Last updated 2010-05-18
I am involved with Wellknown Christian Church. Despite the name, you've probably never heard of it. It's a small church that can probably be loosely classified as Pentecostal, with a strong involvement in world-wide missionary work.
I'm not a believer in large churches, mainly because they typically carry so much "dead wood". I spent about four years in a large church (Lewende Woord in Pretoria), but otherwise have been in small churches since 1975.
I grew up in a large denomination. I eventually started looking for more congruency between word and deed. In 1975, my father was introduced to a small local church, associated with an American group. Here, I found what I was looking for.
While I was unaware of the broader connections at the time. Around 2006, I spent time researching trends in 20th century theology. It became clear that we had been largely in accordance with Latter Rain theology, although not directly associated with them. Trying to make sense of it all is not an easy task, as the Internet is littered with opinions for and against that achieve absolutely no consensus!
The tree is known by its fruit, though, and in the decade or so that I spent with this church, I encountered a level of mutual caring, effective prayer, teaching and specifically worship that I have not come across again.
There is little doubt that we were privileged to share in many truths long before they became widely accepted in the church. Many major churches teach theology broadly in line with what we learned in the 1970s.
My involvement in the church had a profound impact on my own development as a person and as a Christian. One of the most substantial influences in my life was the fact that our small congregation was multi-racial, something that was not at all common in South Africa at the time. We had members that came from some of the most poverty-stricken areas in Gauteng province. At the time, the Caucasians in the church were involved in an environment that most other South African whites have only been exposed to much more recently. I have subsequently had the privilege of helping to break down some of the stereotypes and prejudices that I myself had to deal with all those decades ago.
I guess I could have pursued these goals as efficiently in some welfare organisation. Why did I choose to be a Christian, and to involve myself in a local Christian church?
Perhaps I should start by stating that some of the nicest people I know are not Christians. I might even go as far as stating that some of the Christians I know are not the nicest people. If it were solely about being good people, I'm sure I could have found a better common denominator. However, it's not.
I spent much time in my early adult years trying to answer some basic questions: What makes Christianity different? What makes it worth while? Religion as such is clearly a waste of time. Quite frankly, many of the world's people are perfectly comfortable without religion, and are probably better off without it. Religion as an institution is famous for inducing guilt and morbidity in people who might otherwise have been well-rounded, buoyant individuals.
I've met shining exceptions to this generalisation. I've met evangelical Christians, Jehovah's witnesses, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics and an assortment of others who have managed to build an enviable lifestyle, impeccable integrity and a giving attitude. However, it could be argued that one could build all these characteristics without even a hint of religion. And I would have to agree.
The answers I've found have startled me. I hope I can communicate my sense of wonder adequately. This is my first attempt at a universal piece on theology, so I please be gracious and make some allowances if it doesn't come across quite as intensely as I see it...
I guess religion of any description, and even the majority of philosophies (although perhaps the Marquis de Sade and a few of his ilk might disagree), can be summarised basically as:
Differences between religions revolve primarily (or at least to a large extent) around how the terms "good guy" and "OK" are defined. "Good guy" could involve the Pillars of Islam or various behavioural, ascetic or welfare-related obligations, offering animals, keeping your thoughts devoid of any hedonistic leanings or just simply being an all-round nice guy and not cheating on your taxes. "OK" could involve "going to heaven", not coming back as a sewerage farm toad in your next life, or achieving Nirvana. However, all of them follow the basic premise: "If you're a good guy, you'll be OK!".
Christianity is fundamentally different. Perhaps I could describe the basic premise as:
The Biblical message is that you won't be OK on your own, no matter how hard you try. You won't make the grade. God is just, so he has to punish sin. The punishment is death. However, there's good news: The price has been paid. Jesus has died for you already. All you have to do is to accept what he's done for you. He's opened the door for you to have a personal relationship with your Creator. You can know Him personally. He is a merciful Father, who has even made a way for you to escape the consequences of sin. It's a far cry from having to toe the line for a god who has prescribed a set of rules, and who stands ready to punish violations with a lightning bolt, or worse. Or perhaps even to make you come back as a sewerage farm toad.
What about being a good guy, then?
There's the rub. A personal relationship with the Father must certainly encourage one to do things His way. His way includes justice, integrity and also being a good guy. However, being a good guy doesn't come instantly with becoming a Christian. It is a process that must progress if one is really serious about pleasing the Father, but it is certainly not necessarily a completed fact. Perhaps the T-shirt that I once saw says it all: "Please be patient, God hasn't finished with me yet".
I would expect a sincere Christian to have a desire to do the right thing. I would even expect him to do better now than he did yesterday. But I certainly wouldn't expect him to be perfect. That's exactly why Someone had to come and pay the price for him.
Perhaps I understated the importance of works. There are certainly indications that good works will be rewarded. The very definition of Christianity must certainly include a submission to His Lordship. Submission must include obedience, which in turn includes a number of different dos and don'ts. However, works are not what it's all about. They are not the entrance ticket; perhaps they might help to secure a better seat!
As an afterthought, I might also mention that being a good guy doesn't necessarily mean being universally popular, or even being a nice guy in everyone's eyes. Standing up for the truth and for justice doesn't necessarily always make you popular. A good guy will always stand up for the truth; it certainly won't make him a nice guy in everyone's books, though. In fact, it may even get him crucified...
Having grown up in what can only be described as a pioneering ministry was indeed a privilege. I was fortunate in being exposed to many truths that have subsequently become more widely accepted, and specifically in making a difference in people's lives to a far greater extent than I would have if I'd stayed in my original denominational church.
However, there was undoubtedly also a price to pay. On the one hand, what we were doing at the time was not universally accepted, with consequences that ranged from mild harrassment to actually losing one's job. However, in most cases this form of rejection was not felt acutely; it was all for a cause.
Perhaps more nefarious are the inadequacies in one's own makeup. Being almost fanatically involved in a church is not conducive to developing mature attitudes about the world around us. My investigations of 2006 unearthed a large number of people around the world who, like me, have had to go through a painful process of learning perspectives that didn't quite make it through those years of frenetic activity. Those of us who spent our formative years praying most of our time away have later had to learn aspects of reality the hard way.
Unfortunately, I still see associates from those days who have not come to these crossroads. I regularly pray that they will, before it is too late.
In the mean time, my experiences have left me with a profound sense of distaste for exotic theology. I'm not sure about the white horses and the seven kings in Revelation. I'm not sure if the Rapture will take place before the tribulation or after. I'm not even sure who is going to be raptured--the good guys or the bad. Not only am I not sure--I actually don't care.I'm simply not convinced that it is all that important to me. I don't want to ponder on things that I am not at all sure about when there are things that I am very, very certain about that are not yet working in my life.
When I have everything working, I'll ask around for some more exotic theology. Until then, count me out.
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