So here we are, once again- election season. When Theresa May walked out of Downing Street on the 18th April at 11:15am and announced that she was calling a snap election I was filled with both excitement and dread. Excitement as a politics student, and dread in anticipation at what was to come. For the third time in three years we will witness political debate dominating our social media timelines, our pub discussions and every waking second of news coverage.
So, the question is: How do we as a Church family handle General Election 2017?
How does Jesus teach us to behave?
John 13: 34-35 NLT:
34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
This fundamental command impacts every area of our lives, and the election is not an exception. I believe that an aspect which `separates politics from many other debatable issues is that it is highly emotive. There is very little fact in most political debate on TV; it is normative which means it discusses how things ‘ought to be’ while at the same time having little concrete information that we can draw upon to back up our opinions. It is a lot like sport in that sense, we support certain teams based on reasons like emotive attachment, familial sentiment or aesthetics such as charisma. It is because everyone has an opinion on it that we let it rule our conversations. Talking about politics is something that I would widely encourage; but the manner in which we do so, especially as Christians, is something we need to seriously consider.
Politics does not transcend our responsibility to one another. We are to love each other based on the example of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. This keeps us united as a family in a society that is hostile to the Christian worldview. It is difficult to overstate how seriously God takes this command. If we look through the book of Acts or the letters of Paul we see many examples where God spoke to his early Church to ensure that it was built on solid foundations and preserved of its unity.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5: 1-10 shows how seriously God sought to rid the Church at its conception from sin. Now don’t worry, I am not saying that sharing a BBC News article to your friends is synonymous to what Ananias and Sapphira did; but it does show the extent to which God wants us to be uplifting to one another and follow the commandment stated in John 13. It also shows us how disastrous it is to let the fleeting and temporary permeate into Church life. Ephesians 6: 13 says that we should “put on every piece of God’s armour” so that we can turn our back on the enemy. What the Lord is asking us to do is resist evil, build each other up, and turn our eyes collectively on him and him alone.
I have been thinking a lot lately about what my response to the election should be if I am truly to live as a mirror of Christ. The passage above reinforces our responsibility as a family to be united at all times, and that means between now and June 8. When we are not adhering to this commandment we are letting the enemy seep into the Church. Secondly, we must be mindful that we are not elevating the importance of political opinion to above that of the single ideology we all share, the truth of Jesus Christ.
What does this look like in practice?
Romans 12: 1-2 NLT
“And so, dear brothers and sisters I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Simply, this involves acting as Christ instructs. The fact that discussions on politics may involve you standing up for issues that are close to your heart does not absolve you from the responsibility to be respectful. The only absolute truth we possess is that of the Good News of Jesus and no political party can represent that truth in its entirety. Thus, if we are rigorously promoting a political party then we are broadcasting someone else’s vision of secular morality and not the Christian worldview. No matter who you vote for in this election they will be a widely secular party. Therefore, I would argue that any time we spend debating politics would always be better spent in advertising the Kingdom instead. Irrespective of how deeply we hold our political views they should never take a higher place in our priorities than spreading the gospel. Too often, we see people evangelically show their affiliation to a particular party without mentioning the one who is above it all- Jesus. He is sovereign over all things and will be Lord of all things today, tomorrow and on June 9, irrespective of who inhabits 10 Downing Street.
So, on your media feeds and in your friendship groups I will offer a challenge to you. It is almost a certainty that someone will ask you what you think about this election and I would recommend that you think about how you will answer them. As Christians, we are charged to set an example to non-believers. If we descend ourselves into a similar behaviour pattern of arguing and disrespect then how are we supposed to set ourselves apart from those who do not believe that Jesus is in control of all things? How would that serve in changing our society and promoting the only doctrine that brings about absolute change?
