Christians Who Don’t Believe – Part 2

In case you missed Part 1 of this post, you can read it here.

There was a BBC article published this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death.

According to their survey:

  • 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story contains some truth, but only 1% believe it is literally true.
  • 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
    • Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.

And here’s the one I find most shocking:

  • 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.

While someone like me looks at this and sees an incredibly dire situation, the article says that Church of England officials were actually quite encouraged by it! Here’s why:

  1. Because it showed that “many British people, despite not being regular churchgoers, hold core Christian beliefs.”
  2. It showed more regular church attendance amongst younger Christians than older ones.

Maybe it’s me, but in light of the survey it seems like a bit of stretch to say “many” and to say “core Christian beliefs”. Is literally believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead not considered by them to be a “core Christian belief”?

What’s interesting about this is that the Bible directly addresses those who call themselves Christians and yet do not believe that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 15, Paul speaks first to those who call themselves Christians and do not believe in life after death, and then he speaks to those who deny that Jesus literally rose from the dead. It’s almost like this chapter could have been written for 31% and 25% of British Christians respectively.

The first point Paul makes is that the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead is and has always been a central tenant of the gospel: the core of Christian belief, and it is only by believing this gospel that we are saved. (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The second point Paul makes is that not only was the death of Jesus foretold by the Scriptures, but so was his resurrection. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

The third point Paul makes is that there were hundreds of eye witnesses still alive at that time who could attest to having seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

Then Paul goes on to say (Vs 12-15) that if there is no life after death, then all of the apostles and Christians were liars, because they told people that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen him.
If they had lied about this, they either did it knowingly or unknowingly. If they did it knowingly, then they are intentionally conning people and they should therefore not be trusted. If they lied unknowingly, that means that they are delusional and should not be followed, because they are, to put it crassly: deranged.

Next, Paul says that if there is no life after death, then Christian faith is pointless, and they have just been wasting their time and believing in a fairy tale (Vs 17-18) – and ultimately there is no hope, and no good news. And if this is the case, that Christianity is just another form of moralism and empty rituals, then Christians are the greatest fools in the world. (Vs 19, 30-34)

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

But… if Christ is truly and literally risen from the dead, then that means that God has broken a hole in the pitiless walls of this broken world, and made a way for us to be saved! And Jesus is the first fruits of those who will be resurrected from death to everlasting life.
And the day is coming when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

And because that day is coming, we can have the confidence in whatever circumstances we may face in this life to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

The story of Jesus’ resurrection is an integral and indispensable part of the good news of the gospel: the core message of Christianity. The hope that we have as Christians is based on it. To deny it is to deny Christian belief and to try to change Christianity into a form of moralism full of empty rituals which encourages condescension towards God and towards other people of faith, but which leaves you as a person worthy to be most pitied because you are without hope in anything greater than yourself.

If however, you believe in God, then let me ask you the question Paul the Apostle asked the crowd at his own trial: Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? (Acts 26:8)

It would be incredible if you or I raised someone from the dead, but if God is God — the creator and sustainer of life — then such a thing is neither impossible nor even difficult for him.

May you be filled with true belief this Easter season, so that you may believe, and in believing have life! (John 20:31)

Christians Who Don’t Believe – Part 1

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What does it mean to be a Christian? Most people would say that it means that you are a follower of Jesus or that you believe a certain set of doctrines.

The BBC published an article this past Sunday about the beliefs of people in England regarding the resurrection of Jesus and life after death. The report corresponded with some comments I made this past Sunday about how there is a correlation between rising standards of living and a decrease in religious adherence in many societies of the world, and what some of the reasons for this are. You can listen to the audio of that message here.

Here are some of the statistics listed in the article:

  • 25% of people who call themselves Christians in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.
  • Only 17% of the general public in Britain believe word-for-word the account of Jesus’ resurrection.
  • 10% of non-religious people in Britain believe that the Easter story is true.
  • 21% of non-religious people believe in life after death.
    • Of these, 65% said they believe that their soul would go to heaven or hell, and 32% believe they will be reincarnated.

And here’s the one that I find most shocking:

  • 31% of British Christians surveyed said they do not believe in life after death.

This brings up a very important question: What do you actually have to believe in order to be a Christian?

Or to put it another way: Are there any things which, if you don’t believe them, you can no longer legitimately call yourself a Christian?

When I was 16 years old, one of my Christian friends from school told me I wasn’t a Christian. I was offended – because, you see: I grew up going to Lutheran school. I was catechized and confirmed in the Lutheran church, and I sincerely believed in God’s existence. In fact, I believed that Jesus was God the Son and the Son of God and that he literally died and rose from the dead just as the Bible describes.

So how dare she say that I was not a Christian, right?

But she was right. I wasn’t a Christian.
And I knew it.

