On the Unity of the Church – What is this thing called Christianity?

[Edit (03/10/14): Apologies for how long this post is. If you’re in a hurry you may find it effective to just read the bits in bold to get the main points, and prioritise reading the final section.]

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“Christianity” can mean so very many things.

When you meet enough people – especially people who have met a lot of other people – and when you see enough of the world, you must concede this fact, that two different “Christians,” when randomly plucked from different places on the globe, will not necessarily adhere to beliefs or practices that at all resemble each other. To study history only multiplies this phenomenon: not only is Christianity different from one place to another, but also from one time to another, within the same place! Over the centuries since Jesus walked the earth, those who claim to follow him have said and done radically different and irreconcilable things. In the name of Jesus, some people have fed the hungry and clothed the poor, while other people have fought wars and taken land by force; some people have abolished slavery, while others have enslaved generations; some people have set up schools as centres of free education, while others have sought to suppress and persecute free thought. Some Christians have called Jesus the very Son of God, while others have called him only a good teacher; some have said that salvation is a free gift received by faith, while others have said we are to earn our way into Heaven by our good deeds. Some Christians believe fully in the authority of scripture, while others say it’s only a flawed human guideline. Of those who do believe the Bible, they can’t agree on how long it took God to create the Earth, or whether God exists as a Trinity, or whether or not women ought to preach. All the while some of these people are singing hymns while others sing rock music – and have even waged war on each other over differences comparable to this.

I hope you get the point. There is a serious question on the minds of so many people on the outside, looking in: What is this thing called “Christianity”? And why can’t its proponents get along? How can you say that there is one Christian religion worth talking about, when there as many interpretations of it as there are “Christians”? Of course, Christians like myself will say that people who fight wars in the name of Christianity have entirely abandoned the very essence of what Jesus came to earth to achieve – a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36). “They are not true Christians,” I will say. But of course that’s exactly it, they shall reply: who gets to decide who are the true Christians and who are the fake ones? Your peaceful Christianity is just your interpretation, while those who want to advance Christendom by the sword will tell you that your interpretation is wrong; you are the fake Christian. Who, then, can be the arbiter? Who can really say what ‘true’ Christianity is?

To complicate matters further, while there are a whole bunch of people who claim to be Christian that I will say are in fact not Christians, there is a whole group of other people whom I affirm when they profess to be Christian, even though I disagree with them on smaller but still major theological issues, such as the nature of God’s sovereignty and its relationship to human free will, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or creation and the age of the Earth. Yes it seems as though Evangelical Christians (by which I mean roughly “Protestant Christians who believe that Bible is the sole authoritative word of God and that people must be saved from deserved punishment for sin through a personal faith in the atoning work of Jesus’ death and resurrection”), have decided upon a certain set of criteria for what it is to be a real Christian. We have at some point drawn a theological circle, inside which you count as a Christian and outside which you don’t. And of course, “to be a Christian” is here synonymous with “to be saved”, and thus such theological line drawing comes with a certain level of moral connotation, and can cause all sorts of offence. And yet such line drawing must be done, for not just any old person who believes any old thing can be called a “Christian” just because we want to be nice – no more than just anybody can be called a “hipster” (not that they necessarily want to be). The question then is, on what basis do we mark the cut-off between Christian and not? Just how much can a person disagree with me before I say they have departed from the true faith? Ultimately, on what basis can I say that there is one religion called Christianity? Continue reading

On the Progressiveness of Science and Conservatism of Religion

We all know how often science and religion are pitted against each other. And it happens in so many ways. Various inherent differences are suggested between these two enterprises. They say that science appeals to reason while religion appeals to authority; science improves society while religion hinders society’s progression. We’ve all heard the fairy tales – you might not call them fairy tales, but I do. Anyway. There’s one particular difference that I commonly hear suggested as existing between science and religion, which I want to address here. And that is that science is inherently progressive, while religion is inherently stubborn or static.

Continue reading

Perhaps the reason we have a tendency to crave drama in life is because drama is so incredibly unambiguous. Everything is out in the open, honesty reigns, there is no more mystery surrounding the thoughts of others. It’s almost as if you’re actually getting stuff done.

Speaking the Truth.

 

Towards the end of my high school years, I developed this very noble ideal of always telling the truth, of being a deliverer of truth where truth is lacking. Even if the truth was bad news, even if it was going to hurt the recipient, I thought it would be right to deliver it.

My rationale was this. If I deliver some piece of correct information to someone, and it is clearly very bad news to that person, and as a result of hearing this news their happiness is significantly diminished, and perhaps it wasn’t news that they necessarily needed to be made aware of – am I morally blameworthy? Have I done the wrong thing? Well no, I’d say, because all I have done is told them the truth. All I have done is give them an increased accuracy in their understanding of the world. Their unhappiness isn’t really in reaction to something I’ve done; it is in reaction to the way things are. What gives them pain is the state of the world, to which I was merely a mediator. Had I not told them the truth, their happiness would have been based on ignorance. I have removed the barrier of their ignorance and released them to the freedom of assessing reality as it is.

Now I still believe this, really. I think we probably can’t be fully blamed – we are never unjust – for telling the truth. But, I think, we can do even better; we can go deeper. There is some higher justice to be reached in the grace with which we tell the truth.  Continue reading

Open-mindedness…

…is not the goal. The undiscerning open mind is just as useless as the closed one, and potentially more dangerous. If not guarded by rationality, it opens itself up to any nonsense that may try to enter. Open-mindedness alone will not suffice.

The goal is a relentless, stubborn, adamantly truth-seeking mind that will not take falsehood for an answer.

Tears of Tyrants: letter to a postmodern world

Let us teach our people that there is no God.

