Some months ago I posted an article in defense of the Christian Faith. Here I am reposting the article with some additions, subtractions and modifications. I do this because to me, and I hope to you, it is the most important subject in the world. I believe it a matter of life and death, not only for you, but for our society.
“Faith of our fathers, living still, in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword.”
Yes, as proclaimed in this old hymn, the faith still lives, but in many areas of the world it is on life support.
In Europe, some of the great cathedrals have become nothing more than museums. Atheistic and Agnostic scientists proclaim the triumph of reason and the death of religious mythology. A new secular orthodoxy has spread throughout our academic institutions; and, as a natural outcome, the pillars of Western Civilization are crumbling. The cultural anchors that once kept us fast are being ripped from the ocean floor, and we have become a ship adrift. Definitions of marriage and gender, patriotism and honor, right and wrong are being challenged. As a bastion of traditionalism and a defender of the old ways, the Church itself is viciously attacked.
Christians and the Christian faith are constantly ridiculed by the so-called intelligentsia. God believers are often treated as intellectual Neanderthals who fail to accept the obvious scientific truth that there is nothing beyond the material world. Also, Christians are frequently subjected to misrepresentation and derision by cultural celebrities, in modern literature, and in the cinema. Members of the mainstream media join in the assault on Christians, and they often picture them as ignorant bumpkins, frauds, or arrogant, judgmental hypocrites.
What is the truth about Christians? Are these vicious attacks justified? Is the Church on its death bed?
First, who are the Christians? Sometime the United States is referred to as a Christian nation, but do we deserve that label? Culturally, we are the heirs of Western European civilization, and our laws and mores continue to be strongly influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics; but how many of our citizens are professing Christians? Most people believe in God, but less than half our people regularly attend worship services, and not all who attend are true believers. Many nominal Christians live daily lives that do not reflect even minimal adherence to Christian standards.
American politicians often take a nuanced position on matters of faith. They are akin to the mythical mugwump, with their mugs firmly planted on one side of the theological fence and their rumps on the other. Most of them will not openly condemn such a large number of potential voters such as the body of believers, but relatively few of them seem to be deeply influenced by the ethical tenets of the various Christian denominations to which most of them belong.
What does it mean to be a true Christian? Essentially, it means to be a follower of Christ. Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, creator of all things, and that He came to this Earth in human form, lived and taught among us, was crucified, and was physically resurrected on the third day. Protestants believe that faith in Christ itself is sufficient for salvation (eternal life in heaven), but they also believe that true faith will manifest itself in good works. Catholics place more emphasis on the necessity for good works. Protestants and Catholics alike acknowledge that men and women are sinners. The Christian who denies his or her sinfulness and need for God’s saving grace has no understanding of the faith. Christians also believe that we are not to stand in judgment of others for their sins. Followers of Christ strive to live righteously, but all fall short of being the persons God wants them to be, and they depend on God’s mercy and Christ’s sacrifice for salvation.
Christians profess a faith based on the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Some believe these texts literally, others exercise more latitude in their interpretation. Conservative Christian hold the Holy Scriptures to be divinely inspired and unchangeable. In more liberal Christian churches their approach to the Bible is much akin to a progressive judge’s view of the United States Constitution, i.e., it must bend with the times.
There are an embarrassment of Christian denominations. The two great church schisms came with the Catholic-Orthodox divide after the fall of the western Roman empire, and this was followed much later by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century. The superfluity of Protestant bodies arising after that time is because they no longer recognized a central authority, and there arose among them different interpretations or different emphases on certain portions of the Bible.
In the Roman Catholic Church, tradition plays a role almost equal to that of Holy Scriptures, and important Catholic beliefs such as purgatory, priestly celibacy, etc. are extra-Biblical. Nearly all churches, Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, profess belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross as an atonement for our sins. Denominations usually have a statement of faith based on the ancient Christian confessionals, but the average churchgoer is no theologian and may have little knowledge of Church history or Biblical teachings beyond the basics. Some church attendees are simply fellow-travelers, Christians in name only.
Occasionally there are evil men and women who profess themselves to be Christians, and sometimes they manage to don the robes of ministers or priests. These people to terrible harm to the Church and to the faithful. To portray these persons as representing the typical Christian layman or clergyman is a gross distortion of truth. No church is perfect, and individual Christians often fall short of being the persons they aspire to be, but most pastors and parishioners are humble, loving, God-fearing people.
Perhaps almost as damaging to the Church, much too frequently it allowed itself to be corrupted by alliances with temporal powers and become an instrument of oppression. This was especially true in the Middle Ages and up until the French Revolution. The Church has paid a heavy price for this through its declining membership and influence, especially in the countries of Western Europe.
Yet the Church survives.
There are thousands of Christian congregations around the world. Many of them are vibrant places of worship, some of them not so much so. In many countries in Asia and the Middle East they are under constant threat of persecution.
In the United States there are huge mega-churches with thousands of attendants, but most congregation average perhaps 150-200 members. The typical congregation consists of mostly middle-class families. They assemble to worship God, fellowship with fellow believers, and rear their children in the faith. In Evangelical churches the major emphasis is on teaching the Bible, with special emphasis on the following:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-38
“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40
“God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
“I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
“He is risen.” Mark 16:6
Secular politics are usually avoided in churches, but active Christians generally trend towards conservatism. Either though the church or as individuals, people of faith become involved in good works – caring for the sick, education, etc.
In our increasingly nihilistic and hedonistic society, there are many who have never attended church, and often they have a very distorted view of Christianity, the church, and individual Christians.
Christian faith is not blind adherence to an ancient dogma. There is overwhelming evidence that the New Testament narratives of the life and ministry of Jesus and his apostles are factual. Investigate the story of the greatest event of all time, the resurrection of Jesus. How can one study the historical record and deny the truth of this miracle? Also read the accounts of the apostles, and you will realize that these were real men, with all their weaknesses, who were inspired by their risen Savior to go out and change the world. Study the writings of brilliant Christian teachers and philosophers over the ages, and be edified.
In the current secular and often hostile environment, faithful Christians sometimes think of themselves as a misunderstood minority; but they always have hope, and they consider it their duty, their joy, and their honor to shine a light of truth in this dark world.
Astronomers and cosmologists study the universe, and they have made astounding discoveries. Still, no scientist can explain why and how the universe all began. Nor has anyone provide a satisfactory scientific explanation for the origin of life. Theories abound, and atheists like Dawkins say it was all the result of an undirected series of natural processes in which an intelligent designer (God) played no part. But the more science discovers, the more questions arise.
Christian theologians also have their theories, and in their view all the world around us and man himself are products of the mind of God.
As for me, I cannot imagine a world that has no meaning – a life that has no purpose. I also believe that none of us, neither scientist nor philosopher, can wrap his or her mind around God. How can one fully understand a spiritual being that exists inside and outside of time and space and everything else which circumscribes our limited concept of reality? None of us can conceive of the majesty and greatness of God. The Bible gives us hints, but, as Paul the Apostle wrote, we “see through the glass darkly.”
Despite our limited understanding, we Christians believe in a Creator God and his beloved Son, Jesus the Messiah. And we believe that God loves us and wishes us to be his spiritual children. To us, that is much more logical and comforting than to believe in a purposeless existence in an accidental universe.
The ultimate question thus arises. Do we follow the tenets of scientific materialism, or do we seek spiritual answers? Those who wish to do so may make science their god, but, in the words of Joshua, “as for me and my house, we will follow the Lord.”
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul the Apostle wrote, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
We defenders of the faith are in that struggle now. Never has the battle been more fierce.
May God help us in the fight.