Thought for the Month (September 2011)
It seems very easy these days to "give offence" to other people. I read recently that one of our television pundits made the "mistake" of joking on air that the "Best place for a rabbit was in a stew pot". Thus he mightily offended many members of the "fluffy bunny" brigade to whom he was forced to apologise. This incident brought to mind a phrase "The Offence of the Gospel". Although I cannot pin down the origin of this phrase, it is undoubtedly true that in the secular world of today, the Christian Gospel does give real "offence". I wonder why?
Consider the number of reports you have read of Christians being harassed because they choose to wear a cross. Or this recent case; a local council sent a directive to its care homes that "all religious symbols" must be removed from the rooms of its tenants. This madness was stopped by one of the councillors – a Moslem – who queried why it was to be done. "To prevent offence" was the council's reply. The Moslem Councillor then asked who made the complaint of this "offence", and found that there had been none. The edict to "remove crosses and other religious symbols" was the result of a number of secular councillors being "offended" by religious belief. "In my experience" said the Moslem Councillor, "no true follower of Christianity or Islam is offended by symbols of the other's faith. The offence is only to those who have no faith at all".
So why has religious belief become "offensive"? Our Moslem Councillor went on to say "I would prefer to work with people who have a religious faith because they are more moral than those who do not have any". So the "offence" of religious belief to the secular world is one of morality, of knowing right from wrong. A person's religious belief defines an absolute standard against which their behaviour can be judged and no-one likes being judged.
A couple of weeks ago, there was a letter in the Courier from a militant secularist complaining at the phrase "Christian behaviour" in a previous item. She said that being a Christian was a personal whim, and should not be linked to any generalised form of "behaviour".
How wrong she was! To quote the Letter of James "Faith, if it is not accompanied by action is dead". Indeed, I once had a colleague who named his old car James because it was "all faith and no works"!
This brings me back to the idea of "the offence of the Gospel". No-one likes to be shown up in terms of their life-style. The present norm that "Good is what is good for me" does not sit easily with the Christian belief of the Lordship of Christ and the moral demands of the Christian Gospel. Paul lists "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy; drunkenness and orgies" as the norms of a secular age. He contrasts these with the Christian "fruits of the spirit" of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
It seems to me that a Christian person honestly living a Christian lifestyle is bound to "give offence" by the very nature of their behaviour from the unbelievers around them. I pray that we are all able to give a kindly Christian "offence" to the norms of the secular society around us, by our own example and in a non-judgemental way.
May the Lord bless us all as we strive to live our faith in Him.
Bob Webb (Tunbridge Wells URC)
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