Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I believe in Church

My grandfather: “who are the four bad men?”
My dad (aged 5): “Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and the Pope”.

I was not brought up to respect authority. My dad’s family were anti-Catholics and anti-fascists who put the Pope on a par with Hitler and Mussolini. Mum was brought up as a Quaker, but has a personal and unorthodox faith.

I became a Christian when I was 16. That set me a little apart from my immediate family, but I still I retained a lot of the anarchic and iconoclastic views I’d grown up with. To some extent I still do; the attitude Jesus showed to the religious and secular authorities of his day was a long way from slavish obedience.

But since I became a Christian, I have learned that authority is not always a bad thing. To start with, I recognized at once the authority of God. God is absolute. While we may not always understand Him, He is always right. Then I learned the authority of the Bible. People change; the Church changes. God’s word stays the same. Like God himself.

At first, my attitude to church was not unlike my parents’. Some churches clearly were full of active Christians, others were just empty ritual. It would be wrong to credit any church with the same absolute authority that comes from God or the Bible. However I have realized that for all its failings, Church is an essential part of the Christian life.

God is not a personal experience or projection; God is. He has revealed himself to us through Jesus and through the Bible. We all see in part, and we all disagree. But all of us who follow Jesus are looking to find the same God. We can learn from one another! There are many who have gone before me whom I can learn from, be taught by. On occasions, I have even learned to respect authority from people I recognize as being wiser than me.

I’ve moved a bit since I became a Christian and been part of several churches, some better than others. Through the best I have come to know Christ better and been encouraged in my faith. I’ve been taught / shown things I would not have found out by myself. I have had the example of people living out bits of Christ’s character. I’ve even been encouraged when I’d got things wrong to look a bit closer and think again.

And it goes both ways. I’ve changed through being part of a church, and I’ve caused the church to change by being in it. This is good. You can’t be a Christian without being committed to change: change is a key part of repentance and is an ongoing part of growing closer to God. It merely reflects the fact that we are not yet perfect.

I don’t believe in the absolute authority of a particular Church organization. I believe salvation from God comes through Jesus, not through a priest. But I also don’t believe one can really live and grow as a Christian without being part of a church. All churches, being human organizations, are flawed; but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a crucial role to play.


Blogger Martin said...

I agree. Church is very important to me, and I am always learning. Not just from the vicar's sermons (although they do teach), but from everyone there. If we stand alone, without encouragment from others in the church we can lose our way a bit. Hebrews 10 verse 24-25 is very good on this.

2:59 PM  

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