Public Worship is public witness

Our worship alternates between private prayer and public prayer. When we pray in public it becomes clear that we intercede not only with God but also with our fellow men. We pray to God, who is always the first and final hearer of our prayers. We are the voice of God appealing to our neighbours and neighbourhood and to the whole nation. We are the voice of God to them, so God help us and God help them. We are the mediator between man and man, and we are the mediator between God and man, and this is so because this is what the Lord makes us; he determines that we – we are his embodiment her and now, to these people.

The Church comes out of church, and travels along our streets, taking the worship service with it, taking that service into the marketplace in the centre of town. So we shuttle between church and marketplace, between closed building and open space. The Church goes from church to marketplace and back to church again. It oscillates and alternates because being ‘in church’, inside its own building, behind walls and therefore invisible and unnoticed, to appearing in public, and singing and kneeling and standing there, regularly and unhurriedly on vigil, in peak footfall in the day and late evenings, holding the ground, claiming the territory against all who ravage across it in the hours of darkness.

We carry these tableaux with us into our town centre and public spaces. We carry the cross, and our voices carry our songs into the middle of the Saturday morning busyness of our shopaholic neighbours, and to the place where our unemployed and listless are waiting for something to happen. Because we carry this cross, we are recognisable as Christians, even at a distance. Even when they are just passing in the car and turning off the roundabout, people will catch a glimpse of us and some of them will realise what we are doing. Our identity is clear because we are alternately standing and singing, and kneeling and praying, around a large and very visible cross. Some of those standing on each side of the cross are robed in vestments. We can carry an ark depicting the Lord – as a carnival float, and those in vestments stand on either side of this scene and by framing it, make it visible to those further away. We do not use amplification. We use only the harmony of our own coordinated voices, singing either in unison or antiphony, which is alternately, one group responding to the next. As far is as possible we sing and pray what we know off by heart. Our corporate unity and our identity as the Body of Christ displays and amplifies the gospel proclaimed in our worship

Lent and Easter Vigil 2018 Despised and Rejected

In preparation for Easter, Christians undergo a process of public self-examination and repentance, for ourselves and for our nation. We will hold a vigil. Its theme will be repentance, first our own, then the churches, then repentance on behalf of our nation. We have adapted prayers from Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer, and added our own, and hope that our prayers will improve through use.
We will be giving thanks for the blessing of God for this nation over many centuries, which has created our law, freedom of conscience, civil liberty and our open and generous society. We will say that it is ongoing Christian witness that sustains our confident liberal political culture; when that witness is not given, this liberal culture is replaced by ideology and coercion. We will repent that we have not succeeded in passing the gospel on and so have left our young people exposed, vulnerable and without hope.
Over the last couple of years it has been revealed that in many British towns young women have been under attack. There have been assaults, drugging, rape, kidnapping, prostitution, repeatedly and sometimes over many years. Public services knew these crimes were taking place, covered them up, and threatened those who tried to make them known. Their actions may have involved perverting the course of justice or misconduct in office.
We will pray for all our public servants. We will affirm that the law of this nation is sovereign and that our police have full authority to uphold it. No section of the community is above the law, or may impose another law in this country. Whoever fears one community, and gives them immunity from the law, is committing an injustice against every individual and against the whole nation. We will mention the towns in which the rapes of women and girls were long known about but covered up – Rochdale, Rotherham, Stoke, Derby, Telford, Oxford, Aylesbury, Luton and many others.
We pray for all ministers and public servants, in local authority, police, courts, probation and social workers. We will remind our public servants of their high calling, and of the source of their authority. We will give thanks to God for all public servants and officers of the law.
We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ draws us into his own priestly and intercessory ministry, making us the body of which he is the head. We are to give voice to the prayers and laments of our people, to express for them what they cannot articulate for themselves. We do so with the words of the gospel and worship handed down to us. As we follow the passion and crucifixion of our Lord, so we may learn to see the people of our country, despised and rejected, polluted and wretched. Following our Lord and using the psalms, we may express their grief and give thanks for the salvation open to us in Jesus Christ.

The Church does not change

The Church does this extraordinary thing. It declares that its confidence in all previous generations of Christians. This is what we mean when we declare in public each time we say the creed that the Church is ‘one’. It is indivisible through time. The ancient church and the modern church are not two churches. The earlier church has not given way to the later. The earlier church is not wrong and the modern church right. There is just one single church, present through all generations indivisibly. There is not the ancient Church of the first disciples and the contemporary Church of us – for this would leave us with the impossible task of deciding what parts of the gospel are essential and which we can abandon. Its confidence is complete. Our Lord placed his confidence in the faithfulness of his Church because he himself is behind it, and because ultimately the Church is the body of the Lord, and the ongoing work of the Lord.

