Ephesians 5.11 Have
nothing to do with the worthless things that people do, things that belong
to the darkness.
The Church in all its diversity is
a strange institution. More than any other it is starkly
It speaks of freedom, while curbing free speech and
expelling dissidents. A powerless man is its leader, yet its leaders
engage in power struggles. Love is preached while many of its members
appear largely indifferent to suffering and oppression. It seeks to draw
the world to Jesus, and yet holds itself apart from the world.
This incongruent institution has in recent years been opened up to the
public gaze by the searchlight of the media. We can now see clearly as
never before an ongoing contest at the very heart of Christianity. It is
between those who wholeheartedly live in the world and those who see
themselves as in the world but not of it.
The Letter to the Ephesians is our earliest evidence of the latter
emphasis. Its author urges Christians to protect themselves from the world
just as a soldier protects himself with body-armour. They are to live in
the holy light while the world blunders around in satanic darkness.
This version of the Christian life is winning the day as the 21st
century gets under way. The Church competed with secular authorities in
the pre-modern era. Today it can no longer effectively do so. Instead it
attempts to wall itself off from disturbing social and political
influences. Those who are too different in conviction or lifestyle find
themselves either exiled from the Christian fold, or living as secret
aliens within it.
The symptoms are many. Local congregations display a narrow-minded
concentration on worship within the walls of a building. At local level,
Christians shadow-box each other about unity and co-operate
half-heartedly. National churches increasingly attempt to guard against
anything which threatens traditional teachings. What loose international
connections they may have are barely holding. And the Roman Catholic
Church, alone in having a unified global structure, is dominated from an
It's tempting to propose a change of heart, to proclaim that Christians
should stop their nonsense and get in touch with a "genuine" Christian way
But that won't do. The Church is what it is and change is inevitably
slow. Any viable change will be a mutation not a revolution.
Where does that leave the majority of Christians - those who are exiled
from the Church or abiding uncomfortably within it?
It's too early in the current cycle of change to know for sure. At the
local level churches are gradually emptying. The elderly remain and the
young stay away. At the top, the hierarchy desperately tries to defend the
crumbling walls of the Christian citadel.
Nevertheless, outside the city walls those who are alienated from the
Church, can if they wish, discover new life through an important,
It is that we are all born free. Only in freedom do we have choice.
Prisoners are by definition unable to choose. So we can allow others to
dictate the terms of our Christian life - or we can recognise that the
free life is one of adventure, uncertainty and self-discovery.
Freedom is essential to our growth. Getting right with life does not
depend upon being right with state, university or Church. It depends upon
growing into the person I'm intended to be, free in choice and free to
trust in Jesus regardless of where that leads.