Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Know and trust

A ramble…

The other day I found myself writing the words 'instant Christianity' to describe the kind of religion that takes no notice of anything in its path but mows down all opposition without a hearing—this, really in reference to a certain 'missionary' style, though it can be applied to churches as well.

Thinking about just the phrase, not what I'd originally intended by using it, I imagined 'Instant Christianity—Just add water, and mix' as if it were a label on a product. This made me think of another aspect of modern Christianity: its religious relativism, and its marketing and branding.

That brought a scripture to mind, 'And the misery of the children of men who corrupt their minds and are cheated of the truth, and they think that making money is the worship of God; but stay away from these things' (1 Timothy 6:5). This almost seems to prophesy a kind of 'prosperity gospel.'

Back to 'instant Christianity.' Thinking about it some more, two images came to mind. The first, the baptism of an infant. Yes, some might see this as a magical form of 'instant Christianity, just add water,' as if baptism as a rite can make someone a Christian with no effort or knowledge.

The other image was that of an adult man being baptised by immersion in a large tank in full view of a congregation. To many this would seem to be the only kind of baptism that is valid. I know people who have submitted to this kind of second baptism because they were made to doubt their infant baptism.

Yet, in actual practice, this 'believer's baptism' is quite often just as magical and as much 'instant Christianity' as the other. Again, a concept of 'just add water' and, there you are. Once when I was witnessing downtown by reading scriptures aloud, I was stopped and asked by a listener, 'Don't you think water baptism is necessary for salvation?'

The questioner quoted me relevant passages from the third chapter of John's gospel, which I had only just read. Christ seems to be telling Nicodemus that water is somehow necessary to salvation, 'No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit' (John 3:5).

'Well, then,' I responded, 'who or what is it that saves? Is it the water, or is it Christ?' My informant unhesitatingly affirmed, 'It is both. Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, because Christ said so.' All that came into my mind in that moment, and I said it, was, 'Well, who baptised the thief on the cross?'

Back to 'instant Christianity,' if we use it as another thought weapon to attack each other, then let's bury the hatchet right now. For me, it simply signifies the state of mind that forgets that our neighbor too is Christ, even if he is an unbeliever. Our witness to him can never ignore this fact, else it becomes transgression.
'Lord, when did we see You like that?' (See Matthew 25:31-46.)

One last thought that came to me as I was considering what makes Christianity real and not instant or imaginary. There are two entrances into Christianity in my experience. One entrance is through knowing. The other is through trusting.

Some people become Christians through study. Not just books, but life itself, especially their own. They know, and are forced by their knowing to become disciples of Jesus. In this category probably belong C. S. Lewis among the modern, and St Augustine of Hippo among the ancient Church fathers.

Some people become Christians through trust. They find themselves somehow in the presence of someone or even something that they feel they can trust, and they give themselves over as easily as a bride to her husband. In this category are many people raised as Christians, and I am one of those.

Those who know, and therefore become Christians, will arrive sooner or later at the state of unshakable trust. Those who trust, and therefore become Christians, will arrive sooner or later at the state of certain knowledge. Both of these are predicated on the fact that it is the living God they know or they trust at the beginning.

Now, place the template of baptism over these ideas. The baptism of infants is an example of Christianity by trust. Believer's baptism is an example of Christianity by knowledge.

'Do you know the Lord and accept Him as your personal Savior?' is the qualifying question to the adult baptised, but there is nothing you can ask an infant, yet its answer can be found in the book of Psalms, 'Enough for me to keep my soul tranquil and quiet like a child in its mother's arms, as content as a child that has been weaned'
(Psalm 131).

That is trust.

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