I am not trying to convert you! At the beginning I wish to make that very clear. I am writing this to people who are not Evangelical Christians. I am writing because I think it’s important to understand our different world-views and philosophies. So if some of you decide to tell me about what you believe and why, please do so. I am not giving you a religious sales job, so I trust you will not do the same with me, and that you will express your views at least as politely as I am trying to express mine.
Again, let me underscore my purposes and intentions. I am trying to clear up misunderstandings, to help friends, family and, perhaps, strangers to know me better. When we understand each other we begin to respect each other. I think most of you will agree that people can be good friends and share very different religious and philosophical beliefs. I know this is so from firsthand experience. I have broken bread with Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Buddhists and Moslems. I can’t recall too many encounters with atheists and agnostics, but I have had a few and I try to be respectful and polite with them.
My mother, who is no longer living, once told me that it was never a good policy to discuss religion and politics. I am not very interested in politics and find much of it somewhat distasteful, so I rarely violate that rule. As for religion, my feelings are different. I am indebted to my mother, whom I love and miss. And I am thankful for the many things she taught me, but I have always tended to disagree with her about discussing religion. The problem is that, as a follower of Jesus, I can’t be faithful to my Lord and remain silent on my faith. It is not possible!
While not agreeing with my mother, I do believe that in discussing religion one should be very cautious. Heated discussions are to be avoided. I believe in keeping my cool and calmly presenting my case for Jesus and Christianity. Incidentally, I really do believe in attempting to convert people. Evangelical Christians call it “witnessing.” I am not witnessing, here, just explaining. This is neutral ground and I come to you who do not believe as I do, bearing a white peace flag, to use a figure of speech. If at times in the words that follow I seem unduly, passionate, forgive me. My faith is something I feel deeply about and though I can be dispassionate, my feelings are always there.
The unbeliever and those who consider themselves Christians and are not evangelical in the sense I would use the term would do well to understand, that, in the nature of His faith, an evangelical is absolutely convinced that he is commanded to share his faith with those who do not believe in Jesus. This is because they are following the command of Jesus Himself. However, many Evangelical Christians are very rude and insensitive in the manner in which they present their beliefs. I too must plead guilty to sharing my faith in ways that have been pushy and disrespectful, to say nothing of being just plain stupid.
I think it is important to share my faith, but now I try to “test the waters” first. I am not about to ram Christianity down anyone’s throat. If they do not want to hear, I will respect that, keep my silence and pray for them when I am alone. I pray for many people whom I know would never let me talk to them about Jesus.
Respect—everybody in these days of violence and anger is talking about it. The world needs more respect. We can’t always love each other, but we ought to, at least, try to be civil and respect each other. Respect means that I will not insult someone else when they disagree with me and that they will not begin to call me bad names when I explain to them what is in my heart and mind. There is so much name-calling these days. I wish public schools and colleges would offer courses in etiquette and common courtesy! It is so lacking! Instead, we have “road rage” and screaming matches such as those on those horrible TV talk shows that I jokingly describe to my wife, who occasionally watches them, as “the fights.” Everybody is angry and in a hurry, on the road and off it. Evidently, it isn’t, to use another jargon word, cool to be polite.
A few years ago, I had a brief e-mail correspondence with a mathematics professor from a college in Florida. My main purpose was to discuss some geometric designs I had made and what, if any mathematical significance my artistic creations might have. On his web-site he stated quite plainly that he was an atheist. So, I decided to be just as frank with him and told him that I was an evangelical Christian. Along with our discussions about geometric shapes, we had several rather candid exchanges about our respective beliefs. I told him what I believed and why, and he stated, without going into much protracted explanation, the depth of his views about the non-existence of God.
What was good about that discussion was our mutual respect and that we were able to maintain it as we did on a civil and respectful level. I told him that I wanted to explain my views dispassionately, that I did not desire a heated discussion, and that I had no desire to level accusations or threaten him with hell-fire. I think he kept his end of the bargain very well. It was obvious to me that he was a very different person, with views that were almost completely the opposite of mine, and that his value system was something I could never endorse. But we saw that it was very possible to have polite and informative discussions under such circumstances, provided there were strict ground rules about mutual courtesy and respect.
He mentioned having disagreeable discussions with other Christians. Sadly, I knew exactly what he meant. I have met some Christians who are so obnoxious that I am embarrassed to be seen in their company. I almost wish they would keep their Christianity a secret rather than bring disgrace to Jesus. They blame their bad manners on God and think they are heroically enduring the negative response—the shame-- that St. Paul said always attended the proclamation of the message of the cross. Does Jesus ever say to Himself, I wonder, “With friends like this, I don’t need enemies”? As for St. Paul, I believe that a careful reading of the book of Acts and some of his epistles would reveal a man who tried very hard to present the gospel message in a way that was respectful of his hearers. When he got into trouble—and he usually did—it was because the message itself stirred up negative feelings, not the bearer of the message. Jesus promised his followers that they would get a frosty reception, just as He Himself did. But I digress.