Irrespective of how much you care about politics or I would absolutely recommend that you vote on June 8. We are highly fortunate to be living in a functioning democracy with more than one option to choose from and it is a right that most of the people on Earth do not have. Also, we as Christians have a unique privilege to stand up for God’s purpose in his World. If you think that none of the parties stand up for you or your interests then you can vote so that they may consider them in the future. Only 43% of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2015 general election, compared with 78% of those over 65. It is not surprise that policies are guided towards appeasing older voters as they are the ones who ultimately decide who gets into power. We can change that.
When it comes to the many political discussions that I’m sure you will have over the next three weeks, it is important to remember that you do not know everything. As students, we immerse ourselves in different perspectives and new learning every day. Even if we have watched every episode of question time, read every manifesto or consider ourselves to be aficionados of political gamesmanship, we are still only educating ourselves of the world that has been crafted by political actors. One of the founding fathers of political philosophy, Plato, spoke of the importance of being willing to change your mind and as academics, we should educate ourselves based on fact and wide research. Thus, we should be willing to read sources from both sides, especially those that disagree with us, and respectfully and rationally conclude one way or another. Ascertain why it is you are voting: what are your priorities and why? If you feel yourself being swayed by emotion: start again.
I have put the links to all the manifestos at the bottom so you can read from the horse’s mouth what each of the parties intend to do should they win. If you feel a little overwhelmed by all the rhetoric, then below I have listed some terms which would be useful to understand as they will feature frequently. Learn the ins and outs (I knew a Brexit link would come eventually) and work out what you think about these issues. Just because your favourite party supports something it doesn’t necessarily mean you do.
● Nationalisation v Privatisation
● The various forms of Taxation
● Debt v Deficit
● Idealist v Realist
● Single market
● Free movement of people
We know how Jesus wants us to act with each other and with those who do not subscribe to Christianity. We know that nothing is above him and that nothing else we believe in is more important than the Good News we have in him. This election season is an intriguing moment in our history and we can share in that, but do not let its result define your relationships with other people. We are all united in the single most important thing that this world has to offer and we should remember that above all else. Spread the message that Jesus died for everyone and loves everyone and do that more than you say nationalising the rail industry is a good idea or that Theresa May is strong and stable!
http://www.labour.org.uk/index.php/manifesto2017 - Labour
https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto - Conservative
http://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto - Liberal Democrats
https://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/Green%20Guarantee%20summary%20online.pdf - Greens
https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ukipdev/pages/3485/attachments/original/1489398291/UKIPLocalManifesto2017opt.pdf?1489398291 - UKIP
If you want a bit of procrastinatory fun or don’t know what each of the parties is saying then this is a good thing to do.
Finally REGISTER TO VOTE!
You have until May 22nd to do so.
Politics Masters and Mission Forgee
Money. It's a topic that no one can seem to agree on. We live in a society dominated by the pursuit of wealth, and at times it feels like the Church has succumbed to this as much as the world that surrounds it. In the secular world there are complaints of charities misappropriating funds, while the Church is faced with constant scandals over Televangelists offering Salvation for donations and pastors being paid millions to run churches. In the midst of this, any request for financial support or giving can feel manipulative and shallow, aimed at bottom line profits rather than heavenly gain. So why should we bother?
Well, because God did. Money was something of a hot topic for Him - 16 of the 38 parables focused on money; the topic came up on average once every ten verses in the Gospels and the Bible has well over 2000 pieces of advice on dealing with money, compared to around 500 on prayer and less than 500 on faith. Put simply, God cares about what you do with your money. And He should - it's clear from the state of the developed world that money can't solve problems like loneliness, depression and relationship breakdown, and it has the power to facilitate greed, anger and envy on a grand scale. What we do with money and what money can do to us are topics that Jesus spoke about in great detail.
As well as being stigmatised, giving in Church can be confused by the use of lingo and strange props and customs (what is a tithe? Do you wear it? Why does everyone hand round velvet purses in the final hymn? Does the Church actually have a bank account or does it all go on new candlesticks?). I'm hoping to go some way to demystifying the issue of giving, and why it's both essential and incredibly beneficial to Christians today.
