In the past week, the age-old debate about the role of Christianity in public life has come alive again. The heavily-reported findings of a survey by the Richard Dawkins Foundation suggest that Christianity is increasingly unimportant to those who self-identify as Christian. Baroness Warsi’s speech to the Vatican bemoaned the social dominance of ‘secular fundamentalism’: ‘I see it in United Kingdom and I see it in Europe. Spirituality, suppressed. Divinity, downgraded’. But while we are busy sounding the trumpets of secularisation, God has a much bigger plan to bring all things together under Christ which he has entrusted to you and me.
Dawkins and Warsi want to build a narrative of secularisation – one in triumph, the other in despair – but the reality is far less bleak for Christianity. In fact, this shift in social influences provides a great opportunity for Christians live out lives of faith and to witness to the gospel.
Our digital ministry of reconciliation
I am not distressed by the alarmism of secularisation theory because as I read the New Testament I don’t get the impression that Jesus or Paul or John or Peter or anyone ever expected Christianity to have a sacred soapbox in the public square. Instead, they gave us universal guidance for Christian witness in any season of society and culture. ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations’ (Mt 28:19). ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect’ (1 Pet 3:15-16). ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God’ (1 Jn 4:7).
The status of Christianity in the UK does not depend on the number of bishops in the House of Lords or the number of vicars portrayed on prime-time TV. It depends on the health of Christian ministry. And as Paul so gloriously put it in 2 Corinthians 5, all Christians share in this ministry: the ministry of reconciliation. We are introducing enemies of God and those distant from him to his saving love which adopts them into his family.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
If we are Christ’s ambassadors, where is our ‘embassy’? Perhaps it used to be the parish church, where communities met in fellowship, but that is no longer the norm. I propose that our ‘embassies’ are those places we interact with others. We are ambassadors for Christ in the workplace. We are his ambassadors in the pub. And significantly for us #digidisciples, we are his digital ambassadors.
Gospel opportunities for digital ambassadors
‘The ordinary person has more power to be believed than any politician or CEO’, said Patrick Dixon at #CNMAC11. He observed that Internet users trust crowd-sourced reviews more than official testimonials. This is nothing new. In fact, it is precisely how the Bible writers suppose people will view Christianity: not through the public pontifications of the clergy but through the witness of every-day sorts of Christians like you and me. A bishop can speak on the subject of forgiveness, but the act of being forgiven speaks far louder.
We, ordinary people, have more power to witness effectively to the gospel than anyone in what was traditionally known as the public square. We are each in our own ways a more reputable authority figure than household names or recognized institutions. The cultural milieu that has given rise to the theory of secularisation has also placed us, ordinary Christians, as the living authentications of the faith we profess. And we have countless opportunities to fulfil our calling as ambassadors for Christ, not least in the digital space where the people really do hold the greatest authority.
How many opportunities do you have to exhibit the love, integrity, peace, generosity and grace, of Christ, to name but a few virtues, each day? The state of Christianity in public life in Britain is precisely as healthy as the discipleship of British Christians. Let’s pray, then, and help each other to be better ambassadors for Christ in our little public squares, and ask God by his spirit to continue his ministry of reconciliation, reconciling whole world to himself in Christ.