Over the years, I’ve been to a handful of churches, each with their own different way of doing things. My focus has shifted in each church, from practicing my abilities, to being a loved member of the great big family of Christians. I’ve seen true faith expressed in a colourful array of words of acts of kindness. But I’ve also seen faked belief; words that are used to cover over emptiness and love that is merely a mask of hugs and speech.
For two or three months now, there has been no spiritual sanctuary for me to turn to, no group of people that uplift me and encourage me. And the effects are beginning to show. It’s just as Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5). Outside of the body of Jesus, we are nothing, and finding myself in that lonely place has made me realise the importance of fellowship all the more.
There are various reasons why people leave churches and move on. Mine are personal, but having experienced a range of churches, a growing concern for me has been the way in which we worship. One recent lesson I learnt was that the devil is a crafty deceiver. He knows the Word all too well – we can see that in Luke when he tempts Jesus by using the Word (Luke 4:1-13). How much more then will he use the Word to confuse us? As such, from what I have seen in people in churches, the way in which we worship is a result of how we perceive and understand the Bible and ultimately, God. We cannot be free from having a mental representation of God (or anything/ anyone) in our minds – although imagining Him is pretty much impossible, we are made in such a way that we make judgments about things in order to know how to react or behave – much like seeing an object and automatically making a judgement as to where it is so we don’t walk into it. The Gestalt theory portrays this very well by describing the way in which our minds attempt to perceive familiar figures and forms in the midst of chaos.
As I was making these observations over the past few weeks, I grew increasingly concerned as to what worship – essentially being a Christian – is all about. Sure, it’s all about Christ. It’s not about following rules and regulations. It’s about being free of sin and joyful about the fact that we can enter into a relationship with the Almighty Father – our loving Creator and Lord of all. But to me, it has never been a simple matter of ‘entering into a relationship’. As the perfect One, God is never changing. God is alive, intertwined in the trinity and constantly moving, as someone once described the concept of the trinity to me; but He has no need to change because He is God. As in any relationship, there has to be change to advance and become deeper and more meaningful. But in our relationship with the Father, it is only us who changes, not Him. And so it would appear that as we change, so does our understanding of Him, and our expectations.
I have grown up in a Christian family, and have been taught to fear the Lord and study His Word. There have been times when studying His Word has been a great delight to me. I remember when I first came to university, I joined the Christian Union and the Explorer’s group which was aimed at non-Christians. I remember enjoying each session so much, because through reading the Bible and being able to speak to earnest Christians and ask endless questions, I finally found out what Christianity was based upon – the resurrection of Jesus. No one had actually told me that in all the years that I had been going to church. Ridiculous as this story is, my point is, if Jesus (who is the Word! John 1) was tempted by the devil who used the Word, how much more vulnerable are we, who have little understanding of the Word to begin with, and are too easily familiarised and overwhelmed by information overload? Many days my lack of understanding and inability to connect with the Word have left me feeling lost.
I realised the importance of studying the Bible, and learning about the culture of the Bible. I figured that to understand that, I needed to read commentaries and texts. But I soon found that the information available is perhaps too much for a normal person to take in, let alone be able to pick and choose as the best guide. In addition, every commentary and every Bible study tool is in some cases as much a product of another person’s perception as our own reading of the Bible. And filtering out the truth from our own pretty images we’ve created about Jesus, and all the petty arguments and opinions in-between that range from bitterness towards Christianity to over-simplifying and understating the message of Jesus is proving to be a difficult task. As someone once said, you only win an argument because you have more words. What I want is to dig down to the real truth of the matter.
It’s these questions I want to answer:
- How do we develop our own belief systems?
- What cultural aspects influence our faith?
- What makes Jesus sincere in His statements and actions, setting Him apart from His culture?
- What can we draw from this – what is important in our faith and how we express it? How do we worship?
I understand that answers to questions should not be our ultimate basis to our faith (as explored in this interesting article by William L. Craig). But we all have questions, and an inbuilt curiosity that leads us to explore and grow. And if God created the world to be explored and discovered, how many more mysteries are held within His very Word? And at the end of all my strivings, all I want to is to experience that kind of worship that makes you sing.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13