Dialogue: Christianity lives in spite of Church

By Garth George

By GARTH GEORGE

As Idoya Munn, of Onehunga, pointed out so gently and kindly in the lead letter on the opposite page on Tuesday, it is a simple but serious mistake to equate Christianity with the Church. It is just as serious a mistake to equate Christianity with what is called the "Christian religion".

And that was the fatal flaw in an otherwise piercingly perceptive commentary on the parlous state of our traditional religion written by Cristina Odone on the Columns page of the Weekend Herald.

She said it sounded "the death knell of Christianity". But she's wrong. It may - in fact, I'm sure it does - indicate the beginning of the end of the Church and religion as we know them.

That is no bad thing, for religion (Churchianity, if you like) has held back Christianity for centuries and rarely more so than today.

As a dearly beloved erstwhile pastor of mine put it so succinctly in a sermon many years ago: "Instead of the Church making the world more churchy, the world has made the Church more worldly."

So it is not surprising that as Churchianity has declined, Christianity has begun to flourish in many parts of the world - and not just the West.

As Idoya Munn points out, reference in the Bible to the Church as we know it is scarce. The New Testament does talk about the Church, but what it describes is simply the whole body of disciples and followers of Jesus Christ, irrespective of race, creed or colour and certainly of denomination.

That Church still exists and its members, though still few, are more numerous than at any time. You will find them in every strata of society, in every community, in almost every church (and some pulpits), in every workplace, every social group, every school, every sports team.

They are men, women, young people and children who have all had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ and have watched, sometimes with awe, while his Holy Spirit has transformed their lives and for whom the first and most important thing in life is their belief in, love for and obedience to their Saviour.

Their first and most important aim in life is to try to be like him that they might serve him and carry out his commandments, in particular, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself."

The love they seek to shed abroad is that which is so wonderfully described by St Paul in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, a love that is patient, kind, generous, humble, courteous, unselfish, good tempered, guileless and sincere - the sum of which describes the nature of their Master.

They study the Bible diligently, not as a chore or a penance, but with joy because it teaches them more about, and brings them closer to, God, in whom their whole lives are centred.

And because they study the scriptures they are pretty much immune to the dogmas of religion and the blandishments of theology, which they recognise as manmade constructs not necessarily in accordance with the teachings of Christ.

They will talk about God and Jesus and the Bible for hours among themselves, but with others only if they are asked. The last thing they would ever even dream of doing would be to try to impose their beliefs on others.

Rather they are persuaded that attraction is better than promotion, that if they can be even a little bit like their Lord, others will be attracted to them as thousands were who flocked to him.

They recognise that Jesus never imposed himself on anyone and that the only people he ever criticised were the religious leaders of his day.

Today's true believer won't even do that: what other people do and believe is between them and God.

Because the Bible tells them not to forsake the gathering together of believers, most attend a church regularly and many are active in it.

They recognise its weaknesses and flaws, yet they know, too, that Jesus promised that not even the gates of Hell would prevail against it.

They acknowledge that the great commission of the Churches is to preach the gospel, and pray and strive towards the day when they will get back to doing just that.

They have their feet firmly planted on the ground, are fully aware of the world around them, and live life to the full in all its infinite variety and excitement, its struggles and tribulations. They are Christianity.

And, as Idoya Munn wrote in her letter: "We [Christians] know that what we hold in our hearts will last long after manmade establishments have fallen."

* garth_george@nzherald.co.nz

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