Mark Vernon has written a really helpful myth-busting piece for Valentine’s Day. Here are some of his key conclusions could have been written by a Christian and they certainly serve to highlight how both Christian and non-Christian alike can go badly wrong when living according to the myth of Romantic love. Here are three of his key insights.
1) When we think that there is someone out there who can ‘complete us’ we are looking in the wrong place if we look for that in a person. Marriages can be extremely happy and do offer many blessings but when we marry we marry fallen, sinful human beings just like us. If we want someone to ‘complete us’ what we’re really asking for is someone to be God for us. He alone can provide ‘true love’. Vernon points to the conclusion of philosopher Simon May when he says:
There is a spiritual dimension to this romantic addiction too. The philosopher Simon May has proposed that while many have given up on God in the West, we still long for the unconditional love that God used to offer.
But godless, we seek instead unconditional love from our fellow humans. We make them gods, and of course they fail us. And then love turns to hate.
2. When we put that kind of expectation on ourselves, our spouse or on a potential boyfriend or girlfriend we ask them to do the impossible and they will always be a disappointment to us. We risk damaging the relationship if we want perfection. We risk never entering into a relationship if we wait for ‘the one’ who alone is perfect.
3. We need to recognise that love is a decision rather than a feeling or destiny.
The pressure to find ‘the one’ is socially corrosive because it idealises love, rather than understanding that love is made not found. Love is made in the gritty ups and downs of being with someone who is as flawed as you.
All of this said we should still celebrate human love and that should include romance; flowers, candle-lit dinners and all. What we mustn’t do is ask Romance to be our god for God alone IS love.
A letter e-mailed to my MP this morning
Dear Mr Burden
We are writing to you as our MP for Northfield to ask you to vote against the Marriage (same-sex couples) bill on its second reading tomorrow. Whilst we recognise that gay couples wish to be given opportunity to express their love and commitment to each other in a life-long partnership we do believe that this should continue to be provided under the current civil partnership provision.
The temptation in the media this has been to present this as a generational issue. As a couple in our early forties we still like to think of ourselves as a younger couple. One of us has even shared accommodation with a gay friend. It is not our age that has led us to our conclusion but a conviction that this legislation is not good for our nation or our city.
We have three main concerns:
1) We think this issue is a divisive one given the multi-cultural makeup of our city. One recent poll found that 67% of ethnic-minorities in the country are against same sex marriage. In a city like Birmingham we believe this is legislation that will further isolate the Muslim community in particular.
2) We believe that there are serious implications for liberty of conscience for individuals and faith-communities who cannot as a matter of religious conviction support same-sex marriage. Michael Gove has already conceded that the UK government may be powerless against the European Courts. One newspaper has reported on legal opinion that gives credibility to concern on the issue:
Human rights barrister Aidan O’Neill QC concluded schools could be within their rights to dismiss staff who wilfully fail to use stories or textbooks promoting same-sex weddings. He added that parents who object to it being taught would also have no right to withdraw their children from lessons.
Given that we do not know what unexpected consequences may follow from this legislation we ask that you do not give support to it.
3) We are also concerned that this bill did not feature in the manifesto of any political party and does not receive the support of the nation.
One YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, published on 11 March 2012, found that 32% opposed same-sex marriage whilst supporting civil partnerships and an additional 15% opposed both. So 47% opposed gay marriage with 43% supporting it and 10% saying they don’t know.
Further polling has also revealed a deeply divided nation. A ComRes poll with a sample of 2000 people conducted in January 2013 both found that 51% of respondents believed that marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.
In conclusion we think that this is a divisive bill which although benefiting the 6,000 people per year who enter civil partnerships will cause considerable concern to many millions who might well be affected by its results.
Thank you for your consideration and your continued hard work as our MP.
Neil & Jane Powell
Very helpful stuff from Tim Chester on competing definitions of what it means to be a man…
(HT: Andrew Evans)
Movements are marked by a compelling vision says Tim Keller in Center Church and that is what we are discovering in Birmingham. 2020birmingham is a church-planting movement for the UK’s second largest city. We’ve been building the work for the past 3 years.
