None of us find it easy, seeing the pictures of refugees flooding into Europe. We’re meeting them on the streets of Scottish towns and cities. John B Hayes, in his profound and easily read book, sub-merge: service, justice and contemplation among the world’s poor, reflects on crises that recently have affected western culture. Hayes comments on John 9 and Jesus dealing with a man blind from birth. On the culture of blame that can arise in the face of huge, social problems, Hayes remarks,
“Jesus confronted the same inclination to find blame among his own followers .... Jesus sidestepped the counterfeit debate and recast the negative scenario as one of hopeful opportunity..... He simply reached out and touched the man. It was embarrassingly simple: Jesus acted. Christ committed himself to a ministry of compassionate presence, not dispassionate distance. He showed that the tragedies of the world are not first to be reasoned, but treated” (pp 56-57).
It is now over 40 years since the birth of Lausanne movement, initiated under evangelical leadership of both John Stott and Billy Graham, seeking to put to death an unbiblical and unhelpful contrast between Gospel proclamation and Gospel action. Today we see, partly the fruit of this and other Biblical initiatives, fine witness at the level of local church, where a commitment to biblical revelation and proclamation is accompanied by focused care, concern and action for the needs of the local community and the wider society beyond the compass of the local congregation. There is much effective work being undertaken both by Baptist and other Christian congregations.
A bigger challenge lies in combatting a cultural pessimism of Scottish society and it's affect on the church. There is a need to reaffirm and to declare, because of Jesus Christ, the integral relationship between hope and faith and love. Our Lord calls us to live with confidence in the covenant commitments of God towards his people and into the world. We are bearers of hope who, out of hope, act in faith. Pessimism has to be renounced and repented of, as we prayerfully look for and observe the wonderful advance of God's kingdom upon the face of the earth.
People often ask me to give account of the state of the church in Scotland, as I have the privilege of travelling the length and breadth of our nation, witnessing the real life and witness of local congregations. I can see so many signs of hope and encouragement. I also see the potential of so many more, as people lift their eyes from the fear and the failure of godlessness and look afresh to the power and purposefulness of God's intervention, in response to the cries of his people.
For faith to be effective there has to be hope. For hope to be alive, we need to lift our eyes to gaze upon the goodness of God.