By Pastor Kelvin Mulembe
September 18, 2016
The words fundamentals or basics are often mistaken for something unsophisticated. The more sophisticated we become the more we tend to overlook our foundation. However, if we neglect the foundation, the fundamentals or basics of our faith, we will fail to live faithfully as Christians.
How many of us in here are Christians? I know that question sounds redundant, or perhaps even judgmental. Of course we are all Christians, we are in church, right? Only Christians go to church. Well, my Jewish friend comes here too. He’s not a Christian. And, there may be others who are not sure, and are still searching for the Truth. Being born in a Christian family doesn’t automatically make you a Christian. Just like not everything in a garage is a car. To be Christian entails receiving, believing, and practicing what is known as the Christian Truth. So what is the Christian truth?
Most of us who have grown up in predominantly Christian cultures assume we are Christians. In fact, in this nation we unconsciously link being American to being Christian. We talk about American values as Christian values and vice versa. To be Muslim or Buddhist or anything else is seen as anti-American, and therefore, anti-Christian. Even with efforts to try to separate church and state, we find some Christians who value the American flag more than they value the Bible. I have been to churches where the American flag has literally and symbolically replaced the cross of Jesus. Pulpits that are adorned in the American flag but having no Cross.
But, can we still be the church of Jesus Christ without the Cross? What is the significance of the Cross in our faith? You may say what does it have to do with anything in my life, with my job, my homelessness, my illness, my family? Why can’t we just love one another? Surprise, surprise, everything! The Christian faith rises and collapses on the question of the Cross. There is no message greater than the belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death is absolutely necessary to understanding the Christian truth. Without the Cross of Jesus, there is no Christianity. A Christian must believe that Christ died for our sins and was raised from death so that we may have eternal life. Christianity is a truth claim that “Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life”
Unfortunately, Christianity is on the decline in America. In the last seven years, the number of Americans who identify as Christian dropped from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent. 56 million adults living in America today do not affiliate with any faith (“Pew Research Center,” 2015, p. 1). There is a cultural and spiritual shift. I am convinced that this shift has to do with our loss of focus on the fundamentals. Christianity has become an alternative ideology rather than the good news.
Paul was confronted with a similar shift. As the Greek culture (Hellenistic) began to influence Christian thought and practice, through philosophy and rhetorical debates, and popular regard for charisma and wisdom became trendy, the Corinthian Christians began to conform to the standards around them. Divisions arose within the church as a result of celebrity worship. Some said they were for Paul, others Cleo’s people, some Cephas’ and others were for Jesus. Much like we have celebrity preachers of our own. I am for T.D Jakes, or Joyce Meyer, or Joel Osteen, I am for Adam Hamilton or Tom Berlin.
Christianity began as movement within Judaism. Followers of Jesus were not called Christians, but as “people of the way.” The message they preached was about the way of the Kingdom of God. This way of God’s kingdom was the direct opposite of everything that humans thought was important and plausible. Many Jews and Greeks alike opposed the message as shallow and unsophisticated. As foolishness and a dangerous scandal to the religious institution.
This could explain why the Corinthian church was in trouble, just like our church today. We have lost the essence of being a movement and have become an institution. We resist everything that doesn’t fit it in, including what may be the working of the Holy Spirit. We have been consumed by a desire to conform to the standards of the world rather than to be a light for the world. Our worship services are now geared towards comfort and convenience, and are void of power to transform lives. But the church is not about an organization. Christianity is not about rules and regulations. It is about living by faith under the reign of God. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Rollo May the famous American psychologist once said, “The opposite of courage is not cowardice, but conformity.” People acting like everyone else. We conform to what is popular around us. Just because the message of the cross is uncomfortable, does not mean the church needs to dilute it. Paul says the message of the cross appears foolishness to some, but to us who are being saved, who are experiencing transformation, it is the power of God. This gospel of Grace is the most powerful good news available to humanity. I personally know how it changed my life and the lives of many. Try it for yourself, and your life will never be the same again.
I remember being a part of congregation that split because the Associate Pastor was more charismatic than the senior pastor. To be honest, he was more gifted both as a preacher and as a pastor. The senior pastor was boring, and a very rigid intellectual. His sermons were elaborate discourses that showed his higher education. He always talked down on others and never really took time to know the people. You could not visit him without an appointment. The Associate pastor on the other hand was the exact opposite. He was easily accessible and more sociable. So, naturally people began to gravitate towards him. This put a strain on the relationship between him and the senior pastor and he stopped giving him opportunity to preach.
This went on for a long time, until things got worse. People stopped coming to church, but would attend the bible study at the associate pastor’s house. Eventually, the senior pastor ordered the bible study illegal. People boycotted and continued to meet. Things got out of hand that the leadership decided to let go of the associate pastor. When this announcement was made in church, half the congregation left and followed the associate pastor to start another church.
Paul warns us as he did the Corinthians that Christ cannot be divided. We cannot let our own selfish interests dictate how God should work among us. Only Jesus died for us, and only Jesus has the power to forgive our sins. We cannot engineer our own or other people’s salvation, nor can we find salvation by human wisdom. No matter how educated or sophisticated, we cannot think ourselves out of a sinful nature. Only Christ can forgive our sins and transform us.
In order to understand the fundamentals of Christian living, we need to revisit the significance of the message the cross, and clearly understand Christ, Salvation and the language of Sin.
In the next few weeks, we are going to look deeper at other aspects of Christian fundamentals.
What is sin? In our contemporary usage the word “sin” could be understood as a moral failing or immoral act. In theology sin is something that separates humanity from God (McGrath, 2012, p. 92).
What is salvation? Salvation is the breaking down of the barrier that separates humanity from God on account of Christ. It is not about having a Mercedes Benz car, or a fat bank account. It is about being reconciled with God and living an abundant life in Christ.
Who is Christ? Christ is the redeeming sacrifice, a demonstration of God’s unfailing love for humanity. He is the messiah, the savior or the world. The only hope for salvation.
As we start this week, God is calling us to come back to into relationship. Though we have moved away, and led lives that are in contradiction to Christian living, the grace that Christ demonstrated on the Cross is still available and sufficient to welcome you home. Come home to Jesus. The cross symbolizes forgiveness of our sin through Christ Jesus.The cross also symbolizes victory over sin and death – “the word of God was made flesh in order to destroy death and bring us to life….” The cross also symbolizes Christ’s self offering as a perfect sacrifice. Though it may appear as foolishness, or a scandal, to us who believe it is the power of God for our salvation. Amen!
America’s Changing Religious Landscape. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/
McGrath, A. E. (2012). Theology: The Basics (3rd ed.). West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.