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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Reality Strikes!

One of the  elements after becoming a Christian believer is that you quickly learn the fundamentals - you know what I mean - the Holy Trinity, the Bible being the inspired Word of God, the Creation and Fall of mankind, man's inherited sinful nature, the incarnation of the Son of God, his death on the cross to atone for man's sins, his Resurrection on the third day, his Ascension, the need to repent and believe the Gospel, Salvation, Heaven and Hell.
And so I move on in the faith - praying, reading the Bible, regular church attendance, morning quiet times and spending each day of my life attempting to please God in thankfulness for the salvation he has provided. I assure myself that it is purely by God's grace that I am saved, works alone unable to bring me even a millimetre closer to God. But I also have relatives and loved ones who, by the way it looks, continue to remain unbelievers, and so I feel concern for their eternal being. I recall one Sunday when both my wife and I had a roast at my elderly parent's house, and on that day I crept upstairs into their master bedroom, almost in tears, and pleaded to God for their salvation. That was several years ago. Now, as I write this, my father having passed away just over a week earlier.
Both my parents were Roman Catholics, but not ardent, church-going Catholics, but more nominal. However, during my teens when I passed through a period of atheism before conversion in 1972, Dad had always maintained that there is a God, and he exists. I suppose he classed himself as an agnostic. I think he always had a gripe against the Church. When he was a boy, he spent the war years living in a convent, with nuns supervising him on a day-to-day basis. Then one Sunday, he took Holy Communion without first confessing his sins to a priest. This was by no means malicious, but a sincere wanting to take part in the Sacrifice of Christ. He either forgot to make his confession beforehand, or he felt that it was not a necessity. When one of the nuns found out about this, her hand crashed with full force across his face. I think this has given him a chip on his shoulder for the rest of his life.

Yet despite all this, he always stood in defence for the Catholic Church. Although he might have accepted the Reformation under Martin Luther and other Reformists as history, to him, the modern Protestant denominations have their roots in America, and he saw them as little more than money-making businesses with a religious front. For example, he would lump both the Baptist Union headquarters with the Watchtower Society as based in America, along with the Mormons (a true fact, as I have stood outside the splendid Mormon Temple at Salt Lake City, along with exploring the Visitors Center. In turn, I gazed at the more plain-looking office blocks of the Watchtower Society from the middle of Brooklyn Bridge at New York City.) Dad, being a socialist, linked capitalism with greed, which unfortunately with the bonus-hungry attitude of the City Bankers bringing in the last Recession, such an opinion had been proven justified. In short, my late father linked Christianity with money and greed.
But from Sunday to Sunday the Bible is preached in pulpits all over the western world, the threat of Hell for unbelievers and the promise of Heaven for the saved. There are teachings from those who believe in eternal security of the believer, and those who insist that one must stay faithful to be saved (that is to say: Probational Salvation.) The Catholic church, in turn, must keep on offering bloodless sacrifices (a large wafer disc known as a Sacred Host) on altars in churches all over the world, repeating over and over again the one sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, or no one would be saved. Confessions must be made at least once a year, Penance must be carried out, along with the Act of Contrition. Really, there is no assurance of all sins forgiven at the moment of death. So I go through life wondering just where is this love God is supposed to have for us.
Christians have said that if you want to find the love of God, then look nowhere else but the Cross of Christ. So that is true, at least intellectually. But when someone you love dies, and afterwards feel no assurance, to tell the truth, I wonder just how effective the crucifixion of Christ really was. Did you know that, for a start, the Roman Catholic Church denies the full efficiency of the atonement made by Jesus Christ on the cross? That is why the Church believes in Purgatory, a temporary Hell where every believer must go to have his venial sins purged out before entering Heaven. In the past, Indulgences were sold by the Church, which once bought, brought relief of a shorter time spent in Purgatory. That is to say that the rich can buy themselves out of Hell while the poor had to bear the full brunt of their punishment. It was this idea which fired up good old Martin Luther and his discovery that salvation was by faith alone. It might also be a reason why my father had a chip on his shoulder over the Church and was deluded with capitalism. 

Then not long after this, the continual debate whether one is eternally saved or conditionally saved rages on over the centuries. At times I can get fed up with it all. Rather than read bits of Scripture to prove one argument or to disprove another, at the moment I'm asking myself: Is there an afterlife? If so, then where is Dad right now? The very thought of a lost eternity had made my heart very grievous, in fact it was aching all week. I had imaginings of raging fire, or persistently bullied by demons, or floating in despair in thick darkness, haunted by memories of all the good things he had enjoyed in life. And so you can find terrifying videos of Hell on You-Tube, or log into one of many websites on Google, none of them edifying in any way but has the power to strike terror into the soul and deeply question God's character. And so I imagine such a loved one in such a dreadful environment and the screw is turned further. Then there are preachers like John McArthur and Paul Washer, both Lordship Salvationists, and both American. It was of interest that I have listened to one of Washer's sermons, delivered at a Californian Youth Conference and recorded in full on video. It had a warning preceding the talk that there were bits that were very unpleasant. I wasn't surprised. He began his talk with the announcement that the vast majority of the young people listening in the auditorium will be in Hell within sixty to seventy years from the year of the conference. And that was for not taking the Lordship of Christ serious enough to make a full unconditional surrender to the will of God, ensuring that one does not sin along the way.

I think that was a shocking thing to say to a congregation of young people who, having arrived at puberty, most likely were struggling between their faith, church and their strong sexual desires. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating porn, fornication, "free love" or masturbation - but by going by my own experience, being a young believer (or in my case, an unmarried adult) with a strong sexual drive often result in difficult struggles with the Christian faith. It does make me wonder why these preachers don't just simply say that believing in Jesus Christ as the risen Messiah, and as such, Almighty God himself, is enough for salvation. Instead, these preachers impose what is actually an impossible burden to bear. A burden which insists that a sin can either cause a believer to lose his salvation, or a proof that he was never saved in the first place, which could mean that the thirty or forty years of service was proved a waste of a life before the sin or falling away took place.

