Lesslie Newbigin started a conversation on Proper Confidence in the gospel, where he passionately wrote about the emerging youth culture he saw in his homeland England and the destructive effect it was having on the church. When Newbigin returned to England to work with the United Reformed Church after serving for 40 years abroad in several senior positions within ecumenical bodies such as the Church of South India and the World Council of Churches, he writes disturbingly, “In the subsequent years of ministry in England I have often been asked ‘What is the greatest difficulty you face in moving from India to England?’ I have always answered ‘the disappearance of hope’.” Indeed, it is.
Really, part of my dedication for the local church could be because I was born a Christian native. I was born in church. To make matters worse, when I was a kid I was told terrifying stories about Christ’s return. I daydreamed about it a lot when I was a kid. As a result, I had default lips for confessing and re-confessing my sins more than I can remember in a single day just to be at right with God and escape hell by all means. In fact, after year 2000 a lot of preachers literally went out of business prophesying the second millennium was the last epoch of humanity. I fell for that fluke you know. I couldn’t help but became cautious of my ways.
But now we are here, 14 years and counting into the third millennium and year 2000 has stormily passed and nothing has happened. Christ is still in heaven, perhaps harmonizing things with Baba God before He makes return. Like many people who share my thought, it is now becoming ever more challenging to keep up with religious people and their institutions, especially now anything that in any way connected to, or mentions God comes under attack.
Recapturing the past, I remember being an atheist-Christian. I know is an unpopular term. But it is the word I use for describing many Christian natives who were like me couple of years ago. The type that belonged to a local church because they were raised in it, but have never had an encounter with God. Eventually, most of us end up doubting God’s existence.
I knew I was not selfish in my seeking. I only asked for a personal experience of the ‘God reality’ to believe that God, in fact, was not dead. All I needed was a miracle to happen (for me) so that I can believe God exists. I played around a lot of options but ended up hoping I would win a lottery –– as a practical sign that God was really there, somewhere. I spent a lot of money playing lottery but never found luck in it, God didn’t show up. I did other crazy stuffs which I won’t mention here.
You already know the end of that story. Nothing ever happened. Except, instead of winning the said lottery as an evidence that God is not dead, I was prayed for by a friend of mine at my sophomore class in the seminary and experienced a heavy, uncontrollable bubble of unknown tongues I knew nothing about. They said I blew tongues in capital letters that night. Some even said I spoke Hausa, Chinese, Arabic, and some other untraceable spiritual nomenclatures. And it continued since then. This would be my first ever literal experience of God. Recall, my interest was not to speak in tongues but to make some good money as an evidence that God was not dead..
One way or the other, my Christian faith now makes sense for me because I have experienced the ‘God reality’ for myself, albeit, in a dimension I never imagined.
I have now found myself within the mystery of faith, knowing that it is real stuff. Those who have not had the opportunity, like a did, to have my kind of experience are not entirely out of order. It is common sense to question your own existence when you loss grip with your sense of self, talk more of a relationship experience with an unseen Transcendent Being somewhere somehow. Until you have such encounter with God, I’m sorry, it might still be a puzzle to bear.
The assumption that the gospel does not contravene the requirements of reason as we understand them within the contemporary structure is a mistaken policy. Clearly, the historical stories of the bible cannot be accommodated within any practical structure except for those, for which, it is their cornerstone. It therefore goes without saying that truth is not always to be found in stories.
To make matters worse, the fact that 17th century hymns and chants don’t automatically reverberate in the hearts of those not brought up with them should signal to the local church an urgent need to revise liturgy. Yet every Sunday I’m expected to invent a gesture of profoundness as I recite words that are totally alien to my linguistic structure. Who cares about Ira D. Sankey’s “Trusting Jesus”, while I can reach heaven and return to earth the next minute with ‘Holy’ by Jesus Culture.
From history, we learn that the success of any religion lies on the ability of its custodians to relate and apply its mystery to present issues of life. I dare to say, there is no straightforward connection between today’s liturgy and today’s culture, in most churches.
