Authentic Christianity means living the cross


Not a good night last night as I enter day four of my battle with Yellow Fever.

It started on Tuesday and such was the discomfort that I took the extreme step of not going for my run.  Similarly yesterday.

My family think I am simply attention-seeking.  “Do you need to tell everyone you have Yellow Fever?”

They may have a point there but you have to admit that here in Aughton you don’t often hear the phrase: “I’m sorry but I have Yellow Fever.”

It’s just a variant, they tell me, of ‘man flu’.  They can say that, but clearly they have never had ‘man flu’ themselves.  You suffer without complaining (much).

At first I thought I had escaped the side effects of my Yellow Fever inoculation last Wednesday.  Good ParkRun on Saturday.  But then on day five, Wham.  Terrible muscle cramps.  Not exactly full-on Yellow Fever but bad enough.

All part and parcel of our preparations of going to Argentina to visit Andrew and Maria Leake next month.

You will know the theory of inoculation.  You give the body a much-weakened variant of the virus to practice on and so when it meets the real thing it knows what to do.

Except in my case my body even had problems even taking on the puny virus.

I once remember my doctor friend Alan (“Good morning, Alan”) telling me that so many of our contemporaries, especially those who went to public school, have been inoculated against Christianity.

Basically, so many people think they’ve heard the gospel and rejected it, when in reality what they rejected was not the gospel at all but a much-weakened variant of the real thing. They have experienced religious ritual without the reality of Christ, encountered consumerist Christianity without the cross.

The theologian John Piper writes: “In a society like ours, most people only know of either a very mild, nominal Christianity or a separatist, legalistic Christianity. Neither of these is, may we say, “the real thing.”
“But exposure to them creates spiritual antibodies, as it were, making the listener extremely resistant to the gospel. These antibodies are now everywhere in our society.”

Again Guardian columnist and London vicar Giles Fraser (his Area Dean is my son-in-law) sees these antibodies in the very heart of Anglicanism.  He writes:

“Safe though he was, the nice country vicar in effect inoculated vast swaths of the English against Christianity. A religion of hospital visiting and flower arranging, with a side offering of heritage conservation, replaced the risk-all faith of a man who asked his adherents to take up their cross and follow him.”

As ever it is the cross which cuts through our religious rigmaroles.  Our crucified Saviour challenges us to radical discipleship. “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”  (Matthew 10:37f)

This is not something we do, so to speak on the side:  it has to be at the very centre of our lives.

Over the last few days Jacqui and I have been watching Selma on BBC iPlayer.  If you can, make time to watch it during the next 23 days.

This remarkable film chronicles how Martin Luther King sought to secure voting rights for African-Americans by the aggressive use of non-violence against the white establishment in Alabama.   And all this in recent memory, just 1965.

What struck me was the clash between two forms of Christianity – the mutated form as adopted by the white supremacists and the real thing as demonstrated by those truly brave Christians, white as well as black, who were prepared to risk being beaten, even shot, by the racist cops and state troopers.

Here authentic Christianity took on the power of evil, risking injury and insult, even death, for the sake of justice.  And it triumphed.

King himself, was later murdered, such was the hatred he aroused.  Authentic Christianity isn’t always nice.

For as John Stott teaches:  “If we claim to be Christian, we must be like Christ.”  And that, of course, means the cross.