May 2011

The Church in a Secular Age


Historically, there has always been an issue in the Christian faith about how much we should be involved in the society around us.

Painting with a broad brush stroke:- On the one extreme there is feeling that Christians, though in the world should, as far as possible and as God’s chosen, separate themselves from their unredeemed neighbours. This first extreme is often seen in those churches that separate themselves and become almost sects. However some congregations are not far off in there suspicion of ‘the world’ outside their doors.

The other extreme is that not only are Christians to be involved in their society but that as Christians  are God’s elect perhaps we should govern for the good of everyone. Historically, since the time of Constantine’s establishment of the church as the official religion of the Roman empire, the church has partnered the secular authorities in ruling. This process began to brake down during the enlightenment, and only vestiges of this accord today are seen in such institutions as Anglican bishops sitting in the house of Lords.

Why, you may ask, am I pondering such ponderous thoughts? Well recently, I have been made aware once again that in our society there doesn’t just exist a separation between church and state, but that faith is seen as somehow an optional extra for those with some time on their hands on Sundays and a religious inclination.  

The two issues that have brought this to the fore are the recent fostering court case in Derby, and the proposed English Baccalaureate without any Religious Studies component.

The case of a conservative Christian couple being refused the chance to again foster children because of their stance on homosexuality is worrying. Even though I disagree with their views, they have a right to hold them and still fully participate in society, in this case by helping children who need a stable home. It seems that slowly, active Christians are being forced to withdraw from society unless they are fully able to embrace a secular agenda.

In a similar way the reform of the exam system with the English Baccalaureate has the requirement for one humanities subject that doesn’t include Religious education as a priority subject, effectively downgrading the importance of religion to an optional extra. Religion may be a ‘nice’ thing but it isn’t essential.

The United Reformed Church fully believes in the separation of the church from the state. We don’t want to take over. As our beliefs are based on faith in God as revealed in Jesus, we cannot impose our faith on those who have little or no faith. However, we are also to participate in society. Jesus asked us to be Salt and Light to those around us. To witness to a different agenda by our actions. To campaign for justice and peace.

It seems ironic that just as the government is calling for more involvement of people in the community, people like faith groups, there is a slow drip of marginalizing that same church.

I’m not sure where all this will lead. I guess our only response is to be even more involved in ‘the world’ knowing we don’t have all the answers, but we do know the one who has.

May 2011