Truly, the Christian faith would have been a long gone history had God have not personally intervened in the matter by raising radicals like Apostle Paul, St. Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and contemporary “others” who literally, by God’s mandate, circumvented the status quo and fought against the powerful Church to bring about reform.
I am not trying to write about reforming the church, because if I were, we did be counting thousands of pages by now. Rather, it is an effort to beckon on you to come back to Church while still pointing to things that we can improve on as a Body within the walls of the Church.
More than ever, the Church is in for a longer and more difficult struggle than it has yet recognized, for its belief is increasingly challenged, and the integrity of its leaders unsure. Doctrine has become a matter of private opinion portraying the personal experience of acclaimed preachers who were never theologically trained.
What do we get? A biblically inconsistent doctrine irrelevant to present issues of life and the local church is absolutely doing nothing about it. We should not blame anyone, especially our young people, for being skeptical about their Christian faith. Rather, we urgently need some innovative, intellectual, and spiritual effort to relate the biblical mystery to the world of modern reality, without allowing ourselves to succumb to it.
Like you, some have left the church not because of the structure of the church but because they are struggling to understand why God allowed some bad things to happen to them. In their opinion, “God is not fair”.
If you are angry at God for perpetuating evil in the world and allowing you to suffer, well, you have a strong case. Regardless, nobody fights God and expects to have peace nor win. Remember Jacob in Genesis 32: 22-30? God was wrestling with Jacob to bring him to order and didn’t have the leisure of time to entertain his nonsense. Do you know what happened to Jacob? God attacked the socket of his hip joint, which eventually disfigured his coxa and caused Jacob to limp around, clinging to God for help.
I hope it doesn’t come down to a point where God attacks your hip joint, your support system in order to bring you back to order. Your support system can be your spiritual, physical, financial, or emotional foundation. Be warned!
Our Jehovah is a jealous God and He makes things painfully clear to those He loves, especially when they struggle with Him.
However, I have learnt that God has a relative autonomy over the problem of evil, and that does not mean He does not superimpose His power if needs be. It is not everything that happen is the direct will of God.
God is a sovereign and relational God. One who orchestrates every event for a greater good, and in whose sovereign care is the only source of true comfort when we are in those dark places of life.
To help us master the peak of life’s impossibilities, we have the bible, which is a historical account of God’s love and faithfulness towards those who were in similar situation as you are at present. Indeed, there is no condition that has overtaken us that is not common to man (1 Cor. 10:13). Biblical chronicles are not just for philosophical arguments but are simple, real-life experiences and edifications that are meant for our healing.
For those like me who are already part of the Church, the truth is, you are a carrier of God’s presence and truly following God cannot be done in private. It is an active public commitment to the gospel truth which needs to be lived out in the real world for the sake of others. Quit hibernating in that cocoon and recommit yourself to serving and saving others, because that’s really what a life of height is all about.
Life needs order. And at its core, I see our relationship with God as that measuring barometer of life that keeps us in check and in order, nothing more. And without faith we lose that sense of fellowship with God.
Church is not about going to heaven or hell, neither is it about being a believer or unbeliever; really is not about those minor things!
It is rather about the fact that you need to grow spiritually and you cannot do that alone. You need to be charged up every week to continue your journey in Christ Jesus. Otherwise, you give the devil a foothold to mess things up for you. It is about maintaining our relationship God, and reminding ourselves that He liveth, through the testimony of the brethren.
Church reminds us of what God is doing in the world as He reinvents Himself to us through ordinary people who exercise His grace, love, and power for the sake of others; it is a reminder that we are not too farfetched from God’s touch, and can live according to God in the spirit (1 Pet 4:5-6).
And someday death will come knocking when we least expect. When that time comes, what is your proof that you’ve lived in height to honor and obey God?
I know you miss church. You miss the caring, vibrant church of the New Testament. But more to your grief, I’m sure you miss seeing Jesus in our local churches nowadays.
Regardless of your hurt or concern, please come back to church. It’s better with you there and together we can correct the errors of the past, as we together show forth God’s light to the world and live life to completion.
Welcome to Church!