I appreciate that I am not an outsider to Christianity, but I still feel the need to address the issue of how Christianity appears to people that are. I’ve been toying this idea for a while, but after some brief discussions in English today I decide that I would do my best. I find that there are two extremes that non-Christians go to when talking about what they perceive Christianity to be, and I think that the church is largely responsible for both of them. I’m sure that I myself have made mistakes that have led to these extremes in the minds of people that I’m trying to explain my faith to.
The first extreme is that of moralistic authoritarianism. That’s just a posh way of saying lots of rules and no freedom. Some Christians talk about Christianity as if there aren’t any rules, a viewpoint which I once sort of accepted but now reject wholeheartedly. When asked what the most important Old Testament commandment was, Jesus replied that you must first ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matt. 22:37) and second ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matt. 22:39). Adding Jesus’ final command to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation’ (Mark 16:15). I’m pretty sure that those three things are things that Christians should be doing; they’re rules. Following them is good, not following them is bad. Does this mean that Christianity is oppressive and cruel? Emphatically NO. Having rules does not make an institution authoritarian. But some people have gone too far. I shudder when I read Victorian writings about morals and rules and I know that they’re just not Biblical. Table legs were thought to be sexually suggestive, for goodness sake! That type of religion, with rules and constraints on everything is moralistic and authoritarian and I’m thankful to people like William Blake who cried out against it. It’s this sort of thing that I think Christians could improve on, myself included. There are things that are bad for us to do, but if that’s all we ever go on about, of course people are going to get the wrong idea! Nobody knows what we’re for, only what we’re against. By all means, let’s follow the genuine rules, but going beyond them doesn’t help anybody. We should leave the boundary setting to God.
The opposite extreme is the cuddly God, the idea that no matter what you do, God can never love you less, that there are no rules, ‘once saved, always saved’, that kind of idea. Actually, I think this idea is more damaging to Christians than non-Christians, but it’s still a misconception and it’s one that I think takes away a lot of the oomph of Christianity, to use a technical term. Often, I’ve heard people say that they could just ‘pray the prayer’ and then live how they want. That’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says that genuine faith will be shown by your works – what you do will reflect what you think. This means that if you tell God you’re sorry and you mean it, you’ll change. If you don’t change, you didn’t mean it. Romans 11 tells us that if you don’t continue in God’s kindness (i.e. living according to God’s will) you will be ‘cut off’. The Bible is clear that God loves and has mercy on those who fear him. I know I’m wandering onto the treacherous ground of what God’s love is, but the Bible is crystal clear that God has a special relationship with those who love him. Which makes sense, you have to admit. All this is why I believe that this extreme is also flawed.
What is Christianity as I understand it?
My God gives and takes away (Job 1:21).
My God is mighty to save (Zephaniah 3:17).
My God will destroy his enemies (Revelation 19:15).
My God loves those who fear him (Psalm 103:11).
My God sacrificed himself for everyone (John 3:16).
My God will have mercy on those who believe his truth (Romans 10:9).
I know that a lot of Christians won’t talk about passages like Revelation 19, or the flipside of Psalm 103, but they’re there, in the Bible. I heard in a sermon the other week which can also be found on this blog that people in modern times often make God in their own image, so here I’ve tried to be as balanced as possible, showing what the Bible says about the merciful, loving side of God that will save all who call on him and the just, holy side of God that will punish where punishment is necessary. God is both these things. I want people to know that, and not run to either extreme.