Christianity and culture: Why too much 'salt of the earth' is as bad as too little

This week I was privileged to attend the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast held at Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament. The guest speaker was Rev Dr Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. His theme was based on the passage in Matthew 5:13: 'You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.'

PixabayChristians should be society's seasoning – in just the right amount.

My main take-home from his talk was that followers of Jesus are meant to be different.

I love cookery shows, especially the competitive ones. On these shows the most regular criticism I hear judges giving competitors is that they have used either too much seasoning or not enough. If they don't use enough salt the food is bland and tasteless. If they use too much, the flavour of the delicious ingredients is overwhelmed and the whole recipe is ruined.

Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth. We are meant to be the seasoning that brings out the God flavours in our society.

It seems to me that there is a fine balance between too much salt and too little.

I am on a journey with church at the moment. I love Christian community, I love Jesus and I love being with his people but at times I seriously struggle with the Church at large. The church is full of people made in the image of the God of love, who are called to be salt. That thrills me because being salt means we are called to be distinct by being people of justice, peace, wisdom, joy, love, forgiveness, inclusivity, reconciliation and sacrifice.

At times we are anything but. We can ruin the beautiful thing that God intended church to be because in our zealousness we can be overpoweringly salty.

In our eagerness to be distinct and separate, we can too easily judge and moralise, holding forth Scripture as our weapon and letting our fear of what we don't understand and fear of what is different dictate our often unkind, prejudiced and hurtful reactions.

We mask the beautiful ingredients of God's justice, grace, mercy and perfect love. Even though those wonderful components are present, they are often overwhelmed by the intensity and strength of the others.

When we are overbearingly salty, church becomes unpalatable. Our experience of church is not the experience God intended.

When church is the right amount of saltiness, it is truly a wonderful and appealing creation. Because the right amount of justice, grace and love transforms lives. The right amount of salt can challenge cruelty and injustice. It can use Scripture as a weapon against the spiritual powers and not against each other. And when the right amount of salt is present it enhances and enriches, bringing out the flavour and distinctiveness of each constituent. The right balance of saltiness means that the church is what it was created to be: the distinct body of embracing, open and inclusive people who encourage lives to become fulfilled and abundant, who bring out the God flavours in the world and who challenge anything that wants to destroy or ruin those flavours.

Now that's a church that, as Mary Berry often says, 'makes me want to dive right in'. It makes me want to grab my spiritual knife and fork and relish, with great delight, every single well-seasoned morsel.

Mandy Bayton is The Cinnamon Network adviser for Wales and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @mandyebayton