Thoughts for these days

Occasional comments on current events from a Christian perspective

Is Jesus a “Has Been”?

Unlike the USA, it has never been necessary for politicians in Great Britain to placate Christians by giving the impression that they are church-going, God-fearing men and women. For centuries the visible church and the political establishment have been closely intertwined. This to the extent that as recently as the nineteenth century, the meaning of particular passages from the Bible was debated in Parliament. The decades since then have seen a significant change in the attitude of British politicians and with it the rationale they use to make laws. We have now reached the stage where our present Prime Minister, David Cameron, seemingly feels the need to adopt the tactics of Washington to keep part of the Christian church on his side. In his 2012 Christmas message he said:

But Christmas also gives us the opportunity to remember the Christmas story – the story about the birth of Jesus Christ and the hope that he brings to the countless millions who follow him. The Gospel of John tells us that in this man was life, and that his life was the light of all mankind, and that he came with grace, truth and love. Indeed, God’s word reminds us that Jesus was the Prince of Peace.” Downing St. website

Just over a year earlier, at a gathering to mark the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, he described his Christianity in this way:

I am a committed – but I have to say vaguely practising – Church of England Christian, who will stand up for the values and principles of my faith… but who is full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues.” Downing St. website

It is very clear that he struggles with many theological issues as in the twelve months between these two statements he has pushed forward an agenda which is marginalising Biblical belief in Britain. He is not the first to do this, but he is personally committed to legislating against a foundational teaching of Christianity. The God of the Bible, who has always claimed to be the Maker of mankind, established marriage for the good of everyone and set its limits. Instead of grappling with such important questions of faith, David Cameron made clear in 2012 that he does not consider Biblical marriage to be an important principle of his Anglican faith. Instead he thinks he can do a better job of defining marriage than his Creator! Obviously, this is being resisted by many who consider themselves to be Christians (as well as some from other faiths). Was our Prime Minister hoping to placate his Christian critics then, by quoting from the Bible in his Christmas message?

A very soggy sop

When Downing Street published Cameron’s Christmas message, it received a mixed reception. According to the Daily Telegraph Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, said Mr Cameron should be applauded for having “nailed his colours to the mast” and the Church of England welcomed his reminder of the “true meaning of Christmas”. Was I the only one left wondering what those colours were? The Guardian pointed out that “The prime minister is keen to reach out to Christians amid anger in the Anglican and Catholic churches at government plans to legalise same sex marriage.” Even this progressive paper found itself able to be clearer than the Prime Minister in quoting Scripture. Nicholas Watt wrote, “Cameron stops short of quoting from the Gospel of John. But it says in Chapter 3, vs 16-17: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.’”

Tim Montgomerie, in an article on the ConservativeHome website (which he founded in 2005) questioned whether Cameron’s tactics were right. “If the Prime Minister is wanting to reach out to Christians I suspect many will be impressed more by the way he models family life to the nation rather than anything he’ll say about his faith. I also suspect they’ll be more interested in how the current government addresses their practical concerns through concrete policy actions.” He then goes on to list 12 “key themes of an ideal Tory programme for churchgoers and those from other faith communities.” Most of them are not at the top of my list and those which feature on mine come low down on his. The penultimate one reads, “A big effort to assure Christians that their liberties will be protected in an age when there are real and perceived conflicts between equalities laws and some traditionalist beliefs - especially towards gay people.” He concludes with “A determination to put religious freedom at the heart of foreign policy” which raises the question of why the present government is pressurising African countries to accept homosexuality – Pink News : Guardian : BBC. The most obvious omission from Montgomerie’s list is any reference to Cameron’s personal commitment to legislate on the redefinition of marriage, and the need for him to abandon this campaign. This is strange, as according to an article on William Hague published in the New Statesman in 2000, Montgomerie saw the need to uphold Biblical morals as paramount when he co-founded Conservative Christian Fellowship. He is quoted as saying “We should not ask gays to vote Conservative,” and “we should expose the unbiblical and the libertine”. Recently however he has argued that Cameron’s same sex marriage proposals should go ahead – ConservativeHome : The Commentator : YouTube. But I must not get distracted from my main point.

A Jesus of the present not of the past?

