A rally of extremists?


In the sort of Christianity I grew up with, offending people was not a problem. The gospel is offensive, we’d say – it’s offensive to people’s pride to say that we all need rescuing, it’s offensive to a relativist cultural philosophy to say that Jesus is the only way to God, it’s offensive to a permissive society to say that some lifestyles we want to live are wrong in the eyes of a holy God.

We didn’t mind offending people because the gospel is at odds with the world – the world therefore should feel offended if our preaching was faithful. 

More recently, my understanding of what it means to preach the gospel in ‘the world’ has become a little less… antagonistic, I suppose. For God so loved the world, right? At least, the world as he made it and the people he put in it. There’s plenty that we’ve added to the world that the gospel challenges and that we’re meant to rage against – oppressive economic systems, violence and war, greed and inequality, an individualism that leads to loneliness and isolation, exclusion, poverty and corruption.

And wherever we as individuals play a part in those evils, the gospel challenges and changes us. But when it comes to the way we treat one another, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, no outside group that us holy types are meant to point the finger at and offend until they realise how wrong they are.

So when Christians start posting on social media their concerns about government legislation meant to tackle extremism and hate speech, and how dangerous it is for Christian freedom to preach the gospel, I’ll admit I rolled my eyes.

If the gospel you want to preach is so offensive that it risks falling the wrong side of the law in the UK, that should at least make you stop and think, no? I can’t get my head around how the Church has claimed as a badge of honour its exemption from equality legislation, designed to protect  people from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality, among other things. Can we just look at ourselves? We’re celebrating permission to discriminate?

Jesus words to the Pharisees come to mind: “You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

I couldn’t imagine how following the Jesus I find in the gospels could look anything like extremism.

This weekend, I gathered with around 2,500 others in a grimy venue in Elephant and Castle, to worship Jesus. The songs were familiar: some of them are played in churches up and down the country, and the band are regulars on the Christian festival scene. But perhaps it was the environment that made the words stand out to me in a new way – after all, my Sunday morning worship is not usually accompanied by a vodka and coke, and a sweaty crowd of strangers.

I heard some of the words we sang.

We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause.
We are defiant in Your name.

Set Your church on fire, win this nation back.
No surrender, no retreat.
We are Your church, we are the hope on earth.
You have overcome this world, this life.
With You, we are victorious.

I tried hearing them through the ears of the bar staff, the bouncers, the friend who’d tagged along without knowing exactly what they were coming to. I’m sure they had us down as fanatics, as crazed enthusiasts.

And if we were a group of 2,500 Muslims bellowing out the same words, they’d have had us down as dangerous.

But those words didn’t make me cringe and bristle, as I might have expected – my mustn’t offend instinct is not what kicked in. Instead, it awakened another instinct in me, one that I keep quieter sometimes as I argue for a more tolerant, inclusive and accepting Christianity. It’s the instinct to worship Jesus radically, with every fibre of my being running full pelt towards his purposes and his calling, with every breath in my lungs crying out his greatness, every moment of my life lived under his instruction and for his glory.

I don’t know if that will ever take me the wrong side of the law. I wouldn’t have thought so – but I don’t know it. And if it’s ever wrong to preach a radical Saviour who gave his life that we might live, then there’ll be a great worshipping community in prisons all over the country.

I’m absolutely sure that the gospel Jesus calls us to preach and live out is a message of love, welcome, friendship, community, justice, hope – not a message of exclusion or fear or prejudice.

But that the gospel really is good news, not an invitation to hypocrisy and judgmentalism, doesn’t mean I should be any less radical in putting it into practice. Heaven’s cause really is worth laying down my life for.

As I give my life to following Jesus and sharing his gospel in word and action, I never want to do it with anything less than wholehearted enthusiasm, fanatical commitment, and extreme love.



About Claire

@claireylegs Keen on Jesus. Keen on justice. Ministry assistant in the Great North East. Blogger. Find me in: coffee shop / church / pub / bed.
This entry was posted in Discipleship, Evangelicalism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A rally of extremists?

  1. LGBTLincs says:

    So encouraging and affirming the core tenets of Christianity : be radical, be inclusive, & love all unconditionally. There’s no room for discrimination.

  2. Anton Green says:

    Yes I understand the tension you articulate…actually I think at times I rebel against the norms of my evangelical church with its demand for continuous serious minded commitment and want to shout that for me Christianity should be about enthusiasm and not fanaticism, although sometimes the Pauline model seems pretty close to it. As for inclusion and sexuality…my own church has to be realistic and plan radically to survive…not enough younger folk with capacity or calling to fulfil the maintenance roles going forward (a crumbling spine)…one option would be to be subsumed by a much bigger church who would like a congregation in our neighbourhood….the thought of 40 or 50 keenos is alluring but they are complimentarian…that makes me sad because their kindov cult of leadership is male only. Thats a backward step to me on an issue I hold dear. Any change re sexuality seems a million miles away. Even I who did all the work re: research and organising a leaders debate on that issue have to concede that if you take a traditional evangelical approach to unpacking the key verses it is not as easy as with gender to really demonstrate that Paul was not basically condemning all rather than just predatory or exploitative forms of non hero sexuality. Therefore arguing from the position of justice or compassion will not win over the convinced conservatives who rather than being innately bigoted (only some are) are stuck with an approach and mindset based on a consistently reinforced scriptural status quo. I have a feeling that where people end up on the spectrum of church-personship is a lot to do ultimately with personality type and personal thinking style. The dear people in my set up are naturally pietistic….they feel assured of God’s grace and mercy and yet their response to the view they have formed of the holiness and purity of God still seems to engender something akin to fear…the need to placate by having more prayer meetings or longer, fuller personal devotions etc in hopes actually of seeing more tangible blessing (usually translated as church growth) In seeking reasons for why not much of this occurs there is sometimes talk of the church being affected by the culture of the age ..this seems to mean that not enough emphasis is given to the judgement aspect in our preaching and conversations with others, and it is pointed out regretfully younger family people don’t come to enough meetings beyond the main service….(I suggested that work demands and men not just leaving their partners with all the child care so as to come to meetings might be contributory!) Anyhow glad you got a bit carried away by the admittedly triumphalistic words…I tend to regard such clarion calls as broad brush aspirational…. and therefore Ok to generate response and engagement and challenge so long as part off a balanced repertoire. As to moslems well i am learning lots about Islam in Britain. So silly of Andrea williams to tween about Londonstan. I think that the largest groups in Uk are themselves very pietistic and recommend living separate lives from secular and Godless British society….but this is not the dame as cultivating active jihad although there may be levels of sympathy and identity with more committed moslem agendas worldwide. Things like the cultural control of women are problematic areas as they are incompatible with modern British values and ethically wrong. Curiously the male hardship of the big church I mentioned earlier seems very different from moslem norms because it only applies to the church main leader and official elders and main bible teachers…beyond that there is no evidence of women in the church family feeling or being oppressed (a few decades ago in many Anglican churches there was plenty of evidence of a much wider mysogenism). Better stop now.

  3. theologybee says:

    I was also at the grotty venue when this was sung. At the time it made me think of its context within the sectarian divisions in Ireland. I’m assuming that this is a Protestant song of course.

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