So we pray that the Lord will defend us from every elite that does not want to be accountable, that does not believe it has to listen to us, which become angry at anyone who tells them what they don’t want to hear. Save us from every self-appointed elite that does not want to hear that there is a crisis, and which wants to push onto others the costs and consequences of its way of life.

Defend us Lord from those who know better. Defend us from those who set themselves up over all previous generations. Take away those who set themselves between us and all previous generations of your saints. Let us hear your saints again, and let us receive from them the full measure of the discipleship that we need. Do not let us refuse what these Christians have to give us. Let us take from them what they give us, and honour them, and hope to lead the some sanctified lives. They passed on the gospel for us. They are a message from you to us. Let us be glad of the churches and the worship, the hymns and prayers that are their gift to us. Let us understand these churches as their act of generosity toward us, and as a living scripture. They are your gift to us, and are intended to show us our way.

It is the calling of the Church always to hold itself as some distance from the regime of the day. We call this ‘secularisation’. There is a secular sphere, in which a wide range of ways of life and of discussion of ways of maintaining the common good are sustained, when the Church maintains its critical distance, stays cautious, and so is able to ask the questions that that sphere needs to hear. This is the prophetic office of the church. Christians are prophets, able to say how the community and government overreach themselves and exceed their authority. The Church says. The nation and its government can listen if they want to, take whatever advice they want. It is not the job of the government to become the body telling us what to think.

The clergy of the Church of England have created over these last decades a ‘gospel’ which is utterly unattractive and unrecognisable to the people of this country. They have removed all the elements that surprise and shock. They have removed the terror and delight of the gospel. They have bowdlerised it and rendered it harmless. But Christ cannot be domesticated. He is not harmless. Only we are harmed when we decide that we know better than all previous generations of the Church.

Defend us Lord from those who shush us up, who want us to be content with a lesser gospel, who do not want to put the whole gospel in our hands, who water down the wine that God intended for us. They deflect our questions and patronise and belittle. Defend us from those from those who know better, who set themselves over us and consider themselves superior to us. Give back to them what they deal out to us. Do not let us identify with them and set ourselves up in judgement. Pardon and give them grace to seek your forgiveness.

Freedom & community

All men are primitives, and unless something else intervenes, all societies remain primitive. With us, Christianity intervened. Christianity was the event that brought the new circumstances that changed everything. But Christianity is a faith. We are free to receive it or not. It has forced nothing on us. We have not left primitivism entirely behind. We are not angels. All our old instincts are still with us. We merely look forward to what is not yet in our possession or in our control, and it is this looking forward that makes the open society, the society which we call ‘modern’.
So you moderns have two gods – the Self and the State. You have the god of extreme individualism and the god of extreme Collectivism. Either you have Freedom but no community, or you have community but no freedom. I don’t worship either of these myself. I was baptised into the one community in which freedom and continuing personal identity are established. I recommend it to you. Save yourself. Flee from idols

Now, again, as ever, the West is faced by the society by the society that is an inverse copy of it. It is faced by the cult and society that promotes community over freedom, and indeed which has no room for freedom at all. It is opposed to freedom, and regards freedom as a mistake. Freedom is an error. The demand for freedom is the one pathology which the cult is committed to eradicating. The eradication of freedom. The collective is supreme, the individual is nothing. This cult and society has both borrowed from Christianity and Judaism, and stood Christianity and Judaism on their head. It has who have stood out against Christianity, and made themselves an evil, and who have not been able to move forwards towards a more open society, but have remained primitives, who have not been part of the this success, who took no part in the building of the modern world and are unable to find any significant place in the modern economy. They represent a long howl of envy, of impotence and fury. They have shut themselves out of the modern world. They remain – and insist on remaining – in this closed, primitive economy, in which there is no forgiveness and no opportunity to receive what is new or open – unless it breaks in from outside.

