If we are not willing to be troublemakers, it is no wonder that the secular culture takes no notice of us, writes David Quinn
Are we still a Church of risk-takers? I’m not so sure. I think we have become increasingly risk-averse, taking the safe, soft option when choices must be made. We have become the opposite of prophetic and evangelistic. We prefer to go with the flow, to avoid confrontation, to run away from making people feel uncomfortable. A Church which is like this, will not inspire people or grow.
It was not always like this. Go back right to the start, right back to Jesus. He took risks, big ones. He would calculate the risk in a given situation. Sometimes he would seek confrontation, as with the pharisees, but other times he would decide the time wasn’t right and fight the battle on another day.
When Jesus finally goes to Jerusalem to face trial and execution, he knows what awaits him, but he does it anyway. He knows it is necessary. He chooses, reluctantly, the Cross. He does not have a martyrdom complex. It is important to say this. Some people actively seek martyrdom, which is wrong. Jesus would rather avoid it. This is why he pleads with God in the Garden of Gethsemane to take this cup from him.
The Cross is a symbol of pain and suffering, of redemption and hope. We are not to actively seek out our crosses, but we are not to go out of our way to avoid them either. If they come our way, we must accept them. That is the only way the burden will be light.
We see the apostles shy away from Jesus when the mob comes for him. That is our usual instinct, and an understandable one. It ultimately takes Pentecost for them to regain their nerve and take the risks necessary to preach the Christian Faith.
St Paul, the greatest missionary, was a supreme risk-taker. As he went from one town to another he was in constant danger. He was beaten, flogged, stoned, ship-wrecked, imprisoned and ultimately killed for preaching the Gospel.
Everywhere he went, he caused trouble. You read this over and over again in the Acts of the Apostles.
For example, he causes a riot in Ephesus. How? Because he was leading people away from the pagan goddess, Artemis, and this meant craftsmen who made their living from selling silver shrines to her were in danger of losing business. So they stirred up the townspeople against Paul and caused a riot.
Right from the earliest times, conversion to Christianity has often involved great risk, and not just to the convert, but possibly to their family as well”
In Philippi, he wins a slave girl to the Christian Faith, but this hugely upsets her owners because she was a fortune-teller, and they made a fortune out of her. Now that she was a Christian, she didn’t want to tell fortunes anymore (because to do so second-guesses God). Her owners seized Paul and his companion, Silas, and dragged them before the authorities.
They accused them of “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice”. The two people are stripped, beaten, flogged and imprisoned. In the end they are released because, as Roman citizens, they had rights which have been violated.
There are plenty more examples like this. Paul exposes him to danger repeatedly anyway.
Does Paul inspire us now, or make us nervous? When his story is read out at Mass we probably listen blankly most of the time. I know I did. But recently I began reading the Acts properly, and especially the deeds of St Paul. They are incredible.
Would you have taken the risks he did? I know I wouldn’t. But without someone taking those risks, we never would have even heard of Christianity.
And it is not simply that Paul was taking risks, he was actively causing trouble. He was expressly challenging the Jews of his day to recognise Jesus as the Messiah, which caused huge upset, and he was telling the pagans that their Gods were false, which also caused enormous anger. But he did so without hesitation.
What do the modern theologians of missionary activity make of this? For a start, do they think it is even worthwhile to convert people to Christianity or it is enough that people simply become the best version of themselves?
Do they think it is wrong to go about causing so much trouble, as Paul did? If that is so, then what was the point of Jesus, who expressly told the Apostles to make disciples of all nations and caused plenty of trouble himself through his direct confrontations with the religious authorities of his day, the confrontations which caused his death.
Right from the earliest times, conversion to Christianity has often involved great risk, and not just to the convert, but possibly to their family as well. If you convert and are killed or imprisoned as a result, what happens to them?
What would a mentality that puts safety, risk-aversion and a false view of peace first, have to say to such a person?
What would it say to someone in (for instance) North Korea who was thinking today of joining a secret house church at gigantic risk to themselves? Would it advise them not to, for both their own sake and that of their family?
In many parts of the world, the Church still takes risks. Christians are being persecuted for their faith. These are often the parts of the world where it is also still growing, paradoxically.
Here, we play it safe. We seem to think this is the most Christian thing to do. Are we growing? On the contrary. In fact, a Christianity that no longer takes risks and causes trouble is barely Christianity at all.