The vast majority of people – over 90% – believe in God. Christians are believers who have chosen to follow the teachings of Jesus about God, humanity, love and relationships.
Some Christian beliefs are shared
All world-wide faiths believe in prayer and spirituality, and the command to love God, and the commitment to love our neighbours as ourselves and to serve and respect each human being and the whole of creation.
“A lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22: 35 – 40)
Some Christian beliefs are different.
Like many other faiths, the Christian understanding of God is complex and sophisticated. God is not a man in the sky, nor an angry vengeful deity nor an 18th century clock-maker. God is mysterious and ultimately incomprehensible, and yet Christians believe that we can experience the divine in our lives. It is paradoxical, but Christians make three mutually exclusive claims about God: God is the trancendent source and upholder of life and all creation, unknowable and unknown; God is also the Spirit breathing in and through and beyond all creation, experienced by each one of us every day and closer to us than the air we breathe; God is also mysteriously present in and with every flesh and blood human being – and is specifically incarnate in the person of Jesus. The word Christians use to describe God being all these things, transcendent source, immanent Spirit and incarnate Word is ‘Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. And yet there is only one God – complex and sophisticated.
“The Spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ (John 3 : 8)
Christians also have a different understanding of ethics
Although it is obvious that our actions on earth have consequences here and now for ourselves and for other people, Christians believe that eternal life and eternal healing are the free gift of God for all people and that we do not need to earn it. God is in essence loving, merciful and forgiving. There are no qualifying phrases to add to that. Whenever Christians might feel the human urge to want revenge we are reminded once again that God’s love and mercy and forgiveness are stratospherically greater than ours.
This is lived out in our liturgies.
The Sacraments are both signs and means of the gift of life and grace freely given to each and every one of us. They are not rewards for good behaviour.
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16)
What is yet more challenging.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus which we read about in the Gospels, alongside the writings of prophets and poets and apostles in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, teach us that the higher call for humanity is not one of self-preservation and survival or the blessings of material health, wealth and happiness for ourselves or our blood-families, but a call to total service and total sacrifice – of risking and ultimately sacrficing our own lives for the lives of others – the greater human family.
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12 : 24 – 25)
In addition to all this Anglicans (Episcopalians in the US) believe strongly in the Church, that the Christian faith is not something we make up for ourselves but is something that we belong to with other people – including people from generations past. Like the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches we believe in the unbroken succession of faith from the time of Jesus until now. Our bishops and the creeds are the physical sign of this.
But Anglicans believe equally strongly that we are still growing together on a journey into the unknown, and that the Church has been wrong in the past about many things, is no doubt still wrong about very many things in the present, and we long for a future when all will finally be revealed. This is why the Anglican Church is able to recognise the wrong and terrible harm which the Church has done, and continues to do to people of colour, to indigenous people, to women, to gay people, lesbians and to trans people and why we repent and always look forward to a better world and a new creation.
Christianity is therefore never an easy choice, nor a comfortable one.
‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. ….. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7 : 7-8, 14)
The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington