Christians are now being excluded from the public square. But we have brought it on ourselves

This article originally appeared on Premier Christianity

I had originally entitled it ‘The End of Liberal Britain?’ but I prefer the Premier title!

 

David Robertson argues that Tim Farron’s resignation proves the Church needs to take a firmer stance on biblical truth

 

The prophecy was quickly fulfilled! On the 26th of April I blogged here on Premier Christianity that Tim Farron’s apparent U-turn on gay sex would not prevent continual attacks on him and his faith and that it would not help the Lib Dems because it would make them look illiberal. It didn’t take long.

There will be much written about Farron’s extraordinary resignation, but I would like to stress the major lessons we can learn from this, because it’s a message that I have been trying to proclaim to a largely deaf Church for the past 30 years.

Farron’s statement, the treatment of Russell Vought by Bernie Sanders this week and the mockery and abuse of the DUP are all evidence of a disturbing trend within contemporary society – the deliberate attempt to exclude biblical Christians (and anyone else who disagrees with the current liberal zeitgeist) from the public square.

Its Been a Long Time Coming

Many years ago I experienced this coming. In 1982 I was pursuing a political career, as a Social Democrat (eventually to be merged with the Liberals to form the Lib-Dems) and was the favourite to be elected as the Senior President of Edinburgh University Students Association, when I was suddenly faced with the religious litmus test that now seems to be required for politicians in the UK and as we shall see increasingly in the US. There was the mocking comment from the editor of The Student newspaper – “when did God ask David Robertson to stand?” followed by the hatchet job in the editorial guide to the Student election, accusing me of being a homophobe. Election over.

I saw then what is happening today. Christians are being systematically excluded from the public political sphere by a kind of secular inquisition, using shibboleth issues like same sex marriage, aided and abetted by an ignorant and prejudiced media.

Bernies Theology Test

Take another example from across the pond. Bernie Sanders’ extraordinary interviewing/interrogating of Russell Vought.

downloadSanders questioned Vought’s evangelical theology – “You think your statement that you put into that publication, ‘they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned’ – do you think that’s respectful of other religions?” What Sanders was doing was applying a religious test to a candidate for political office – despite the fact it is actually illegal to do so within the USA.

Britain Ushers in the Bigots

The DUP are currently in negotiations with the Conservative party about forming a government in the UK. And the Twitterati and much of the secular media have gone berserk. Not about the fact that the DUP want to preserve the triple lock on

download-1

pensions, or keep the Northern Irish border open. No, what really upsets them is that the DUP doesn’tsupport same sex marriage or abortion. This is apparently enough to send the media and political elites into a hysterical fit whereby they equate being against same sex marriage as only one step away from ISIS and the Taliban! Cue headlines such as the HuffPost’s ‘Britain Ushers in the Bigots’!

Not so liberal after all

Farron’s resignation statement is so important because he names the elephant in the room. He did not just go quietly into the night. He said that he was resigning because he could not reconcile his Christian faith with the demands that were being made of him as a political leader. It is vital to remember who is saying this. It is a politician who (in my view wrongly) has said that he is in favour of same sex marriage and believes in a woman’s right to choose. But even when he said those things he continued to be hounded, because the illiberal thought police didn’t really believe him. The policies he supported wasn’t enough. They want to know what he thought.

The irony is the Liberal party are being illiberal. The old Liberal party (like the Labour party) used to be proud of its Christian foundations – now it can’t get rid of them fast enough. Conscience, free speech and human rights (except as defined by the ‘social progressives’) have been pushed aside and replaced with a fundamentalist secular ‘religion’ that will brook no opposition and permit no dissension. I know many politicians, and I know of Christians in all parties who have been forced from office, or prevented from being in office, because of their faith. This is not accidental.

 Kicking a Man When he’s Down

 As soon as Farron announced his resignation the mockers and naysayers got to work. John Rentoul writing in the Independent could hardly contain his joy that another Christian had bitten the dust “The rest of the UK is, fortunately, putting such intolerance behind it.” The cruelty and mockery was evident. First they hounded him, and then when he gives them what they want, they accuse him of crying wolf and being a wimp! One completely gave the game away when they stated “he should just have kept quiet and kept his faith to himself”. There is to be no room for Christianity in British public life.

