29 Apr

The New Laodiceans

Archbishop Justin Welby has contributed to the discussion about whether Britain is a Christian country. He says, “The influence of a moderate and careful and generous Christian faith has enabled us to be welcoming to other faiths.”

“Careful” and “generous” I can understand and wholeheartedly support. But what does he mean by “moderate”?

I recall the old joke by Jonathan Miller when he said: “I’m not really a Jew – just jew-ish. Not the whole hog.” Is the Archbishop suggesting that Christians should not be fully-fledged but, as it were, just Christian-ish? What about all those exhortations in the New Testament which tell Christ’s followers to be fervent, to be prepared to suffer and even to give one’s life for the faith? St Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”

Did St Paul really suffer the thirty-nine lashes five times – and all those other privations – for being “moderate”?

Also with characteristic moderation Jesus said, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

I suppose the prophets were stoned for their being so “moderate”? And the martyrs – crucified, thrown to the lions, burned at the stake, strangled, drowned? No doubt on account of the fact that they were all:

Civilised men of  moderate religion; Of flexible principle and estimable pragmatism; Unrestricted by the petty syllogism; And as easy in agreement as our Justin himself.

Oh how nice it is to be “moderate”! Admittedly, it wasn’t very nice when men such as Bishop Polycarp, Thomas More, Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley and countless other immoderate men were put to the death for their beliefs. But at least these things happened in an age when Christianity had not yet been emptied of serious content.

“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth’.”

Spew thee out of my mouth. Oh dear, I do wish the Holy Spirit would learn not to use such immoderate language!