Currently there is a popular bias against traditional Christianity. The idea of “the separation of church and state” is seen as a fence for keeping the Church out of government. But the constitution’s only reference to religion is, “Congress shall make no law …” (concerning it). In reality, separation of church and state means the fence is supposed to protect the Church from government intrusion, not the other way around. But reality hasn’t prevented a complete perversion of that idea in popular thought.
TRUTH AND SECULAR THOUGHT
The argument against religion goes like this: It was helpful in former times because we were less enlightened. Faith enabled us to persevere in spite of our ignorance. But now, with Science leading the way, we no longer need the crutches of superstition. In fact, religion will hold us back from our full potential because it refuses to evolve as our understanding of the universe expands. Christianity has out-lived its usefulness and we need to get beyond it.
Probably the main reason for this anti-religion/anti-Christian bias is the emergence of Relativism as the prevailing mind-set of our culture for the past 50 years. That means that more and more of us think truth is a personal judgement rather than a universal absolute. Truth has become synonymous with opinion. Everyone has their own truth. Society is so fixed on the idea of “diversity” that to say Truth is absolute is seen as narrow-minded, exclusionary, judgmental and intolerant. The hardest hit victims of this attitude are Bible-believers.
Traditional Christians make no bones about the existence of one true God as absolute truth. We take our authority from the Bible, because we believe it was written under the holy inspiration of God as he chose to reveal himself to Man. That conviction of absolute truth and Biblical authority is abhorrent to many non-Christians because it presupposes Man’s accountability to a Higher Power, which goes counter to their humanist vision of society.
Those who see themselves as tolerant (historically a Christian virtue) tend to view religion in general as part of cultural diversity. As such, they give all religions equal standing. However, the one condition they lay down is that you keep your religion to yourself. You can practice your religion at home or at your place of worship, but keep it out of the public square. Christians are particularly intolerable to this so-called “open-minded” attitude because we want to share our faith at every opportunity — not put our light under a bushel basket.
The idea that religion is (just) a personal thing has, as its underpinnings, the assumption that religion simply consists of following a prescribed list of dos and don’ts. Because following these rules generally make you a better person, ‘religion’ is still generally seen as acceptable. However, secular society doesn’t want you telling them the rules they should live by. “What works for you is your business, but leave me out of it.” This mechanistic view has a pretty limited grasp of religion because it does not distinguish between the outer expression of religion and the supernatural reality that leads to faith.
In general all religions have three main components: A belief system (morality, purpose, etc.); required behaviors (rituals, acts of worship, lifestyle, etc.); and specially authoritative leaders (clergy) with various specialized responsibilities. While government’s job is to enforce and correct behavior, the role of religion is to teach and motivate right behavior. (Islam blurs this distinction, as it is designed to work theocratically, through the application of sharia law.) What a government may do through the repressive use of force, religion can do by inculcating values. In this way, religions have historically served to foster social cohesion.
By way of teaching social virtues, religions have held communities and peoples together, becoming a significant factor in cultural identity. Looking at this role of religion, it is easy to see how a person with a relativist mind set would come to such a low opinion of Christians. After all, nowadays we are free to believe or disbelieve whatever we want; we are free to do or not do whatever we want (within the law), including associating with whatever group we please. With so many options and choices, many would question the need for submitting to an authoritative belief structure or to a so-called holy man. Who needs a priest in the age of information, when we know as much as he does? In that sense, technology and the fruits of enlightenment have replaced the perceived need for religion. Only those who are backward, weak, or have some personality problem would look to religion to make them a better person …or so the assumption goes.
A mechanistic view of religion ignores what motivated the development of religious belief systems in the first place. Since the dawn of Man, all peoples everywhere have sought to stretch their understanding from the known to the unknown. Questions about the purpose of life, what happens when we die and experiences that defy explanation have historically been answered by acknowledging the existence of the supernatural. It bridges the gap between what our senses can tell us and what our imaginations fail to explain. Realizing that there is “something out there” beyond human comprehension, implies we are subordinate and obligated to it. Awareness of the supernatural as the greatest level of reality is therefore pivotal in understanding that which gives our lives the greatest meaning.
