I woke up last Friday morning on the banks of the River Nith. The sun was shining; the air was warm and still the only sound to be heard was the tidal river, lapping against a moored boat; and the occasional notes of bird song. I reached for the radio and as it came to life, my idyllic moment was crushed by the news reporter’s declaration that everything had changed. As the hours went by, every subsequent commentator affirmed the same message. Our days as European citizens were numbered, David Cameron had resigned, the FTSE was down, the pound crashed (I wished I had bought those dollars that last night), the Bank of England was making a statement, Independence was back on the table, Jeremy Corban was fighting a rebellion and Boris had disappeared.
A week on, it still seems that everything is still changing; but now it is affecting the very heart of our communities. We have heard reports of increased racism; of European citizens, like my French neighbour, fearing for her safety, or for her future prospects in Scotland. It would seem that another period of austerity may be imminent; and we all know that the poor in our society will suffer more than the rest, if that is to happen. We also find ourselves asking questions of integrity: did anyone tell us the truth as they campaigned, what promises were not really promises; and what truths were purely aspirational?
How, then, shall we live in these days of change? Philippians 3:20 reminds us that our “citizenship is in heaven.” In fact Paul, in many of his letters, takes up the theme of where we should find our identity; and steadfastly reminds us that it is “in Christ” and within the “kingdom of God” that we truly find our security. A biblical response may be that everything has not changed! Whether the children of God were in Egypt, hemmed in by the red sea, wandering in the wilderness, living in the promised land or in exile, they were still the children of God. His presence, his faithfulness, his sovereignty are not affected by the result of a referendum; and it is now our act of faithful witness, to this nation, to live securely in our true identity.
I believe there are at least 4 significant responses that the church can make, to demonstrate the practical outworking of our identity in Christ. Each can be described as ‘letting your light shine’ or ‘being salt’ in the nation. Our own Declaration of Principle calls for Baptist people to be a people of witness. I would suggest that the following may point the way, in some measure, towards faithful witness:
- To be a non-anxious presence in the midst of grief and uncertainty. It is vital that we, as believers, join the conversation that is happening, face to face, in the market place, on social media and in the mass media. That we engage with the debate; but as we do so, that we do not add to the anxiety, worry, speculation and distress the debate is causing. We are a people who are instructed not to be anxious, not to be afraid; and therefore to be a voice of calm, or restraint, in the midst of anxious speculation. We are concerned about the impact of political decisions; but we hold them lightly in their place, more concerned about their impact on others than upon ourselves, who are firmly held by Christ.
- To welcome those whom others treat as strangers. The kingdom of God is characterised by a welcome to people of every nation, tribe and tongue. The church of God is found throughout the globe; and we are part of something far bigger than we can readily imagine. Immigration, migration, support for refugees, open borders and ease of world travel in our time, have allowed Christians to participate in international hospitality. This is a mere foretaste of our Father God’s plan for this world. It is vital that we stand with those being persecuted in our nation because of the colour of their skin, their religion, their country of origin; and especially at this time, when the voices of hate have increased for them.
- To let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’. For hundreds of years, the church in Britain has too readily been seen as an institution closely linked to our parliaments. There can be no doubt that many institutions, once trusted in the nation, have progressively been discredited in our times. Following this recent referendum, as doubts are cast on the truthfulness of pledges made, we as a people of God must, as the Apostle James instructs, ‘tame the tongue’. This is a time to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Let us beware of an evangelist’s tendency to exaggeration, of the story tellers desire to leave out the bits that don’t fit, or describing our faith’s journey as nothing but ‘sunshine and roses’. Our experience of Christ is not yet complete: we often struggle to understand, can struggle to believe and most certainly struggle to act in Christ-like ways. As we call people to Jesus and to a new identity in him; as we share our hope and the reasons for faith; as we live lives that are being set free from anxiety; as we welcome our neighbours and pour love into their lives, let us also be honest about struggles. Those struggles speak volumes to the credibility of a life rooted in Christ.
- To pray. Paul’s antidote for anxiety, and the first response of all who are citizens of heaven, is found in Philippians 4: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
As a people who seek to live under the rule of Christ, nothing has changed in who we are; but the dramatic changes around us call for a ‘Kingdom of God’, inspired response. Let us give ourselves to acts of faithful witness, demonstrating a faith in Christ and a true identity that impacts every aspect of life.
Further Baptist Reflections:
A prayer for our nation was published last week on our website:
Many in BUS have found the reflections of Rev Norman Graham helpful