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Essence Of Christianity

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.


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


Thw following article I was written by a dear friend of mine, and near as I can tell I added to my “must save collection” sometime in 2002. I had to chuckle as I re-read it as my computer kept indicating where it thought I misspelled words. Te computer had no way of knowing that what might be misspelled in the USA might be correctly spelled in another English speaking county!!

Anothe ecample of Diversity. – Ninure da Hippie


Rowland Croucher

Galatians 3:10, GNB; James 2:17, GNB; Romans 12:4-5, GNB; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 18-20, GNB; 1 Corinthians 13:12-13, GNB; Romans 14:13 and 19, GNB; John 13:34-35, GNB; Romans 15:7, GNB; 1 Peter 4:8-10, NEB.

Snoopy was typing a manuscript, up on his kennel. Charlie Brown: ‘What are you doing Snoopy?’ Snoopy: ‘Writing a book about theology.’ Charlie Brown: ‘Good grief. What’s its title?’ Snoopy (thoughtfully): ‘Have You Ever Considered You Might Be Wrong?’

This points up a central Christian dictum: God’s truth is very much bigger than our little systems.

Our Lord often made the point that God’s fathering extended to all people everywhere. He bluntly targeted the narrow nationalism of his own people, particularly in stories like the Good Samaritan. Here the ‘baddie’ is a hero. It’s a wonderful parable underlining the necessity to love God through loving your neighbour – and one’s neighbour is the person who needs help, whoever he or she may be. But note that love of neighbour is more than seeking their conversion, then adding a few acts of mercy to others in ‘our group’. Jesus’ other summary statements about the meaning of religion and life in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 involve justice too: attempting to right the wrongs my neighbour suffers.

‘Ethnocentrism’ is the glorification of my group. What often happens in practice is a kind of spiritual apartheid: I’ll do my thing and you do yours – over there. Territoriality (‘my place – keep out!’) replaces hospitality (‘my place – you’re welcome!’). I like Paul’s commendation in Philippians 2:19-21 of Timothy ‘who really cares’ when everyone else was concerned with their own affairs.

Sometimes our non-acceptance of others’ uniqueness has jealousy or feelings of inferiority at its root. You have probably heard the little doggerel, ‘I hate the guys/ that criticise/ and minimise/ the other guys/ whose enterprise/ has made them rise/ above the guys/ that criticise/ and minimise…’

In our global village we cannot avoid relating to ‘different others’. Indeed, marriage is all about two different people forming a unity in spite of their differences. Those differences can of course be irritating – for example when a ‘lark’ marries an ‘owl’ (but the Creator made both to adorn his creation).

Even within yourself there are diverse personalities. If you are a ‘right brain’ person, why not develop an interest in ‘left brain’ thinking?

The Lord reveals different aspects of divine truth to different branches of the church. What a pity, then, to make our part of the truth the whole truth. Martin Buber had the right idea when he said that the truth is not so much in human beings as between them. An author dedicated his book to ‘Stephen… who agrees with me in nothing, but is my friend in everything.’ Just as an orchestra needs every instrument, or a fruit salad is tastier with a great variety of fruits, so we are enriched through genuine fellowship with each other.

A Christian group matures when it recognises it may have something to learn from other groups. The essence of immaturity is not knowing that one doesn’t know, and therefore being unteachable. No one denomination or church has a monopoly on the truth. How was God able to get along for 1500, 1600 or 1900 years without this or that church? Differences between denominations or congregations – or even within them – reflect the rich diversity and variety of the social, cultural and temperamental backgrounds from which those people come. But they also reflect the character of God whose grace is ‘multi-coloured’.

If you belong to Christ and I belong to Christ, we belong to each other and we need each other. Nothing should divide us.


A Prayer: Lord God our Creator, when you made all creatures great and small in their rich diversity you were so delighted. And when you made human beings (in your image) to be so diverse, they must represent somehow the rich diversity of the Godhead itself. Lord, our Redeemer, when Jesus Christ died to draw all unto him, it was in prospect of heaven being populated by people from every tribe, language, nation and race.

Lord, help me to appreciate all this richness; may my theology not be too eccentric, peripheral to the central concern of the gospel which is to increase love for God and others. So teach me how to stay close to you, close to humankind, and make it the goal of my life to bring God and humankind together. Help me to move from law (with its tendency to reduce everything to a common denominator) to grace (where individual differences are celebrated). May my view of myself be conditioned more by my being bound up in life with others, rather than my separateness from them. Help me to be big enough to be all things to all people, to help in their saving to keep the bridges between me and others in good repair…

A Benediction
May God be merciful to us, and bless us; look on us with kindness, so that the whole world may know your will; so that nations may know your salvation. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you! (Psalm 67: 1,2).

