A Faith for the Times
Posted 09 August 2007 - 07:56 AM
A Faith for the Times
IT is perhaps a commonplace to say that men and women have never been able to do without religion. True it is that their religion has changed from time to time and that their faith has rarely been very strong or very constant. But it remains beyond doubt that if a man has no faith in the religion of his fathers he will turn to substitutes to take its place.
Why this universal need for religion? Why indeed the need for food? As we require food for bodily strength, we need religion to satisfy the mental and spiritual side of our natures. When, for example, we face the mysteries and the immensities of the world, we feel the need for an explanation of the universe. When we are in trouble we experience a need for help and consolation; when we reflect on the varied activities of life we need a philosophy to give it a pattern of meaning. When we are assailed by strong and conflicting emotions we seek a guide to moral conduct. In religion alone can all these needs be satisfied.
There are in particular three principal subjects on which we all should have clear thoughts if we are to interpret rightly the problem of life and its meaning. They are: (1) The world and its Creator; (2) Mankind and their goal; and (3) The problem of Life and Death.
Science can tell us little of these subjects; it does not indeed attempt to answer many of the issues which they raise. Yet these matters are clearly of the first importance. Unless we are content to drift, to live aimlessly, to live overshadowed by a sense of futility and frustration we must have a clear answer to these problems.
An Answer to World Problems
What then, is the answer? Christadelphians believe that the answer is "Christianity," but we qualify that by insisting that by Christianity we mean the faith of Jesus and his Apostles, and not the creation of a later age. There is a world of difference between the two. This difference may be illustrated by a modern instance—by the reaction of Christendom, i.e., the modern version of Christianity, to the present world distress. What kind of message has Christendom in the face of the troubled world conditions? Men and women are perplexed and distressed by what seems to be the growth of chaos and anarchy and the failure of civilisation. The world, it seems, is becoming, not as they were taught, gradually but surely Christian, but rapidly and brutally pagan. What then is the explanation of this disquieting but undeniable fact? In so far as Christendom may be said to have any answer it is that the present situation is a deplorable lapse; a temporary victory of the forces of evil. Good, we are assured, will ultimately triumph. It is hoped that better days will come when there will be a gradual reformation and a return to religion. The passing scene is temporary—and has no place in its teaching. In a word, it may be said that modern. Christendom finds no room for present realities; it has no world outlook. Here lies the important difference. For Christianity has a world outlook. It embodies a clear and definite teaching about nations and their destiny; it has moreover the most explicit and positive assurances as to when and how Christianity will triumph.
This departure from authentic Christian thought and teaching was clearly predicted by the Apostles (2 Timothy 4:3; 2 Peter 2:1) and it follows that if we would seek truth—Christian truth—we must rely not on modern teaching, but on the words of those who first announced it to the world, and our faith must be that which, as the Apostle Jude writes, was "once delivered unto the saints."
We turn then to the Christian faith, as it touches the three subjects already mentioned—those of the world and its Creator, Mankind and their goal, and the problem of Life and Death.
Posted 09 August 2007 - 07:58 AM
There is an important difference between the philosophical and the Christian approach to God. Many philosophers argue that the existence of God is a reasonable hypothesis and they proceed to theorise about His possible nature and characteristics. Reasoning from the natural world around them they seek to discover God. But the God of Christianity is not found in that way. We cannot find Him through philosophy—He finds us through revelation. God has, in other words, revealed Himself to us—He has spoken through His word. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us this in his opening statement, “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.”
God has spoken through the Prophets
That God has spoken through the prophets is a fact of the first importance. Jesus, and therefore true Christianity, relies upon that as a foundation truth. Neglect of the Law and the Prophets by the Jewish leaders was the occasion for stern rebuke by Christ. Of them, he says “If they hear not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” Luke 26:31.
What is the substance of this revelation of God through the prophets? The Apostle Paul in his address to the Athenians has admirably summarised it in these words; “God that made the world and all things therein … dwelleth not in temples made with hands, neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life and breath and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth and hath determined the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord if haply they might feel after him and find him though he be not far from every one of us, For in him we live and move and have our being, as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring ... God hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” Acts 27.
It is clear then from these words that the prophetic message about God and the world is that men and women live by the will of God, that they are answerable to Him, that good and evil will be brought into judgment. The assurance of this still future purpose is the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Into a world of evil and darkness the prophets make it clear that God is to bring again truth and righteousness. He is to fill it with gladness, for He is “to give unto them that mourn beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Isa 61. The fact of sin and death and the certainty of their ultimate overthrow; such is the burden of the prophetic message; that is the point and counterpoint which gives harmony to the Divine purpose.
An Earth Redeemed
Within that general framework — of a world now evil but finally to be redeemed and purged; the earth enjoying peace and justice, God’s Word deals with all other human issues. Without an understanding of that broad plan we shall never understand either the problem of evil or of life and death. We learn in the Old Testament of how this final reformation is to be accomplished, of the part the Jewish race had, and still has, to play as an instrument of, and a witness to, God’s over-ruling purposes with mankind. They express supreme confidence in the achievement of those purposes. Through Moses, God declares, “As truly as I live all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” Num 14:21. Of the King who is to rule over this redeemed earth the Psalmist says, “In his days shall the righteous flourish and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.” Psa 72. The prophet Isaiah confidently looks forward to the time when “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war any more.” Isa 2:4.
