Beyond Weasel Words
Two important themes marked the final days of 2017. The coming together of, the debate concerning the redefinition of marriage and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Both issues have roots in our Christian heritage and both have involved the media and a range of new publications. When it comes to connecting to contemporary culture and debate in the public arena however it becomes obvious that there is an increasing gap between the way secular society and those with a reasoned Christian world view talk to each other.
In a way to bridge that gap and to be contemporary and relevant it is all too easy to sacrifice sound reason and to end up in a semantic battle of dreamt up clever ‘one-liners.’ Unfortunately, it also appears the parties, both inside and outside of the church, have used the issues as a platform to serve a wide variety of agendas rather than penetrating the core meaning of the issues themselves.
Madeline Turner has written about the way changed language and words appeal to individual rights and emotions to capture hearts and minds in order to claim the moral high ground. Instead of attempting to understand the nature of marriage, social engineers substitute marriage with ‘marriage-equality’ and the word ‘pro-choice’ is substituted for the word abortion etc. Not only does this by-pass sound reasoning to refocus on a social ideology of preference but it is a deceptive practice of using what Madeline Turner describes as, “weasel words” to distort the truth.
The Premier of Victoria summed up the marriage debate with the words, ‘love is love’. The problem is he was really saying nothing. He was saying love can mean absolutely anything you want it to mean. People can fall in love with heritage buildings. Paedophilia can be argued to be a genuine love of children and in Europe recently one person had such strong feelings she actually married a historic bridge.
Both issues, Marriage and the Protestant Reformation have their roots in Christian heritage. While we cannot live in the past, and today in retrospect we would disagree with some of Luther’s conclusions, never the less amid the ferment of his time Luther spelt out Apostolic Christianity in a way that exposed the distortion and injustice of the custodians of the faith. Make no mistake, it also resulted in the rediscovery of the transforming gospel that changed peoples lives and history forever.
The October/November issue of ‘Insights’, the N.S.W. Uniting Church magazine makes reference to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Dr Janice McRadall concludes that rather than the truths embodied in the reformation, “the clear lens of eschatology has shaped the Uniting Church” over 40 years since its birth. Now this sounds exciting and progressive but if she is right it means we have ignored and emptied the essence of our heritage as a church. We all know that if you drive a car and ignore the revision mirror you will soon be in trouble.
The Uniting Church certainly needs to show compassion and advocate justice for the LGBTI cause but sadly in their enthusiasm some in the Uniting Church have reduced the Reformation to a moral idealism and reduced it to a platform to encourage a felt activism in the course of seeking justice and inclusiveness amid diversity. On one occasion I was disappointed to read one egalitarian semantic comparing the ferment of the Reformation to social change today only to conclude that, “small and large acts of kindness together will change our world.”
As early as 1923 it was writer Peter Gresham, who with clarity and logic, showed that liberal theology and Christianity were two different religions. He concluded that although they used similar terms, “indifference about doctrine makes no heroes of faith”. Confusing the positive meaning of Christian marriage and ignoring Reformation truths, rather than bringing healing, will increase social fragmentation instead of serving the public good. Thankfully nothing will ever change the eternal truth embodied in Christian marriage and the Reformation.
The Bible alone. Luther called Christendom to rediscover the Bible alone as the final authority in matters of faith and doctrine. Over the last century the Bible has become the battle ground of literary interpretation. Before the Reformation it was the Pope and his Councils that were infallible. Today, secular scholars both inside and outside of the church have often reduced the Holy Bible to a mere collection of ancient stories. They have become the sole interpreters of scripture.
The attitude we bring to the Bible often determines how we interpret it. The Reformers discovered 2 Peter I: 20-21,--“no prophecy ever came by human will but holy men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” They realised that a spiritual record also needed the Holy Spirit as an interpreter.
Christ alone. If we approach the Bible not just with intellect but with humility it will teach us about ourselves and who Christ is. The New Testament teaches that God does nothing without Christ. Col, 1:17, John,1: 4, & 17. Today the church excels in devoting itself to compassionate social works but in a multicultural context it struggles to be a credible, articulate witness to the unique supremacy of Jesus Christ. Instead of winning social favour or buying their salvation by performing religious works of devotion, medieval people discovered that Christ alone offered himself once for all, so that He could be a sacrifice that does away with sin and brokenness for ever. Hebrews, 9:25-26.
Grace alone. The Christian life is not an oppressive treadmill nor are the laity second class citizens. Luther was distressed to see the poor members of his congregation trying to be acceptable to God by being legalistically religious. He went on to make sure the Christians understood that righteousness is not just a demand that a Holy God makes on us, but a gift God gives us. The Christian life does not begin or happen at the end of life, it is nothing less than a present, inseparable relationship with God that begins now. To exercise faith and trust in Jesus Christ, to honour Him and to be informed by these truths still brings dynamic personal and social transformation that is worthy of a continuing celebration.
Rev E.A. (Ted) Curnow, Nov, 2017.
(1) ‘Insight’Oct/Nov 2017, Dr Janice McRandal, p 30.
(2) Australian Presbyterian, Spring 2017, Peter Barnes, p24.
(3) Australian Presbyterian, Winter 2017, Madeline Turner, p19.