Probably this was why some Old Testament saints got married early in life; such as Abraham, Isaac and David. I can't say for sure at this time how old Abraham or Isaac were when they married Sarah and Rebecah respectively, but I can be more sure that young David was still in his teens when he married one of King Saul's daughters, as a reward for slaying Goliath. But even then, David found it difficult to keep his flies buttoned up other than for his wife, and ended up with a harem of ten concubines, on top of another man's wife Bathsheba. Not to mention Abraham sleeping with Hagar, Sarah's servant, to satisfy his wife's desire for a son, and then bedding with other women after the death of his wife. Yet it is agreed among all believers that all three - Abraham, Isaac, and King David were saved and went to Paradise after death. On the other hand, my father has been faithful to his wife - dear Mum - all through his married life, and furthermore, has no known record of any sleeping around before meeting his future wife. And yet, is he lost? Sometimes I can't help thinking that this whole Biblical shenanigan is grossly unfair. Yet preachers like McArthur and Washer, along with many others, makes a big issue on sex, marriage and the single person.

My dad believed that Jesus Christ existed, but rather than dying on the cross to atone for our sins, he believed that Jesus was a teacher who reformed the world, and was crucified by cruel men. Many Christians would say that this was not enough to save him. But what did he really believe on that day when he took Communion "illegally" as a boy? Yes, Jesus did say on one occasion that unless you believe that I am (he) you will perish (John 8:24.) But the same writer also wrote that anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (1 John 5:1) - a promise backed by Peter's testimony to the Jews in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost recorded in the second chapter in the book of Acts. Sometimes I tend to believe that far more people will go to Heaven after death than what we think. I, for one, have been taught that only "born again Christians" are saved. So it is true. But what does the Bible defines a "born again" believer? The one who believes that Jesus is the risen Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. Did my father believe in his heart that Jesus is the Son of God? I am not in a position to say either yes or no. What went on in his heart, especially when he was young, only God knows. Perhaps a bit like Ananias and Sapphira in the 5th chapter of Acts. We are told that they have conspired to lie to the Holy Spirit about the money they have donated. They both died on the spot. But Luke, who narrated the incident, does not tell us of their eternal state. Like with me, it was not up to him to decide.

So the world turns. We evaluate a believer's faith by the way he performs. Did the driver of the car you are in swear and cursed the idiot of the vehicle in front for nearly causing a collision? Then tut-tut, he cannot be a true believer, even if he holds in his heart that Jesus is the Christ. And what I have seen throughout life, the steering wheel of a car is the one hot seat for swearing and cursing. For one who has real faith, I guess such a hard swerve taken to avoid a crash would result in a calm emotional reaction. Road rage is certainly not Christ-like, and therefore the one with such high emotions can't be a true believer! So we are conditioned to think and believe what a true Christian should be like. Unfortunately for my late Dad, who was very fond of being in control of a vehicle, venomous expletives were not uncommon, particularly to an elderly female Sunday driver at the front of a slow-moving queue of vehicles creeping along a constantly hilly and bending road.

I sit and mull over my thoughts and emotions. For a guy like myself who has some interest and knowledge of world geography, I ponder over countries like the Middle East, India and the Far East, where Islam, Hindu and Buddhism reign. I think of countless families who have never heard of Jesus Christ, and as I imagine tiny babies being born all the time, and toddlers slowly being fed by patient mothers, only to grow up without ever knowing about Jesus Christ, let alone having a relationship with him, and to die and pass on into a lost eternity - I wonder how God could have demonstrated his love? Can I really say that the Englishman, with is stoic self-reserve, his stiff upper lip, and his home as his castle, as being closer to God than a family in India who is much more open and hospitable to strangers - simply because he was lucky enough to be born and raised in a "Christian country"? If that had always been the case, then I wonder why, during the early 17th Century when the English took over the governing of India, the indigenous remained stubbornly Hindu?

As one 1970s pop song goes: There are more questions than answers - with every answer raising a dozen more questions, so is the mystery of the afterlife. I cannot say where the spirit of my late father is - whether in Heaven or in Hell - or even whether he is conscious at all. But one thing I do know, and that is God, who made the Universe and this planet, and breathed into every creature the breath of life, holds everything in his hand and nothing can occur outside his realm.


  1. Lordship salvation is a reaction to the easy believism so many teach today, that just saying a few words is a magic spell that saves one. unfortunately it often becomes a distortion of the truth as you pointed out, While God forgives and takes away that old attitude of sin against God, salvation does not take away those old habits of sin, which is what Paul was talking about in Romans 7. There is a lot of difference between a person who unintentionally told something that was not true and a person who deliberately sets out to deceive people. Similarly, there is a great deal of difference between a person who commits one of those sins once and a person who adopts it as a lifestyle. Unfortunately some do not recognize the difference..

  2. Dear Frank,
    Only God knows the hearts, and I think there will be many surprises in glory -- those we would not have expected to be there, and those who are missing (although we probably won't realize the latter, as it would bring us pain, which is absent in Heaven)..

    On the other hand, "by their fruits ye shall know them." If there is no evidence of a new creation in Christ, and a desire to leave a sinful lifestyle, we have to wonder if the person is truly saved.

    What a blessing it will be to understand all when we see Him face to face, but even that will pale next to the blessing of truly knowing Him.

    Thanks as always for the thought-provoking post, and God bless,