This article follows on from the one on Christianity being a Relationship with Jesus rather than a Religion. We continue the analogy with marriage, one which the Bible itself uses in portraying a relationship with Jesus.
In Philippians 2 Paul says to work out our Salvation “with fear and trembling”, but this only half the story. We also know from Scripture that God is first and foremost a God of Love (more accurately, THE God of Love.) In marriage we may correct our behaviour due to a fear of divorce, and given the awesome power of God it is right to fear a “divorce” from Him. However, divorce is only the worst-case scenario. In marriage, and also with God, most of what we do is done out of love; our love for the other party, and the other party’s love for us. Love is endlessly forgiving, patient and kind. When we goof, God gives another chance. We have no need to fear Him turning His back on us; we do need to fear ourselves turning away from Him.
As with any marriage, there will be plenty of people around who feel they have some interest in it, be they In-laws, friends, even potential adulterers. For the person trying to make the marriage work, it is very important that they connect with the right people: people who will help them through a crisis, rather than take advantage of it; people who genuinely wish to see the new relationship mature and strengthen, rather than insert themselves into it for financial or any other gain. In the same way, new Christians (and old) need to be careful about who they associate with and their motives. As ever, the Bible is the one totally reliable guide.
When Jesus says “The Kingdom of God is within you” it is not some super-spiritual riddle that people need to write books on. It simply means that if you adopt Jesus as your Lord and follow his commands, you are living in His Kingdom, by His rules, not by the rules or conventions of Earthly Kingdoms. It means forgiving, loving, not resorting to or supporting violence, seeing money as something to be spent, saved, or given away rather than just the first two. All of these things, and many others, normally take time to work out. Forgiving those who have hurt and abused us is often a struggle for new Christians. But as converts move on in their understanding and acceptance of God’s love and forgiveness for them personally, things which were previously impossible become possible. It’s a “working out!”
A deeper understanding of truth in all it’s aspects should also be a part of the Christian life. Before conversion, a person may have believed there was no God, or that the Earth is God, or that God is a “Force.” In the UK, belief in evolution as the explanation for how life came to exist is normal. (See Evolution Page.) Working through these beliefs may take some time. Beyond them are many other issues where people will have simply absorbed the narrative of the mass media in whatever country they happen to live in. The mass media everywhere are linked to government and/or money interests; presenting “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is not what they strive for! But for a Christian, believing lies means living in deception at some level, so we must search beyond the explanation of things that our particular culture gives us. This too is a part of “working out our Salvation.”
Christians always have a desire for fellowship with other Christians. This is an area where there is likely to be difficulty. Today’s Britain is overwhelmingly secular, and when not secular is mostly Churchgoing, Islamic or Pagan. One or other local church is the natural place to seek fellowship, but it is likely to be be a source of bad doctrine and/or practice (See So What’s Really Wrong with Church?) For the new Christian the dangers are especially great. Even a long-term convert may find himself enmeshed in Pope worship, Pastor worship, Zionism, Calvinism, hatred of Muslims, militarism, evolution, Political Correctness and so on. All of these are promoted by at least some Churches.
Among the huge variety of Church and Cult teachings perhaps one is universally agreed by all of them: the claim that “You cannot be a Christian alone”. This is totally wrong. No Christian is ever alone. Jesus is always there, even when it doesn’t feel like it. And being without human Christian fellowship is simply an inevitable result of a lack of other Christians locally. No Christian would make do with a Mosque or a Masonic Lodge or a Synagogue for fellowship. Is it any more beneficial to use a Church, given the often extreme errors they espouse?
The fellowship issue calls for a decision from every Christian. That decision must take into account the ability of his personal belief to stay strong in a secular world, away from both real and pseudo-Christianity; also the quality of any particular Church he considers attending; and the likely benefits and risks to himself and others. Benefits and risks to others may include possible benefit of a genuine Christians’ presence for churchgoers in the Church he chooses; or the risk of loss of effective witness to outsiders, who may see him as a willing party to a corrupt religion (since many atheists see the shortcomings of Churches far more clearly than those inside.)
Jesus told the Samaritan Woman who was vexed about where she should worship that no particular place was valid. Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth was what mattered. That phrase can be heavily spiritualised, and even used as a justification for speaking in Tongues. A plain reading suggests worshipping in your Spirit – that’s inside yourself – and in truth, which may be understood as reality. What you do in and with your life should be real, not faked or pretentious, and always guided by truth. (No pretence of holiness because someone didn’t miss a single prayer meeting this year, and once helped an old lady across the road!)
If there are local Christians to fellowship with there is no need for ritual or buildings or hierarchies. Elders will naturally emerge, as they do in all small societies, being those people with more experience, more knowledge or more wisdom. In the normal course of things, these will indeed be the older people, or at least those who have been Christian for the longest time. Notice that “Elders” is plural. The idea of one man being the “great leader” was fine when the Apostles were still living, as they had an undoubted superiority of understanding. Today, we must discuss together and test ideas against the Bible. This vital interchange and shared responsibility ceases once one person becomes the “great leader”.
This is a very short description of the genuine Christian life. It is short, but it is long enough. Any further detail needed is in the Bible.