There’s an inevitable tension in Christianity between the personal and the public. It takes many forms. I cannot be converted except in my own person. I have to come to Christ as He allows; I cannot storm the Kingdom by force. Once I have found Christ though, I am still within whatever society I was when I found him. However new I am, the world is old.
The world I am in might be one where it is actually dangerous to be an avowed Christian, and like the early Christians, my community will be small, close-knit and low profile. That wasn’t where Christ found me. I was in a country where there were lots of professed Christians. There was even a whole State Church whose leaders were in a branch of the legislature. I wasn’t part of that. My ancestors had had the most antagonistic of relationships with that. Indeed, my distant ones had been Catholics who had initially resisted Henry VIII’s commissioners, but given in. Being a cussed lot, they’d managed to be more Protestant than most Protestants within a couple of generations, and by the 1680s weren’t conforming with what the State wanted.
I want to stay away from State churches. Indeed I am not overfond of large institutional churches. I see why they came into existence, but I distrust them. They cannot keep my conscience; they cannot govern my relationship with God; and whilst I can recognise the advantages of a good liturgy, I’m happy without.
But the State will see me through the prism of the big churches, as will the atheists who hate Christianity. Indeed, and it was a wonderfully funny moment, atheists trolls on blogs like that in the Telegraph have real problems with the concept of independence. There was even one idiot who tried to tell me there were only 13 Independent Baptist chapels in the UK; bless him, what a fool. Independency is bred in the bone for Baptists.
I know some see this as a terrible thing. We’ve all these denominations. Well we do, and for some of us, it seems no different from the reality under the cover of the ‘Catholic’ or the ‘Anglican’ churches. There are Catholics who believe in abortion, contraception and think Christ a good man; other Catholics say they are bad Catholics (I’d agree) but they say the world has moved on (aka ‘the world has gone barmy’). It is so within Anglicanism. So, is it better to have this diversity covered by a label, or to have the diversity written plain? What you’ll not get in the modern world is uniformity.
I love the language of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and I intend (children obliging with my wishes, permitting) to be buried to its funeral service, and I think that if I’d been born twenty years before I was, I might even have become an Anglican – but then I’d have become one of those who dislike all those changes in the 1970s. So I’m happier being what I am – a Christian who respects others and hates none.