What if we’ve brought this upon ourselves?

 In my first article I stated that Tim Farron had let the Church down. But maybe it is the other way round? We have let him down. The primary reason that all of this is happening is because of the Church.  There is a sense in which we have brought this on ourselves.

The Deaf and Blind Church

Firstly we have refused to open our eyes and ears, and heed the warning signs. Operating in supposedly Christian Britain we just assumed that we would be able to quietly carry on as before – even if society was becoming increasingly secular. We didn’t see or accept that secular atheism is not neutral and would, once in power, do whatever it could to exclude any of its opponents.

The Secularised Church

Secondly we have been plagued by the secularization of the Church, whereby the same process that has been poisoning our society has also infected the Church. Much of the Church is no longer ‘the pillar and foundation of the truth’, nor the body of Jesus Christ following his teachings, but the spiritual prostitute craving after the idols and thought patterns of this world.

Steve Chalke tweeted “It’s extraordinary that religious belief is still used as an ‘right’ download-2when it comes to discrimination against #LGBT people. Time for change!” Arguing that those who are opposed to same sex marriage because they follow the teaching of Christ that marriage is between a man and a woman; are guilty of discrimination is both illogical and a cheap jibe. What is really being said is that if we don’t accept the standards of this world we are guilty.

There is a familiar pattern that is repeated here. First we are told we must permit something in the name of inclusion because it is the loving thing to do. Then we are told that if we not accept that same thing we are to be excluded!

The Irrelevant Church

And there are Christians who just don’t see the seriousness of the problem. We seem more concerned about church order than faithfulness to the scriptures. Last week the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to change the Anglican canon law on marriage in order to allow same sex marriage. Several churches refused to go along with this and stated their intention to place themselves under a GAFCON missionary bishop. Archbishop Welby was reported to be angry at this and let his displeasure be known. But where was the displeasure and anger at the Church going against explicit Anglican, and more importantly, biblical teaching?  An Important Vote – The SEC on SSM

Distorting the gospel

There are those in the Church who overreact the other way. For them everything becomes about issues of sexuality and faithfulness to the scriptures on that one issue. The result is often distortion, ugliness and perversion of the Gospel – all done with the intention of preventing that very perversion.

What we need are churches and Christians who while not being afraid to stand for biblical truth on every issue, and especially those issues where the culture is attacking and deconstructing; are also churches that are not sidetracked by cultural issues but instead remain focused and centred on Christ and his good news.

We need Christians who will be faithful – even to the point of committing political suicide

Tim Farron has done us all a big favour.

His warm, clear and impassioned plea for religious tolerance is what needs to be said – and acted upon. His example of giving up his role as leader of the party when faced with

Liberal Democrat conference 2016
Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron speaks during a rally at the Party’s Autumn conference in Brighton, Sussex. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 17, 2016. See PA story POLITICS LibDems. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

the choice of his Christian faith or his political career is shining: “I joined our party when I was 16, it is in my blood, I love our history, our people, I thoroughly love my party.  Imagine how proud I am to lead this party.  And then imagine what would lead me to voluntarily relinquish that honour. In the words of Isaac Watts it would have to be something ‘so amazing, so divine, (it) demands my heart, my life, my all’.”

We need Christians who will get their hands dirty and get involved in politics (we really don’t need the opposite – politicians who get involved with and seek to use Christianity for political ends). We need Christians who will be faithful – even to the point of committing political suicide. The love of Christ demands our heart, our life, our all.  And we need a Church which, instead of turning itself inside out in order to fit the culture, seeks to turn the world upside down.

Footnote:   I got a phone call from the BBC asking me to appear on the Kaye Adams show to talk about Tim Farron and the intolerance shown to Christians in politics.  I don’t know if the programme went ahead but because I am in Australia and the BBC Skype was not working they decided not to go ahead.  But in the providence of God, guess what I am here to speak on at the Onward Conference in Sydney next weekend?

