I have been/am blessed to Rowland personally, and he is one of those rare people who is always learning. growing, and asking the hard questions This is one of his sermons….
Essence Of Christianity
by Rowland Croucher
Human beings have three basic needs – for unconditional love, a sense of belonging, and a purpose for their lives.
When I was asked to speak about the essence of Christianity tonight, I thought of these these three basic human needs – they partly explain why I am a follower of Jesus.
1. ACCEPTANCE / UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
When a child is born – and, indeed, from conception – it receives messages, non-verbal and verbal, from the significant people in its life about its worth. A person’s mental and emotional health right through life is built on that foundation.
An article in the March 2002 issue of Scientific American, ‘The Neurobiology of Child Abuse’ (Dr Martin Teicher, Harvard Medical School) claims that child abuse actually affects the structure of the brain. Later in life this causes depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorders, etc. Dr. Teicher: ‘Early maltreatment damages the hippocampus by over-exposing it to stress hormones.’ Research into all this has produced the discipline of ‘biopsychiatry’. So all the little, caring inputs to a child’s life are incredibly important. When you cradle your child gently and sing ‘Rock-a-Bye Baby’ there are long-term effects of that gift of gentle love…
Is this negative process curable? To a considerable extent, yes (which is one reason why the motto of our little counseling practice is ‘It’s never too late to have a happy childhood’!) And that’s one reason I believe in Jesus. He set us an example of relating to others in terms of their being made in the image of God. His habit, when meeting ‘damaged’ people, was to offer them unconditional love – love-before-worth, not love responding to worth.
The Pharisees and other religious leaders in Jesus’ day didn’t understand that. (They still don’t). Some of them taught, for example, that Gentiles were created to be fuel for the fires of hell. They defined people in terms of their sinfulness or their otherness. To the woman caught in the act of adultery Jesus first said ‘I do not condemn you’ before ‘Go and sin no more’. Even the early church fathers couldn’t understand that, which is why the story went missing from many manuscripts between 140 and 400 AD!
At a prayer breakfast in Melbourne a year or two ago I offered a little prayer which included the line: ‘Lord, thank you for loving us before we change, as we change, after we change, and whether we change or not.’ The emails I received were astonishing. Many experienced Christians had never thought of God like that!
2. BELONGING. A child – indeed anyone of any age – needs a sense of belonging to be a whole person. ‘This is my family, my people, my place.’ The institution Jesus founded to fulfil this need is the church. Which raises some interesting and disturbing questions. Why are there more people who claim to pray, and who believe in God, NOT in church these days than at any time in the church’s history?
That’s a complex question, and there are many articles on the John Mark Ministries website about it all. Briefly: our commercial culture has rejected the ‘one size fits all’ notion, and people’s expectations have become highly specialized in terms of ‘what they want’ from church. Also, I believe, there’s more ‘projection/transference’ going on as the tender fabric of our community life unravels. We want the church to be a substitute for the ‘family values’ we did not experience, and are usually disappointed.
‘The church is full of hypocrites’. Of course it is. That’s what the church is for. The people in it are not yet fully redeemed. They’re in process of becoming whole, and that includes those who get into leadership in the church.
But I believe that a follower of Jesus has to ask another question: What does he think of the church? He loves it. It’s his bride. He delights in the church. We humans have been infected with this ‘you get the love/esteem you deserve’ mentality. Jesus doesn’t think like that. He offers the church – even the church! – unconditional love. We live in families to experience love-in-the-midst-of- imperfection. Ditto the church. As we mature in the faith of Jesus we too will love the church, in spite of its imperfections.
If sociology has taught us anything, it has affirmed (in the words of Robert Merton) that ‘all institutions are inherently degenerative.’ The evil in institutions is greater than the sum of the evil of the individuals within them. Institutions organize themselves to organize the behaviour and beliefs of the humans. So the church-as-institution, for example, offers us creeds to regulate our beliefs and constitutions to regulate our behaviour. Part of it is explained in the notion of ‘the routinization of charisma’: where prophets bring us life, the commissars step in after a generation or two to regulate everything!
Jesus comes into this fallen world of institutions and invites us to be realistic and penitent. Realistic about the effects of our sinning when we relate to institutions, and penitent about our lovelessness in not handling the imperfections of people as individuals and in groups as well as Jesus did. But there’s hope! If we allow the spirit of Jesus to rule our hearts and motivations, we can change and grow and become whole.
Humans need a cause to live – and die – for. The best cause I know is to be committed to doing in our world what Jesus did in his. A summary can be found in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 – pursuing justice, loving God, practising compassion, and encouraging faith. Justice is relating to others as being made in the image of God (rather than primarily as sinners, in the image of the devil). It is the urgent task of followers of Jesus to resist evil and the abuse of power (as when, for example, Jesus ‘cleansed the temple’ of those who ‘ripped off’ pilgrims).
Justice deals with the causes of pain; compassion with the symptoms of pain. Compassion asks ‘What kind of resource can I be for you in your need?’ Faith helps us believe that the world and our lives have meaning. And love for God is the spiritual dynamic/energy which fuels the process of becoming more like Jesus.
The ‘essence of Christianity’ hasn’t got much to do with creeds and constitutions and liturgies and religious formulas for this-and- that. It’s all about turning from whatever in our lives impedes our becoming whole (the traditional words are ‘sin’ and ‘repentance’) committing our lives to Jesus, following him in a sad and disintegrating world, belonging to a community-of-faith which can strengthen those commitments, and, perhaps above all, ‘accepting our acceptance’.
Shalom! Rowland Croucher http://www.pastornet.net.au/jmm