Had a very strange conversation with someone today regarding what being a Christian is all about. Strange because they seemed to think that what we are 'selling' is an access all areas [AAA] pass for heaven. Stranger still because they also seemed to think that it was about exchanging hell for heaven and, 'All you need to do is believe that Jesus is God,' and (as they say) the 'job's a good'un!'
So I asked them where they got their information from and they named a church and one of the 'evangelists' they'd encountered through becoming engaged with it. 'All I have to do is say that Jesus is God and I don't get to go to hell any more,' they said, 'So I'm a Christian now and I get to go to heaven!'
'So,' I naively (and perhaps just a little foolishly asked, 'You're a Christian and go to church and read your Bible and pray and all that stuff now? Great!'
Back came the response, 'No, I don't go to church or do all that Bible and praying stuff. I just had to repeat something about being sorry and wanting to be on the same side as Jesus. So I did it and now I don't get to go to hell anymore.' The explanation was accompanied by a bit of a withering look as if they thought I must be a bit dim as I didn't 'get it'. But the problem was that I did and now I had two choices:
i. smile and wish them well and walk away as quickly as I could, or
ii. explain what the heaven and hell, Jesus is God and all that stuff was really about.
Of course as (or so it seems) so many of my colleagues appear to struggle with hell and the devil and all that stuff I should have taken option 'i' and legged it, but (you could have guessed) I didn't! What was good was that the other person in my conversation was at least using salvation language (or am I the only one to notice that the 'are you saved?/I am saved!' terminology has pretty much disappeared from the Christian phrasebook there days?). When I entered in to this Christianity stuff that was the whole essence: 'I was lost but Jesus found me, I was destined for hell but now by the blood I am saved.'
These days we tend to talk about being committed (something many people talk about after having met me) or about being a follower - which, don't get me wrong, are excellent qualities to have - but somewhere there needs to be that nasty word 'sin' and an understanding of how some/many/all* of the things that we do go against that which God tells us might be best for us.
We don't appear to be able to talk about being reconciled to God (that means coming into relationship with Him+**) by the blood of Christ. Part of this is some wallybean who got loads of publicity over what they call Penal Substitutionary Atonement (meaning that Jesus takes our place on the cross and that His death sets us free from sin and restores the relationship between us and God) by labelling it as 'cosmic child abuse'. The other part is because we want a God who is found running through fields of daisies and all that blood and stuff gets in the way of that and makes it a little more distasteful. What a shame God didn't realise all the problems using the cross would bring later on and change it so that Jesus merely got six numbers on the lottery and used the money to pay everyone's fines (or pay for a good lawyer)!
So we talked and I explained what they had probably said and what they meant and they told me that that wasn't what they thought it was and I told them that it probably was and they said, 'Well, in that case I'm going to hell then aren't I?' ... and then they left (promising to give me a call to continue the conversation).
Now as much as I'm not sure I helped them with their 'being Christian' thing I do think I kept some integrity over the whole thing. The problem is that this has got me thinking about the number of people that 'the Church' engages with who are claimed as a scalp and led into a prayer they don't understand because they are told it will save them from going to hell. Jesus is not about going to hell but about reconciliation with God. His death remove the impediment (sin) that separates us from God - everything else is (in my book) secondary. This goes for prosperity (a false doctrine I fear) and so much of the other stuff I see peddled.
What is on offer is relationship, and therefore peace, with God.
What is on offer is the ability to become different (and by this I also mean 'better') people because of our changed mindsets and the desire to live as God calls us to live.
What is on offer is something more than a 'get out of hell free' card and the opportunity for someone to tell others how they've 'led people to Christ' when they most obviously haven't.
And the pain (aside from the whole encounter)? It is this: Once someone has said the 'sinner's prayer' and been told that they are now Christians, it is a really hard job to engage with them properly and effectively. For many, this is a 'one hit wonder' moment and so it needs to be done correctly and with proper parenting and disciple-making things added into the mix.
Apart from that yesterday went really well thanks :-)
* This depends on who it is you're talking too. I often find the more narrow-minded the person I'm talking to is then the greater the degree of sin (which means error or being wrong) I appear to possess. Sadly this is something shared by both fundamental and liberal types who between them corner the market on bigotry and condemnation.
** Another struggle as some now tell me I shouldn't call God 'Him' as it offends some people.