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Click this link


33 thoughts on “Christians are now being excluded from the public square. But we have brought it on ourselves

  1. Excellent post David – you always write so clearly and confidently on difficult topics. I wish I could express my thoughts on these things like you. Thanks so much for putting this out there!

    1. Due to a serious dislike of Farron I forgot to absolutely agree with your view on Christianity in the country, and for that matter all across Europe. There is only one faith politicians fall over themselves to accommodate and its most certainly not Christianity and most regrettably we can write and shout as much as we like but our views and comments will be ignored.

  2. Very interesting article. But surely the root of our problem is our failure to be disciplinedly biblical about who is and who is not a Christian, combined with failing to be clear that accepting the plain teaching of the inerrant bible is expected of true Christians.

  3. I agree with you David. I think Tim Farron has done us all a huge service and we should thank God for his witness in his statement – especially his final quotation of Isaac Watts. This could well be a turning point and a final wake-up call for Christians in the UK. We can no longer hide in our churches, keep making compromise after compromise, all in the vain hope that we can carry on regardless. If this trend continues, and we do nothing, it may only be a question of time before Christianity is effectively outlawed in the public square and will only be permitted within licensed church buildings under strict conditions as to what is preached and what activity takes place. I really don’t think that’s alarmist or an exaggeration of the situation in which we may find ourselves.

    I’m from a Liberal Party supporting family going back four generations, am a former Member of the Lib Dems and a past Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate. So, I feel for Tim because there can be little doubt that the modern Liberal Democrats are an uncomfortable place for Christians (which is why I am no longer a Member). The irony is that the people who were the bedrock of the old Liberal Party in many places up and down the Country were Christians (especially from non-conformist chapels). They believed and fought for liberty, freedom of conscience, toleration and equality before the Law. Those are classic British Liberal values.

    The clear lack of support for Tim Farron, and his right to hold to his Christian faith, within the Liberal Democrats is shameful. In the aftermath of the resignation statement, there seem to be few questions being asked about why a Christian feels he can no longer lead the Party. Instead it looks like a case of relief that it’s over, Tim Farron and his embarrassing faith has gone, and they can get on with the internal election of a new Leader.

    They may call themselves ‘Liberal Democrats’ but the circumstances of his resignation clearly show they are anything but Liberal. Tim says in his speech:”…the cause of British Liberalism has never been needed more…”. That is absolutely right. The problem is that we’re not going to see much British Liberalism from the Liberal Democrats. The Party claims that it wants: “…an open, tolerant and united Country…”. Unless, of course, you happen to be a Christian. The hypocrisy is stunning but, to be honest, not surprising.

    However, having said all that, you are absolutely right to ask if Christians have brought this on themselves – by distorting the Gospel and creating irrelevant churches. We need to stand on God’s word first and last and stand for biblical truth on every issue. As with Tim Farron’s brave and principled resignation statement, the time for false compromises is over.

    1. “If this trend continues, and we do nothing, it may only be a question of time before Christianity is effectively outlawed in the public square and will only be permitted within licensed church buildings under strict conditions as to what is preached and what activity takes place.”

      Whilst I agree with the need for the church militant to stand up and be counted, proclaiming Christ and professing the truth of the Gospel, and of the manner of the life that God expects of us, surely the question of whether or not we find ourselves barred, banned, censored and persecuted lies within the remit of whatever the sovereign will of God is? Even if we all get out there, spreading the Gospel with the utmost vigour, that still may happen according to his plan and providence. Let us not act in expectation of any particular outcome, but simply out of obedience to the one who loves us, that we might love him, Jesus Christ.

  4. Well articulated. And well done Tim Farron.

    How many ordinary Christians will find themselves at odds with their employer. Christian teachers in Scotland may find themselves in opposition to the law and their employers if when the bottom of the slippery slope has been reached. It is rapidly looming int view with this news:

    “Scotland’s largest teaching union has voted for children across the country to be taught about same-sex families and LGBT history.

