Revd Dr Evan McWilliams's October Message
C.S. Lewis once said,
"Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man."
The true progressive is the one who first realises he is going in the wrong direction and turns around. I think there’s a lot of sense in that statement. We live in a world which is obsessed with Progress. And we usually associate Progress with the New, the Modern, or the Fresh. As Christians, how should we think about Progress?
Progress assumes a moral or ethical objective we are trying to attain. We quite literally progress towards something. We often assume that what we are progressing towards is better than what we’ve left behind. This can lead us to grab hold of things that are New, Modern, or Fresh because we identify those qualities with moving forward and getting better. There can sometimes be a confusion of Progress with Change. We come to feel that all Change is Progress.
But just because something is New or Modern does not necessarily mean that it is Good. An idea that feels Fresh and exciting may not actually be a Good idea. If a New idea is actually a bad idea, is embracing it Progress? If the change we seek, or the change we see around us, has as its moral or ethical aim something that is wrong, is that really moving forward?
In order to be truly progressive as Christians we must have a clear picture of where our Progress is leading us, a picture that is in line with what God wants us to be as individuals, as a Church, and as members of society.
Saint Paul sometimes speaks of the Christian life as an athletic competition. He talks about running a race. He talks about striving towards an end. He’s talking about a goal. The goal of the Christian life is to become more like Jesus. For Paul, nothing is better than being transformed into the likeness of the One who loved enough to lay down His own life. That transformation is partly down to God working in us by the power of the Holy Spirit and it is partly down to our conscious response to His love and His commandments.
The choices we make shape us as people. We may not always realise it, but every day of our lives is an opportunity for Progress. When we choose not to rise to that barbed comment from our spouse, we grow in Patience. When we make the effort to apologise to our neighbour, we grow in Humility. When we sacrifice our Sunday morning to sit in church on a cold January day, we grow in Faithfulness.
Much of the secular world defines Progress by what is New, Modern, or Fresh. If it is any of these things, it is Progress. Progress is Change. Any Change is Progress. In the Christian life, we are called to understand Progress in a totally different way. Progress is measured by the degree to which we become more like Jesus. This is certainly not New, Modern, Fresh, or even really exciting. Sometimes it’s truly hard work. But it’s work worth doing.
Picking up the latest trend and running with it is easy. Having Church programmes that are Fresh and exciting is easy too. Behaving just like the non-Christians around us isn’t a challenge. Social pressure and persistent media mean we too often find ourselves and our lives imitating a pattern absorbed without thought. We see our lives through a lens of Progress that isn’t the Bible’s lens of Progress. After all, when’s the last time you heard a new story bigging-up the admirable Humility of a public figure or the gentle Patience of a celebrity?
So take some time to think about your own Progress. Is your life heading in the right direction, a Godly direction? Are you trying to become more like Jesus? Does being Virtuous, showing the Fruit of the Spirit, mean more to you than being on trend? Are you impressed more by someone’s Faithfulness or Patience than by their wealth or fame? Does a Church’s old-fashioned Kindness and Generosity excite you more than its Freshness?
If you can answer Yes, then keep moving forward. If the answer is No, perhaps consider asking what Progress into the image of Jesus might look like for you. Then turn around and start walking back towards the right goal and the right road, the road that leads to Godliness and eternal life.