Please bear with me as I begin with a Bible quote: “They called them back and warned them that they were on no account ever again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John spoke right back, “Whether it’s right in God’s eyes to listen to you rather than to God, you decide. As for us, there’s no question—we can’t keep quiet about what we’ve seen and heard” Acts 4:18-20
The text is to do with an incident when two of Jesus apostles in the days following soon after Jesus death, who had been busily going around preaching the gospel message, which had Jesus birth, death and resurrection at its centre, and who were told to stop by the religious authorities and had to bear the consequences, in this case imprisonment , although later it was often death. Things have not changed so much, for even now here in what was Christian Britain preachers are being told not to preach and punished if they do so, such as the recent happenings involving street preacher Mike Overd demonstrate, and not all that unrelated are the results of a survey that finds Christians facing widespread discrimination. In many countries in the world the price to pay for practicing one’s religion may well be death, with recent incidents being well documented in websites like that of International Christian Concern.
This brings me to an important concept that the most harden cynic of things Christian will do well to heed if they are wise enough to want to understand what makes Christians of the more earnest variety and who are frequently active working on behalf of their communities tick, and that is conscience, which is an important driving force among such folk as I have often noted. According to Wikipedia: “Conscience is an aptitude, faculty, intuition or judgment that assists in distinguishing right from wrong. Moral judgment may derive from values or norms (principles and rules). In psychological terms conscience is often described as leading to feelings of remorse when a human commits actions that go against his/her moral values and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when actions conform to such norms. The extent to which conscience informs moral judgment before an action and whether such moral judgments are or should be based in reason has occasioned debate through much of the history of Western philosophy”.
It is not my intention here to philosophize concerning this subject but I will make observations. I have met very few people without a conscience but among those who I have met people’s consciences vary widely in sensitivity and as to what issues conscience need to be applied. Some more than others are prepared to sacrifice conscience if it suits their purposes or the price to pay is too high. Some put the law on a pedestal such that what the law dictates they will do but anything else comes down to personal preference. While some consciences are informed by feeling and reason, others especially religious folk are informed by their beliefs. This is where I want to be more specific. Christians who preach even at personal cost or stand up for a principle that may lead to them being discriminated against often do so because being true to their conscience is an overriding principle even when they otherwise take seriously such biblical exhortations as obeying their leaders and rendering unto Caesar. That same conscience that may lead some not to support gay marriage and suffer the consequences might lead them to help at a homeless night shelter or at a food bank or with Street Pastors.
As we approach a General Election, I submit what some Christians including me signed up to at the last election that I continue to see as important: the Westmister 2010 declaration of Christian conscience: “protecting human life, protecting marriage, and protecting freedom of conscience are foundational for creating and maintaining strong families, caring communities and a just society. Our Christian faith compels us to speak and act in defence of all these”. I doubt that this will be high on most politicians agenda or in media reporting, but will be on mine. While mindful of a plethora of other important issues I will make it my business to quiz candidates on where they stand on these matters. Meanwhile, my conscience causes me to be socially active, including serving the poor and oppressed, following with God’s help His Word, and preaching the gospel. Regarding the latter two, these may not always sit well with a number who may otherwise approve of Christians being no strings attached providers of welfare, but the main point of being a follower of Jesus is we do just that and our consciences demand we live the message of the gospel and God’s righteousness.