    At its annual general meeting in Perth, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) resolved to “affiliate to the Time for Inclusive Education (TIE) campaign”.”

    The demands of the TIE campaign include compulsory teaching on:

    – Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia;
    – Same-sex relationships;
    – The Equal Rights Movement, Stonewall and the Gay Liberation Movement;
    – Sexualities and sexual orientation;
    – Transsexualism and gender identity
    – Pro-LGBT sexual health education.”

    This is from the Christian Institute site: http://www.christian.org.uk/news/compulsory-lgbt-teaching-backed-major-scots-union/

    1. I give thanks that I am a pastor of a Protestant Reformed congregation – and people know it, and I am ‘expected’ to have what the world thinks to be outrageous views. I don’t think I’d have survived in my previous field, mental health work, with the pressure that the world places on Christians. Take courage, those of you in ‘secular’ employment, and be encouraged by my admiration for your perseverance in your faith.

  5. Another excellent article David, clearly and eloquently expounded. Each time I read your blogs (after a periood of feeling ‘what’s the use?”, I feel re-energised in the Spirit to continue to speak out and, as you say, “not be afraid to stand for biblical truth on every issue, and especially those issues where the culture is attacking and deconstructing”. I’ve already written a couple of years ago to Steve Chalke on the subject he tweeted. No reply or willingness to discuss the issue! Nor too from the Liberal and Labour Councillors in the Isle of Wight recently, who hounded out the Conservative MP, Andrew Turner, for his Christian views on homosexuality. I did receive one reply from a liberal councillor, who simply called me a bigot and a homophobe, without accepting my invitation to debate the issue so that he would be furnished with all points of view when he stood for parliament in the recent election.
    Keep the Blogs coming David. I enjoy reading them so much.

  6. This is another from the Christian Institute site, making referrence to an opinion pole they commissioned in wake of Farron’s resignation:
    The British public backs the right of politicians to say that “gay sex is a sin”, a new survey has found.

    An opinion poll by ComRes for The Christian Institute found that a clear majority of people support the right of politicians with traditional views to express them.

    Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has been bullied on his views concerning homosexuality in recent days. On Tuesday, he told the BBC that homosexual practice is not sinful.

    Overwhelming agreement
    Responding to the statement, “If a politician believes that gay sex is a sin they should be free to express it”, two thirds of Brits (64 per cent) agreed, while just one third (32 per cent) disagreed.

    The poll found little variation across age groups with 62 per cent of 18-24 year olds, 67 per cent of 45-54 year olds, and 69 per cent of pensioners in agreement.

    There was some variation between the sexes however, with a full seven in 10 men (73 per cent) and 55 per cent of women agreeing with the statement.

    ‘Intolerance’
    Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute commented: “The intolerance shown towards a politician, just because he was thought to believe that gay sex is wrong, is deeply troubling.

    “The poll shows Mr Farron needn’t have worried. Most voters think politicians should be free to speak on such matters.

    Politicians should not be silenced or hounded out of office just for holding these views.
    Colin Hart
    “Historic Christian belief holds that gay sex, adultery and sex before heterosexual marriage (fornication) are wrong. This belief is also shared by virtually all the other world faiths including Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam.

    Deep concern
    “Politicians should not be silenced or hounded out of office just for holding these views, otherwise we diminish our democracy and risk marginalising millions of ordinary people.

    “We are deeply concerned at the way those with beliefs out of kilter with dominant secular thought are being targeted and forced out from the public square.”

    Mr Hart concluded that the poll sends out a clear message that those trying to shout Christians down and “accuse them of bigotry and homophobia do not represent the majority”.

    Questioning
    The Christian Institute commissioned the poll in the wake of the media uproar over Mr Farron’s comments during an appearance on Channel 4 News, where he was repeatedly asked whether he thought homosexuality was a sin. On Sunday, the Lib Dem leader was quizzed on whether or not homosexual practice is sinful by Robert Peston.

