After the people of Israel had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, some of them wanted to go back, because in Egypt they had cucumbers. I remember as a child reading this with disbelief. Unlike our kids I did not like cucumbers so the thought that anyone would give up freedom for salad veg was utterly incomprehensible. I think I get it now.
I’ve been employed by a couple of local churches for the last 15 years to preach about freedom. It’s not just a professional thing. I believe it. I have experienced the freedom, forgiveness, belonging and purpose that come from being a follower of Jesus. Our church is unusual in UK terms in that it is growing, but it is not growing fast. We’re involved in lots of different aspects of the life of our community and have positive relationships with schools, families and community organisations. People know us and they know we are not the right wing, all-phobic killjoys Christians are widely painted as, but the message of freedom in following Jesus is still a hard sell.
Why is this?
Christians look the same as other people but they are going in a radically different direction. We’re swimming against the tide of materialism. Christians believe in generosity and are opposed to greed. It looks to us like the U.K. is borrowing money we can’t afford to buy stuff we don’t need to fuel an economy we know is unsustainable. We’re going against the flow of hedonism. Christians recognise the God given-ness of sex, drink and drugs but we observe the God-given boundaries to their use. It looks to us like Britain is busy enjoying the high that comes from the weed that wrecks supply-chain lives and leaves users spaced out from economic and relational reality. Perhaps most radically of all, Christians are setting aside their autonomy to make Jesus the ultimate authority in their lives. It looks to us like the West is so committed to educating kids in every trend of individual self-determination that the kids will be too busy wondering who they are and where they belong to work together to build a better world.
Looking from the outside Christianity may appear like slavery: the surrender of individual sovereignty to a higher authority; eschewal of much of the spectrum of available pleasures; rejection of reliance on over-accumulated wealth. Indeed St Paul described us as slaves to Christ. But looking from the inside of Christianity outwards, it looks like the average Westerner is the slave – to money, pleasure and power.
I-phones, sex lives and self-determination you say. I say cucumbers. I think this difference of perspective goes a long way towards explaining why Christianity is hard to propagate in the UK.