What then are the distinctive marks of Christianity? They stem not from the social but from the spiritual side of our lives. I would identify three beliefs in particular:
First, that from the beginning, man has been endowed by God with the fundamental right to choose between good and evil.
Second, that we were made in God's own image and therefore we are expected to use all our own power of thought and judgment in exercising that choice; and further, if we open our hearts to God, He has promised to work within us.
And third, that Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, when faced with His terrible choice and lonely vigil, chose to lay down His life that our sins may be forgiven. I remember very well a sermon on Armistice Sunday when our preacher said: "No one took away the life of Jesus, He chose to lay it down". I think back to many discussions in my early life when we all agreed that if you try to take the fruits of Christianity without its roots, the fruits will wither. And they will not come again unless you nurture the roots.
But we must not profess the Christian faith and go to church simply because we want social reforms and benefits or a better standard of behavior - but because we accept the sanctity of life, the responsibility that comes with freedom and the supreme sacrifice of Christ expressed so well in the hymn:
When I survey the wondrous Cross
CHRISTIANITY AND PUBLIC POLICY
May I also say a few words about my personal belief in the relevance of Christianity to public policy - to the things that are Caesar's? The Old Testament lays down in Exodus the Ten Commandments as given to Moses, the injunction in Leviticus to love our neighbour as ourselves, and generally the importance of observing a strict code of law. The New Testament is a record of the Incarnation, the teachings of Christ, and the establishment of the kingdom of God. Again we have the emphasis on loving our neighbour as ourselves and to 'Do-as-you-would-be-done-by.'
I believe that by taking together these key elements from the Old and New Testaments, we gain a view of the universe, a proper attitude to work and principles to shape economic and social life. We are told we must work and use our talents to create wealth. 'If a man will not work he shall not eat,' wrote St. Paul to the Thessalonians. Indeed, abundance rather than poverty has a legitimacy which derives from the very nature of Creation.
THE CREATION OF WEALTH
Nevertheless, the Tenth Commandment - 'Thou shalt not covet' - recognizes that making money and owning things could become selfish activities. But it is not the creation of wealth that is wrong, but love of money for its own sake. The spiritual dimension comes in deciding what one does with the wealth. How could we respond to the many calls for help, or invest for the future, or support the wonderful artists or craftsmen whose work also glorifies God, unless we had first worked hard and used our talents to create the necessary wealth?
THE WELFARE STATE
Any set of social and economic arrangements which is not founded on the acceptance of individual responsibility will do nothing but harm. We are all responsible for our own actions. We cannot blame society if we disobey the law. We simply cannot delegate the exercise of mercy and generosity to others.
RELIGION IN SCHOOLS
Recently there have been great debates about religious education. I believe politicians must see that religious education has a proper place in the school curriculum. The Christian religion - which, of course, embodies many of the great spiritual and moral truths of Judaism - is a fundamental part of our national heritage. For centuries it has been our very lifeblood.
Indeed we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible. Also, it is quite impossible to understand our history or literature without grasping this fact.
That is the strong practical case for ensuring that children at school are given adequate instruction in the part which the Judaic-Christian tradition has played in molding our laws, manners, and institution. How can you make sense of Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott, or of the constitutional conflicts of the seventeenth century in both Scotland and England, without some such knowledge? But I go further than this. The truths of the Judaic-Christian tradition are infinitely precious, not only, as I believe because they are true, but also because they provide the moral impulse which alone can lead to that peace, in the true meaning of the word, for which we all long.
When Abraham Lincoln spoke in his famous Gettysburg speech of 1863 of 'government of the people, by the people, and for the people,' he gave the world a neat definition of democracy which has since been widely and enthusiastically adopted. But what he enunciated as a form of government was not in itself especially Christian, for nowhere in the Bible is the word democracy mentioned.
Ideally, when Christians meet, as Christians, to take counsel together, their purpose is not (or should not be) to ascertain what is the mind of the majority but what is the mind of the Holy Spirit - something which may be quite different.
Nevertheless I am an enthusiast for democracy. And I take that position, not because I believe majority opinion is inevitably right or true - indeed no majority can take away God-given human rights - but because I believe it most effectively safeguards the value of the individual, and, more than any other system, restrains the abuse of power by the few. And that is a Christian concept.
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