The gospel and privacy
Hugh Baker asks if an Englishman’s home should be his castle.
Early on in its life, Hollywood realized the value of having stars. The most mediocre production would pull the punters in if the right names topped the bill. The search for glamour in humdrum hearts led to greater interest in the stars than the films they appeared in. As interest and information rose, so the lurid details of thespian lives made newsprint. Alarmed at a potential threat to profits, the studios piously asserted the right of their meal-tickets to a ‘private life’.
Decades later, and thousands of miles away, a single word hung over a political administration which, untypically for the country concerned, lasted 18 years: privatization. In its narrow sense, of course, the word referred to the selling-off of publicly owned industries to private concerns. Its power as a political ‘big idea’ derived from a deeper, longer established tide that has been running since Hollywood began; privatization of life itself.
I showed a visitor from Africa around our parish two years ago. After ambling round the old village and over the canal junction, we entered what is cynically known to some as ‘Paradise’. A huge conglomeration of ‘des res’ now covers what had once been three thistle-laden pastures. There are no shops, pubs, libraries, nor any device whereby one human may be helped make contact with another. Every home is detached (just). Residents commute to work across the Midlands and beyond.
After 20 minutes of viewing the suburban dream, Samu said to me, ‘Where are the people?’ At two o’clock in the afternoon no one was to be seen: they were either miles away working, gathering together in shopping cathedrals, or indoors watching the television. As likely as not, they would be viewing ‘Paper that Room; Dig that Garden’, or one of the other programmes designed to tell us how to create our own personal kingdom reflecting our individual ‘Lifestyle Choices’. The respectability of such choice-making rests, of course, on the assumption that what consenting adults do in private has no influence on anyone else and therefore is no one else’s legitimate concern. Thus the couple applying for their child’s baptism are liable to tell the vicar, when he suggests that getting married could be part of bringing a child up in the Christian faith, to mind his own business.
One bread, One Body
What a far cry this atavistic, individualized world is from that of the Church Fathers and the Scriptures! Here, the luxury of my own world, which affects no one else, is unknown. Augustine talks about the human race’s solidarity in Adam, and the Church’s solidarity in Christ. The Scriptures speak of nations, tribes and families as distinct entities, with a corporate life as real as any single persons. This is, I think, because they understood the nature of what is. In describing the world, Colossians 1.16 tells us ‘for by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him’. The world is not seen as just a set of mute, material building blocks. It is ‘in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible’, the unseen and the seen and, mediating between the two, the supernatural, observing, governing, influencing, infiltrating the world around us at different levels of power – White House, West Midlands, Fazeley town council – and areas of life – art, literature, music, advertising, films.
So, as I sit here penning these lines and watching the English middle order collapse, I am not alone. For all I know, I share a room with my guardian angel, and whatever may be the demon which most persistently tempts me. What happens in the privacy of this vicarage isn’t private at all. It is contributing to the spiritual strength and tenure of the Kingdom of God or the kingdom of this world. As such, it has consequences for everyone else and makes me answerable to everyone else.
Similarly, the scriptures will not countenance privatized Christianity. We are called to worship and serve God with others, because we are bound together by deep spiritual bonds. To give you an extreme example of corporate Christianity’s effectiveness: contact we have in this area with organized Satanism tells us that they are unable to practise effectively within two miles of any church where God is offered heartfelt worship, or God’s Word is effectively upheld. How they must love liberal Christianity or even dead orthodoxy!
Not everyone we wish to serve, of course, is a practising Satanist. Most of our ‘customers’ for the occasional offices visit us from, and subsequently return to, bastions of privacy. If we are to bring our nation back to worship Christ, we need to be concerned with more than individual conversion. We need to ask ourselves what is the nature of the Churches’ boundaries, and what is its corporate life within those boundaries. Participation in the Church’s life is not some bolt-on luxury for keenies. It is an essential part of our witness. Without it, people around us will feel comfortably hidden in sin, not being brought to asking for whom the bell tolls.
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