by Simon Sutcliffe.
We are pleased to continue our partnership with Spectrum, a community of Christians of all denominations which encourages groups and individuals to explore the Christian faith in depth. This year the study papers are writen by Prof Anthony Reddie and Rev’d Simon Sutcliffe on the theme ‘Being the Salt of the Earth (A look at some peace and justice issues)’. This is the first of six coming through the year…
Salt in the world, not of the world.
Matthew 5:13 -16 & Matthew 13 vs 33
Jesus says that salt that loses its saltiness is of no use and should be discarded, trampled underfoot. It is also true that salt is not much use in a bag of salt, and, for that matter, yeast does not do much in a batch of yeast and light is pretty useless in a lit room.
These metaphors of salt, light and yeast assume one thing – that they exist in a larger system, a greater community. This has some interesting consequences for the church when it begins to think about mission, and particularly about its ministry of justice. It begs the question – what is the telos, the end game, of mission? What are we aiming for? Do we want the whole world to be Christian? Or does salt, light and yeast suggest that Christianity should always exist in a larger world that is not Christian?
As for justice, does that mean there will always be injustice to be challenged? Is the hope of a utopian future that we might call the Kingdom impossible? Is that what Jesus meant when he said, ‘you will always have the poor among you’ (John 12 vs 8)?
These are difficult questions for us to ponder, but are worth reflecting on when the church, be it local or national, considers its motivation for mission and ministry. Why are we doing this? And, how will we know we have done it well? are important questions for any church leadership team with which to grapple.
But it also asks another question of us, it asks us to consider where we are located? Mission doesn’t happen everywhere it always happens somewhere. Christianity is not everywhere or nowhere it is always somewhere. Knowing that we are located somewhere might seem obvious, but it’s a helpful reminder to notice our positionality, the place(s) we find ourselves. Noticing the larger spaces where we can be salt, light and yeast draws our attention to the world beyond the church – and that is always a good thing!
Positionality, of course, isn’t just about geography. It is also the space you hold in the world due to all those things that make you, you. Paying attention to the power dynamics at play due to our colour, wealth, education etc. helps to ensure we are the right kind of salt, light and yeast in the world. This, again, is a tough line of questioning for the church that often wants to do, or at least be seen to do, but to do appropriately is a fine line the church can sometimes step over, often unwittingly.
There are a number of ways to help a congregation or fellowship group think about their locatedness and positionality. One way is to draw a map of your local community. It does not need to be accurate, it just needs to show where the church or group is in relation to other key aspects of the area. For instance, where are the local schools, shops, pubs, health services and how do they relate to you? Are you en route to any of them? Do you share similar people? Which of them are you in relationship with? Another way to see where, as a congregation or group, individuals might develop their vocation as salt, light and yeast is to do a diary check with everyone. Draw a grid with each day of the week in it and ask people where they are on different days of the week. Are they in work? At the school gate? At the post office? In the park? This can often affirm where people see their vocation outside of the church, or can open up possibilities for new ministries and vocation.
1. What do you think the telos of mission is?
2. How would you describe your positionality, where are you located and what makes you, you?
3. Where, in the life of the church, do you get to reflect on these questions corporately?
4 thoughts on “Salt in the world, not of the world.”
Great accessible article that I’d recommend to any church community
I was at the Commonwealth Games Rugby 7’s finals. In the final 1/2 time, as light faded and to keep us motivated a song was played with the instruction to stand, turn phone lights on and dance where we were. I didn’t join in (I’d gone to watch the 7’s not for a party) but it did look beautiful and as I read you reflecting it reminds me that lights clustered may illuminate a significant area but many small lights, spaced apart and shone in their own position illuminated the dance of the whole stadium and make a significant impact.
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Too much light can blind us, too much salt can poison us, and too much yeast can give us a nasty infection.
All things in moderation, I’d say!
Thank you for the article, Simon.
I’ve been giving it some deeper thought and reflecting on your questions since my initial reaction on Monday:
1) I don’t think there is an end game (telos) in mission. The Kingdom of God is not a destination, it’s a journey we are called to (‘follow me’.) It’s always moving, living, changing. It’s never stagnant or static. We can’t control it, much as we’d like to and try to. All we can do is participate, and hopefully make a positive contribution.
2) Geographically, I am on the edge of a small market town with a very strong Christian presence. Many denominations are flourishing here, and churches are working together in lots of ways for the benefit of the local community and the wider world. Fellowship groups are meeting in local pubs and coffee shops, offering a twinkle of light and a sprinkle of salt here and there! What makes me me is an appreciation of silence, solitude and personal space, while at the same time a deep need to belong to something bigger, better and more beautiful than I could ever hope to be on my own. I feel very blessed to be part of the Christian fellowship in our town.
3) I mostly reflect on these things in the privacy of my own room, often in the early hours of the morning when I can’t sleep. But more recently I have taken part in Alpha which I feel is an excellent resource for exploration, reflection and discussion on the Christian faith. There is no deep theology or serious debate, simply a chance to hear the good news in a fresh and relevant way, share thoughts and experiences, and an opportunity to continue to meet in Christian fellowship after the course is finished. I highly recommend it, both to lifelong Christians and to those just thinking of dipping their toes in the living water!