I have mentioned my correspondence with the atheist mathematician in order to emphasize that it is my plan in this presentation to do the same thing here that I did with him. I am stating it dispassionately—not preaching, but explaining—in a way that will help you to understand a whole subculture about which you may have been badly misinformed.
I think that some people may even think that I am a bit like a Jehovah’s Witnesses. From my point of view and that of the church to which I belong, The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a false and harmful cult. They do not attend movies or plays. They oppose blood-transfusions, even at the risk of life. They don’t celebrate birthdays, Christmas or Easter. In short, they prohibit their followers from indulging in many activities my church considers innocent, lawful and good. Unlike my circle of Christian brothers and sisters, they are quite joyless.
All of this is preamble and introduction. So, on to what I believe. It would be simple to begin by giving you the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Anyone who has grown up in a Christian home and attended church will be quite familiar with these ancient and venerable expressions of Christian faith that are uttered and muttered in churches all over the world every Sunday morning. I think that the words are, through no inherent fault of their own, meaningless to many modern people. Many religions have written creeds that are incorporated in their acts of corporate worship. But those who are outsiders have no clear notion at all of what such words really mean in a practical way. And those who profess faith are also often at a loss to understand them. So I will not give you a creed.
I cannot express my own personal opinions without reference to an external authority. For the Christian, external authority is the better part of what their faith is all about. For me, as for practically all Evangelicals, such authority comes from God by way of the Bible. Therefore, whenever I make an affirmation about what I believe, I will give a Bible verse to support my assertion.
Before that, I wish to briefly touch on the meaning of the term Evangelical Christian. Evangelical Christianity is not, as you may know, a term for a denomination or even a collective group of denominations. It is an appellation given to all Christians who have a certain common set of beliefs. It would be accurate to say that Evangelicalism, as it is now known, describes an attitude rather than a belief system, although it certainly does possess a belief system. Usually Evangelical Christians are Protestants, but there are sizable groups of Catholics who might be considered Evangelicals, even though they might not use this term to describe themselves. Frankly, I would rather just be known as a Christian, a follower of Jesus. In the interest of clarity I am forced to use the term Evangelical.
First, the Evangelical believes the Bible to be inspired and free from error. There are a growing number of liberally minded Evangelicals who would take exception even to this statement, but, generally speaking, this is the stance common to all Evangelicals. Second, the Evangelical believes in the divinity of Jesus. Third, he believes that Jesus death is God’s way of redeeming all mankind, all, that is, who believe and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.
I will examine these ideas in more detail, giving scriptural references. This, then, is what I believe.
1. I believe in the divinity of Jesus. He is the Son of God, and He is God, as is also God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit. They are one God, but three completely separate persons. This is not an easy concept for many people to understand, much less, believe. But, I would suggest, why should God be anything like us and why should He be easy to understand? Here is a scripture that describes the eternal and divine nature of Jesus, Who is described here as the Word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3 New International Version of the Holy Bible (N.I.V.)
2. He was born of a virgin, by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, He is the Son of God. This is very important to Evangelicals. If Jesus was not born by the agency of the Holy Spirit, then, He cannot be divine.
What follows are the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary and her reply to him.
“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…”
“How can this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Luke 1:30-32, 34 and 35 (N.I.V.)
3. His real mission on earth was not merely to teach men about God, but to die on the cross as a sacrificial offering for the sins of all mankind.
The son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28 (N.I.V., the words of Jesus).
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace Ephesians. 1:7 (N.I.V., the words of St. Paul).
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6 (N.I.V., the words of the ancient prophet, Isaiah, written centuries before the birth of Jesus).
4. His life, His redemptive suffering, and death were predicted by the prophets and Jesus Himself used their words to establish His claims as the promised Messiah of Israel and as, to use the words of John the Baptist, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written; the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
Luke 24:45-47 (N.I.V., the words of Jesus to His disciples after the resurrection).
5. Jesus was physically raised from the dead, with a real body, not just as an apparition, a spirit, or a ghost.
They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Luke 24:37-43 (N.I.V.)
6. Only by believing in Jesus can anyone be saved, find favor with God, and inherit eternal life.
This is backed up by very many New Testament scriptures and affirmed by the Old Testament prophets. Here is one scripture.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 (N.I.V.)
For this reason, Evangelicals do not believe the teaching that there are many ways to God, but that there is only one way, and that way is through Jesus. This leads me to the last thing on my list.
7. No one can come to God, be accepted by God, be transformed by God, except through Jesus.
I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6 (King James Version).
The N.I.V. for this reads thus:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I do not like to be a disagreeable, to say nothing of an argumentative, person. There is something in my nature that makes me want to please everybody. Life would be easier for me, in one way, if I said to people, “Believe what you want. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you try to lead a good life. For those who are sincere in their spirituality, all roads lead to God.” But if I said any such thing it would contradict all the scriptures I have been quoting above. Evangelical Christians have been accused of being narrow and fanatical. Modern people don’t like being narrow. It is decidedly out of fashion and very “uncool.” They would have trouble, I suppose, with these words of Jesus:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13 & 14 (N.I.V.)
