It was encouraging to read that the light and beauty of Jesus Christ can be seen by even the hardest of hearts. Even though this man suppresses the truth of God in his heart he still has to concede to the fact that Christianity is wonderful to behold when it is done rightly.
What Matthew Parris had to say was very insightful and astounding. What he points out is not that astounding to us that know our Bibles. For we knew these truths before he put them down in this article. But what is astounding is the person it is coming from and the day and age in which it is coming.
Mr Parris made three points which I wanted to highlight:
1. What Christianity brings is not just material benefit, but fundamentally spiritual benefit.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
What Mr. Parris is saying is that the real value of Christianity is found in the transformation that it brings to people's hearts. It's value is not one person in America getting passionate about mission work and going off to do all of it himself. Instead, the value is in the message of Christianity spreading to individual heart causing those people to change their ways and those improve society.
His words ring with truth that we need to remember. The kingdom of Christ is not primarily about fixing physical problems on this earth, it is about the new birth by the Spirit (John 3:3). The fundamental problem with men is their spiritual rebellion against God (John 3:19). From this fountain flows the evils and injustices we see in society. And the only way that this can be fix is by the men's hearts becoming new by the power of Christ (John 3:13-18). and from this new birth comes the transformation that is desperately needed in society. To focus on the social problems without confronting the spiritual problems will only increase the darkness among people. This is not to say that Christians should only start and continue in social work based on receptivity. We don't stop working in the homeless shelters when people stop believing our message. We still must continue in the social justice aspect of the kingdom even when the community we are serving disdains the kingdom we are bring. What I am saying, and the Bible teaches, and what is pointed out by Matthew Parris, is that the primary growth and impact of the kingdom comes from the regenerated hearts that the gospel creates. From these regenerated hearts comes the good works that the world is groaning for. (Rom 8:19)
2. The individual aspect of Christian doctrine is an important part of society.
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.
This is a very interesting topic to discuss but I believe that Mr Perris does highlight and important aspect of Christin teaching. That is, each person is a personal human being and is distinct from everybody else. In other words, each one of us is an individual. And God sees and understands you personally.
Some of the "new" voices that have emerged in evangelicalism intensify the community aspect of Christianity. I am happy for this development, for it calls us to see ourselves as part of a redeemed community that are bounded to one another by the blood that redeemed us. There are, also, many ills that have befallen the church in America because of the individual centerness of our teachings. So people have reverted to talk in terms of the community of believers. Yet, in this emphasis, the individual aspect is some times lost. Just as it is a tragedy to see yourself as the center of Christianity, it is just as tragic to only see Christ relating to a community and not to you personally. Both views are beautiful truth and bring glory of Christ. We cannot lose either one of the aspects.
3.Christianity is better for people than other religions.
There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.
I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the(literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.
Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, ofa tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.
This is an amazing statement in our pluralistic society. It flies in the face of what is commonly believed about religion. Parris has just said that there is one religion that is superior to another! But wait, he said more than that didn't he!? He just said that the Christian religion (a religion from America and Europe) is superior for the welling being of a culture than the very religions that the culture produces on it's own! Astounding! Our story triumphs their story.
Like I said before, we knew this before this atheist made the observation. But these are amazing words coming from an atheist in these days.
Lets us be encourage in that what we proclaim to mankind is not one idea amongst many others. Jesus Christ is THE story that defines all of reality. He is Lord, no matter what the story you grew-up with says other wise. His truth is THE truth!
What Mathew Parrris sees is the initiation of Christ's kingdom. This kingdom, that is going to be brought to it's fullest in the last day, has already been initiated on this earth by the coming of Christ. And the foretaste of this coming kingdom is that it is a good kingdom! The sick are taken care of, the evil is casted away. Thus, as those that are part of this coming kingdom, we work for the good of the cities that we find ourselves in. For the good that we bring is not an attempt to earn anything, but it is the fruit of what has already happened in our own hearts. The reason that we are willing to work for the good of the city, even when the city does not count our work as good, is because this coming kingdom has already taken dominion over our hearts. It's king is our king, king Jesus. And we proclaim His news of the kingdom, that by the propitiatory death of this king one may end their rebellion and surrender to His rule by faith. Upon belief in that messaage that person will then be made a new in Christ Jesus. His desires will grow into conformity to the desires of the Kingdom of God. And he will willingly work to make that kingdom a reality here on earth. Because he knows that the full consummation of the kingdom is coming when it's king will return to claim His own and make the heavens and the earth a new.
And this truth is the only hope for mankind. For our hope is God, who is our inheritance in at the consummation of God's kingdom. God's kingdom is going fill the earth and the people of God are going to be blessed by God forever and the enemies of God are going to be cast away forever. It is only belief in the Son that is going to determine what kingdom you are in. Man's kingdom or God's kingdom. When the last day comes the only hope for man is his surrender to the Lordship of Christ and faith in His work on the cross.
Let us, as part of this new community, let the rule of Christ be supreme in our hearts so that His excellencies are seen on this earth when we proclaim and live out the message we have believed.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12)