Saturday, November 20, 2010

Just because it's true

We may sometimes be a little confused about why we follow, preach or teach Christ.

I remember a series of conversations I had with a Japanese woman when I lived in Japan. She wasn't a believer, and she simply could not fathom how anyone could be a Christian when the Truth of God conflicted with so much of what she wanted to believe.

Even so, she had a pretty decent understanding of the Faith, and kept asking me questions that usually went like this:

"Don't you Christians believe such-and-such?"
"Yes. We do."
"But isn't that terribly harsh [strange / illogical / scary / old-fashioned / difficult]?"
"I suppose it is."
"Well then, how can you believe it?"

I kept trying to get her to understand that how I felt about the Truth really didn't make much difference. If the doctrine she'd asked about that day was in fact true, my opinion of it was irrelevant. I could accept it or reject it. But that's it. Nothing I could do would affect the reality of it in the least.

There two important points in this story.

The first is this: If we aren't clear about the fact that Christianity is true, we allow God's message to degenerate into mere opinion.

It would be ridiculous and obnoxious of me to insist that everyone profess that autumn is the best month, because there are four equally good months out there. I happen to like autumn best. But if I sincerely believe that it is objectively and universally better than the other three, I'm a fool. The best month, like many things in life, is opinion.

God's truth is not like that. When I encourage someone to follow Christ I am not doing it because I happen to think Jesus was nicer than the Buddha. I am not offering them what I think is the better of several possible, equally good, Faiths. I am offering them the One Truth.

This distinction is extremely important to maintain. People must understand that what they are accepting or rejecting is reality - not some declaration on the level of, which kind of ice cream is best. The difference in gravity is tremendous.

CS Lewis puts it like this:

The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort. Now a clearly maintained distinction between what the Faith actually says and what you would like it to have said or what you understand or what you personally find helpful or think probable, forces your audience to realize that you are tied to your data just as the scientist is tied by the results of the experiments; that you are not just saying what you like. This immediately helps them realize that what is being discussed is a question about objective fact — not gas about ideals and points of view.  (From Mere Christianity)

This leads nicely into the second point: The Word of God has beauty, power, majesty, comfort, wisdom, etc. The Word of God is True. We are perfectly right to rejoice in and share its beauty etc, but if we don't hold to God's Word because it is True, we could be in serious danger.

If we believe, preach, or teach Christ primarily because we think the message is beautiful or helpful or life-changing (or any of the other hundreds of possible reasons), we are likely to eventually go in one of three wrong directions:

  • Those who believe because it's beautiful may lose faith when they see "ugliness" (eg, Hell) in it. Those who preach it because it's life-changing may lose heart when they see someone whose life did not change. Etc.
  • We may begin to pick and choose our doctrines. You know how it goes. "I like this one. But I do not like that one. So I will embrace this one. And I will reject that one."
  • We may be tempted to push it in the direction we want it to go, gradually moving away from the truth so that it lines up better with the reason we teach it. If we teach the gospel because we love the poor or think society corrupt, we could make Jesus into a mere social reformer. If we want evil people to suffer for their sins, we could twist the Word so that mercy loses out to judgment. And so on.
Instead, let us remain stable and focused and wise.

Your word, LORD, is eternal; 
   it stands firm in the heavens...
The statutes you have laid down are righteous; 
   they are fully trustworthy... 
Your promises have been thoroughly tested, 
   and your servant loves them...
Your righteousness is everlasting 
   and your law is true. 
(Psalm 119)

Thank you all for reading today. I sincerely appreciate it!