The critic’s view of the supernatural is that it simply doesn’t exist because all reality can be understood by human intelligence, particularly through scientific examination. And what is seen today as a mystery will eventually be explained as we continue to study and explore. Never mind that the bulk of human understanding is fraught with gaps of missing data, paradoxes and contradictions. Some of the greatest thinkers in Physics have yearned to find a Unified Field Theory or a TOE (theory of everything) which ties together our understanding of the entire integrated universe. According to Michio Katu, a theoretical physicist at City College, City University of New York, those in pursuit of a unified field theory seek “an equation an inch long that would allow us to read the mind of God.” (Search CIO-Midmarket.Com Definitions) One wonders if this statement is metaphorical. If not, it paints a beautiful picture of compatibility between science and the supernatural.
Very simply said, Christianity believes that reality includes not only natural phenomena, but the supernatural. The supernatural is real, even if it is beyond our grasp. God is supernatural. Everything that is truly spiritual (of the spirit) is supernatural — miracles, the virgin birth of Christ, his bodily resurrection — all supernatural, all real. Having said that, there is no way to convince anyone that the supernatural exists. You either see it or you don’t. God is real because the supernatural is real.
CHRISTIANITY – MORE THAN A RELIGION
True Christianity really isn’t about religion. It’s about the supernatural relationship the believer has with God and other believers. It’s not about becoming a better person, although that is a side effect of faith. We believe that God is holy and pure, though we are sinful. And no matter how good we become, we will never be good enough, pure enough or holy enough to stand in God’s presence because our sin keeps us separated from him. That is why Jesus died on the cross: to pay for our sins. When we accept what Jesus did for us (believe in him) he declares us holy, thus enabling us to enter into the presence of God as his beloved children. But this experience cannot have meaning without first believing God exists.
That’s why the Bible teaches the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10, 2:5 and elsewhere). Because if you are unconcerned about God or you don’t really think He exists, then you cannot hope to know Him. “Well, duh!” I can hear the unbeliever saying, “Why would I want to know him? He doesn’t exist!” Exactly. Psalm 14:1 reads, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” And in verse 6 of the same chapter, “… anyone who comes to him (God) must believe that he exists …” The beginning point of wisdom and knowledge of God is believing that He is real. You cannot begin to believe this until you accept the supernatural as part of reality. God is supernatural. Faith is supernatural.
1 Corinthians 2:9 & 10 says, “’No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’ But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” Continuing in verse 14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
So, we seem to be left with a conundrum. You have to believe in God to pray to God. You have to pray to Him to receive Christ. If you believe, then you are saved. But how can you go from not believing to believing? For a self-reliant person, there seems to be no solution. What can he do?
In the account of Luke, chapter 18, a certain ruler asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” But then Jesus told him to sell all of his possessions, give the money to the poor and then follow him. This ruler had political power and plenty of wealth. In the natural or human sense, there was nothing he couldn’t do. But nothing in his power could enable him to enter the presence of God. His only hope was to disencumber himself of his own ability to do anything for himself, and then follow Jesus. By following Jesus, he could enter eternal life, the kingdom of God.
Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Perhaps the hardest thing for any person to do is deny himself, but that is the way to God, and ego is an obstacle. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Galatians 2:20 describes it in this way (KJV): “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and and gave himself for me.”
What this doesn’t mean is that believers are to be mind-numbed robots. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore ,if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation…” which is what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus he must be born again (John, chapter 3). “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” This rebirth (salvation, faith in God, becoming a Christian) is a SUPERNATURAL experience. No one has the power to make it happen. It happens when you hand over the leadership of your life to Jesus Christ (deny yourself), and accept Him as your Lord, instead of your own self.
THE GIFT OF FAITH
Even by our own act of self-denial we can’t take credit for our faith. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship…” (Ephesians 2:8 & 9). When the time is right, when a person is willing to be honest with God and turn control of his life over to Christ, God will reveal His love. When self-denial leads us to the confession of our sinfulness to God (the very thing that separates us from him), he will reveal his forgiveness. When we ask him to be our Lord, he accepts us, and he gives us the faith we need. What a perfect God! Perfectly supernatural.
In conclusion, Christianity is less about religion and more about a personal relationship with God. It’s less about rules than it is about the reality of a supernatural God. The only drawback to becoming a Christian is that while you have peace with God, you discover you no longer feel at home in the world. We are in the world but we really don’t belong to it like we used to. And the world seems to sense that, too .