Let us teach our people that they were not made with intention or purpose.

Let us teach our people that their actions will not ultimately be judged.

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Let us teach our people that there is no such thing as truth; that there is no right way.

Let us teach our people that they should believe any doctrine, except for the doctrine of objectivity, so long as it makes them happy.

Let us teach our people to let the self reign supreme.

Let us be our own dictators over truth.

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Let us then be shocked and disgusted when individuals refuse to behave according to our moral principles.

And let us panic as we find ourselves powerless to convince them into obedience.

Let us shout out words of which we have stripped all meaning and power.

Let us compose arguments with no atmosphere through which to transmit them.

Let chaos silently sweep the nations as we observe at a helpless distance, locked inside our vacuous void, having successfully removed the possibility of human connection.

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Let, then, our blood boil with anger as we strike down our enemy.

Let us lock him up for his crimes against us,

And weep tears of tyrants.

My Awakening.

 – Written 4th August 2009

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At the risk of sounding like a heretic, I say: don’t spend life searching for God. Spend life searching for truth. Truth is paramount in all things.

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You see, if you spend your life looking for God, you will most probably find him. Whether he exists or not, you will find him. But if you spend your life searching for truth, then if he does not exist, you won’t find him, and if he does, you will.

I am distressed by the number of Christians who sneer at, or at least fear for, those who spend their time exposed to other people’s views – listening to the case for atheism, watching movies or reading novels that say something contradictory to the Bible, studying philosophy… etc. “But it will challenge your faith,” they say, “It’s risky,” they say, even “It won’t be good for your relationship with God”.

What is that? To the people that say this to me, I love you, but you’re wrong.

Tell me, if God really is real, what could I possibly have to fear? What possible risk could there be? If anything, they’re expressing some idea that the truth of God’s reality is weaker in some way than mistaken contradictory musings.

It is a tragedy that Christians might only grant themselves exposure to views that will preserve their faith. This is not hunger for God, or devotion. It is fear. Fear that your precious beliefs are wrong. We need to stop searching for affirmation of our faith and start looking solely for truth. Because the truth is paramount, it is more important than anything. First of all, you must consider from time to time the possibility that God does not exist. Because if the truth is that he doesn’t, then we should throw away our belief in him; it would be right to. If that is the truth, then that’s all there is. God’s proposed existence is not above that.

You see, if God is, then he is “above” truth – he commands it. But that’s only if he really does exist. If there is one thing that God cannot be above it is the truth of his nonexistence. So if I am on the quest for truth and find for certain that God is not real, then that is a good thing, because I have just escaped a lie/error/wish of man. I know, believer, you just got that chill when I said finding out that God is a lie would be a good thing. I understand why you would feel that but it does just show how entrenched you are in your mindset that he is real. And I believe this is closed minded. Consider things from the opposite of your point of view. To say that there is a “risk” of being led to believe that God is fake, then, is deceptively one-sided. It is a possibility. Nothing else.

So why should I not fear? I shouldn’t fear because if God really is real, then the search for truth must lead me to him. It must, because he is the truth. And I can say with confidence that it will, having met him personally. But not only do I believe there is no danger, but I believe there is a benefit. To sit comfortably in your beliefs is like backing down from a fight. Sure, the man who backs down will certainly retain his life – he couldn’t lose, but did he win? Had he fought, and defeated his opponent, he would end up in mainly the same position as he would have had he backed down – alive. But he would have been better for it, more resilient and more assured of his abilities, as well as having an enemy that is dead. You haven’t won anything if you never gave yourself the possibility of losing. This is a long and pretty way of saying that if you allow your faith to be challenged, your resulting faith will be stronger, with less soft areas of fear, and more areas of actual assured knowledge. And that is what I say to those of you who believe that studying other ideas is bad for your relationship with God. It is not. I would say God is a strong advocate of truth. He wants us to find it.

But what I want to do is issue out a challenge. Mainly to Christians but one that applies to all people.

Never conclude.

Never conclude. There is no reason to. How many times in your life have you made a conclusion about how the world is only to discover later that you were wrong? What was that conclusion then, other than an obstacle in the way of your realisation of the truth? Bruce Lee said that, although commonly referred to as a Master, he was not a Master, but a student Master. He said no-one is a Master until they die because not until they die will they stop learning. This is true for our beliefs as well. Life is full of belief and then correction, seeing things one way, then another. But for many Christians it is not the truth that holds their faith steady (because they haven’t consulted the unbiased truth), it is just their stubbornness and closed-mindedness. I’m not saying this is you, but I know it does happen. I know I have been stubborn and unwilling to listen before to arguments that sounded too convincing. But I know that is not the way. It is not the way God wants us to seek him.

Somewhere along the line, many of us decided to conclude that God is real and that we would no longer search for truths potentially outside that notion; because we have that question figured out. And from there we sit down forever more. But that means that even if a perfect proof for atheism came our way we would still believe in God. And I ask you, do you truly believe in something if you haven’t exposed yourself to the opportunity to believe something else? Do you?

I’m not asking you all to search vigorously for the rest of your lives and spend no time living. I just think that there is something wrong with a stubborn belief, even if it’s the right belief. Too many of us are sat down in our Christianity, without the possibility of moving. You don’t have to leave your position of being a Christian. Just STAND UP in your Christianity. There’s a difference between the two. Don’t sit where you believe and say that’s the end. Don’t conclude. Be free and loose to move whether you end up moving or not. Always be open to the possibility that you’re wrong. Allow yourself the freedom to believe whatever is true.

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Don’t conclude. Have an open mind.

Don’t seek God. Seek truth. I’m confident you will find him there.

  • “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life.” – Jesus of Nazareth.

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