Belief

Belief

A by Ruth Carter
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Musings on religious conversion from a Christian point of view.

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Belief. What is the basis of belief? What makes people embrace one system of belief over another? And who is right? Doesn’t each group believe they are right and the others wrong? And what makes people convert from one belief system to another? I doubt if anyone will ever be able to come up with a definitive answer to that, although many have tried.

As a Christian, I have pondered over what Christian conversion means, and conversely, what it means when someone converts away from Christianity. Several things come to my mind and clamour for attention: the human "herd instinct"; the parable of the sower and the seeds; Christ’s injunction to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind, soul, strength; the distinction many Christians make between faith relationship and religion.

    1. Herd instinct
    2. Most people want to belong. We need a sense of family, of friends. We tend to identify ourselves by the groups we belong to—we’re Mexican, Presbyterian, redheads, Pisces, socialists, Beatles fans, dispensationalists, Teamsters, Luddites, skiers, sopranos, weight watchers, phi beta kappas, doctoral candidates, members of this or members of that. We find validation by being accepted by a group and by others joining the group. Each group has its own character, with its own language and behaviour. Covenant Players, for example, has a vocabulary not used elsewhere.

      When we joined CP, we soon found ourselves PRing, filling out A&Is (or C&Is—there were some national aberrations!). We turned the noun "mission" into a verb. We had foofoo sheets at CPCC. We soon learned that some types of behaviour garnered more favour than others. Some of us assimilated all that CP culture much more thoroughly than others—and I postulate that the degree of adaptation was predicated by the degree of the heart-need to belong.

      I suggest that some people become Christians because of wanting to belong. They are attracted to a certain group—they spend time with the group, dress like them, act like them, talk like them, think like them. Assimilation. Church history is full of examples of whole villages or tribes coming to Jesus at a time. Convince the elders and you’ve got the whole group. Remember Don Richardson’s book "Peace Child"? The whole village came to the Lord once the Richardsons found the key to their culture. We could question whether the individual villagers had a relationship with Jesus, or whether this was a cultural expression. This would be hard to gauge because cultural context has a huge impact on how the gospel is received. It would be difficult to come up with a formula to test the sincerity of each conversion because of the vast variety of human culture and human need. We in the West put great value on the individual. It is hard for us to understand a more collective kind of culture. Does that make one more sincere than another when making a decision for Christ? I like to think the evidence shows that although the aforementioned village and then the whole tribe came collectively to Jesus, that God’s Spirit shone brightly in the individuals. After all, the book of Acts gives us precedents for thousands of souls being added to the church simultaneously. It just shows that community is important to people, and has its impact.

      I am a Christian. I believe Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin. I believe He died for my sins and arose on the third day. I believe that. But sometimes I wonder. I was born to a Christian family in a land where Christianity was well entrenched. What if I had been born into a Muslim, a Hindu, or an atheist family? Would I then have embraced those values and those belief systems? While it’s possible the secular culture I grew up in may not have been compatible with my Christian values, I admit that there was no great risk in being Christian. This was Canada I grew up in, not China, Russia or Pakistan! I read stories of Christians in North Korea, the Chad and Iraq, and I wonder if my faith would be strong enough to face the challenges they have to face. If you haven’t read "Heavenly Man" by Brother Yun yet, do so. You’ll know what I mean. Could I remain steadfast under such horrific circumstances? I don’t know. This brings me to my second point—the sower and the seed.

    3. The four soils
    4. What are the soils the seed fell on? Some seeds fell on the wayside where birds came and devoured it. That’s the person who doesn’t understand the gospel when s/he hears it, and the wicked one snatches it away. Some seed fell on stony ground. The plants sprang up, but the sun burned them away because they had no roots. This is the person who receives the word with joy but falls away when things get tough. Then there are the seeds that fell among thorns and were choked off by weeds. Jesus said this person hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke it out, rendering it fruitless. Matthew 13:23-- "But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."

      There. I just paraphrased it, like everybody else has. The thing is, the parable makes it clear that there is a variety of receptivity to the claims of Christ. And so do the epistles, not to mention the seven churches in Revelation. We find that in the church there is a lot of stuff that is definitely not of God.

      (I just reread this and was struck by the verse I quoted—bearing fruit—some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty—and I thought, wow! It’s the fruit-bearing itself that counts, not the amount. While some may bear more fruit than others, that’s not what’s important. It’s the simple fact of the fruit, no matter how much. It is so easy to compare ourselves to someone else. We either come up short and get discouraged or we think, wow, we’re doing way better than those other people are, and we get arrogant. Either way of thinking is a trap and can lead us away from the fact it is the seed that God plants that bears fruit within the soil of our hearts. There is no debit or credit—it is God’s work.)