Whilst I am interested in how Cameron “models family life to the nation” (both in his home and Westminster), my opinion of his Christmas message is the very opposite of the official Anglican response! Rather than expressing the “true meaning of Christmas”, it demonstrates that his understanding of Jesus Christ is weak. The problem is that he speaks of Jesus in the past tense; “The Gospel of John tells us that in this man was life, and that his life was the light of all mankind, and that he came with grace, truth and love. Indeed, God’s word reminds us that Jesus was the Prince of Peace.” Why is this a problem? Because the Bible – which Cameron says he accepts is God’s word – makes it very clear that Jesus was not left in the grave as a corpse, but that His Father raised Him back to life because He had not sinned and then exalted Christ to His side in heaven. The New Testament is emphatic that Jesus is not a ‘has been’, but that He lives today! The apostle Paul was in no doubt, “if Christ is not risen, then... your faith is also empty.” In his Gospel John also made it very clear that Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life” and then went on to add, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The last two chapters of this gospel record that the Jesus whom men had rejected and killed could not be constrained by death. In spite of His disciples’ unbelief, Jesus was not only brought back to life – He kept appearing to them when they did not expect it!

When Victoria was queen of England, she no doubt said to someone “I am the queen.” However, she was under no illusion that she would be queen for ever and ever. Jesus spoke very differently about His past, present and future life. Often questioned by his opponents, John tells us how He answered them about His past, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (8:58) and this angered them so much that they sought to kill Him. Why? Because He had just used God’s name – I AM (Ex. 3:14) – about Himself! John also records that Jesus described Himself in the same way when informing His disciples that He was to be betrayed, “Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I AM.” (13:19) Looking to the future, specifically what Jesus called “the last day”, Jesus was confident that He would have an active part in it. Four times in Ch. 6 He promised to raise up those who believe in Him: I quote just one of these: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (v44). The resurrection and ascension of Christ is not an optional add-on to the Gospel. It is an essential conviction for anyone who can honestly describe themselves as a Christian. Furthermore, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are foundational to the doctrine of the Church of England with which Cameron aligns himself, and the fourth of these reads, “Of the Resurrection of Christ. Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.”

I can only wonder why the leaders of the Anglican community did not spot the difference between Cameron’s befuddled message and their own established doctrines. Could it be that they are just as confused as he is? Does this make any meaningful difference, you may be asking? Well, yes it does. Not only is the resurrection of Jesus Christ fundamental to Christianity, but if we think that Jesus was once the Prince of Peace and is this no longer, it makes a very big difference to what we do about the future. And I do not simply mean our own future!

World peace – from man or Christ?

Since the end of World War II there has been much pressure to find a way of establishing world peace. The European Union is just one example of this search. It is in many ways a worthy cause, but there are great dangers in looking for peace in the wrong place. International leaders have a choice always before them, and it determines whether they will succeed or fail in this quest. That choice is what they will do about the Son of God, who became a man of whom the prophet Isaiah said, “His Name will be called Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Will world leaders believe that this is who He is now or will they, as Cameron does, consider Jesus to be dead and buried and therefore the Prince of Peace no more? In the next verse of this popular Christmas reading Isaiah makes it clear that Christ’s authority did not end when He died at Calvary; Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end.” Jesus cannot be the Everlasting Father and a past Prince of Peace. This would be a contradiction in terms. It is because He is Mighty God that His government will keep on growing whether politicians and the majority of the world’s population acknowledge it or not. However, His kingdom does not rival theirs, for John’s gospel also records that Jesus told Pilate, My kingdom is not of this world.”

The authority which Christ possesses today is a blessing to those who are willing to work with Him, but to those who are unwilling it becomes one of the greatest threats there could ever be. I do not have to quote the Bible to prove this; those who are sceptical of my claim need only to look at how Western politicians are clamouring to support any cause which seeks in some way to set aside their nation’s Christian history and arrogantly proclaim, “We know better now.” The range of topics is vast – Cameron’s same sex marriage proposal is just one blatant example. This rebellion amongst high-ranking humans is no surprise to the Creator of the universe. Psalm 2 is a prophetic poem written by David predicting a time when world rulers would “take counsel together, against The LORD and against His Anointed,” their intention being to “break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.” David wrote that The LORD’s response would be to laugh at their pathetic attitude and to remind them that He has set His King in place. This King, The LORD says, is His Son – whom we now know as Jesus Christ – who will, when the time is right, judge the nations with righteous standards. What we see across the world today are rulers claiming that world peace is vital, but choosing to reject the only One who is able to bring it about. Only He can do it, for peace has nothing to do with laws imposed from above, but it has everything to do with broken people being salvaged from the sin which screws them up on the inside.

