“I don’t fit in with those people in there. They are perfect and I have my share of problems. I am not sure I even want to get rid of my problems. At least I can have a little fun out here in the real world.” “I used to belong to that church but I got tired of them spreading gossip about each other. They are so hypocritical. Why would I want to attend services where people don’t practice what they preach?” “Those people believe in God and they believe that ______ [some politician] is a good man. How can that be? There is very little about his positions that truly reflects Christianity, there is little about his character that reflects Christianity. I can’t associate with people like that.”
Actual conversations I have had with people who have turned their back on the church…
Why all this discussion of not valuing the church? That’s how John Stott begins his book Basic Christianity. *
He describes the state of many people as “hostile to the church, friendly to Jesus.” I would agree. I have personally known many Christians who say they believe, yet they rarely go to church. They may attend church one time per month and that is what they describe as “regular” or they may not go to church at all. Many people don’t want to have anything to do with church.
What is going on? Stott says too many people today see contradictions between the teachings of Jesus and the current state of the church or the current behaviors of believers. For many, Jesus has not lost His appeal. His call to love one another is admirable. He preached that it is important to try to live a sinless life and people who read the Bible know that Jesus was a person who acted out His faith. He was not afraid to take a stand against convention; many times He did what was right and found Himself pitted against the strict religious leaders of His day. Another problem with many people today is they just don’t find church appealing, with its institutionalized “rules.” Add to that the idea that it is easy to denounce churches and church members for “corrupt” behaviors [falling short of the glory of God].
People still seem to need some spiritual guidance in their lives. When times get tough as they can do, that is the time to turn to a higher power and ask for help. So what do they do?
They turn their back on the Christian church and turn to other faith worldviews. Maybe they just get so busy with today’s values that there is no time to think about God. [I am doing fine in my successful life, thank you very much].
Let’s say that belonging to a church is the problem, but there is still a fascination with Jesus Christ. Stott addresses a basic question that some people may have.
Did Jesus really exist?
The answer is yes. Multiple Christian writers attest to his life as well as pagan writers. He was very much a human being, being born into this world, growing up as a child and then an adult, He worked as a carpenter, He slept, ate and drank, He suffered pain because He had a human body, He had human emotions and He died.**
But according to Stott, the biggest stumbling block for many who are on the fringes of the church is the following question: Was Jesus God?
For one to be a believer, that is an essential. Jesus was not some bizarre Christian superstition. Jesus was the unique Son of God.
Stott comments: “This question is fundamental. We cannot dodge it. We must be honest. If Jesus was not God in human flesh, Christianity is exploded. We are left with just another religion with some beautiful ideas and noble ethics; its unique distinction has gone” [Stott, 8].
At earlier times in my life, I was not sure I was truly ready to accept this. I found the Bible to be an interesting “book,” not really the “Word of God.” It had lots of passages where I found problems [it says this here, and over here it says something else types of problems]. I was raised to go to church so it was a given that I continue that after I left home. It was more of a duty than anything. I was not sure that I was getting something valuable from church service. I did not think deeply about my faith. If someone asked me if Jesus was God I would have said “Yes!” without thinking because that was the proper response. In those days I am not sure I could even explain the significance of the God-Jesus connection.
Then I had a chapter of my life where I lost my moorings. I was living as I wanted and then I was confronted with the fact that all I depended upon was taken away. I needed help quickly and like many who find themselves in a foxhole in the middle of an artillery bombardment, I made a sincere overture to God Almighty.
It was a simple one-word statement but it was the first time in my life I had ever said it.
I asked God for help.
I asked Him for help, believing He could do something for me. I asked Him for help, knowing deep in my heart that He would be there for me. For the first time in my life, I truly wanted Him and needed Him.
He had already sent His Son to earth to help me, but as I said above, that God-Jesus connection was something I just accepted because I was told to accept it. I could not explain it. It did not seem that important to me. Then in 1998 I was very interested in it. When all that I believed in life was called into question, I needed a new “rulebook.” That rulebook was the New Testament.
I turned to the New Testament and read it like a novel. Page after page held clues for me about how to live a better life. For much of it, the message was articulated by Jesus or His Apostles and it made so much sense. Little did I know that when I asked God for help that I would find myself studying His word, but I had always been a Christian on the fringes, not serious about my beliefs, but someone who did go to church regardless.
One of the first books I read to supplement the Bible in 1998 was Basic Christianity by John Stott. I loved the New Testament but I also loved John Stott’s writing. He was clear in his message. He challenged me with his declarations. He instructed me about the basics that I missed somewhere along the line.
He made me think about how it is essential that I accept Jesus as the Son of God and the more I went to church and actually listened to my pastor, attended adult Sunday school and took my teacher’s lessons to heart, the more I read the Bible and other good books, the more I formed a rock-solid belief that Jesus was Divine, the true Son of Almighty God.
I still had my problems as I began to attend church on a regular basis. The people in my church did not condemn me about my problems; they loved me anyway. I saw that many of them were struggling too, but they knew that God loved them and forgave them. Some people misbehaved in church but I began to see that as normal. We are all human beings and to be held to a perfect standard just because you walk into a church is a bit of a stretch. Their behavior was regrettable but it was understandable. We are all human. Over the years I have heard people express their political views in church [not pastors], but I tried not to do that. I understand how non-believers can be upset about that. I began to feel that taking politics of the world into a church somehow takes something away from the worship of God. I don’t discuss politics in my adult Sunday school class and when I hear someone saying political things, I just don’t respond.
I won’t turn my back on church. I need it. I won’t turn my back on God. I have to have Him. I won’t turn my back on His Son. He inspires me.
You see, God sent His Son Jesus to help me. He is there to help you too.
There it is…
*My first post on The Cross of Christ made reference to Basic Christianity so I am going to insert comments on that book in between posts on The Cross… I just finished chapter one of The Cross [November 30, 2020]. I think readers may find this approach interesting. For my opening comments on Basic see the post “Studying Stott Again” on October 25, 2020. I have never worked on two books at a time but now is the time to do that.
**See “Archaeologists Believe They’ve Unearthed Jesus’s Childhood Home” Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics Website, December 1, 2020 for recent discoveries.