So what’s our compelling vision? 20 church-planting churches by 2020. It’s as simple as that and maybe that’s why there is momentum for 2020birmingham. In three years we’ve seen 6 new churches started – 3 new churches, 2 new congregations and 1 replant.
We are not a denomination, we have no staff (apart from a terrific part-time administrator who’s been with us 3 months) and so far we’ve had no money to invest in planters or plants.
What we do have is a team of 8 planters who are committed to the gospel, to the city, to their congregations, to the lost and to each other.
This last Saturday we held our third conference and we were amazed to find we were going to be 100 people from 29 different churches and organisations. I counted just six who came from outside the city to look at what we were doing and three of those used to live in the city and are planning to come back to plant.Tim Keller again A movement says ‘If this is where you want to go, come along with us’ and so at our conference this year we made our theme partnership. Our message was come join us – because we can do far more together than we ever could on our own.
We reminded ourselves why our city needed a church-planting movement. Birmingham is Europe’s youngest city with 37% of the population under 25. That’s a lot of people who are highly secularised, highly diverse, and pretty suspicious about the church.
We celebrated what God had done in planting the six churches and seeing them established and growing.
We were inspired through stories of church planting movements in cities of the world from Al Barth & Martin de Jong.
We were challenged by the need to reach new communities in our cities and the complexity of third culture communities growing up around us. How do we plant highly contextualised churches to reach every community?But most of all we wanted to be generous. We wanted to invite others to join us. We said you don’t need to be a church-planting church to join a church-planting movement – although be careful because that’s just maybe what you’ll become. We said why not become a 2020 Partner Church? Partner churches are established churches in our city willing and available to partner with a new church plant in their area; ready to pray, share wisdom, coach, mentor and train core-team members. The synergy created between plant and partner church ensures that the partner in turn is blessed not least in being motivated to keep an outward focus for themselves too. Who knows how many partner churches may in turn plant for themselves inspired by the example of the new churches they have partnered to create.
We also let the gospel of our God motivate this movement.
A church-planting Bishop from the Church of England shared his experience of planting in London (Rev. Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Aston). He described the powerful synergy only experienced when we choose to work together in planting and he reminded us that the God who is trinity is a God of partnership in his very being. It was something special to be reminded by the Bishop that we are at our most god-like when we are in partnership too.
The apostle Paul told us from Romans 13:12 that we have an on-going obligation to love each other. There is never a time when I can say ‘I have loved you enough.’ The church may have a mission, a mandate, and a motivation that forms a movement but more than anything else it needs the love of Christ pulsing through its veins.
On Saturday 100 people from across the city of Birmingham are gathering together to think, pray and plan to reach our city for Christ. It’s the third time we have done this in the past 3 years. Our conference is called How to win a million.
We represent a variety of evangelicals (Anglican, FIEC, Independent, New Frontiers, etc.) and the reason we keep meeting is that we recognise that it will take many more new churches to reach our city for Christ and that collaboration in planting is the way to best achieve this.
Let me offer you five reasons why our city, and almost certainly yours, needs not just for your church to plant but churches to work together to plant so that we can reach a city more quickly and more effectively for Christ.
1. We need new churches to reach a growing population
The population of England and Wales has grown by 3.7 million people in just the past 10 years. Such a population increase, at 7.1%, represents the greatest increase in a single 10 year period in over one hundred years.
Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 37% of the population under the age of 25.
2. We need new churches to replace the many churches that are closing
The total number of churches in the UK fell from 50,231 in 1980 to 47,635 in 2005 a drop of 5.16%, when in the same period the UK population grew from 56.3 Million to 60.2 Million a rise of 6.7%.
3. We need new churches to reach out to our ever more secular cities
A recent study of 64,303 adults in the UK found that of the younger generation: only 38% of the 18-34’s defined themselves as being Christian whilst 53% preferred to describe themselves as having no religion. Whilst the gospel doesn’t change and the message of Christ crucified is our only message we need to find innovative, creative and flexible models of church that best reach a secular culture. New churches have always led the way.