    5. The five elements
    6. Well, actually, the four elements. Matthew 22:11 says heart, soul, mind. Mark 12:30 and Luke 10:27 say heart, soul, mind, strength. (In Deuteronomy it says heart, soul, might.) That’s how we are to love God—with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. If one of those elements is more predominant or more suppressed, the balance is off, and so is the fullness. At the end of his life, David told Solomon to serve God with a whole heart and a willing mind. He saw the importance of both. The mind, or the intellectual, helps us to study, to understand God through His Word and His creation—it gives us a foundation. The heart—and maybe we can see this as the emotional element, helps us to understand and know on a different level—a level that takes us beyond our physical senses. The understanding purely on the intellectual level could be cold. When solely on the emotional level, it could be easily shaken. If I interpret the soul part of the equation to be the spiritual element, that too can have its imbalances if the heart and mind are neglected. Strength, to me, implies wholeness. It could be physical, it could be psychological (there, I’ve dealt with the five elements of physical, intellectual, emotional, psychological and spiritual), but whatever it is, it is what enables our response and our steadfastness. I could spend a lot of time with this, trying to define each element and how they are manifested in the life of the believer, but I won’t. Or, more correctly, I can’t. Not without a lot of research and interpretation—and even then, how can I plumb it all? But I do believe what is implicit here is that the elements can’t really be taken as separate entities. They must work together as a whole. When one part is starved in favour of another, you’re going to get a skewed believer, and the scorching sun and the thorns are going to be able to do their damage.

      The only way we can love God is by knowing He loves us. John is clear about that: we love Him because He first loved us. We’ve got to really know what He did for us. We have to know, understand, grasp the reality of His sacrifice, death and resurrection. We love Him in response to His grace. Okay, some of my theological bias is going to show here—but I really believe many people in the church miss out on grace because they are busy trying to be good enough, trying to earn their salvation, trying to fit in with the group, the herd. They fail to see that all they have to do is come to Christ with their burdens and give them to Him. Matthew 11:28-30-- "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light." It may be that some who turn away do so because they have come up against the futility of doing it on their own. Even though I firmly believe that Christ did the work for me and that His work is sufficient, I still find myself discouraged because I’m never good enough. The message of a works-driven salvation is insidious in a lot of churches, and after a while maybe some people get tired of putting on the act, not realizing that Jesus freed them from the necessity of the act.

    7. Relationship, not religion

It all ties in together, doesn’t it? Religion, with its ceremonies, rituals, creeds, expectations, dogmas can sometimes be a hindrance to an intimate, personal relationship with God. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with ceremonies, creeds, etc., but it may be that we can worship them instead of God. We can worship the form of worship. It feels like we’re worshipping God, but are we? I have a problem with worship forms (like, praise and worship choruses vs. traditional hymns) when they cause division, dissension and disdain within the body of Christ. But no matter what it is, if all we have is religion, it may not enough to keep us steadfast. It is the relationship that counts. We love God because He first loved us.

 

© 2009 Ruth Carter


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Well, I am here reading around.......and discover many works - where peopole simply steal my ideas, words, wods combination, my theories.

But I have to say, i.e. this work: this is your own beautiful work, at least couldn't say I have read something like this before... and I don't see anything what would look like similar with my ideas, it's not my philosophy, not my spirit.
and - I still love it in this characteristic Christian thought. Even not being a Christian, yes I adored how you put together and how you make meaning - just your very special way.
Great conceptionally, and deeply sending collection of thougts reaching my consciousness, for I know Christianity, and Islam, they have this sending consciousness. I just can say: you reached me.
You see - this I really appreciate deeply, work and person.

Posted 11 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

Well, I am here reading around.......and discover many works - where peopole simply steal my ideas, words, wods combination, my theories.

But I have to say, i.e. this work: this is your own beautiful work, at least couldn't say I have read something like this before... and I don't see anything what would look like similar with my ideas, it's not my philosophy, not my spirit.
and - I still love it in this characteristic Christian thought. Even not being a Christian, yes I adored how you put together and how you make meaning - just your very special way.
Great conceptionally, and deeply sending collection of thougts reaching my consciousness, for I know Christianity, and Islam, they have this sending consciousness. I just can say: you reached me.
You see - this I really appreciate deeply, work and person.

Posted 11 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on January 8, 2009

Author

Ruth Carter
Ruth Carter

Cottage Country, Ontario, Canada



About
Always a storyteller, whether it's writing, singing or acting! And, to quote Fanny Crosby, "I love to tell the story of Jesus and His love"! more..

Writing
Damascus Damascus

A Story by Ruth Carter