Tuesday, 13 March 2012

You are the Church

In The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel about the Battle of Gettysburg, there is a stirring moment as former professor of rhetoric and now army colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s regiment is put in position on Little Round Top by Colonel Strong Vincent — a position which was subsequently crucial to the battle:
Vincent said, ‘You are the extreme left of the Union line. Do you understand that?’
‘Yes,’ Chamberlain said.
‘The line runs from here all the way back to Gettysburg. But it stops here. You know what that means.’
‘Of course.’
‘You cannot withdraw. Under any conditions. If you go, the line is flanked. If you go, they’ll go right up the hilltop and take us in the rear. You must defend this place to the last.’
‘Yes,’ said Chamberlain absently.
Vincent was staring at him.
‘I’ve got to go now.’
‘Right,’ Chamberlain said, wishing him gone.
‘Now we’ll see how professors fight,’ Vincent said, ‘I’m a Harvard man myself.’
Christians in the UK have been reading recently that they apparently have no ‘right’ to wear a cross at work.
That may be so in law (and these days it seems that everything must be governed by a law), but there is nothing to prevent them being a Christian in the workplace.
And in this sense, the Christian at work is comparable to the 20th Maine regiment at that moment on that world-changing day.
The regiment was part of a vast army — the Army of the Potomac. To their right, as Vincent said, the army stretched all the way to Gettysburg. But to their left, there was just trees and rocks. They were alone, and at that particular point no-one was coming to help them.
They were the flank.
And the Christian at work is, at that place and time, the Church. They may be part of a supportive and helpful congregation. They are certainly part of Christ’s body. And they belong to the universal company of saints spread out in space and time. But at work, usually, they are alone and no one is coming to help them.
Therefore the life of the Church, at that point, depends on them. By what they do or say, the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus either stands or falls.
It is, in one sense, an unenviable position. They did not ask to be put there. And they may well feel it is unfair that so much should hang on them.
Or they can take the view that this is the privilege of their calling. How they speak, how they behave, how they do their job, is what the Church will be in that situation.
One thing is certain. No vicar or minister is going to come and do their job for them. No company of fellow Christians is going to come and pray with them or reassure them with their words and their smiles. No apologist is going to step up and answer the hard questions on their behalf. No evangelist is going to speak about Jesus in their stead.
Whether they are honest or dishonest, reliable or unreliable, a blessing or a bane, is down to them.
They are the Church.
That is the message we must give to all our people: “You are the Church. Other things in other places may depend on other people. Here, whether you like it or not, whether you stand or whether you fall, you are the Church, and the outcome here depends on you.”
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  1. Freedom of speech. Freedom of expression, of religion, of association. The four great freedoms once accepted generally and standard in British culture.

    The "right" to wear a cross, or any other symbol of any faith should be a common law right - without question, and not to be challenged by ideological bigots, or snoopy government. It is none of their business!

    Our Christian based Common law is a superb, and simple mechanism for ensuring relative peace and harmony, and it has worked down many centuries - i.e. the right to do or say (or wear) what one wishes except where proscribed by statute law and if these harm nobody.
    Really very simple. In short, English Common law recognised an area of human action completely OUTSIDE the jurisdiction of government.
    In political and cultural terms that encapsulates the best of British liberty. We must keep on telling government that such freedoms, including that of freedom of conscience, are beyond the reach of governments.
    In a sense our "law" (government interference and Statism generally) is becoming lawless as it no longer recognises the true source of law, namely New Testament principles, and God's law in particular.
    "Render unto Caesar ...." etc is not a 'nice idea', but a profoundly important political statement and principle in the market place of ideas.
    Christians do not live 'for the State' and the State does not own our consciences!
    So yes, the 'church' whether thought of corporately or individually the right to display Christian symbols is there and must be respected in any setting.

  2. Thoughtful essay and appropriate to where I am in following Jesus this week. Thank you.