"The inner-city churches are deserted while the surrounding mosques are full." He argues that Christianity has "has failed to fill the spiritual vacuum in the lives of British people." He would like to see Christians and Muslims running food banks and homeless shelters together. He finds it confusing that someone else (Jesus) was needed to die for our sins.
The Bishop of Stepney made a reply on BBC Radio 4's Sunday Programme on 13 April 2014. But (in my view) he did not make a good reply. He merely pointed out that Christians run food banks etc. and tried to reduce Christianity's path to God as "Love God and love your neighbour." Very little about the role of Jesus Christ.
He focused on only one aspect of Christianity and any religious system, the aspect of lovingness. He ignored both the faith aspect and the aspect of justice. I want to answer Ajmal Masroor on all three aspects. In doing so, I will find much of Christianity wanting.
The Faith Aspect, the path to God: It is Jesus who puts us right with God. When we genuinely let him do so, then the Spirit of God enters and dwells in us, day by day, moment by moment. And those whose lives are thus led by God's Spirit are God's representatives on earth.
Unfortunately, this aspect has been lost from much of the Christianity that focuses on doing good. It has been ignored by theologians who love to argue about more 'sophisticated' matters. It has been suppressed by the powerful down through the ages. It has been replaced in some churches by the Mass or other religious rituals or aesthetic feelings. It has been resisted by the proud and arrogant, who like to think they are good enough to put themselves right with God. Even among those who agree that it is Jesus who puts us right with God, it has been taken only part way, with some 'Protestants' resisting the imminent activity of the Spirit of God, and some 'Pentecostals' and middle-class 'Evangelicals' enjoy their own blessings and show "unconcern" [Ezekiel 16:49] about their responsibility towards the world.
No wonder that Christianity seems "wishy-washy" and unclear, when all this is happening among so-called Christians.
(For a fuller account, see a discussion of Three-Dimensional Salvation, which discusses the activity of God with humans in the three dimensions.)
The Love Aspect, being good in God's world: God does not primarily give rules, but deeply reorientates those who represent God towards good, so they tend to do good naturally, without rules, unselfishly. Rules inform, and the clearer the better, but do not ensure good. Which fruit lasts: that which is hung on a branch, or that which grows from within the branch? Just as gold is refined by fire, so tribulations are used by the Spirit of God to refine the people of God.
Philippians 2:13, "For God is at work in you to make you willing and able to do his good pleasure." Romans 8:14 "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God."
Unforutnately, many Christians replace or disguise this aspect with communal action (like food banking). Many Christians have fallen back onto rules - as do Muslims, Jews and others. Some mistake behaviour for heart-orientation, when behaviour is merely a symptom. Behaviour might be curbed by social convention, enforced expectations or punishment and reward, but that does not go deep enough.
Ajmal Masroor believes "people like rules" and "activity and rules. The Bishop of Stepney replied by saying "We do food banks etc." Neither are the deep good brought about by the Spirit of God. Both seek reward for good; but "those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
The justice aspect, right relationships among all things in the created order. God's people, with their hearts having been orientated to the good and to right relationships among all things in the created order, are to take a lead in developing the structures of society, because the Spirit of God promises them gifts and power and to work with them. What 'right relationships' mean depends on historical context, but today, it certainly includes environmental justice and action on climate change.
Yet most of Christianity has individualised this. In the Korean revival of 1907, when the revived Korean Christians were starting to make their mark in the political arena, the missionaries steered them away from this towards pietism. Same happened in the 1920s Rwanda revival - and a mere 60 years later the Rwanda genocide occurred. Today many so-called Christians are resisting taking action on climate change, especially in North America, preferring instead to favour themselves with plush lifestyles and jetting to conferences and holidays because they believe Jesus owes them an 'abundant life'! In the UK, many Christians are moving towards supporting the UK Independence Party, despite the fact that God clearly shows in Isaiah 40 that nations are of zero consequence to Him.
A minority of Christianity follows the Western liberal agenda, especially homosexualism. Though a minority, they dominate the media and the church organisations, and get 'gay marriage' passed. Along with the secular media they suppress any serious discussion because they are already committed, and avoid any serious critique, and are too arrogant for self-critique. Ironically, these Christians once supported non-Western people, but today, aspiring to metropolitan Western elitist ideas, they deem non-Western Christians as wrong or at least 'out of date'. No wonder Ajmal Masroor sees them as "wishy washy". Sadly, the majority of Christians merely react against this, and come across as suggesting that attitude to homosexuality is the only consideration of whether a person is a true Christian or not, despite God clearly indicating in Ezekiel 16:49 that homosexuality is much less important than "affluence, arrogance and unconcern for the poor".
Indeed, as Ajmal Masroor says, "For the moment, Christianity has lost its way." Yet he himself seems to have no answer to justice in society except rules, rules and more rules. The power to effect changes in society in Islam is very different from the love, joy and peace of the Holy Spirit of God.
Neither Masroor not Stepney spoke of climate change and our responsibility to the rest of creation. They focused only on people. Yet in the last three weeks the UN Panel on Climate CHange has issued three reports reiterating the importance of climate change. Since the economy collapsed in 2008, environmental justice has been sidelined. Should not God's people be taking a lead in responsibility to God's Planet and all other creatures? See Climate Change and Global Economy. See also A New View in Theology and Practice, which argues that responsibility to the rest of creation is not a side issue but is central in God's cosmic Plan.
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