The keynote speaker at the conference I have been attending this week was The Attorney General, the Rt Hon the Baroness Scotland QC who spoke on the importance of faith in the public space. She was clear and positive about the role individuals and faith groups have to play in a society in which she said “faith flourishes when respect for it is freely given by individuals and it is not just defended by public institutions.” She added that faith matters in the public space and it has the potential to make or break the modern world we live in when it is too often misunderstood to the point where it provides fertile ground for conflict and intolerance. Baroness Scotland, a Roman Catholic, shared how she has worn her cross every day of her adult life and often prays when on the front bench as well as before taking major decisions. Inspired by the vision of President Obama she that with faith inspired idealism it is a case of, “Yes we can and yes we must- the cultivation of respectful, positive relationships between the faith communities is vital. It is important that people gather around a common purpose for a concrete outcome.”
She slammed religious extremism as diminishing God. “He is not a God of one group but God of all and faith is not an optional extra. It goes right through you and is reflected in everything you do and aspire to achieve.” It’s hard to imagine the Christian faith having a better and more well-placed advocate in politics and the public space than Patricia Scotland.
A few weeks ago a met a Jewish Christian called Steve Maltz and he gave me a copy of his book ‘How the church lost the way’– a fascinating argument about how the Way of the early church has been obscured by the influence of Greek philosophy which has worked its way through every facet of our Christian life, from doctrine to rituals and from practices to attitudes. Steve does a great job in taking the reader on a journey back to the roots of the Christian faith with a compelling simplicity and invites us to consider the implications of boxing in our faith to ritualistic church attendance and hymn singing. To get the full flavour of Steve’s argument you’d have to read the whole book for yourself but here’s a brief taster to wet your appetite:
” To a religious Jew everything is spiritual, everything is theological, everything is sacred. Life is not compartmentalised…the key distinction between Greek thinking that has insinuated itself into all parts of the Church thinking and practice…Jesus once had a spat with a Samaritan woman about acceptable ways to worship God. He spoke to here of future time when true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth, so worship is going to have to be infused in spirit and in truth. It needs to be of a spiritual nature because God is spirit, but it needs to be based on truth..The Western Church has evolved into a rigid pattern whereby the phrase we will move to a time of worship is a cue for throats to be cleared, brains emptied of the mundane and legs and arms placed on standby and praise and worship is understood as a musical genre. It puts God in a box and misrepresents him as someone who can only be worshipped in recognised spiritual ways, such a sprayer, singing and proclamation. Hebrew worship frees us up totally to worship him using every part of our created being, body and soul with our arms, legs, voice, mind and spirit.”
All I know is that these arguments will run and run as people strive for the authentic model for Christian community and worship. While we do , just let’s remember He is the God of Jew and Greek and Brit and African and American and Indian and Chinese and Australian and so on and so on until the ends of the earth and for all time. I am sure we are getting parts of our worship and understanding wrong and we have missed out on much, but thank God for the Good Shepherd who never gives up on the strays who have lost their way and thank God that we can keep asking questions and discovering more of Him each day. Steve’s idea about everything being spiritual and there being nothing out of bounds for God is also echoed by teaching minister Rob Bell. See this brief excerpt from his film Everything is spiritual and judge for yourself: