Labour must change worldview or die

John_Wesley_by_George_Romney_cropEconomically, the Labour movement stands for the fair and equal distribution of wealth created by economic activity. Everyone has a part in manufacturing widgets and serving one another, so everyone should have a share in the proceeds.

There are only three ways this can be achieved. First, a fair share of the proceeds can be achieved by totalitarian communism. Democracy must be done away with for the common good, because we know that voters will always vote in self interest. Second, fair distribution can be achieved by creating a massive, relatively well paid public sector workforce and burgeoning benefit dependent population. This is what Gordon Brown and New Labour did. Those who are state-dependent will vote, selfishly, for a government who will give them a job, good salaries and benefits. Third, a fair distribution of wealth can be achieved by a return to the Methodist roots of the Labour movement, and the biblical Christian teachings of John Wesley; especially generosity, life in the service of others and care for other human beings.

The first and second options don’t work. Labour can’t advocate both democracy and communism. It can’t afford to employ a huge public sector workforce and give out generous benefits because we have a huge and increasing debt burden. So Labour must go back to its roots, adopt biblical Christian teaching or die.

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Cameron needs to unite the country to pay down the debt

It was once thought that living standards in the UK would always go on rising. It was also claimed, by Gordon Brown, that there would be no more return to boom and bust. Then, in 2008, the UK suffered bust like never before, along with most of the Western nations. The resulting hangover is a whopping national debt of £1,560,000,000,000 which rises by £107,000,000,000 per annum or £20,000,000 per day. The books need to be balanced and the debt paid down.

The problem is, everyone is greedy and thinks only of their own interest. We all want as much as we can, without paying for it. To be able to pay down the debt, people need to be willing to share in the pain.

There are three ways forward:

1. Carry on as we are, with our fingers crossed, hoping that the economy will grow more quickly and so borrowing will reduce. This is not happening. Our GDP is creeping up and inflation is at 0%. We are already the fastest growing G7 economy, but the growth is too slow.  Generosity and charity needs to be encouraged to grow the economy, as individual consumer spending won’t be enough.

2. Wait until we are declared bankrupt, or foreign investors choose to stop lending to us. This will force spending cuts and tax increases on the UK, like in Greece, and everyone will be forced to grin and bear it. In this situation, the government will be forced to make the best of a bad situation. Hyper inflation, to devalue the debt, and a tax on savings, will follow. The government will hold a gun to savers’ heads and say, “give us your savings or else.”  Hiding the money under the mattress won’t work as hyper-inflation makes money worthless.

3. Be honest about the problem and call everyone to face it together. David Cameron should explain what has happened since 2008. He should say that the government had hoped the economy would grow, but it hasn’t. And so, to avoid long term pain of bankruptcy or inter-generational debt, we need to act together now to pay down out debt. The government should work with economists to devise a plan which shares the pain fairly. This should be simple enough for everyone to understand. He should also motivate people to work for the common good and not for self. He should do this by calling for a return to Christian values of loving neighbour and looking out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). He should do this immediately, to give us five years as a nation to work it out. The common problem of debt has the potential to unite the nation in working together for a better future.

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The end of the end of austerity.

Some politicians are calling for “the end of austerity.”  It is a magical political phrase.  To the general public it conveys generosity as opposed to austere, miserly scroogishness. To public servants it sounds hopeful; “Ooo, a possible pay rise or more jobs.”

I am a Scotsman, so no stereotypes please. I am torn two-ways on austerity. On the one hand, I want to be generous to hard working public servants and create more jobs for people. On the other hand, I am realistic about debt. I have been in personal debt and found it hard to get out. Since then, I have always avoided using debt, except for paying off my mortgage, which seemed to take forever.

I now teach people on the Christians Against Poverty money course, and I know the pain which debt causes many people. And so, I would like our nation to be a zero credit nation. I would like our budget to fit our tax income. I would also like to be generous.

I have lived in a few post-colonial nations, which have the same political systems which we built in Victorian Britain; the police, hospitals, schools, prisons. In these post-colonial countries, public sector pay is paltry and so encourages corruption. Anyone with power uses that power to enhance earnings. The policeman who catches someone on a mobile phone whilst driving or not wearing a seat belt or dropping litter can make life awkward unless you are willing to pay her off.

On the other hand, some nations make public officials very wealthy, taxing the nation hard and transferring the money to those in with the in-crowd.

The UK doesn’t fit either of the social models above, it’s neither corrupt nor nepatistic, though standars in public life are perceived by many to be slipping. We are, however, relatively generous. Public servants are, by and large, comfortable, and it is argued that pay is excessive in some cases.

So, austerity or generosity?

In our current situation, the ending of austerity will most probably mean bankruptcy, of the Greek variety. When it comes, salary and spending cuts are forced upon us. If we do avoid bankruptcy, then we still face decades of paying back the debt, with austerity passed to the next generation. My children and their children will be paying for my generosity.

Austerity is the choice to keep a lid on debt to avoid bankruptcy. Being generous at the wrong time is false generosity. We continue to spend 20% more than we pay in tax. We borrow an extra £107,000,000,000 each year on top of £1,560,000,000,000. It’s an eye watering amount of money.

In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, the apostle Paul encourages generosity. “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

And the prophet Habakkuk warns the nation against piling up debt (Hab 2:6-7).
Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—
for how long?—
and loads himself with pledges!”
Will not your debtors suddenly arise,
and those awake who will make you tremble?
Then you will be booty for them.

The foolish politician will borrow now and pay back later. The wise politician will show that debt is a problem and call the country to work together to pay down the debt for the sake of our children and our children’s children.

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Why Britain needs a new heart. Food banks and £1.56 trillion public debt: the problem is not political but pastoral

UK heartBBC Question Time last night left me deeply depressed by petty squabbling over the economy and the lack any real solution to our national problems of unplayable and burgeoning debt, £1,560,000,000,000 which increases by £107,000,000,000 per annum with only £513,000,000,000 tax receipts (or “the deficit” as everyone tamely refers to it) and foodbanks.

What depressed me is that politicians naturally (naively) believe that the solutions are political: increase tax here, reduce spending there, tinker with welfare payments in this way, plough more money into health, adjust the dial here and turn the nob there.

But the solution cannot be by political management and engineering, because the problem is not political it is pastoral. Britain needs a new heart.

Our nation’s heart beats to the tune of remuneration and spending. Money is our god. We have reduced every problem to one which can be paid for. If we find the right person, with the right skills, to address the problem in the right way, and pay them enough, we can fix it.

So, we motivate public service by offering salaries commensurate with the private sector, “in order to attract the right talent.” We encourage individual (credit) spending to increase economic activity, as if rampant consumerism will solve the cash flow problem in the treasury. We define poverty as a lack of food on the table and no roof over our heads.

But what if the love of God and neighbour were our goals? What is life was not about money? What if the self sacrificial love of Christ, who gave his life as a ransom for many, was the heartbeat of our nation?

What if poverty was, therefore, overcome by communities of people who loved God and each other? In these communities, no one went hungry because they shared they food and looked out for one another? What if those who made it in industry or commerce shared their profits with their neighbours? What if public servants were attracted and motivated to work because it was an opportunity to serve, as Christ came to serve, to show compassion to the hurting and care for the weak?

What if we don’t love like this? Then, what if the God of love is also the God of perfect justice? What if anyone who does not love God and neighbour but loves money instead, has to face the ultimate justice of God?

Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. Matthew 12:18

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Colossians 1:15-23 Kinetic Typography

Watch this. It’s brilliant.

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From the vicarage – March 2015

Vicarage and meAs a church, I believe we listened with new ears last Sunday to the retelling of the true story of the Samaritan woman and Jesus. Through the record of this one encounter, God has touched quite a few of us. I thought I’d uncovered all her issues in my sermon, but then, this morning (Tuesday), Madeline came to the prayer meeting and said that she’d seen, for the first time, that the Samaritan woman was not young but old.

The seven major life issues which the Samaritan woman faced and which had a damaging effect on her all bear striking similarities to the issues we all face today. First, she was isolated. This poor woman had no social support. She exposed herself to the risk of attack, rape or mugging when she went outside the town, at lunchtime, alone. She had no friends to laugh with and no company for protection. She was left to carry a heavy water jar in scorching heat, because she was isolated.

She also suffered from racism. “Why do you talk to me? You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan.” You can hear her racist attitude in the question. Jews and Samaritans did not mix socially. They were suspicious of each other, because of their race. Jews looked down on Samaritans as inferior and so they kept apart.

Then there was her social separation caused by gender; “I am a Samaritan woman.” In her culture, men and women could not speak in public like this. Sexual suspicion kept them apart.

When Jesus offered her living water, which he said would well up inside her to eternal life, she was confused. But then Jesus revealed her past to show what sort of thirst he was speaking about. All her life she had been thirsting for love and a sense of belonging. She had tried husband after husband after husband (five in all) but could not find the love she was looking for. And now she wasn’t even married. Her latest lover did not love her enough to offer her any commitment and protection.

So she was labelled a moral outcast. We can all imagine the sort of things people said behind her back, as she was shunned by polite society; “slut”, “man eater”, “husband thief.”

She’d tried religion but it had failed her. Samaritan’s worshipped on a mountain and Jews in Jerusalem. As far as she could see, religion made matters worse. It increased the racism, made her feel judged and even more of a moral failure. Religion created more social problems for the genders and did not satisfy her thirst for love.

Time was running out. She was waiting for the Messiah (The Christ) to come but she was getting old.

Isolation, racism, tension between the genders, a thirst for love, morally outcast, the failure of religion and she was in the later stages of life.

Then Jesus said “I who speak with you am he.” Jesus is the Messiah she was looking for. His life, teaching and death (Zechariah 12:10-13:1) and resurrection (Revelation 21:6) opens a fountain of living water for all who believe him. He says “Believe me, woman.” And when she believes, the living water flows freely, with out cost, as a great and life changing gift from Jesus. Her thirst is quenched and her eternity secured.

We are all thirsty for love, acceptance and belonging which overcomes isolation, racism, tension between the genders, moral failure and the divisions caused by religion. We long for a world where our children can grow up and be nurtured by the whole community; for an end to isolation; for all people from all nations can living in community together; for a way men and women can mix socially without suspicion or tension; for moral outcasts to welcomed back into community; for an end to religious division and for a place where it is safe to grow old, looked after by neighbours as well as family. Time is running out. We need a Saviour.

Our Lent course starts this Thursday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm in the hall. It focuses on the theme of hospitality, which is how the story of the Samaritan woman ends. Her whole town urge Jesus and his disciples (all Jews) to stay with them (Samaritans) which they do for two days. The town is then transformed as the woman’s story is heard and believed and many Samaritans come to believe in Jesus as their Saviour and the Saviour of the World (John 4:42).

There is a way this can happen for us. We must each individually believe Jesus and receive living water from the Saviour of the World. He will gather is into community around himself as we tell our stories of his work in our lives.

This Lent, will you come to the Lent course and as we each receive living water from Jesus, be willing to urge others to come and eat, laugh and share with him?

With love

Neil

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The Good Samaritan, gospel or salvation by works?

What follows is an email I wrote following a stimulating discussion on the parable of the Good Samaritan.  What is Jesus teaching here?

Dear N and N

Further to yesterday’s stimulating discussion about the interpretation of the Good Samaritan and the reading of parables in general, I’ve done some more study and have found a few really useful websites.  This is not me trying to have the last word, but to share the results of my further research for your consideration.