    Tim Farron has been bullied – there is no other word for it.
    Ann Widdecombe
    Asked again on Tuesday by Eleanor Garnier on Radio 4’s PM programme whether he thought that gay sex was a sin, the Lib Dem leader admitted that in previous interviews he had been evasive but said that he now wanted to make clear that gay sex wasn’t a sin.

    His earlier evasion had drawn criticism from a number of celebrities who branded him a “bigot” and an “absolute disgrace”.

    ‘Bloodsport for secularists’
    In an article for the Daily Express yesterday, Ann Widdecombe said the attack on Farron is a “pretty good example of tyranny dressed up as tolerance and is an affront to democracy.

    “Tim Farron has been bullied – there is no other word for it.”

    And writing for The Spectator on Tuesday, Stephen Daisley said: “This is not journalism, it’s bloodsport for secularists. He added that Farron is “not being asked to clarify his political principles so much as repudiate his faith.

    “It is an ugly business and one that will be causing Farron acute anguish, something which his pursuers must know. The sight of talented broadcasters reduced to tormenting a politician for his religious affiliation makes for unpleasant viewing.”

  7. Thanks David. No doubt you’ve seen Peter Ormerod’s ‘Guardian’ article arguing that Farron is wrong, and you CAN be a Christian in politics – provided it’s the sort of Christianity that the Guardian approves of?

  8. Dominic said, “the root of our problem is our failure to be disciplinedly biblical about who is and who is not a Christian.” I tend to agree with that statement but who are the ‘we’ being referred to in the ‘our’? The fact of the matter is that anybody nowadays can call themselves Christian and, as a consequence, pronounce their own views as being Christian. Furthermore, they can set up their own ‘church’ and call it Christian. They can even say that this ‘church’ is part of the catholic Church referred to in the Creeds. So who, exactly, is it that determines whether they are, in fact, Christian? If one group of self-proclaimed Christians announces its decision that another group of self-proclaimed Christians are not really Christians at all, who is going to pay any attention? Why should anyone pay any attention? If one group of self-proclaimed Christians draws up a list of doctrines which have to be believed by anybody calling themselves Christian, then any other group of self-proclaimed Christiane can simply reply that the statement is a subordinate statement and is not binding on anybody.
    Incidentally, I think that it is less important determining who is or is not a Christian than determining the nature of Christianity.

    1. The nature of Christianity determines who is and is not a Christian. And that nature is laid out for us, plainly written, in the Bible. There is nowhere else we can go to know about God, Jesus Christ, salvation and damnation. Which fact immediately helps us determine a great deal about who is or is not in Christ’s church (a Christian).

  9. Why are ‘so called’ Christians so besotted by imposing God’s morality on the world?
    The world’s self-focused, mortal spirit is, and always has been diametric to Christ’s God-focused eternal Spirit. (Galatians 5/17)
    True Christians are not led to change the world, they are asked to go into the world and preach the gospel (Christ crucified as Paul put it) – and, by doing so, ‘a few’ will be given spiritual light to truly believe and be saved. Matthew 7/13-14
    Jesus warned us that as the world hates Him so it will hate His true disciples (John 17/14-17)
    True Christians will not be encouraged to ‘court’ the world in a vain attempt to persuade it to accept Christian precepts , because true Christians will know that all that can be attained through such a carnal process is the ‘Christianisation’ of a receptive mind – which is not a true spiritual conversion.
    Individual, group, community and cultural/national Christianisation is the essence of all traditional denominations. It started with Roman Catholicism, survived the reformation through Calvinism and Arminianism but, because of the new, competing and ascending social/cultural values of this and the last century – it is now a dead man walking – or cycling…….through the cemetery of its own denomination to land on the grave of its own mortal destiny.
    But, the true Church – that which Christ established – it is eternal and will go on forever………….

    1. Jack – what a depressing post – out of step with biblical, historic, Reformation Christianity. You seem to think that God does not care if his law is upheld in the world and that we should not care either. You seem to have no compassion for the poor and for all those who suffer in a world where the Makers instructions are not paid. Your ‘true Christianity’ is a very private, self-obsessed one. It is about as carnal as you can get! Desperate…

      1. David, you’re not alone in feeling saddened by that post. We can’t live our faith in a bubble, it must transform not only us, but also our relationship with the world, and we live in that transformed way in the hope that the Spirit uses us to transform the world in some way too.

