Friday, September 24, 2010
Non religious Christianity
Faith is defined as believing in something that you can't see.
Everyone has faith. You can't see radio signals, but you believe that by plugging a radio into the mains and switching the electricity on (something else that you can't see), you will hear music or speech. We believe that a red light will stop the traffic, although it has no actual power to do so.
People will tell me that science can explain all these things and avowed atheists will also tell me how the world began- with a big bang apparently, but without explaining who pressed the button or flipped the switch to start it off.
Some people will say that science has done away with the need for a god, a creator. Knowing how something works somehow relegates god to the margins, to the unknown. As someone said, he has become the god of the gaps (in our knowledge).
As I write this, a survey has found that over 70% of the population would consider themselves to be christian (with a small c.)
Anti-christians seize on the fact that as less than 10% attend a church regularly, the Christian faith should somehow be marginalised or even discriminated against. People no longer join organisations. They don't join trade unions or political parties. Some still belong to clubs and societies based on a particular pasttime, but on the whole we in the UK are not joiners of anything. Churches will always remind us that more people attend church on a Sunday than go to football matches on a Saturday by the way.
I used to attend church regularly. Not any more. My Christian friends wonder why, and it's hard to tell them without sounding anti-christian. I'm not anti-Christian, just anti-church. I don't enjoy doing churchy things anymore.
I've pondered this for a few years. People tell me that being in a church gives you a sense of belonging, of community.
But what if you're a loner by nature? Or a recluse? Someone who doesn't enjoy being in a crowd?
When Jesus needed spiritual refreshment he went off by himself. Yes, he went to the Temple to fulfil a religious obligation, but on arrival he chased the money lenders out. What was his opinion of church?
St Francis of Assisi was a loner, yet they made him a saint and a whole religious order was named after him.
So what is it that requires Christians to attend a church or to belong in one?
I've been a member of a church, several in fact. It was the great Victorian preacher Charles Henry Hadden Spurgeon who said "If you find the perfect church, don't join it because you'll only spoil it".
So I won't be joining any church any time soon. Joining a church won't make me a good person, so will not joining a church make me a bad person?
And what if I were to look for a church? Which one? It's not that simple. At the last count there were over 40,000 denominations worldwide. Each one claims to be THE true church. Each one claims that the others have it all wrong. So how does one choose? Do you have to go down the lists of theological points and tick the ones you like? I know of churches in the UK that draw people from upwards of fifty miles away. What does that tell me? That they serve great coffee?
Or that people will travel miles in order to have their religious prejudices legitimised?
What does God say? In one famous Old Testament passage he speaks through the prophet Amos (Amos 5:21-24)
21 The Lord says, "I hate your religious festivals; I cannot stand them! 22 When you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; I will not accept the animals you have fattened to bring me as offerings. 23 Stop your noisy songs; I do not want to listen to your harps. 24 Instead, let justice flow like a stream, and righteousness like a river that never goes dry. (Good News version)
That's pretty clear I'd say.
I grew up in Cornwall in the 1950s. It was still a Christian country. We ate fish every Friday and my parents packed us off to Sunday school, partly, I suspect, to have the house to themselves for a while. The chapel was just down the road next to a short terrace of victorian houses. Before our estate was built, it must have looked a solitary sight, next to the old main road that ran up the high ground from Penzance to Camborne and beyond. When they built the causeway and opened up the road from Penpol to Copperhouse, thus creating the town of Hayle, it became ever more isolated. I always wondered why they built such a large chapel for such a small settlement, but then I realised that it was built to serve the tin mines that were everywhere. Once they failed, the population emigrated to Canada, the US, Mexico and Australia, and the dwellings fell down or were demolished, leaving an isolated and decaying chapel.
The chapel was built by the Bible Christians, and it's worth studying this aspect in order to understand why we have so many denominations.
It all goes back to the mid 18th century, when John & Charles Wesley visited Cornwall and Methodism was born. While Wesley was alive, he considered himself to be an Anglican, but on his death his followers adopted the nickname that was given them by their detractors and became Methodists in 1795. By 1811, it had become bogged down with building churches, employing full time professional ministers, pension schemes, foreign missions, etc etc, and many believe it had deserted the poor and illiterate. In short, it had become middle class and conservative.
The Methodists split over this, and the Primitive Methodists were formed, adding to the other post-Wesley Methodist denominations like the Wesleyans and the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion.
You see how complicated it has become?
Within 20 years of Wesley's death there were different denominations, each with their fiercely protected emphases. As well as the Primitive Methodists, the Bible Christians were formed in 1815, and were to be found mostly in North Cornwall, Kent and on the Isle of Wight. Their membership was drawn mainly from farm labourers and miners, and was distinctive in that they allowed female preachers, which the Methodists had condemned/banned in 1803.
So my old chapel was built on or around 1850 by a breakaway group of Methodists, who themselves had broken away from the Anglican church just over half a century earlier.
Is it any wonder that people get confused?
So no, I won't be joining a church anytime soon thank you. If I found one that ticked all my boxes, it'd have a congregation of precisely....one.
And I'd only attend ever now and then.
I think this sums it up nicely...