When the Gospel seems too hard and unpopular, just keep preaching

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I blogged recently on Peter Kreeft’s book, Catholics and Protestants: What we can learn from each other. In it, he makes the point that the difference between Evangelical Protestants and “liberal” Protestants “is far greater than the differences between orthodox Protestants and orthodox Catholics.” That is because the latter group won’t water down their core beliefs to accommodate the world; they recognise that they have to stand apart from it and that to follow Christ is to take the hard narrow road rather than the broad easy one.

For liberal Christians, worldliness is at the core, though they may not know it. The constant teaching of the Gospel about recognition of sin, the need for repentance and a firm purpose of amendment seems too harsh, too unpopular, and so they end up following the changing moral requirements of society instead of being the leaven that transforms society.

I thought of this essential distinction when reading Rabbi Jonathan Romain’s recent book of reminiscences and anecdotes about his ministry: Confessions of a Rabbi. Romain, rabbi of Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue, writes that he is “deeply committed to libertarian values”. He describes his synagogue as “no longer a house of prayer but a community centre”, content that choosing a horizontal focus – people – will inevitably diminish the vertical focus: God. Indeed, in his Afterword, he explains this as the reason that he hasn’t mentioned God much in his book.

As with various Christian Churches which have gone down this road, he accepts euthanasia, the morning-after pill, abortion for unwanted babies and same-sex relationships; in practice, the whole and ever-evolving creed that the modern world has imposed on its followers.

He also answers the question I have sometimes asked myself: why don’t Jews proselytise? Romain says it is because Jews don’t believe they have all the answers and that there are many paths to God. “It may be that there is a spirit realm” he conjectures, but it is not a line of thought that interests him. What matters is building community and giving his congregation of 800 households a sense of belonging and identity.

Romain reveals the key to his popularity with his congregation: “It is a simple rule; if your congregation feel you love them, they’ll love you and let you take them in the direction you want to go; if not, it will end in tears.”

Another Jew once said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Many of his listeners didn’t like that either and chose to walk away from him.