically intellectual. Robert Louis Wilkin

The intellectual heritage of the Christian faith is truly admirable and impressive. Few of our members realise this and even some of our Clergy do not adequately reflect this. However, over the years I confess to being distracted by the adrenalin rush of debate and polemics. These days I realise more than ever, that promotion of the Christian worldview is not just about the “mind” and passionate and persuasive argumentation, it is also about the recognition that this is a “spiritual” not just an “intellectual battle we are engaged in. Now it is certainly true that secularisation has affected the Church more than we realise and many Christians are, at the very least, a little uncomfortable with this theme. Yet it is clear from the Ministry of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and especially in the writings of Paul that the early Church saw reality this way (e.g. Eph. 6: 12).

During one national crisis in Ancient Israel, the tribes gathered together armed for battle before David. It is said of the men of Issachar that they “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1Chronicles 12:32). We certainly need to be like them both in understanding our context and situation and responding in a suitable and effective manner. However, our battle is not a physical one but a spiritual one.

The use of the “war” metaphor is appropriate here, for we are all born into a world in conflict. In the natural world, biological innovation and adaptation emerges from the struggle for survival. The same is true for the moral and the spiritual. Human history and culture is a battleground for the establishment of higher values and each individual fights strenuously to overcome “inner demons” and respond to the “better angels” of a divided and conflicted psyche. Often, it must be said, without a great deal of success! Nonetheless, it seems that almost everything of value in our world is the “fruit” of struggle in one way or another; nothing is just given or happens effortlessly.

Throughout the Bible, the “war” motif plays an integral part in the story. From the theme of Creation in the Old Testament portrayed as God’s mastery of the forces of chaos, through to the spiritual clash of opposing “kingdoms” witnessed in the ministry of Jesus, the metaphor of conflict is to the fore. Allied to that are the many stories of Biblical heroes like Moses, Gideon, David, and Elijah whose “battles of faith” have always provided Christian preachers with dramatic and vivid material.

Famously, C.S. Lewis, influenced by events in the Second World War, was attracted to the metaphor of the Church being a resistance movement in occupied territory. Let me imaginatively explore that -

1940, Europe: France has fallen to the Germans and the British have retreated back across the Channel. A dark cloud now hangs over the continent. From the Atlantic to the Russian border, and from the Artic to the Mediterranean, the Nazi Swastika flies triumphant over a large swathe of occupied territories. Within these areas local populations are waking up to face a new reality. The fighting is over but a different “war” is just beginning. Armies have been defeated but not hearts and minds and national spirit. All over Europe, subversive resistance is organized in a host of creative and imaginative ways as some people refuse the easy option of collaboration with the occupying forces. In the years that lie ahead, many people will show great fortitude, courage and self-sacrifice in this struggle. Figuratively speaking, is this any different from the situation of the contemporary Church in Western Europe? We are now a resistance movement!

This year, let us thank God for the formation of GTN and for the dedication of those who undergird it with patient and loyal service. Let us also thank God for the Christian Intellectuals who contribute so much to challenging the dominant materialist/atheist worldview of our contemporary culture and those at the sharp end of Christ’s Mission to the world. But let us never forget the need for powerful, persevering and persistent prayer for all that GTN does this year. Our battle is a spiritual one.

by Rev Dr Russel Moffat

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