Sunday, 20 January 2013

Standing on street corners

Post by Ian

I pass a street preacher, listening to him for a while, and I think that the message that he is putting out there is firmly one of faith over action. Believe in Jesus, and you will be saved. That's all you have to do: believe, and you shall have eternal life and happiness. This is an easy faith, and yet the evangelical churches continue to grow while Unitarians decline - as do other liberal churches. Surely this can't be right. Social action with an accepting welcome is declining, but strict conservative doctrine on the increase? But then, he's the one out on the street. He's the one making himself, and his church, known.

It hardly sits well with the Unitarian, especially one of a Christian bent who takes the messages in Matthew 6 seriously. Don't stand on the street corners, Jesus says. Later on: go and teach, as I have taught. What does it all mean? Personally, I interpret the meaning to be that you don't take prideful credit for your actions - you just get on and do it. You don't force others to listen to religious tirades, but you stand ready to teach and answer questions when asked. You pray quietly and succinctly, not rant on with much repetition.

This is a problem. We, as Unitarians, want to be welcoming to all. Yet, by doing so, we have no clear message or statement of faith - only the vague concepts of freedom, reason and tolerance. Ask any three Unitarians what they believe and you'll get four different answers, as the joke goes. We have a real problem when asked: "Unitarian? What's that?" or "What do Unitarians believe?". Against this, we have a number of evangelistic churches that have clear doctrine - they already have all the answers to life that we ask people to search for, or think they do.

The 2011 census results show a decline in Christianity in the UK from 72% to 59% of respondents, compared to the census question in 2001. Is this a true decline? The rise in the No Religion category would seem to indicate so. People who have been excluded or put off by the traditional churches are exactly the category of person we ought to target for growth in our own congregations. Maybe because this is the category that I would fit in to. I grew up not quite fitting in to the Methodist faith of my parents and grandparents. Mainly because I never believed in the Trinity. As for many other Unitarians, I found that it made no logical or biblical sense. But, in order to do draw people in, we need to be able to draw on our 400+ years of tradition as a liberal, protestant, Christian faith; and we need to be able to respond to the questions that the street preacher has the ready answers for. Each of us should think about what being Unitarian means, to us, so that we can explain to anyone who asks. We should wear a visible sign, the GA chalice badges for instance, to prompt the odd question. We should be able to give a vague potted history of Unitarianism. In short, we need to have some of those answers ourselves, even if the answers are only for us as an individual. We can then say, "Well, for me .....".

Let's push our object and our heritage as a selling point of Unitarianism.
To promote a free and inquiring religion through the worship of God and the celebration of life; the service of humanity and respect for all creation; and the upholding of the liberal Christian tradition.

Let's look at using "faith through action" as a tagline or sound-bite length of summary of what we stand for.

Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 
Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
Matthew 6: 1-8 (ESV)

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn-bushes or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 7: 15-23 (ESV)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled”, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works”. Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
James 2: 14-19 (ESV)

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Ian, the only way to convince others that ours is a faith worth having is for us to'walk the talk'.I agree we should have our reasons ready to explain to others why we are Unitarians, but unless we back this up with our actions it will all be useless. I think sometimes we concentrate too much on the talk and ought rather to be showing others the sort of people we are- compassionate, loving and,dare I say it, tolerant- Graham