Like me, you may have seen the newspaper exchange between the “Thinking Christian” and the “Island Atheist” in the Norfolk Islander this weekend. While I share the “Thinking Christian’s” dismay at the article on SRE “submitted” in a previous edition, you may be surprised to learn that I found myself agreeing with much of the what the “Island Atheist” had to say in response. It seemed to me that they were justified in pointing out where the “Thinking Christian” had been “holier than thou”. Like the “Island Atheist” I think that religion can create a slippery slope in the human heart. One of the dangers of believing that “we have the truth” and are “saved by obeying the truth” is that you begin to look down on others.
Fortunately, the gospel is not the same as religion; it is unique in the salvation that it brings. In religion, you are saved by your performance, so you are superior by definition. However, in Christianity, we are not saved because of our performance but because God has come for us in Christ. Therefore, salvation comes from God, not from humans. The means of salvation is not our efforts but Christ’s work, which means (happily for me) that non-virtuous people are saved. We do not think that we are superior because we have found truth, we find ourselves humbled by the knowledge that we are sinners saved only by grace. In fact, there will be times when other people (including atheists) will be better than us – precisely because we have been saved by grace, not by anything we have done!
The gospel should lead us to respect people and also to expect that people with different beliefs might be better than us. The gospel humbles us before those with whom we disagree. In other words, a heart and mind that have fully grasped and digested the Gospel will never look down on anybody no matter who they are – whether they’re secular, religious, conservative, liberal, sinner, or saint. The Gospel strips away all of our little titles that we cling to and replaces them all with one single title and identity: SAVED BY GRACE.
It’s worth saying that after the original article was published, the Minister’s Fraternal came together to prayerfully consider how we would respond. Our fear was that the false claims in the original article could scare families away from SRE. The wisdom of the Fraternal was that instead of engaging in a public newspaper war, we would simply address the issue within our own congregations and educate those with ears to hear (you’ll remember I used last weeks Chaplain’s Chat to address the original article “in-house”). Can I urge you to be like minded and to let the latest letter “go through to the keeper”. A heart and mind that have fully grasped and digested the Gospel will never look down on anybody, no matter who they are, and I believe that when we really “get that”, it will go a long way toward creating not only an excellent neighbour in a multi-faith society but also a winsome ambassador for Christ.
Your friend in Jesus, Rev. David Fell