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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Vested Interests

Vested Interests

What do Islington Council and the Church of Rome have in common? What do the University of East Anglia HADCRUT Unit and HMRC have in common? This answer is simple. They are all organisations who have been involved in controversy in the recent past. More than that, they all employ the standard tactic when one or more of their number comes under public scrutiny. They close ranks to protect the organisation.
It’s what organisations do.
MPs close ranks when some of their members fiddle their expenses. Banks and financial dealers close ranks when accused of sharp practice, and yes, doctors close ranks when one of their number is accused of malpractice. It’s what they do.

All organisations put their reputation before the truth- even churches. And not just the Catholics, because Protestant Evangelical Christian churches also have their share of scandals that they try to suppress. My mother used to say to me “Be sure your sins will find you out” and she’s not wrong.

I’m a Christian- a follower of Jesus, and yet I don’t attend church for many reasons.

The three main world religions portray God as one who requires that everyone should pay for the things they’ve done wrong. Each religion interprets this differently. Moslems have a strict regime of praying and fasting, plus pilgrimage to atone for their sins while the Jews require a sacrifice of an unblemished lamb to appease a god who required that blood be spilt. About six centuries BC, Jewish prophets began to forecast the coming of a Saviour, one who would take the place of the sacrificial lambs. This Messiah would also save the Jews from oppression and lead them to victory.
The Jews believe that their Messiah’s arrival is still awaited, while Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah that was foretold in ancient writings.

That doesn’t seem enough to make people go to war against each other does it?

Most, if not all mainstream Trinitarian Churches have a core set of beliefs that all Christians can accept. These are very few: Jesus is the Son of God, was born to a virgin in fulfilment of earlier prophesies, was crucified, died and rose from the dead. They all agree that his death was atonement for our sins.
But each Christian sect, denomination or sub-division has other beliefs that mark them out as different from the others. I won’t bore you with all the differences, or why they matter, but once again they are enough to make people go to war with one another. Islam also has different strains that regularly go to war against one another. No wonder unbelievers despair!

And yet many of these unbelievers support a football team and swear allegiance to them. These teams all play the same game, to the same set of rules and yet their followers are willing to fight each other. In one famous incident, two South American countries declared war following a game of football, so wanting to fight for one’s beliefs isn’t so strange.
People want to believe in something. How else can you explain horoscopes or crystal healing?

For many years I travelled the UK as a worship leader/preacher and my wife and I were invited into churches of every denomination to minister. I was welcomed into one Catholic church as a member of another faith (which made me smile), and I met and spoke with ministers from every denomination. It was an eye opener to hear these professional Christians assert that what they each believed was the truth, and that what all the others believed wasn’t.

I thought long and hard about this. Which of these different versions of the faith was correct? They couldn’t all be right, could they? Not when their beliefs were so different?
This coincided with a period of illness and unemployment. I spiralled into depression that found expression in cynicism.

They couldn’t all be right- but they could all be wrong.

The church that I was attending (when not out visiting other churches) split into different factions. In despair, I returned to the church where I’d come to faith. I was older, wiser, with a lot of experience and a lot to offer. That made me a threat to the established leadership and his followers. My offers of help were received warmly, but never taken up. I was reduced to sitting in the pew, listening to bad preaching and lousy musicianship. The reason there are so many denominations is because people line up behind personalities. They get frustrated over points of theology, emphasis, leadership and so they leave and form a new church.
All too often the Gospel gets pushed to the background while personalities struggle for power (in the name of God, of course).
I wasn’t going to cause this church to split by stomping off with my circle of fans, so I just stopped going.
And my depression lifted.

These days I’m happy not to attend a church. I won’t bore you with my many experiences- of indoctrination verging on brainwashing in one church I attended briefly; of “heavy shepherding” in another, where any and every life decision had to be brought to the leadership for their approval; of sitting in pews while lies were told in the name of Jesus; and so on.

I read that Ghandi almost became a Christian. The only thing that stopped him following Jesus was the behaviour of his followers. I’m with him on that. The Christian faith is easy to understand but hard to live out. Churches are human organisations with all too human failings. Ambitions, jealousies, personalities all cloud the fundamental purpose of what church should be about.

When church becomes yet another human organisation that is more concerned with perpetuating itself, then it has lost all relevance. Watching wall-to-wall coverage of the Pope and other religious leaders in all their splendour is about as far from the Gospel as it could be.
Mother Teresa worked single handed in the slums of India for over 30 years without coming to the world’s notice. Her selfless devotion to duty away from the glare of the world’s media was closer to Jesus’ intentions than any stage managed showbiz spectacle that we’ve witnessed this week.

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