“Why should I become a Christian?”
I`ve just completed my latest visit to Paget school in Burton for another question and answer session under the title “What is a Christian ?” That is in itself seems a fairly straightforward question to which the most basic answer would speak of someone who chose to follow Jesus Christ in life, deeds and words; someone who is attracted by the teaching of Jesus and so on.
However, what I`ve found interesting and challenging are some of the other questions that have arisen. “Why are you a Vicar ?”, “Why does the Christian Church carry out baptism ?”, “Why do you drink blood ?” (think about the rationale behind that one) and other penetrating, thought-provoking questions. I`ve now been in classes ranging from year 7 to year 11 and the depth of some of the questions has left me wishing some folk within Church life would ask the same sort of questions with the same sort of open, inquiring mind and the same desire to simply learn more.
But to come back to that opening question, it is surely one of the most challenging. You see, in each class I`ve taken part in there has been a mixture of youngsters; some no doubt attend Church, some who would declare themselves Christian by virtue of being born in this country, some who would state that they had no faith and it was all a load of rubbish either out of a genuine position or out of bravado, and then some of each class clearly belonged to the Muslim faith.
How do you address all of these variable options >
That opening question was posed by a Muslim child but I don`t believe that is the most important point in this issue that has consumed my thinking since Monday; it could have just as easily been posed by any youngster in any of the classes I`ve visited over the last two weeks.
One of the standard answers from some Christians might be that Jesus has come to save us from sin, but how do you persuade someone (of any age) when their concept of sin is different to yours ? How do you speak of a Saviour when their religion declares him to be a major prophet but not the Son of God ? How do you produce evidence that it is contained in the Bible, when some of your listeners would say that the Q`uran is the Holy Book to live by and others would say that they don`t think the Bible is true ? How do you speak of salvation when the person in front of you has no concept (or a different concept) of Heaven and Hell ?
Don`t worry, I haven`t suddenly become a woolly minded liberal, but I do recognise that to share the Gospel in today’s world is not as clear-cut as it used to be. I believe in a God who has created the world, a God who despaired at the selfishness of humankind and a God who in Jesus stepped into the world to save us from ourselves. I still believe in a Saviour called Jesus who went to the cross to die for me, and I believe in a Lord who rose from the dead to show ultimate power. I still believe in the Holy Spirit who leads us on today, who fills us with his power and energy and who is a massive part in my faith journey.
No, I haven`t let go of any of this but I do realise that when sharing the Gospel others have a different starting point than I have had in my life; different reference points and different peer/family situations leading to different conclusions.
So my answer can only be to begin with the words “I believe……….” and “My experience is………” However, these have to be followed up by lifestyle. It’s no good believing that Jesus is my Lord if I don`t then live out the lifestyle of peace and love that he has called me to. I cannot say “Jesus loves you” and then fail to love the other person myself. Someone once said that our very lives were a sermon in themselves; St Francis of Assisi is, allegedly, supposed to have declared “Go and preach the Gospel…………use words if you have to”.
Secondly, I have to speak of my experience; those times I have felt closest to God, times in the 1990`s when I felt the power of the Holy Spirit in a mighty way, and times since when the Holy Spirit has empowered and convicted me. I speak of times when I feel that I`ve heard the voice of God (not every day as I would wish and not often in my Ministry), times when I`ve felt the nudge of God through other people and simply those times that John Wesley would describe as “my heart was strangely warmed” that I can`t dismiss as heartburn (!).
I hold to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, that which John Wesley used as a methodology for theological reflection but ultimately even that becomes difficult when others have a different starting point or different points of reference.
(Sadly, I can`t reproduce a chart here to show what it is but it covers the four areas that Wesley felt were important when reflecting on issues; Tradition, Scripture, Experience, Reasoning. Not always in that order)
I found a long time ago that I cannot rationalise my belief in a logical manner, and nor would I want to for if I could it would speak more of science than of faith. Indeed at the end of the day it takes an act of faith to believe and so, ultimately, the best evidence is that of a Christian life lived under the direction of, at the behest of, and following the model of Jesus Christ, borne out of a personal conviction and experience.
What answer did I give to the question ? I spoke of belief and experience for no-one can take them away from me. What answer might you have given ?