      2. I definitely don’t want to associate myself with everything Jack Thomson, but there is a kernel of wisdom there.

        Instead of bringing the lost around us the transforming power of the Gospel, all we seem to be able to offer society is Law, when the Law is only able to bring sin and death! Trying to get pagans to live as Christians is a complete waste of Church time and resources, and indeed, a complete spiritual dead end where only frustration and misery away.

        Law isn’t going to do the lost any good. If Law is all we have to offer, then we are most of all men to be pitied.

      3. You are setting up a false dichotomy…and its just unbiblical to say that ‘law isn’t going to do the lost any good’. Paul would disagree – the Law leads us to Christ. And who is saying that ‘Law is all we have to offer”.

      4. David’s critique of your comments is good. However, you do have a point – we cannot simply expect the godless to live as do the godly. What is more, as the 39 Articles make clear, such a life would do no good whatsoever, and even ‘have the nature of sin’ outside a life given over to Christ.

      5. On the contrary, I’d say my dichotomy, while not absolute, is very biblical. “Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

        If we are to be excluded and ridiculed, then let it be because of the Cross of Christ.

        I’m aware that in our tradition it has certainly been almost an article of faith that preaching the gospel must be preceded by a preaching of the law. I would humbly submit that this is not the biblical pattern, especially when preaching Christ to pagan gentiles rather than Jews or God-fearers. Donald MacLeod has some words about this in this book review: https://donaldmacleod.org.uk/dm/conversion-must-there-be-a-preparatory-law-work/

        My point was precisely that we do have more than Law to offer. Something much better and sweeter, Jesus Christ and his Cross. Sadly, one could be forgiven for thinking we didn’t, since this hardly ever is mentioned on public pronouncements by Christian leaders of all stripes. Instead, we get Law, Law, and more Law. Is it any wonder that the average non-Christian thinks Christianity is a constricting religion of rules, if that’s all that the Church seems to be able to raise in public discussion?

      6. You are creating a false dichotomy….do you think that caring for the poor is Law? Protecting children is Law? Of course the Gospel is good news – but it is good news for a purpose and a reason – justice, fulfilling Gods law, the restoration of the Universe, the coming of the Kingdom. If every time a Christian speaks out about public issues (which by definition are law) you shout out ‘Law not Gospel’ you are not being helpful and you are confusing issues.

  10. Thanks again for another excellent and insightful article. I wish I could go south and be present at your Aussie meetings. I hope they will be recorded!

  11. Thanks for an excellent post which speaks directly to what is literally going on in both of our countries. It saddens me that all this is happening, but I will nevertheless charge on into the fray as a pastor who refuses to be silenced. I will continue to preach the Gospel, call sin what it is, promote God’s design for humanity, and lift up the glorious, life-giving, life-changing name of Jesus. May we remain faithful to our calling as the ever-increasing darkness approaches; we must let our light shine.

  12. Yes, there was a time Roman Catholics were barred from being MPs because of their beliefs, it seems that time has nearly come for evangelical christians. The trouble is the poltiical class are being egged on by liberal christians whom they see as representative of the faith and evangelicals as no more than a small and extreme sect.

  13. Would you be OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for oubr community and I liked what you wrote. If “OK” please let me know via email.

    Autumn
    AutumnCote@WriterBeat.com

  14. While there has been some to-ing and fro-ing over Law and Gospel, is not the sting in the tail of the whole article, in the title, the exclusion of Christians from the public square…..”BUT we have brought it on ourselves.”.

    Who is being influenced?

    As David said, decline starts from within the Church.

    The church, by throwing out the gospel, and its transformative power by denying the triune God has been virally infect by society’s present culture.

    My concern is for supporting Christians in the workplace and how to live as Christians there. Where is the line to be drawn?