Here’s the text she turned me to if you’re interested: Matthew 7:21-23

But here’s why, in spite of believing the biblical doctrines were true, I was not a Christian: because that is not the kind of belief by which a person is saved and becomes a child of God.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12)

Because here’s the thing: the Bible says that the devil also believes all of those things about God: in God’s existence, in the fact that Jesus was God and that he lives, died and resurrected on the third day. (James 2:19)

The word “to believe” in Greek is the word πιστεύω (pisteuo).
It doesn’t mean less than believing in something’s existence or acknowledging that something happened, but it does mean more than that. It means: to trust in, to cling to, to rely on, to adhere to, to commit to.

This is the kind of belief that the Bible is talking about when it says:

  • But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12)
  • these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
  • Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)
  • For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

I have a few more thoughts to share about this, but I’ll save them for tomorrow.
Stay tuned for Part 2.

Preaching While the Bombs Fell

Just a few blocks from Buckingham Palace and a short walk from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey is a building which has been used to influence London and the world greatly.

Westminster Chapel, pastored by G. Campbell Morgan and then by Martin Lloyd-Jones has served as a light to the city of London and to the UK for over 150 years.

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It was G. Campbell Morgan who invited Martin Lloyd-Jones, who had studied to be a medical doctor rather than a minister, to come and serve with him and be his successor at Westminster Chapel.

Lloyd-Jones was from Wales, and had been serving at a small village church there. At the time, doctors were considered the true heroes of society, whereas Christianity was already in steep decline in Britain. To give up a career in medicine to pastor a small church was considered a fools errand by many, but Ll0yd-Jones’ decision to become a pastor rather than work as a medical doctor had been aided by something he had witnessed from one of his mentors as he was studying to be a doctor:

He witnessed a doctor who was at the top of his field, the most respected position in that society, who supposedly “had it all” – and yet he had fallen into despondency, hopelessness and depression because of a failed marriage. Having witnessed this, Lloyd-Jones would later say, helped him to decide that he wanted to help people in a way that went beyond just caring for their physical bodies, he wanted to be a doctor for the soul.

Martin Lloyd-Jones became the pastor of Westminster Chapel in 1939, right before the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The people of Great Britain knew what was coming: they had seen the aggressiveness of the German military, the how the Luftwaffe had no qualms about bombing highly populated areas. They knew that soon the war would probably come to London, and they were right.

In 1939, Martin Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons which prepared his people for the war. He told them that whether the German bombs killed them or not, they should be prepared to stand before God, and he urged them to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ as their hope.

Throughout the war, as people evacuated London, Martin Lloyd-Jones continued to preach to those who gathered at Westminster Chapel. On one occasion, a bomb fell only a few yards from the church during a service, causing the plaster from the roof to fall on the heads of the congregation. When the bomb hit, Lloyd-Jones was praying. He paused for a moment, and then finished his prayer, and went on to preach his entire sermon.

Theologian J.I. Packer sat under Lloyd-Jones’ ministry and called him “the greatest man I ever knew – not just brilliant, but wise.”

Westminster Chapel continues its ministry in its efforts to be “a prophetic voice to London, the UK and the nations.” Their website here.

A documentary was made about Martin Lloyd-Jones’ life and ministry a few years ago called Logic on Fire. Here’s the trailer for it:

What the Bird Said Early in the Year – a Poem

In my last post about my recent trip to England, I shared how I took my family for a walk along Addison’s Walk, the footpath at Magdalen College in Oxford (click here to read that post)

CS Lewis taught at Magdalen College, one of the 39 colleges which make up Oxford Univeristy. On the grounds of Magdalen College are a deer park and an island, upon which is found Addison’s Walk.

Along the path, there is this plaque dedicated to CS Lewis, which contains one of his poems, titled “What the Bird Said Early in the Year.”

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I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear
This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
This year nor want of rain destroy the peas

This year time’s nature will no more defeat you
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.

This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn one year older by the well worn track.

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.

Often deceived, yet open once again your heart.
Quick quick, quick, quick – the gates are drawn apart.

C.S. Lewis

This poem reflects the longing and the expectation of CS Lewis’ Christian faith; as he wrote elsewhere: “all the leaves are rustling with the rumor” that one day, the “new day” will dawn and the promise and hope of the gospel will become reality.

For more on this, check out this message I preached this past Sunday at White Fields titled, “The Dawn of a New Day.”

Addison’s Walk

I took my family for a walk the other day down a path called Addison’s Walk: a mile-long footpath around an island created by the river Cherwell in Oxford, England. The island and the path are part of Magdalen College, one of the 39 colleges that makes up Oxford University.

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It was there on Addison’s Walk that CS Lewis and his friend Jack, AKA J.R.R. Tolkien, had a conversation late one night after dinner, which Lewis later said was a turning point in his journey from atheism to Christianity.

Tolkien and Lewis both taught at Oxford and they were both part of the Oxford literary society known as “The Inklings”. The Inklings would meet regularly at two pubs in Oxford: the Eagle and Child, which they nicknamed “Bird and Baby”, and the Lamb and Flag. Both pubs are still there today, on opposite sides of the same street. At their meetings, the Inklings would discuss literature and share their writings with each other. It was at the Lamb and Flag that Tolkien read his first drafts of The Lord of the Rings.

