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Church, State, Debate.

28/04/2013

Church, State, Debate.

Ephesians 5:8-12 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.

The liberal media including the BBC are seriously exercised over the religious circumstances of one David Ford, MLA.

For those who are not so familiar with the political scene in Northern Ireland, Mr Ford is a former social worker, Presbyterian Elder, and leader of the socially liberal Alliance Party. (The Alliance Party is aligned with the Liberal Democratic Party in GB). Mr Ford has decided that it is best to relinquish one of those roles, that of an elder in his local Presbyterian Church, at least on a temporary basis, because of his party’s stance on ‘Same Sex Marriage’. The Alliance party has supported the concept of gay marriage, and its one and only MP, Naomi Long MP, also a professing Christian, has voted in favour of the legislation to legalise such ‘marriages’ at Westminster. Mr Ford would, presumably, vote in a similar manner in any debate. (Monday 29th April will show his voting intentions, when the Assembly votes again on a same sex marriage motion, tabled by Sinn Fein).

Mr Ford’s church, on the other hand, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, is largely conservative on this matter, and has been writing to MLA’s (Members of the NI Legislative Assembly) urging them to oppose any imposition of same sex marriage in NI. Obviously, his local church congregation must have become a little edgy about Mr Ford’s ability to lead them as a group of Christians, seeking to obey God and follow His word, when he in his political life, is supporting legislation which would encourage disobedience to that Word, further erode family and social structures in society and put further pressure on Christian churches and businessmen and women to conform to an unbiblical worldview, or face prosecution. Mr Ford has chosen to step down from the eldership rather than be the focus of a controversy in church circles.

Of course, Mr Ford is a politician, and nothing a politician does is done without reference to the political consequences of his actions. Mr Ford could, of course, have decided that he should put God and His Word first, (as Christ demands from His followers) surrender to Christ’s claims over his life, (as Christ demands from His followers) and resign from his party, or take a Biblical stance within his party circles, and refuse to enact any legislation that was contrary to Godly principles. After all, didn’t Jesus tell us to ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’. But Mr Ford is the leader of a political party and a very handsomely rewarded politician indeed. He is an MLA and he is the Justice Minister, (a placement given to his party for political reasons, not because of their electoral strength, but because the DUP and Sinn Fein don’t want anyone from the opposite party in that office.) so, perhaps because of political pressure or perhaps because he is totally ignorant of the teachings of Scripture, Mr Ford seems to have chosen the secular, liberal agenda, rather than choose to follow the clear and unambiguous teachings of the Bible…

Romans 1:18-20. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
Romans 1:26-28 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

1st Corinthians 6:9-11 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

So, Mr Ford and his church have resolved the issue, albeit temporarily, by his decision to step down, and the PCI has declined to make any further comment.

But why are the liberal media doing such a song and dance about this? Surely it must be obvious that Mr Ford cannot be a leader in a church which has moral and ethical views that are deeply at variance with his own? Well, they are arguing that this is an example of the church interfering in the affairs of the state. The church must be separate from the state, must not try to influence the state, must never to try to change legislation must remain at a distance, and leave the politicians to do their work, whatever that may be. They cite the example of the malign influence exercised by the Roman Catholic Church in the Irish Republic, where the state was for so many years almost in thraldom to the Vatican. I have several problems with this argument.

Firstly, in Mr Ford’s case, the issue, seemingly, is not that the local church wants to influence the legislature any more than any other social group, but that they want genuine Christian leadership in their local congregation – leadership which will lead them into Godliness and obedience to God. Indeed one has to ask, since Mr Ford seems to be so ignorant of the teaching of Scripture on the sinful nature of mankind, is he actually qualified to be an elder in the first place?

Secondly, the church in this part of the UK is not ‘established’ like it is in England, where bishops sit in the House of Lords, and have some influence over state policy. So churches are on a par with any other social group. The Roman Catholic Church, the Christian Institute, the Presbyterian Church, the Evangelical Lobby (through organisations like ‘the Caleb Foundation’) have all been seeking to influence policy on this matter. But so have the many organisations who campaign on gay rights issues. If the churches are no longer to be able to lobby government on social issues, that what of the socially liberal lobbyists, is the principle of the separation of church and state to be broadened to the separation of all lobbyists and state? I would think not.

Thirdly, a Christian’s faith and profession are not to be separated from any other area of life. A ‘Sunday only’ Christian is a hypocrite, and Christians are charged to live out their faith in their lives. Paul wrote to the Colossians, ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.’ Col. 3:16-17

Fourthly, Christ himself, in the sermon on the mount, insists that Christians are to be a Godly influence on society. They are to be salt and light. They are to be salt, preserving this world from sinking deeper into iniquity, and they are to be light, shining a godly, revealing influence into the dark places of this world. He taught, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’ Matthew 5:13-16

So Mr Ford’s own conscience must inform his decisions, whether it be in the Assembly, or in his church or in society. But let him and all of us be clearly aware, that we shall one day stand before God in judgement, and give an account of our motives and words and our actions. And on that day we cannot hide behind a microphone, or a spin doctor or a party machine. My call to Mr Ford is to reverse his decision, to depart from his party and his offices if necessary, and to follow Christ with all his heart.

A hymnwriter wrote: ‘when we walk with The Lord, in the light of His Word, what a glory he sheds on our way. While we do His good will, He abides with us still,and with all who will trust and obey.’

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A footnote. Mr Ford’s erstwhile colleague, former Alliance Party leader and Presbyterian, Lord John Alderdice, has now weighed into the debate with his opinion too. He claims that ‘Mr Ford has been treated harshly by his church, and that Mr Ford’s faith is very important to him.’

Maybe not just important enough though for him to put Christ first in every area of life.

From → Editorial

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