As an experiment - which I started last month - I am posting my perspective from our church magazine on my blog and facebook for those who would rather access it electronically than in print. I hope it's of interest to a wider audience - I've shortened it a little, cutting out the very specific stuff.
Not long ago the comedian Frank Skinner wrote a fascinating piece for the Times. In it he welcomed the increasingly marginal status of the Christian faith in the UK. Now Skinner is not noted as a popular theologian but his comments certainly made us sit up and listen.
Skinner said this: ‘There was a time when social pressure made people go to church. If anything the reverse is now true. Most adults you see in church nowadays are there because they want to be there. That’s not decline, it’s progress.’
Now, that’s an interesting thought, worth pondering for a few minutes...
He follows it up with this one: ‘I’m a little wary of muscular Christianity…It seems to be in direct contradiction to “Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”. This is the doormat as positive role model — a doormat who’s more concerned about the “welcome” than the muddy feet. Surely the central image of Christianity is someone who can shoot fireballs out of his fingertips allowing himself to be nailed to a wooden cross — submission as the ultimate show of strength — love as impenetrable armour. Most British Christians are badly dressed, unattractive people. We’re not pushy and aggressive members of society.’
Now, of course, we’re better dressed than the average congregation, but surely Skinner has a point. Being a follower of Jesus is not about status, power, influence, being the centre of attention. Rather it’s about serving people and being, like servants, a bit anonymous as we do it; people get served but they’re not sure who did it.
And this chimes in with the major theme of Paul’s passionate letter to the wayward Corinthian church. It is a sustained meditation on what it means to live a cruciform life, that is a life shaped, as Jesus’ was, by the cross.
His plea is that his readers take seriously all he’s taught them about Christian living. In the course of this he offers a model of life based on the character and cross of Christ, a life that he lives. The trouble is that this life is perceived as weak and worthless by his readers. It doesn’t bring them the kind of attention and status that people in Corinth valued so highly; it doesn’t help them win friends and influence in high places.
Now, of course, we’re not interested in such things. But we do think we have a right to be in the place of honour in public debate, that our view of morality is to be given preference over anyone else’s. And we’ve lost that over recent years and it hurts and, if we’re honest, we resent it.
With a mixture of charm and invective, Old Testament exposition and explanation of the difference between Jesus and every other religious teacher on offer, Paul urges, cajoles and encourages his readers to make it up with him and with Jesus. In doing so, he says, they will be able to live the kind of life that God calls them to.
That call is to be a holy people in an unholy world. Paul’s focus is on how his hearers will develop a way of living that puts a broad grin on the face of God. They’ll do it by hearing again the story of Jesus and his cross and building their lives on it as he’s built his life on it and offers that as an example to follow.
And while this way of living inevitably means that we don’t do some of the things our neighbours do – for Paul’s readers that meant avoiding what went on in Corinth’s temples and private function rooms – it mainly means that we develop a community life that has our neighbours looking enviously on wanting what we’ve got.
As we explore this letter between May and the beginning of August, we will look at how we can build and nurture strong, mutually supportive and encouraging relationships, how we can develop a community life based on equality and justice, where the weak are cared for and all are channelled into good works, how we can reflect the values of Jesus in our lifestyle at church, at home, at work and at play.