The idea that Church needs! This could be the one sentence summary of the idea of a muscular Christianity. Now, the question arises obviously, is this an idea emergent from the faith, and in the course of this short article I hope to illuminate as to why this idea is both what the Church needs and that is innate to the teachings of the Apostles.
However, lets first define our terms: what do I mean here by the Church? By Church I am not referring to an institution or an organisation; though I would be the first to say that it has both of these things. I am not referring to clergy, Bishops, Priests, Pastors and Deacons and the like – though of course it has these too. No, when I am refer to the Church, I am referring to that body of people – who think of themselves as the disciples of our Lord and Saviour Jesus the Christ.
By needs, I am referring to those sets of socio-economic and political challenges that this aforementioned body of people are facing in our current age – the age of modernity / post modernity (but more on that in another post). Needs rarely announce themselves upon our lives like a butler – asking us politely if we would like to consider this or that option; needs usually are far from courteous – they impose themselves with an abruptness and rudeness that demands our attention. A muscular Christianity, rises to face each challenge that presents its self without shrinking from the consequences of meeting the challenge.
The underlying premise of the ‘idea’ and it is just that, a way of thinking, a point of view, a perspective, a temperament, an outlook; is that when one considers the challenges that the Church is facing; its needs are not being met! Therefore, by accurately naming the challenges the Church faces, and reflecting upon our faith, we can find the answers to our needs.
So what are the needs of the Church. Well it strikes me, the first need of the Church is to recover its sense of identity. We Christians, for too long have been swept up with the identities of others: ‘Nationalistic – British, American’ ‘ideological – Republican, Socialist’ ‘Denominational – Calvinist, Orthodox’. However, when I read the apostolic writings and I think upon how Christians have reflected over this over two thousand years; I see that our identity is one of ‘Christian’, ‘Disciple of Christ’. Something that could – if you allowed it to, mean anything you want; except that these terms of Christian, Disciple of Christ, no more sit in a vacuum than does the word British, or Republican or Protestant. It is rooted in a certain set of beliefs about the world, a certain set of values to live by, it is connected to a particular history of people who have followed those beliefs and lived out those values, and have left their imprint on the human discourse about the way to do civilisation; and so inherent to recovering this sense identity; is recovering our sense of that history, owning those values, and resolving to hold those beliefs. To own that identity, and make it our own; and as it works in our lives – being open to allowing it to flourish into a culture, a sense of being a people again – with all that involves.
However, once we Christians, recognise that we are a people again, bound by a common set of beliefs (please note, I said common, not identical) and a common set of values, rooted in a common history. We will begin to recognise, that this being a people; means we have a stake in the socio – economic – and political realities of the world; to be faced as Christians; as a Church.
The first of these particular needs; is to a way to think about politics as Christians, that we can all agree upon; so that we as Christians can all pull in the same direction. Now, the way we think about anything is through narratives; if you do not believe me, try to explain anything without telling a story of some type. So what then is the story we Christians; where ever we are in the world, and what ever we are doing; can live by, so as to pull in the same direction. Muscular Christianity offers a very simple narrative: Church Triumphant! Lets unpack this briefly; it is that we Christians should wish to see our own people – other Christians – at the head of every sphere of society, from arts to politics, science to economics; because if the Church wins, it creates the best conditions by which the most number of people can become Christian themselves. This necessitates the second, and just as important as – a modus operandi of achieving – the first goal; the second: Christian solidarity. That Christians should in all spheres of operation in politics, economics, law and society, stand with one another – against those that oppose us.
Incumbent upon this – and also a particular need of the Church – is to separate ourselves from denominational rivalry and division. Now, I am not here talking about setting up yet another denomination of Christians against denominations – that has tried and failed; because since the reformation; Christianity in its practice institutionally at least has become as we might say polyform. I can not see that any more institutions can do anything but add more to this confused and chaotic state of affairs. (if only the reformation had been led by a Pope over a monk!) Therefore here we are talking about a deliberate cognitive choice, to resist in our hearts and minds, rivalry between Christians, and replace it with a sentiment, a preference, an election, to work together as brothers and sisters at the ground level. Regardless of what our leaders may say.
