Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Why



The following is a prepared presentation I did not really get to give, but have been told was interesting.  It is supposed to explain why I am a Christian, but it doesn't really do that.  

The Christian church, in its broadest sense, is made up of about 2.2 billion people, according to the Pew Forum, which is one third of the population. 
This number includes Christians of many types. Some of which you haven’t heard of.
  1. Protestants.  There are hundreds of denominations worldwide and over 330 in the US.  The vast majority you have never heard of because around here you know of Baptists, Methodists, etc.  Just last week I heard about a new denomination that is made up mostly of Nigerian Pentecostals, and there are 14 of these churches just in Atlanta.  Many Protestant churches are rooted in a certain country, geography, or ethnicity.  The Episcopalians come from England, the Presbyterians from Scotland, the Methodists England, the Lutherans Germany, etc.  Protestants make up about 37% of the world’s Christians.
 Interestingly, the shift of Christianity is changing worldwide and going to Asia, Africa, and South America.  In 1910, 66% of Christians lived in Europe; now 26% do.  5.9% lived in Asia, Subsaharan Africa, and  36.7% do now.  10% more live in the Americas. 
2.      
  • 2. The second group is of course the Roman Catholic church.  They make up about half of the world’s Christians.  It is common for people around here to say Catholics aren’t Christians, but that is not correct.  Now, many people who say they are Christians are not practicing or nominal, which means they don’t really believe it or follow it but they take the name. 
  • 3.    The third group of Christians is the Orthodox church, such as Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox.  There are ten national varieties of these.  They tends to be in large cities with immigrant populations in the US.  About 12% of the world’s Christians are Orthodox. 
  • 4.    The fourth most common group is the Coptic Christians, which is older than any of these others and is centered in Egypt.
  • 5.    The fifth most common group is the Chaldean Christians, who are centered in Iraq.  Chaldean is an old word for Babylonian, which was in today’s Iraq.  Before the war there were 2.5 million Chaldean Christians in Iraq and today there might be a tenth of that.  This is a sad effect of the war that these people were largely left alone by Hussein but have been persecuted, killed, or run off by Isis, etc.  Only 4% of the population in the Middle East is Chrstian, but that was not the case in the past.

So I have violated public speaking principle by giving you a lot of statistics, but I did so for a reason.  The Christian church is broad, global, shifting, diverse, growing in some places and shrinking in some, and increasingly persecuted.  More Christians are killed every year.  The story of the young girls in Nigeria being kidnapped was an example of Christian persuection.  And of course not all who have the name really have it an important part of their lives. 

But what is the core of the Christian faith.  I would suggest the following.
Jesus Christ, as a person, not just his teachings.  The person of Jesus Christ is the core.  Jesus Christ is a real, historical figure living at a time in the Roman Empire,  but supernatural experiences are also central to his life.  Christians believe he is the Son of God, not just a special person.  He was crucified by the Roman government at the encouragement of his own people the Jews, but the crucifixion was not an accident but God’s plan for humankind’s salvation due to our sin and alienation from God, who was reconciling us by a sacrifice.  He rose from the dead three days later, although how days were figured at that time may not be the same way we do (not exactly 72 hours later). 

Christians also believe that one must make a personal decision to be a follower and believer in Christ.  When someone does so, he or she makes a commitment also to live differently, although that is something that we work at for our whole lives.  We also make a commitment to continue learning about Jesus’ life and teaching as revealed in the Bible.  That is easier for some of us than others, because studying the Bible involves some intellectual commitment.

Although the study of apologetics, or defense of Christianity, is important, I do not believe that most people come to the Christian faith after a long study of it.  Some do, but most come, I think, for what I call existential reasons.  By that I mean they feel something in their human experience is wrong.  It could be guilt, fear, need, emptiness, loneliness, etc.  More specifically, they accept that they are sinners in need of a solution from outside themselves. They believe that the Christian faith will meet those needs.  This is not to say that there is a calculating cost benefit decision made.  At the same time, the experience of grace is central to the Christian faith, and grace is not something we have control over.  Christian theology teaches that grace was control of us.

For myself, I was 15 when I became a Christian and I had not been raised in what is referred to as a Christian home or upbringing.  It became the most important aspect of my life. 

That said, do I like everything that is done in the name of Christ and the church?  No, but I don’t think God does either. 

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