This week, the Church of England had their 60-second film refused by leading cinema chains. The film features several individuals saying the Lord’s Prayer in varying and diverse situations.
With bishops on mainstream media expressing their surprise, this has been one of the top church news stories of the year. But should we be worried that the Lord’s Prayer was banned?
This whole situation has made me consider the writing of Stanley Hauerwas.
For Hauerwas, the church is an alternative polis.
What does this mean? Using imagery from Augustine’s The City of God, Hauerwas is saying that an individual cannot belong to both the City of God and the Earthly City simultaneously. We cannot wholeheartedly follow Jesus Christ and Caesar. We live in an alternative spiritual city, our citizenship lies beyond this temporal world.
The Church is countercultural in every aspect and in every society where she finds herself. Where the polis of the liberal democratic nation state gives praise to individual rights and exerting ones power in all situations, the Church is a polis which delights in selflessness, where praise is given to the one who gave the ultimate self-sacrifice.
This doesn’t mean that the church should withdraw from the world. Instead, Hauerwas calls for a visible church where, by being the church in loving each other and honouring the community outside it, the church testifies to the cohesive, community-creating power of God. This visible church can be called the confessing church- A church who both says and acts the Lord’s Prayer.
Where for some, this witness of the visible confessing church is attractive and draws them into the alternative polis (hallelujah!), for others it provokes hostility.
As the confessing church, we should not be surprised when being a visible alternative polis evokes a reaction. Be that for speaking up for dignity for the poor or placing an advert for prayer in cinemas. But this reaction should not be the main aim of the Confessing church.
The reason that we shouldn’t aim for a reaction is because we don’t need society’s approval. We don’t require control of the shared civil space. What we offer is an alternative to the ‘build an empire’ society that surrounds us. We offer ‘your Kingdom come’.
This ‘your Kingdom come’ is shown in the image and eternal reality of the cross of Jesus Christ. In dying on the cross, Jesus demonstrated how the world will always be hostile to the truth. His witness to the truth was unwavering with remarkable results. His death and resurrection demonstrated his victory over all powers in earth and the heavens. This eternal reality of Christ’s power and dominion is why the church knows that no peace or justice can come about outside of him.
Hauerwas writes, ‘the overriding political task of the church is to be the community of the cross.’ A community of the cross is a church that understands that that we are not here to build empires but to declare ‘your kingdom come’