We have been thinking about something we wrote about last year in a new way.
It's obvious that nature has organizing principles. In Britain, Christians adopted the organizing principles of Christ's radical teachings and created ideas and institutions that still bless us. They did this despite being opposed at every turn by ruthless men who did not believe in those principles and tried to suppress them.
“You know that the leaders of nations dominate their people and exercise tyrannical rule over them,” Jesus said. “That's how it is in the world. But that isn't how it must be with you. Whoever would be great among you, let that person serve you; and whoever would be your leader, let that person minister to your needs." (Mark 10:42-44)
The result of this organizing principle, and several others, can be clearly seen -
St Dunstan believed passionately in Christ's idea of the servant king. In AD 973 he wrote the Coronation Oath as a great covenant between the people and the sovereign, who promised to defend justice and mercy for the people.
In 1100 Christian knights and bishops forced Henry I to sign the Charter of Liberties and affirm that no one, not even the king, was above the law.
In 1102, St Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his fellow brothers and priests ended slavery in England at the Council of Westminster.
In late 12th century Christians saw the genius of the poor child who was Robert Grosseteste, and educated him and sustained his exploration into the mathematical principles behind God’s creation. And Christians established Oxford and Cambridge universities.
When a new king, John, tried to trample on justice, Christians - bishops, knights and townspeople - rose up against him and forced him to agree that "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice."
Christians remembered how Jesus had been held without charge, presumed guilty and sentenced without trial. They insisted on our rights to habeas corpus, presumption of innocence and trial by jury.
The Christian community included Robert Grosseteste’s friend, Simon de Montfort, who established the first Parliament and in 1265 willingly died to defend it.
In the 16th century Robert Kett defended the people's ancient right to common land and John Lambert fought for the right to silence - which is also the right not to incriminate yourself and not to be tortured in an effort to make you confess to false charges.
John Lilburne fought for the same right in the 17th century, and helped to abolish the Star Chamber.
In 1670, William Penn and his jurors fought for freedom of speech and the right of juries to declare innocence.
British Christians believed in the organizing principle that God gave each of us dignity and freedom. As a result they made momentous advances in establishing freedom.
Jesus was extremely practical - it is one of his overlooked virtues - and his parables accept property rights that are clearly understood and protected under the law. He depended on the men and women growing wheat and grapes and raising sheep on their land to feed him and his disciples and the poor. If the government took it all or most of it, they would have nothing to give.
Jesus did not advocate government solutions. He asked his followers to make a free and individual choice to love and cherish others.
Following in his footsteps, the community of Christians in Britain were passionate about property rights as a shield against tyranny, and equally passionate about helping others. They founded thousands of charities, trusts, friendly societies and unions.
We can complain about how long it took Christian Brits to get things right, as long as we don't forget how long it takes us to right a wrong. What organizing principles do we follow today?