Saturday, 25 August 2012

Is English Christianity Reaching Out to People?

In our own hearts, we often know when something is right, when something is true, even when we are told fervently that a particular thing is false or that something is true, when we feel that it isn’t.  To coin a phrase, and not to be foul, we might say that most of us have inbuilt bullsh*t detectors!  There seems to be amongst some Christians a kind of idea that once you become a Christian you have to lose all your common sense, you have to become mysterious, and ‘holy’ and go around castigating everyone for being a ‘terrible sinner’!  I am certain we have, even once, known someone or seen someone like that; but is that what God wants from us, to castigate people?  Perhaps the first person we need to castigate is the person we see in the mirror!  I have enough sin of my own without worrying about someone else’s.  And do we have to lose our common sense?  Perhaps we don’t: ‘Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves; so be cunning as snakes and yet innocent as doves.  (Matthew 10:16 NJB)  This doesn’t sound to me like we have to abandon our wits or common sense, in fact in modern parlance it suggests that Christians should be ‘streetwise’ and ‘hip’ to the way the world is.


I have been a Christian, more or less, for over thirty years now, but I have never been to a church to worship in my life; some people reading this might think that slightly strange.  But I still try to serve God each day with a whole heart; I have my struggles in life like everybody else though.  I actually feel uncomfortable around crowds and I am a very private and even shy person, sometimes behind the wise-cracking, city-boy image I like to hide behind.  The question I pose is English Christianity reaching out to people?  I’ve always felt, perhaps unfairly, that much of what seems to pass for Christianity in England, is aimed at a nice brigade,  for people who already having it all together, then go on to confirm it all by being Christians; but is that the way it works?  I’m not a nice person, I have oodles of sin to be forgiven, I don’t feel fine sometimes and I wonder if God sees through my act, the shoddiness of my life, the pathetic nature of my fallen self?  If God only wants nice people, fine people, people who’ve got it all together and are on a one-way trip to Heaven because they’re so perfect, then frankly I’ve had it!  Didn’t Jesus come for the lost, the lonely, the sinful, the self-destructive, the losers and their ilk after all?  I hope so. 


Is Christianity Relevant?

I think the answer to that is yes.  But the Christian faith as a whole seems less important to people than it did even fifty years ago; is there a reason for this, and is it diminishing?  I think that much that passed for Christianity like going to church , singing hymns, knowing the vicar and even being part of a community of believers is just something people feel less comfortable with; also traditional Christianity like this I feel appears less dynamic, less interesting and less relevant to the general population than a real living faith should.  I think traditional Christianity is dying out, that often uninspiring version of Christianity, but I believe a real living faith, a faith that is, or should be reaching out to all kinds of people is actually growing.  I think many people have a hunger and thirst for God, a hunger for meaning to their lives but feel that traditional Christianity is just not that relevant, and perhaps there is an assumption amongst people that traditional Christianity, where you go to church and sing hymns one day a week, is all there is to Christian faith.  I digress and add that we all need to be a part of a community of believers; I certainly do.


The Good News

I have news for you, good news in fact; the best news for anyone looking for a real living and dynamic faith that will make a difference in your life!  Christianity is a whole lot more than you might think and God is a whole lot more than you might think as well.  We put Him in a box, expect Him to be something far less than He really is, then we wonder why our faith is at best one-dimensional and sorely lacking in something.  Christianity isn’t a game, it isn’t something we do while looking for something else, it isn’t even religion, it is in fact beyond all these things and beyond what we can really comprehend.  To really understand the depth and breadth of God isn’t really possible for a human to do, but we can understand that God is something far bigger than traditional Christianity seems to make of Him; He is really beyond our comprehension and we diminish Him only at our error.  If God created everything you see and created the whole universe and everything in it, isn’t He then a whole lot bigger than we credit Him for?  The good news is that God is in charge, He is the force holding everything together and He is only a prayer away.  The good news is that God isn’t just about a nice comfy eternity in Heaven, He is about peace, contentment and even abundance in the here and now.  The good news is that God is to be found in the midst of all our experiences, all our troubles, all our wanderings and all our wondering; He’s less about religion and tradition and much more about a real lived experience.  Get a Bible, open it, read it, and see for yourself; oh, and a prayer or two might help as well.


Is Hierarchy Needed?

Isn’t hierarchy ultimately divisive?  Don’t we have enough division in the world and in England without it being in the church?  Shouldn’t churches be preaching and practising equality?  This is another reason why I feel many ‘ordinary’ people don’t want to go to church; perhaps they think it’s cliquey, a social club for the ‘better sort’ and rather exclusive and not for the likes of you and me.  If the world is divisive, divided and often about people who are wealthy, important and have the ‘correct’ social standing, shouldn’t the church, or churches, be countering this by reaching out to everybody not just a select few?  Yes, there is a dichotomy in Christianity; God is open to all, but He calls a select few to serve Him.  But it is God’s part to do this, and not humans making distinctions on the basis of class, race, gender, ethnicity or any other thing which makes one person seem different from another person.  Is hierarchy needed?  I don’t think divisions serve any purpose other than to create animosities between people and foster division.  Perhaps we need to get back to the Christianity Paul preached and Jesus came to earth for.


