Do you need to be super-spiritual to be a Christian? Do you need to be saying ‘Hail Mary’ all the time or crossing yourself at every moment? Do you need to like singing hymns and going to suburban churches? Do you need to like ‘happy-clappy’ get-togethers gushing and emoting with lots of other people singing stuff like ‘Jesus is Lord’ and ‘hallelujah’? I’m a Christian, and I don’t do any of the above.
In Western culture and society, the countries that make up the wealthy parts of the world, there is often an inference that to be right we have to have a good job, live in the right area, know the right people, talk with just the right accent and be continually motivated to get on and even outdo our fellow human beings. We progress, supposedly, by competing with everyone and anyone, by partaking in the rat-race, by being faster, quicker, better, smarter and more adaptable than someone else. We partake in all of this because we need to, or we think we need to, or society strongly infers that just to keep our head above the water we have to. In some cases, this makes Western societies dynamic, fluid, ever-changing and creates opportunities for many people. We have to work after all, we have to be busy or we stagnate. But have we got our priorities wrong somewhere?
Unfortunately, even organised Christianity in the West can sometimes be a mere appendage of the social system we live under. Some established Churches, like Catholicism and the Church of England for example, seem much more about high social status and collecting and preserving vast wealth and landholdings and holding stocks and shares, than they ever do about that simple carpenter who came to earth two thousand years ago. I’m not trying to be controversial or overly-critical here, I am merely writing what I perceive to be the truth. Often ordinary people are even side-lined in Christianity for those who are seen as important or very well educated or those from more privileged backgrounds. This is the way the world is quite frankly; shouldn’t Christianity be countering the worst effects of a prejudiced world system?
Many people who become Christians are called from all walks of life and all backgrounds and all different nationalities and skin colours. God is always an ‘equal opportunities’ God! We didn’t choose Him; He chose us. My own calling I think is slightly unusual; I don’t come from a Christian background or family of any kind and I never went to Sunday school or church as a kid and I still don’t as yet go to any church, although I’m looking into it. In spite of this, perhaps maybe even because of it, I find myself living as a Christian on a daily basis and trying to serve God with a whole heart each day. There’s no need to talk of denominations or affiliations, of being Catholic or Protestant, of religious communities believing this or that, my calling from God simply means at this time that I must serve Him with a whole heart every day; not much more, not much less than that. But somehow, the world turns this simplicity, this divine simplicity, into something more, something more complicated, something more complicating, something that can get tiresome and weary and more to do with our place in the world, our place in the social system, than about our very real need to get right with a loving and merciful God.
What do we need to be, to be a Christian? Rather well-to-do perhaps, rather well spoken, suburban and cultured, an important person of some kind? Again, I’m none of these things and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Christian. I can’t identify with socially important people because I never have been like that and have never really known personally people like this in my life either. Am I less to God because of my humble origins? Is God ashamed of our low-born backgrounds? Does He really choose the socially important, the privileged and the well-to-do over less important people? God’s choices in the Bible, if we really scrutinise the scriptures, might surprise people. Was Israel a technologically advanced, sophisticated and cultured people? No, they were a low-technology, almost primitive, passionate and warlike group of people, hardly religious at all! They were surrounded by high technology and sophisticated people like the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Hittites and the Babylonians; why didn’t God pick any of these, why didn’t God pick those who in worldly terms seemed to have everything, those who seemed to matter? ‘He remembers his covenant for ever, the promise he laid down for a thousand generations, which he concluded with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. He established it as a statute for Jacob, an everlasting covenant with Israel, saying, 'To you I give a land, Canaan, your allotted birthright.' When they were insignificant in numbers, a handful of strangers in the land, wandering from country to country, from one kingdom and nation to another, he allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he instructed kings, 'Do not touch my anointed ones, to my prophets you may do no harm.'’ (Psalms 105:8-15 NJB) Israel, the Israelites, were the least of people, a handful of tribal people, not a great nation like Egypt or Babylon. Why would God pick the least of people, the least promising and least important tribe of people after all? I believe that God’s choices are always fair, a way of challenging human prejudice and injustice, in a world that is often very prejudiced and very unjust.
I’m just an ordinary bloke, after all’s said and done. Why pick me anyway? There is a great fear among some English people of being called ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’, of coming from a Working class background or some kind of humble origins. It’s so ingrained in our culture and society that some people will do almost anything to disassociate themselves from a poor background or any kind of humble origins. I’ve learnt through being a Christian and a student of the Bible that background and origins, humble or not, are not really important to God at all. ‘How blessed are those who keep to what is just, whose conduct is always upright! Remember me, Yahweh, in your love for your people. Come near to me with your saving power, let me share the happiness of your chosen ones, let me share the joy of your people, the pride of your heritage.’ (Psalms 106:3-5 NJB) God is concerned with people living pure lives and how we treat other people. If a system we live under, be it class, racism, some kind of tribal or religious intolerance or whatever it might be, is making some people hate and abuse, exploit or otherwise ruthlessly oppress other people, God will hear those who are oppressed who pray for help, and sooner or later He will punish those who treat other people with scorn and contempt; it may not be in this life that God punishes people who oppress and exploit other people in some way, but it is certain that come Judgement Day all will confess their sins. It is better for those who profess to be Christians, wherever they find themselves in the social order, to not oppress or otherwise ruthlessly exploit others unjustly or unfairly in their desire to be successful and wealthy. I believe God reserves a far harsher judgement for those professing themselves to be Christians, using religion to justify exploitation or oppression of other people, when they should just be living as Christians should be.
So, I’m an ordinary bloke, who just happens to be a Christian. In the end, I believe we are all ordinary, we are nothing special at all, but God sees something in us that is special, that is extraordinary, that is divine, that goes beyond the humdrum and the mundane, the routine and the everyday; He created us after all, so He must see something in us that we often don’t see in ourselves. We may be ordinary, but we were created in the image of God; this is why God loves us and only ever wants the best for us. ‘Alleluia! I give thanks to Yahweh with all my heart, in the meeting-place of honest people, in the assembly. Great are the deeds of Yahweh, to be pondered by all who delight in them. Full of splendour and majesty his work, his saving justice stands firm for ever. He gives us a memorial of his great deeds; Yahweh is mercy and tenderness. He gives food to those who fear him, he keeps his covenant ever in mind. His works show his people his power in giving them the birthright of the nations. The works of his hands are fidelity and justice, all his precepts are trustworthy, established for ever and ever, accomplished in fidelity and honesty. Deliverance he sends to his people, his covenant he imposes for ever; holy and awesome his name. The root of wisdom is fear of Yahweh; those who attain it are wise. His praise will continue for ever.’ (Psalms 111:1-10 NJB)