Today: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Obstacles to faith: introduction    (6/9/2013 1)

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at some of the big questions facing the church today — complex and, at least for now, extremely difficult questions to answer, for many reasons.

For the next few weeks' articles, we’ve picked what we believe to be among the top reasons why people outside the church struggle to feel comfortable with the idea of the church, Christianity, or even God. These topics are:
- How can abuse happen within the church?
- What does the church really think of homosexuality?
- Does religion cause war?
- How can people with scientific understanding ever have a Christian faith?
- Should there be women bishops?
- Did God create the universe?
- What about sex before marriage?
- Why is the Old Testament so violent?
- Do 'good' people — and people of other faiths — go to heaven?

It’s important to say at this point that we won’t be providing any answers! How can we, when far greater minds than ours — on every side of every issue — continue to wrestle with them? Some of these issues are so big, they threaten to divide even the church from within.

What we can do is talk about them. Quite often, these sorts of issues can be so difficult that they just don’t get discussed within churches, and therefore people who go to church are not accustomed, or equipped, to talk about them outside of church. 

And one of the reasons it’s so hard to talk about these things inside the church is because people hold such different opinions. In each church (but especially Anglican churches, which is very diverse) there could well be people with totally opposite views. 

But if that’s the case, you may well ask, how can they ALL be Christians? Isn’t there one way to be a Christian? Don’t all Christians think alike? Doesn’t the Bible tell them what to think?

The answer is no! First, the Bible doesn’t mention some things. Secondly, we live in a very different time/culture from thousands of years ago, when much of what is described in the Bible took place or was written down. Thirdly, the Bible needs translating from the Hebrew and Greek — and choosing the right words and phrases to express the original intent can be difficult. Fourthly, some people believe there are parts of the Bible which are allegorical: not actually true, but containing truths, so how should these be interpreted? Furthermore, people at both ends of the spectrum on a particular topic may all be convinced that they are hearing directly from God, and so they must be right... And, of course, God gives us free will!

Such differences of opinion can be difficult and painful. But they are also very important. Freedom of expression within the Christian church should be celebrated: people can weigh up their own beliefs, and ask the source — God himself — for guidance. Anything else would make us robots, or cause us to focus on the people who lead churches, and to accept their views (however flawed they might be), rather than focusing on God. 

Most importantly, Christianity is not a dead faith. It is alive and dynamic; it involves the people. New understandings are a permanent possibility — and however painful that can sometimes be, it prevents us from getting trapped in inherited attitudes we don’t understand and haven’t taken on board for ourselves.

Pray: Lord, open my mind and my heart; keep me listening and taking to you. Open my ears to hear your will, understanding that - sometimes - I may hear you through others. Give me the grace to listen to others with whom I may disagree, and give me the strength to be gracious. Amen. 

Think about: What might God think when he sees people arguing about opposite ends of the same faith-related issue?

Challenge: Pick one item on the list of topics above and promise yourself to be open to others' views on the subject.You may want to talk to other people to hear their opinions, or research other perspectives on the internet.

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