Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Outside the camp

Hebrews 13:13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 

The idea of "the camp" is rooted in the Exodus experience of the OT people of God. Like American pioneers circling the wagons, the area within became home, the safe zone, the playground of children, the meeting place of mums and dads. Outside was the forbidden zone, the "you're not old enough" area, the place where you didn't go. Some sacrifices could be eaten - others were burned "out there". 

And that is where Jesus suffered and died - out there - outside the busy huddle of the city, outside of the familiar comforts of an ancient religion, outside of human society. 

Those who first read Hebrews had wanted in some way to get back inside, to cosy up to the Old Faith after the Promised one had come. The uniqueness and perfection and sufficiency of Jesus were to be traded in for a seat back at the purely Jewish table. 

In writing to them, the author sounds a warning to every generation of the church. Through time there will always be some social norm, some grouping, some movement, some cultural expression which attracts, to which the church wants to cosy up. For us it absolutely is not OT Judaism. That option has not really existed in its fullest expression since the generation after Jesus. 

No, for us, as for other generations, being outside the camp means letting our following of Jesus take us to the lonely place, the dangerous place, the not acceptable place, the despised place, the politically incorrect place, the countercultural place. 

Our culture is experiencing for the first time in many centuries the leadership of a generation which was born to parents who were themselves a generation removed from any personal experience of Christianity. The gap between our society and its own Christian roots has become a chasm. The present leadership in politics, culture, media and sport do not even really know what they are rejecting, but their rejection is now explicit, aggressive and sneering, and they are taking many people with  them. Christian has become a real insult. The greatest temptation for the church is to cosy up to that social lead. We want to agree as much as possible with a society that doesn't agree with Jesus. We may kid ourselves that we are being countercultural in some areas, of course - a Facebook post here, a demo there - but actually we are children of our society. 

Jesus calls us to go outside the camp. To endure his reproach. To be ready to feel uncomfortable again. To put him before our desire to fit in, to feel at home. That isn't easy, especially when the softer option has such prominent exemplars around us. 

In my last post I quoted George Scott Railton and his well-known "I intend carefully to instruct my children" speech. GSR was a bit of a nutter. But he got it. If the cloth of our theology and practice is being cut to suit current trends, we don't get it any more. 

Going outside the camp means being called a nutter. It is awkward and scary and dangerous. 

But it's where Jesus is. 

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