Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Bible

The current selection of 66 books that make up the bible as used by most protestants (as far as I know, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic bibles contain slightly different selections of books) was not finalised until a few hundred years after they were written.

So why is it that many Christians will use the text of some of those 66 books to claim that the contents of all 66 (and only those 66) books are divinely inspired?

2 Timothy 3v16 speaks of 'all scripture' but how can we assume that this refers to the current selection of 66 books? At the time he was writing Paul (or whoever) had a much smaller selection of 'scriptures' which did not include any of our current new testament.

Jesus frequently used phrases like 'my words will never pass away' and so on, but if you compile all of the things that Jesus said from the gospels, you end up with only a few hours worth of sayings. In my opinion, it is these sayings that we, as Christians should seek to follow. Of course, some doubt if Jesus Himself actually said all these things, but even assuming that He did, the sum total of all His Words is tiny compared to the entirity of the bible. When Jesus speaks of 'my words' I don't believe that He meant everything in the bible - He just meant the things He was saying.

I can't believe that everything in all 66 books is the inspired and infallible Word of God (see, for example, the story of Noah and the Ark), but I can believe that most of the words attributed to Jesus are things He said, or are interpretations of the things He said as understood by His disciples (e.g. the things Jesus apparently says in John's gospel are different to what He says in the other three - this is generally understood as being John's interpretation of what Jesus meant, rather than a word-for-word account of what he actually said).

We know that the Jews couldn't live up to the 'burden' of the old testament law (Acts 15:10). Neither can we. Thankfully, as Christians we only need to follow Christ and His words, and this is something we can manage.


I find it very hard to understand teetotal Christians.

My understanding of the term 'Christian' is someone who follows the teachings of Christ or seeks to be like Him in some way. And Jesus expressly told His disciples to drink wine to remeber Him. So why do so many Christians shun alcohol in all its forms? They are commanded to drink it!

Yes, I know there are several anti-drunkenness passages in the bible, but having a glass or two of wine is as far from drunkenness as driving sensibly is from breaking the speed limit.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

What I believe... Part 1

I suppose I should put this blog in context. I appear to have a few occasional readers, including some who don't know me, so over the next few posts I'll try to explain how my beliefs have developed and changed over the years...

I was raised in a 'conservative evangelical' bible-believing family and church environment. From a young age I was exposed to preaching which emphasised the authority of the bible and the importance of prayer, but viewed 'charismatic' gifts and behaviour (e.g. raising hands in worship) in a fairly negative way.

When I was aged 11 I was at a Christian camp which included an evangelistic talk with a 'call' for folk to become Christians. To be honest, I'd never really thought about becoming a Christian up until that point, I'd kind of assumed that I was one by default. But that night I made a decision... I decided not to be a Christian. I realised at that point that I believed in Jesus and all that stuff, but that being a Christian was more than just a matter of belief, it was a matter of action as well - doing things for God and denying things for yourself, so I opted out.

For what its worth, I still believe that I truly was a Christian (by default) up until that point and I chose to opt out. Over the years since then, some folk have insisted to me that I couldn't have really been a Christian before I was 11, because if I was I wouldn't have opted out. While others have tried to explain to me that I really have always been 'on the right track' and therefore I didn't cease to be a Christian when I decided not to be. I still maintain that I was raised a Christian and it wasn't until I chose to opt out that I ceased to be one.

Anyway, I made the mistake of not telling my family about the choice I had made, so for most of my teens I lived a double life - at school and with my friends I was just a normal teenager with no 'religious' belief, but to my family and at church I still appeared to be a Christian... If anyone reading this is in the same situation (and I have met several folk who have been there) please just be who you are - don't try and be something you are not just to keep your family happy. It'll make life easier in the long run, I promise you. Towards the end of my time at school it became harder and harder to keep the two sides of my life seperate - i.e. hiding the Christian side of my life from folk at school and hiding the 'secular' side of my life from my family.

1988 brought a few changes to my life - I moved away from home to university, in a town where I knew almost nobody, so I didn't have to do the double life thing anymore (or so I thought) and made lots of new friends - almost all of them outwith church circles. However, for the first time in my life I began to see a reason for actually chosing to become a Christian.

In October 1988, about a month after starting university, I was at a Scripture Union camp reunion. I saw the stark contrast between the Christians at the camp and the non-Christians at uni, and realised what the difference was: it was plain to me that there was some connection between these Christians that I didn't share in. There was a dimension to their lives that I didn't have. Quite simply, I finally saw the additional quality of life that the Spirit of God brings to Christians. It wasn't just a small difference, it was like the parable of the merchant who finds the pearl of great price - it was worth giving some things up in order to gain the Spirit.

And so, on the train on the way home from the camp reunion, I prayed the prayer that I had rejected about seven years earlier. And, having been raised in the church I was raised in, I knew that that was it - I was a Christian and shouldn't need any sign or manifestation to confirm this.

Nothing happened for a whole day. And (I must stress this) I really didn't expect anything to happen at all. But the following night the Spirit really did come with power and great joy. I really did feel like the Spirit filled me up so much that I would burst. I find it really hard to put this into words, but I felt like someone had emptied a well of joy into me, and had left it there - from that point on I could (and can) tap into that well and find joy in even the hardest of situations.

And so, to summarise, my outlook on God, His Spirit and the Christian life really starts with two main observations:

  1. The Spirit of God is real: even non-Christians can see His presence and the additional quality of life that He brings to the lives of Christians (notably, when they are together, not so much as individuals - this is important for effective evangelism!), and
  2. The Spirit of God is real: I experienced Him in an amazing way, even when I wasn't expecting it. And this is a lasting thing, not a transient one - He is still in me and that well of joy hasn't run dry.
So despite being raised in a church environment where 'the Word' was considered all that was necessary, my journey of faith began with two experiences, rather than anything to do with head-knowledge. This is very important to me, especially when I came to doubt the historical accuracy of parts of the bible - if everything was built on the foundation of the Word alone, my whole belief structure could have come crashing down, but even if parts of the bible turn out to be inacurate or outright false, that can't take my experiences away from me.

I have experienced God, so I know He is there. Exactly who He is, is another matter entirely...