Churches and Social Issues in Twentieth-century Britain

By G. I. T. Machin | Go to book overview

PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Churches are primarily religious and doctrinal organizations, but social attitudes, policy, and practice have always and inescapably been a large part of their concerns.

Christianity is mainly organized by means of Churches, in Britain no less than in any other country. Churches represent Christianity in the way each believes to be the best and most appropriate. Churches share with each other the basic Christian doctrines of the existence and activity of God and the incarnation and redemption of Christ, but beyond these beliefs their doctrinal systems are diverse. Also diverse are the organization and liturgy of Churches and their attitudes to control of religion by the State.

Towards mankind in general, Churches lay their chief emphasis on conversion and repentance as routes to salvation. Men and women must be persuaded to improve themselves in order to increase their fitness to receive the benefit of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Hence morality has always been a major part of Christian teaching, and from this springs a desire to supervise and improve the whole range of personal behaviour demonstrated by mankind.

Extension from personal morality to public policy is inevitable in the case of Christian intentions and activity. Government actions as well as personal behaviour are seen as shaping the individual, and personal morality is seen as partly a product of public policy. So the Christian is often deeply interested in social policy and its workings. Personal quietism and disinterest in the affairs of the world have, of course, always been, and remain, very significant strands in Christianity. The extent to which Christians should forsake the spiritual cloister and go forth to save the material world was sometimes a matter of anxious dilemma and dispute. But the outgoing desire to improve the state of man through the influence of Christian morality on public policy and action has proved, since the early nineteenth century at least, to be a more powerful force than spiritual seclusion. Christianity has indeed been the main cultural influence on the changing social policies of Britain. There is a great deal of consensus between Churches on social questions, both private and public, despite the differences over theology and liturgy

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