I can’t believe that I’ve found myself writing that headline – but you’d be surprised at the number of times that the obvious needs spelling out.
For context, the IEA have been setting out some recommendations about how to tackle the current energy crisis which is expected to get worse as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. One of their suggestions was that Sundays should be made “no car days.”
Now when I read that suggestion I did recognise that complying with it would cause a few of us a challenge as there are plenty of Christians who for various reasons do need to use cars on a Sunday. I’ve seen suggestions before that Christians should only attend churches within walking distance of their homes. In fact, I’ve responded to those suggestions by arguing that there are times when that might not be possible and so we should be careful about becoming legalistic about it. Our own situation is that we are currently in the process of moving church and home, the result is that for the time being we have a bit of a trek to make.
However, some Christians -primarily North American have taken up the battle on social media arguing that this is another example of the powers that be targeting Christians. They’ve chosen, according to the thinking the day when Christians need to travel to get to church whereas others do not.
I want to suggest that the opposite is the case. Rather, it seems that the IEA have stumbled on an age old principle. The principle is that if we want to sustain our societies then we cannot be going at full pelt every hour of every day. We need breaks. We need to pause and rest together. Where would you find that ancient idea? Well you’d find it in the Bible. They’ve stumbled on the principle of having a sabbath day. Not only that but they’ve done some thinking and decided that the best day to have that Sabbath is the one that Christians choose for observing those ancient Biblical commands.
Far from persecuting Christians, it seems that the IEA are suggesting that we try and do some things that fall in line with the very laws and principles that we claim to value.
Now, let’s be clear about the challenges of such a suggestion if it is implemented in a totalitarian and legalistic fashion. If all vehicle journeys were banned on Sundays, then it would make it very difficult for people who need to work on a Sunday to do so, it would make it impossible for emergency workers to get out to people needing help. It would also mean that people who are unable to walk places due to health to get out to church, the shops, visit family. There’s probably enough reasons there as to why such a policy might need some exemptions. Incidentally, my own view at this point is that this is why we should be wary of taking good ideas and imposing them top down. It’s far better to encourage people to think in terms of “how could you lose your car less?”
However, coming back to the general principle. I want to suggest that if some churches in some cultures have prioritised out of city mega church campuses over local congregations in communities then that’s not the IEA’s fault. If many churches in communities have become apostate from the Gospel the responsibility doesn’t lie with the IEA. If some of us are picky about the precise type and style of church we’ll go to then what are the authorities meant to do about that?
I would also add that the problem rarely tends to be that Christians find themselves unable to be part of a church that is within walking distance but rather that we fail to plant churches into communities and so there are very few people hearing and responding to the Gospel in those communities.
Rather than seeing suggestions like this as a strange attempt to persecute the church by holding it to its own values and teaching, shouldn’t we spurred on to seek to bring the Gospel and the local church closer to people who need to know Jesus?