Lewis and Tolkien shared a love for stories. They both felt the power of stories, and Tolkien had written a book titled, On Fairy Stories, which discussed how even in a scientific age, an “age of reason,” for some reason, people still desire to hear and to read fictional stories, even stories which talk about a supernatural world. The reason for this, he said, is that the characteristics which make up all the stories which people love: good overcoming evil, escaping time, overcoming physical limitations, interacting with non-human creatures and other-worldly beings, etc.; these reflect the deep longings of the human heart.

The reason we can’t get enough of these stories, Tolkien argued, is because deep down we believe that this is the way the world SHOULD BE, even if it’s not the way it currently is. The reality of life is that good doesn’t always win, that eventually we are separated from those we love, and so on – but even if this is how things are, it’s not how we believe that they should be. And so we love to read stories which describe life the way we believe it should be.

CS Lewis agreed with Tolkien on this point, and believe that this was indeed the power of stories. However, Tolkien took it one step further that night on Addison’s Walk: he told his friend CS Lewis to consider the gospel story of Jesus Christ. This story, he said, contains all of the elements which make every great story great: love which overcomes death, life out of death, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, overcoming physical limitations, the promise of a world where things finally will be the way they should be… Lewis agreed.

Then Tolkien went one step further: he said, the gospel story of Jesus Christ is not just one more good story which points to the underlying reality, it is the underlying reality to which all other stories point.

The gospel story of Jesus Christ is not just one more good story which points to the underlying reality, it is the underlying reality to which all the other stories point.

CS Lewis then asked how he could be sure, to which Tolkien encouraged him to look at the historical facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection.

It was that conversation which CS Lewis credited with leading him back to Christian faith. He went on to be one of the most effective apologists for CHristianity in the 20th century, partly because he was so intelligent, partly because he had been an atheist and was personally familiar with the arguments against Christianity, and partly because he was a layman and not a Christian minister.

I walked with my kids along Addison’s Walk, along the River Cherwell, and I told them the story of how Clive Lewis and Jack Tolkien had taken that walk along the same path, and I told them how Tolkien had shared with his friend this message of the gospel, and how all the things which cause us to love the stories we love point to “the true story of the world” – the story of Jesus and what he did for us.

As I did, my voice cracked a little bit as I tried to hold it together; you see, my heart has these deep longings as well. The promise of the gospel is that these things will not only remain longings, but one day they will once again be true, because of what Jesus did for us.

Frontier Church and Beyond

I do my seminary studies in England, and I always find it interesting to read about American culture, politics, etc. from a British perspective.

This semester I’m taking a class on History of Christian Worship, and one part of this describes the development of different ways of “shaping Christian time” in worship.

Here’s an excerpt from my reading about the “Frontier Church model”:

Frontier or Revivalist Groups

This term is used by White to designate a type of Protestant worship widely recognised in North America which spread to the UK. As already indicated, it is a nineteenth-century form of the Service of the Word in which worship became simply equated with evangelism. Its roots were Puritan, Reformed and Methodist, and it was born out of a prevailing spirit of its Victorian times – didactic, stripped-down commonsensical. To meet the challenge of how to mediate Christian faith to the scattered and independent people moving west across the North American continent, evangelists developed a pragmatic, free-style, anti-tradition form. This kind of worship had one purpose and that was to make converts.

The service had a three-part form:

  • 􏰂the warm-up or preliminaries – easy-to-sing emotional hymns;
  • 􏰂 the Word – the sermon, preparing for;
  • 􏰂 the harvest – altar call, an emotional appeal for conversion.

Frontier-type worship is evident in evangelistic ‘crusades’ and in many independent church services and Pentecostal meetings.

Sound familiar?  This gives interesting perspective to the “common” way of doing church in America today.  I know that this is the MO of many mega-churches. However, the question is begged: where is the discipleship? I know of large churches which have no strategy for discipleship beyond their Sunday morning preaching times, which are focused on proclamation of the Gospel with a focus on evangelism.

On the other side of the spectrum, I was speaking this weekend with friends in Canada who told me that the services in their church are focused wholly on the people of God and are not at all evangelistic (something they regretted to admit).

This seems to be one of the big questions: Who and what is the church service designed for? Discipling believers, or preaching to unbelievers for conversion?  But what if everyone is converted already?  Do you just keep preaching the same invitation to receive salvation to the already saved, because there just might be 1 or 2 unsaved people?  Or is it then always an invitation to “re-committ”?  Where does the instruction of believers come in?  Is that really “church”?  BUT – if you never preach and invite people to respond to the call of the Gospel to commit themselves to following Jesus, then what happens when new people come? Is your service simply not for them?

Clearly every church is trying to find this balance. I find that teaching through the Bible systematically, like we do at White Fields, is one of the most effective ways of both instructing believers and giving calls to action and to repentance. I also believe that having Christian instruction outside of the Sunday morning gatherings is an important way of doing this too. One of the things I’d like to start at White Fields is something along this line, because after all, we are called to not only make converts unto Jesus Christ, but disciples of Jesus Christ, teaching them to observe all that He commanded us (Matthew 28:20).