The Theology of rotary and other such organisations.

Last week I was talking to a Christian friend who expressed his disappointment with Archbishop Justin’s comment that a Church of England without Jesus at the centre was no different from “Rotary with a pointy roof.”

My friend explained that, as a leading light in a local rotary club, he was in initially attracted to rotary because it provided him with an opportunity  to join a fellowship which promotes charity, hospitality and civic responsibility. He also enjoys the international friendships that rotary seeks to foster. All biblical values? I think so. I also know  several other Christian friends who regard rotary as a natural and complimentary friend to the Church. Rotary for them provides an avenue for enacting two of the Church of England’s five marks of mission:

To respond to human need by loving service. 
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

These marks have a redemptive quality to them, yes, they are not specifically concerned with proclamation, but they are still missional.

Of course, even though, a significant number of rotarians are active members of the faith communities, many are not. But, surely this does not mean that the mission of God, in redeeming the world, is the sole prerogative of those self-identifying as Christians? Or, that as Christians we would want to limit God to working within our own narrowly defined clique? I assume, that most Christians would regard advances in the medical sciences, for instance, as a sign of God’s progressive revelation, and the redemption of humanity. Yes, as Christians we have to be concerned with the eternal, but, not at the expense of the temporal. We do after all pray ‘thy kingdom come on earth as well as in heaven.’

Within the Christian tradition time does not need to be divided into the now and the then. In fact such a perspective could be regarded as the evangelisation of the gospel by platonic philosophy; something, I think, that the protestant churches are prone to. (Now, I need to duck or hide!)

I prefer to think of time as operating along God’s redemptive continuum. As Christians part of our responsibility, is to align ourselves, perhaps even to submit to, God’s desire for the world, (thy will be done),alongside others, some of whom share our faith, others who don’t, and the majority, floating voters. I suspect that rotary clubs alongside other similar organisations provide an avenue for authentic gospel living.

Within the Judea Christian tradition the prophet Jeremiah provides a wonderful insight into the importance of the faith community being fully integrated into ‘secular’ (whatever this means) life. The Israelites are told to seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you (Babylon) into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.’  Jeremiah’s people are not, in other words, to identify themselves, solely, as a self-defining religious sub community. They are told to immerse themselves in the civic and social structures. A kind of earthly transcendence.

So, is Justin entirely wrong? (You might suspect that at this point I am going to argue that he is right, after all I do want to get ordained on the 29th June!)

No, he is also, allowing for the hurt caused, to rotarians, entirely right,for the five marks of mission mandate the Church (and ergo it’s members) ‘to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.’  This is important for two reasons. First, because as Christians we are concerned with the eternal.This does not mean that proclamation is rotary’s duty after, all the body has many parts, all with their own distinctive gifts and responsibilities (I am deliberately broadening the definition of t’the body).Secondly, because it would appear to be the case that the vast majority of the institutions that provide the opportunity for redemption of the world (by responding to human need and, the transformation of unjust structures) were either founded by Christians, or, modeled on Christian values: Oxfam, Rotary, Alcoholics Anoymous, Bernardo, the Children’s Society, etc, etc.etc, etc.) I would even argue that the N.H.S. despite all its faults could only have been established in a ‘Christian country.’

If we want to see such organisations thrive into the future we need to be talking about Christ now, after all it is very hard indeed to identify any organisations founded by ‘faithful atheists’ that promote human flourishing (why bother if you believe that life is limited to ‘three score years and ten’ and, that there is no such thing as divine judgement?). Equally we need to let go of any thoughts that the divine purpose, the mission of God in other words, is only located in and channeled through, the ‘institutional church.’ Thanks be to God for rotary and other ‘theologically’ aligned organisations.

How big,  wide and all encompassing is your God and His body?


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