It’s been a while since I’ve commented on the URC website. I’ve wanted to give it a fair go and see what we get. We’ve been assured that content about the Gospel will be added in the future – it’s not made an appearance yet but I trust that it’s on its way.
What I’d like to do now is to look at some of the news stories on the site and see how well they rise to Fleur Houston’s challenge: “There needs to be some indication that we banana-eating enthusiasts worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who in the power of the Holy Spirit is alive in the world today.”
That comment refers to the Fair Trade Fortnight banana-eating record attempt. Church House staff took part. Here’s the story, complete with incriminating picture. It’s a nice story. Fair Trade is a decent thing to support. But it’s not the Gospel and this story doesn’t mention God. It fails the Houston test.
Related to that is a story about the URC’s children’s organisation, Pilots. This group is a non-uniformed organisation that was set up around a sea-faring theme in support of the London Missionary Society. Older people in the URC will regale you with stories of collecting ship ha’pennies for missionary journeys. I’ve worshipped in a Madagascar church commemorating the first Christian martyrs there which was built with the money from English Sunday school children. Rather than the spread of the Gospel, this story highlights the spread of Fair Trade and the Pilots role in it. Again, Fair Trade is a good thing but are the young people in Pilots as confident about Jesus as they are grilling the directors of a chocolate company?
The statement on the nature, faith and order of the URC says this:
We believe that Christ gives his Church a government distinct from the government of the state. In things that affect obedience to God the Church is not subordinate to the state, but must serve the Lord Jesus Christ, its only Ruler and Head. Civil authorities are called to serve God’s will of justice and peace for all humankind, and to respect the rights of conscience and belief – while we ourselves are servants in the world as citizens of God’s eternal kingdom.
This is a great encapsulation of the doctrine of Two Kingdoms: The church is the church and the state should stick its nose out; Civil authorities are called by God to wield the sword. Rather than be servants of Christ in the world and getting on with preaching the Gospel the URC (and the Methodists and Baptists through the “Joint Issues” team) has delusions that it wields earthly authority. Here’s an article telling the civil authorities what to do on climate change Here’s another telling the G20 how to go about their business.
Am I saying that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics? Not at all. Individuals should be as active as possible in the civil realm. However, the Church as a body has no authority to say anything apart from the Gospel. These articles ask us: Is someone who is unconvinced about climate change not welcome in the URC? What if you believe free trade and industrialisation is the best way to relieve poverty?
If the church is going to pronounce on political matters there should be at least some attempt to ground it in the faith. However, the words God, Father, Jesus and Spirit do not appear in these reports. Another fail, I’m afraid.
As if to prove the problems for the church when it dabbles in politics as a body there is a welcome article on Madagascar and the situation there. The now ex-president Marc Ravalomanana was the vice-president of the Church of Jesus Christ. Both he and the upstart who is now the “president” Andry Rajoelina held church services at their rallies in the week before the coup.
It’s not all bad. There have been some good stories too. The tribute to Madge Saunders was welcome and John Macaulay will lift high the banner of Jesus Christ on Radio 4. But they’re in the minority. The primary calling of the church is to preach Christ. I pray that the URC may remember this and that God would grant Reformation to his church.