4. We need new churches to reach our religiously diverse cities
In the 2001 census 16.8% of the Birmingham population identified themselves as Muslim. The average for England and Wales is 3.0%. The challenge is obvious and the statistics demonstrate the direction of travel: ever-more diversity! Birmingham had a 30% ethnic minorities population in 2001 and that figure is set to grow.
New communities have entered our cities and reaching them for Christ presents fantastic opportunities!
5. We need new churches that will love and serve our cities rather than retreat from them
In that same study of over 60,000 UK adults
- 79% agreed that religion is a cause of much misery and conflict in the world today
- 72% agreed that religion is used as an excuse for bigotry and intolerance
- 78% agreed that religion should be a private matter
When 4 in 5 people are deeply suspicious of the presence of religion in their society there is much that the church must do to demonstrate a commitment to serve and bless our cities.
The challenges are so great and the need so urgent that it compels us to work together under Christ to make his name known.
Find it difficult to get out of the church bubble? Tim Chester suggests 6 simple ways to build relationships in your community from which you can share Christ.
(HT: Jez Dearing)
Interesting report in the Telegraph today of how corporate sponsors are promising to withdraw all financial support for Stonewall, the Gay-rights organisation, if it continues to promote “intolerance and intimidation” by the inclusion of a ‘Bigot of the Year’ award in its annual awards ceremony.
Mark McLane, Managing Director and Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays, said: “I have recently been made aware of the inclusion of a ‘Bigot of the Year’ category in the awards.
“Let me be absolutely clear that Barclays does not support that award category either financially, or in principle and have informed Stonewall that should they decide to continue with this category we will not support this event in the future.
“To label any individual so subjectively and pejoratively runs contrary to our view on fair treatment, and detracts from what should be a wholly positively focused event.”
Christians often use the phrase in the world but not of the world (something drawn from Jesus’ own words in John 17:11 and 16}. It encapsulates that difficult responsibility for Christians to be a visible and yet distinctive presence in the midst of our communities.
Tim Keller in his book Center Church describes something of what this might look like:
We will have an impact for the gospel if we are like those around us yet profoundly unlike them at the same time, all the while remaining very visible and engaged.
1. Christians are to be in the world
Tim Keller writes;
So, first of all, Christians must be like their neighbors in the food they eat and clothes they wear, their dialect, general appearance, work life, recreational and cultural activities, and civic engagement. They participate fully in life with their neighbors. Christians should also be like their neighbors with regard to excellence. That is, Christians should be very good at what others want to be good at. They should be skillful, diligent, resourceful, and disciplined. In short, Christians in a particular community should—at first glance—look reassuringly similar to the other people in the neighborhood. This opens up nonbelievers to any discussion of faith, because they recognize the believers as people who live in and understand their world. It also, eventually, gives them a glimpse of what they could look like if they became believers.
Christians are not to be of the world
Second, Christians must be also unlike their neighbors. In key ways, the early Christians were startlingly different from their neighbors; it should be no different for us today. Christians should be marked by integrity. Believers must be known for being scrupulously honest, transparent, and fair. Followers of Christ should also be marked by generosity. If employers, they should take less personal profit so customers and employees have more pay. As citizens, they should be philanthropic and generous with their time and with the money they donate for the needy. They should consider living below their potential lifestyle level. Believers should also be known for their hospitality, welcoming others into their homes, especially neighbors and people with needs. They should be marked by sympathy and avoid being known as self-serving or even ruthless in business or personal dealings. They should be marked by an unusual willingness to forgive and seek reconciliation, not by a vengeful or spiteful spirit.
In addition to these character qualities, Christians should be marked by clear countercultural values and practices. Believers should practice chastity and live consistently in light of the biblical sexual ethic. Those outside the church know this ethic—no sex outside of marriage—and any inconsistency in this area can destroy a believer’s credibility as a Christian.
