The future direction of Christianity in Ireland as a whole will depend on the interpretation of a portion of Scripture from Mark’s Gospel in the New Testament.
While Christ died as a result of the brutal Roman execution method of crucifixion, it was the Jewish leaders of the day who wanted Him dead. Even the Roman governor of the day, Pilate, recognised that Jesus was innocent of all the ‘crimes’ which the religious Scribes and Pharisees were accusing Jesus of.
It all revolves around what we Christians truly believe was Christ’s purpose in assuming human form and coming to earth to be crucified and then rise again. Was it to be a healer, or to create a way by which we can have our sins forgiven and enter heaven?
Liberals within Christianity theology love to push a fluffy bunny aspect to getting a spiritual passport to enter through the pearly gates. Just ‘do good works, and you’ll get there’, would be their motto.
Evangelicals believe your place in paradise can only be guaranteed when you become ‘saved’ or ‘born again’ by confessing your sins to God alone - this is known as the Salvationist position.
Many liberals would dismiss this a merely ‘fire and brimstone’ preaching, which bears no relevance to the image that God is love. Unfortunately, all liberal theology can be shot to pieces by the New Testament text of St John Chapter 3 and verse 16.
It reads: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Latest translation from the New International Version.
The true answer as to why Jesus came to earth, namely to create a situation whereby we could have our sins forgiven and thereby gain passage to eternal life in heaven, is clearly answered in the second chapter of Mark’s Gospel in the New Testament.
It is the story of how Jesus forgives and heals a paralysed man during His stay in Capernaum in the Middle East. Word had spread that Jesus was in the region, and many came to hear Him preach.
A group of men brought their paralysed friend, but such was the crowd around Jesus, that they could not get near Him. But also, such was the friends’ determination to get their paralysed chum to Jesus, that they dug a hole in the roof of the house and lowered him almost to the feet of Jesus.
The Bible takes up the story from Chapter 2, verse 5 of Mark - again using the latest NIV translation:
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralysed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.
Many Jews at that time believed that sickness was a sign of committing personal sin. To them, to heal sickness meant that the sin that had supposedly caused the illness must have been forgiven.
Jesus dropped a spiritual bombshell on these Jewish religious leaders, who believed only God could forgive sin, but here was Jesus laying a clear emphasis in front of them that He would forgive sin first, then heal the man.
In practical terms, Jesus was throwing down a very poignant gauntlet to the Jewish leaders on two counts - firstly, that He really was the Son of God, and secondly, it was more important to have your sins forgiven than be healed.
This was a spiritual double whammy, not only for the Jewish Scribes and Pharisees who were trying to find excuses to have Jesus tried and executed for blasphemy, but also to any modern day liberals who want to push the issue of ‘having sins forgiven’ under the theological carpet because they wish to push a fluffy bunny image of Christianity.
Christ makes it abundantly clear in this episode - the forgiveness of sin is paramount; all other acts are secondary to this.
In modern times, the liberal elements within the Christian Church have tried to severely dilute the importance of having sins forgiven. To liberals, criticism of a sinful lifestyle is a theological ‘no go’ area. Liberals simply do not want to rock the boat spiritually.
This confrontation between liberals and evangelicals is seen most pointedly in the strident debate over same-sex marriage and heterosexual adultery. The LGBTQ+ lobby - while it only represents numbers-wise about 3 per cent of the population - has become so vocal in its campaign for marriage equality that many evangelicals are too afraid to oppose it, while many liberals want to be seen as ‘hip and trendy’ by supporting it.
But why single out the LGBTQ+ community because of its lifestyle? Surely there can be just as much sin within the heterosexual community in terms of sexual immorality, adultery, unfaithfulness and domestic abuse within a heterosexual marriage as within a same-sex civil partnership?
The evangelical position condemns all sin within lifestyles and relationships, emphasising that Jesus died on the cross so that sin could be forgiven.
Modern Christians need to show the courage of their convictions and start preaching about the consequences of sin and especially sin within the boundaries of lifestyle.
They must present Christ the view that following Christ’s teachings can give a person an even more rewarding lifestyle. Standing at a street corner and yelling ‘turn or burn’, even protesting about lifestyles in public, are tactics which are no longer working in evangelical Christian witness.
That may have been an evangelical witness strategy which worked in the Sixties and Seventies during the many tent missions dotted across Ireland. But in the pluralist digital era of the 21st century, Hell-fire preaching may not be the best method of communication of the Christian Gospel.
Likewise, the sad reality is that too many Christians do not want to leave the safety of their comfort zone for fear of being branded Bible-thumping bigots, fascists, racists, Nazis and all the other assorted insults poured out on evangelicals especially.
But there will come a time when evangelicals will have to seriously face down the propaganda of the secularist society, but box clever at the same time to get their message across to the public.
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com