Do We Need a New Ideology?
What should be the church's ideology? Was the Jesus Army meant to be some sort of spiritual/social/political movement? Why did we write letters to the prime minister saying 'we are praying for a revival in this nation that will change our society?' We believed that we were here to create a Christian country. We seemed to think that our way of life, living simply and sharing each other's houses, would catch on and become very popular. Such a lifestyle would be hugely influential. We needed to challenge the capitalist system. Someone said on the Jesus Fellowship blog, 'Why are you so certain that it is God that has dismantled the Jesus Army? Consider what has happened since the Church gave up that vision - our society has become even more unequal and the poor are being damaged - I see this every week, as I now run a support group for the families of prisoners. Is this the result of politics or the spiritual war? These men and women need the Church to be an army to fight for them - and this used to be our mission - do we need a new one or do we need to be the army now?' Do we really believe that we are so influential that our society can not manage without us? In the 5 years since we stopped having national evangelism campaigns, have things really got any worse and, even if they have, has it got anything to do with lack of evangelism on our part? It is much too difficult for the church to 'change the system' as political groups would call it. It is especially difficult for such a tiny group of a few hundred Christians to really have any effect on a nation of tens of millions of people. The kingdom of Jesus is not of this world. The church was called to show kindness and support to the poor, in spite of the harm that the system does to them, but does not necessarily have the power to change things. Where there are political movements that Christians can involve themselves in, they are perfectly welcome to join them. The Christian politician Wilberforce abolished slavery and passed various other legislation to help the employment rights of children. What we sometimes forget is that it ruined his career, ruined his health and that the process took many years. It is not easy to do this sort of thing. I believe that politics is a calling that some Christians have, in the same way that being a teacher or a doctor is a calling. If you can help people in this way, then do. But the church itself was never a political movement. There are many people in the church on either side of different political parties, capitalists and socialists, brexiteers and remainers. I have been deeply involved in politics and have been a member of the Labour Party. But I don't see such people as creating a Christian country or a Christian world. Politics is a job like any other. The debate should be about what would be the best way to help people, whether in or out of the EU, whether capitalism works better than socialism or whether the minimum wage is an effective way of relieving poverty. No political system is especially Christian and this is a debate that involves not only the church but thousands of members of political parties and millions of ordinary people who have the right to vote.
One young person told me he had left the church because he no longer accepted 'the ideology of this church.' There is no second generation of people working in church businesses or living in Christian community because they simply don't believe in this ideology. It isn't really possible for there to be a big church army that fights for people who are unemployed or socially disadvantaged. Jesus didn't come to be a trade union leader. Our young people don't believe in us because we gave them a vision for the church that was totally unrealistic. It is not possible for the church to 'tie up the strong man and plunder his goods.' What goes on in the rest of the world is none of our business. The economy will deliver its own verdict on the political system of the 21st century. So will the voters. They can vote the government out if they want to. What is the point of standing on a hill top in Leeds casting out the spirit of mammon from the city? Did we really think we could? 13 years later, Leeds is still the industrial centre of the north with new office blocks being built in the city centre all the time. Does God collapse world economic systems at our command? Our ideology is a fantasy.
In the 1990s we believed we could plant churches across the whole of the UK. Pastors across the country were asked to sign a letter agreeing that 1995 would be a year of great spiritual hunger. In Fire In Our Hearts, Rufus said, 'The people out there are desperate for Jesus, they've tried everything, they think it's all rubbish.' It is simply untrue that the people out there have tried everything and think it's all rubbish. They don't. Neither is it true, as many Christians seem to believe, that people have a big God shaped hole in their heart and are miserable and unhappy until they find Jesus to fill it. This would make evangelism much easier but it wouldn't be a very free world. In calling the church the Jesus Army we seem to have confused the New Testament army of God with the Old Testament concept of Israel's army. We obviously weren't a terrorist organisation but we did believe that we could take the country by force. Fire In Our Hearts is the story of a church that tried to change the world and failed. Our vision for society was unrealistic. The real mission of the church is to hold out the word of life to those who want it. We simply have to be there for people to come to us. Street evangelism campaigns and Jesus Centres were both places where Christians could simply be there for other people.
If we want to reach out to the poor, we particularly need to be the kind of community that they can fit into. We have created a complicated church with too many buildings, too many businesses and too many household Common Purse bank accounts. We have created a church which is like having a second job where a driving licence would be useful but not essential and a university degree or a good college education would also be very helpful. How else can anyone manage the complicated systems that we have created? It is often the poorest members of our society who are searching for something. Don't be surprised if the better off aren't particularly interested. Jesus had the same problem. Perhaps the better off working class were more interested in this kind of church 30 years ago than they are now. That could be the main reason for our decline. Our church needs to be run by the intelligent and the successful. Most of the new people coming into our church are people with drug/alcohol/mental problems or people who are on benefits. Ten years ago in Leeds, Paul Parsons had a picture of the church being a ladder and many people were reaching up to this ladder but it was too high for them to reach. I believe the people unable to reach the ladder are people without driving licences and college educations, who are incapable of being effective 'soldiers in the Jesus Army.' They are unable to drive its cars, repair its computers or balance the books of its Common Purse. Nevertheless, they represent the majority of people in this country who are looking for God. Creating a community where these people can belong will mean the destruction of most of these systems.