Last week someone asked me where I thought it would all end? All these adaptations the church seems to be making to culture. We used to get hung up on keeping Sunday special, but who is bothered anymore? It was only 20 years ago that the Church of England allowed women priests, but who can deny that women bishops will shortly follow? Right now, much ado is being made about gay marriage, but won’t that also seem like an outdated scruple in years to come. Isn’t the trend basically one of distinctives gradually eroded away? And all those conservative Christians who have fought so hard, won’t they just watch their children accommodate themselves to the very compromises they so feared?
Trouble is… that predictive model is based on the very thing that is shifting most fundamentally. It’s based on the idea of ‘Christian Britain’ and a church that can expect (and demand!) the state to be at least Christian-ish. But it seems plain to me that this is the one thing that’s really changing. Or rather, this is the reality that’s most obviously being revealed in all the other changes. The culture is not Christian-ish. It’s not even Christian-ish-ish. The church doesn’t have the political voice it wants to have. And shouting louder is not helping. It’s basically communicating peripheral issues as our central message (that’s what’s being heard anyway).
But what if we extrapolate from the real change that’s occurring – the realization that the Christian vision of work/rest, men/women, sex and sexuality really isn’t the world’s? What then? Maybe then we’d see church as the place where true rest is enjoyed, true gender relations modeled and true enjoyment of singleness and marriage nurtured. And we’ll see the world as a place that almost must find the way of Christ baffling and wrong.
If we follow that trajectory then, yes, we’ll have to accept persecution as part of the deal. But I’m pretty sure we all signed up to that at the outset, and, on the upside, it means that we’re not at all destined to ever-increasing compromise. Nor are we doomed to fight all our battles for peripheral issues like sex. In fact we might actually find our churches modelling a counter-culture more distinctive than ever. Meanwhile, those who focus the battle on Westminster may find that they are being just as defined by the culture as ‘the compromisers’ (even if negatively).
I’m no kind of culture-vulture and I couldn’t spot a political trend if it tap-danced on my face. But it seems to me that whatever trajectory we’re on, it does not need to end in a loss of Christian distinctives. Instead in might be the birth of some real distinctives. What’s more it may help us re-assign resources to the true front line – the church – as we re-centre ourselves on our true mission – proclaiming Jesus.