Jesus, not a Christian-ish veneer, at the heart of society

15 September 2023

Communications Manager Paul Huxley comments on the need for Jesus, not just Christian values

Christian Concern’s vision is for Jesus at the heart of society.

We want to see Jesus Christ, the living Son of God at the centre of our society. Jesus and his teaching is the only secure foundation for a just, loving, truthful nation. But more than that, Jesus himself needs to be loved and honoured – Jesus at the heart of society.

So when Rod Liddle – who says he isn’t sure if God exists – writes that abandoning Christianity has “enormously diminished” us “both as individuals and a society”, my ears prick up.

He notes that when marriage was valued and divorce was taboo, people were better protected; particularly children. He says that Christian morals (including the ‘good old Protestant work ethic’) keep us out of debt. And he explains how a church was once the hub of a community, and its neglect has led to individualism, materialism and fragmentation.

This is a sort of informal, pragmatic argument for the existence of the Christian God: if Christianity isn’t true, civilisation will not hold together.

Some non-Christians are sympathetic to this line of argument. They don’t believe in God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but recognise the immense value of ‘faith’ in society.  “It may not be true”, they say, “but it is useful.” “Let’s just pay lip service to God so that our society can benefit from the positive influence of faith.”

Religion, particularly Christianity, is used like a master’s painting in a gallery. It is admired from a distance as something beautiful that will enrich us or inspire us to be better human beings. But is not treated as a real relationship with a real God, who really places demands on our lives.

Many Christians adore this sort of validation from unbelievers. When non-Christians say something nice about us or a report shows how much great work or charity Christians or churches are doing, we lap it up.

There’s plenty that’s true about this point of view. You can, like Glen Scrivener does so well, trace the things our culture loves, like freedom, kindness and equality, back to their Christian origins. That’s valuable. It’s good when non-Christians recognise the real source of these values and the impact they have on real people.

But the pragmatic argument for Christianity in society – or for a Christian-ish veneer to keep the NHS going or the GDP flowing – isn’t enough.

Because Christianity without Christ is futile.

This is as true at a national level as it is for individuals. Works without faith are dead.

A Christian-ish nation may be better than many other possibilities, but God blesses those who trust in him. We do not live in a mechanical, materialistic universe. We can’t simply commit to good ideas and processes and guarantee a prosperous nation. Our wellbeing depends on the generosity of a God who loves to see justice done, the vulnerable protected and the Lord Jesus Christ exalted.

That’s why one throwaway, somewhat blasphemous sentence in Liddle’s is intriguing. He writes:

“Much like the CofE bishop I talked to a decade or so ago, I am not entirely sure there is a God (“How the bloody hell would I know, Rod?” was his exact response).”

Assuming this recollection is accurate, this is very disheartening. It is understandable to acknowledge occasional doubts but it is wrong for a senior church leader to answer the question in such a vulgar, dismissive manner.

The concept of unbelieving Church of England bishops is no new thing, as those who’ve watched Yes, Prime Minister will remember.

Nevertheless, this makes me wonder: how much of the malaise in the Church of England is because its leaders simply don’t believe in God?

Liddle writes:

“the retreat of Christianity in our country — or more properly our collective retreat from it — has enormously diminished us, both as individuals and as a society.”

What if Christianity really has retreated, not just been retreated from? If, in the period Liddle describes, many of the most visible church leaders in our nation have had no real, living faith in God, it’s no wonder that Christianity has disappeared from the heart of our nation.

I don’t pretend that I can see into the heart of any bishop. But “you will know them by their fruits”.

What fruits?

Well, fruits that seem largely indistinguishable from the unbelievers I mentioned earlier. God is quoted with moral clarity and forthrightness when bishops judge it likely to be well-received – when it’s serving something society already likes. But bring up abortion, sexuality, Islam or transgenderism – much more morally straightforward topics than economics, migration or climate change – and there’s barely a whisper.

Read the Church of England’s report on families earlier this year for a prime example of the Church papering over much deeper cracks in society that require actual repentance.

It all makes sense if the many in the church hierarchy simply don’t believe in God. For them, there is no life beyond the grave and no chance of being held accountable.

More than that, what right would they have to tell anyone to change their ways on behalf of a God they don’t believe in? It would only be justified if this Christianity-lite serves the higher purpose of a prosperous, peaceful society desired by humanists, Marxists, conservatives and liberals alike. Or if it serves ‘British values’, whatever they are.

And in that respect, maybe Rod Liddle and the bishops aren’t all that different. I’m not sure who would be less happy with this comparison, but those who profess to be Christian believers and who are in church leadership will be held to a higher standard.

Both seem to want Christianity for the sake of society, but not really because it’s true; not because God is real or because Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth.

Both – and, in fact, all of us – need faith in the real, living, crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ – not religion, not religious freedom, not Christian ideology but Jesus Christ himself – at the heart of society.

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