Talk Four: Hostile Minds
This is the transcript:
Talk Four: Hostile Minds
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way ... '
This passage is taken, of course, from Charles Dickens' famous book: A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens had in mind the cities of London and Paris in the late eighteenth century. The New Testament also describes two cities and we are all citizens of one or the other of them. One is the city of man in all his pride and arrogance, rebellion against God, and self-centredness; the other is the City of God, the home of all true believers.
For Christians, Dickens’ description, I think, applies very much to our own time also. As society becomes increasingly secular and post-modern in its thinking, I believe that we are in a position now to see more clearly than we have at probably any time in my own ministry what God wants of us and what we should be doing as Christians in the world.
Not only that, but when I think about the opportunities and resources Christians have today for living out and sharing our faith, I am overwhelmed by the 'abundance of riches' that has been offered to us. For example, in the run-up to Christmas, my Church ran a campaign to encourage people to buy a Bible and read it. I was struck by how the Bible and resources for understanding it are available now in a way that is almost embarrassing. God has placed a great challenge before us, but he has provided for the task. Direction, opportunity, and resources: it is, in that sense, the BEST of times.
In the society in which we live, however, there is increasing cause for Christians to be concerned. Firstly, the developed world of which Hong Kong is a part, is getting increasingly hostile and antagonistic towards Christians and Biblical values. This is the inevitable outcome of the collapse of Christendom in the West. Even at the beginning of my ministry people still spoke of how the UK was a 'Christian' country; in America many harboured the idea that America was 'one nation under God'. And here in Hong Kong, while we don't claim to ever have been a Christian city, the Church has been involved in the affairs of the City. But this is all changing as society becomes more secular and diverse and embraces values and attitudes to which the Church historically has been opposed.
Secondly, Christianity at the moment is itself is facing something of an existential crisis. There are many in the Church who sincerely want to follow the social and moral trends in wider society and, to a greater or lesser degree, wish to change Christianity in the process. For those who think in this way, everything is up for grabs: from the doctrine of God to our understanding of ourselves and our identity as individuals. At the moment, those who believe we should hold fast to the orthodox faith as expressed in the Bible and Creeds of the Church, on the one hand, and those who believe that our faith needs reinterpreting as a faith for today, on the other, are co-existing in a somewhat uneasy peace. This is unlikely to last. Opposition, division, and confusion: it is, in this sense, the WORST of times.
And yet curiously, in all this, rather than feeling either optimism or pessimism, I surprise myself by feeling something else: a sense of challenge and call.
It is going to get harder and harder, especially for orthodox Christians, to live out their faith lovingly and faithfully in a society which is hostile to Christian values and beliefs.
This is the challenge.
But in the midst of this challenge, I sense that God is calling us in the way he has called Christians at similar times in the past. Calling us to be 'faithful unto death’ certainly, but calling us to rediscover who we are and what it means to be his Church living in the world. As Christians we are to live in and look forward to God's time.
This is the call.
Whether these are the best or the worst of times, or both at the same time, Christians can be sure that the best time is yet to come.