    I used to think that the way to change organisations and structures was from within them, but after working in the NHS in the UK , change is limited by so many professional and personal conflicts of interests and ambitions and the overarching political policies, I’m not so sure . Once you are in the organisation, you are inducted into the ethos and practices. Likewise, , the Church.

    This whole issue calls to mind an astute, wise, speech by CS Lewis, entitled the “Inner Ring”. It exposes the human heart that is deceitful above all things.

    Here is an excellent , short essay on it from : http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/the-inner-ring/
    The conclusion is appropriate:

    “The Inner Ring
    by Nicholas Batzig
    Standing before the student body of King’s College, University of London, in 1944, C.S. Lewis delivered one of his most profound speeches. Intent on calling his listeners to give serious consideration to the dangers of what he labeled “The Inner Ring,” Lewis explained that at every social level there are certain “inner rings” of fellowship. Upon discovering them, the individual’s desire to enter the ring may become the driving force of his or her life. In seeking admission, many forfeit the greater blessing of developing lifelong friendships outside the ring. Plus, the irony of the “inner ring” is that once in, you discover another, and another, and another. The quest seems hopeless. How are we to live in a world of “inner rings” without destroying ourselves or compromising our principles to get inside?

    Unraveling the mystery of the inner ring, Lewis first drew attention to the significance of the informal (and sometimes seemingly imperceptible) nature of it. He observed:

    There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names … . If you are a candidate for admission you probably don’t call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you if this present conversation goes well, would be madness.

    Lewis then went on to point out the irony and futility of the quest for admittance into the ring:

    You have met the phenomenon of an inner ring. You discovered one in your house at school before the end of the first term. And when you had climbed up to somewhere near it by the end of your second year, perhaps you discovered that within the ring there was a Ring yet more inner, which in its turn was the fringe of the great school Ring to which the house Rings were only satellites… . You were beginning, in fact, to pierce through the skins of an onion.

    There is no aspect of society untouched by the phenomenon of the inner ring. Whether you are a student, an artist, an athlete, an entrepreneur, a waitress, a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a musician, a pastor, or a teacher, you will find “inner rings” all around you.

    Despite the widespread prevalence of these rings, we must not conclude that they are in themselves evil. Lewis was careful to make this distinction. “I am not,” he told his hearers, “going to say that the existence of inner rings is an evil. It is certainly unavoidable. There must be confidential discussions: and it is not only a bad thing, it is (in itself) a good thing, that personal friendship should grow up between those who work together.” Special friendships are among the most blessed experiences we enjoy as image-bearers living in a world created by the personal God.

    As legitimate as any given “inner ring” may be, those who know the deceitfulness of their own hearts also perceive something of the danger involved in the quest for entrance. The drive for admittance into the “inner ring” often hurts relationships. It can consume an individual with envy, jealousy, a willingness to compromise, and — once inside — a deep-seated pride. When we see the devastating consequences in others, we should want to avoid the quest altogether.

    I am grateful for Lewis’ astute observations on the “inner ring,” but the apostle John gave us the biblical solution. At the beginning of his first epistle, John appealed to his privileged membership in the “inner ring” of the apostolic band. Rather than seeing his membership as a reason for pride, John used it to invite others into the ring of fellowship. He summed up his purpose at the outset of his epistle when he wrote, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

    There is an ultimate inner ring of fellowship into which all believers are brought through faith in Jesus Christ. No one is excluded. When we believe the Scriptures’ testimony about the person and work of Jesus, we enter into the ultimate inner ring — the ring of fellowship with the triune God and His people.”

    The cross of Christ, lays bare my pride, and brings me low, as He is lifted up in humility and submission to those He has created. I am no better than anyone else, not superior. He had to die in my place and I died with Him There was no other good enough. Neither am I inferior to anyone else, as Christ had to die in their place. We have so much in common, despite societal and cultural distinctions.

    But in being raised and in His ascension, I am lifted up and raised with Him, justified and accepted, again neither superior, nor inferior to anyone else who believes. Only in our identity in Christ, which does not yo-yo , nor is affected by elevation or reduction in life, can we live our lives without “fear or favour.”

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