Jesus told His disciples the night before He died, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” The inner peace belonging to those who are allowing Jesus to restore them step by step to His likeness is the only foundation for lasting peace between people. However, this option is universally rejected by today’s leading politicians. Instead of asking Jesus to bring them the peace He offers and then bring it to others through them, they are working very hard to build a peace which relies solely on human nature. History however shouts loudly that men will not be coerced into right living – they are like they are because human nature is broken. Rather than living for the collective good, there is always an abundance of those who want to come out on top of the pile. In his New Testament letter James reprimands Christians for their selfish behaviour, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure..?” Half-hearted Christians today still find it easier to let their unsanctified natures dominate their attitudes to others, but those who reject Christ have only that code to live by. Wars and fights are the natural resort of those who think that only the fittest survive! With this being the engrained state of the human race, all hopes for international peace other than under the rule of the Prince of Peace will come to nothing.

The Christ-less hope

In a park close to the United Nations building in New York is the “Isaiah Wall” built in 1948 [image]. In the UN’s own garden nearby is a statue called, “Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares” [image], a gift from the Soviet Union in 1959. Both refer to a well-known quotation from the Biblical book of Isaiah, found also in Micah 4. The wall reads, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” What is missing from the text on the wall sums up what is wrong with popular political culture. In full, this prophetic promise reads:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of The LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of The LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of The LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:1-4 & Micah 4:1-3)

The missing introduction sounds remarkably like Psalm 2 which I quoted above. Of course there is a downside to the full solution offered here and in the Psalm – The God of the Bible promises that His rule, the peaceful kingdom of His Anointed Son, will be based in Zion, known today as Jerusalem. This is a politically incorrect proposal nowadays. Rather than being seen as the world’s hope for peace, Israel has become its biggest obstacle to peace. It is ironic therefore that the “Isaiah Wall” was dedicated in the very same year that the modern nation of Israel was founded under the authority of the UN! Much has been said and much more could be written on the place of Israel in modern history, but for now I will leave it at this. Israel’s biggest problem is not that the Jews deserve to be back in the land, but that their God took them back there despite their collective unbelief in Him. Israel is hated because people reject its God and understand within themselves that this nation’s very existence is a testimony to His faithfulness. For this reason, modern Israel is offensive to the religious and the secularist alike.

Politicians today therefore look for world peace everywhere else than to the all-time Prince of Peace. This not just because He is the God of Israel, but also because He is the God of righteousness. Consequently the international community is refusing to say to one another, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of The LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” Instead they are calling for Christians to turn from their Saviour and work with them to bring about world peace without the Prince of Peace. In the run-up to the 2010 British general election, David Cameron took part in a series of televised leaders debates. In the second of these, the three leaders were asked a question about the Pope's imminent visit to the UK. The then Prime Minister Gordon Brown concluded his answer by saying, “and we should welcome all religions because bringing religions together is the key to making sure that we have a more peaceful world.” Whilst not always astute, Brown is someone who understands the international agenda and his words should be noted carefully. It was Brown who in Dec 2008, in a parliamentary slip of the tongue, revealed his heart’s ambition when answering a question on the financial crisis. He began, “We not only saved the world...” and then tried to correct the last word to “banks” but was drowned out in roars of laughter. The Telegraph

Saving the world” is high on the agenda of many international leaders. Three months after Brown’s gaffe, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was speaking in Seoul, Korea just before leaving for Beijing. She said that she would continue to press China on issues such as human rights, then added: “But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.” The Standard : France 24 : Telegraph. In saying this she was simply echoing what Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, had said the previous year “We all recognise today’s perils. A global financial crisis. A global energy crisis. A global food crisis. Trade talks have collapsed, yet again. There are new outbreaks of war and violence. Climate change ever more clearly threatens our planet. We say that global problems demand global solutions.(Emphasis mine) UN web site