Upon the certainty of those promises the Christian faith relies. It was of such writing that Jesus himself declared “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and. in the psalms, concerning me.” Luke 24:44.
Posted 09 August 2007 - 08:00 AM
Now it may be agreed that this is a noble and inspiring hope, but objected that it appears to bear little relationship to the facts of life, since we appear to live in a world which shows no signs of achieving this utopia. It is not enough to say that this will come; how will it come and what grounds have we for entertaining so great a hope?
Current Christendom, it has already been noted, has no satisfactory answer to the question: “How will this be achieved?” It relies upon the work of the Church gradually to bring reformation as conversion grows and becomes world-wide in its effects. But that answer does not belong to the early and the true Christian faith. Believers 1,900 years ago had another and a more startling solution. World-wide peace and good-will would come, not by preaching, but by Divine intervention. World reconstruction was anticipated not as the result of any moral evolution but because power and authority would be wielded by Christ as King.
When the prophets wrote of the coming of peace their vision was of a Kingdom of Divine rulership. “Out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge among the nations and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plough shares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war any more.” Isa 2:4.
There is to be intervention in human affairs. “I send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple even the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in; Behold he shall come saith the Lord of Hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire.” Malachi 3:1, 2.
The picture drawn for us in Daniel 2:44 of the time when human kingdoms shall be superseded by a Divine Kingdom is clearly in line with the prophetic vision of God’s appointed one taking charge of a disordered world, a world neither ready for him nor expecting him. Of the fate of the kingdoms of men there is no room for doubt. “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”
The Herald of this New Age is then to come unexpectedly, to come as a ruler, as a judge, as a law-giver, to come in a word, as a World King. Jesus knew that he was himself destined to fill that high office and that his return would find an unready world. His constant warning to his followers was against the possibility of finding them unprepared for him. “Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be overcharged with... the cares of this life and so that day come upon you unawares, for as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the earth.”
Christ Returns to an Unready World
We have seen that there is to be intervention in human affairs, and that the return of Christ will generally be unexpected. To what kind of world does he return?
The Apostles as well as Jesus tell us that it will be an unbelieving world, a world which has become a prey to violence and evil. “In the last days perilous times shall come. Men shall be without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” In measure no doubt that applies to every age, but it is, you will agree, a remarkably shrewd description of our own world.
Not only an unbelieving and unready world, but also a desperately frightened and perplexed one. In this context the words of Jesus are very plain. “There shall be upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things that are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Luke 21:25, 26.
Many other passages may be quoted, but those already referred to will surely establish this central and important fact, that according to the gospel of Jesus, as well as to the predictions of the prophets, he will return at a time of great human need and perplexity.
This faith is pre-eminently one for our days; it is strengthened and not weakened by the critical nature of our times; it alone can make reason out of an unreasonable world.
Posted 09 August 2007 - 08:02 AM
This clear revelation of God's purpose which we have reviewed in general and broad terms is not an invitation to inaction. We are not asked to be merely passive spectators of the world's final deliverance. On the contrary, it should be to us a warning light. We must turn from the broad questions of the world and its goal to the problem of ourselves and our goal. We need a change of perspective. For the moment we do not want to think of humanity as a whole. Let us think of those mere specks of individual life of which this humanity is made up. What is our chance of life in a restored earth?
The Question of Survival
If you ask your friends who have had a religious training about their hopes of a life beyond death, their answers will probably be vague and conflicting. Many will rely upon the conviction that at death their soul will continue in being, experiencing either happiness or unhappiness. Some will plainly declare that they go to heaven at death; many will frankly say that they do not know and are prepared to leave it at that.
But haziness of belief on this subject is bound to be damaging to any religious faith. It weakens it and makes us unfit to face the dangers and stresses of life with courage and confidence.
What then is the truth of this matter? In a few words it is this. Christianity does not teach that man naturally possesses immortality. Immortality is the gift of God, not a property of the soul. The early Christians believed on this question as did the faithful Jews, what the Psalmist wrote of mankind: "His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish." (Psa 146:3, 4).
It follows from this, therefore, that any future life must be by way of resurrection from the dead, and in consequence we shall find that whenever life is promised there is also some reference to the resurrection.
Life by Resurrection
Jesus came with the promise of Life, and he was able to say of himself "I am the Resurrection and the Life." On the occasion of the death of his friend Lazarus, he comforted his sister Martha with the promise, "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live." John 11:25.
Let us then take hold of that simple fact—to which human history abundantly testifies, that death is the conclusion of man's brief life. A future life beyond the grave is not a possession of the soul, but a gift of God to those who have faith in Jesus. To enter that life we must be raised from the dead at the return of Christ.
This is a faith for our times, and indeed for all times. By making it our own, our lives will be enriched and encouraged, for to have this faith is to overcome fear and apprehension and to enjoy instead the quiet conviction that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose." Rom 8:28.
Let us then take our stand on the side of Christ, for with him is victory and life. Without that faith the future appears dark and foreboding, life itself confusing and purposeless. With that faith we have a sure guide for the present and an assurance for the future, knowing that "We should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ." Titus 2:12,13.
R. T. W. S.
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