WHAT IS GIVING?
Giving is a simple way of saying that you are sacrificing some resources to God's Kingdom and the Church. This has meant different things over the centuries - the first clear case of giving was Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, where Cain gave grain from the fields and Abel gave a lamb from his flock. It's also the first case of someone getting giving spectacularly wrong - more on that later. Through the Old Testament, people often gave livestock (Deuteronomy 12:5), grain, wine, honey and olive oil (2 Chronicles 31:4-5), and sometimes even treasures and precious artefacts. During the New Testament and in the millennia following, Christians have predominantly donated money to the church, although some still offer other resources instead.
The command which ties all of these offerings together is the command to tithe. Tithing very simply means giving the first tenth of your income to the church. It's talked about throughout the Bible - here are just a few examples:
The pattern is fairly clear here. God wants us to give away at least a tenth of our income. That applies to all of us: rich or poor, young or old, wealthy businessman or poor student. The tithe doesn't set a limit on how much you can give - many people gave more, in some cases all they had. It acts as a guideline for what is good for us to give. But why?
WHY SHOULD I GIVE?
Well firstly, because God tells us to. Constantly. If you're going to follow the more palatable teachings about loving people, being humble, going to Church and practising kindness, you need to follow the less fun commandments too. Either all of the things Jesus said are true, or none of them are. As you're reading this blog, I'm going to hazard a guess that you're at least entertaining the idea that they're true, so I suggest that you accept the lessons about money alongside the ones about being nicer to people.
But God doesn't leave us with a "because I said so". He's better than that. He knows what life on Earth is like and He understands that it can be uncertain and frightening. He also knows the human heart (He made it after all) and He knows that we have a rational streak where self preservation is concerned. The Bible doesn't just tell us that we have to give; it also tells us why it's important.
Giving is important for 2 very good reasons:
"Not how much of my money will I give to God, but how much of God’s money will I keep for myself?" - John Wesley
I DON'T HAVE MUCH MONEY. WHAT CAN I GIVE?
If you're a student like 95% of the ones I've encountered, money is tight and income is dependent on loans from the government and/or parents. Giving any of that money away may seem foolish and the amount that can be given seems tiny compared to what wealthy members of the Church can give. So what can you give?
The story of the widow's offering illustrates the answer to this one:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
God uses what we have. If all you can afford to give is a £5 note, He will use it. I daresay that if He willed it, God could start a FTSE 100 company with that £5 note. Don't be ashamed of a small offering - if it's what you can afford to give, it's enough. It's also enormously helpful to get into the habit of giving generously while you're on a small income - if/when you end up on a larger one, it's much harder to give generously if the habit isn't there already. Try giving £5 a month. Then make it £10. If it feels costly to give money away, think how much it would cost to keep it and have it get a hold of your heart.
Money isn't the only thing you can give. If you have no income, give your time. Give your skills. Find whatever it is that God has blessed you with and be generous with it. Be honest with yourself and with God - find what you are reluctant to share, and share it.
WHERE DOES THE MONEY GO?
Churches often have an unfair reputation where money is concerned, as most are transparent and wise in their stewardship of money. If you want to know how your giving is being spent, ask the Church leaders. Most will happily tell you, or point you towards where you can find that information. Not being willing to share information about expenditure is not a good sign - we are allowed to hold our leaders accountable in their stewardship of resources. As a rough guide, at the Belfrey, some of the main areas of expenditure are mission projects in the North of England, upkeep of the Church and donations to charitable projects all over the world.
We've been looking at Worship in our sermons over the last few weeks, and I'd like to conclude by saying that giving is an act of Worship equal to singing hymns or serving the poor. If you're promising to give your all to Jesus, make sure that you include your heart, soul AND bank balance.
For more information about giving at the Belfrey, please follow this link.