As a younger Christian I got the impression that everything to do with Christianity pretty much came down to heaven and hell. That was the whole point of my existence. Life was a sordid little waiting room we had to put up with until we died or Jesus returned and then we got to party forever. I also got the impression that what decided whether I was going to heaven or hell was what I ‘believed’. That was what people meant by ‘faith’. It was about doctrine, what theology I signed up to. ‘Good works’ were almost treated with suspicion because then we might think we could ‘earn’ our way to heaven.
The problem with this was that I ended up stressing about what was the right doctrine. Once I went to University, I realised there were a lot of different ways of doing church, a lot of different interpretations of the Bible and quite a debate about what was correct doctrine. Millions of Christians have been arguing about this stuff for 2000 years. And millions more people, of other religions, have been arguing about it for even longer than that. Some incredibly bright, wise and spiritual people have disagreed on who’s got the right theology. So which horse am I going to back for my showdown with God when I die? This way of thinking ultimately turns the whole business of faith into a massive self-preservation exercise.
But Jesus didn’t go around making sure everyone’s statements of faith were ‘sound’. He spoke in riddles and parables, sometimes deliberately leaving people unsure of what he meant. He would have got low marks for his evangelism technique from some Christians I used to know. He healed the sick, he hung out with outcasts and freaks, he talked about meeting the needs of the poor; he spoke truth to power. The people he really had a beef with were the Pharisees, the religious establishment who were obsessed with correct doctrine.
In Matthew 25 Jesus is talking about all the ‘saved’ who clothed the naked, fed the hungry and visited the prisoner.
He concludes: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
James 1:27 says: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
For a guy that thought it was all about what you believed this is a pretty stunning statement. Thankfully many Christians take this to heart but sadly many don’t. I’m a huge fan of adoption but I think this verse also speaks about more than widows and orphans. In James’ day orphans and widows were those in society who were completely vulnerable. They had no protection, no voice and no power. We have modern day widows and orphans. We have the scandal of 1.4 billion people in the developing world living on less than $1.25 a day.
Helping to do something about that seems to me a better way to live as a Christian than arguing about the minutiae of doctrine. Now I enjoy a good theological knock about every now and again but that can’t be what we’re known for or what drives us. If we were known as people who stood up to injustice and worked to end poverty it would be a powerful witness to the rest of the world and also seems to be what God wants us to be doing.
There are lots of ways we can get stuck into the business of living out our faith through bringing justice to the world. Here are five suggestions:
1. Sign up to the Enough Food For Everyone IF… campaign. It’s a movement of more than 100 organisations including the Church of England, Christian Aid, Tearfund and many others which aims to help bring an end to global hunger by putting pressure on world leaders at the G8 in June.
2. The issue of housing might seem a bit dull but for those unable to access accommodation it can be a life changing problem. Christian organisations like Housing Justice do a lot to support night shelters and many other practical projects around the country. There are lots of ways to help out.
3. Climate Change is causing untold misery in many of the poorest countries in the world. As an industrialised country the UKhas a responsibility and opportunity to reduce our carbon emissions. Stand in solidarity with the world’s poor by getting involved in the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.
5. Become a local lobbyist. We are fortunate enough to live in a democracy – let’s make the most of it. Politicians hold regular drop in sessions in their constituencies and are lobbied by thousands of constituents every year. Local lobbyists are the life blood of campaigning organisations like Christian Aid and help to put pressure on governments to bring about change. Find out more here.