What is ‘English’ Christianity? 

Can we talk of ‘English’ Christianity or ‘American’ Christianity?  Perhaps we can.  I have often felt that that brand of English Christianity is more about traditional worship and slightly socially exclusive and not that appealing to that many people.  On the other hand, if we can talk about American Christianity, then this is a different thing altogether.  American Christianity seems more about a dynamic faith, something that is open to all, and that is about a person moving forward in life, progressing and having a real living faith.  Of course, there are plenty of Christians in both Britain and America who have an intimate relationship with Jesus on a 24/7 basis.  As well as this, there is a kind of liberalism in Britain and so British Christianity that is appealing to many people and there is a kind of hard-edged conservative and Right-wing edge to some American Christianity that is not so appealing; wouldn’t it be nice if through the fog of denominations, different versions of Christianity, and the often totally opposing views of people supposed to be singing from the same hymn sheet, we could find a viable living faith that is what God has always intended for us to live?


  1. Hi Tim,
    One thing that christianity is not is 'entertainment', and I have seen this many times where people gathered in a church are actually clapping when someone is singing a song out the front. There is something drastically wrong when the focus is on the voice of the one singing the worship song, or any other person, rather than the One who is being worshipped. Even the word 'christianity' can put a person's belief in Jesus into a box. Faith in Jesus Christ through the word of God as portrayed in the scriptures is worked out in the heart and mind of an individual, not necessarily in any dedicated building. There can be too much of:- 'The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.' I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ in the churches and not enough of:- “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ The outcome of this parable should tell us all something:- “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
    Lovely post Tim

    1. You've hit the nail on the head Brenda. Christianity is the 'inner reality' that we can miss in ritual and all the 'trappings' of religion. Jesus created all of us and so any one of us can potentially be a Christian. It's not just about the well-to-do and the terminally nice, Jesus is calling all kinds of people, people who need and crave for forgiveness and a second chance, people like me.

      The Pharisee represents arrogance and self-righteousness, where the publican (tax-collector) represents genuine heartfelt contrition; God always works with those whose hearts are in the right place that's for sure.

  2. Tim, you are a gem!
    I am aware that the church here in the UK is often looked on as the Tory Party on its knees.
    Although our church elders are good teachers of the Bible and are enthusiastic about our church making an impact on outsiders - even today, our sermon was about how Jesus can change our lives that would have an effect on unbelievers. Very good stuff indeed.
    But I wonder, really, how true is all this outside the building. Are we in the same "changed life" mood on a Monday morning, especially driving to work.
    My experience seem to indicate that the steering wheel of a car is the hot seat in testing the genuiness of our faith. Having a smile in church and acting cordially on a Sunday is one thing, the real test is when someone cuts you up at a road junction. If your face turns purple with rage and let out a torrent of expletives that would shatter the windscreen - I guess the unbelieving passenger sitting next to you would not be too impressed on how much you liked singing that hymn the day before!
    As for social and cultural acceptability - a good education and keeping a stiff upper lip seem to be the norm. In 1994 I was thrown out of an Anglican Church in Israel for both reasons, lack of education and profession as well as showing (excess) emotion. For a short while I was about to renounce the faith until I felt God very gently wooing me back to himself.
    A great post. God bless,

    1. Yes, the gist of your argument is a very good one Frank. We are meant to be more than 'one day a week saints', we are meant to live out our Christian faith every day, even when sometimes we don't feel like being good or kind, or being respectful and just concerned for other people.

      I do wonder sometimes about some Christians, that in supposedly being grounded in the faith and knowing everything about the Bible, they just lack common love for their fellow human beings. What's the point of being religious and doing religious 'things' and going to church zealously and regularly if you've missed the whole simple point of Christianity, which is love; love for fellow humans and even a respectful love of self? Love is the answer in most human situations, not religion so much.

  3. By the way, I like the "wedding cake" illustration. Good stuff!

  4. I always think that 1 corinthians ch.13 is an excellent tester for us. If we fail at any of those descriptions of what love is, then we can try to put it right. The hardest test of all there, I think, is to not keep a record of wrongs done to us.

    1. I think every Christian should be quite conversant with the Bible. I tend to quote bits of the Bible in my posts and books very often now, and there are some good online Bibles out there in their entirety.

      Yes, I absolutely agree with you. Forgiveness is not a word, it is a lifestyle. If we can forgive people, even people from the past we'll most definitely never see again, it makes us better people. I think genuine forgiveness is the litmus test of who really is a Christian, and perhaps who isn't.