Stand firm in the faith, be men and women of courage
“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
George Orwell wrote it more than fifty years ago, in the middle of history’s most destructive century of wars. It is now the attention-grabbing headline for the up-coming ACC second national conference in November.
A reader’s immediate response might be to recall how the Uniting Church leadership forced two apostate resolutions onto a flabbergasted membership. Protesters of gospel truth in the Uniting Church are now sidelined as revolutionaries.
Another response might be to apply it to the world around us, as Orwell intended. He knew a lot about deceit, having experienced war as a freedom fighter in Spain, having lived among Paris and London’s ‘down and outs’, and having had a close experience with 1930’s English socialists. From these experiences Orwell wrote novels about totalitarian rule, the smashing of the individual and his dreams, and of a world culture ruled by lies. One might have thought that Orwell’s dire vision of a dreadful, godless world, spiraling it’s way toward death would be repulsive – but no, the western world has long been fascinated, to the extent that many of his coined phrases have entered common English usage: “double think”, “big brother”, and indeed, the headline used for the ACC conference.
How wonderful is it that Orwell’s damning vision isn’t the whole truth of what God intends his creation to be. Warning a culture of impending disaster isn’t new. Among many biblical prophets, Ezekial did it. He was among the first to be deported from Judah to Babylon in 597 BC, and he warned; “Even the temple in Jerusalem will destroyed!” Such is the outcome for those who turn from God.
But Ezekial had a wonderful message that Orwell did not have: God’s redeeming power. Ezekial’s vision was of God giving flesh to a valley of dead bones and breathing a new spirit into those who were dead. The Uniting Church may not yet be such a bone-filled valley – though surely it’s in a quagmire and heading in that direction, with huge loses of membership and an ignoring leadership. We can take heart from God’s promise given to Ezekial; “I will cleanse you from your impurities and your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (36:25-6)
What are we to do then? Christian apologists make take issue with the ever more complicated contortions of a world that stares death in the face. But as ordinary church members we can follow the faithful example of Caleb. He was one of twelve spies who were chosen from among the million of God’s people who escaped Egypt and sent by Moses to search out the promised land. They returned to the desert place of waiting. Ten spies reported that the occupants of the promised land were giants who couldn’t possibly be defeated. Caleb took courage and said, against the clear majority, “It is possible. We can enter the promised land.” Did Caleb have such a great faith in God? His faith was in a great God! God makes good his promises. And, as a result, God fulfilled his promised to Caleb – he was one of just a few who left Egypt and entered the promised land. In these testing times we can hear St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Cor. 16:13)
In a tumultuous world that is fascinated by its own spiraling demise, we take courage, hold fast to Jesus’ promise that the truth will make us free, and hold on to that which is good. This much we are called to do, each to his own calling, and God’s promise is that he will restore his church, the Uniting Church in Australia, from the quagmire into which it has sunk.