On being a nuisance by @UnshaunSheep

Christians were annoying to the powerful right from the start.

The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883).

The Early Church was a bit of a nuisance. At least, to the existing powers, that was how it must have appeared. To the Jews, a weird Messianic sect who didn’t toe the party line. To the Romans, a bunch of Jews who weren’t controllable and had some kind of King figure of their own. Dodgy. You can see how persecution started: an annoying message that the Kingdom of God had actually started in this person, Jesus of Nazareth, might be the thin end of a wedge – might easily turn into a terrorist group with its heart set on making that Kingdom something far more earthly and seizing power themselves.

Acts 4:1-3 bears this out: While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.

The Gospel should still be a nuisance.

The Gospel should annoy us, niggle at our complacency, challenge us with the values of the Kingdom of God which subvert and invert the values of the world we see around us. The Beatitudes should be as challenging to 21st Century British people as they were to 1st Century Roman ones. Living the reality that God’s Kingdom is something which is a reality – here and now as well as in the future – is a challenge for all followers of Jesus.

A society free from annoyances

Which brings me to last week’s attempt – defeated in the House of Lords – to make ‘being annoying’ illegal. The idea was to replace ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) with new powers (IPNAs – Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance) which could result in the arrest and even imprisonment of people who had not broken the law at all, but who were being annoying or causing a nuisance to others. This was a piece of legislation which, while presumably aimed at keeping social order, could easily be interpreted at a local level in ways which (probably) were not intended. Churches could easily have found themselves being told by an overly-vigilant local police officer – and backed by a local magistrate – that their bellringing, Remembrance Day parade, worship group practice, carol singing in the market square, street preaching, March for Jesus etc were annoying or a nuisance to others and ordered to stop. In an age where the myth that faith should be a purely private matter persists, it isn’t that unlikely. In times where many UK Christians are not only feeding the hungry but also questioning why this is necessary and coming under fire from politicians for doing the latter, and even having their Gospel-motivation questioned by a Minister of State, there is a real worry that Christians’ ability to speak prophetically to society could be threatened by this kind of legislation. And internet filtering legislation could have similarly unintended consequences: a Christian speaking out against their government’s policies could be deemed to be promoting subversion, threatening the State and have their blog blocked (just as Childline, rape victim support sites and the Samaritans found themselves blocked by O2’s filtering last year)

pritchardtweetWe are blessed to live in times when we still can speak out and challenge our rulers – historically-speaking, this is an exceptional era we live in. God did not give us the right to an eternal public soapbox, but did challenge us to make disciples of all nations and to be salt and light in the world. And we should not be surprised that not everyone – even some who claim that “Christian values” underpin their worldview – are made deeply uncomfortable by the Church challenging them.  This is nothing new. The Gospel is a nuisance and always has been. It challenges injustice, complacency and the natural order of the world, raising up the weak and poor and being Good News to everyone on the planet. An unfiltered, un-edited internet helps us to find out about injustice and poverty in our own nations and indeed throughout the world more easily than ever. We can engage with others. We can offer support.  We can pray. We can campaign. We can donate. We can be Good News.

 

About Nick Morgan

Nick Morgan, Church of England ordinand based at a welcoming, bijou-sized northern Cathedral. Writer and composer. Tweets as @Unshaunsheep