Challenge To The Church

What is the purpose of the Christian Church in today’s society - or has it outlived its usefulness? That’s the key question which religious commentator, Dr John Coulter, poses in his latest Fearless Flying Column today.

Is the Christian Church as relevant today in 2019 as it was more than 2,000 years ago when Jesus walked the earth and was crucified, then rose again?

The bitter reality is that many of us Christians don’t like to move outside of our spiritual comfort zone. We are happy with our wee cliques on a Sunday where we can have an after-service chat about that weekend’s soccer fixtures and results.

To suggest that we follow the example of Christ Himself and go into the highways and byways and talk and help the homeless, poverty-stricken, or those facing an addiction would send many of us Christians diving for cover, yelling the words - don’t send me Lord!

One of the major challenges faced by the Christian Church in Ireland is that people view the Church as a specific building, not a community or fellowship of believers.

This is linked to the fact that many opponents of the Christian faith are exceptionally well organised in either pushing their alternative to, or criticism of, Christianity.

Unfortunately, we Christians have not helped our image in the community because of the past or present sins of so-called Christians. The Catholic faith has been well battered in recent decades because of the clerical abuse scandals. Heaven knows what more has still to emerge.

Long gone are the days when the Irish Bishops ruled the roost in terms of society and attendance at Mass was an essential part of Irish life. If the Bishops still had any sway in society, it would have defeated the Southern Irish referenda on same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion legislation.

In the Protestant community, which denomination actually speaks for the Reformed Faith? Hardly a month goes by that - as a journalist - a source briefs me about a split in a certain church or denomination.

New churches with Hollywood movie-sounding names are launching each year. Some of the more fundamentalist denominations are awash with allegations that they have been infiltrated by supporters of the Plymouth or Exclusive Brethren theology.

Are we returning to a situation in some churches where women are told they must wear hats to worship, must wear skirts instead of trousers, must tone down their make-up - and aren’t allowed to hold senior posts in the church or even preach?

Taking all these negative views into consideration, is it a case that the Christian Church as a whole in Ireland has shot itself in the foot in terms of appeal because it is so focused on institutional ritual and rules rather than emphasising the divinity and humanity of Jesus Himself as outlined in the Scriptures?

If the Church is to become relevant in people’s lives, then perhaps the Church has got to get back to basis. In short, what do we mean by a key focus on the divinity and humanity of Christ?

Christianity has a major advantage over other man-made religions - it is the only faith still based on a living person, Jesus Christ. All other religions are based or were conceived by dead people.

Mohammed the key founder of Islam is dead; as are the founders the Bahai and Buddhist faiths.

Even those who put their ‘faith’ in Confucius or Marx are adhering the to the views of dead people. Jesus Christ was crucified, but He rose again so that we might enjoy the joys of salvation. This is the true divinity of Jesus Christ, as opposed to man-made gods, such as in the Hindu faith, or there ancient Nordic religions, such as paganism, or Odinism.

The Christian Church can also make itself relevant by following the example of Christ Himself as outlined in the Scriptures in terms of His actual humanity.

The New Testament of the Bible is filled with the miracles of Jesus. He healed the sick, and even raised the dead. When a person becomes a ‘born again believer’ as defined by St John Chapter 3 verse 16, they can enjoy the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Some people are given gifts of healing, speaking in tongues, or even prophecy. It should not be forgotten that Christ took positive action to show his work in action. We can read in the Bible how He overturned the tables of the money changers who were polluting the temple.

If Christ Himself can take positive action to change society, then the Church can show its relevance by following his example and change society for the better - especially when it comes to combatting poverty and homelessness.

The best manifesto for action by the Church is contained again in the New Testament in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, often referred to as The Beatitudes.

Some would even suggest that Karl Marx based his communist manifesto on The Beatitudes, and simply removed any reference to Christ in his writings. Perhaps it was Jesus, not Marx, who was the first real communist? I’ve touched on this argument a few times in my time as a commentator - an assertion which can spark both criticism from the Hard Left and ultra fundamentalists.

In showing Christ’s divinity and humanity as part of its ‘back to basics’ approach, the Church has to be careful that it does not dilute or add to what is contained in the Scriptures, particularly in the New Testament.

Many denominations do not want to talk about Hell as they wish to push a snowflake style Christianity; this approach can turn many churches into nothing more than glorified social clubs.

Others add to the Bible, and end up becoming an Irish version of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church in the United States. They will hold meetings where would-be members are put through a stern interview process to see if they are spiritually suitable for that church.

In some cases, it is harder to become a member of certain churches than to actually get into heaven. The Church is facing a severe challenge - to be relevant it has to get back to Biblical basics.

One way it can do this is for all of us who call ourselves Christian to ponder the following verses from the New Testament text of Ephesians Chapter 3 verses 9 and 10: “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.”

Hopefully, this challenge to the Church won’t get me burnt at the stake as a heretic!

Follow religious commentator Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter

Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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