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Was Jesus a Christian? – from the Hippie’s Archives

(This is entry that was on my MySpace Blog back in 2007. Since MySpace went nalistic and destroyed/erased the archives of all its Bloggers, I have been going thru my files, seing what I still have, and what is worth repsoting here.

This is one of those entires)

One of my best long distance friends – and I do mean friend – is Rowland Croucher , who has one of the best Christian Websutes anyone is ever going to come across.

Not because I agree with everything on it – it is a fact that he’ll post some things now and then that I find quite disrurbing – but rather because it is does the job of giving voices to many of the many flavors and views, tthe diversity that exists in what some of us call t”he Body of Christ”.

Anyway, we were “talking” the other day about me putting a regular link to his Website on my Blog…and that led me to do some exploring on his site…which led me to this interesting and thought ptovoking article.

Was Jesus a Christian?

Christians come in about 13 varieties. These varieties (or mindsets) can be found in all religions. You mustn’t judge any religion simply on its caricatures. My theses: 
Each mind-set makes *part* of Christianity the *whole* of it. 

There’s nothing wrong with the parts. But like a car, if you’ve only got parts lying around you’re not going anywhere. 

Jesus rejected all these mindsets (but not the essential concerns of each of them). For convenience I’ll use terms from early Christianity, and for the sake of brevity I’ll oversimplify each mindset: 

Sadducees are rationalists. If your *reason* can’t comprehend something (miracles, resurrection, angels) you don’t have to believe it. Their God is very reasonable; their theology is ‘liberal’; they inhabit mainline church seminaries. 

Zealots are passionate about *justice*. Justice is all about fairness, the relationship of the strong to the weak, the right use of power. Their God sanctions terrorism; their theology is ‘liberationist’; today they’re priests and others who advocate the violent overthrow of oppressive Latin American regimes. 

Herodians love *power*. They climb to the top of religious institutions. Their God bestows favours on the ‘haves’ who are ‘born to rule’. They do not realize that love of power is inimical to a devout spirituality. 

Scribes, elders, teachers-of-the-law regard *tradition* as master, rather than servant. Their religious way of life is ruled by precedent, what has been. ‘Come weal, come woe, their status is the quo’. If it’s new, it’s suspect. Their God is unchanging, not merely in faithfulness, but operationally. 

Essenes are liturgists. ‘If only we get our *worship* right, the Messiah will come.’ Their God is ‘wholly other’. Their liturgies are exact, their worship-forms utterly predictable. 

Mystics major on *experience*. They are right-brain, rejecting rationalism, cerebralism, dogmatism. For them prayer (perhaps divorced from labour) is the essence of the spiritual life. They sometimes form monastic orders. 

Gnostics are syncretists. They believe there’s truth in every *religion*. They invite us to make up our own identikit picture of God. They’re at home somewhere in the New Age Movement; they develop conspiracy theories from the Dead Sea Scrolls; they love the Gospel of Thomas. 

Sophists or sages place a high premium on *knowledge* or *wisdom* (they’re not the same). They develop beautiful theories about redaction criticism, whether the four gospels are ‘reliable’ when they describe what Jesus said and did. They write learned papers, which like those of their predecessors, will be seen in future academic circles to be largely nonsense. 

Sign-seekers love *miracles*. With Herod (in Jesus Christ Superstar) they’d love Jesus to ‘walk across their swimming-pool.’ Their God wants everyone to be healthy, wealthy (but not necessarily wise: academia is suspect). Anything can be cured, instantly, given enough faith. 

Materialists measure everything, not just *money*. The bigger, faster, more brilliant, the better. Bigger churches are better than smaller churches; brilliant preachers than ordinary ones. Success, fame, ambition, optimism, ‘imaging’ are their watch-words. They attend Amway conventions. 

Do-gooders are given to paternalism. They do works of *mercy* for their own benefit, not just for the sake of the one done good to/against. Thoreau said of them, ‘If you see someone coming towards you with the object of doing you good, run for your life.’ These ‘people-helpers’ don’t realize they’re in it to solve their own problems: pure altruism is very very rare. 

Antinomians despise holiness – at least for themselves in private. As the term implies, they’re ‘against law’ and misuse *grace*. ‘God loves to forgive, it’s his business’ – so they give God every opportunity to do just that. 

Finally, pharisees are preoccupied with two things – *law* and *doctrine*. So they become legalists and dogmatists. They talk a lot about ‘truth’ and ‘error’. Their God is unambiguous, reducible to creeds and doctrinal statements. Their ‘gospel’: repentance precedes acceptance (with Jesus it was the other way around). The acid test: their non-concern for social justice and mercy amd true faith (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, cf. Micah 6:8). They’re fundamentalists, and proud of it.

All the entities *emphasized* are O.K. as part of a religious system, but are deadly if divorced from any/all of the others. Jesus did not align himself with any of the above groups: go and do likewise!

Shalom! Rowland Croucher


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