Renewing Christian Conviction
A theatre manager was quizzed by a bishop.
'How is it that my churches are relatively empty whilst your theatre plays to a full house?'
'My Lord', the manager replied. 'You speak the truth as though it were fiction whilst we present fiction as though it were true'.
What further advice can we offer the bishop?
In the wake of 11 September religious conviction is regarded with suspicion. In some quarters it is seen as synonymous with both blindness to reason and lack of humanity. Force of conviction is still respected but that respect is increasingly qualified by the knowledge that people can be sincerely mistaken.
How can Christianity regain convincing authority in a post-modern world?
If the bishop wants to play to a full house, he will need to help his flock contemplate the uniqueness of Jesus Christ with deeper conviction and better humour.
As with any missionary organization the Church has to be kept on track and held true to her distinctive role if she is to be effective. The starting point for regaining lost ground must be fresh contemplation of the uniqueness of Jesus. Here lies compelling truth for us to recapture and excite the world with.
Christians have been driven to make Jesus less than he is by the pluralism around them. Fresh contemplation of his claims will give us fresh courage to speak of his universal appeal as the one whose death and resurrection invite human possibilities beyond this world.
Jesus is Lord
Just as evangelism spearheads the broader front of mission, the assertion 'Jesus is Lord' focuses all Christianity has to offer. A right concern for balance and orthodoxy in doctrine and catechesis must never run counter to the need for Christians to continually make this assertion with courage and prudence.
Like the first disciples we must seize on the diverse philosophies around us as resources to demonstrate the uniqueness of Jesus. As the 1988 Lambeth Conference made clear, an exclusive loyalty to Jesus as unique Saviour goes hand in hand with an inclusive love for the world he seeks to liberate, including all that is of him in other creeds. 'Anything that is "exclusively" true of the incarnate Lord is true of one who is precisely the most "inclusive" reality, the divine life rejoicing in itself.’
How does conviction about the reality of Jesus Christ deepen?
The many-sided love of God set forth in Christ can only be grasped 'with all the saints'. You cannot deepen your faith alone.
Christian conviction is nothing eccentric or individualistic. It rests in a wide-flowing stream
that flows from the empty tomb of Jesus with the Spirit's empowering and guarantee. It resounds with a ring of truth captured by the Lord's great promise: 'I will build my Church' (Matthew 16.18).
To grow more convinced of Christian faith is a matter of being devoted more and more 'to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers' (Acts 2.42). It is about catching the fire of the Holy Spirit who indwells the Church, since 'no one can say, "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 12.3).
Cloth of gold
Baron von Hügel wrote of being caught up into 'a great living cloth of gold with, not only the woof going from God to man and from man to God, but also the warp going from man to man … and thus the primary and full Bride of Christ never is, nor can be, the individual at prayer, but only this complete organism of all faithful people throughout time and space.'
Such other-worldly vision transforms people, lifting them beyond themselves and opening them up to supernatural grace.
Kierkegaard complained that the Church performs the opposite miracle to that of her Lord in so often turning wine into water. If such dilution of the mystery of faith is still evident, so is the compelling vision of Christ as it is communicated through the fellowship of believers.
Bishop Helder Camera traced the deepening of his own Christian conviction to a providential encounter with a French Cardinal who suggested the organizing talents he demonstrated at a church congress could be better used in the service of the poor:
'And so the grace of the Lord came to me through the presence of Cardinal Gerlier. Not just through he words he spoke: behind his words was the presence of a whole life, a whole conviction. And I was moved by the grace of the Lord. I was thrown to the ground like Saul on the road to Damascus.'
Renewed Christian conviction spreads across 'the living cloth of gold' which is the mystical fellowship of the Church. It is resourced by the Church's most powerful influence – holiness.
Our vision of God atrophies, shrinks back until we are challenged by lives that encourage us to see him, as so much bigger than we had imagined. The prayer 'God give me a vision of yourself
that is more to your dimensions than mine' can have extraordinary consequences but people need the motivation of encountering holiness before they utter it.
To play to a fuller house Christianity needs to present the reality of Jesus Christ with deeper conviction – and better humour.
Humour shakes apathy
Lack of humour undermines both the theatre and the Church. Ill-humour pervades a lot of evangelism. It betrays Jesus Christ as one who fulfils rather than suppresses humanity.
Humour is a key resource in shaking apathy, which is a major stumbling block to evangelization in the Western world.
Christianity is bound to good humour since it is an invitation to fuller self-possession and self-forgetfulness. It is an awakening to life as the gift it is.
Christian conviction cannot be deepened by supernatural grace alone. It develops and flourishes in the natural context of human and social flourishing. The popularity of renewal courses like Alpha or Cursillo link both to their clear presentation of the truth of Jesus Christ and to their
social engagement through eating together, spending the weekend together etc.
Good humour is a characteristic of healthy, unstressed humankind, being themselves. Only too often attempts to communicate Christian faith are forced and unnatural, appearing ill-humoured. Unless Christians can be themselves as they communicate Christ they will sow doubt that Christ is really integral to a sense of human well-being.
'My Lord … you speak the truth as though it were fiction.'
Will you help us gain courage to engage more with the reality of Jesus Christ and his all-sufficiency for the needs of the world?
Will you help us love the Church, welcome her riches and disciplines and her call to convincing holiness?
Will you help us keep good humour as those called to live life to the full and to infect others with the joy of the Lord?
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