That is how Christians are to be in the world and not of the world at one and the same time.
But what if…
Reading Keller on this issue reminded me of a talk I heard a few years ago which highlighted that perhaps the greatest danger is one we hardly ever spot. We spot the danger of Christians being in the world AND of the world (compromise), we are wary of Christians NOT in the world and not of it (retreat) but do we recognise the double-danger of Christians not in the world and YET of the world!
How does that work?
It is possible for Christians and church communities to cut themselves off from the world and retreat into glorious isolationism and yet at the same time exhibit all of the traits of worldliness behind our locked doors. In such a situation the church is unchanged by the gospel and displays all the characteristics of the world. Maybe that means for some being as individualistic in our disregard for the need of others, as materialistic in our attitude to money, as self-obsessed so that the focus of our lives is not the gospel to the lost but our own sense of well-being and comfort.
What a tragedy when Christians are not in the world and yet undoubtedly of the world.
Ed Drew has some helpful advice on making the most of the opportunity this Halloween
(HT: Richard Perkins)
I enjoy reading Matthew Parris in the Spectator each week and occasionally in the Times newspaper. His is a reasoned voice and one of moderation. I was somewhat alarmed therefore when in an article in Saturday’s Times (£) he argued that it is disingenuous of Christians to use sincerely held non-religious arguments in their case against the redefinition of marriage.
Peter Saunders (see below writes)
What appears to have inspired the piece is a debate he had with the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali at a fringe meeting organised by ResPublica, a think-tank, at the Conservative Party conference. Nazir-Ali put forward a case against ‘gay marriage’, which Parris said ‘could have been made by an unreligious professor of sociology’.
His argument was ‘apparently based on the social and cultural value of marriage as presently defined, the importance of a stable upbringing for children, and the resistance people feel to attempts “to change the meaning of the word ‘marriage’ ” ’. Parris then asked the former bishop if he believed that ‘homosexuality was a sin’ and accused him in the article of beating about the bush with his answer.
He goes on to say that Nazir-Ali was ‘being disingenuous’ because he ’plainly believes that homosexuality is a very considerable evil in the eyes of God’. In Parris’ view ‘the rest of us have a right to know the source of (peoples’) opinions, and if they are faith-based those who hold them have a duty in all honesty to declare it.’
He argues that ‘it is slippery for people to couch objections that are really undeclared religious objections in the language of a secular argument.’ It is the case that Christians have some arguments that derive from their faith but we also have many that are shared by people of all faiths and none.
Essentially Parris is insisting that religious presuppositions must stand behind non-religious arguments when those non-religious arguments are presented in a debate by a believer. With respect, that is a complete nonsense. The fact that an atheist and a theist may arrive at the same conclusion on the issue of gay marriage based on the same sociological evidence and present the same arguments is demonstration of the fact that whilst a religious person may have some arguments for a position that derive from his religious views they need not all do so. In fact one would expect a rational, intelligent Christian to derive his arguments from a diverse range of evidence.
Parris’s position is a dangerous one that suggests that any argument uttered by a Christian is inherently one of faith because it depends on their theological convictions. The result is that all arguments spoken by someone of faith can then be conveniently dismissed by the secularist. Where this leaves us is in a world where arguments against gay marriage may be presented by both a gay atheist and a Bible-believing Christian but where the Christian (unlike the Atheist) is told he has no right to use them because they derive from his religious convictions (even though they don’t). The result? The voice of the Christian is dismissed at a stroke whatever he or she may be wishing to say.
This is not a position of reason and smacks somewhat of prejudice, even intolerance, against ‘people of faith’. If we use faith based arguments they will be regarded as irrelevant in an increasingly secular world and if we use non-faith-based arguments we will be accused of hiding our real reasons! Either way we can’t win.
Dr Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Fellowship and himself a regular on TV programmes such as Newsweek and Radio 4’s Today programme takes issue with Matthew Parris in an excellent blog post here.
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