The first website is a quick and helpful summary on how to read the parables, based largely on the teaching of Gordon Fee.  It is well written and supports the view that we should look for the plain meaning of the text, and not allegorise.  The article cites Augustine’s commentary on the Good Samaritan as a particularly poor allegorical interpretation.   Augustine allegoricalises everything in the the parable, which stretches the meaning of the parable for too far, as I did in my sermon with the wine, oil, donkey and the inn.  The point of the first article is, as far as possible, to preach the main point of the parable in context and not to look for layers of hidden meaning, as Augustine did.

There is, however, significant contemporary evangelical support for reading the parable as a clarification of the relationship between the law and the gospel in respect to justification.  The plain reading of the parable is that salvation or justification is by this law not that law, or a new works righteousness, as I will explain.

As I said yesterday, if Jesus meant “Go and do likewise” as the answer to “what must I do to inherit eternal life…love God and love neighbour…do this and you will live.”  Then the Samaritan gains salvation by works.  The main point of the parable may be to teach the expert in the law that his law keeping (not touching a dead body as so, therefore, failing to love his neighbour) does not earn him salvation (i.e. justification is not by the works of that law).  However, if there is no gospel contained within the parable then someone must earn salvation by keeping the law.  The question is only, which law should I keep, “Do not touch a dead body” or “show compassion”.  In contemporary culture, this reading of the parable goes something like, “going to church and keeping moral laws does not earn salvation but being kind to people does, therefore I don’t need to go to church.”  This is a false dichotomy and to avoid it then Christ or the gospel of Christ must be present in the parable.

I have three commentaries on Luke.  Each one discusses how the teacher of the law kept the ceremonial law (would not touch a dead body) and the Samaritan kept the law to love neighbour, so Jesus is teaching the priority of the latter law over the former law.  This is right.  However, each commentator also recognises that the implication of this conclusion contradicts the gospel.  To solve this dilemma, each commentator simply states the doctrine of of salvation by grace through faith as extrinsic to the parable.  In effect, so as to avoid contradiction, they each conclude that Jesus was not answering the question on how to inherit eternal life.

It is entirely possible, though strange, that Jesus could have avoided answering the man’s original question. So, did Jesus duck the question on eternal life?  Or, did he gave the answer on justification within the parable, as parable?

A quick internet search for the Samaritan as a type of Christ has produced these three results, the first of which is by Glen Scrivener, our 3-2-1 Gospel friend.

This second post does the work which you did N, in exposing the expert in the law’s failure to keep the law before discussing the Samaritan as a type of Christ and the victim as a representative of every human.

The third post appears on the Confessing Evangelical blog, as a summary of a sermon by the rev Reg Quick (Chairman of ELCE).  The post is called Law, gospel and the Good Samaritan.

As a type of Christ, the least we can say of the Samaritan is this: he came to the dying man, bound up his wounds, healed him, carried him and paid the price for entry into a place of rest and security.  (cf Ezekiel 34 for example).

I have found others who read the victim as Christ, but I find it hard to see any gospel in that reading.

The question which remains is this.  Can parables which are not expressly allegorical (e.g. the parable of the sower or the parable of the wheat and tares) ever be interpreted in a similar way within a biblical context?  Or, put another way, as the whole of the bible is the word of Christ, can his whole word be used to interpret parables?

I believe that the parable of the good Samaritan insists that we do the biblical theological work, though very carefully so as not to stretch the meanings in the parable too far.  If we don’t use a biblical theological framework then scripture contradicts scripture and we are left to impose extrinsic systematic doctrines on this parable, as contradictions.  But there are no contradictions in scripture and we want to avoid the modern cultural interpretation  “if I am kind to other people I will go to heaven and so I don’t need to be religious.”

The first of the webpages above reminds us that Jesus taught in parables to stir up thinking.  He’s certainly done that.

Happy reading

Neil

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