Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The sermon started well: It was about that nasty third generation Herod, Herod Agrippa I who beheaded James (brother of John). Realizing that moves against the early church curried favour with the Jewish leaders Agrippa went onto imprison Saint Peter. In the New Testament Agrippa is portrayed as the archetypical sinner, the sort of person who puts the ‘I’ in the middle of the word sin. He aggrandized himself with rich clothing and won his position with the Romans and Jews with flattering words and sycophancy. Sometimes it was very difficult to tell if he genuinely cared or whether it was just a ploy to further his own interests and position. Agrippa, it seems, was the kind of person who is so self centered that when they shut their eyes they believe everyone goes away; in effect a solipsism of the worse type. He was utterly superficial, a mere fa├žade motivated by the golden sin: egotism. Agrippa had acquiescenced completely to his egotistical temptations and lived the kind of self seeking life that is the antithesis of true Christianity. Excellent, I thought: this is what our spiritual battles are all about.

However, the Preacher went onto tell us that Peter had been imprisoned and shackled by his culture …. wait a minute surely not Peter’s culture, because presumably Peter had rejected the profound shallowness of the Agrippas of this world? But OK then, fair enough, we can accept that Peter was effectively a victim of a hedonistic culture. So, the preacher deduced, “We must repent of our culture”. Hhmm…, this is getting ambiguous, I thought: humans can’t operate in a cultural vacuum: we are all destined to express ourselves via the medium of some culture or other, hopefully a culture with moral fibre. Just what sort of culture was the preacher thinking we should repent of? To illustrate he went on to relate an anecdote about a Christian friend who far from home one Sunday happened to stumble into a church and who knows it could have been anything from a strict brethren assembly to a church of the snake handlers. However, ‘stumble’, it seems, was the name of the game because at one point in the service, at the cue of the speaker, the entire congregation fell to the floor except our preacher’s Christian friend who decided that he must repent of his culture in order to receive the sublime states of heart and soul associated with the ‘carpet blessing’. So, the take home lesson for us that day was that we should repent of our culture and, who knows, we might then be able receive the carpet blessing. And if we had any doubt about just how bad our culture is, a culture that may be resisting this sort of blessing, there was the illustration of Agrippa’s hedonistic world for comparison!

This sermon was typical of its class and I have seen it time and again amongst evangelicals: in an attempt to foist the idiosyncrasies of one expression of Christainity upon other Christains, a strong hint is dropped as to how sinful they must be if they don’t embrace these bizarre foibles. And what authority is offered to back up these quite extreme demands? None accept opinion, cronyism and vague references to an intuitive sensing of what 'God wants' or what 'God is doing'. It was classic spiritual intimidation.

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