Freedom versus community

The Roman conception reduces man to a single figure, to a unit and an atom. Man on this definition regards all others as a problem and a challenge. He assumes that he has to free himself from them. He can never finish this work, for it puts him against the whole world, gives him nothing in common with anyone else, undermines all attempts at comradeship. Kant is the idol and the god of the man who wants to be modern and so represents the modern way of being human. Hegel saw that this was what Kant had done, and that it made the problem acute. The individual could not accept any external restraint on himself, and so was at war with the whole world. The individual could not concede that the public world could offer him anything or demand anything from him. The individual could concede anything to our common life. For the individual, there could be no common well-being. Hegel’s response was to decide that the state is the same thing as the commonwealth. The state is the single thing that stands beyond the reach of the individual. The state is the whole form of our social life. It is the Collective, the Whole. Kant has dissolved the whole world of human intercourse into the individual. Hegel has dissolved the whole world of human intercourse into the state. The state is the only true individual. Between them, they have turned the state into an idol and a god. On this basis we have no defence against the unhappy people who want to draw all power into their own hands. Their only achievement is to turn our common life into a totalitarian state. They want to reduce all our freedom to the libertinism of sexual permissiveness. Our liberty is the liberty to swap partners and make every relationship interchangeable. The state does not want us to form any permanent attachments, and alternative focuses for our loyalty, except with itself. On this basis, the state is the one true individual, and we are all merely fragments of it.
Modernity is idolatry dear friends

Defy the cults

So we have two fundamental imperatives. We have the imperative of extreme individualism and the imperative of extreme Collectivism. Either we have Freedom but no community, or we have community but no freedom. We have modernity, crumbling and descending into insanity now, and we have the cult of the primitives. We have these two gods worshipped by these two rival cults.

Now, again, as ever, the West is faced by the society by the society that is an inverse copy of it. It is faced by the cult and society that promotes community over freedom, and indeed which has no room for freedom at all. It is opposed to freedom, and regards freedom as a mistake. Freedom is an error. The demand for freedom is the one pathology which the cult is committed to eradicating. The eradication of freedom. The collective is supreme, the individual is nothing. This cult and society has both borrowed from Christianity and Judaism, and stood Christianity and Judaism on their head. It has who have stood out against Christianity, and made themselves an evil, and who have not been able to move forwards towards a more open society, but have remained primitives, who have not been part of the this success, who took no part in the building of the modern world and are unable to find any significant place in the modern economy. They represent a long howl of envy, of impotence and fury. They have shut themselves out of the modern world. They remain – and insist on remaining – in this closed, primitive economy, in which there is no forgiveness and no opportunity to receive what is new or open – unless it breaks in from outside.

The primitive cult is the freedom-eradication cult. Freedom-eradication is very attractive to some people. Not everyone likes freedom. Freedom always brings risk and a lack of security. Things can go wrong. Freedom requires courage. Some prefer to be told what to think. Some enjoy telling others what to think. There are cowards and bullies, and many of us are both. But not you. Don’t be one of them. You have your courage. As soon as you find your courage, we’ll follow you. Or you can follow me, I don’t mind which. We are going to withhold our worship from both of these cults, modern and the primitive. We are going to defy them both and we are going to withstand everything they throw at us. Ready now?

Resurrection

The resurrection creates a new world. This is the world in which we live. The Christian gospel makes very great claims for the dignity of human beings. Impossibly great, some have said. The gospel commands us to regard every single human being as a person, so claiming for them a great range of godlike attributes. They are free. They are sovereign, independent and autonomous. They are rational. We may speak to them and they may speak to us. Each is available and accountable to every other. None is too mighty to be held accountable. You may address them and attempt to persuade them and expect that they will respond rationally. They speak for themselves so no one speak for them or take their voice away. But they must be treated as unique, they are not interchangeable, you cannot substitute one for another. They cannot be collectivised or conglomerated. This is a very high view of man. On this basis, man – every single human being – is like God, a true counterpart and companion of God. That is the new thing that the Christian gospel into human culture. It was there, implicit, in Jewish thought. Other than that, no human political culture had conceived such a revolution as this.
The culture created, or at least, transformed by the gospel, is evidence of the divine nature. It is evidence of God. It is of course not proof of God; the evidence that it represents may be overlooked, a pattern not recognised. Yet the pattern is there that reveals a history and causality. Western society is the product of the Church which the product of the resurrection.
So there is a divine character to West society and that is the aspiration to freedom. Freedom is a characteristic of God and is a gift – of the Spirit – to man. And where that gift is given, there the Church appears – that is the community which meets freely, in which every person is willing to associate themselves with all these others and to be counted as one of them, and is available to called upon by them and put themselves at the disposal of these others. In the Christian conception freedom is unthinkable without love. And love is unthinkable without freedom. You may love, but whoever you love is not bound to return that love, or to return in the way you give it. Your love cannot bind them, and certainly cannot confine them. It can only wait for them. So for Christians = and so we are able to share in the divine patience. The Lord waits at the door. He does not come and pull us out. He waits, for days, years, lifetimes, periods of time beyond our definition. The Lord waits, for us. He waits because he wants to, and yet we make him wait. So the love – and passion of God for us.