In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, the one of the earliest documents in the New Testament, we hear the story of John-the-Baptist. The point about John is that he was preaching something very different from commonly-accepted wisdom. He was offending against the state religion, he was telling people to change their ways, or else! As evidence of his authenticity and of the importance and truth of his message, all he had to offer was his personal deprivation of living in the wilderness, doing without most of what most people would regard as essentials. There must have been a succession of such wild men. Today, I am not sure where we would find such fervour; Political activists? Environmentalists? Islamists? Prolife rallies?
Over the years, churchmen who would never even consider breaking away from or challenging the accepted church view of any situation have urged their congregations to hold John-the-Baptist in reverence because he broke the mould. We call this “ironic”.
The question for every listener to every prophet has to be: “Why should we take any notice of this man?”
Clearly, one cannot take every fanatic seriously, however charismatic and persuasive they might be. Equally clearly, it is only fanatics who bring about change; anyone who wants to produce big changes in society must dedicate their lives totally to the one purpose. Inevitably that excludes them from much normal human intercourse, they simply don’t have time or inclination for it. However, only a few fanatics preach doctrines that will improve the way we live. The trick is to identify which are the ones to follow.
Most people lead their lives with the aim of feeding their children and meeting what they consider to be their own essential requirements and those of their families. Nearly everyone behaves most of the time in a way that they think is right. To change this behaviour is a real challenge. However, the necessity for it is obvious on so many fronts.
Consider the problems. We are experiencing widespread violence, particularly towards women and children, throughout the world. These conflicts are often caused by competition for land or other resources but, sometimes, trends of violence are caused by male requirements to demonstrate virility. People are increasingly motivated by a desire to possess more and more stuff, regardless of its value in improving their quality of life, and neglecting to consider its impact on our fragile environment. More people than ever, it seems, are depressed or just unhappy about their lives, the shape of their bodies, their reasons for getting up in the morning, or the rewards that they receive for their hard work.
So, it is incumbent upon each and every Christian, not to follow the teachings of the church (which still, for instance, invests money in oil exploration), not to cling to the religion of their parents, but to listen to extremists of all persuasions and to judge, with the aid of the Holy Spirit within them, which of them shows God’s way forward. We need change, we need it now, the question is, “What change do we need?” Nonconformists, we need you now!