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Commentary

Brave men

Ernest Shackleton’s advert for volunteers for his Antarctic expedition may be mythical.

John Benton, Editor

Figure Image
image: saamvisual.com

Nevertheless, it truly reflects the brave spirit of the men who went. ‘Men wanted for a hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, constant danger, safe return doubtful…’ But such ‘foolhardy’ courage is desperately needed today by evangelicalism in the West. This relates to two particular areas.

Christian mission

I was in a strategic African country last November, ministering to around 50 missionaries operating in dangerous situations (you have to be trained in ‘defensive driving’ because of the danger of kidnap on the roads). What was striking was that while there were plenty of single women, young and old, there was not one unmarried man.

But it is not just overseas that bravery is needed. Small churches continue to close across the UK at an alarming rate. Once they fall beyond a certain ‘viable’ size even organisations which pride themselves in their ‘revitalisation projects’ department seem to shrug their shoulders and walk away.

What is required are little bands of brave men and women prepared to leave the security of larger churches to step out in love and faith to help struggling causes. Christ came in response to our dire straits – dead in trespasses and sins – and gave himself despite the cost.

Many younger men entering the ministry do not appear to have the stomach or the means for such a task. Often smaller fellowships have had to sell their manses to keep going. Isn’t this a great opportunity for those who have taken early retirement and have enough wealth, to bravely move in and support themselves to help get a church back on its feet?

Christian ethics

The area of Christian ethics needs brave leaders too. Unlike today’s understanding of ‘grace’, the experience of the grace of God which we find in the NT transformed lives and led to a clear-cut moral outlook which gave no quarter to materialism, lying, adultery, heresy, homosexuality or anything else which does not conform to the glorious gospel of the blessed God (1 Timothy 1.11). Not a legalism or moralism, but true discipline in the church was the outcome of grace.

The larger, well-known churches of our land, seen as flagships of the evangelical cause, have a huge responsibility here. Other churches look to them. Young pastors aspire to be like their leaders. And yet, with various vested interests, so often those churches – of diverse denominations and affiliations – are relatively silent on many ethical issues. But in keeping their heads down they are influencing others to do the same. Not rocking the boat within their own ecclesiastical circles translates into a tendency to be passive on vital matters and thereby to model more widely the same approach.

A pragmatism closely allied to being narrowly ‘gospel-centred’ appears to be taking over. This pragmatism frequently appears to boil down to being prepared to put up with anything as long as we can still preach John 3.16. But the vital questions of the contemporary world are ethical and to propose such a strategy actually makes this ‘gospel’ virtually irrelevant. Generalisations about sin mean nothing. Everyone is against ‘sin’ – even non-Christians – seen in their own terms. It is only when we get down to specifics that the gospel bites. Jesus must be Lord of all or he is not Lord at all. Does anyone still remember that saying?

Who will be brave when it comes to today’s ethical issues? Such men of courage will of course be dismissed as fools and ‘unwise’ by those who are wise in their own eyes.