When Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and a staunch Roman Catholic inherited the throne of England in the 16th Century she gave assurances that all would be OK for the Protestants, the first fruits of the recent Reformation. Within weeks she had removed all evangelicals from high office, had re-instituted Catholic practices throughout the land and commenced a programme of burnings at Smithfield for those who dared preach from the Bible. Only one interpretation of the Christian faith was acceptable in the land, any other was punishable by death.
Dangerous times, they were, as they are also today for Christians living under repressive regimes, in North Korea, Iraq, China and Pakistan, among many. Nine out of the ten worst regimes for persecution against Christians are Islamic states. It is reported that over 200 million Christians are currently persecuted and that a Christian is martyred for their faith every five minutes.
That swiftly puts into perspective our peeves at not being able to wear a cross at work, or pray in schools or offer spiritual healing in doctor’s waiting rooms. Persecution is truly a sliding scale these days but one feels that the fulcrum is shifting westwards and very soon, our safe comfy western environments are going to change into something a little more menacing. In Tudor England the battle was between interpretations of Christianity. In the Third World today it is between rival religions with Islam at the forefront, but Hinduism and Buddhism not far behind.
The fight in our western society, when it really heats up, is going to be on two fronts, I believe. The first has been developing for centuries, since the early Middle Ages when Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic theologian, made it possible to doubt the Biblical faith without fear of reprisal. From the seed he planted came the forces that drove the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the belief that our rationalism is sufficient alone to chart our course through life and that belief in God is just a medieval superstition. It took time to fully develop but it has assuredly reached its zenith with the current predominant worldview in our society, secular humanism. The name says it all, it is secular – devoid of religious connotation – and it is thoroughly man-centred. It is the culmination of the ideas of Aristotle, brought into society by Aquinas and his successors and strong enough to gather into its fold those who still prefer to eat from the tree of knowledge rather than from the tree of life.
The second front, mentioned earlier, is far more subtle and insidious. Once vilified and joked about it is the infiltration of what was once called the New Age movement, various expressions of Eastern mysticism, but which have now become so thoroughly mainstream that most don’t see the join. A new name for it is neo-paganism, barely expressed in polite company. It is, therefore, religious in nature, but as far removed from our Biblical faith as you can get. Yet, as with secular humanism, it has made inroads into Christian society, as we shall soon see.
So, as Biblical Christians, we are faced with elements of atheism and spirituality, that ought to be mutually exclusive, but it is amazing how they have become bedfellows. We can see this when we examine what has become a watchword for today’s society, tolerance. It is defined as the willingness to accept opinions or behaviour that one actually disagrees with. It seems all very civilised and proper and British. The theory is that if we are all tolerant then we have a stable society because we just live together with our differences never judging each other in thought or action. This means that we don’t just tolerate that which we feel comfortable with, but also that which jars with our world view. There is a problem here. His name is Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t tolerant. “Being Christian”, despite media propaganda, is not about being nice to everyone. Jesus wasn’t nice to hypocrites and those who were not following God’s laws, but had added a few of their own. Here are some Scriptures that follow from this position:
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Timothy 4:1-2)
But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (1 Corinthians 5:11)
Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work. (2 John 9-11)
This is an extract from the book, Livin’ the Life, available for £10 at https://www.sppublishing.com/livin-the-life-151-p.asp
How tolerant was Jesus?