Some would argue that those at the top of national governments and international companies are only in it for themselves so we cannot expect from them anything other than self-interest. This is certainly a factor which motivates many of those in power, and some of the recent crises do appear to have been talked up for other purposes – in addition to those mentioned above, we should not forget the repeated threats to global health posed by SARS (2002), Bird Flu and Swine Flu (both in 2009) which, whilst they did undeniably cause suffering and some deaths, actually spread greater fear and panic across the world by the way that governments and the media marketed these threats. Even if for the purpose of this discussion we graciously set aside any possibility of hidden agendas on the part of globally prominent politicians and powerful institutions, the fact remains that they collectively demonstrate a refusal to call out on Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42). It seems that David Cameron is not alone amongst the political elite in believing that Jesus is a “has been” Saviour and a past Prince of Peace. Instead, he and others look to themselves and various allies (scientists, for example) to save mankind from the inevitable consequences of our sins.

Now I am not griping on in this way because I expect things to change. I don’t. Psalm 2 should be enough to convince any thinking Christian that the world’s leaders will finally set themselves in full opposition to The LORD and His Anointed. There are other passages we could look at with the same theme, but suffice it to say that the Bible does not promise a Utopia on earth until Jesus comes to reign in Jerusalem. Meanwhile what we observe today will continue, with the only change being the increase in the collective human will not to ask our Creator to rescue us from our individual and corporate selfishness. Instead I have written this to remind those who are willing to seek a better way than following the crowd. Only Christ offers each of us the freedom we need to swim against the tide.

Faith that comes and goes?

Today’s politicians are not the first to know that giving the people what they want wins votes. The other side of the coin is that public opinion is always shaped by those who control education and the media. In Britain the course has been steered away from Christianity for the last two hundred years or more. We have not been alone in this and we now find ourselves one among many nations falling head over heels into secularism. This is the situation which the political forefathers of today’s politicians and others have worked towards. Their success can be seen in the complete lack of faith of some of today’s leaders and in the vagueness of faith in most of the remainder. Cameron’s own lack of clarity was demonstrated in an interview for the Guardian in 2008 almost two years before he became Prime Minister. When asked about his Christianity, he paused and then looked to an old friend to help him out:

I believe, you know. I am a sort of typical member of the Church of England. As Boris Johnson once said, his religious faith is a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes. That sums up a lot of people in the Church of England. We are racked with doubts, but sort of fundamentally believe, but don’t sort of wear it on our sleeves or make too much of it. I think that is sort of where I am.”

Cameron’s problem is that he does not want to upset either side of the faith divide. His pseudo-marriage proposals are him working hard to be a secularist – he has certainly tuned out of any Biblical faith in this respect. By contrast, it seems that his Christmas message was an attempt to show there are times when he is also tuned in. Whilst I don’t know about Magic FM in the Chilterns, I am of the generation that remembers listening to Radio Luxembourg on very early transistor radios. Reception did not just come and go; it was also marred by interference of many types. Cameron’s doubts clearly interfere with any dregs of faith he claims to possess. His spiritual confusion is symptomatic of a far worse state than those politicians who have abandoned faith completely. He is trying to be all things to all men, whilst they are at least being true to themselves.

The good news for our Prime Minister, for other world leaders or national politicians and for all who would walk in their steps is that if they want clarity of faith, all they need to do is ask The LORD for it and be willing to take notice of what He says in reply. Of course the danger they face is that they will not like the way He answers them. Their greatest fear is not that they will lose popularity with the voters, but that He will call them to a level of righteousness at which they do not want to live. The ordinary man and woman has very little hope of instilling spiritual wisdom into the hearts and minds of those who do not want to give Jesus Christ His rightful place in their own lives or in the lives of the nations which they govern. However the good news is that the God who calls such leaders to repent actually calls everyone else to do the same. He further offers to give those who do turn to Him the resources to live as He wants them to. Those who have already asked Him for mercy and help have found through experience that Jesus Christ is not a “has been” but that He is the way, the truth, and the life; that in Him is life which is the light of men; that He always has been and always will be the Prince of Peace,Whose government will never end no matter what men do. If you want to know more about faith in Christ, take a look at “Journey into New Life”.

© Randall Hardy - January 2013

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