Christians currently duplicate efforts to the nth degree, we duplicate costs to the nth degree, we duplicate because the same Holy Spirit is telling the one church, the same things, but the Christians in one and the same city, do not know about what other Christians are doing about it, sometimes – just down the road. We duplicate costs in our buildings, with Christians having multiple buildings sometimes all on the same street. The waste is incredible. Ironically – here – the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is both our best and worst example in recent history. However, this division has far deeper impacts, we waste time energy and resources fighting one another, we ignore real enemies, and most tragically of all – there is no united front against persecutors of the Church, who do not care for our in house denominational debates. Thus unity, of heart and mind and soul, will inevitably be open to the idea working together as brethren in the common causes of the Church.
One of these common causes: that is crying out for a better response, is the creation of families. Too many Christians are single, too many falling into sexual sin, and too many falling away from the faith – because of hitching up with unbelievers – for Christians to continue to ignore this issue. I assure, faith communities grow more through families, than they do through conversions. However, the leaders of the Church, have essentially adopted the Hollywood romance modal of family creation – AND IT HAS FAILED! We need to go back to a more deliberate, conscious, and less by chance approach to family creation, by organising our community in each city, and with the aid of technology; and by how we emphasise and practice it in each of our fellowships; to the creation of Christian families.
Another, is the defence of the Christian community, it is no joke or light topic to talk about the whole sale murder of thousands of Christians – but that is really happening; and we Christians have to find an answer that is more than just prayers, and sending Bibles and cash (these of course of not wrong actions – but are they the right response). We must become much more assertive in speaking up for and organising ourselves for our brethren and for their relief. Christians need to this politically and accept that this question will require a military response in some cases for which their are various state based and non – state based LEGAL options (I am only emphasising legal responses within the framework of existing national and international law – the key is to think globally and politically) . We must not shrink from these realities, or we will watch our global community slowly be ground down into an ever shrinking regional and then local community.
Another is the desperate need for good apologetics and polemics training to be coming from the pulpit and to be a regular part of our lives as Christians. I am often astounded at how every Muslim I meet, can martial crude arguments against Christianity – a good number with eloquence – and how terribly caught of guard the average Christian is to respond; even when the arguments are martialled terribly. Many a Christian soul has been lost, because they find in themselves no ability to defend their faith from argument. No fellowships embody this better than the Roman Catholic fellowships, which are losing Christian souls in all directions, because they have replaced a defence of the faith; with a religion of humanity narrative, which emphasises the ‘sameness’ of every human, as opposed to the distinctiveness of doctrines, values, history, culture.
Christians need to become missionary communities again, and that starts with actually learning to be a community to again. I want to say that whilst it is no mortal sin, the Sunday Fellowship modal of Church, is a sin that does not lead to death. We as Christians can not possibly live out our values fully and completely unless we live life together. Meeting for all of say five hours over the course of a week (which I think is probably exemplary in this modal) is simply not sufficient for what being a Christian human requires. Christians need to not just have a strong sense of themselves as a people, but to express that by clustering together, in geographical areas; so that we live together in both our leisure, work and ministry; encountering and solving the problems of life – without shrinking – in real and pragmatic ways.
However, that is on the road to being missionary, because the ultimate point of all such communities, is not to be the NGO to the world around them – which is what many parishes have made themselves under poor leadership – but to make more Christians of the world around them, and make themselves more Christian, in the way they relate to one another, the social, the hostile world around them, the political; and the way they do business; the economic. We must go out and evangelise. Now, the days of street preachers are over – please brethren, just accept it there are better modals – however, table top evangelism of well trained personable groups, who connect and engage people in conversation, and offering good books to read, doing the follow up, is a great modal of evangelism; and far more appropriate to western consumer culture. We need to have the kind of self confident self assured community, that has a sense of itself and what it is about; but which can also welcome and invite people to join – by them becoming Christians themselves – of which people would want to be a part. Not the cowering shy, and timid fellowships that so much of the Body of Christ (another word for the Church) has become.
To this end, we Christians must rediscover the confidence to say to society – that the answer you need is a muscular Christian faith. That look to questions like mass immigration, community integration, economic policy, radical Islam/Islamification, falling birth rates, corruption, family break down, and substance abuse; and say – no actually – this is the answer! By ‘this’ I do not mean saying ‘Jesus’ is the answer, as if by just saying the word, you make things better; but rather, that we pull from our doctrines, our values, our history, the answers to these challenges; because it is that ‘working out your salvation, with fear and trembling’ that is at the heart of being a disciple of Christ.