Critics of Evangelical Christianity, both atheists and very liberal Christians, complain about what they call “slaughter-house Christianity.” They find it deeply offensive that the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin. I say that their problem is with Jesus. How can they get around words like these that follow, that He spoke?
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins”. Matthew 26:28 (N.I.V.)
I hope I have shed some light on what I believe. There is much more I could get into about what I believe. But you may ask, “Why do you believe it?” To answer that, I must tell you the story of my conversion. Since it is a long story, I will sum it up by saying that I was one of those people who “went forward” at a Billy Graham meeting in 1964 at the Boston Garden in Boston. When I did so, I quietly told God in my heart, “I’m not doing this for Billy Graham. This is between You and me.” I then prayed “The Sinner’s Prayer”—a simple prayer with many variations, but one meaning. I asked Jesus to forgive my sins, invited Him to live in my heart, and asked Him to be Lord of my life.
God’s response was instantaneous! I had such joy and peace I could scarcely contain myself. And it lasted for days, weeks and years. There have been numerous interruptions. I’ve battled with the blues, fallen into wrong acts and bad attitudes, but God has always been there when I asked him to forgive me. There is a hidden joy within me and I know it comes from Jesus. There is a love of people that I never had before. I was such a selfish wretch! I still am, but God helps me and I am progressively becoming selfless, forgiving and loving. I know I am a better person, but I also know that I can slip anytime and that I have a long way to go.
Another thing that happened had to do with my attitude towards the Bible. I had read the Bible before I had the experience I just described. I understood much of it, or thought I did, but there were many things that made me scratch my head. When I read the Bible after my conversion it was a whole new book to me! What joy and comfort it gave me! Yet, I would not be honest if I didn’t tell you that there are still some things in it that continue to make me scratch my head. I certainly don’t understand all of it and I wonder if anyone else on earth does. But what I do understand makes me believe things I could not believe before. It all makes sense now: things like heaven, hell, judgment, the Second Coming, being born again, and loving my neighbor as myself even when my neighbor is a stinker. I get excited about it all because I have experienced within myself so much of the reality it describes, the reality of a God Who is actively involved in human affairs, Who reveals Himself to those who seek Him through Jesus.
Forgive me if I have taken on the tone of a preacher after promising to keep this discussion dispassionate and objective. I am trying hard not to be a preacher, but because I feel so deeply I really have to struggle to contain my feelings. What you do with all this is your business. I would be very pleased if you believed it, but that is between you and God. It is my conviction that true conversion is always the work of God and that no matter what words anyone says real conversion only happens when God gets involved.
Those of you who are not believers of the Evangelical kind, or not believers at all, now know more about me than you knew before. I may seem to you to be somewhat of a religious fanatic, now that you understand my beliefs. The things I say may make you feel uncomfortable, like you’re being put on the spot. The fault, if it can be called a fault, lies in the very nature of the teachings of Jesus and of the Bible. Unless you water it down and gloss it over with a superficial glaze of spirituality it will make people who do not believe it quite uncomfortable. It is this sort of response that gets Evangelicals into hot water all the time. People don’t like being told they’re sinners. I felt the same way myself before my conversion. And all this business about hell and judgment gave me the creeps until I really understood some other things that put it all in the proper perspective.
It is easy to look at the negative and to get annoyed about being called a sinner, when someone quotes “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) to you. But I wish people would look at the positive. It is a little like this. God says to a person that He wishes to save them and give them the glorious gift of eternal life and a changed inner nature. But the person is offended at the suggestion that he even needs to be saved at all, because in his eyes he was never lost. So he is so offended that he walks away from God without reaching out to accept the glorious gift God has to give Him. That is, an oversimplification, but I think it accurately describes how people are so put off by the negative of sin that they overlook the positive of the gift they will receive once that see their sin, repent and accept God’s gift through Jesus.
Let me focus on the positive. I believe Jesus died in your place to forgive all your sins and if you believe in him God will forgive your sins, you will be born again and live forever in heaven in unspeakable glory and everlasting joy. In this life you will struggle and have problems, as before, but you will now have a divine Friend at your side, even inside you, who will protect you, love you and help you through all of life’s many rough places.
Christians have been promised suffering and trials by Jesus, by St. Paul, by St. Peter, and by just about every great Christian who has ever lived during the past two thousand years. It is our lot, but with the suffering, in the midst of it, is joy and peace that comes only from God and cannot be duplicated by anything this world has to offer. Then, when we die, our spirits will go to live with God in heaven. Eventually, our very physical bodies will be resurrected and we will live for all eternity in perfect immortal bodies that never age, sharing in the glory of Jesus.
But I think I may be preaching again! Forgive me. I have tried to keep a lid on things and give you a dispassionate, objective outline of what I believe. I do not wish to put pressure on you. I leave that task to God. Perhaps you might wish to speak to Him about it. He’s very gentle and understanding, I can tell you from personal experience. But if you do not immediately reach out to God, then the value of what I have presented to you will be that you will know more about what makes me “tick.” You will understand what my deepest dreams and hopes are, and what it is that I love above everything in this life. Affectionately, your friend,