Entrails and other body parts

In his final blog Evangelical Christian Alex Monro explains how he sees priesthood

Medieval Europe’s clergy were a powerful bunch with little to hold them in check – except the Pope and the king. I sympathise with Denis Diderot, who wrote in the eighteenth century that "man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest".

For England, it was a return to biblical theology that helped achieve the beginnings of such a liberation, at least from the clergy’s long-standing monopoly on truth. The bible had been kept out of lay hands and parents were expected to teach their children the Lord’s Prayer in Latin (or were burned to death for doing so in English), while the established church presented itself as the only means to salvation. The distribution of the scriptures in English made it possible for ordinary English people to read and interpret God’s word for themselves, and to see which teachings of the established church were at variance with scripture.

The difference of these two approaches to God’s word underpins how an evangelical church is built. Evangelicals can be found in many denominations in this country and around the world, such as the Pentecostal, Baptist, Anglican, United Reformed and house church movements. An evangelical church can vary somewhat in its structure according to denomination and culture.

But all such churches will share a belief that the word of God is their ultimate authority, not man. Moreover, all evangelicals believe that God has chosen Jesus to be the only go-between for man and God. There is no other priest who can act as mediator – all believers have direct access to God through Jesus.

Jesus himself appointed twelve apostles as the founders of the church and the apostles appointed leaders in the churches they founded. Bishops provide valuable help as overseers, but power rests with the local churches (the people, not the places), the nerve centre of God’s family and of gospel work. Within the individual church, the pastor is charged with teaching the word of God, but the congregation must test his teaching against the words of scripture and dismiss him if he refuses to teach faithfully. The pastor is also charged with care for the congregation, particularly for their spiritual welfare, though this should be shared with others.

The bible describes the church as a body, with Christ as the head and each person having a function within the body. The emphasis is on the different individual roles contributing to the successful working of the body, rather than on any hierarchy of believers. This is because all are sinners, all are under Christ and all are part of Christ’s body. One biblical writer imagines a hand that wishes it were a foot and an ear that wishes it were an eye, as he tries to encourage his readers to serve God with the gifts they have. If the whole body were an ear, how would it hear, he asks?

There is but one body of Christ and it is made up of many parts – elders, teachers, encouragers, the exceptionally prayerful, musicians, administrators, those skilled in hospitality and many others besides. Over them all, even the pastor, is the word of God.

Alex studied French, then Chinese before pursuing a career in journalism. He now works for Trusted Sources, a political and economic risk consultancy, where he is a China analyst
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.